Sunday, May 25, 2014

Into the Land of the Elves: A Swim in the Bell's Rush

The Diary of Miss Aidyn Hall, author
July 12
10:00 AM
A Swim in the Bell’s Rush

            Apple Blossom ran up to me with an ear-to-ear smile on her face and her green hair flying out wildly behind her. She was wearing a strange short blue dress with white sashes around the shoulders and waist, and dark blue shorts. “That’s a very interesting outfit,” I told her. I liked the look a lot.
            “This is a swimming outfit,” said Apple Blossom. “My friends and I are going swimming in the Bell’s Rush. Can you come with us? Are you very busy today?”
            I had never gone swimming in a lake or river, but a swim in the Bell’s Rush sounded especially pleasant. It was deep blue and pristine, and the tingling sound it made was very relaxing. I had learned during our sail that it was highly populated with frogs, crickets, water nymphs, water sprites, and even fairies (which I had gotten to see!) whose pretty voices created a harmony with the bell sounds. Besides, it would give me excellent material in case I ever wanted to write about swimming in a lake, or in case I ever wanted to write about swimming in a lake full of fairies and water sprites. “I’d love to go swimming with you,” I told Apple Blossom. “If you’ll wait here for a few moments, I’ll go change into my own swimming outfit.”
            “You can borrow one of Mother’s,” said Apple Blossom. “She wouldn’t mind.”
            Of course she would mind! “She’s a little smaller than me,” I said. “I don’t think any of her clothes will fit me. It won’t take long for me to go change.”
            Apple Blossom agreed to wait for me, and I returned home to look over my bathing suits. I decided on my green and white leaf patterned tankini, knowing that Apple Blossom would approve of a woodsy pattern. I tied a bright floral sarong around my waist and packed a bag full of things I bring to the pool: two towels, two water bottles, a pen set, my notepad, and a book. I put my tag in with them. There was no need to bring sunscreen or sunglasses; deep in the Greenwood, the trees would do a good job of obscuring the sun. I tied up my hair and returned to the magnolia archway.
            Apple Blossom burst out laughing when she saw me!
            “Hey!” I exclaimed, chuckling a little myself. “What’s so funny, huh?”
            “Is that a human’s swimming outfit?” Apple Blossom asked through her laughter.
            “Yes it is,” I said, “but it’s only one kind. It’s called a tankini. What’s so funny about it?”
            “I don’t know,” said Apple Blossom, “it’s just funny!” She only thought it was funny because it was different. I ruffled her hair. “Okay, Lady Laughsalot, calm down and lead the way.” This made her giggle even more, but she took my hand and began leading me into the Greenwood. I used to think my friend Janelle was the giggliest person I’ve ever met in my life, but now I don’t think anybody could top Apple Blossom in the Giggles and Cheer Department!
            We ran into the Grand Elder Guardian on our way in, but his web was positioned above our heads to let us go through. Apple Blossom nodded to him and I did too, as I ducked to keep from messing up his web. Beyond the entrance, the forest was absolutely crawling with spiders. There were small brown spiders and big black spiders, red spiders and green spiders, spiders in webs and on leaves and crawling up the bark of trees. The Jadeite guardians still felt that the princess needed such protection. I was allowed in, but that did not mean I was trusted. There were webs nearly everywhere I turned, and I sidestepped and ducked under them as carefully as I could. If an arachnophobe looking for trouble wasn’t turned away by the sight of the Grand Elder Guardian, then this would definitely send them running for an exit!
            The sound of the Bell’s Rush rang clear and melodious as we entered the Greenwood. We passed by the houses full of elves who were still inclined to gawk at me. Apple Blossom led me through a patch of wooded area and around to a bright clearing, where the Bell’s Rush curved in a sort of kidney shape before branching off in its usual formation. Apple Blossom’s four friends from the party were laughing, splashing, and playing like young mermaids. Their mothers, including the queen, sat around a picnic blanket, chattering and laughing while playing a card game. All of them were dressed in different-colored versions of the swimming outfit Apple Blossom wore, with only very slight variations in design. The queen glanced at me, and I gave her my friendliest smile. “Where should I put my things?” I asked her.
            “You may set them down with the girls’ things,” said the queen, gesturing to a pile of rags and sacks lying under a jade-flanked willow tree. I set down my bag, untied my sarong, and took my first steps into the waters of the Bell’s Rush. Usually, when you step into water it’s either too hot or too cold, and you have to swim around to adjust to the temperature. That wasn’t the case with the waters of the Bell’s Rush, which were just the right blend of warm and cool. The little waves from the currents tickled me, and I dunked my head to feel the water caress my face. It was so refreshing and I was so happy that I laughed out loud.
            Apple Blossom’s friends kept their distances and looked at me with eyes full of uncertainty. We had gotten on well at the party, but to them I was still just a wayward bogeyman trying to earn their trust—trying, perhaps, to lure them into a sense of security and let them drop their guard. Little Wildflower was especially inclined to stay clear of me. She had huddled into a cluster of wild reeds and was peering at me with eyes half the size of dinner plates.
