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Authors: Joni Sensel

The Farwalker's Quest

BOOK: The Farwalker's Quest
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THE FARWALKER'S QUEST

J
ONI
S
ENSEL

Contents

Cover

Title Page

Dedication

Part One Finder

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Part Two Specter

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

Chapter 21

Chapter 22

Part Three Stone-Singer

Chapter 23

Chapter 24

Chapter 25

Chapter 26

Chapter 27

Chapter 28

Chapter 29

Chapter 30

Chapter 31

Part Four Farwalker

Chapter 32

Chapter 33

Chapter 34

Chapter 35

Chapter 36

Chapter 37

Chapter 38

Chapter 39

Chapter 40

Chapter 41

Chapter 42

Chapter 43

Chapter 44

Imprint

For all who wander

PART ONE
FINDER
CHAPTER
1

Zeke's tree wouldn't speak to him.

“Are you sure you've got the right tree?” Ariel asked when he told her. “Maybe you've been hearing another nearby that got tired of the confusion and gave up.”

Zeke shook his head as the two twelve-year-olds hurried back across the meadow toward afternoon classes. At lunchtime, they'd dashed off to chase pollywogs in the creek. Their catch wiggled in the wood bucket that now dangled between them, and water splashed their legs with each step. Their free hands crammed their mouths with last-minute lunches.

“I think I know my own favorite tree,” grumbled Zeke. “She's just stopped paying attention.”

Ariel calculated. Today was March 29. “But Namingfest is only three days away!”

“Gee, really?” Zeke rolled his eyes. “I might …” He couldn't say he might fail. “I might have to wait until next year.”

“What's your father say about it?”

Zeke watched his goat-leather boots squelch in the mud. “Haven't told him.”

Ariel shot a sidelong glance at her friend. A Tree-Singer could be the most important person in a village. Hearing the voices of trees and coaxing them to share their great wisdom took special talent, however, and both of Zeke's older brothers had settled for more ordinary trades. Since then, Zeke had vowed that he would claim the Tree-Singer name of his father. But today his narrow face drooped in defeat.

If Ariel had chomped into her meat pie right then, or maybe just bitten her tongue, the next few hours—indeed, her whole life—might have turned out quite different. Instead, she wiped her mouth with her sleeve and said, “Maybe you're not a Tree-Singer after all, huh?”

Zeke's sausage roll dropped from his fingers. Seeing it fall, Ariel could practically hear her mother scolding her for her thoughtless talk. “Even a cart donkey can bray, love,” Luna would say. “Take care you aren't mistaken for one.”

“Or maybe your tree's sick,” Ariel added quickly. “Maybe that's why she's quiet.”

“Oh, and I suppose you're going to heal her?”

Ariel stopped. “Sure. Why not?” She was the daughter of Luna Healtouch, after all.

“What do you know about healing a tree?” Zeke demanded. “There's nothing wrong with her, anyway.”

“Maybe I'll just go and find out.” Ariel released the handle of the bucket, spun, and ran back in the direction they'd come.

“Ariel, wait!” Zeke struggled with the bucket alone.

“Come on,” she shouted over her shoulder. “Leave the pollywogs there. We'll come back.”

“What about class? I don't want to be punished for showing up late again!”

Not known for the effort she applied to her studies, Ariel
ignored the squirm of her conscience. Excitement propelled her down the path. Zeke's idea that she heal the tree was so good, she wished she'd thought of it first.

Everyone in Canberra Docks assumed she would become Ariel Healtouch in time. The bouncy girl with the apple-round face hadn't shown a talent for anything else. She would turn thirteen later that summer, so at Namingfest in a few days she could apprentice herself to a Fisher or Reaper. But the easiest course would simply be to learn from her mother. Unlike tree-singing and the more mystical trades, most of the healing skills could be taught.

Yet a nagging worry chased at her heels as she sped toward the woods. She didn't feel much like a healer. Ariel liked gathering herbs, but she found illness messy and unpleasant until the ailing person felt better—and paid off the debt with some interesting trade.

Healing a tree, though, would be almost like helping an angel. Some people said trees spoke directly with the Lord of All Things. Maybe Zeke's tree, grateful, would share an old secret, like where to find gemstones or the legendary treasures locked away in the Vault. If so, Ariel was confident that Zeke would understand the tree's message. Of course he would share it with her. He often acted grown-up and thoughtful because he was trying so hard to be a Tree-Singer, but Ariel knew his adventurous side. Together they'd trapped classmates in the outhouse, lowered each other into the village well, and set his family's laundry ablaze trying to send fire through a string as people were said to have done in the old days. They'd both been punished for that, but it hadn't stunted their curiosity or their mutual attraction to mischief.

Sure enough, Zeke's big feet soon pounded behind her. His
long legs easily caught up with Ariel's short ones, and they dashed together along the path, leaping root knuckles and dodging branches. Ahead, a grove of cottonwoods reached toward the sky. Smaller alder, cedar, and other trees shaded the creek below.

