Sunday, September 29, 2013

The Prince and the Desert Queen, part 5

Lizana’s palace was even finer than Prince Ephraim’s own. The furniture was made of perfect white ivory and decorated with intricate carvings of various scenes; the back of a chair depicted a peacock by a lake filled with lotus blossoms, a table featured a maiden sunning herself under a willow tree, and a desk featured an image of an orchard full of white-blossomed trees. The walls were lined with silken tapestries and the floors boasted soft plush carpets and velvet rugs. There was a curious absence of courtiers, pages, servants, or waiting ladies.
            “Where are your servants?” asked the prince. “Where is your court? Is it only you here?”
            Lizana nodded. “Yes. This palace is mine and mine alone.”
            “Can you truly call yourself a queen without a court?” the prince ventured to ask.
            The queen did not answer him, but the way she tensed up told him how he had offended her. “My apologies,” said the prince, and he remained silent.
            They reached the queen’s bed chamber, where she set him down on the silk bedspread. “Show me your wound,” she said.  
            The prince turned his back to her. She lifted his tunic, and he felt her gently work the stinger out of his skin. She rubbed some sort of cooling ointment over the wound that dulled the pain. It was a soothing process, yet he felt very uncomfortable. He didn’t pay much mind to the cold, stinging liquid she administered next; he didn’t think he could feel any worse than he already did, no matter what kind of pain he was in.
            Finally, she pricked him with a syringe and held it there for about a minute before working it out. “It is done,” she told him. “The remedy has been administered.”
            “Thank you kindly, Queen Lizana,” said Prince Ephraim, turning around to bow to her. He got off the bed and waved to her as he headed for the door.
            The queen caught him by both arms. “I did not tell you that you may leave,” she said.
            “You told me that I may return home after I told you that I loved you and you gave me the remedy,” the prince reminded her.  
            “But if you love me,” said Lizana, “then why would you ever want to leave me?”
            The prince felt his stomach tighten up. “Queen Lizana,” he ventured to say, “did you not give me permission to return home?”
            “Yes, I have given you permission,” said the queen, “but you also told me you loved me, and said you meant it. If you really loved me, and if you really meant it, then you would not want to leave me. Otherwise, I cannot help but feel that you have told me a falsehood.”
            “You said you were willing to let me go my own way!” cried Prince Ephraim, though he knew how futile it was. It had all been a trick and a test all along, and the prince’s anger and fear mixed with his shame for having fallen for it.
            The desert queen began to pull him back to the bed. He struggled against her and tried to break free, even kicking at her, but she caught him around the throat and said, “Behave now, or you may find yourself receiving another sting. And this time, there will be no remedy!” Her voice was like that of a desert snake. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Yellow, Orange, Red

The curtains of the summer show
are colored yellow, orange, red.
At the opening of the show,
these colors are the ones that led
us into all the joy, the laughter,
the love, the friends, and all the fun.
Yellow, orange, red we saw
as we played in the summer sun.

The curtains of the summer show
are colored yellow, orange, red.
At the closing of the show
these colors are the ones that led
us into orange pumpkin spices
and the bright red leaves on trees,
and the yellow rays of sun
and cool air blowing from the seas.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

