Critique requested for Middle Grade Fantasy Chapter

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  • #8231
    MCave
    Participant

    ( I hope it works. It seems to have lost some formatting as I pasted it in here)
    This is a middle chapter so a bit of background context:
    Elspeth’s dad disappeared ten years ago, but she’s certain he’s still alive because he sends her dreams. Mum won’t talk about Dad. It’s too painful. So Elspeth knows very little about him, except the bits she’s picked up from Grandad and a friend of Dad’s called Koban.
    Elspeth house is protected by a Giant sentient Cherry Tree, who elspeth adores, but no one else seems to understand.
    When an earthquake topples her home, killing her Tree and her grandad, and Mum announces her plans to remarry, Elspeth stows away on Koban’s ship to follow Dad’s footsteps and hopefully find a home with him.
    She has arrived in the Great Forrest, where Koban introduces her to the Shejara a race that protect the enormous sentient trees, They live high in the trees and ride giant dragonflies.

    In the previous chapter, Elspeth, Koban, Farah his wife, and Tamram their son, arrived in Marratin, the treetop settlement of the Shejara. They have dinner with Launde, the elder of the Shejara, and learn about the Shejara’s political challenges with their human neighbours on the other side of the Bry River.

    Dreams of Giants- Chapter Thirteen

    Blue light illuminated the cavern. A circle of icicles and stalagmites shimmered above her, nature’s own chandelier. Light filtered through layers of ice. This must be deep underground… or under ice, she supposed. Dad led a queue of men and women across the cavern, their footsteps sure, their conversation sparse, their breath little clouds before them.
    Elspeth followed them deeper underground through a tunnel of stone and ice. They stopped. Dad lowered a bucket on a long chain deep into a fissure on the ground and drew it up full of water. How could all around be ice, but underground water ran freely?
    Dad unhooked the bucket and brought it back to the first cavern. The others followed. Dad poured the water into a dish-like crater about a meter wide. Full, it appeared almost green. Everyone gathered around the pool gazing intently. The surface shimmered.
    Elspeth leaned closer. Images swirled in the pool: Snow melt trickled off the mountains into a river underground; a fissure of rock cracked open; water seeped away, bubbling and gurgling as it found new pathways below. A wide river bed diminished to a mere stream. Steam rose from a fissure and a cavern filled with fog. She watched the silent images in the pool, confused. Where was this? What did it mean?
    The vision in the pool disappeared. The watchers looked up and spoke to each other.
    Elspeth watched Dad’s face. She couldn’t understand their words, but they must be discussing the implications of what they had seen. Elspeth reached out to touch him. Her fingers touched his sleeve.