Ariel spotted Zeke's tree. They'd often sat in the moss beneath its curved branches, eating lunches of cheese curds and bread. Her legs slowed.

“That one, right?” she asked, pointing. Although much older than Ariel and Zeke, the maple was still young for a tree. Its trunk forked near the height of Ariel's chest. Below, roots humped from the ground, clenched to hold the tree firm against winter winds.

“Yes, that's her.” Zeke peered wistfully through his sandy bangs to the flickering leaves overhead.

“I don't see any brown leaves,” Ariel said.

“She's not sick, I told you.” He crossed his arms and waited for her to concede. Sometimes he acted too much like a brother.

Turning away with a flounce, Ariel slipped closer to the craggy trunk. “Hello, tree,” she said. “I'm Ariel. Remember me? I've been here before with Zeke. You know Zeke.”

Zeke snorted. “That is
not
how you talk to a tree.”


Your
way hasn't been working, remember?”

His disdain crumpled and he fixed his eyes on the dirt near his feet. Ariel sighed. It was for his own good, she reminded herself. She couldn't even try to help if he kept making comments like that.

She reached one palm to the rough trunk and circled it. Around back, where less sunlight dripped through the trees, moss draped the bark. Ariel paused in the shadows.

For someone named Ariel, she didn't look very airy. She was sturdy and short-limbed, and her black hair was chopped blunt near her chin. She did have light feet, though, and frequently skipped when she walked. Her eyes, a dark gray indoors, reflected blue from the sky whenever she went outside, which was often. Her mother had given up insisting on skirts, which ripped too easily on branches and stones. Instead, Ariel wore mostly wool trousers and sweaters.

She tipped her head skyward now and tried to remember the questions her mother asked neighbors who weren't feeling well. None of them seemed to apply to a tree. Ariel could see no wounds bleeding sap, no gnawing bugs, no breaks in the sturdy tree bones. The tree's breath smelled of honey, the balsam scent of nearby cottonwood buds. On high, sunshine glowed through the leaves, which flickered in the breeze. To Ariel, it looked as if the tree winked.

With a sudden insight that both her mother and Zeke's father would have recognized from their work, Ariel knew there was nothing wrong with this tree. She wanted to spank it for tormenting Zeke. Instead, she wrapped both arms around the trunk and rested her cheek against it, trying to think what to say or do for him.

“Why are you ignoring my friend?” She peeked around the trunk. Zeke sat on a knuckle of root, his pointy chin slumped in his hands. The dejection on his face rubbed a blister on her heart.

Zeke's tree felt that pain, too. But the kindly maple had known, in the way that trees do, that the boy Zeke by himself would never have done what was needed. So the tree quaked, shouting as loud as she could to this nearly deaf human girl.

And in a corner of Ariel's mind, an idea bloomed. Oblivious
to the rush of sap over her head, she turned the idea in her mind, wondering how to lure Zeke into a sport they both knew was forbidden.

The first time he had ever brought Ariel to his tree for a visit, she had asked, “How can you tell your special tree from the rest?” She'd envied his talent, since she seemed to have none of her own.

“The same way you know your best friends,” Zeke had replied. “You recognize one another.”

“But you must recognize dozens of trees. We've seen the same ones our whole lives.”

“That's not what I mean. It's not what it looks like, branches and bark. It's …” He'd frowned, searching for words. “It's more like hearing it whisper in the back of your head. Some trees don't like to be bothered—”

“That big oak by the graveyard.”

“Yeah. Anyone can figure that out. He'd get up and move farther away if he could. But some trees like people—one person, at least. They make you feel welcome. Sometimes a leaf will fall right into your hands. You want to curl up at their feet and be cozy.”

“So you're basically a pet.” Ariel had giggled.

“Probably.” Unperturbed, Zeke had stroked the bark of his maple. “They live longer than us. They understand more.” At Ariel's snort, he'd added, “Just because they can't walk around doesn't mean they're not wise.”

Chastened, Ariel had inspected the woods around them. She could see how one tree differed from the next, but none looked particularly smart. If they were, why did they let their branches and some of their friends end up as tables and boats? Yet Ariel knew that certain trees had given Zeke's father all kinds of
important information, including the locations of lost children and the truth behind quarrels. Some said wise trees knew the future as well as the past.

“I don't get it,” she'd sighed.

Zeke had shrugged. “I guess you'd be a Tree-Singer if you did.”

“Can I listen while you sing?”

Zeke had always shyly refused. Ariel had even tried to sneak up on him, but he always fell silent as she drew within earshot. Perhaps his tree warned him.

Today, though, either Zeke forgot Ariel's presence or desperation numbed his self-consciousness. As she watched from behind the mossy trunk, he gazed toward the maple's crown, leaf shadows dappling his face. A few lines of song, almost a whisper, slipped from Zeke's lips:

Hail to leaf and twig and bough
,

Towering above me now
.

I will listen, graceful tree
,

BOOK: The Farwalker's Quest
11.55Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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