Saturday, June 29, 2013

The Elf and the Magnolia, part 2

When the kind mother finch brought the little elf to her nest, she fixed his wounds and told her four children that he was to be treated as their brother. So that was how he was raised as a bird instead of an elf. He was named Goldenrod for his hair, which he thought of as a crop of yellow down feathers. He thought of himself as a bird, and knew of no other world but the tree where the finches nested. He learned to peep, call, and sing as well as any finch. He spent the days singing and playing with his mother and siblings, who loved him dearly. But it wasn’t long before his brothers and sisters received their wing feathers and had to learn to fly. He would sit on a thick branch beside his mother and listen to her instruct her children, cheering them on and congratulating them on a job well done. But he was never invited to take part in the flying lessons.
            “Mama,” Goldenrod would say after each lesson, “when will I get to learn to fly?”
            His mother would pat his head and tell him, “When your wings come in, dear.”  
            “Why aren’t they in now?” he would ask. But she never had an answer to that.
            The mother finch knew that someday she would need to tell him that he was an elf and not a finch, but she was afraid that he would not believe her, or else be very sad and pine for his elf parents.  So she put it off as long as she possibly could. But when her children had finally completed their flying lessons and Goldenrod was still pondering the whereabouts of his delayed wings, she knew she finally had to tell him the truth.
            The afternoon of the last flying lesson, Goldenrod, as always, asked, “Mama, when will I get to learn to fly?”
            This time, his mother said, “Goldenrod, there is something I need to discuss with you in private. Come to the nest with me now, while your siblings are out flying.” Goldenrod obeyed and followed his mother to the nest. She sat down, and motioned for him to sit beside her. She wrapped her warm, brown wing around him and pulled him close to her.
            “Goldenrod,” she began, “if you let me say what I am about to tell you, do you promise that you will believe me, no matter how strange it sounds, and do you promise not to be angry or upset with me?”
            “I promise, Mama,” said Goldenrod, who didn’t think that he could ever be angry or upset with his kind, beautiful mother.
            She shut her eyes and took a deep breath before saying, “Goldenrod, you are not a bird.”
            “I’m not a bird?”
            “No, Goldenrod,” she said. “A few weeks ago, when you were still just a very little baby, I found you lying on the ground. You were horribly wounded, though I still don’t know why, and I took you to my nest and took care of you. You didn’t have a mother of your own, so I became your mother.”
            “Then if I’m not a bird,” Goldenrod said, “what am I?”
            “You are an elf,” said his mother.
            “An elf?” Goldenrod was bewildered. “Mama, what’s an elf?”
             “An elf,” his mother explained, “is a small creature that lives in trees. Elves live in the forest just like birds, but they do not have any wings or feathers.”
            “Do my brothers and sisters know I’m an elf?” Goldenrod asked.
            “They do,” said his mother. “But they were told to treat you as if you were a member of the family, so they treated you like a bird. I knew I would have to tell you that you were an elf someday, but I dreaded the day, because I thought you might want to get away from me and be with the other elves.” She paused, and looked right into his eyes. “Goldenrod, do you want to get away with me and be with the other elves, now that you know you are an elf?”
            Goldenrod shook his head. “I don’t want to be with any elves,” he said. “I want to be with you and my brothers and sisters.”
           When he said that, the mother finch’s fears melted away completely, and she let out a joyful cry. She picked him up and hugged him tightly and kissed him over and over again. “Then you can go on being a bird, darling,” she said, “and we can pretend I never told you that you were an elf!” 