    The dream ended abruptly. She opened her eyes to find herself resting on a pile of cushions in Launde and Ulma’s treetop pod. Disquiet about the disappearing river lingered.
    At breakfast, Elspeth, Tamram and Farah ate together while Koban and Launde were deep in conversation. Elspeth hoped he was asking about Dad.
    A young Shejara girl entered the pod carrying an armful of twigs and ivy. ‘Charum. Estora se haja korunja?’ she asked, which brought blank looks in response. She pointed to the nest-like crown of branches on her head.
    ‘I think she would like us to have a crown thing like theirs,’ Elspeth suggested to Tamram and Farah. Elspeth had been listening to Launde talking this morning and she deduced that ‘cha’ meant yes.
    ‘Cha,’ Elspeth said with a smile.
    The Shejara girl grinned and replied with a long sentence in her language.
    Elspeth grimaced. ‘Kona,’ she tried. She thought it was their word for ‘no’, and did her best confused expression.
    The girl laughed.
    Elspeth invited her to sit with them.
    She sat down and showed them how to wind the ivy, vines and sticks in a circle like a wreath. While they worked, she pointed out things to Elspeth, teaching her words in Shejaran. ‘Leto’ for lantern or light, ‘She’ for Tree (but this soon got confusing as there were lots of types of Tree), ‘Epo’ for drink or water (Elspeth couldn’t be sure which one it meant). ‘Korunja’ was the name for the crown-like headdresses they were making. They were soon finished and the Shejara girl stood and placed the finished wreath on Elspeth’s head.
    ‘My name is Elspeth’ Elspeth attempted, pointing to herself. ‘Elspeth’
    The Shejara girl smiled. She pointed to herself. ‘Soto me Pendra.’
    ‘Your name is Pendra?’
    ‘Cha.’
    Elspeth’s heart swelled with pride. They were communicating.
    Farah put on her crown. ‘Thank you, Pendra.’
    Tamram’s crown was too tight. He found it uncomfortable to wear, so Elspeth swapped with him to see if hers would fit better. Then Farah and Tamram swapped. With giggles they admired the merits of each korunja on each head, finding the best fit. Pendra looked on smiling. Elspeth gestured for Pendra to swap crowns with her, but Pendra shook her head. Elspeth blushed. Were they being disrespectful?
    Launde and Koban joined them and Elspeth decided to ask Launde about it.
    ‘I see you’ve met my daughter, Pendra,’ Launde said.
    ‘Yes, Pendra helped us make korunja. Aren’t they lovely?’ Elspeth stood up, showing off her korunja with the best little twirl she could manage with crutches. ‘How do I ask Pendra if she wants to swap korunja with me for a moment? We’re trying them all on.’
    ‘You could say it, but it won’t make any sense. Korunja cannot come off our heads. They are part of us. The branches grow from our heads like antlers on an elk. We weave the vines and ivy around to make them more elaborate. Pendra cannot take off her korunja any more than you can take off your ears.’
    Elspeth blushed and looked down. ‘I’m sorry. I had no idea.’
    ‘Don’t be embarrassed. How would you have known that? And because they are part of us, they show something of the Tree we serve. Acorns grow in mine because I tend an oak. Pendra hasn’t planted her Tree yet, so she decorates her korunja as she wishes.’ Launde touched one of the flowers Pendra had woven into her korunja. ‘By making you korunja, Pendra welcomes you as one of us.’
    A chill went down Elspeth’s spine. She looked at Launde and fingered the korunja on her head. Pendra wasn’t just being kind, she was making a bold statement, especially in light of what Boran had done. Elspeth smiled shyly at Pendra, who grinned back.
    After a bit of help from Farah, Tamram finally had a korunja that fit his head and he asked Launde, ‘How do you sleep with these on? It must be tricky to get comfortable.’
    Elspeth cringed and shot Tamram a look. He should be more respectful.
    Ever good-natured, Launde laughed. ‘Good question. Perhaps that is why we have so many cushions, so we can find a position that is comfortable. I prefer to hang the top of my head off the bed, just a little.’
    Tamram shook his head in wonder.
    Koban addressed Tamram and Elspeth. ‘Launde is willing to spend the day teaching Farah and I about their medicines. We will be busy studying and cataloguing all day. Do you two think you can keep yourselves occupied?’
    Farah realised they would soon need their books, and dashed off to fetch them from their packs.
    Launde spoke briefly to Pendra. She nodded eagerly. He turned to Elspeth and Tamram. ‘While we’re busy, I wondered if you would like to go with Pendra on the dragonflies and see a bit more of the forest?’
    Elspeth and Tamram accepted with delight and followed Pendra across the vine walkways to where the dragonflies clung to a tree. Pendra made a chirping noise and three of the dragonflies alighted on the landing platform. Tamram waited for Elspeth to choose a dragonfly and then he took her crutches and left them at the edge of the landing platform. ‘You won’t need them for flying,’ he said.
    As soon as her feet met the stirrups, the huge blue insect rose from the landing platform. Her hands gripped the reins. Buzzing filled the air.
    Pendra’s dragonfly took the lead and the others followed obediently. They left Marratin behind them and swooped down through the trees, Tamram and Elspeth gaining confidence as they banked left and right. Pendra then led them in some little dives and swoops that left Elspeth’s stomach behind. Having built up their confidence, Pendra switched to more daredevil flying, leading the dragonflies on a merry chase, dashing this way and that. Exhilarated, Elspeth leaned closer to the dragonfly, urging it faster. Flight liberated her. Here her leg couldn’t slow her down.
