Touching The Sky

'It really is big, isn't it?'

'Yeah! I bet if we climb it then we can see the whole forest. Maybe even the sea!'

The two Feretos children circled the tree, their tails jerking in excitement and furry ears twitching at the slightest sound. The girl, slightly younger than her boy friend, ran her hand across the bark and relished the interesting sensation, a fun feeling that was a cross between a scratch and a tickle.

'How high did Mauni say it was again?' she asked.

'You're so forgetful,' the boy with wind-blown brown hair teased. 'I bet you'd forget your name was Ifaut if we didn't keep reminding you!'

She scowled back from behind her waist-length dirty-blond hair, an assisted scowl born more from mirth than malice. She was, after all, used to Saum's good-natured teasing. Besides, there was always a grain of truth in everything he said; her forgetfulness had become almost legendary amongst the Mafourans and even she was conscious of it… when she remembered.

'It was five hundred metres, wasn't it?' she asked curiously, all the while absently fiddling with her hands.

'More like five thousand!' Saum exuberated, stretching his arms wide for emphasis. 'But that's nothing for us. Together we can overcome anything. Except your forgetting stuff.'

Ifaut sighed. 'I know I'm forgetful. Can we laugh at something else now?'

'Okay,' Saum conceded. 'How do you think we can climb this tree? Look! The lowest branches are way over our heads.'

'Deraun could give us a lift,' Ifaut offered. 'Isn't that what big brothers are for?'

'Nah, he's no fun anymore,' he said, waving a dismissive hand. 'Why can't you get a big brother to help us?'

'Because I'm an only child,' she said sadly. 'And you're basically my big brother anyway. So you lift me.'

Saum laughed her off, blue eyes sparkling with the noon sunshine. 'Maybe not.' He sat down, leaning back against the giant tree, and patted the ground next to him for Ifaut to sit down. 'I brought lunch,' he said, removing some rather squashed sandwiches from his pocket. Ifaut took one with a shy smile.

'Thanks,' she said as she took it. She flopped to the ground and leaned up against her friend, a figure of support both for the body and the spirit. Not a word was uttered as they ate, sprinkled with the sunlight that struggled through the leafy canopy. But inside Ifaut, warmed by the persistent rays, something comforting began to stir; the feelings of a woman not yet ready to arise, yet their subtle movements plucked the strings of her heart. Saum was a friend, she thought, and a very close one at that. But there was something more about him, although she somehow knew she wasn't quite ready. But she longed for the day the feelings could be honest to her and themselves.

Ifaut began to hum, a tuneless melody dictated only by the rise and fall of her feelings. It wandered beyond the enclosed walls of her juvenile feelings and sought the mature regions of the heart. It found nothing. But that didn't matter.

'That's a nice song,' her friend said absently as he brushed off a few stray breadcrumbs.

Ifaut blushed. 'Thanks…' she murmured with a shy smile.

'By the way, can I ask you something?'

'You just did, but sure thing.'

'What do you most want to climb the tree for?' The boy's face took on a surprising look of maturity, one greater than his thirteen years.

Ifaut shrugged. 'Promise you won't laugh?'

'Nope.'

But she continued anyway. 'I want to touch the sky.'

Silence.

'Why aren't you laughing?' she asked, terribly surprised at his silent reply. It wasn't what she expected at all.

'Cos I want to see the sea from there. I get a bit tired of the forest sometimes, so it might be nice to see something different. I've only heard stories but it sounds nice.'

'Me too,' Ifaut replied dreamily. 'One day we can go together.'

'Yeah. But listen, I got a present for you.' Saum reached into his pocket and slid two gold-chained pendants out into the sunlight. Ifaut gasped as the light struck them, revealing two halves of one stylised ferret head that shone brightly.

'K…kamai necklaces?'

'Yup!' Saum confirmed, his face shining almost as brightly as the trinkets in his palms.

Ifaut's mouth worked silently for a few seconds, gaping like a fish just pulled from a stream. 'How do you know we're destiny friends? Lady Cedes isn't ready for being a real prophetess yet. She can't have told you. She wouldn't even tell me!'

'Whitey didn't tell me either,' Saum said, referring to Cedes by her oddly pale skin colour. 'She said I would know when I found my Kamai. And here we are.' He handed Ifaut the right half of the split pendant, keeping the left for himself.

All she could do was stare in rapt silence.

'Here, I'll help you,' Saum offered and, taking the necklace from her hand, fastened it about her neck.

'Thanks,' she murmured, her face taking on a bright shade of red. Always she had wondered who her Kamai would be, a friend inexorably linked to her in some way that even the Feretos still didn't understand. But now she felt relief, relief that at least it was her best friend and not a stranger. After all, that would just be weird. But before she could finish basking in the warm glow of happiness, her Kamai's voice jerked her back to reality.

'Ready to touch the sky?'

Ifaut looked up to see Saum already scrabbling at the massive tree's bark, seeking purchase upon its surface.

'Wait for me!' She bounded over, her footsteps made light by her uplifting mood. Why, she felt she could even jump straight up and catch the lowest branches.

