Written by Ryeri Lim
“O, marvel with thrilling joy at these tallest trees! Like solemn giants they regard heaven, like quiet mothers they provide you green shade!” Derwin rhapsodized, his hands clasped in front of him. Through the leaf coverage, evening sunlight played off Derwin’s skin.
“Shut up and catch up,” said Sokw, crushing brittle brown grass beneath her moccasins. “They’re only trees, and they’re dead in weather as cold as this.”
“O, but––” In his haste to keep up with Sokw, Derwin had tripped over a stray root. “O, but these tallest trees! England is fair, but she has never seen royalty like these grand kings!” Puffing white mist into the November air, Derwin stumbled on. To keep Sokw’s dark braid in sight, he needed all the air his lungs could pull in. What a nerd.
Sokw paused at a small stream. The water moved slowly, almost ready to freeze for winter. Six smooth rocks protruded in a slippery path through the icy current.
Derwin finally reached Sokw’s side. He continued his monologue, panting, “O, mayhap Father might uproot and bring the queen one of your magnificent trees.”
Yea rite, Sokw thought. Out loud, she repeated flatly, “It’s winter. Those trees are dead.”
Derwin looked straight up, his thin dirty neck bared to the chill. “Their silhouettes look alive,” he replied.
YEA RITE, Sokw thought again. She whipped around and gave Derwin a sharp push. Skinny as he was, he tumbled backward onto the dirt. Sokw crouched and hissed into his face, “How long will you stay on my land?”
Derwin blinked. “What do you––this is my home now.”
“Do you call my world the New World?”
“Does it look new to you?”
“Did these trees not need thousands of years to tower so tall over both your father and mine? Did their roots not crawl for ages deep into the dirt that we, by comparison, are floating unattached above the earth? You, especially,” Sokw demanded with a prod, “how could you remain so small to float away across the vast ocean?”
The two were surrounded by the curling heat of their breaths. Eventually, Sokw pulled back and sat on her haunches.
Derwin spoke slowly. “Where I lived, we covered the ground with stones. Priest Degory says all people are made of the dust of the earth and God’s breath––I do think your land is old.”
After a pause, Sokw turned to the stream. “As old as your land?” she asked, and leapt to the first wet stone.
“I suppose,” Derwin replied, standing clumsily and brushing dirt off skinned palms. His breeches were beyond hope.
“Why do you love our trees so much?” Sokw jumped to the second stone.
“O, they are marvelous, thrilling, grand, magnifi––”
“Never mind! Shut up!” While landing on the third stone, Sokw slipped for a frightening split second, but swiftly regained her balance.
Derwin stared at the first wet stone in front of him. “Yet I speak the truth.”
Sokw turned back toward Derwin, though she kept her gaze on the water. A hostile breeze picked up, pulling at dark tendrils of her hair as it did the suddenly hurried stream beneath her. The dead grass stirred, and all the blackened tree branches creaked in assent; a bare, living land spoke in unison.
“Don’t you have trees at home?” Sokw skittered over the final three stones, stepping coolly onto dirt again.
Derwin seemed transfixed by the stream, rushing past and over the stones. “Not many trees are seen in London,” he said.
Sokw shivered in response. She and he stood facing each other from opposite sides of the frantic water, one in a pungent deerskin cloak and the other in muddied English breeches. The stepping stones, a fading gray, hardly traced a bridge between the two. They both were faint in the dark shade of the old, old trees.
“Hurry,” Sokw barked. “We’ll be late for the meal. And it will be your fault.”
“Or do you not want to go?”
“I want to!” protested Derwin, taking a step toward the water.
“You said this is your home,” Sokw continued. “Is it really? Are you home here? Is the New World your world?”
“Prove it!” Sokw’s voice rang through the gaps between the trees. Somewhere else in the forest, two wolves snarled and fought. Hares watched anxiously from beneath ferns. A squirrel darted up and down the same tree trunk, over and over again, mad, knowing his stillness meant death by freezing.
Derwin stood agape.
“Cross the river on the stones,” Sokw said quietly. “Feel for where the stones are rooted to the deepest soil. Far, far down.”
“I’ll fall,” said Derwin. He stepped onto the first stone.
“You might.” Sokw sat on the ground and watched a drop of riverwater slide slowly down her ankle.
“I’ll do my best.” He stepped to the second stone.
Derwin stood atop the last stone when Sokw said, “The first serving of turkey is yours.”