    They dropped down near the forest floor then soared up again near the canopy, racing, dodging branches and whizzing under arched exposed roots. Pendra cackled with delight looking over her shoulder at Tamram and Elspeth’s astonished faces as she led them through smaller and smaller gaps at high speed.
    Breathless, they broke through into a little clearing.
    On the forest floor, Elspeth saw a tree unlike the others in the Great Forest. It was smaller, almost stunted. A wave of familiarity washed over her, like seeing an old friend in a crowd. Elspeth called out and signalled to Pendra she wanted to stop. Pendra clicked and the dragonflies landed on the ground near the tree.
    To say the Tree was small was a matter of perspective. It was still a giant tree, bigger than anything you would find in Talen, except perhaps Elspeth’s Tree. But it was not a sequoia or an oak, so it looked like a runt beside the others. Elspeth dismounted her dragonfly. She knew instantly why she had been drawn to the tree. It was a cherry.
    She leant on an exposed root having left her crutches behind, and ran her hand along it as she walked toward the trunk. ‘Do I know you, Tree? You’re so familiar.’
    The Tree responded with a little shiver, as if her touch tickled.
    ‘Why so small, Tree?’ She teased. ‘This is the Great Forest.’
    She set her back against the trunk and looked up through the branches.
    Memories washed over her.
    The beauty of branches swaying in the breeze.
    The calm solidity of the trunk and roots.
    Home, warm and delicious,
    A sad rootlessness inside her.
    She took a deep breath and shook her head slowly, emptying the thoughts.
    ‘Tree, you could grow bigger than this.’ She was only half serious and hadn’t really expected anything to happen, but the Tree stirred, awakening and to Elspeth’s surprise, began to move at an alarming pace.
    A branch curved around. Leaves caressed Elspeth’s cheek.
    ‘Look out!’ Tamram shouted. From where he stood, it must have seemed the Tree was falling. How else could it move so fast? But Elspeth couldn’t run. The exposed root she had been leaning on lifted her and placed her on a branch as it grew higher and higher.
    Elspeth forgot to be afraid. She was at home, surrounded by roots and branches. Her Tree always protected her.
    She stroked and encouraged Tree and Tree kept responding with growth. Elspeth found herself laughing with delight as Tree grew to match the height of the rest of the forest canopy.
    Pendra and Tamram flew up to Elspeth on their dragonflies. Pendra clapped and flew in circles admiring Tree. Tamram shouted over the buzz of the dragonfly wings and the rustle of leaves. ‘How are you doing that?’
    ‘Trees just like me,’ Elspeth shrugged, looking around with joy, but when she realised how high she was in the branches of the tree. She signaled to Pendra. ‘How will I get down?’
    Pendra did her little chirping call and Elspeth’s blue dragonfly rose to join them in the air.
    Elspeth didn’t fancy a midair leap onto the dragonfly’s back. ‘Tree, could you help me?’ she asked, stroking the branch where she sat, and a thick new branch promptly grew out horizontally, and her dragonfly alighted on it. Holding onto branches, Elspeth managed to mount the dragonfly, and join the others in the air.
    Grinning from ear to ear, and with her feet tucked into the stirrups, she reached out to stroke the leaves. ‘In the Stacked City, it’s blossom season. Have you got any blossom for me?’
    Instantly, Tree shimmered and buds unfolded into millions of pink blossoms. Pendra, Tamram and Elspeth flew their dragonflies in amongst the blossom, shouting with delight. In the breeze of their flight, pink swirled around them like confetti.
    ‘Seriously, how are you doing this?’ Tamram asked when his dragonfly flew near. ‘This is amazing.’
    ‘I’m not sure. I guess I have a connection with Cherry Trees. It’s happened before.’ Elspeth breathed in the glory of the Tree in full blossom. Swooping through the rain of blossom, she couldn’t remember feeling happier. Her whole body buzzed with life.
    Pendra called them and they nudged their dragonflies closer to her. Enormous cherries were growing and Pendra was trying to gather a few to take with them. Pendra drew a net out of a pouch, and she held it while Tamram and Elspeth placed eight bright red cherries, the size of melons, inside it. Pendra tied the net to the back of her dragonfly.
    Elspeth said goodbye to the Cherry Tree and they flew back towards Marratin. She wondered how the little Cherry Tree near the half bridge was getting on.
    ‘I’ve got blossom all down inside my clothes.’ Tamram wriggled his shoulders and shook his tunic as they flew side by side.
    Pendra brushed some blossom from her arms and then pointed to Elspeth’s korunja. ‘Jesto le hapto lensa Korunja.’
    ‘I think she means there’s blossom stuck in your crown thing,’ Tamram said.
    ‘Is there? I forgot I was still wearing that.’ Elspeth reached up and felt her korunja with one hand as they flew and indeed it was covered with blossom, but not loose blossom. Her korunja was growing blossom. Elspeth marvelled but didn’t say anything to Tamram. It was a little too strange. Quite enough amazing things had already happened for one day. She decided to wait until she was alone to investigate the blossom in her crown.

