Tuesday, June 24, 2008



Went to the Solstice Feast last night. You should have been there. You'd have loved it--it was the best one I've been to since I came here. It's strange--back in the Wheel, all our holidays were about people or events, but here they really are all about the seasons--Rebirth, Solstice, Harvest, New-Year, Winterfall. It's simple, but I like it. I almost like it better than the ones I grew up with. I wonder what kind of holidays you used to celebrate back in Indostan? You never told me.

It was a nice night--cloudy, but warm. It's been raining here the last few days, so the air had that smell like mushrooms and breathing plants. I love that smell-it reminds me of you. I know I used to tease you about the morels you spent so much time picking, but anymore I miss that smell, even if it was only on your breath. Anyway, the Feast. We called Corners, Madeleine said a few words and then Wintergreen led us in the singing of the Midsummer canticle. Do you remember that one? Still the day, slow the sky... Not my favorite, but I like it well enough. After that, we went back to the cooking fires and ate and danced like nothing you've ever seen. Woodlace made up these pela'd'at fritters--I've never had them before, but they were great. I probably ate three by myself! I always knew him as the Master Grower, but he's a pretty good cook too! Some of the Scouts put together a sparring match--winner take challenger. It was nice. Ash-Blade even talked me into picking up my staff, and even though I haven't really trained since the Reunion, I gave her a few solid whacks. You'd have been proud, I think. We called it a draw--no point in two Masters getting all sore about a loss.

That reminds, me--Ash-Blade! I don't know if you two ever talked much, but after you died she and I became really good friends. She was always nice to me in the first years of my training. She stuck up for me with Nightshade, just like you did. Did you know she's become the Master Scout now? It's true! I passed the Red Band on to her. I bet you didn't even know I was made Master Scout either, but that was so short a time that I suppose it doesn't matter. Oak-Root gave it to me, and during the Battle of the Reunion it was me and Nightshade against the Raiders. I wish you could have seen it.

Anyway, for what it's worth, Ash-Blade's doing really well. She was always so confident in that quiet way she has, but ever since being ordained a Master, it's like she's changed. She's... strong. She smiles more. I think she's carved out a new sword--the finish shines in the firelight now. I suppose her old one was pretty beaten up after the shipwreck. Anyway, whatever it is, she's finally happy, I think. She was probably waiting a long time for this. I'll have to go find her Song and read. I'm happy for her, and I know you would be too.

Is it wrong that I'm a little jealous of her? I just... I don't think I was ready to stop being a Scout. I wish that Madeleine hadn't asked me away to start studying again. Oh well. What does it matter?

So yeah. We talked, Ash-Blade and I. It was later in the evening, during a play the Healers were putting on. I'd been trying to stick close to Madeleine after the matches, but she found me and dragged me away out of the crowds. We ended up sitting out in the darkness near the entrance to the clearing, sharing a sliced-up gladefruit and listening to the tree-frogs.

She actually asked me: "How are you doing?"

Even now, I have to pause at that, you know? I don't think anyone's actually asked me that since he died. I tried to play it off. I just smiled and shook my head. I told her I was good, told her about everything Madeleine has me learning. Most of it was Eng to her--she smiled a lot and nodded her head, but honestly I don't think Ash-Blade can imagine a life that doesn't involve fighting. I know how she feels.

She asked me: "So we're safe now?"

I shouldn't mock her for wanting to know, but it just seemed like a strange thing to ask. I told her, "Yeah. The Wheel's changed now. Their city's fallen, and now the villages along the coasts are free to live as they want in peace." I can remember smiling. "Madeleine says that some of the women in the Wheel have started worshipping the Spirit openly again." I had to make fun of her a bit, so I punched her shoulder and added "You can stop worrying." She laughed. She told me that her Scouts had been finding small bundles of food or trinkets out at the edges of the Wood. I had to explain to her that these were offerings from the Wheel-People, and they've been doing it secretly for years. She seemed to think they were something to be afraid of--she'd been ordering the Scouts to avoid them.

"I thought they might be traps," she said to me.

I had to laugh again. Traps? Traps? I know, I know; she doesn't know the Wheel like we do, but it still struck me as funny. I don't suppose I blame her--she's never really led Scouts before, just fought as one. I can tell she's still getting the hang of this. She told me so: "There's a lot more, trying to lead, you know? The Song-Keeper says I'll be years trying to master everything I need to know. Said one day the lessons would be carved in my bones."

I remember smiling. "She's right, you know. It'll come eventually."

She laughed at me and shook her head. "I dunno. I have to wonder how Oak-Root did it, but--"

Even in the dark, I swear she went pale. I didn't bother saying anything. I know she didn't mean it--she tried to apologize, but why, you know? It's not like nobody can ever talk about him again, just because I never do. So what? It's just a name--Oak-Root. Oak-Root, Oak-Root, Oak-Root--see? I can say it all I want. I wish everybody wouldn't be so sensitive.
Anyway, that was it, I guess. We didn't talk a lot more after that--small things, mostly. After a while, Ash-Blade said she was gonna go to the Sweat. I decided to skip out--the last one was hard enough on me, and Madeleine didn't give me any trouble over it. We said our goodbyes and I decided to go back up into the trees to my hut.