The Prince and the Desert Queen, part 4

“I cannot accept your love,” said the prince, “for doing so means betraying my own. If I must die to stay loyal to my betrothed, then that is what I am going to do.”
            “You are a fool,” Lizana said. “You will have a chance to see your betrothed again if you do as I say. I love you, and because I love you I am willing to let you go your own way. But this is only if you are willing to accept my feelings for you. If you do not accept, the venom from the sting will take hold, and you will die. Your betrothed will mourn you. Is that what you wish?”  
            “Oh, no,” said the prince, “that is not what I wish at all! I will accept your feelings for me if it means you will set me free!”
            “Very well,” Lizana said. “First, you must tell me that you love me and that you accept my love for you.”
            The prince said, “I, Prince Ephraim, accept the love of Lizana the Desert Queen, and I fully return the feelings she has for me.”
            Lizana’s eyes brightened like turquoise stones catching the light. “Do you mean it?” she asked.
            Of course I don’t mean it, the prince thought, to set his mind at peace. I could never say those words to any other than my love, the beautiful Princess Clara of Alingrad. But if I am ever to see her again, I must make sure the desert queen does not know that! “I do,” he told Lizana. “I mean every word of it.”
            “Then kiss me,” said the desert queen.
            Prince Ephraim began to feel sick to his stomach. “But, my lady…”
            “Don’t you call me ‘my lady.’ Call me ‘my love.’”
            “My…my love,” the prince stammered, “we have already shared a kiss. Is that not enough?”
            “It is not enough,” said Lizana. “I kissed you then. I want you to kiss me.”
            “Well…very well, then,” said Prince Ephraim. “Come closer.”
            “Can’t you pull me closer?” asked Lizana. “Are you so afraid to touch me?”
            This isn’t right, thought the prince. This isn’t right at all. But if I were to die, what would become of my princess? Shakily, he reached for the queen’s shoulders. He touched one shoulder, then the other. He began to pull her in. Her eyes were glistening like the gems in the moat around the shimmering white palace, and he could see the anticipation in them. He had to think about his hands to stop them from shaking. He had to think about each of his actions or else he’d never be able to do it…Pull her in, lean in close, press your lips to hers…
            He kissed her, and was left with the taste of the cinnabar-colored makeup on her lips.
            The queen pulled back and stared into his eyes for a few moments before she said, “Would you like the remedy now?”
            “I would, if you please,” said Prince Ephraim. “The sting grows more and more painful by the minute, and I think I can feel the venom setting in—it is making me feel quite tired and nauseous!”
            “Come with me to my palace,” said the queen, “and I will give you the remedy. But you must let me hold your hand while we walk.”
           “Very well,” said Prince Ephraim. He held out his hand for her, and she took it. Her hand was so warm that it kept his own from shaking, though the rest of his body trembled until he thought it might fly apart before they reached the palace.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

The Crickets' Final Song

The crickets sing the final song
of the departing summer;
the theme song of the opening
of a new chapter.
As we move into the autumn,
what of the summer will remain?
And what will still be with us
in the winter after?

The crickets cannot sing the song
of what lies in the future.
They will only sing
of things that are now done.
They will give us a reminder
that we move forward with the seasons—
and also, they’ll remind us
of all that’s lost and gone. 

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Aliss and the Rose Dragon, part 1