    #8240
    Kate
    Participant

    Hi MCave – thanks for sharing with us. I can see flying around on giant dragonflies would be very appealing to your MG market.
    While this is fun, it does feel a bit distant and telly in places. It would be nice if you could move us a bit closer to the MC and let the reader experience the excitement, particularly with the flying, that Elspeth would be feeling. Basically, more show and less tell.

    There are some techniques that can help you do this. First, you might want to do a filtering edit and take out the filtering words that you use quite a lot. Filtering words are words like hoped/felt/wondered/saw/looked. They drop the character in front of the reader, keeping us distant from them. You’re in the MC’s point of view, so it has to be them seeing, feeling, wondering etc. If you take them out the reader will feel closer to the action. As if what is happening and what the character is thinking are the readers actions and thoughts. Here’s a link to a blog by a very good creative writing tutor. I hope it explains more clearly what I mean.

    https://emmadarwin.typepad.com/thisitchofwriting/2016/07/filtering.html

    #8241
    Kate
    Participant

    So for example, instead of saying ‘Elspeth hoped he was asking about Dad.’ You could say. ‘Please let him be asking about Dad’. that gives us Elsbeth’s thought directly, without filtering her thoughts through her.

    Or, instead of ‘Elspeth decided to ask Launde about it.’ ‘She would ask Launde about it.’ Because we’re in Elsbeth’s POV, you don’t have to say ‘she decided’. It has to be her deciding this. When you cut out that extra unnecessary filtering, the writing can become much more immediate.

    In the first example, with the ‘Please let him be asking about Dad.’ That’s something called Free Indirect Style. It’s another way to move us closer to the character by offering the character’s thoughts to the reader directly. You do use these sometimes, like ‘How could all around be ice, but underground water ran freely?’ and ‘How else could it move so fast?’ I think if you used these type of direct thoughts a lot more, it would really start to make Elsbeth’s character jump off the page and start to develop her all important Voice.

    Here’s a blog link about free indirect style.

    https://emmadarwin.typepad.com/thisitchofwriting/2013/09/free-indirect-style-what-it-is-and-how-to-use-it.html

    #8242
    Kate
    Participant

    Concentrating specifically on the flight section, here are some thoughts on how to use show rather than tell:

    Elspeth and Tamram accepted with delight (telly – having them reply might work better. ‘Oh yes, that would be amazing’, then show us what Elsbeth is feeling. ‘A prickle of anticipation ran across Elsbeth’s skin.’ And then perhaps a direct thought. ‘Was she really going to do this?’) and followed Pendra across the vine walkways to where the dragonflies clung to a tree. Pendra made a chirping noise and three of the dragonflies alighted on the landing platform. Tamram waited (They’re about to get on dragon flies – presumably for the first time – so Tamram seems a bit calm to just wait. Could he jiggle on the spot?) for Elspeth to choose a dragonfly How does she feel – nervous, excited. Show us these feelings. Does her stomach give a little flip, her hands tremble? What is she thinking. Use the free indirect style to show us her thoughts.) and then he took her crutches and left them at the edge of the landing platform. ‘You won’t need them for flying,’ he Tamram said, taking her crutches and leaving them on the edge of the platform. (might read better).
    As soon as her feet met the stirrups, the huge blue insect rose from the landing platform. (Is she scared. Does she grab at a saddle -if there is one. Give us a sense of her reaction to being in the air for the first time) Her hands gripped the reins. Buzzing filled the air.
    Pendra’s dragonfly took the lead and the others followed obediently. They left Marratin behind them and swooped down through the trees, Tamram and Elspeth gaining confidence (rather than telling us they gained confidence, have Elsbeth starting to relax as she learns to grip with her knee and leans into turns etc. Show don’t tell.) as they banked left and right. Pendra then led them in some little dives and swoops that left Elspeth’s stomach behind. (that’s nice showing) Having built up their confidence,(you’ve already said that) Pendra switched to more daredevil flying, leading the dragonflies on a merry chase, dashing this way and that. Exhilarated (Telly – can Elsbeth’s breath catch in her throat? Can you have her think ‘This was incredible’), Elspeth leaned closer to the dragonfly, urging it faster. Flight liberated her. Here her leg couldn’t slow her down. (Nice showing of how it affects MC.)

