The group doubled, and doubled again, growing the way armies do as they sweep through towns. By the time they arrived at the ceibo tree, the sun had brushed its zenith and begun to slide. The tree towered over the eastern well, and at the very top, thirty meters from solid earth, grasping a slim branch, there perched a girl.
She was not quite a year old. Her skin was two shades lighter than hot chocolate and she had high cheekbones and chaotic hair that spilled to her naked waist. Her eyes were round and moist like birthday cakes. She looked neither afraid nor eager to descend.
Artigas threw his head back. He burned to catch her eye. Mírame, he thought.
"She's a witch!" one woman said.
"A bruja sent us a brujita!"
"Don't be ridiculous," snapped Doña Rosa. "She's an angel. She's here to bless Tacuarembó."
"With what? A rain of baby caca?"
"That's no angel, it's just a child."
"A dirty one."
"Maybe she's one of the Garibaldi kids. They're always climbing trees."
"Only the Garibaldi boys climb trees."
"And they only climb ombús."
"That's true. How could anyone get up this trunk?"
The necks of fifty tacuaremboenses craned up at the girl. The tree looked impossible to scale. If it had been a native ombú, with its low, inviting branches, there would have been no miracle or legend or ninety years of carrying the story. But here was the tallest ceibo known to Tacuarembó, its lowest branch many meters from the ground. No one could imagine an adult shimmying up with a baby in her arms, let alone a baby's lonely climb.
"Very well. Doña Rosa, you've got your miracle."
"Miracles are miracles, what more can we say?"
"Only thanks be to God."
"If you say so."
"I do. I certainly do."
"I meant no harm."
"Look, everybody, let's not quarrel."
"We've got to find a way to get her down."
"Let's shake her out."
"There's no ladder big enoughI know, I made them all."
"I could climb the tree"
"You can barely climb onto your horse, hombre!"
"We should wait for a sign"
"And what? Leave her up there for another century?"
The infant sat high above the din, impassive, barely moving. Artigas thought: Mírame. She turned her head, this way, that way, and their eyes met. You. You. Their gaze had flesh, their gaze had strength, their gaze was a branch between them, invisible, unbreakable, bound to last forever, or so it seemed.
"I know her," he shouted. "She's my sister."
Fifty faces turned toward the boy.
"Ay . . . he means . . ."
"Look, Artigas." Carlita Robles knelt beside him. "This can't be her."
"She's been gone too long."
"She couldn't have survived."
"Little girls can't survive alone."
"But she did," Artigas said.
Carlita and Doña Rosa exchanged a glance.
"Besides," he added, "if it's not her, where did this girl come from?"
Excerpted from The Invisible Mountains by Carolina De Robertis Copyright © 2009 by Carolina De Robertis. Excerpted by permission of Knopf. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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