            Apple Blossom, always the icebreaker, took my hand and said, “Come with me, Aidyn! I want you to meet the water sprites, and I want you to see the frog chorus at their lily pads, and I’ll show you…”
            “Show me everything,” I interrupted her. I’d hoped that her friends would want to join us, but I wasn’t going to push them. I followed Apple Blossom down the stream, catching bright green reeds and algae in my hands. We passed by a cluster of lily pads, each topped with a white water lily. A chatty group of frogs were crouching on and swimming around the lily pads and the surrounding reeds. A tiny girl with iridescent wings sat perched on a petal of one of the lilies. Two others fluttered in circles above her, buzzing like flies. When Apple Blossom passed, the frogs fixed their glassy eyes on her, and the tiny winged girls bowed so low that their noses touched the tips of the petals. But when they saw me, the girls looked frightened and several of the frogs swam away quickly. I was disappointed but not surprised. I know how timid frogs can be; I’ve spent numerous summer days trying to watch them in the pond after a rainstorm, and sometimes I could only barely catch a glimpse as one hopped away or dove into the water or scurried under a leafy plant.
            I heard a splash in the water behind me and thought it might be another frog—a very large frog—but when I turned around, there was Wildflower slowly paddling toward me. She wanted to approach me, but she was lagging back, still unsure of how wise it would be to do so. I smiled encouragingly, but for a few moments she just treaded water and watched me as if waiting for my next move. I swam over to the cluster of water lilies, gently plucked one from its stem, and set it down in front of her. Wildflower looked at it, then at me. Carefully, she picked it up and held it to her face, inhaling deeply to breathe in its fragrance. She shyly glanced over the petals at me, and then finally, she smiled. She was ready to trust me, at least for the moment.
            I was ready to join Apple Blossom, who was trying to talk over the croaks of the returning frogs. I beckoned Wildflower over, and she clumsily paddled to my side, still holding on tightly to the water lily. I patted her on the head and took one of her hands so she could hold her water lily with the other while I helped her swim. She was agreeable to this, and every so often she looked up at me and smiled.
            It turned out that Apple Blossom was not talking over the frogs, but with them! She’d speak to a frog, and it would answer back with a familiar croak as if their language was one and the same. I looked at Wildflower, wondering if she was as taken aback as I was, but she was playing with the three tiny winged girls and did not seem to notice.
            I tapped Apple Blossom on the shoulder. “Hey, can those frogs really understand you?” I asked.
            “Yes,” she replied, “they understand me perfectly. I asked them to come back after they ran away, and I told them that you were my friend and you wouldn’t hurt them. They believed me, because frogs always believe you. And I was asking them if they would give a concert for you, because they have such beautiful voices and I’d really like for you to hear them.” She turned to the frogs and asked, “Will you please, please give a concert for Aidyn?” A large green frog answered back raucously.
            She turned to me and told me, “He says that they need to talk it over first. But they will sing for you. They just love to sing for anyone! While we wait, we can visit the mermaids. Oh, Wildflower, come here! We’re going to visit the mermaids.”
            Mermaids! This just kept getting better. “Lead the way!” I exclaimed, and held my hand out for her. She took my hand and Wildflower’s, and we swam in the direction of the currents. I could hear the frogs croaking musically, perhaps rehearsing for their concert. When we came upon an orderly group of bright green shrubs, Apple Blossom stepped out of the water and motioned for us to follow. Wildflower held my hand tightly as we were led down a path shaded by blossoming magnolia trees. “Is your mother okay with you coming all the way over here?” I asked Apple Blossom.
            “She lets me go anywhere I want to, so long as I have this with me.” She reached into a small pocket at the top of her swimming tunic and pulled out a perfectly round jade stone tied to a silver cord. “It’s my personal jade, and I use it to channel the jade essences.”
            “Oh! Is that how you were able to talk with the frogs?” Apple Blossom had told me on the day we met that the jade essences allowed the Jadeites to communicate and form bonds with the forest around them. I had several notes on the subject written down in my notepad. “Yes,” answered Apple Blossom, “that’s exactly how!”
            “Can my tag do the same kind of thing?” I asked.
            “The tags do contain the jade essences,” Apple Blossom explained, “but they are different than the ones contained in stones like this.”
            “So I can’t use my tag to talk to animals?” I asked only half-jokingly.
            Apple Blossom laughed. “I’m afraid not, Aidyn!”
            Wildflower reached into a pocket at the top of her own tunic and pulled out her own jade stone to show me. It was no bigger than a garden pebble, and Wildflower was no older than five. Yet it contained the same magical abilities that, according to Apple Blossom, were hidden in every jade stone, and Wildflower was able to access them just as easily as any other. She smiled proudly at her jade stone, and I told her that it was a great stone.
