Abaddon went quite speechless as he studied the looming tree, only looking down here and there as he stepped along behind Lance in the thick dry grass. Like some spreading burr oak in a pasture, Longbark was scarcely fifty feet tall with great long horizontal limbs reaching out from a trunk that was better than twelve feet thick above the buttressing roots. "But Lance, it's got its leaves in the middle of winter."
"Some kinds of oak are like that. The mothers told me that evergreen oaks used to be right common in the Forest Primeval..."
"Lance!" he whispered frantically. "They're mad! They're crazy! They're petting it like it was a dog or a cow or something."
"You'll see," said Lance with a grin and a shake of his head as he took him by the hand and led him forth to stand before Celeste.
"Ther be no thyng heere at al for to fere, yonge Abaddon," said Celeste with a kindly smile. "This beth Longbark, and she the moost eld of yere and wyseste beynge a-lyve in Glan Da ybe. Hit nis ne evene possible hir for to harme thee in the leste." She took him by the hand and drew him up to a branch that stuck down from a limb low enough for him to walk up to. "Come. Takest hold of this heere lowe braunche and lette hir thee yfele."
"Why, this is frightening him," thought Lance, as Abaddon turned to him with wide eyes. "You can manage all right, Abby," he said with a smile and a nod of reassurance. "Celeste would never, ever do anything to hurt you, and that old tree won't even give you a rash." He watched Abaddon give in and reach for the branch. "Ah, for all his meanness, he's just a little boy after all," he thought.
"So what?" said Abaddon with his customary brashness. "It's just a plain ol' stupid tree..."
"Juste myndest that thou halt fast for a tyme if thou wouldest," said Celeste as she keenly eyed the branch.
Without warning, Abaddon felt as though someone who did not approve was looking all through him. At the very same time, each glossy green leaf in turn folded shut like a book, as its respective petiole went utterly limp, collapsing like a row of dominoes, all the way up and all the way down the branch away from his hand, except for the leaves on one small twig, which remained open and up. "Not fair!" he shouted. "That was no fun at all!" He yanked off a twig with a loud snap, flung it at Lance, picked up a stone the size of a grapefruit and heaved it at Longbark to bounce off with a deep resonant thud. "It's just a stupid ol' tree! Why are you idiots all staring at me? You think you're smart? You're going to die for trying to make a fool of me by having me touch it! It's just a dumb stupid tree!" With that, he dashed away through the weeds and vanished into the lava tube.
Ch.7, The Burgeoning
Carol Marrs Phipps & Tom Phipps