About the Author
Zilpha Keatley Snyder (b. 1927) is a three-time Newbery Honor–winning author of adventure and fantasy novels for children. Her smart, honest, and accessible narrative style has made her books beloved by generations. When not writing, she enjoys reading and traveling. Snyder lives in Mill Valley, California.
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Below The Root
Book One of the Green Sky Trilogy
By Zilpha Keatley Snyder
OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIACopyright © 1975 Zilpha Keatley Snyder
All rights reserved.
Seeking a place to be alone, to think and reason and attend to the strange pounding of his heart, Raamo climbed high, until he could almost touch the fronds of the rooftrees. There, among small thin branches, he quickly wove himself a loosely constructed nid and collapsed into it. Already somewhat soothed by the gentle swaying of the high branches, he set out to calm himself further with song, as he had been taught to do since infancy. Choosing the oldest and simplest songs he knew, he began with the slow rhythmic Forest Chant—the first song he could remember learning in his first year at the Garden of Song and Story.
Forest is and was and will be.
Root and roof and all between.
Pan-fruit feed me, nid-bough hold me,
Peace and Joy be ever green.
Forest is and was and will be,
Grundtree, roof tree. Sacred Bloom.
Far and deep our cares are buried.
By the Wissenroot entombed.
Forest is and was and will be,
Where the flight was brought to rest.
Where the Kindar danced creation.
By the Ol-zhaan, Spirit blessed.
The song soothed, as always, but not enough. Raamo's heart still raced, and his mind, released from the quiet monotony of the rhythm, leaped back into fevered activity.
Could it be true? Could something so unthinkable really have happened? Could he, Raamo D'ok, who had never been an honor student at the Garden, and who had often received less than perfect marks in Peace and Joy, really have been chosen to join the Ol-zhaan in the temple? It seemed impossible. And yet the Ol-zhaan would not have chosen him mistakenly. In their great wisdom, they must have had good reason. But what could their reasons have been? Racking his mind, Raamo thought back over the years of his life, trying to find clues that might explain the shattering surprise that had, in one brief hour, changed the entire pattern of his existence.
If there had been clues along the way, he had missed them. He had never thought of himself as exceptional. He had been only Raamo D'ok, first-born child of respected but quite ordinary parents—his mother an embroiderer of fine print and his father a harvester of fruit and pan in the Orbora orchards. They were gentle kindly people but undistinguished, with no special skill in learning or Spirit-force.
And Raamo had thought of himself as much the same, or even less praiseworthy. Only an ordinary student at the Garden, he had been given to moodiness and curiosity rather than peacefulness and good memory. Nor was there anything about his appearance that might have given warning. He was, like most Kindar, small boned and slender. As for his face, he seldom made use of a gazing bowl, but he had been told his features were pleasing. However, no one had described them as noble or awe-inspiring. There had really been nothing at all to set him apart, except perhaps for a slightly unusual, if rather unreliable, gift of Spirit-force.
Although he had passed his thirteenth birthday, he still retained some of the Spirit-skills common in young children but usually long outgrown by members of his age group. Yet such children's gifts as pensing, teleporting and grunspreking were surely unrelated to the great all-embracing Spirit-powers of the Ol-zhaan. Still, looking back over his lifetime, Raamo could think of no other possible explanation of any kind.
As far as he could recall, his First Counseling had been entirely unexceptional. He had gone, as did all Kindar children, at the age of three years, to be examined by the Ol-zhaan at the temple. Along with all the infants who had just completed their first year at the Garden, he had been tested and questioned and then sent home.
But today, at his Second Counseling, he had realized almost immediately that something unusual was taking place. From speaking to others who had already attended their Second Counseling, he had expected to stand briefly before a panel of Ol-zhaan who would first congratulate him on having reached the age of full participation in Kindar society. Then records would be consulted, and he would be told what profession had been given him and the day on which his apprenticeship would begin. Unless, of course, and he had thought it highly unlikely, he was chosen for further study at the Academy to prepare for a profession of high honor such as teacher, artist, grund-leader or musician. Should he be so fortunate, he would also be presented with a beautifully embroidered seal of the Academy of Orbora, which he would henceforth wear on the chest of his shuba. But none of these things had happened.
Instead, he had been put aside in a small chamber and left alone for what had seemed to be many hours. Then the Ol-zhaan had come. One alone at first, a woman of great age and beauty, who asked him many questions and stared at him so intently that, on her departure, he was left feeling drained and exhausted. After her, two others, men this time, questioned him more briefly, and they, too, went away. For a long time, Raamo again sat all by himself in the small chamber.
When the Ol-zhaan returned, the two men and the ancient woman, Raamo sprang to his feet and stood waiting, his head bowed respectfully, although he could not resist glancing up at them. He had not often been so near Ol-zhaan and he found them beautiful and awful, their faces noble and full of dignity, their white shubas, decorated with seals of gold and green, almost dazzling in their splendor.
