With the same quality of motion, the girl knelt to cup the leaf with one hand.
“Not broken,” she said with a smile. “Never broken.” And stood, giving the leaf a stroke almost absently, but with a great deal of affection. Behind her, her mother reaches out and the two leave, hand in hand, before mother stops to pick up child and carry her home.
A tree now stands there, tall, still young by the count of trees, and I stand with it, watching the time when I was small in my memory.
Never broken, but others have not been so lucky. I remember the day, one of so many, but the day I knew, the bite of the chainsaw as the man who held it cut through wooden flesh, not knowing what it held.
“How many lost?”
“Too many,” says my sister, Otwan, coming to meet me. “Ready?” I nod, giving my tree a caress before we depart to a meeting with lhai, what I suppose humans would call gods.
“Has mother forgotten we’re woy?” I asked when Otwan first told me of the invitation. She shrugged.
“You know they wouldn’t dare say no to her.”
I supposed being Hiqwayaq has its advantages.
Who are you?
A voice reaching out from the distance, the farthest distance and the closest.
Who are you?
But it does not respond to that. So I try answering.
I am Weyai, daughter of Hiqwayaq.
Who are you? The voice echoes mournfully, and it is only now I realize we do not speak the same language. But I heard and responded as if its “Who are you?” was my native “Kayehuwekeq?”
“Kayiyi Weyai Hiqwayaqiqatiy,” I said to the silence after my question, before I realized, but now all I hear is the mournful echo of “Who are you?” and though I understand the words, I am too shocked to respond before the sound fades.
“Kayehuwekeq…” I taste the word.
“Weyai?” Otwan’s eyebrows are drawn together as she bends to see my face.
Human words again, I say, through my tree to hers. Spoken like this.
Did you tell her…?
I lift my head sharply to meet her gaze. I thought you had.
Otwan stares, open-mouthed. Then why…?
“Daughters!” Our mother says with amusement, dark hand raised to call for silence. She wears her summer aspect, golden and green, with brown between, and her hair brightens the forest with its burnished sunlight.
The lhai around her and the lhaiqi, the minor gods, among them stare at us only a moment before muttering and shifting as a group of strangers arrive. The man and woman weave through those at the far end, a young woman of about eighteen following behind, auburn hair nearly red when in the spots of dappled sunlight. The lhaiqi of this forest stands before them, stopping their approach.
“I am Yehan,” she says, “And this forest is my domain.”
The woman and man draw back with a bow. “She comes here at the behest of Hiqwayaq.”
Woy, then, to speak formally like that with a lhaiqi. Not tree woy, like myself or Otwan, I don’t think, as they do not respond to the unseen reaching out of the trees around them, nor are they connected with plants for the same reason.
“I am Ewulin,” the young woman says, voice wavering. Odd name. And human-accented words—could she be? But no, wrong voice. And too young. The voice wasn’t clear as they usually are in that communication, but something in me knew the speaker hadn’t been this young.
Humans don’t have lhai, woy, the rest. They don’t care. Their “Who are you?” could be to any kind of being. Why assume the voice called to one close to it? But it did. I don’t know how I know, but I know it did.
“Let her past,” my mother says. Yehan draws back and Ewulin, glancing quickly with furrowed brow to the lhai and lhaiqi around her, approached my mother, the highest of the lhai. Hiqwayaq, with a wide, genuine smile, beckons for the girl to come to her and takes her hand with a comforting squeeze. “Tell them what you told me, and do not worry about formal address.”
Ewulin, keeping hold of my mother’s hand, turns to face us. She takes a deep breath and squares her shoulders.
“I am Ewulin,” she says, “Qesutlhowoy. And I used to be an owake.”
Murmurs breaks out, first at her assertion of being qesutlhowoy, louder at owake.
She has legs, says Otwan, sounding dumbfounded. But I heard her real question behind the obvious comment. More so than a qesutlhowoy—a sea being which would look to a human to be part fish or other marine life—having legs, an owake found.
A lost child.
How does someone who forgot what they are return from the world of humans?
How do you undo the felling of a tree?
(Flip the page to keep reading.)