The Sack Knight, part 8

When Ignatius woke up, it was midday and the squirrel was seated on his chest, peering down at him and swaying his now fully healed tail back and forth in a happy manner.
            “Why, hello!” Ignatius said, rather surprised to see that he had returned so quickly. “I see Avaline has done your tail some good.”
            “She’s fixed it completely, sir!” the squirrel said cheerily. “She’s fixed it completely and fed me so many delicious nuts and oats and gave me a warm bed to nap in and I feel like the wolf never hurt me at all! And I see that you’ve slain him! You’ve slain him, and now he will never terrorize my poor family again! Oh, a thousand thanks, sir! A thousand thanks! I don’t know how I will ever be able to repay a hero of your caliber, which is truly the highest caliber there is! But I promise you, I will repay you one way or another! But tell me, why have you run away from your home in the palace, when it was all too clear to me during my short time there that they deeply care for and value you? Your friend Avaline must’ve begged me a million times to please just tell her where I ran into you, and where you might be found now. But I knew that I could not, and I kept my mouth shut no matter how much she pleaded and cried. I felt terrible, sir, having to see her cry like that, and I wanted so much to tell her where you were, but I followed your directions to the letter.” 
            “I don’t understand why they care so much,” Ignatius said. “I am nothing special. In fact, I proved to myself today that I am quite an idiot, as I never told you how long you were meant to stay at the palace before returning to the forest. Only an idiot would let such a thing slip his mind so easily.”
            “You are not an idiot,” the squirrel told him matter-of-factly, “and it doesn’t matter about that, because I happened to decide for myself when I should come back! And anyhow, I don’t think anyone at your palace cares very much about that. The palace is in a gloomy state, and everyone is so deep in mourning that nothing is really getting done, and palace life appears to have halted completely. I questioned your friend Avaline about it, and she told me that it was because Sir Ignatius, the tenth knight of the king’s guard and the king’s chosen heir, has vanished without a trace. The king has sent out all his knights to search high and low for you, and is even taking part in the search himself, and will not call off the search until you are found and returned. The citizens are in an upheaval; they are truly terrified of the possibility that they have lost their best knight. They…”
            “Best knight?” Ignatius interrupted. “You mean they still think of me as their best knight?”
            “After what you’ve done for me and my family, without any price or negotiation or hesitation, I can see how they think of you as their best knight, sir!”
            “No, no,” Ignatius said, shaking his head, “I am not their best knight. I have deserted them! No good knight would ever desert his kingdom and leave everyone in the sorry states they are all in now, and such a thing would be absolutely unthinkable to any they could rightly name their best knight! No, this won’t do at all. I must return home and tell them that they are all mistaken, and that if anyone is their best knight it is most certainly not I! And then I will find the king, and beg him to execute me on the spot for my crime of desertion!” 

The Sack Knight, part 7

            Ignatius felt himself smile as he realized that never would the wolf be able to attack any of the surviving members of the squirrel’s family, or any other creature ever again. The squirrel’s wife could have her children and raise them without fear. His mother would be around to see her son bring up a family. It’s because of me, Ignatius thought for a moment, and remembered the “hero’s medal” the creek had given him, which was still tied to his breast. You are nothing less than a hero, Ignatius…
            But he shook his head, pushing the thought out of his mind. He distracted himself by digging a grave for the wolf’s last victim, the poor rabbit. After he had buried it and placed a wreath of pine boughs on its grave, he picked up the miserable corpse of the wolf and slung it over his shoulder. Then he headed back down to the stream. He was forced to go the entire way barefoot, as he had forgotten where he left his shoes. He walked through dirt and mud, over prickly pine needles and sharp rocks, and on rough gravelly terrain, and he knew that his feet would never be the same again. But he didn’t much mind it.
            When he reached the stream, it had occurred to him that he never told the squirrel exactly how long he was to stay at the castle before returning to the forest, and when he realized his mistake he was furious with himself for being so careless and absent-minded. He threw the wolf’s corpse to the ground and flung himself down on the bank of the stream, crying and shouting at himself, “You fool! You idiot! You careless, mindless sack of horse manure! Now he will never know when to come back! His wife and children will think him dead; and what about Avaline? Exactly how long do you expect Avaline to accommodate a squirrel in her kitchen, you moron!” He shouted and moaned and punched himself in the arms and kicked himself in the legs, as he was apt to do whenever he felt he had done something troublesome. He was so unkempt and ragged and making such a spectacle of himself that anyone who happened to pass by could’ve easily mistaken him for a bratty young peasant boy. Ignatius was aware of this, and it only made him cry harder and shout louder. “You’re no knight! You’re no hero! You’ll never be a hero!” he hollered, and he reached for the white, starry flower he had been given as a hero’s medal, intending to rip it off.
            But he couldn’t remove it. The flower’s stem was tied fast to the threads of his sack, and he couldn’t get it off. He tugged as hard as he could, not caring if he tore more of the already-downtrodden sack in his efforts, but the flower simply wouldn’t budge.
           Ignatius groaned loudly and, after several more failed attempts, gave up. Then, worn out by his breakdown, he curled up on the edge of the creek and dozed off. 

