After crossing the bridge, ears still ringing with his grandfather’s words, he entered what could only be described as a path, thick with impenetrable, ancient trees and pricker bushes- clearly, whatever or whoever had lain this particular landscape meant for the would-be-interloper to have to go in a straight line. The trees themselves, though comparatively short compared to the forest he left, seemed to form a leaf and branch firmament, replete with flowering vines and low hanging branches, both of which wavered suspiciously at the sound of his footfalls.
Even stranger was that these branches- elastic as they were- frequently bent down to just five or so feet off the ground. One might think the best way to evade such an annoyance was to either crawl, or start swinging with a machete– Chaim, of course, had warned him that if he were to try the former, he would be forced to walk back to town naked and ashamed, and that if he tried the latter, they would never find his head. Liking both his clothes, and the current location of his head, Petka decided the best thing to do was to heed Chaim’s advice and whistle sharply at the path ahead of him. He had been feeling the strange pull at his possessions, but as soon as the whistle cut through the air, the sensation stopped and the branches and vines that had been bending earthward seemed even to straighten out a bit.
Chaim hadn’t really elaborated on what to expect, but did emphasize that it wouldn’t involve combat. Petka had been given a spell- really it was no more than a few lines of verse- to pass by unharmed; but what occurred next- the Trial’s so called “opening gambit” (Chaim’s words) from the “Trees Full of Thieves” struck him more as a call-out to an impromptu poetry slam as a chorus of a hundred little chirrupy voices said in unison:
We are all one o’ bark and pine
And will make once yours, suddenly mine!
Unseen, we traipse upon amongst the prick’ly boughs
Know we wood apes shall make a fool of thou!
We have nothing (no nothing!) but time, you see!
The ticking of minutes mean naught to we!
And Lead you astray, why, surely we will!
We’ll empty your pockets to our liking and fill!
We are true thieves; not one wears a mask!
We take what we will, and ne’er do we ask!
You men-folk are fools, oh so indeed-
So easily tricked by ones such as we!
With tails as curved as our tales (no lies!)
And by the biting of fleas on our mangy hides,
You will not – no never! – us see!
For we are the unseen– the forest of thieves!
Petka though for a moment- he expected adventure, but did not exactly expect…a chorus line. The multitude of a hundred or so little voices seemed extraordinarily confident; so much so that Petka was sure (though of course could not verify), that the invisible little “thieves” had lapsed, in unison, into jazz hands. Petka, of course, would not stoop so low, but he (upon Chaim’s insistence) lowered his voice as much as possible (almost comically so, as Petka’s voice was rather high to begin with) and recited the first “Peace Cry”- fighting verse with verse; a bizarre start to an already bizarre adventure– but, hey, he would take what he could get. He whistled sharply again, and began his confident reply.
Oh, you apes of the wood, of bark, and of lice,
Are no more than mangy bags of tall lies!
You fling yourselves, stupid, among branchy rows,
So blissfully ignorant of who walks below!
If you be little apes, then what is a man?
A cleverer ape below you now stands!
And if your fleasome hides be dear to thee,
The depart now forthwith, flee, flee, flee!
And dare you put hand or tail in my way,
A great meal of you I will surely make!
And did you not know thy skulls are in trend?
For fashionable ladies with white-gloved hands?
And the rattle and music of jostling ape bones
Will bring great joy to my kin at home!
So reveal you to me, oh arbor swine!
For if you dare cross me, thy hides will be mine!
Petka felt strangely confident in his delivery- he had always been rather shy in the company of large groups in general, retreating from even the very few opportunities to speak publicly in his hometown. He did feel, however, that his words must have had some impact, as after a moment of silence, there was a loud crack- as if a shot fired from a rifle. As if by magic, this report revealed hundreds of rather silly, diminutive little apes to appear amongst the branches, all with an expression of shock worn on their collective faces- they were frozen, petrified… and in short, they just got served.
The beasts were sad, strange little things, Petka pondered as he walked, unimpeded through on the straight path to the next trial. They all gazed at him, mouths agape in horror; their faces red, and moss and ivy tangled thick in their coats. Perhaps the strangest thing was the extra arm- they had– like most monkeys they had the standard pair of two arms and two legs, but there was a second right arm, just below their standard right arm, which seemed to serve no purpose other than to hold some random object. Some held pine cones, others coins of unknown denominations, and others still held ripe, yellow bananas (exactly where they found the fruit was unknown, as bananas are not grown in Pennsylvania). As he passed beneath them, and out of their strange little fiefdom, he could hear them muttering and scurrying, perhaps trying to come up with more intimidating verse for the next interloper.