    #8243
    Kate
    Participant

    A few other odds and ends: ‘Snow melt trickled off the mountains into a river underground.’ This is a very big image. What is Elsbeth seeing exactly. Maybe more precise.

    ‘Elspeth reached out to touch him. Her fingers touched his sleeve.’ Repetition of touch.

    ‘Elspeth invited her to sit with them’. How? – did she indicate the chair and smile.

    ‘Tamram’s crown was too tight.’ – quite telly – conversation might work better here. Have Tamram actually say ‘Ow, mine is too tight.’

    You have Elsbeth blush twice in close proximity. Maybe change on of them to something else.

    ‘Pendra cackled’ – makes me think of an unpleasant sound – maybe a different word?

    ‘to Elspeth’s surprise’ – a place to show rather than tell.eg ‘Wow, how was that happening.’

    And similarly with these kind of phrases ‘Elspeth forgot to be afraid’, ‘looking around with joy’, ‘Elspeth marvelled.’

    I noticed in some places you can be quite formal. Eg ‘she deduced’, ‘Koban addressed Tamram and Elspeth’ These feel a bit out of place in MG. Maybe relax the writing a little.

    There are also a few places where you head hop point of view. I think you just need to tighten these to make sure you stay with Elsbeth. ‘He found it uncomfortable to wear.’ Tamram’s POV. He could complain it was uncomfortable to wear, and that would stop it become his POV. ‘Tamram shook his head in wonder.’ Only Tamram could know it was ‘in wonder’ so it is his POV. ‘Farah realised they would soon…’ Jump into Farah’s POV. ‘Pendra cackled with delight looking over her shoulder at Tamram and Elspeth’s astonished faces’ you’re showing us what Pendra is seeing, so it is her POV.

    #8244
    Kate
    Participant

    As a slightly more general point, I wonder if this chapter moves the story forward enough. They have this great and exciting ride and Elsbeth discovers some things about herself, but has the plot moved at all? Not having read the rest of the story it’s a bit hard to tell, but just something to think about. (Have to admit I’m guilty of too much pace, so this might be just right.)
    I hope some of the above is helpful. It may seem like a lot of suggestions, but I think you’ve got a good solid piece here which with a bit of editing could become delightful.

    Of course these are just my thoughts, so take what works for you and discard the rest. Good luck with the editing.

    #8245
    Kate
    Participant

    Lots of short posts worked! Hope they’re helpful. Kate

    #8246
    MCave
    Participant

    Thank you! So helpful! xx

    #8289
    MCave
    Participant

    Further Critique requested, if anyone has time. 🙂
    @Kate I’ve made loads of changes further to your comments.

    This chapter has a few tricky things going on:
    1. A foreign language, which Elspeth begins to understand, and ultimately will speak. I show this in later chapters by changing the font when she speaks the Shejara language, so its clear that certain characters can or can’t understand her. I want to give a flavour of the language, but not lose the reader with lots of nonsense words. Is the balance right? This is almost the first time you hear it. She did learn one sentence in the previous chapter.
    2. The dream sequence. She dreams throughout the book, which I show with Italics. Does this work?
    3. Conversation with a sentient tree. So far sentient Trees are denoted with a capital T. But Elspeth now knows 3. Her Tree from back home, which died, a little Tree she planted accidentally and this new cherry Tree she’s discovered.
    4. also pasting it in here seems to lose some formatting, like indents? anyone know how to stop that?

    Of course any other feedback most welcome!