And then they had told him. Told him, Raamo D'ok, that he was to be a Chosen, and that the announcement of his choosing would be made to all the inhabitants of Green-sky at the next assembly.
The thought of that announcement and what would follow filled Raamo with awe and wonder and a troubling disquiet. Reaching up to brush a trailing tendril of Wissenvine away from his eyes, Raamo noticed that his fingers were still quivering like the fronds of a rooftree in a high wind. Holding out both hands, he studied the quivering with interest. Was he ill, or was this shaking related to the quickened beat of his heart? He had seen such quivering in the ailing or the very old. Suddenly Raamo found himself wishing that he had a handful of Wissenberries. He did not use them often, since the sensation they produced was not to his liking, but at this moment the soothing drowsy effect of the Berry might seem a blessing. Lifting his head, Raamo looked around him without any real hope of finding Wissenberries; the Vine rarely produced blossoms or fruit at such high altitudes. Just as he expected, the Vine that curtained his hideaway, and of which he had woven his makeshift resting place, was barren, producing nothing but small sun-blighted leaves and the thinnest of tendrils.
Impatiently Raamo climbed out of his hammock and prepared to descend. He was going to look for Wissenberries—or perhaps not. Perhaps he was just going to look for—someone to speak to. Poised on the narrow branch, he glanced down, picking out the best glide path, one that would take him down to the midheights with a minimum of stops. A few steps out on an adjoining branch put him in position to take advantage of a long corridor relatively free of branches or curtains of Vine. With a few skillful turns, he would be able to glide almost to his nid-place without stopping or climbing. He stood on the narrow grundbranch, looking down hundreds of feet, through vast open spaces softly lit by filtering rays of greenish light, bordered and intersected by enormous branches, festooned with curtains of graceful Wissenvine. Shaking out the wing-panels of his shuba, the long silken robe worn by all except the youngest infants, he launched himself downward into space.
He drifted slowly, enjoying the freedom of the glide, the downward tug of gravity, the occasional lift of rising currents of air, and feeling the tug of his shuba cuffs on wrists and ankles as he skillfully shifted the position of his arms and legs to control the direction of his glide. Halfway down he was overtaken by a flight of paraso birds who flocked around him, playfully matching their speed with his, their long richly colored tails trailing behind them. Banking quickly for a sharp turn that would take him almost to the door of his nid-place, he surprised the drifting birds, causing a series of feather-ruffling collisions. As Raamo dropped to a stop on the wide branch that led to the door of his home, the birds swept upward and away, their soft giggling cries fading away into the forest's ever-present murmur of birdsong.
The nid-place of the D'ok family was in the upper midheights of the forest, and though not so large and impressive as those supported by lower and larger branches, it was roomy and comfortable. It consisted of a series of small chambers built in and around the crotch where several large grundbranches met. Like all other homes and buildings, its floors were constructed of the long straight trunks of rooftrees, and its walls were woven of frond and tendril and hung with decorated tapestries. As Raamo pushed aside the heavy door hanging, he heard his name called, and, turning, he saw his mother and sister climbing up the branchpath toward him.
"Raamo," his mother called. "How was it? What are you to be?"
"What are you to be?" There it was. The question asked of all young people after their Second Counseling, since it was then that the direction of their future lives was decided upon. Not that the decision usually came as a complete surprise. During their tenth and last year at the Garden, all students were consulted concerning their preferences. The Ol-zhaan, they were told, always took wishes as well as talents into consideration in the choosing of professions. But Raamo had approached his thirteenth year with no very strong leanings one way or another. He had thought he might be entered as an apprentice in the tapestry guild, since he had shown some slight talent for color and design. And there were times when he thought he might follow his father's profession of harvester, although he was not certain if his interest was actually in the work itself so much as in the element of adventure and mystery forever present in the lives of the orchard workers whose work took them daily so close to the forbidden floor of the forest. He would, of course, have liked to be as wise and learned as the teachers at the Garden, or even at the Academy, but he knew that was probably out of the question for someone with so faulty a memory. And, in moments of high and fanciful ambition, he had even considered the possibility of becoming a troubadour, one of those glamorous and highly admired individuals who spent their time traveling high and low through the seven cities of Green-sky, gathering news and information, which would then be sung to the populace from special platforms on the great public branch-ways.
But even in his wildest imaginings, Raamo had never even considered the possibility that he would be among the Chosen. And his family, he knew, would be as astounded as he.
"What are you to be?" his mother, Hearba, called again; and his little sister's thin piping, "What? What? What, Raamo?" trilled like the call of a bird. They reached him then, but before he could answer, there was the Palm Song, or ceremony of greeting, to be chanted. Arms extended, he placed both palms against those of his mother and together they chanted the words of the greeting.
This our greeting, palm to palm,
As our meeting fate-lines flow,
Merged in Spirit and in song,
Love and Joy united grow.
