Thursday, January 16, 2014

Into the Land of the Elves: The Honored Human Guest at Princess Apple Blossom's Birthday Party

The Diary of Miss Aidyn Hall, author
July 8
9:13 AM

The Honored Human Guest at Princess Apple Blossom’s Birthday Party

The path ended at a small hill flanked by bushy red cedars on both sides. In the distance, I could see several tall, jade colored towers. They blended in with the trees quite nicely; to a faraway observer, they might have been trees themselves. Cheerful chatter blended in with music from all sorts of instruments: bells, flutes, harps, drums, guitars. The music and chatter grew louder as we proceeded onward. The hill ended at another path that was much straighter, shorter and more organized than the one we had taken to get here. I could hear the sound of a rushing stream, but unlike the wild “ksshkssshkssh” of the streams in my mini forest, this one sounded like a bell: “ting ting tingle ting.” I soon learned where the sound was coming from; we were approaching a stream the color of a misty blue topaz. Across the stream, I could see the lights of villages, and every so often I caught glimpses of little green-haired people coming and going. We began crossing over a bridge made out of thick fallen logs.
“This is the Bell’s Rush,” said Apple Blossom (I could see why they call it that), “and after we cross it, we will be in the Greenwood.”
“What is the Greenwood?” I asked.
“All Jadeite forests are called Greenwoods,” she told me.
The land on the other side of that bridge was the greenest I had ever seen, the exact colors of perfect jades and emeralds (now that I think about it, a lot of the Jadeite environment could be compared to jewels). “I can see why it’s called the Greenwood,” I said to Apple Blossom. She modestly smiled at me and led me past a lush green hedge.
We passed by a small village. The houses were moss-covered triangles made from tree bark. Yellow lanterns hung from poles posted out in front of them. Upon seeing us, the people poked their heads out of the doors and windows, and the ones that were outside turned to look at us. The look of total awe on their faces was enough to make me chuckle—I know it was rude, but I couldn’t hold it back. They were gazing upon me as if I was a visiting goddess, with open mouths and bugged-out eyes. They were totally dumbstruck, but the princess was not. She smiled, waved at them all, and said, “Hello, everyone! This is Aidyn, my new friend. She’s a human! We’re on our way to the palace for my birthday party now. You all are very welcome to join us.” It was as if she was used to bringing humans into the Greenwood, though I had been the only one.
“Do you always invite random villagers to your birthday parties?” I asked, to get my mind off of being stared at and whispered about.
“Yes, I do!” she said, smiling brightly (she smiled before every sentence). “Everybody in the Greenwood is invited.”
I doubted any of these people would come now that I was there. Their gaping mouths and nervous whispers didn’t seem too ready to trust me. I felt guilty for turning away potential party guests. But I wondered just how big her palace was to be able to hold so many guests.
As it turned out, her palace was MASSIVE. “Palace” was the wrong word for it. “Castle” was the wrong word for it. The place was an estate, a compound. The actual palace, with its jade-colored towers, was in the very front and decorated top-to-bottom with streamers, banners, ribbons, jewels, tapestries, flowers, and bells of all colors, shapes, and sizes. Every window was illuminated with a light of a different color, and music and laughter played from all of them. White stone pathways and colorful gardens led to other green stone buildings that I couldn’t guess the uses for, all decorated in a similar manner to the palace. I could hear the “ting ting ting” of the Bell’s Rush and guessed that we must be rather close to it.
My first thought was, I get to hang out here? But the Jadeites were not as thrilled about it as I was. They gasped loudly and gawked at me with open mouths like the ones in the village had done. Many stepped away from me like I was leaking toxic waste, and several ran away.
“Maybe I should just go, Apple Blossom,” I said. “I’m obviously not very welcome here, and I don’t want to scare away all of your party guests.” I slipped my hand out of hers. “Thank you for having me. I really enjoyed seeing your land.”
She caught on to my hand and looked up at me with pleading eyes. The smile left her face as if it’d been erased by a pencil. “Please don’t go!” she cried. “I am sorry that my subjects are so distrustful. They have never seen a real human before, and they’ve heard only bad things about them from other Jadeites. But let me tell them that we’re friends and that you won’t hurt them, and I know that they will change their tune.” That being said, she turned to her gawking subjects and said as casually as could be, “Everybody, this is Aidyn, my good human friend! She will be joining us for the party. I know humans can be very scary, but you do not have to fear her. Aidyn is kind and gentle and she means no harm. I trust you all will give her the welcome she deserves.” She said this last thing in that scolding voice she used with me when she told me I had disrespected the Grand Elder Guardian. It made her seem much older than she looked.
Her subjects only bowed their heads respectfully, and began to whisper conversations I could only catch a little bit of: “…friends with a human?” “…Do the king and queen know about this?” “…Has she been tagged?” I reached into my pocket for the tag and held it up to show them that I had in fact been tagged. “Number five,” I said, showing them the inscribed number. This only made them whisper more, and I shifted uncomfortably. Apple Blossom smiled kindly at me, took my hand, and began leading me around the side of the palace. “We are going to my private gardens now,” she told me. “I have a table set up there for me and my very best friends, and you can sit at the head of it if you wish.”