    Chapter Thirteen

    Blue light illuminated the cavern. A circle of icicles and stalactites shimmered above her, nature’s own chandelier. Light filtered through layers of ice. This must be deep underground… or under ice. Dad led a queue of men and women into the cavern, their footsteps sure, their conversation sparse, their breath rose in little clouds above them.
    Leaving the others, Dad and another man went through an archway. Elspeth followed them down a sloping path deeper underground through a tunnel of stone and ice. It ended abruptly where a crevice had opened up the ground at their feet. They stopped and Dad lowered a bucket on a long chain deep into the fissure, drawing it up full of water. How could all around be ice, but the water below ground ran freely?
    Dad unhooked the bucket and brought it back to the first cavern. Elspeth followed. Dad poured the water into a dish-like crater about a meter wide in the centre of the room. Full, it appeared almost green. The others gathered around the pool gazing into it intently. Elspeth peered between them to see. The surface shimmered.
    Elspeth leaned closer. Watery images swirled in the pool: Snow melt trickling off the mountains, seeping into a river underground; a fissure of rock cracking open; water draining away, bubbling and gurgling as it found new pathways below. A wide riverbed diminishing to a mere stream. Vapour rose from a fissure and a cavern filled with fog or steam. She watched the silent images in the pool, confused. Where was this? What did it mean?
    The vision in the pool dissolved. The watchers looked up and spoke to each other, their voices slow and liquid.. She couldn’t understand their words, but from their gestures they must be discussing the implications of what they had seen. Elspeth watched Dad’s face. She reached out to him. Her fingers touched his sleeve.

