The day before their birthday, Snip, Morth and Ceez completed all the formal ceremonies required of eleven year olds on the brink of manhood. Dreary stuff like walking the Processional Path to the Square, presenting their birth certificates, drinking unfermented mares’ milk to the applause of parents and relatives and making oaths of loyalty to the High King of Dron.
Unresisting, they obeyed the letter of the law and waited impatiently for nightfall.
When the sun set, wriggling with excitement, they gathered in the scrub near the river and got to work. Hours later, under the light of a full moon, the three boys marched their uprooted trees down to the river bank.
“Me first,” said Snip.
“You’ve only got a bogberry,” said Morth. “What’s with that?”
“You’ll see.” Snip clicked his fingers. The short stocky tree covered in dark green bogberries drew up its sturdy roots and stepped forward. “Listen, Bogs. This is your big chance. We’ve put in the practice, right?”
The bogberry dipped its branches.
“Right. Get ready.”
The bogberry drew up its roots and quivered.
The bogberry leaned forward.
The bogberry jumped all the way to the water’s edge, where it leapt up, somersaulted over the water and landed a good two metres from the water on the other side. It bowed, drew itself upright and preened.
The others nodded with approval.
“Not bad,” said Snip. “Nice technique. The somersault …”
“For the short tree, yeah, it maximises strengths,” agreed Ceez. “Me next.”
“This’ll be good,” muttered Snip. “That lumbering waterlogged pack-tree of yours…”
“Lumbering?” said Ceez. “You’ll eat those words. Here, Odie.”
Like an overgrown octopus, the sprawling tree-mass lurched forward on a frenzy of aerial roots. The others snickered.
“Bargain basement tree sale?” said Snip.
“I’ll have you know, I bred this little beauty for its figs, which are just a-maaaz-ing,” said Ceez in haughty tones. “I sell ‘em, too.”
The others looked impressed.
“Profitmaking tree, not bad,” conceded Snip. “Still, those roots.”
“Those roots indeed,” said Ceez loftily. “Odie, get ready.”
The banyan-derivative raised itself on hundreds of prop roots.
It leaned forward.
The massive tree, its fibrous grey roots as inelegant as pudgy fingers, powered down the river bank with so much speed it formed a wave as it hit the water. Keeping a good two inches above the surface it glided across, as graceful as a lady raising her crinoline.
“That’s cheating!” cried Snip.
“Is not!” cried Ceez.
“It was using its prop roots! I saw! It sent them down. Your tree was walking, even if it looked like it was skimming over the surface. That’s not fair! This is a jumping contest!”
“So? My tree has aerial roots,” said Ceez, “and knows how to use them. You can’t go against nature, can you?”
The others watched the tree scramble up the bank on the other side and shuffle up to the bogberry.
“It didn’t exactly clear the water,” said Morth. “Still, bonus points for effort. Big trees don’t usually move like dancers.”
The others nodded.
“My turn,” said Morth. “Watch.” He clicked his fingers, and an inconspicuous fan tree skittered forward on spindly roots.
The tree shook itself, releasing long elegant fan-shaped leaves from the sheathing stalk that formed its trunk.
“Whoah,” said Snip, with suspicion. “Where’d you get that: the Off-Limits Shop? How’d you get in?”
Morth grinned. “I got my sister to pretend she was married. They’re only supposed to be used for therapy, you know.”
“You’re taking a risk,” said the others. “If we get caught, it’s public service for a month.”
“FiFi’s worth it,” said Morth. “Besides, in an hour she’ll be back in her pot, you know that.”
The others frowned.
The tree’s sheathing stalk released two more fans, which beat the air and sent a wave of intoxicating perfume at the boys.
“Wow,” said Ceez. “See what you mean. What, she’s a jumper, too?”
Morth chuckled. “FiFi,” he said in a commanding voice, “get ready.”
The tree sheathed all but one of its fans.
The tree sheathed its remaining fan, and stood rigid.
FiFi drew herself up and cartwheeled towards the river, up and over the water, landed with precision on the other side, unsheathed her fans, bowed and joined her companions.
A blast of perfume hit them.
“Wow.” They inhaled greedily.
“Not exactly a jump but …”
“It cartwheels. It does flips. Get over it,” said Morth. “Good, huh?”
The others nodded.
“I reckon no-one’s a clear winner,” said Snip, with reluctance. “Hey, look at the time. We’ve got to take the trees back now. At sunrise we turn twelve.”
The others looked downcast and kicked the sand.
“I wish we could stay like this forever, with the trees and all,” said Morth, with longing. “I wish we didn’t lose our magic when we get to be real men, tomorrow. I wish we could stay like this, forever.”
Soberly, they retrieved their trees and took them home.
Copyright © 2013 Brenda Anderson.
First published in our Infinitas Newsletter, November 2013.
This page last updated 14th Feb 2014.