“Vuvudru,” Awab said, “sent several sons and daughters to help the children of the tree: Ulbud, Obo, Mabbid; Loffed, Tyrag, Xyma; Amba, Famba, Pytwod. Each brought their own gift for the children of the forest, but this is a story about Ulbud. Ulbud, you know, dressed in black robes and carried a spear. He was a teacher, and his gifts he carried on his tongue. He showed Bavab how to fight with only one hand, and Ketffu how to set traps for the beasts of the forest. He taught us many songs, though most have been forgotten over the years.
“One day Ulbud was walking in the branches of the great tree and looking down at the camps of our father. ‘This is not right,’ he said. ‘Yesterday were there not the camps of Ulbud, Obo, and Mabbid, of Loffed, Tyrag and Xyma, of Amba, Famba, and Pytwod? What is this new camp I see?’
“He went down to the camp and asked the people who had led them there. ‘It was the giants,’ they answered. These were the fathers of the Misre, you see, our brothers who speak the giants’ words. ‘The giants came to us and promised to lead us to a land where we could be free,’ they told Ulbud.
“‘Free from what?’ Ulbud asked, but they did not answer. Troubled, Ulbud climbed up into the trees again and called his brothers and sisters. There were a few that did not come to him, for they were no more, but the rest soon gathered around Ulbud as he pounded his spear against the trunk of the tree. ‘Do you see what the giants, the elder children of the wasteland, have done? They have led our students astray.’
“‘What should we do to bring them back?’ asked another. ‘Should we offer new gifts, things they have never before seen?’
“‘Should we compel them with force?’ asked another. ‘Should we stretch out our arms and crush them if they do not return?’
“‘I will speak to them,’ said Loffed of the nimble tongue. ‘I will persuade them to return.’
“So Loffed descended to the ground and wrapped the light of the clouds around himself. Shining brightly, he called the leaders of all the camps to himself and addressed them. ‘Children, dearest children, what is this I hear? Why have you listened to the words of the giants, who come from the wilderness and have spirits of violence within them?’
“‘They told us about a land where we could be free,’ was the answer.
“‘Free from what?’ asked Loffed, but they said nothing more. ‘Let me tell you about the wilderness. The giants are not alone in the wastes. There are certain beasts that have great power over them and over the earth, and these beasts will not be kind to you, but rule over you as cruelly as they do the giants.’
“‘Cruel?’ asked the children of the forest. ‘Take away the light of the clouds from around yourself and let us see your true form.’
“‘Am I your servant, that I should obey you?’
“Let us see your face, and if we die, we die.’
“‘So Loffed ascended the tree again and spoke with his brothers and sisters. Then each of them descended the tree, and last came Obo with a boat on his shoulders. He set the boat down in the river, and one by one Vuvudru’s children entered the boat before they drifted away into the west. But Loffed left one final word for the children of the forest, promising that some day they would return and the trees would grow a new kind of fruit to heal all wounds and dry all tears.”
“You added the part about the beasts, didn’t you?” asked Nasari, her face unchanging.
“I did,” Awab said. “In the story as the elders told it, Loffed had a different warning.”
“What was it?”
“Not for the ears of giants!” Awab replied, and laughed.