The Rose Dragon lived wherever vegetation was plentiful. She had no permanent settlement; for one month she may live in an open meadow full of asters, for the next she could be found in a field of mayflowers, and sometimes she would even take shelter in the garden of someone’s home; these occasions were few and far between. It was on one of these rare occasions, when the Rose Dragon was nesting in the garden of a pretty white cottage, that she formed a close friendship with a little girl named Aliss.
            Aliss was the sole caretaker of this garden; though it had been planted by her father a while back, he was a busy man who didn’t have much time to tend to it, and it didn’t take long for him to grow tired of it. Her mother worked in a doctor’s office, and was too busy taking care of people to bother caring for flowers. But Aliss had all the time in the world for flowers. She loved them like she loved close friends. Every day just before school and just after school, Aliss would go out to the garden and tend to the flowers. After giving them their meal of water and fertilizer, she would spend extra time with them. She had a little table and chair that she set out in the center of the garden, and here she would sit and enjoy the company of the flowers until she was called away to one of her other commitments.
            The Rose Dragon was distrustful of humans. She thought they were too loud, too wild, too prideful, and too irresponsible with nature to take any liking to them. Whenever she took shelter in a person’s garden, she would change her appearance to blend in with the surrounding vegetation. She would be mistaken for a tree or a patch of flowers and never discovered at all, until she moved off to another settlement. But in Aliss’ garden, she was discovered for the first time. 
            The Rose Dragon had taken a peculiar interest in Aliss, who was so gentle and so good to the flowers in the garden. Every morning and afternoon when she came out to tend to the flowers, the Rose Dragon couldn’t help but watch her as she kissed the flowers hello and engaged in cheerful one-sided conversation with them as she gave them their water. She did not match the Rose Dragon’s observations of other humans at all. Other children Aliss’ age were often very rough with flowers; they would yank them from the stalks or pick off their petals or even pull them from the ground. The Rose Dragon disliked children most of all for this reason.
She could not dislike the one child she knew who was kind to flowers. But she couldn’t entirely trust Aliss either—after all, she could harbor any other shameful qualities that humans possessed. She would spend her mornings and afternoons observing Aliss carefully, keeping one eye open and hoping that it would be mistaken for a sunflower or a black-eyed Susan. But when Aliss saw the dragon’s eye, gleaming and watching her intently, she let out a cry.
Immediately, the dragon abandoned her camouflage and rose to her full height. She spread out her wings, which looked like the petals of two giant roses, and she tilted her large, leafy head down to look right into the little girl’s eyes. Her bright green scales gleamed in the sun, and her fangs were bared. Aliss beheld this imposing sight in silent awe, then she finally stammered, “You’re…you’re beautiful.”
            “I am as beautiful as I am dangerous to those who wish to harm me,” said the Rose Dragon. “I suggest you be very careful, child, for I have taken a bit of a liking to you. It is rare that I take a liking to a human, and ever rarer that I do so for a child. I advise you not to do anything that might change my mind.”
            “Harm you?” said Aliss. “I think you’re lovely, and I would never harm a lovely thing.”
            “You don’t think I’m so lovely that you might want to pick at my petals or pry off one of my scales, do you?” asked the Rose Dragon.
            “Of course not,” said Aliss, shaking her head.
            The dragon softened. She had been right that this was not a typical careless, wild human child. She hid her fangs and allowed herself to look a bit more gentle and sociable. “Then we can be friends,” she told Aliss. “But if we are going to be friends, you must ensure that no harm will come to me while I am here.”
            “Who would harm you?” Aliss asked.
            “What would your parents do if they saw a dragon in their garden?”
            “They would be very surprised,” Aliss said. “And they might ask me how the dragon got here. But they wouldn’t harm you if they knew that you were so nice.”
            The dragon shook her head slowly. “I don’t think we should take the risk of surprising them,” she told Aliss. “I think you need to let them know that I will be staying here for a while, and that we are friends.”
            “I can tell them that,” said Aliss. “But they aren’t home right now.”
            The Rose Dragon gently laid her head on the girl’s shoulder. “Will you promise to tell them as soon as they return home, then?” she asked.
            “Yes,” said Aliss. I can do that.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