I passed one of the cooking fires and saw Nightshade. She was sitting over a bowl of stew, I think, trying to talk with Silverseed, but sitting just behind her were a pair of Alder Guards. The Guards were pretending to ignore Nightshade, but they weren't doing a very good job. I wonder how long it's been since the Black Alder allowed them into the villages. Anyway, I tried nodding to Nightshade as I went by, but she didn't smile at me or say anything. She looked tense--awkward. She looked lonely, and it made me sad for her.

I should go. I'll talk to you again soon.


Sunday, June 22, 2008

Letters to Indigo

Who am I even talking to?

This diary is where I confess my secrets, but who hears them? A blank tablet of wood? What's the point of confessing if there's nobody to hear you?

I'm lonely.

Don't get me wrong, I have plenty of friends, I guess, but the ones who mattered most are gone now. Everything's hollow without them. Madeleine is my friend, in a way, but she's a lot older than I am. She's more of a mother than a friend. On the other hand, there's always her, but there's still so much strangeness between us. Ever since the Reunion, there's a lot that goes unanswered. I'm still adjusting to studying as a Song-Keeper. She's still learning how to be The Alder. I can't really talk to her. Not yet.

So who can I talk to? He's gone, and my mother... well. I don't know how to bridge that gulf. I know she loves me, that she's proud of me. But after Cyrus and the fight at the Marina, she's seemed so... hollow. She's moving to a smaller place just east of Ornith's Pier. I haven't visited her there yet. I'm scared to.

It doesn't matter. Nothing good for me is going to be found back with the People of the Wheel. I know that. My home is here now, in the Wood. I'm okay with that, mostly. But it gets lonely sometimes. Everyone here, they think I'm strong somehow. They look to me, they call me "Fireborn," call me "hero," but if they only knew how weak I really am, they'd turn away. I know they would. There's only one person who ever let me bring my guard down, let me be weak, even for a moment. And I haven't seen her since I was twelve.

So like I said, all I have to confess to is you.

Shia'Epri... I'm so stupid. I can't do this, I can't just tell my secrets to a blank journal, to folds of wood and bark. I have to tell it to someone. I need a name, some name, any name. I need someone I can trust. I need you to be my ear, my friend.

That girl...the one I haven't seen since I was twelve? She's dead now, but a long time ago there was a girl, and she was smart, and strong, and beautiful, and she took me in when nobody else would. She was young like me, and late at night she'd speak to me in our native language. When the other Children made fun of me, whispered cruel things about me, she stepped in, stood up for me, taught me how to fight, how to be strong. She was the best friend I've ever had. She died for me. She died for us. She was the strongest person I've ever known, and in the dark part of my life, when I've had nobody else, I prayed to her memory and listened for her voice in my heart, taking her guidance. She's the only reason I'm strong. She was my friend, she was my hero, my sister. She's the one I need to be telling these things to.

She was the one I could trust to hold my secrets.

Wintergreen's looking at me weird--I just started laughing out of nowhere. I can't help it. It makes me happy. Why am I moping? It's decided. From now on, when I write to you, I'll call you Dharani--Indigo. You'll be my silent place, the one I open up to. When I write to you, I'll tell you all about the world that's changed, so you can look back in on your friends and see them. I like to think that'd make you happy. I always liked making you happy. You're the only person I can open up to. You're the only person I can trust. I know you're gone, but maybe this way I can keep a small part of you in my life. Maybe you'll look at what you see, and be proud of me. I want you to be proud of me.

These are my letters to you, Indigo.

Saturday, June 21, 2008


I like to think I'm pretty.

It sounds strange, I know. And it's probably not true. To someone I grew up with, I probably look a fright. Maybe not so much, now that I've stopped dressing like a Scout, but still--the beads in my hair, the hard suntan, the scar on my right cheek? I don't much look like a lady, I bet.

I like how I look. When I look into my mom's handmirror, I like the face I see there: blonde hair, tanned cheeks, bright green eyes. I like my smile. I bet back home I could have pulled the heart of any boy I wanted. I spend a lot of time wondering about that. Would I look different if I'd stayed in Ornith's Pier? It's strange to think about. I can't imagine dressing the way my mother used to--the dresses, so stiff and heavy. I like my Song-Keeper's robe--it's light, it's comfortable, and it's the same color as my eyes. I don't even mind the way the dogbane strands fray at the edges, any more than I would mind the dirt on my feet, or under my fingernails. I don't think I need fancy makeups or perfumes to be pretty.

I could probably pull the heart of any boy I want, even now. But I don't want to. What's the point?