I was very grateful to be taken somewhere private, where hopefully all eyes would be off me. “No, thank you,” I told her. “You’re the princess and it’s your birthday, so you will sit at the head of the table.”
She smiled brightly. “All right, but if you want to switch places with me, you are very welcome to.”  I have never known anyone so sweet in my life.
We went through a bright green gate and entered a garden that looked exactly like a picture out of an illustrated version of Burnett’s The Secret Garden. Flowers of all kinds bloomed in this garden, including some that weren’t even in season this month: there were irises, hyacinths, and crocuses of all colors, mayflowers and roses, cherry blossoms and peach blossoms and apple blossoms. I wondered what the Jadeites’ secret was to keeping so many different kinds of flowers around at once, but I realized that it must have something to do with those “jade essences.” Sure enough, there were big jade stones set up in every flower bed.
In the center of the garden was a circle of lacy white cherry trees. Under them sat four small Jadeite girls at a decorated party table. When they saw me, their eyes widened and jaws dropped. The smallest one, who was so tiny that she barely would have reached my knee if she were to stand up, looked as if she was ready to flee. I tried hard to flash my friendliest smile, to show them that I was no threat, but I felt uncomfortable and intrusive all over again.
But Apple Blossom said, “Girls, this is Aidyn. She’s a human from outside of the Greenwood, and she will be joining us for the party (I wondered if she was getting tired of repeating that).” She turned to me and told me her friends’ names: Raindrop, Holly Berry, Crystalline, and Wildflower (Wildflower was the tiny one). I smiled again, said, “It’s nice to meet you all,” and took my place at the table. Apple Blossom settled in to the right of me, and to the left of me sat Holly Berry.
Little Wildflower was the first to speak: “Apple Blossom, aren’t humans bad?” She had slid three quarters of the way under the table and was peering over the edge at me. What exactly had she and the other girls been told about humans? Were we the fabled evil bogeymen of the Jadeite world? Did little Jadeite children fear humans lurking in their closets and under their beds? I wanted to set them all straight very badly.
Apple Blossom said, “Aidyn is very good. If she’s good, then there must be other humans that are good.”
“There are!” I said quickly. “There are humans that help hurt and sick animals, and humans that save the lives of children just like you girls. There are humans that save others from danger, and humans that create art and plant flower gardens so that everyone has something beautiful to look at.” Apple Blossom’s four friends looked at me as if I’d just pushed a mountain off to the side. The idea of good humans doing good things had never occurred to them until this moment.  “There are humans that dedicate their lives to protecting forests like yours,” I went on. Now I really had their attention. “They set up special organizations and sign petitions and pass laws that help prevent damage to forests.”
“That’s not true!” said Holly Berry. “Humans destroy forests! Humans are the reason our lands are so small.” So that’s why they were so distrustful of me. They thought that I would go on a forest-destroying rampage at any second. But I knew for sure that there really were people who desired to protect forests; when I was in community college, I served on an environmental board for a while, and one of the things we advocated for was the increased protection of forested areas. “I used to work for people who helped protect forests,” I told them.
“See!” exclaimed Apple Blossom. “I told you Aidyn was good!” The girls smiled at me, nodded to me, and little Wildflower picked a bright red cherry off of her plate and handed it to me. I was being accepted at last.
Apple Blossom fixed a plate of colorful berries, bright green sprigs, a deep red pudding, and some meat that I was sure was deer. She placed the plate in front of me. I thanked her and began to examine the contents thoroughly—rude or not, it was possible that Jadeites could eat things that humans could not, and of course Apple Blossom wouldn’t know that. “What kind of pudding is this?” I asked, giving it a few pokes with the wooden fork. It bounced and jiggled.
“It’s cranberry,” Raindrop said proudly. “It’s my mama’s.” She looked at me expectantly, waiting for me to taste. I love cranberry, so I took a mouthful of it. It was not like the canned cranberry sauce I have with my family every Thanksgiving and Christmas, nor was it like the sugary supermarket cranberry juice. It was both sweet and bitter at the same time, and it had a pleasant silky consistency with little bits of berry pulp here and there. I liked it, and I took another mouthful once I’d finished the first. I gave Raindrop a thumbs-up, and she looked at me quizzically. I guess the thumbs-up isn’t a widely used gesture among Jadeites. I clarified for her: “That means I like the pudding very much.”
“Thank you,” she said politely.
I looked over the pile of berries. There were cherries, cranberries, and blueberries, all of which I love. But there were also holly berries, some glossy red berry I didn’t know the name of, and the juniper berries that grow from red cedars. I wasn’t so sure if those were meant for humans to eat, and I was about to say so to Apple Blossom when the garden gate opened with a creak.
The entire time I’ve been writing this entry, I have been nagged by guilt for not finding a present for Apple Blossom. If an elf princess invites you to her birthday party despite her subjects’ negative opinions of humans, you must thank her by giving her a birthday gift. That’s common courtesy, really. I’m sure I can find a gift for her somewhere. I know, I’ll make her a flower crown like the one she was wearing for the party. This will take quite a bit of time, and I cannot guarantee that I’ll be left with any more time to journal when I’m done. I’ll save the rest of my account of the party for tomorrow morning.
I wonder if Apple Blossom would like a crown of cedar boughs and roses…

