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    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?’
    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.


    Thank you! So helpful! xx

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