From the Journal of Aframos Longjourney, Pilgrim
With notes by Avos Torr, Scholar of Rheve Library
Byrday, Twenty-fourth Cycle, Seventh Year, 81st Turn
Eighty-Sixth Day in the Trees
We are currently staying in the home of a tree.
It says we may call it Branching Early. It is not its name, but it says that its name cannot be spoken. It can be smelled, and felt, and digested, but it cannot be said, because that it not the language of the trees, which is passed from root to root, all across the forest. Branching Early is a very rough approximation of his name, much as Rising-Whistle-Two-Clicks was a rough approximation of the name of Twisthorn's friend.
It is a fruit tree, bearing something called a wise plum1. It offered several to us, which I ate. Torne begged off, looking somewhat nauseous. He told me privately he did not like the idea of eating something that grew from a person. I understand the sentiment, but Branching Early was very insistent.
It speaks by means of a bellows and something that resembles a metal horn attached to a flute. Branches work the bellows while the finger-like twigs work the "instrument." Its voice squeals somewhat, but it is not unpleasant. It is almost like music, in fact.
I fear we noticed the instrument before we noticed Branching Early. We were examining it when the branches moved, and the tree said hello. We were taken aback, I must admit. Still, it has made an effort. It made a face, of sorts, in its trunk. A thick, short branch makes a nose, with two boles for eyes, and bumps on the trunk suggesting a mouth, eyebrows, and even cheekbones. It's a somewhat human face. Torne says it looks like a very old man, which Branching Early said was appropriate, for it is a very old tree.
It sees with its leaves, actually, and hears with small fluid-filled boles in its wood that move with the sound. Apparently, several of the other wise plum trees learned how to do this and told the rest. They communicate very quickly with each other, and these new senses had given them much more to discuss. They had already had senses of touch, of scent, and several others that were useful to trees. After some effort, they had figured out the Trade Language. They had written at first, and then, when a young smith from a town far away figured out how to make the instruments, learned to speak. There were only a few trees that had them. Branching Early was given one in consideration for its great age and wisdom, it informed us proudly.
It was very accommodating towards us, in fact. It only asked that we be very careful about our campfires, and not to cut down wise plums for firewood. Those were the reasons they had gone to all the effort of learning to hear, to see, and finally to talk. They could do a certain amount of effort to resist being turned into firewood or lumber, but they were almost powerless about forest fires. They now were determined to instruct everyone in the woods about the dangers of uncontrolled fire. Branching Early said (perhaps a bit wistfully) that there is also some small hope that some enterprising soul will discover a surefire cure for bark beetles, but it was not so confident about that.
Our own campfire was all that Branching Early could hope, thanks largely to Torne, who knows of such things. We keep it ringed with stones and clear brush back from it, that it does not get out of our control. Branching was very grateful to us, and offered more of its plums. Torne is claiming he's allergic. No matter. They taste good, and this means there is more for me.