Celeste stared at the old woman, “I can save my mother? What can I do? I don’t know anything about medicine or miracles or anything at all. I’m just a girl.”
“Precisely,” the wise woman replied. “It’s precisely because you are just a girl that only you can save her. Listen close, child, and I will tell you what you came to find out. There is a cure for your mother…”
Celeste gasped, “What is it? Do you have it?”
“Patience, child. There is a cure for your mother, but no one can give it to you. If she is to live, she must eat an apple from the Tree of the Four Winds which grows all alone among the clouds.”
“Among the clouds? What does that mean?”
“Among the clouds there is a tree. Its roots are in the sky and its branches touch heaven. But it is said that only the young and pure can climb to the Tree of the Four Winds and safely pick its fruit. I can show you the path, but I cannot go with you. No one can.”
Celeste nodded. It was all so hard to take in, but she did understand at last why the old woman had said that the time was short. If she had a long journey to find this tree and and its fruit, she must go now. Her mother would not last more than a few days.
With a small groan, the wise woman stood up and hobbled along the path that led away from the house and towards the father. She could move surprisingly quickly. She led Celeste into the forest and up a small hill. As they climbed, the trees got thinner and thinner until they reached the top, which had no trees at all except for one that had fallen long ago and now was a mossy log. The old woman dropped onto this natural seat with a sigh. Celeste waited patiently for her to catch her breath. After a few minutes, the old woman seemed to feel better, but still she said nothing. Celeste began to find it harder and harder to be patient. Finally she ventured to say, “Will we be going on soon?”
The wise woman smiled. “I will go no farther. You can see your way from here.”
Celeste looked eagerly around, but she couldn’t see any path. She glanced back at the old woman, but she was gazing off into the distance…gazing up. Celeste followed her gaze. There in the lovely blue sky, she saw clouds, great billowing fluffy clouds and funny little puffball clouds and one cloud that was thin and wispy and had a lone tree growing from it.
Celeste felt her heart fall. How was she ever going to get way up there? She would need wings like a bird. Or a ladder as tall as a mountain. A mountain. Celeste looked at the Duros Mountains far off in the distance. The tallest of them, Mount Hart, had his head in the clouds. Maybe, just maybe, if she could climb that mountain and step out onto those clouds, she could find a path through the clouds to the Tree of the Four Winds. The whole idea sounded crazy, but she had no choice. She must try something. Without further delay, Celeste said goodbye to the wise woman and began to walk in the direction of the Duros Mountains.
It was not an easy journey. The forest was thick and tangled. Twigs scratched Celeste’s face and branches snagged and tore her dress. At the end of the first day, she was only halfway to Mount Hart, and all the food in her small bag was gone. When it was too dark to see her way, Celeste lay down under the trees and tried to sleep, but she was stiff and sore and more than a little scared. It was a long night. The second day was no better than the first. The trees thinned out and walking was easier, but now Celeste was very hungry. She found a few berries to eat as she walked, but they didn’t do much to take away the gnawing in her stomach.
Late in the afternoon, Celeste finally stepped out of the forest and saw Mount Hart standing before her. She was very tired and knew there were not many hours until dark, but she did not wait. Pausing only to take a long drink from a stream, Celeste began to climb the mountain. The mountain was even more difficult than the forest. The way was steep, and Celeste’s legs cried out from the effort of carrying her higher. Often, she had to use her hands to pull herself up, and the rocks scraped and cut her. She was hungrier than ever. Once again, it grew dark. Once again, Celeste was forced to stop and wait out the night. This time she did not sleep at all. Her only bed was hard rock, and a cold wind made her shiver. She was very worried about her mother. She knew that if this journey took much longer, she would arrive too late to be of any help. The task seemed hopeless. Celeste huddled in a miserable ball and began to sing softly. She sang the little lullaby that her mother loved so well, and as she sang, she felt her courage rise again. In spite of the cold and the darkness and the worry, for just a while, Celeste felt sure that she could do anything she needed to do. She would save her mother; there could be no doubt about it. She sang and sang until her voice gave out, and then she wrapped her cloak around her tighter and waited until morning.
In the morning light, Celeste’s courage was strengthened. This may be an impossible task, but she would not give up trying. The sun warmed her back as she began to climb higher and higher, humming softly under her breath. It was mid-morning when Celeste climbed right into the middle of a cloud. It was cold and wet and misty all around her, but she was so relieved she began to laugh. With new energy, she climbed higher still, until at last she came out above the clouds. Every way she looked, she could see white puffs of clouds stretching out to the horizon, and far off in the distance, just a little higher than the other clouds, she could see the faint wispy cloud that carried the Tree of the Four Winds.
Celeste set down her bag. Something told her that she would not be allowed to bring anything with her on this part of the journey. With a deep breath, she closed her eyes and stepped away from the solid rock onto the nearest puff of white. She stopped, waiting to feel herself fall, but the feeling never came. Finally, she peeped her eyes open and looked down, amazed. She had done it. She was standing on the clouds.