Story 1: The Climb Part 3
Part 3: Branch
8th day of Maia, 1456 AA
I write this from what I have dubbed the Foothills of the Arbour. There’s no official name for this, or any of the areas I will be visiting; I suppose we have always been conditioned by our teachings to view the Arbour as a whole being rather than as individual parts. Certainly, were this a mountain, the lowest slopes would be the foothills, and so I name it thus.
The roots of the Arbour curve up and down, sometimes snaking partly above and partly below the ground and, in at least one case, arching above the ground to create an immense bridge. As this latter feature was the most accessible climb, I decided to make my way from Rootholme towards this singular object, which I have named the Great Root Bridge.
The journey from Rootholme itself was long. The Arbour, at this distance, plays tricks on the mind’s perspective. It looks as if it already looms over you, indeed could fall on you at any moment, but the distance to its base is still measured in miles. It simply is a far larger thing than a mortal mind can encompass and I find it amazing that we try.
The Great Root Bridge begins more than two miles from the base of the tree, rising slowly. The going is a little tougher as the bark of the tree has wide gulfs between some of the sections. Most are smaller than the length of a man’s stride and could be easily covered, but there were the occasional knots or ridges in the wood which needed to be jumped or climbed down. I almost courted disaster the first time I tried to jump with my full pack on my back; the ridge was ten feet deep and, though not fatal, would have hurt me had I fallen. I jumped, not at all ready for the pendulum effect that my pack had on me, and barely made it to the other side! Thank the Tree no-one was watching; nothing was injured save my pride, but the bruising there will fade only slowly.
I managed to make it to the trunk of the Tree itself, which is where I made camp. I will admit to a certain degree of trepidation; even standing on the roots of the Arbour such as I have been should be grounds for an investigation of my faith, my morals and my very worthiness for life. Though safe in the knowledge that the High Father himself sent me here, I still found it hard to put one foot in front of the other. Tomorrow I begin the most arduous part of this, the climb. I have already scouted out a possible route, one that begins with ease and gets steadily harder; I had the foresight to pack a small brass telescope into my gear, something to remember my days back at the Library with, and using it as the sunlight touched its last to the Arbour showed me that the first branch is a full day’s climb away using this route. I am fortunate that strange bulges in the Tree’s surface, what would undoubtedly be tiny ridges on any normal tree, provide me with at least the start of an upward route. I will need to be awake early in the morning and already on my way ere the sun rises.
9th day of Maia, 1456 AA
Disastrous day. I had four separate attempts to begin the climb, but it was as if the Tree itself was denying me access. Perhaps… but no. That is superstitious nonsense.
I began by attempting the climb through the route I had identified yesterday evening. This route began well enough, curving around the Tree; the spacing between the chunks of bark was closer than I could have hoped and the line of ascent was fairly steady. I am under no illusions that I will have to physically climb, as if it were a ladder, later on in the ascent but at that moment everything seemed perfect.
The large, smooth knot in the wood that stopped my progress was apparently hidden from view down below. Part of the bark was kinked out and prevented me from seeing it, from planning my route around it. Its smoothness and complete lack of handholds meant that, for now, my ascent that way was halted. Without another viable route upwards from where I was stood, I made my way back down.
Little can be said of my second and third attempts; they met with equal despair. No, it was my fourth and final (for today, at least) effort which has me the most shaken up and has ensured that I go nowhere in the gathering dusk.
I was making good progress upwards, perhaps having climbed half a mile vertically in a casual slope. Rain had started to fall, making some of the going slippery and the bark treacherous in places. A small opening in the trunk of the tree yawned invitingly just a few hundred steps away, gently coming into view around the curve of the trunk. I stepped out, glad of the chance to shelter for a short while, soaked through as I was. Sure enough, the cave was warm and smelled strangely comforting. It took me back to the workshops at the Library where the bookshelves were made. Each was constructed with a little waste as possible, such was this gift of wood from the trees revered. The shelves were sanded and shaped before being added to the Library itself.
I had been in the cave for a few minutes before I realised there was something wrong. The cave seemed to go off deeply into the trunk, and only a little sawdust on the floor suggested anything untoward was occurring, but then I heard it. A scratching, scritching, clawing sound. Curious, and more than a little afraid, I pulled out one of my precious tapers and lit with the automatic flint and steel. Immediately, wondrously, a spark shot out and the cave lit up. Almost immediately I saw my own face and flame reflected a hundred, nay, a thousand times in the lenses of some enormous eyes! I was sharing the cave with what I now realise was some sort of giant wood-eating insect! Of course, looking back, it stands to reason that a giant tree may give rise to giant flora and fauna living on it. I shall have to take care as I progress, lest a woodlouse or similar eat me in one bite!
I ran out of the cave, waving the taper towards the creature, and tried to still my fluttering heart. A cold sweat broke out all over me and I fear that my churning stomach came close to giving up its contents. A glance upwards revealed that, as the light was already fading, the first branch was still a good five hours climb away, and I could not hope to complete the climb in the dark.
Tomorrow I will set back off on this route, but it is damnably irritating to be back where I started with nothing to show for it but a few years shaved off my life and one brief glance at a new species! Not even enough for a decent sketch, though I will do my best.
Perhaps I will be able to study one of these more closely in the future, though hopefully when it is truly dead!
10th day of Maia, 1456 AA
A much better day today. It is windy, but I have made camp on the first branch. I am at least a mile up vertically and have certainly had enough success today to make up for yesterday’s abject failures.
I am sure that the small plant I have made my camp next to, happily growing directly out of the Arbour’s bark, is not one that has been categorised before. I took samples and sketches before moving on, but I fear I will not always have the time or the opportunity.
Perhaps this will be named after me. Purple Brennan, or the Purple Pieter.
Ah, of all sins, pride is the most insidious!
12th day of Maia, 1456 AA
Two backbreaking days of climbing and I am more than three miles up the trunk of the tree. This approximate ‘mile a day’ rate is appearing to be a regular thing and I can, perhaps, count on it continuing. The Tree itself carries on forever upwards, piercing the clouds and on beyond that before it even thinks of widening. I wonder whether the air above will be capable of supporting my breathing.
This trip has already been a treasure trove of discoveries, and I am glad to put the travails of the first climbing day behind me. Three new species of flower, a fungus that grows only in the darkness between bark segments and, best of all, the chance to observe the nesting habits of the Arboreal Buzzard. It was fascinating to watch this bird, the only known one to make its nest in the branches of the One Tree. In our cuttings, the ones we encourage to grow in every settlement, no animals make their nests, not even birds or squirrels. Why should this one be different?
My patience was rewarded, and my questions answered, when the Buzzard left its eggs for a short while and flew away. I was beginning to worry that my presence there had scared it into leaving for good, abandoning the eggs; just as I was about to move out along the branch towards the nest, it returned clutching something terribly familiar in its hooked claws. At last, the incredible length of its beak was made clear as it had successfully fished out and killed one of the insects that had so scared me on my first climbing day. Revenge is sweet! The buzzard ate the creature slowly, putting aside some of the carapace and its contents, presumably for its young.
Tomorrow my climb can continue. Whether I will have the strength for a diary entry remains to be seen.