Traidi tilted her head to look sideways up at the tree. She rolled her hands into fists, testing the strength of her fingers, and tried one more time to come up with a good reason for why she was still standing with her heels in dirt. She should have been at the top by now.
It was just another twister, like most of the trees on the island. The trunk was thick, as if it preferred to stretch a lazy inch sideways between each ambitious effort to press an inch closer to the sky, and the bark was the usual salt-washed gray. Each branch leaned around the trunk rather than jut immediately out into the air. Thin limbs rapidly arced and bent while their thicker bases settled for anything that wasn’t a straight line. The tiny leaves, a little larger than the pad of Traidi’s thumb, covered the whole thing in a rustling, whispering, white and green hood. It was a tree that looked and sounded as if it had imagined itself as the inside twist of a hurricane when it was very small, and hadn’t given up the hope as it aged.
But Traidi had climbed a hundred twisters. This one just seemed to have found the exact wild tangle that kept her next handhold an inch out of reach and rolled her toes off steady footing.
Carefully, Traidi glanced at Zita. Standing beside her, the other girl eyed the tree with her eyebrows folding slowly together. She should definitely have been at the top by now. She was only home on shore leave, her ship bobbing in the harbor, waiting for her to run back to it. All her stories last night had been about scurrying up the masts and danging forty feet in the air to tie knots and haul lines with a grin. This tree was barely twenty feet tall.
But Zita stayed beside Traidi and Traidi kept her feet on the ground.
For another five breaths, they examined the twister.
“This tree doesn’t want to be climbed,” Zita said, firmly. There wasn’t a hint of regret in her tone.
Traidi took a deep breath and nodded. “It’s true,” she agreed.
Spinning on her heel, Zita looped her arm through Traidi’s and steered them back across the field. “We should respect its wishes,” she said.
“That’s what my momma taught me,” Traidi said.
Zita flashed Traidi a grin and Traidi happily lengthened her stride to leave the tree behind faster.