    Elspeth opened her eyes to find herself resting on a pile of cushions in Launde and Ulma’s treetop pod. Another ‘Dad dream’. But what did it mean? Was he trying to tell her something? Disquiet about the disappearing river lingered.
    Elspeth, Tamram and Farah ate breakfast together in the kitchen in Launde’s pod. Koban and Launde were deep in conversation on the level below. Their voices drifted up the steps. Please let him ask about Dad.
    A young Shejara girl entered the pod carrying an armful of twigs and ivy. ‘Charum. Estora se haja korunja?’ she asked, which brought blank looks in response. She pointed to the nest-like crown of branches on her head.
    ‘I think she would like us to have a crown thing like theirs,’ Elspeth suggested to Tamram and Farah. She had been listening to Launde talking to Ulma this morning and she figured out that ‘cha’ meant yes.
    ‘Cha,’ Elspeth said with a smile and the Shejara girl grinned and replied with a long sentence in her language. Elspeth grimaced.
    ‘Kona,’ she tried. She thought it was their word for ‘no’ and did her best confused expression.
    The girl laughed.
    Elspeth indicated towards a chair. But then this was probably the girl’s home. Elspeth blushed.
    The girl sat down and showed them how to wind the ivy, vines and sticks into a wreath. While they worked, she pointed out things to Elspeth, teaching her words in Shejaran. ‘Leto’ for lantern or light, ‘She’ for Tree (but this soon got confusing as there were lots of types of Tree), ‘Epo’ for drink or water (Elspeth couldn’t be sure which one it meant). ‘Korunja’ was the name for the crown-like headdresses they were making. They were soon finished and the Shejara girl stood and placed the finished wreath on Elspeth’s head.
    ‘My name is Elspeth,’ she said, pointing to herself. ‘Elspeth.’
    The Shejara girl smiled and pointed to herself. ‘Soto me Pendra.’
    ‘Your name is Pendra?’
    ‘Cha.’
    Elspeth’s heart swelled with pride. They were communicating.
    Farah put on her crown. ‘Thank you, Pendra.’
    ‘Ow, mine’s too tight,’ Tamram said, trying his on.
    ‘Try mine,’ Elspeth offered, swapping crowns with him.
    Farah and Tamram exchanged. With giggles, they admired the merits of each korunja on each head, finding the best fit. Pendra looked on smiling. Elspeth gestured for Pendra to swap crowns with her, but Pendra shook her head. Elspeth raised her eyebrows. Were they being disrespectful? She would ask Launde about it.
    Launde and Koban joined them.
    ‘I see you’ve met my daughter, Pendra,’ Launde said.
    ‘Yes.’ Pendra had his eyes and his ready laugh, but perhaps some of her mother’s frame and fiery temperament. ‘Pendra helped us make korunja. Aren’t they good?’ Elspeth stood up, showing off her korunja with the best little twirl she could manage with crutches. ‘How do I ask Pendra if she wants to swap korunja with me for a moment? We’re trying them all on.’
    ‘You could say it, but it won’t make any sense. Korunja cannot come off our heads. They are part of us. The branches grow from our heads like antlers on an elk. We weave the vines and ivy around to make them more elaborate. Pendra cannot take off her korunja any more than you can take off your ears.’
    Elspeth blushed and looked down. ‘I’m sorry. I had no idea.’
    ‘Don’t be embarrassed. How would you have known that? And because they are part of us, they show something of the Tree we serve. Acorns grow in mine because I tend an oak. Pendra hasn’t planted her Tree yet, so she decorates her korunja as she wishes.’
    Launde adjusted one of the flowers Pendra had woven into Elspeth’s korunja. ‘By making you korunja, Pendra welcomes you as one of us.’
    Goosebumps rose on the back of her neck. Elspeth looked at Launde and touched the korunja on her head. Pendra wasn’t just being kind; she was making a bold statement, especially in light of what Boran had done. Elspeth smiled shyly at Pendra, who grinned back.
    After a bit of help from Farah, Tamram finally had a korunja that fit his head and he asked Launde, ‘How do you sleep with these on? It must be tricky to get comfortable.’
    Elspeth cringed at his precociousness, but the ever good-natured, Launde laughed. ‘Good question. Perhaps that is why we have so many cushions, so we can find a position that is comfortable. I prefer to hang the top of my head off the bed, just a little.’
    Tamram smiled, shaking his head.
    Koban turned to Tamram and Elspeth. ‘Launde is willing to spend the day teaching Farah and me about their medicines. We will be busy studying and cataloguing all day. Do you two think you can keep yourselves occupied?’
    Launde spoke briefly to Pendra. She nodded eagerly. He turned to Elspeth and Tamram. ‘While we’re busy, I wondered if you would like to go with Pendra on the dragonflies and see a bit more of the forest?’
    ‘Oh wow. That would be fun,’ Tamram said.
    ‘I’ll come.’ Elspeth heard herself say. She knew she didn’t want to be left behind, but was she really going to do this? It’s just like riding a flying horse, she reminded herself. A prickle of anticipation ran across her skin. And if she went, she’d be exploring the forest. Anything to be out among these amazing Trees.
    She and Tamram followed Pendra across the vine walkways to where the dragonflies clung to a Tree. Pendra made a chirping noise and three dragonflies, blue, green and purple, alighted on the landing platform. Pendra strode to the Purple one. Tamram jiggled on the spot as he waited for Elspeth to choose. Elsepth picked an electric blue one. Were these the same ones as yesterday?
    Tamram took her crutches and left them at the edge of the landing platform. ‘You won’t need them for flying,’ he said.
    She eased her leg over the giant insect. Her stomach gave a little flip. As soon as her feet met the stirrups, the huge blue insect rose from the landing platform. Her hands trembled as she scrambled to grip for the reins. They were up. Buzzing filled the air.
    Pendra’s dragonfly took the lead and the others followed obediently. They left Marratin behind them and swooped down through the Trees. Watching Pendra’s body position, Elspeth tentatively leaned into the turns as they banked left and right. Pendra called out and then pointed to her knees. Elspeth realised she should grip with her legs. She squeezed and winced. Her leg twinged, but it did make a difference. She didn’t feel like she was about to fall off anymore.