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

The Sack Knight, part 6

The squirrel told Ignatius that the wolf dwelled in the deepest area of the forest, where no sunlight reaches through the trees. Before he set out, Ignatius wanted to ensure that the squirrel would be safe. “Run along until you reach a magnificent village, where the roads are painted gold and the houses are painted white. That is my homeland, the kingdom of Fair Alora. When you get there, go down to the palace and into the kitchen. There will be a kitchen maid there, named Avaline. She is a good friend of mine. Tell her you are looking for a place to stay, and that you are a friend of Sir Ignatius, but do not tell her where you ran into me. She will take you in, and you will have good food and a warm place to sleep at night until it is safe for you to return to the forest.”
            The squirrel kissed him on the cheek and thanked him profusely before running off to do as directed, and Ignatius set out to the deepest area of the forest. He figured that this wolf must be part of a pack, like any other wolf, and therefore the first thing he would have to do was trick it into straying from the pack. Then he would slay it, but with what weapon?
            When he reached the deepest part of the forest, Ignatius found a large, heavy stone and a large, thick switch. He picked these up and took them with him, and now he had two possible weapons. He took off his shoes and hid them under a shrub, and walked on tiptoe so his steps would be silent. He concealed himself in the shadows cast by the trees and the overhanging branches.
            Ignatius walked until his feet were red and his toes worn down, so that he had to go the rest of the way limping, but still he did not find the wolf pack. He kept at it until he was startled by the sudden sound of a rabbit’s screech—an ear-piercing sound that chilled him straight through to the bones. He was tempted to run toward it, but the running would give away his position and his feet were too worn down for it anyway. He was forced to continue to limp, staying in the shadows and trying his hardest to mentally block out the scream, which continued to echo through the forest and strike terror into his heart.
            He finally reached the source of the sound—a large, grey wolf was brutalizing a poor young rabbit, sinking his teeth into its legs, its back, and its head and shaking it back and forth in its large jaws like the falconer’s dog often did with his toys. The wolf was laughing in sadistic glee as the poor creature shrieked and cried and pleaded for mercy, and Ignatius could not bear the sight. “Wolf!” he hollered. “Do you have the courage to go after something much bigger than you? Or do you only select targets that will make you feel big?”
            The wolf fell silent for a few seconds, wondering who in the world dared insult him like this. Then he dropped the rabbit, gave it a nasty kick with his paw, and turned toward Ignatius. His nose sniffed the air, taking in the scent of human blood. Ignatius stood his ground, tightly holding on to his two weapons.
            “So,” the wolf said, baring his large, blood-stained teeth, “you dare to insult me?”
            Ignatius nodded.
            “Do you know that I could end your life today?”
            “I would like to see some proof before you make such grand claims.”
            The wolf struck. Ignatius stepped to the side and jerked his foot upward, landing a kick on the wolf’s stomach and sending him tumbling through the air. He landed on his stomach, and Ignatius went at him with the switch. But the wolf quickly rose to his feet and grabbed the switch in his jaws. He jerked it around wildly in the same manner he had been jerking the rabbit around. Ignatius could not hold on to it and his stone at the same time. He was forced to let go of it, and reached for his stone while the wolf shook the switch around a few more times before tossing it aside.
            The wolf lunged for Ignatius again, and Ignatius again swerved to the side, but wasn’t quick enough to keep the wolf from getting hold of his leg. It clung fast to it, clawing at it and biting it and laughing with sadistic pleasure.
            But now Ignatius could land the perfect blow.
           He bashed the wolf over the head with the stone, and the wolf dropped his leg and fell unconscious. He dropped the stone right on top of the wolf’s head, and that was the end of the terrible creature. 

The Elf and the Magnolia, part 1

Deep in the heart of the forest is a section of magnolia trees that bloom white for only one month out of the year. Inside these magnolia trees lives a community of forest elves, who make their homes in the white blossoms during the month of blooming, and in the leaves and bark for the rest of the year. Every year during the blooming season, three new elf children are born from the buds of the flowers, and sit waiting on the white petals for their families to come and claim them. But this year, one of these new elf children ran into a quite unfortunate situation. The bud had just opened, bringing forth three of the most beautiful little elf babies—two boys and one girl—of this season’s generation. The babies crawled up onto the white petals and waited patiently for their parents to claim them, when a gust of summer wind knocked the smaller boy over and sent him tumbling through the branches and leaves to the ground below.
            The little baby boy was very frightened, and let out an incredible cry, and when his siblings saw what had happened they let out incredible cries too, alerting their parents. But by this time, the little elf had already hit the ground and was in a very sorry state from his ordeal. He was bruised, bleeding, and beaten, and the tree was so large and so high up that it would’ve taken the other elves a very long time to climb down and rescue him. He screamed and wailed, wanting someone, anyone, to come by and hold and comfort him. He got his wish when a large, proud finch passed by him on her way to the nest, and wrapped him up in her warm brown feathers and kissed him. “You poor little dear,” she gently cooed. “How in the world did you end up so wounded?” And she picked him up and carried him off to her nest.
         When the little elf’s parents finally reached the base of the tree, the baby was gone. They wept, and spent the next week searching desperately for their lost child. The elves from the other blossoms and trees aided them in their search. But when they still could not find the baby boy, they had to come to the conclusion that he was dead.  The parents retired to their blossom and grieved for their lost little boy. 

