The wind whispered through the tree’s leaves and carried the sound across the river to where Sharlie waited, her eyes closed. The whispering turned to music. The music was wild and warm, and it reached into the deepest rooms of Sharlie’s heart. Soon she began to hear words within the melody.
“What do you seek, children of Alluvionne?” the tree said.
Sharlie and Meri hurried back to the riverbank. Gwyndle stepped onto the grass and approached the tree. The purple flowers opened their petals and released their sweet perfume into the air. The animals awakened, and the phuum opened their eyes, watching the lovely willow tree with expressions of anticipation and wonder. The tree spoke again.
“Come closer, children. What do you seek?”
“We seek Chaladai, Grandmother,” Meri said.
“Yes,” the tree said. “Eivie has told me. We are old friends, Eivie and I.”
She spoke slowly. Her dulcet voice bathed them in the music of the forest, while the West Wind cooled them with the salty breath of the sea.
“Welcome, daughter of Emyria,” she said, looking at Sharlie.
“You know my mother?” Sharlie said.
“And her mother before her.” A gust of wind lifted her boughs high into the air and swept over the meadow in a hushed chorus of windsong. “I have been waiting for you, child. Your heart is filled with mist and sorrow. You long for that which you can no longer see.”
A tear rolled down Sharlie’s face, drenching a small violet that grew near the tree. The flower absorbed her tear and bowed its head, its color fading away. Sharlie suddenly felt as though her burden of sorrow had been lightened, and she no longer felt like crying. The tree caressed the wilted violet with her leaves, and its petals blossomed again in brilliant shades of blue.
“Do you know where my mother is? She left our lair many moonspans ago, saying she would return soon, but she never came back. Can you help me find her?”
“Be at peace, child. I do not know where she has gone, but I am certain you shall have joy with her again, one day.”
Meri stroked Sharlie’s neck. “Please, Grandmother. We are searching for Chaladai. We hope to find Sharlie’s mother there, and the merwyngs. Do you know the way? I—I hope you do know. We have come so far.”
“The wind knows many things,” the tree said. “It travels across Sky Sea and blows over the ocean, through the mountains and valleys, across the forests and the desert. Then it sings through my branches, and I learn all the wind has to teach me. The water, too, knows many things. It seeps into the earth and flows through streams and rivers to the sea. There it becomes mist and journeys to the sky once more, traveling on the wind to all the corners of Alluvionne and beyond. When I lift my boughs, the rain falls upon my leaves and whispers its secrets, and I learn all the water has to tell me. The earth, too, holds many secrets. My roots reach far into her sand and stones and, when the earth rumbles with the creation of mountains and lakes, or rivers and streams, I feel her birth pains, and I know what she knows. So it has always been, from the beginning of the creation of Alluvionne.
Meri pulled herself out of the water and sat on the riverbank. “Then Gwyndle was right,” she said. “You do know where Chaladai is. And you know about the merwyngs.”
“Yes, my child.”