Brasen yelled after her, but was answered only with the morning breeze. Surely there would be others nearby who had heard their exchange, but if they did it was clear they didn’t consider it worthy of interest, or else were held away by some social order he didn’t understand. Regardless, it was clear he needed to get away. (1)
The bindings were so tight they numbed the feeling in his legs and arms, but he could still move them some, albeit in a restricted way. If he turned his head just right, he could see the blade on the matted floor. He couldn’t fathom why she had left it behind, but he saw in it a slim hope of escape. (2)
After several attempts and considerable exertion, he finally managed to toss his deadened legs over the edge of the hammock. So tight were his bonds that his body would hardly bend at all. So he rocked it on the edge of the hammock like a lever until at length he was able to leverage his feet to the floor. From there he teetered himself until his was nearly upright. His feet felt like stone blocks against the floor. He was surprised his legs were blooded enough to support him at all, but in truth the tightness of the bonds actually helped with that. (3)
From there, it took several deep breaths for him to summon the courage to hop away from the hammock, which still held part of his weight. He had no confidence his legs would work as he willed them to, and if he tumbled forward there would be no way to break the fall. But he would have to fall eventually anyway to reach the knife, so he worked his knees several times to stretch the bindings as much as he could, and then hopped out from the bed. (4)
It was easier than he expected. It took only five hops to come in reach of the blade. From there he turned his body so when he fell his dominant hand would be next to the knife. He had managed to separate the bindings near his hand just enough to allow his thumb and a few fingers to slip out. He hoped it would be enough. Of course, his fall would create quite a thud. That was unavoidable. He could only hope that whatever caused these tree folk to turn a deaf ear to his screaming would continue to work in his favor now. (5)
He took one long breath, then let his body fall. He landed with a thud and roll, and though it hurt much worse than he expected, it wasn’t nearly so loud as he feared thanks to the giving nature of the matted floor. It took several rolls back and forth to position his hand just right, but at last he reached the blade handle. Turning it inward toward his arm he set to work. (6)
The blade was exquisitely sharp. It took only a few minutes for the first rope to snap. Within ten, he had freed his arm. He made quick work of the rest. (7)
The blood rushing back into this limbs made his whole body throb with pinprick pain, but he ignored it. With blade in hand and a good length of the rope wrapped round his waist, he padded to an opening in the leaves and peered out. (8)
Massive limbs sprawled everywhere, dark as chocolate and framed by the great leaves of the bian’ar trees. Dappled sunlight pierced the canopy in a thousands dances of light upon the treescape. Somewhere far below, the ground waited, but all he could see that way was darkness. Just as well, he thought. He had never been one for heights, and the darkness let him imagine the ground was not so far as he knew it must be. (9)
There were many rooms gracing the bian’ar’s mighty limbs, some larger, some smaller, but all crafted much like the one in which he stood. The truly curious thing, though, was the absence of people. Not one soul in view anywhere, in any direction. Had they all gone off to hunt? Were they all in hiding, watching him, like a rabbit sniffing a trap? Was he some kind of sport to them? Or was this a test? (10)
He shook his head to banish these thoughts. It was pointless to speculate at the moment. His only focus right now was to escape. (11)
Having lived so much of his life alone in forested lands, Brasen knew more than anyone else in the Stand about woodlore and the skills required to survive on your own. The knife and rope would serve him well to that end, but he knew they alone were not enough. His captors had helped replenish his body fluids, but his mouth was still dry as sand, and his stomach churned with a hollow ache. Bian’ar woods were rich in diverse life in the heights of their canopies, but they were veritable deserts on the ground where so little light could reach.