            At the end of the path was another kidney-shaped curve, which was occupied by several men and women with the kind of stunning faces that would put even the most dolled up makeup model to shame. Aside from these pretty faces and their long, flowing hair, they didn’t fit the typical image of mermaids. They had no fish tails, but rather fish-like fins on their arms, legs, and shoulders. They wore thin clothing that appeared to be made from reeds and grasses, and several of them wore shells, pebbles, or jewels around their necks and in their hair. And though mermaids are often said to be angry, treacherous, and malicious creatures, there was certainly none of that in these mermaids. They were sweet, playful, and happy as could be. Watching them splash and dunk and dive and laugh made me laugh along with them, and of course they all turned to look at me when I did. But none of them looked frightened, unnerved, or even a little bit uneasy. Nobody gasped, yelped, drew back, or tried to hide. Instead, they greeted me with smiles, waving, and happy chattering in a language I could not understand. It was a language of strange clicks and gurgles and bubbly sounds that I could only describe as what a fish might sound like if it could talk. I was so thrilled that there was somebody out there who was so ready to accept me that I nearly ran to them and gave each one of them a big hug! But instead, I smiled and waved back at them with equal enthusiasm, chirping, “Hi! Hello, everybody! It’s a pleasure to meet you all!” even though they couldn’t understand me. Thankfully, Apple Blossom could translate. She took my hand and led me through the gaggle of mermaids, nodding to each one and introducing me: “Hello, Zalana! This is my friend Aidyn!” “Galinder, I’d like you to meet Aidyn!” “This is Aidyn, Lula!” I felt like a movie star or a visiting noble, or someone much higher than a new author just trying to get by. Apple Blossom is the princess, yet she goes out of her way to put others on a higher pedestal than herself. Does she do this for all of her friends, or does she hold me in such high regard because I’m human and she wants to go out of her way to show that I’m not a monster? I have a feeling it’s the latter.
            I looked behind me to check on Wildflower, and found her trailing behind us with her precious water lily woven into her hair. I held out my hand for her again, but she shook her head. She had her eye on one of the mermaids, a girl just a little older than Apple Blossom with long, rose-colored hair held together with a lotus-topped reed. She swam over to the girl as fast as a dart, calling, “Marla! Marla!” The girl received her with a squeal and open arms.
            Around me, the mermaids chattered excitedly. Several swam up to me and touched my hair, my shoulders, and my suit. Their curiosity got a chuckle out of me, and I let them go on with their little examination. To them, I was one of the rarest and most interesting of specimens, and clearly they had not heard the same stories about humans that the Jadeites had. But I wished we could understand eachother! If I was going to have allies—admirers, even—of this caliber, I wanted to be able to talk with them. Was that ability really locked up inside that tiny jade stone?
            I flagged down Apple Blossom, who was sitting on a rock and talking with an attentive-looking mer-woman with long blonde hair and a sweet doll’s face. “May I have a look at your jade stone for a moment?” I asked her. She nodded and handed it to me without asking what I needed it for. I stared long and hard at it, trying to pick up on a sign, a spark, a glow, anything that would reveal the presence of jade essences. Was there a certain aura? I couldn’t see it. Was there a pull or a trance I was meant to feel? I couldn’t feel it. I waded over to a cluster of chattering mermaids and strained my ears for a familiar phrase, word, or even just a sound. But there was nothing but the clicks and the watery gurgles. I looked for Wildflower and her friend Marla, and found them in a little pool, swordfighting with two long cattails. They were shouting; Wildflower cried, “I’ll get you! I’ll get you good!” but Marla’s responses were foreign to me. Holding the stone did not make the difference for me that it did for Apple Blossom and Wildflower. Wildflower noticed me and called, “Hello, Aidyn!” I waved to her and left the two of them to their game.
            I returned the jade stone to Apple Blossom. “Here you go,” I said. “I was trying to…” I was interrupted by a sudden racket of frogs. “Oh!” cried Apple Blossom, clapping her hands. “It’s the frog chorus! They’ve begun their concert! Come on, Aidyn! Where is Wildflower?”
            When we met up with Wildflower, she held on to Marla and insisted that she come watch the frogs with us. The mermaids waved and shouted happy goodbyes as the four of us set off. Along the way, Wildflower tugged at one of Marla’s fins and asked, “Marla, will you let me ride on your back?” Marla gurgled happily and complied with the request. I listened to the approaching croaks, clicks, murmurs, and sputters of the frogs, and I longed to hear the secret words that I knew existed within them.
             When we reached the frogs’ pool, we met up with Raindrop, Crystalline, Holly Berry, and all of the girls’ mothers. Wildflower climbed off of Marla’s back and paddled over to her mother, who set the little girl on her knee. Apple Blossom motioned for me to join her and the queen. I reluctantly complied, though I would have preferred to be by myself and away from the contempt the others surely held for me. But as it turned out, nobody was paying me any mind. They were all lost in the songs of the frogs, the background chanting of unseen water nymphs in the distance, the quiet chatter of the tiny, fluttering water sprites, and of course, the ringing of the Bell’s Rush. I closed my eyes and let myself get lost in it too. 