The Prince and the Desert Queen, part 3

The prince pushed the woman off of him and staggered backwards. For a moment, he struggled to regain his senses; the woman was looking at him, and her lips had curled into a satisfied smile, and her topaz-colored hair was tossed back over her shoulders. Her eyes asked, “Well? Aren’t you going to say anything?” The prince fought in his head for what to say. Finally, at a loss for anything else, he just said, “Why?”
            The woman laughed—a deep, rolling, throaty sound that resembled a growl more than a laugh. The prince felt that she was mocking her. He had to say something more. “Why did you do it?” he asked. “Why did you kiss me like…like that?”
            “Because I love you,” the woman answered.
            To the prince, everything began to feel like a mirage again, or perhaps a dream. Nothing about it seemed real, and he wondered if perhaps he had somehow fainted in the forest while he was chasing the peahen. Maybe he had run into a tree branch and was knocked out. He couldn’t remember running into anything, but there was certainly a possibility. Or else it was an effect of the venom from whatever had bitten him. The prince held his head in his hands and shook back and forth, muttering to himself, “This isn’t real. This isn’t real.”
            The woman sat down beside him, slipped her hand under his chin, and pulled his head up so that he looked right at her. He thought she was going to kiss him again, and tried to pull backwards, but she grabbed him with her other arm and pulled him close to her. Before she could do anything, he asked abruptly, “Who are you?”
            Instead of kissing him again, the woman placed her other hand on his cheek. “I am Lizana, the desert queen,” she told him.
            “It is a lovely name,” said the prince. He tried to remove her hand from his cheek, but she held it there like a vice. “So this is your desert?” he asked.
            “Indeed it is,” she replied.
            “And you love me?”
            “I dearly love you.”
            “You are a divinely beautiful lady,” the prince told her, and he meant what he said. “But we do not know eachother. Until today, I have not laid eyes on you, and I am certain that you could say the same about me. How could you love me?”
            “I have laid eyes on you,” Lizana said, “many times.”
            “Have you? Well, why do I not remember this?”
            “I was in the form of a peahen,” Lizana said, “and I watched you from under hedges and from the bushy undergrowth. I concealed myself in the thickness of the forest and watched you while you hunted. When you retired to your quarters, I snuck into the palace grounds and watched you through your chamber window. I watched you from the chicken farms and the pig pens. I watched you from the courtyard. Nobody pays any mind to a peahen, after all. It’s the males and their brilliant feathers that turn heads.”
            The prince felt as if his stomach was twisted in knots. “You’ve been watching me all this time, while I was not aware?” he asked in bewilderment. “My word, I’m sure I do not like that! I do not like that at all! Why didn’t you simply show yourself to me, or go in through the palace gates and request an audience? You are a queen! They would never turn away a queen, though they would ask her of her business with the prince, and I’m quite certain they would not like your answer! But oh, the wound on my back is beginning to throb! Something in the sand bit me not long ago, and it’s quite alarming. I think it must have been a venomous spider. Do you have a remedy for such a thing? If you do, I would be so much obliged if you were to heal my wound.”
            Lizana was not looking at him. She was looking at the golden sands below her feet. The prince could see that her shoulders were beginning to shake, and he thought he must have really offended her. “Oh, my lady, please don’t be so vexed!” he cried, and gently patted the queen’s shoulder. “I don’t wish to hurt you. I’ve only been taken aback by what you told me. Wouldn’t you be quite taken aback if somebody told you that they had been watching you for days and days without you knowing it? And anyway, I have a betrothed, and we are to be married on the first day of the next spring. She has been my betrothed for years and years, and I love her dearly and could never give her up. You are a beautiful lady—indeed, one of the most beautiful I’ve laid eyes on—but you really must seek another!”
           Lizana looked at him, and her eyes stung him in the heart the way the creature in the sand had stung him on the back. “When you are ready to accept my love,” she told him, “then you may have the remedy!” 

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Secret Worlds and Fantastic Creatures: The Clearing