I like to think I'm pretty. There was a time when that mattered to me. But ever since the Reunion, since the shipwreck, since the burial, it's hard for me to care. He's gone. He's been gone for a month now, and without him it's hard for me to remember why I cared in the first place. It wouldn't have even mattered anyway--that night I talked with Madeleine, before Misha, before the Siege? I was supposed to live forever. I was supposed to take the Elixir, like any other Child, and when I was done I would have stayed this way forever. But it didn't work out like that. If I try to take it again, she says it'll kill me. And now it's too late, anyway. Everything I knew is different. The world is different. I'm different. But I don't know what any of that means. Or why I should care.

I'm glad to be the next Song-Keeper. I am. But for what? It's like Madeleine said, I'm marked. I'm pretty. But I won't be forever. As years go by I'll start to get weak. I'll get gray strands in my hair. I'll wither up like one of Rowan's dried herbs, and when it's all done nobody'll remember me like I was. Nobody will remember Alina, remember Tree-Dancer. It scares me. One day, I'm going to look around and all I'll see are Children--tattooed boys and girls dressed in hides. They'll do what they've always done--pound their grains, sharpen their darts and spearheads--but I'll be too far gone for them to remember me.

I'm scared. It wasn't supposed to be like this.

I'm going to grow old. I'm going to die.

I feel like I was cheated sometimes. I was supposed to be like them. I was supposed to stay young. I was supposed to live forever here in the Wood. And now I can't, and even if I could I'd just forget the things that brought me here in the first place. Used to be, I was scared that he'd stop loving me, or forget that he loved me in the first place. But now he won't. He's gone. And I'm not sure what's worse--missing him, or being glad he won't be around to see me.

Madeleine says the Spirit doesn't give us more than we can bear. But can't I just have a little less?

Friday, June 20, 2008

Just a Girl

My name is Alina Carpenter. I'm fifteen.

I've been known by a lot of names in my life. If you wanted to really push it, you could use my full name: Lady Alina Tree-Dancer Carpenter-Barrowheel, The Fireborn, Song-Keeper the Younger, Mother-of-the-Wood. But that's stupid. Anyway, I don't really like the labels that get attached to all those names. They make me feel like something to stare at, when really all I want to do is disappear. I suppose that's why I've started this diary--to hide, to have a place to put my secret thoughts.

There's not a lot of secrecy among the Children of the Wood, so I have to take it where I can get it--in this journal, this pad of wooden tablets, bound in bark and fastened with leather. It isn't much, but it'll have to be enough. It was a gift from Rowan--she gave it to me three weeks ago now, just after the Reunion. She said she made it herself. I believe her--Rowan's handy with things like this, and I'm glad to have her as a friend. Still, I didn't actually think I was going to use this. Funny how life works.

I'm only fifteen, and there isn't much that's special about my beginnings. I was born an only child to a carpenter, my father Edgar, and his wife Ornelia. We lived among the People of the Wheel, in a small fishing village called Ornith's Pier. It's right on the shores of the Saltless Sea, and it's maybe a day's journey by carriage from the city of Sagana.

That's all there really is to say about that. But as for the rest... well, I've never really gotten to be like most girls my age. I've lived as an orphan most of my life, since I was ten. I live away from the Wheel now, deep in the Wood of Uron, among the people who adopted me, the Children of the Wood. Until this year, I lived as one of them for five summers. Now I serve them--I've been chosen to be what we call the Keeper-of-Songs, the guardian of history and experience for the Evergreen. It's supposed to be an honor, but honestly I don't really know how I feel about it yet. There's been a lot that's happened in the last month or so, and I'm still really struggling to deal with all of it.

I may only be fifteen, but I've never gotten to be like most girls my age. I've been an orphan; I've seen war. I've seen fires consume whole forests, swallowing trees like the machines the Saganese used. I've watched villages laid to waste, only to see them rebuilt again. I was among the first to see the Children of the Wood in a thousand years; the first one to enter their realm and return with the tale. According to some people, I'm the reason the Reunion happened.

I've been in love with a boy my age. I've seen people die. I've killed people.

It's been maybe a month since the Reunion. Indigo was right; my world is different now. Don't get me wrong, I'm glad for it. It's just... it's all a bit much. I'm still adjusting to my new role with the Wood-Children. I'm still grieving for my friends. Every day, as soon as my lessons with Madeleine are over, I go walking alone in the woods and cry. I understand why it had to happen, but it still hurts. I miss my father. I miss Indigo. I miss Oak-Root. I miss my mother--she's alive, but I don't think things between us will ever be the same. The last time I visited her, she seemed so frail. They were moving her things out of the Governor's Mansion.

So this is my story: the story of Alina Carpenter, Song-Keeper. Most of the Children still call me Tree-Dancer, but I know that'll pass in a few years. This is going to be where I put all the thoughts down, this is going to be where I hide myself. Maybe one day, when I'm older, I'll write about everything that came before this; how I came to the Wood, how I came to be Tree-Dancer. But not today. I'm too tired. Right now, all I want is to focus on just being a girl again.

I miss just being a girl.