Treesong for a Sun-Touched Tuesday
Renan Bernardo

“What do you hear, Emmity?”

Renna’s voice in my ear, annoyingly calm. Like a twinkle of bells, alight on a summer’s breeze. Together, we’re poised before the oldest tree in the academy’s sun-bright rooftop garden—it stretches tall above me, an oaken god a hundred feet tall and ages old. As old as the academy itself. I want to quiver, but do not. Renna’s hand is on my back, a soothing pressure, as I press the pads of my fingers to tree bark. My eyelids drift shut.

I feel through the rough edges, the familiar ways the wood twists and snarls and smooths. Above me, the canopy swishes in the wind, a gentle rustle, leaving me sun-dappled in will-o-the-wisp warmths.

Unfortunately, as always, my mind wanders: I think of miles-long root systems, endless songs, pulses of music. No. Emmity, resist the familiar. Learn the new. Pause. Recenter. Remember what Orregin said, gloating: it’s the most amazing experience of my life, singing to that tree, Emmity!

I take deep breaths through my nose—venture out, my padmaps pulsing gently, and purse my lips into dry lines. Push so hard I swear my skin will tear. Desperately, I try to hear it. Something. Fucking anything.

The tree, for its part, gives me nothing.

Ugh,” I groan, and drop my hand in a swoop of derision. Betrayed.

I’d always done better with mushrooms.

Bunching my mouth up, I turn away from the tree. But that’s no good: I’m faced with the rest of the academy forest, all rich greens and prismatic statues covered in vines. I recount their names, straining for memory: smooth grey dogwood, slender maple, pines and firs and spruces of all tones, and—no. No, that’s all there is. So many songs to learn, when I am failing so thoroughly. So I pivot on heel and stride away—wander, despondent, past bushes and flowerbeds and pretty little benches to the rooftop balcony’s edge. Behind me, I’m certain I hear Renna stifle a chuckle as they trot behind me.

Yes. So simple, how things can be funny, when you’re naturally good at everything.

I grab onto the balcony railing with both hands; arms straight, elbows locked. A grip like someone trying to pull themselves back into relevance. Below me, the city whirrs peacefully; interior forests shudder in the breeze, crystal panels glint in the sun, the blues and yellows and oranges of the buildings almost too bright to look at. Tiny human dots stream down sidewalks, wandering from one purpose to another. One or two disappear into a small fuchsia building down the way—Apothecary’s Brew—and I feel a stab of envy. I could use a crisp iced tea of my own.

But there’s another long hour of treesong lessons before I’ll be free.

“It’s hot,” I grumble to myself, though the sunwall is functioning perfectly fine above us, an endless series of holographic rings blurring the infinitely blue sky.

“What was that?” Renna asks, and meanders up beside me. They lean forward in a soft curve, forearms resting beside my uneasy grip.

I do not deign to answer. I’ve lost too many points with Renna today already, and I’ve no doubt they can guess exactly what it was.

Instead, I say: “I should quit.”



It comes too fast. I can’t keep the shock out of my voice. But—what? Renna’s been training me for five years. They convinced me to nurture treesong. They mentored me through my upper years. They arranged for me to go to the Great Forest this summer! Surely! They can’t really mean. That after all this time. They regret—

My face falls. I stare at them, betrayed again.

They snort and cover their mouth with their hand.


Renna!” They mimic, hands fluttering dramatically through the air. I swat them, fingers grazing their golden apprentice robe.

Stop it!” I say, and swat them again. They hold their hands up in defeat; I ignore them, forcing them to dance away in swirling pirouettes of liquid gold. We stay like that for minutes—me, an outreached hand, them, some giggling phantom on the wind, running all through the labyrinthian garden—until I am bent over on my knees, gasping for air. I give in, and laugh with them. Feel some relief flood me when I notice their own laugh is breathless.

Good. They are human, after all.

They place their hands on my shoulders and smooth my ruffled novice robe in one suave motion. Then, with a more powerful grasp than you might expect from someone so slight, they take each of my arms and right me. I am surprised when I meet them eye to eye—when did I match them in height?

“You are allowed to fail,” they tell me seriously. “We all do. This is not an easy thing you are doing, Emmity. It took us millennia to even scratch the surface of it. How can you imagine you’ll learn it in a half decade without failing? And the trees—” They hum, and look up at the grandfather tree stretched proud over us. The leaves swirl against the clouds, a cacophony of greens. “They might be waiting to learn you, as you learn them. We cannot assume that because we know how to hear them, that they will always want to speak with us.”

