Story 1: The Climb Part 1
Part 1: Root.
Taken from the collected diaries of Father Pieter Brennan, recovered from the ruins of the Library of Leaves, Octas 1507 AA.
14th day of Fendas, 1456 AA
I had a visitor today. The High Father himself, would you believe, our blessed leader Father Loris. He wished to speak with me in private on a matter of great import. Well, of course I agreed. We adjourned to the cloister and, over a tray of tea and cake brought by one of the acolytes, he laid out his plan.
The Arbour; that which is fundamental to our religion, has always been at the base of everything we believe. Fourteen hundred years of symbiosis with the Tree, and in all that time no real steps forward in our research. Something, the High Father suggested, was keeping us back.
“High Father, whatever can you mean?” I said. He frowned, and here I shall relate the conversation that followed.
“Tell me, my child,” he said, his walnut-brown skin creasing around the eyes, “Have you ever thought of climbing the tree?”
“The… the Arbour? Climbing it?” I spluttered, a chill running through me. Such a thing is sacrilege, I thought, an affront to everything the church holds dear. My feelings must have been brutally plain on my face, for Father Loris’s features relaxed into a kindly smile.
“Of course you have never thought about it. There is a deep sense of blasphemy in you, in me, in all of us, that to even conceive of the idea feels wrong. Dirty. But there it is.” He took a sip of tea and winced. “Too sweet. You really drink it with that much sugar?” I nodded, struck dumb by the enormity of the idea the High Father presented. He placed the teacup back into its saucer and shook his head. “Oh, to be young again.”
“High Father,” I began, but he waved me into silence.
“The blasphemy, the idea that climbing the Arbour is somehow ‘bad’ is instilled in us at an early age. I learned it from my tutors, just as you did. Just as my tutors learned it from their elders, and so on back through the history of the church. I wonder,” he mused, stroking the wispy beard that clung to his chin, “I wonder who it was that first decided this. Perhaps it was even the Arbour itself.”
I opened my mouth to disagree, then closed it again. We were told, after all, that the early men had spoken with the Arbour and received replies.
“I am not going to have my tenure as High Father end without some sort of original research to show for it, my son,” the High Father went on. The High Father leaned forwards. “Why do we research things?”
“To supplement our learning, I guess. To confirm it or correct it.”
“Think on from there.”
I rested my chin on one hand, elbows on the table, unconsciously mirroring my guest. “If I climb the Arbour and am turned away, or suffer some mishap, then we have confirmed the ruling of the past.” My eyes widened in realisation. “And if I climb the Tree, discover new things… a new branch of research could be opened up.”
“Aye.” He sat back again into the plush red armchair and took another sip of his rapidly-cooling tea. “We could discover new life, new medicines, things to improve the life we have and ways to more easily end that life. Those things must be catalogued, categorised, controlled.”
“The person you send would have to be someone fairly special. I can think of three or four acolytes here, one that I trained personally, who might have the attention to detail and the stamina to perform such a feat,” I said, already reviewing the candidates in my head.
“Do you think I came here merely for your advice?” the High Father said, then he began to laugh. To hear a belly laugh, full-throated and roaring, from a man of his advanced age quite took my mind off its track. He calmed and wiped a tear from his eye.
“Pieter, you have trained some of the best and they will carry on in your absence admirably, I am sure. I am here to give you your next research assignment.” He gave a wicked grin. “Climb the Arbour.”
And so it was done, in three words. No pleas would he hear; he already had answers to most of my reasons for sending someone else, almost as if he had planned every word. I have no familial ties; no dependants, no pets; all of the skills a person would need were already at my disposal, with a little improvisation; even the matter of my own slowly advancing years, already 45 summers gone, were waved away with one beringed hand.
I was to climb the Arbour.
16th day of Fendas, 1456 AA
A busy day yesterday precluded me from writing in this diary, but I shall make amends today and attempt to describe all that has gone on.
The exact nature of my research task has, of course, become a secret which is known only by a select few. The High Father, of course, myself, my assistant Dolan and Father Baker. The latter was unavoidable; when departing on a mission of any kind it is essential to let one’s immediate superior know where you are going, however much you dislike him.
That meeting, yesterday morning as the cock crowed, was made infinitely easier by the presence of the High Father in the room, but he left the talking to me. I have to say I surprised myself in how quickly the justification for this came to my own lips; High Father Loris had evidently done a better job on me that I had even realised.
Of course Father Baker had little choice but to give me access to the resources I needed and make way for me. I think, despite the arthritis that plagues his knees on frosty mornings, that he was jealous of the potential opportunities. The curl of his lip as I explained exactly what I would be climbing told me much about how closed his mind was to the idea, though.
The rest of the day was taken in a flurry of activity, collecting trail rations, a bedroll, clothing, stout boots (my sandals, oft-repaired, are sadly not up to the task) and blankets. The High Father entrusted to me, before he left in his carriage, several small gold and silver ingots. Each one, about the size of my thumb, represents more money than I have ever seen in my life. I have one next to me know, a gold slug of metal that reflects the candlelight most pleasingly. I can see why some men spend their entire lives collecting the stuff, despite it only have worth in the eyes of those who trade in it. He also gave me, from his own pocket, an automatic flint and steel.
“You never know,” was all the High Father would say, and he’s right. I have no idea of what I’m really letting myself in for, and the enormity of the project is just starting to set in. Here is my itinerary for the next few weeks:
Six days travel on foot from Downshire, east to Daron, then another four east to Velec’s Hall.
North three days to Simel’s Hearth (how quaintly the villages and towns are named in our fair country!)
North seven days to River’s Song.
I must be at River’s Song within twenty days, for the High Father has ensured that a ferry will be there waiting for me to take me upriver to Rootholme. The ferries are contracted, though, and will not wait. It is my understanding that the ferries remain one of the few ties we have to the SIC, and it is easy to see why when our goals and resources lie so far apart. Nevertheless, their steam ferries are quite the easiest way to get around.
One day rest and recuperation at Rootholme, and ensuring that I have everything I need. The High Father regrets that he will not be there to see me off.
The rest of the itinerary is projected, but all research projects need a plan of some sort, no matter how audacious they be.
Five days allowed for climbing up the Tree. This may be an easy task; branches wider than most of our roads are evenly spaced up the trunk, and I can make camp on any of those. To get further than we can view with our eyes, vertically up, I will need to climb for around eight hours of all of those days. It will not be climbing in the true sense of the word, as parts of the trunk are bevelled, at least to our eyes, and allow for sloping paths. They are narrow and extremely steep, but one works with what one has.
Twenty days for research. This is, I feel, the most flexible part of the project. Depending on how high I reached during the previous days I will perhaps need to eat into this time for climbing. Eating is an appropriate word for another reason, as I will be carrying my rations on my back and can manage enough for a little over four weeks.
Four days to descend.
The High Father has kindly offered me a room and board at Rootholme for several weeks afterwards, no doubt so that he is the first to hear about any findings. It is the least I can do for an old man. Besides; I will no doubt be extremely tired by that point!
Tiredness is an apt subject to come round to, for I feel this has become somewhat of a ramble. It is gone nine bells and my candle is beginning to burn low. My boots, stiff and uncomfortable for now, are sat ready to be donned after morning meal and my pack, quite the heaviest I have carried for a good long time, leans by the door ready to be shouldered. I leave on the morrow.