We continue to observe Wudan and ask him questions when we can. He was so serious in Motasta, but here he has resumed his age. He plays with the other children as if nothing ever happened. As if we didn’t have to kill three Daedra to save him from abduction. It’s amazing how resilient children can be – I wish my own psychological defenses were as good.

Timber refuses to join the other children. She is a woman now. She doesn’t need to say it; she exudes it with every action. I can accept that from her. Let those children who have yet to lose their childhood continue to enjoy it. Build adults out of the rest.

Between my lessons with the sword and Inifra’s own variety, Timber doesn’t have much time to idle away in any case. I saw her draw water from a well this morning. No rope, no bucket, just water moving up and over the edge until she let it drop into a pail on the ground. Wudan was at her side before the first splash. He watched in fascination as she did it again.

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Wudan started asking a flurry of questions which caused her to lose concentration and with it the second batch of water she had drawn up. She snapped at him, and then resumed her attempt in irritated silence. She has a lot to learn, patience as well as concentration.

I watched Wudan. His eyes darted from the water to the well and back to Timber’s hands. He would have reached out to test the air if she hadn’t put the fear in him, but he can see things we only imagine are there – things we trust to follow our instructions but of which we never catch even the slightest glimpse. I have to understand this boy. The keys to so many questions hang from his neck and he doesn’t even know it.

His grandmother is another mystery. She has been watching me closely, and told me what I initially took to be a parable. It feels more ominous upon reflection.

“The Greatest of Trees stood on the slopes of the Morta. A fine hero it was, taller than any of its peers and righteous through each and every ring. In its branches all creatures found life, and in its shade the smallest of saplings grew strong. Then the Great Tree saw a darkness approaching that no other tree could see: the Black Wounds. They poison trees and turn them toxic to the surrounding world. The Great Tree did everything it could to warn its kind, to stave off the coming tide, but the disease swept through nonetheless.”

I asked her if this was the illness we saw in the trees when we first arrived. She shook her head quietly, not in denial but to say that I had missed the point. After a moment’s pause, I asked her what good it was to be the Greatest Tree if in the end it could not save its kind?

“Great good can come from such status, as those who lived in the Great Tree’s boughs long understood. But still, the Greatest of Trees is only a tree. And you are just a man.”

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