    Pendra led them in some little dives and swoops that left Elspeth’s stomach behind. Tamram laughed. Elspeth smiled and relaxed her shoulders. This was fun. As Elspeth’s anxiety gave way to exhilaration, Pendra switched to more daredevil flying, leading the dragonflies on a merry chase, dashing this way and that. Elspeth’s breath caught in her throat. Her heart pumped fast. This was incredible. She leaned forward over her dragonfly, urging it faster. Breeze whipped through her hair, leaves flashing past her. She closed her eyes. Flight liberated her. Here her leg couldn’t slow her down.
    They dropped down near the forest floor then soared up again near the canopy, racing, dodging branches and whizzing under arched exposed roots. Pendra whooped, looking over her shoulder at Tamram and Elspeth’s faces as she led them through smaller and smaller gaps at high speed.
    Elspeth grinned back.
    Breathless, they broke through into a little clearing.
    On the forest floor, Elspeth saw a Tree unlike the others in the Great Forest. It was smaller, almost stunted. A wave of familiarity washed over her, like seeing an old friend in a crowd. Elspeth called out, signalling to Pendra she wanted to stop. Pendra clicked and the dragonflies landed on the ground near the Tree.
    To say the Tree was small was a matter of perspective. It was still a giant Tree, bigger than anything you would find in Talen, except perhaps Elspeth’s Tree. But it was not a Sequoia or an Oak, so it looked like a runt beside the others. Elspeth dismounted her dragonfly. She knew instantly why she had been drawn to the Tree. It was a cherry.
    She leant on an exposed root having left her crutches behind, and ran her hand along it as she walked toward the trunk. ‘Do I know you, Tree? You’re so familiar.’
    The Tree responded with a little shiver, as if Elspeth’s touch tickled.
    ‘Why so small, Tree?’ She teased. ‘This is the Great Forest.’
    She set her back against the trunk and looked up through the branches.
    Memories washed over her.
    The shimmering branches swaying in the breeze.
    The calm solidity of trunk and roots.
    Home, warm and delicious,
    A sad rootlessness inside her.
    She took a deep breath and shook her head slowly, emptying the thoughts.
    ‘Tree, you could grow bigger than this.’ She was only half serious and hadn’t really expected anything to happen, but the Tree stirred. ‘Wow. You heard me?’
    Tree was awake and began to move at an alarming pace. A branch curved around. Leaves caressed Elspeth’s cheek.
    ‘Look out!’ Tamram shouted. From where he stood, it must have seemed Tree was falling. How else could it move so fast? But Elspeth couldn’t run. The exposed root she had been leaning on lifted her and placed her on a branch as it grew higher and higher.
    Elspeth’s heart pounded fast but she wasn’t afraid. She was at home, surrounded by roots and branches. Her Tree had always protected her. This Tree felt the same.
    She stroked and encouraged Tree who responded with more growth. Elspeth found herself grinning in delight as it grew to match the height of the rest of the forest canopy.
    Pendra and Tamram flew up to Elspeth on their dragonflies. Pendra applauded, flying in admiring circles around Tree. Tamram shouted over the buzz of dragonfly wings and the rustle of leaves. ‘How are you doing that?’
    Elspeth shrugged. ‘Trees just like me,’ She took in the wide branches and leaves with pride. Looking down, she realised how high she was in the branches of Tree. She signalled to Pendra. ‘How will I get down?’
    Pendra did her little chirping call and Elspeth’s blue dragonfly rose to join them in the air.
    Elspeth didn’t fancy a midair leap onto the dragonfly’s back. ‘Tree, could you help me?’ she asked, stroking the branch where she sat, and a thick new branch promptly grew out horizontally, and her dragonfly alighted on it. Holding onto branches, Elspeth managed to mount the dragonfly, and join the others in the air.
    With her feet tucked into the stirrups, she reached out to stroke some leaves. Something swelled in her chest. ‘In the Stacked City, it’s blossom season. Have you got any blossom for me?’
    Instantly, Tree shimmered and buds unfolded into millions of pink blossoms. Elspeth whooped with delight. Pendra, Tamram and Elspeth flew their dragonflies in amongst the blossom, as it swirled and showered down on them like pink confetti.
    ‘Seriously, how are you doing this?’ Tamram asked when his dragonfly flew near. ‘This is amazing.’
    ‘I just talked to Tree. I seem to have a connection with Cherry Trees. It’s happened before.’
    Elspeth breathed in the glory of Tree in full blossom. Swooping through the rain of blossom, she couldn’t remember feeling happier. Her whole body buzzed with life.
    Pendra called them and they nudged their dragonflies closer to her. Enormous cherries were growing and Pendra was trying to gather a few to take with them. Pendra drew a net out of a pouch, and she held it while Tamram and Elspeth placed eight bright red cherries, the size of melons, inside it. Pendra tied the net to the back of her dragonfly.
    Elspeth said goodbye to Tree, promising to return and they flew back towards Marratin. She wondered how the little Tree near the half bridge was getting on.
    ‘I’ve got blossom all down inside my clothes.’ Tamram wriggled his shoulders and shook his tunic as they flew side by side.
    Pendra brushed some blossom from her arms and then pointed to Elspeth’s korunja. ‘Jesto le hapto lensa Korunja.’
    ‘I think she means there’s blossom stuck in your crown thing,’ Tamram said.
    ‘Is there? I forgot I was still wearing that.’ Elspeth reached up and felt her korunja with one hand as they flew and indeed it was covered with blossom, but not loose blossom. Her korunja was growing blossom. How could it? Pendra hadn’t put cherry branches in her korunja. Had Tree done this to her?
    Elspeth flew on puzzled. She didn’t say anything to Tamram. It was a little too strange. Quite enough amazing things had already happened for one day. She decided to wait until she was alone to investigate the blossom in her crown.

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