A crow caws. A blue jay screeches. A sparrow sings. They are joined by the frogs, whose clicks and calls mingle with the bubbling laughter of the creek and the cheerful chatter of the fairies, elves, and nymphs. The sounds blend into one harmonious song which can never be heard anywhere else but here.
A tiny brown frog dives into the creek from his spot on a shady leafy plant. He swims until he reaches a spot on the creek bank covered in bright green moss. Here he meets his good friend, a young water nymph. She smiles, takes hold of him, and gently helps him up onto the shore beside her. “Thank you, Honeysuckle,” says the frog, nodding respectfully. “You look just as pretty and bright as you always do. How has your morning been so far?” The little nymph blushes at the compliment and gives her grass colored hair a cheerful toss. “My sisters and I found something beautiful on the shore by our home!” she chirps. “They let me keep it, and now I would like to give it to you, Reginald! You could wear it on your back like a cape or shawl, and it would make you look so handsome!” She opens her hand to reveal a small leaf the color of a ruby.
The frog lets out a cheery cry and takes a great leap into the air. “Oh my! It is stunning! Do you really want me to have this? Wouldn’t you want to keep it for yourself?”
            Honeysuckle shakes her head. “No,” she says, “I want to give it to you. Come here, so I can place it on your back and we can see how handsome you look with it on!”
            While Honeysuckle and Reginald’s meeting goes on, in another part of the clearing a small green spider is hard at work spinning webs. He is one of the local weavers, and today he is especially busy because the elves will be having a ball at the end of the week; every elf in the clearing wants a new gown or a new suit. An entire row of trees is covered with the handiwork of this spider and the other weavers employed by the elven tailors. The webs glisten like silver in the light of the sun. When the morning has drawn to a close, the green spider has spun enough and gathers up the silk to be taken to the tailors.
            The four elven tailors, who run their workshop in a patch of huckleberry greens on the bank of the creek, inspect the crop of silk the spider has brought to them. “It is very fine,” says one, “but is it enough?”
            The other says, “It is enough, but is it fine?”
            The third says, “I think it is only enough for one gown.”
            The fourth says, “I think it is enough for three.”
            If they do not approve of this crop, the spider will have to spend the rest of the afternoon spinning an entirely new crop, and he was hoping to take the first few hours of the afternoon off. He crosses his little green arms and grits his tiny teeth in anticipation of their answer. Finally, the four tailors look at him, smile, and say, “We can accept this. Thank you. Please start your afternoon work at three-thirty today.”
            “Thank you, sirs!” the spider says, and scurries back to his little hole to catch up on some much needed rest.
            The three squirrel brothers, Acorn, Oak, and Nut, are playing a chasing game in the trees that tower over the creek. Their rustling in the leaves awakens a grumpy old elf lying against a rock for a nap. “Silly boys,” he mutters, shaking his head and retiring to his home in an old stump. The two older boys pay him no mind and continue their wild chase. But being so high above so much water makes the youngest brother, Nut, too nervous to run as fast or jump as high as his brothers. Instead, he cautiously scampers along the branches and stops to look down, causing him to lag behind.
            “Nut, come on!” Acorn hollers. “If you’re not going to keep up, then don’t play!”
            “I don’t want to fall in,” says Nut.
            “You won’t fall in if you’re careful,” says Oak.
            “I am being careful!” says Nut. “But when I’m careful, you tell me I’m not keeping up!”
            Oak sighs and scampers over to his younger brother. “This isn’t a game for you, Nut,” he says, shaking his head. “Why don’t you go find something else to play?”
            Nut sighs dejectedly. “Fine,” he says, “I will.” And he scrambles down the tree and off under a patch of wild sumac. Though he’s disappointed not to be able to play with his brothers, he knows that his good friend will be along soon; this spot under the sumac is his friend’s secret place. Sure enough, along comes a pretty little red squirrel with a white flower tied around her tail; her signature accessory. “Hi, Nut!” the little squirrel says, nuzzling his cheek.
            “Hi, Freya!” Nut nuzzles her cheek in return.
            “Nut, have you ever seen a human?” asks Freya.
            “What’s a human?” asks Nut.
            “Something my big sister told me about,” says Freya. “She says they’re two-legged giants with ugly faces, pink flesh, and hair all over their bodies.” She shudders. “I don’t like them. They sound scary. You’ve never seen anything like that, have you, Nut?”
            “Of course not!” cries Nut. “If I saw anything horrible like that, I’d call my brothers and they’d throw nuts at it!”
            “My sister says that humans live beyond the creek,” says Freya. “But they can never come into this clearing, because there’s too much water and mud. They’d fall in!” She and Nut laugh at this image.
            “Or else they’d get their giant feet stuck in the mud,” says Nut.
            “Yeah,” agrees Freya. “Humans can never come here.
             And as far as any resident of the clearing could remember, nothing so horrible and frightening ever has come into the clearing; they would certainly remember if it had. 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

The Elf and the Magnolia, part 8 (ending)