He knew what he must do. (12)
After one more survey of the structures and web of limbs linking them, he crouched low and slipped silently out into the canopy. Employing all his stealth as a master huntsmen, he moved like a shadow in the dappled light, his eyes keen on his surroundings for any sign of human life. He descended through a handful of limbs before reaching one of the larger rooms within his view. He hoped it served as a communal space of some sort, and thus might be more likely to hold water or stores of food–that is, if these treefolk held such things in common. (13)
A quick peek inside revealed no human presence, so in he went. The room within was spacious, more than four times the size of the one he’d slept in, and filled wall to wall with everything he needed. A dozen barrels or more, crafted from leaves and sealed with precious bian’ar sap, each held water to their brim. And from a lattice of ropes across the ceiling hung fruits of every kind common to the canopy of bian’ar woods, and a menagerie of dead creatures in various stages of drying. Most were just strips of meat from sources he couldn’t identify, but several were from animals he knew. Snakes, squirrel, lamkin, and many monkats. (14)
He smiled at seeing the monkats, for they lived in only one Watch he knew of. Castellan. Of course he could be in a Watch in some distant land in the world where monkats also lived. But if he was still in the Inherited Lands, then that meant he knew where he was; and more importantly, in what direction he needed to go. (15)
With quiet efficiency, he cut some of the thick green leaves into strips, then with lengths of the white rope fashioned a satchel he could strap to his back. He packed it with an assortment of fruit and the most dried of the meat strips. For water, he found several portable pouches designed for this purpose, formed from leaves and sealed with sap as the barrels were. He filled one and drank it all, then filled two more and placed them in the satchel. He wished he could take more but water was heavy and he needed to stay light if he hoped to move undetected. (16)
Though his fear urged him to descend out of danger and return to the dark solidity of the ground, his knew it was wiser to remain in the canopy where there was game and water, and he could use the sun to guide his course. The bian’ar trees were networked in such a way that traversing from one to the next usually presented no obstacle. But so long as he stayed in the heights, stealth would be his only advantage against the tree folk. He knew he could not run as fast as they could. He recalled how impossibly fast they had moved when they captured him, and the way Jema put a knife to his throat in what seemed a blink of an eye. (17)
Quietly easing his makeshift pack onto his back, he secured the knife in the rope tied round his waist, being careful to position the blade so it would not cut him as he moved. For several moments then he knelt at the opening and scanned the trees. When at last he was sure no eyes were watching, he slipped out and headed north. If he was in Castellan Watch as he hoped, then Songwill would be that way. (18)
His heart pounded like thunder in his ears, but he did not hurry, forcing himself to move as if stalking a prey. Silent. Unseen. A shadow in the trees. (19)
He continued this way for the better part of morning, moving in short bursts, following the movement of the shadows in the breeze, until at last he saw the final leafy structure of the tree folk fade into the south. From there the bian’ar wood spread before him like a complex latticework of chocolate and deep green, dappled with light by the noon day sun. In another context he would have thought it beautiful. But now it seemed only daunting. How many days would this be his view? (20)
Being free of the tree village, he dared let himself move a little faster, traversing the mighty boughs in short running bursts. He remembered how the girl had mocked his lack of stealth when they captured him, and even though he believed that was just her arrogance talking, he took extra care to make no sound as he ran. The only exception were the few times he tried whispering the Words to transport himself to Songwill. But still nothing happened. He had no idea why. He knew of no Wording on Castellan Watch. He wondered if that Council Lord had done something to him as he fled through the portal, or if he might not be in Castellan Watch at all, but in some far away place in an unknown land with no way to get back home. (21)
One problem at a time, he told himself. Get safely away. Then worry about the rest. (22)
To keep his strength, he paused at regular intervals to drink and to sample some of the dried meat. But he never lingered, preferring to keep moving as he ate. The wood was quiet. Too quiet, really. The canopies of bian’ar forests were known to be rich with life. But he had heard no monkat calls, not even a bird, since leaving the tree village hours ago. Where were they all? (23)
The answer came just as dusk began to settle on the woods. He’d been pressing hard for hours, and was just beginning to look for a place to settle in and take a rest when he saw one of the tree folk standing on a limb not fifty paces ahead. He was a beast of a man, tall and muscled, wearing nothing but a waist cloth. The rest of his body was painted in wavy hues of green and brown. The effect of it made the the man seem to fade in and out of the treescape behind him, as if he was more spirit than flesh and only partly there. He watched Brasen from his perch with a kind of disinterested stare, clearly aware of him but not much impressed. (24)
Brasen froze, and the two stared at one another for a time. The man made no move to attack, but neither did he withdraw, nor did he offer any acknowledgement that the two men had seen each other. He simply watched.
After a few minutes of this, Brasen chanced to look away, scanning the trees for other tree folk who might be also watching. There were none that he could see. And when he looked back, the man was gone. (25)
There was no way he could rest now. (26)
"...a work of extreme depth and breadth of vision."
-Christian Fiction Review
Michael D. Warden has been working professionally as a writer and editor since 1989. After several years as Managing Editor for a large publishing house in Colorado, he stepped into the adventure of writing full time. In addition to his fantasy trilogy The Pearlsong Refounding, he has written several non-fiction books, and contributed to more than 150 other books and magazines.