Suddenly strong hands caught her about the waist and tossed her upwards with surprising strength. A branch rushed downwards as she soared to the sky. She caught it in both clawed hands.

'Nice catch. Now help me up!' Saum's voice floated up to her as she scrambled up and perched upon the sturdy branch. She lowered her hand, caught him as he half-leapt, half-scrabbled up the trunk, and hauled him up next to her.

'It's a nice view already,' he noted, gazing across the clearing and into the closed ranks of the forest. 'But wait 'til we get high up.' Somewhere up there, above the persistent roof of the forest, lay true freedom; open spaces, endless skies, a horizon vanishing into nothingness. Somewhere up the tree.

The two Feretos climbed upwards. They hauled themselves ever skywards, always deeper into the great blue, helping each other to the heights of their dreams. The same destination, different reasons for climbing.

Once they'd cleared the canopy that had roofed their whole lives, they let out a collective sigh of awe.

'Pretty,' Ifaut said dreamily, gazing out upon the uneven sea of treetops, a green that one could almost drown in if they chanced to look too long. 'It looks just like a sea.'

'Yeah,' came a nervous reply. Ifaut turned to see Saum, usually so brave and fearless, clinging to an upright branch in fright. 'We're awfully high, aren't we?' he tried to ask bravely, but his wavering voice betrayed him.

'Not high enough!' Ifaut replied cheerily. 'We can't quite see the sea, and we definitely can't touch the sky. We've gotta keep going. C'mon!' She pried one of Saum's hands from the branch and held it tightly in her own.

'But it might be dangerous…'

'Yeah, but I'm here, aren't I?'

'That's not exactly reassuring, you know.' He swallowed hard.

'But together we can do it. Go on, I've got you.'

Slowly and surely, Saum found his feet, all the while supported by Ifaut. Her smile was enough to encourage him further, the very thing that had convinced him that she was his Kamai. So he continued climbing despite his inner protests.

'Almost there,' Ifaut encouraged after a few minutes. 'I think I can see some blue waaay over there!'

'I- I don't think it's a good idea to keep going,' Saum admitted and stopped. 'We're really high. What if something happens?'

Ifaut waved her hand dismissively. 'You worry to much. And we can't give up when we're so close.'

'But isn't it better to be safe than sorry?'

'Isn't it better,' she shot back, 'to be adventurous than a big wimp? C'mon!' She tugged at his hand but he didn't move.

'I'm not going!' he protested. 'And neither are you. I don't want to get hurt, or for you to hurt yourself. Let's just go home and play.'

But Ifaut ignored his pleas, so intoxicated by the thrill of adventure and the prospect of drinking in brand new sights. Perhaps that was why she never noticed the ominous crack that rent the still air, barely noticed Saum's desperate cries intermingled with her own, and felt only the branches reaching out to strike her and the gut-wrenching feeling of falling. Falling as if there was no end.

Ifaut awoke much later to fat drops of rain hitting her face. Suddenly horrible pain erupted throughout her body, and yet it felt distant, like she was watching someone else in pain from far away. She tried to move her leg but the effort sent numb fire dancing throughout the limb. She twisted her head to see it lying at an angle it shouldn't have been, and the very sight brought tears pricking at her eyes. Each sob wracked her pained chest, making the simple task of drawing breath a Herculean effort. But her heart broke in two when she saw Saum. His battered body lay unmoving, his face serene but for a trickle of blood that ran from his mouth. He didn't move. Nor ever would again.

Ifaut raised up a tortured scream to the heavens, blaming the tree for taking her friend and injuring her. But its silent bark façade merely watched, uncaring, quiet in its mocking. And yet it told her everything she needed to hear. It was not to blame; she, unhearing of her Kamai's fear, had brought about the hot pain that seized her body, and the cold death that embraced his.

'I've found them!' a voice she recognised as Saum's older brother Deraun shouted. As a familiar face appeared over hers, she felt her vision turn to fog and a hissing static envelope her ears. Then consciousness left her.

Nine years later…

'He was right, Miss Ifaut.' Lady Cedes' level voice calmed Ifaut's ears, although her eyes still remained affixed to the two pendants in her hand.

'How do you know? You couldn't see back then when we were young, could you?'

'I never said that. I only said you would have to find out for yourself.'

'Then if my Kamai's still out there, could that mean…' she asked, voice hopeful.

Cedes shook her head. 'No. You saw him laid to rest in the cold ground. He is forever gone from our midst. But still a part of him is out there somewhere. Perhaps a part of his spirit found a like-minded individual and found company with him or her. I believe that is what calls to you.'

'Then,' Ifaut said, her eyes shining with tears of happiness, 'I have to find them, make sure my Kamai doesn't get hurt anymore.' She balled her sweaty fists about the pendants, holding them with the resolve she wished she was mature enough to display up that tree so many years before.

'And perhaps, Miss Ifaut, you will also find redemption.'

'Yeah. And then we can finally touch the sky. Together.'