Ratonhnhaké:ton's fourth attempt at tree climbing ended with scrapes, bloodied knees, and another very strict lecture from his mother.
"How many times have I told you not to do this?" she asked while she busied herself with the cuts on his legs. "You are lucky you're still in one piece."
Ratonhnhaké:ton sat quietly, almost dutifully, while his mother worked. "You climb them all the time," he muttered. Trees were far trickier than he thought; despite the fact that his mother made climbing them look so easy.
"You are still too small, Ratonhnhaké:ton. I can teach you when you're older."
"I could do it now."
"Your legs are still too short."
"But I saw one of the other boys climbing yesterday, he-"
"-is going to seriously hurt himself one day," she finished.
Something tired and strained in her voice told Ratonhnhaké:ton that she was done with this argument, but he pressed on. The other boys were only a bit taller than him, anyway; he knew he could climb just as well as they could, if not better. He was short, but he was fast and flexible. Climbing should have come to him naturally, and he was angry when it didn't. He'd fallen each time he tried – and his mother was always there to scold him.
"You need long legs to jump and find good footholds," she was telling him.
His scrapes were clean by then, though they still stung. His mother brushed a few twigs from his hair – which was always a mess despite her best efforts – and set them aside.
"Can I practice on a smaller tree?" he asked. Surely she couldn't argue with that.
His mother pressed a finger to his lips. "No, Ratonhnhaké:ton. What will you do if you fall and hurt yourself so badly that you can't walk back to the village? Who will find you?"
"It will happen, if you continue to disobey me."
He averted his eyes. Ratonhnhaké:ton didn't like making his mother so mad. But he wanted to learn, wanted to show her how capable he was-
His mother slipped her hand beneath his chin and made him look up. Her gaze had softened, but her tone was still firm.
"I can teach you to climb when you are older," she told him. "A few years from now, perhaps."
"That's so far away…"
"I know. But you will be the best tree climber in the village when I'm through with you. Even better than those other boys you keep talking about. They will be asking you to give them lessons."
That gave him pause. His mother finally smiled.
"Just be patient," she said. "Because I won't teach you if I find out you tried to climb again."
His mother scooped him up in her arms and brought their faces close together. Her eyelashes were soft, almost ticklish, against his cheek. Ratonhnhaké:ton's frown melted away. He couldn't help but laugh.
"Just a few more years," she promised. "And I will teach you everything there is to know. But stay out of the trees until then!"
He was smiling then, all previous anger forgotten. "I know."
His mother released him from her hold and Ratonhnhaké:ton scrambled to his feet. A few twigs and leaves were still stuck in his hair, but he didn't seem to notice. He never did.
"Can I go see Kanen'tó:kon? Please?"
"Yes. So long as you remember what I told you."
"Don't worry." Ratonhnhaké:ton's grin was sheepish. "Kanen'tó:kon is afraid of heights."