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Into the Land of the Elves: Today I Met Apple Blossom

The Diary of Miss Aidyn Hall, author
July 7
5:24 PM

Today I Met Apple Blossom

            This morning after breakfast, I went back to the magnolia archway and found it still unblocked. I proceeded down the path, expecting to run into the daddy longlegs and his web after ten steps. But this time around, there was no daddy longlegs and no web. It sucked for the spider, who I figured had gotten his web demolished by some careless oaf. But how lucky for me!
            The path remained straight for about ten more steps, and then it made a winding turn. It reminded me of Dorothy’s yellow brick road, and I hummed the song to myself as I walked. I was starting to wonder if I really would see Oz at the end of the path, and how I would react to seeing all those munchkins coming out from under hedges and behind buildings. And with that thought firmly in my head, what else do I see but a little green haired person coming my way? She was not a munchkin, but a little girl who looked to be around nine or ten. But munchkin or not, she was certainly odd; she was very small, but not quite munchkin small. She had hair the exact color of a well-tended summer lawn. She was wearing a crown of pink and white blossoms, and a pink and green dress that looked like a big flower—the bodice was a flower bud and petals, the skirt formed the leaves. I wish I had a cool dress like that.
            The girl smiled brightly at me. She had a very pretty smile that used all of her pearly teeth. She was one of those people whose eyes got really wide and whose eyebrows rose all the way up when they smiled. I smiled back, tipped my head, and said, “Hey!”
            “Hey!” she cried. “Hey! Hey!” She bounced on her feet, which made her mossy curls bounce. “I saw you!” she cried. “I saw you! I saw you out here yesterday!”
            That was weird. I hadn’t seen her (if I had, I would have written about her, of course). She must have been hiding, or had blended into the trees. “Is that so?” I said, as I continued walking. “When did you see me?”
            “I saw you when you met with the Grand Elder Guardian,” said the girl, “and I saw you get lost in the shrubs. I felt very, very sorry for you, and I wanted to help you out, but it was very naughty of you to disobey the Grand Elder Guardian!” She said this as if I were a kid who had gotten caught with her hand in the cookie jar. “Who is this Grand Elder Guardian,” I asked reasonably, “and how did I disobey him?”
            “The Grand Elder Guardian is the head of the guardians of my land,” the girl explained. “He is the largest spider with the largest web, and he decides who comes in and who goes out. He was going to let you in because he saw that you still held the tag, but…”
            I cut her off. “What’s the tag?”
            “You do still have the tag with you, don’t you?”
            “All I have is my notepad and this green stone I found.” I showed her both.
            “That’s the tag!” she exclaimed, pointing to the stone. “That’s the tag that my people use to keep track of those who come by my land.”
            “Your land?” I asked. “So, you’re the queen?” If she was the queen, then my visions of munchkins had surely become reality. In her little way, she did seem quite queenly. Her posture, her outfit, and the way she conducted herself just screamed “royalty.” But at the same time, she carried on like an excitable kid.
“My mother is the queen,” she told me. “I am the princess, and my name is Apple Blossom.”
“Nice to meet you,” I said. Since she was a princess, I attempted a curtsy. It was likely dopey and awkward looking, but she didn’t seem to mind. “I’m Aidyn,” I told her.
“Hello, Aidyn!” She walked over to me and held out her hand. I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to shake it or, as is often the case with princesses, kiss it. But I opted for the shake, because kissing it seemed too weird.
“Today’s my birthday,” she said, “and I’ve always wanted to meet a real, live human and invite one to my birthday party. Then I could introduce it to my friends and family and all of the others at my palace. But I could never find a human. They always misplace or lose their tag.” So she wasn’t human, but I guess I could’ve figured that out. It felt incredibly strange to be called “it” and to be invited to a birthday party for a little girl—a little princess—I had only just met. But if anything made for excellent material, it was this! So I said to Apple Blossom, “I would be delighted to come to your birthday party. But I have a few questions for you, if you don’t mind. You can answer them while we walk.”
“I don’t mind that at all!” said Apple Blossom. She held out her hand, which I took, and we continued walking down the path. I had quite a bit more than “a few” questions, and she had quite a bit more than “a few” answers. For the sake of convenience, I will write the ones I felt were most important in a handy Q&A format:


Q: So you aren’t human. What are you, then?
A: I am a Jadeite. We are forest dwellers descended from the tree elves, which were descended from the dryads and the ancient forest elves. We live in small, scattered, and secluded places in cedar and oak forests, though our ancestors ruled the forest in the way you humans rule the rest of the world.
(For such a little girl, she can sure talk big. I suppose it’s all part of being a princess.)

Q: So what kind of importance do jade stones hold to you?
A: Jade stones contain the essences of the forest around us, and allow us to better communicate with and form a bond to our environment. We are called the Jadeites because the years have allowed us to strengthen our abilities to harness the forest energies through the jades; we are really no different from the old tree elves otherwise, except that we prefer the ground to the trees.

Q: So could the tree elves harness these “jade forest essences” too?
A. They are the ones who discovered the essences of jades. Before them, forest dwellers thought that emeralds contained the essences of the forests. This is true in small amounts, but jades contain much larger and more powerful forest essences. After they discovered this, the tree elves began to abandon emeralds in favor of jades. By the time of the first Jadeites, emeralds had been nearly completely abandoned. So yes, tree elves could harness the essences of jades, but it was a very newly discovered thing in their time.
(By now I had taken out my notepad and was ferociously writing down everything I could catch. If Apple Blossom minded this, she didn’t show it. But this whole thing about elves and princesses and “forest essences” was a story just waiting to happen.)

Q: What does the jade “tag” do, and what’s carved on the back of it?
A: For our peace of mind, we like to keep track of the humans that come by our land. When a human comes by, a tagger is sent out to place a tag on them. The tag provides a link between us and the human, and allows us to observe the human’s ways. Most lose or throw away their tag, many remove the tags on the spot, and some return only to throw the tag back. It is rare that anybody returns with their tag in hand. The tag is inscribed with your number.
(I showed her my tag and asked what number was carved on it. She said I was number five. Four other people had come by here at some point.)

Q: Did the other four make it in?
A: Only one of them returned, and he did not make it past the Grand Elder Guardian.

Q: Why did the Grand Elder Guardian let me in, especially since I apparently “disobeyed” him?
A: He was not planning to. He and the other guardians didn’t like that you disobeyed him by trying to bypass his web! The only reason he did let you in is because I respectfully requested it of him, and since it is my birthday he was willing to grant the request.

Q: Because you wanted to play with a “real, live human?”
A: Yes!

Well, I’ve always wanted to meet a real live fairy, elf, pixie, or nymph because I’ve always wanted to write about fairies, elves, pixies, and nymphs. I couldn’t very accurately write about them without meeting one first. Now I finally have my chance, and I don’t even need to come up with the story. The story began to tell itself the moment I met little Jadeite Princess Apple Blossom—though really, it started the moment I was “tagged."
It sucks that I don’t have much more time to journal today. I still have so much more to say about this day. But I guess I’ll have to save it all for tomorrow. I’ll dedicate my entire morning to writing about it.