He sang hurriedly, without giving thought to the meaning of the sacred words, in his haste to arrive at the telling of his astonishing news, and as he repeated the greeting with his sister, Pomma, he noticed that she did not even remember to look into his eyes. Instead her beautiful bluegreen eyes played over his face.
"What Raamo? What will you be?" she piped again the moment the greeting was finished. Watching her curiosity, Raamo was almost tempted to prolong the mystery of his future in order to enjoy the change he saw in her, brought on by the excitement of her only brother's Second Counseling.
Pomma was not often thus. Engrossed in private dreams, light boned and delicate as a bird, she spent most of her time drifting silently around the nid-place, her beloved pet, a tiny lavender sima, perched on her shoulder or dangling from her neck. She seldom took part in the games or dances of childhood and even made excuses to escape the daily excursions into the open forest to look for paraso tails and trencher beaks—excursions that were the delight, as well as the duty, of most Kindar children. Instead Pomma preferred to lie quietly on a secluded branch with her shuba floating around her so that sudden updrafts sometimes caught and lifted her several inches into the air. It was not often that she laughed, or even sang, except for the necessary rituals, and her pale skin had an unnatural translucency, as if light could penetrate her flesh as easily as it did the petals of a mistborne flower. The mistborne, a fragile blossom that drifted upward through the forest on damp days, its transparent petals immune to the weak gravity of Green-sky, often reminded Raamo of his sister, Pomma.
But today Pomma's cheeks glowed with life, and watching her, Raamo experienced his first moment of pure pleasure in the great honor that had come to him—pleasure at last unmixed with shock and anxiety.
"Aha, little Berry-dreamer," he teased. "So you are awake enough to be curious."
Pomma frowned shockingly, mindless of everything she had been carefully taught about unjoyful expressions in public places. "Don't call me that," she said. "I haven't had a single Berry all day."
Raamo smiled, knowing by pense that she was only pretending unjoyfulness toward him. Although she frowned, Pomma's thoughts were open to his pensing, and he read there only eager interest—and a kind of shocked anticipation, almost as if she already suspected—But how could she? He had been making a special effort not to mind-touch, and for many months now, Pomma had claimed that she could no longer pense, not even with members of her own family.
The ancient skill of pensing, or mind-touching, had once been practiced by people of all ages, but for many generations it had been lost to all except the very young. The skill usually faded between the ages of five and ten, and Pomma, at seven, had for several months claimed total inability. But now Raamo felt certain that, somehow, Pomma was very close to knowing his secret.
"Tricky one," he said. "You've been pensing. And you said you'd lost it."
"I had," she said. "I've not been able to for a long time, even with you. It must be just that I wanted to so badly. And it was only for a moment."
"What is it, daughter," their mother asked. "What did you pense? What is Raamo to be?"
"I don't know," Pomma said uncertainly. "I must have only imagined it. I imagined that he—" She stopped and stared at Raamo, her eyes enormous with wonder. "A—a—Chosen?" she stammered.
They both stared at her. The mother in shocked amazement, and Raamo in surprise that Pomma had really pensed him, that she had not lost the power after all.
"A Chosen?" Hearba said. Her eyes were wide with shock, but Raamo could pense no disbelief—and she did not chide Pomma for her mistaken pensing. It would seem that his mother found his incredible news easier to accept than Raamo had found it himself.
"Yes, Mother," he said. "I am a Chosen. It is to be told at the next assembly."CHAPTER 2
IT WAS THE MOST PERTURBING evening of their lives. Sitting together in the common room of their comfortably familiar nid-place, the members of the D'ok family were, that night, lost in a suddenly unfamiliar world. A world where they experienced strange emotions and struggled to comprehend unthinkable ideas.
Watching them—seeing his father's shocked silence, his mother's restless and distant manner, and Pomma's unnatural wide-eyed intentness—Raamo pensed that for each there were moments of great Joy. But it seemed, for the most part, a strange unnatural Joy, arising from the mind and feeding on flamboyant imaginings rather than on warm and living moments of Peace and happiness. Trained as they were to seek and treasure simple daily Joys, the Kindar were ill prepared to deal with high excitements and the sudden glory of fame and honor.
The situation that the D'ok family was facing that evening was, indeed, a rare one. In all of Green-sky, in all the seven cities, and among all of its myriad citizens, only two were chosen each year to enter the temple. Only two out of hundreds.
No one in the D'ok family, certainly not Raamo himself, had any idea what it would be like to be an Ol-zhaan. The life of an Ol-zhaan was beyond the comprehension of ordinary citizens, beyond even their imaginings. Who, among the Kindar, could picture what it would be like to be a person of power and glory—a priest, magician, leader and healer? It was a thing far beyond understanding.
Excerpted from Below The Root by Zilpha Keatley Snyder. Copyright © 1975 Zilpha Keatley Snyder. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
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