After some time of alternating between rope bridges and clambering over relatively flat tree crooks, Klyra and Chroma were drenched in sweat. Yero glanced behind at the sound of their panting and stopped when they reached the next crook in a tree.
“You should drink,” Yero said gently, indicating to a wide, blackish branch overgrown with vines budding a few colorful, waxy, yellow flowers.
“Drink what?” Chroma asked.
Yero looked at her blankly before Zerfa mentioned, “Yero, the last Cambians to come here knew nothing of the forest. Think of our beaches and mountains: the plants and animals and weather are all different. They are probably quite different on Cambia, as well.” She stepped up to the branch and deftly scaled it to pluck the biggest of the yellow flowers. Without even using her hands, she confidently padded with bare feet across the live tree, a hundred feet above the ground. “These are Watercups. If you are ever thirsty, look for the vines on a tree.”
“That’s convenient,” Chroma commented.
Miefe chuckled. “Well, how do you think the vines get their water? Their roots aren’t exactly close by,” he said, pointing over the dizzying edge. “Trees are strong enough to bring water up here, but the vines much catch rainwater.” The two guards began climbing their own branches to reach the flowers as Chroma and Klyra began sipping the warm water from inside the cup-shaped flower.
“That’s…really neat, actually,” Klyra said between sips.
“We’ll have to get you some proper clothing when we get back to town,” Zerfa commented. “We used to wear clothing like yours, but then we realized that they were unbearably hot.”
“Took a while,” Klyra whispered. “Gee, it’s almost as if the forest itself is getting hotter.”
“What was that?” Miefe inquired.
“Oh, I was just wondering why you kept clothes at all,” Klyra recovered. Chroma glanced at her with eyebrows raised. “What? I’m just wondering why they have the same modesty that we do.”
Yero, Miefe, and Zerfa stared at her, puzzled.
“Klyra, you don’t know this because you weren’t in the Travel Academy,” Chroma explained. “But nearly every island shows the same pattern of basic clothing: groin for all adults, and often chest for grown women.”
“How is that possible?”
“It’s not from modesty, it’s from practicality.”
“What do you mean?”
“Physical activity,” Chroma answered, indicating over towards one of the guards, who was shimmying down a particularly steep tree branch. “Sensitivity, bouncing, tangles…”
“Ah, yeah I got it.” Klyra paused for a moment. “Then why’s Yero’s hair so long?”
“The two guards have really short hair, I assume because they’re really physically active. That’s even why I cut my hair. The councilmen have longer hair. But why Yero?”
“I have long hair because I am captain of the guard,” Yero answered from where he stood straight and vigilant. “The council members have long hair because they are council members.”
“Zerfa’s hair is longer than mine because she has been a council member longer,” Miefe added.
“Oh, it’s for rank,” Chroma finished. “Yero, doesn’t your hair snag on all these plants?”
“That’s what the braids are for.”
“Ah, got it. And the bright orange of the clothes?”
“We Klimans know where we are in the treetops, and we’re not afraid to show everyone where we are,” Zerfa announced, standing a little taller. “We are brave, like a poison dart frog or a virile bird. We are unified and keep track of each other. But the Greens hide in the plants and mud like the snakes they are.”
“Speaking of Greens, we should get moving,” Yero suggested. “We’re one bridge away from town.”
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Featured image from Amada44 at Wikimedia Commons