I swallow. Pause. Ah. There it is. That familiar pulse of desperation that sits under my ribs. To be something, someone, to do things that are—good. Important. Necessary. The pressure mounts. I ignore the feeling behind my eyes, and—

“But—Oh, it’s so embarrassing. My voice cracks. “But if they won’t speak to me, how will I take care of them?”

They give me that soft look, then. The mysterious one like affection wrapped up in restraint—what are they restraining? I have no idea. But that look has been the most consistent part of my life since I met Renna, and these days I try not to be bothered by it.

I think it means they’re proud of me.

“Sometimes we aren’t ready to speak,” Renna says. “But that doesn’t mean we don’t know that people care about us.”

“How do you know,” I grumble, and look down. It is, maybe, a bit petulant for how careful they’re being with me. But I’m tired. And could really use a cold drink.

“Because when I was young, I didn’t always want to speak.”

Oh. My mouth opens, silent space. I let them keep talking, and resist sinking into the ground. It was a foolish thing to say. Their voice is sharp and kind: a warning and an invitation.  I will not make this mistake again, but I am allowed to have made it this time.

Another squeeze at my shoulders, and they say, “I still don’t always want to speak. And I don’t need to. Speaking isn’t the only way we can know one another, Emmity. You know that. And if you ignore all the ways we can know and feel the world, you’ll make knowing and understanding more difficult for yourself on every level. Friends. Partners. Colleagues. Flora. No one will ever do or say things exactly the way you need or want them to. Nothing will. Sometimes, you’ll need to shape yourself to the songs around you—it’s the only way to be a part of them, feel them.”

I swallow and nod. I’m not entirely sure what they mean, but it feels important.

“Like when you’re swimming, and you feel the current?” I ask. Immediately, I flush. It feels like a simplistic simile, compared to what they’ve said.

But Renna shrugs, the corner of their mouth turned up.

“Sure,” they say. “If that’s what makes sense to you. For me, it’s a leaf caught in a breeze, until I turn into a bird. I choose when I give myself over to everything around me, and when I use the push and pull of wind to glide the way I need to. But it helps.”


“To feel less alone.”

Do I feel alone?

I think of the dread I feel before treesong lessons. My hesitation before venturing out. My sourness that I’ll fail.

My fingers sliding off the sun-touched bark.

Suddenly, I am silly. Just a wavering fool in the breeze, untethered. Of course it isn’t working: I want the tree to come to me. Mushrooms are small and soft, little bundles of life whose songs fall into me easily. Even before my network installation, I’d heard mushroomsong, little hums through my skin that felt almost like thoughts. My eyes flutter closed: I hear it again, and am flooded with the earthy humidity that means home. It’s the whole reason I’m here, those pretty little fungi. They’re—

Easy. They come naturally.

But the tree…

The tree feels overwhelming. Majestic. Complicated, in a way that I don’t understand. With the network amplifying it, maybe even too much. What bits of song I’ve caught on good days, between moderated breaths and tempered heartbeats, have made my mind feel electric.

Like I’m not enough for it.

Alone. Yes. I do feel alone.

But maybe—

Anxiety pulses in my shoulders. I’ve wanted to ask something for a long time, now, and always felt too ridiculous. But. I swallow, and my chest feels big. What if, for once, I chose to believe that it wasn’t?

I open my eyes and Renna is there. Waiting. Expectant.


“Could we start with something smaller?” I ask, quiet.“I don’t know if I’m ready for treesong.”

I brace for disappointment, but—oh. The smile that cracks over their face.

This time they are proud of me.

“Yes,” they say, and relief floods me. It’s so easy. Would it have always been this easy? “But Emmity?”


“Only because you asked for it. I don’t doubt that the treesong is waiting for you, or that you’ll hear it when you need to.”

I nod.

“I promise I’ll go back to it,” I say, all earnestness. “When I’m ready, I’ll go back.”

“Alright then. Why don’t we go back to chatting with a nice shrub—these ones down here just got a trim, and we should see how they feel about their look—”

Renna turns on heel and strides into the flowering garden. The sun catches their golden cloak, a beacon in a too-much world, and I follow them.

Just. A little less alone, the both of us.

Kerry C. Byrne is an autistic, queer and nonbinary writer/cat lover living in Toronto. Their work can be found in Fantasy Magazine, THIS Magazine, The Temz Review, and others. The rest of the time, they can be found working on Augur Magazine and Tales & Feathers Magazine as publisher—or diving deep into the endless void that is their homebrew D&D world. Find them on Twitter as @kercoby.

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