The Sack Knight, part 5

Ignatius followed the squirrel’s direction and reached the stream—it was so clear and clean and blue, and Ignatius felt relief and peace of mind settle over him upon seeing it. It had been only a day since he last had water to drink, but it seemed to him like a year. But the squirrel was Ignatius’ first concern. He set him down gently on the water’s edge, gathered some water in his cupped hands, and held it out for the squirrel. “Can you drink?” he asked the squirrel.
            The squirrel’s eyes lit up as if Ignatius were holding precious jewels or a bag of gold. He eagerly lapped it up, and once he was finished, Ignatius took hold of his wounded tail, unbound it, and began cleaning off the wound. He alternated, gathering water for the squirrel to drink and gathering some to use for cleaning the wound. The squirrel began to feel refreshed, and the coolness of the water dulled the pain of the wound. “Th…thank you! Th….thank you! Th…thank you…sir!” he cried over and over again, feeling giddy despite his continuing weakness.
            “Don’t speak,” Ignatius said, shaking his head. “Save your strength.” Then he re-bound the wound, set the squirrel down in a soft patch of grass, and began drinking from the stream. The fresh, cool water was such a relief to him that he let out a cry of joy as he drank. When he was finished, he felt completely restored and nearly forgot about the despair he had felt the night before, as if it had happened a very long time ago. He returned to the squirrel, which was sleeping soundly in the soft patch of grass. He stayed by his side, occasionally cleaning and re-dressing the wound, until finally the squirrel woke up and let out a joyful cry.
            “Thank you, thank you, thank you so very much, sir!” the squirrel cried. “You have brought my strength back to me, and for that I cannot thank you enough. But if there is but one more thing you are willing to do for me, then you shall be hailed as a hero among the last survivors of my family.”
            “I am willing to do whatever it is you call upon me to do,” Ignatius said, “but I do not think I ought to be hailed as a hero for it.”
            “You must slay the wolf that wounded my tail,” the squirrel said, “for he has been tormenting my family for years and years. He has killed each one of my family members, and now only my wife and my mother are left. But I fear that since he was unable to get me, he will go after my wife, who is carrying my children. He is an evil creature, who goes after us for the fun of it and nothing more, and did away with each of my family members with a smile on his face. He will not stop until we are all dead. Sir, we are in grave danger for as long as he continues to live.”
          Ignatius did not have his sword, and he did not have his armor. He wasn’t sure how he could possibly slay a wolf without a sword, and surely a wolf as vicious as that would maul him to death in the attempt. But he would not let himself decline. He said, “Show me where this wolf is located, and I will make my best attempt to do away with him.” 