            Throughout the rest of that day, Goldenrod did not play with his siblings or climb to the treetops or dance among the leaves or visit the other finches or his spider friend. He remained by Summer’s side, holding her close to him and kissing her and saying, “I love you, Summer. I love you, I love you” over and over again. He slept by her side for one final night, crying into her brown petals. The next day, when it was all too clear that Summer was really dead, he carried her corpse to the top of the tree and let her sail away on the wind.
            Goldenrod returned home after sending Summer off and said solemnly, “I will never love another.”
            His mother took him into her arms. “Never?” she said.
            “Never,” he told her.
            “But what if you were to find a lovely elf maiden?”
            “I don’t want any elf maidens.”
            His mother asked no more questions then. She held him and rocked him gently back and forth as he cried into her feathers.
            Months passed. Summer turned to autumn, and Goldenrod’s brothers and sisters talked of marriage and their plans to migrate. Goldenrod had recovered from his grief, but he did not speak of courting. He wondered what would happen to him when the winter came and the finches migrated south. He would be grown then, but without a suitor. Would he go with his mother?
            Goldenrod approached his mother in the nest one November morning. “Mama,” he said, “where am I going to go when winter comes?”
            His mother turned to look at him, and there were tears in her eyes. “You will be going with other elves,” she told him.
            Goldenrod’s heart began to flutter. “Really? I’ll be going with the other elves?”
            His mother nodded. “I’d been holding off on this for as long as I could manage,” she told him wistfully, “but now it’s time.”
            “But I’ll get to see you when you come back in the spring, right?” Goldenrod asked. “I want to help you raise my new brothers and sisters.”
            His mother took him into her arms, and her tears finally began to pour out. “Of course,” she said, kissing the top of his head. “I’ll come back for you as soon as I return.”
            Goldenrod pressed his cheek into his mother’s shoulder and held her as if he never would let go. “Mama, what if the other elves don’t like me?” he asked.
            “Oh, Goldenrod, who wouldn’t like you?”
            So when winter arrived, Goldenrod’s mother carried him off to a place in the forest that he’d never seen before and had never had any desire to see; the magnolia grove where the other elves lived. In winter, the elves didn’t take shelter in the branches of the magnolias. Instead, they migrated to the knot holes in the bark and the roots. The mother finch set Goldenrod down outside one of these knot holes, kissed him, and told him that she would come right back for him the very day she returned to the forest. “Please have a good life with the elves,” she told him.
            “I will, Mama,” said Goldenrod. Then he hugged her. “I love you, Mama.”
            “I love you too, my dear Goldenrod.”
            Then the two of them tearfully parted company.
            There Goldenrod stood, outside of a strange knot hole belonging to strange elves that he wasn’t sure would even like him. For a while, he paced outside, wondering what to do next, when a pretty young elf maiden strolled up behind him. “Hello,” she said cheerfully. “Are you lost?”
            Goldenrod looked at her, and beheld another elf for the very first time. “Yes, I’m lost,” he told her. “I’m very lost. You see, my mother is a bird—a finch—and she’s flown south for the winter. I’ve lived with her all my life, even though I’m an elf, and now she says I have to stay with other elves until she comes back in the spring. When she comes back, I’ll get to help her take care of her new babies. But right now, I need to find some elves to live with. Do you know who lives in this knot hole?”
            “Yes,” said the girl. “I live in this knot hole. Why don’t you come inside and tell me everything from the beginning, and I’ll see what I can do for you.”
            Goldenrod was overjoyed that the very first elf he met turned out to be so kind. He told her everything that had happened over the summer that he was born: he told her about the mother finch that had taken him in, and who would come back for him in the spring. He told her about his brothers and sisters, and how they had accepted him as a bird, and how he had believed he really had been a bird until his mother had told him he was an elf. He told her about the flying lessons and the courting. He told her about his spider friend. And most of all, he told her about Summer.
            “I think you’re very beautiful, and very kind,” Goldenrod told the girl. “And I think that I would like to get to know you. Maybe I might even grow to love you. But I’m afraid that I could never love anyone as I loved Summer.”
            The girl said, “Why, don’t you know that when next summer comes, there will be hundreds more magnolia blossoms? The trees will be full of them! Do you think you will court another?”
            Goldenrod shook his head. “I’m glad that I will get to meet other magnolia blossoms,” he said, “and I bet they all will be very, very lovely. But I am loyal to Summer, and I can never, ever love another the way I loved her.”
           Goldenrod stayed with the kind elf maiden, and they both reached their marriageable ages within a few months. But they didn’t court, and they didn’t marry. Goldenrod stayed true to his word; he never did marry. His heart belonged only to a magnolia blossom named Summer.