Monday, June 17, 2013

The Sack Knight, part 4

Ignatius’ potato sack was caked with mud and his golden hair was streaked with dirt, but the little white flower shone clean and bright against his breast. Ignatius had been in such low spirits that he hadn’t realized how much he’d longed for a pretty thing to look at all this time. The little flower delighted him so much that he stopped thinking of it as an undeserved reward and started seeing it as a generous gift to be very grateful for. The creek had given it to him out of the goodness of its heart, when it just as easily could have given him nothing at all. For that, he was grateful.
            It was nearly dawn. Ignatius made his way back along the bank until he reached the spot where he’d first heard the weeping creek. The creek was silent now; its waters were all asleep and dreaming pretty dreams. Ignatius set himself down and said, “Thank you, creek, for your kind gift. It has brought me an unexpected joy.” Then he fell asleep and dreamt that he was holding the little white flower out for the king to see.
            When Ignatius awoke, the sun was at its highest point and the creek was laughing and babbling merrily. Ignatius blew it a kiss and set off on his way. His stomach ached and gurgled, and he toyed with the idea of returning to the palace to receive the good breakfasts he had always been given. But he decided against it; he knew the king would not be angry with him, but he didn’t think he could bear the scorn of his fellow knights or of the citizens he had deserted. A rumbling stomach was surely preferable to that!
            Ignatius’ luck prevailed, however, for somewhere along his way he discovered a beautiful wild cherry orchard. He let out a joyful cry and ate until he couldn’t anymore. Then he let himself rest under one of the lacey pink trees, feeling considerably healthier and in higher spirits than he had the night before. He was just thinking of how nice it would be if he could only find a nice, cool spring to take a drink from, when he heard an odd noise coming from behind the tree. It sounded like a cry, and it was so pained and mournful that it hurt Ignatius to listen to it; he was reminded of the cries of the child with a broken leg. He took a look behind the tree and found a poor little red squirrel, crying from the pain of a large bloody gash on its tail.
            “Who has done this to you?” Ignatius asked the squirrel.
            “It was the wolf,” the squirrel choked out weakly. “He…he growled and pawed at me until I was too frightened to move, and then he snapped up my tail in his horrible teeth. He’d been planning to eat all of me…but my senses returned and I escaped. I thought…I thought this might be a peaceful place to die…it is so beautiful…with all the white lacey blossoms…”
            Ignatius shook his head. “You shall not die,” he told the squirrel. He tore off strips of the potato sack and took the squirrel into his hands. He pinched the squirrel’s wound with his fingers before tightly bandaging it with the strips of potato sack. “Can you tell me where the nearest stream is?” he asked the squirrel.
            “Leave this orchard,” the squirrel told him, its strength beginning to return, “and walk straight down the slope of the hill…until you reach the end of it. Take a turn to the right, and keep walking…and you should come upon the stream.”
          Ignatius gently cradled the little squirrel in his arms and set off on his way.  

Sunday, June 16, 2013

The Sack Knight, part 3

Ignatius was later woken by the sound of the creek calling his name. He rose to his feet and made his way to the edge of the creek bank. The creek’s bubbling laughter forced a smile to his face. “Sir Ignatius,” said the creek, “your will and your strength have aided me in a great way today. Truly, you cannot be the worst knight there is, as you told me earlier; for the worst knight there is would not have aided me as efficiently as you have!”
            Ignatius felt himself beginning to turn red, and the smile left his face. “Please, creek,” he pleaded, “do not hail me as the hero you make me out to be. I was only doing what my conscience told me I must do. I am not so great and heroic.” But the creek wouldn’t hear of it. Ignatius had done it a great service when he just as easily could have walked away and left it to suffer. “You are nothing less than a hero, Ignatius,” it told him, “and for that you must be given a hero’s medal. Walk up my bank until you reach a small pool in the forest, full of mosses and ferns and all manner of lush greenery. There you will find a small bush blooming with hundreds of white, starry flowers. Take one of these flowers and weave it into the mesh of your sack, and that shall be the medal of heroism given you by me.”
            Ignatius shook his head forlornly. “I cannot accept it,” he told the creek, and turned to leave. He felt tears well up in his eyes and his legs begin to grow weak, as he always felt whenever anybody praised him or hailed him for heroism.  He could hear the creek calling, “Ignatius! Sir Ignatius!” and he tried to block the sound from his head. I will not be given a medal I truly do not deserve, he thought to himself, and that is that. That foolish creek doesn’t know what a true hero is, if it thinks that I am a true hero. Finally, he could no longer hold back the tears, and set himself down on the mossy ground to weep. “I…am…the worst…knight!” he lamented through his tears and sobs. “The…very…worst…knight…there…is!” He cried until his head ached and his face was red as a fresh-picked apple, and when he finished he found himself exhausted and laid his head down, ignoring the mud and the wet moss.
            Ignatius was not sure how long he had been asleep, but when he awoke, his headache was gone and his tears had dried. He found himself staring up at a bough of beautiful white flowers, each one pointed like a star. He remembered the coat of arms of the knights of Fair Alora: a large, blue five-pointed star with a white flower in the center, symbolizing a gentle, compassionate demeanor in addition to bravery and strength. The creek must have led me here while my spirits were too low to be aware, he concluded. He broke off a bough of the white, starry flowers and stared at them thoughtfully. The creek’s voice echoed in his head amongst the thoughts of the deed he had done for it: Your will and your strength have aided me in a great way today. You are nothing less than a hero, Ignatius, and for that you must be given a hero’s medal.
        Finally, he plucked off one of the white flowers and stuck it into the mesh of his sack, at his right breast—not because he felt that he deserved it, but because he felt that he would be doing the creek a disservice by declining it.