Thursday, May 8, 2014

The Pearls

All parts of "The Pearls, in order from 1 to 5

Part 1

The Pearls, part 5 (ending)

            Dani crossed over the golden bridge and approached the princess. Her face was calm now, and Dani felt at ease. She had been frightened of the princess’ frowning visage, but now that her expression was calm, Dani could see that she was beautiful like a precious Victorian doll. She looked as she had when Dani had first encountered her.
The princess smiled, delighted to see that her precious pearl necklace had come back to her. She was even more beautiful when she smiled. “Hand them to me,” she ordered. Dani felt so calm looking at the pretty face that she complied without hesitation. The princess put the necklace on and looked at her reflection in the brook. “They look so much better on me than you,” she said.
            Dani didn’t say anything. For a moment, the princess looked at her as if observing an interesting insect under a microscope. “You think you are a real beauty, don’t you?” asked the princess.
            “I suppose you can say that.”
            “But look at you! You’re so plain, almost raggedy. I’ve seen farm girls more beautiful than you!”
            Dani didn’t say anything.
            “Your box is filled to the brim with jewels of all kinds, sizes, and shapes,” said the princess. “You think that donning them makes you a beauty. You use them to distract others from how plain you are.” The princess approached Dani and looked straight into her eyes, and though she was small and delicate, she managed to look quite imposing. “If you had done what was right, and willingly returned the pearls upon learning that they belonged to me,” she said sharply, “then you could have gone on being plain. You might have even become beautiful along the way. But now, you are ugly. You’ve shown that you are a vain, selfish, dishonest woman whose own petty desires come before all else. You are willing to steal a precious heirloom from a princess in order to further your desire to pass as beautiful. But your ways have shown that you are ugly, even hideous.”
             “You said yourself that I’m plain,” Dani snapped, “so what difference does it make that I’m selfish and ugly and whatever else? If I can’t be beautiful, I might as well be ugly!” Mouthing off was the only way she could suppress the guilt and shame of having her wrongdoing, her insecurities, and her most unattractive flaws thrown in her face all at once.
            “I pity you,” said the princess, “because you don’t know what beauty really is. If you were to take away my gowns, my crowns, my diamonds and my pearls, my gold, silver, and jewels, and all of my silks and brocades, I would still be beautiful. I could have nothing and still be beautiful, while you are plain and ugly even with the finest pearls, because you don’t understand that real beauty comes from your character. For that, I pity you.”
            “I didn’t come here to listen to an after-school special!” Dani snapped. “You have your lousy pearls and you’ve told me how ugly I am, so I’ll be taking my leave. Now tell me how to get home.”
            “I can see that you’ve learned nothing,” said the princess, shaking her head in exasperation, “and that you are hard-hearted to the point of stupidity. But still, I am willing to help you, even though I shouldn’t waste any time on the likes of you.”
            “I don’t need any ‘help’ from you!” said Dani. “And I’m going to be pissed if I miss work tomorrow because of you!”  
            But instead of chiding Dani any further or commenting on her rudeness, the princess smiled and took both of her hands. Dani’s first instinct was to pull back, but something in the gentle gesture and the doll-like face would not allow her to. She felt calm all over, too calm to run away or strike out or even mouth off again. The princess looked at her with the kind of gentle expression that an older sister might use for her younger sibling. “Tell me your name,” she said. Since there was no anger or malice in her voice, Dani answered: “Dannica Halliwell.”
            “Dannica Halliwell, I can see your beauty clearly when you aren’t being as disagreeable as you were,” said the princess. “You have pretty eyes, hair like spun gold, and your lips form a nearly perfect rosebud shape.”
            “I thought you said I was plain.”
            “You are rather plain,” said the princess, “but I can see your beautiful qualities when you choose to be calm and pleasant as you are now. I see your potential, and you may be plain, but you are no longer ugly.”
            “Well, it’s hard to be pleasant when you’re so plain, or ugly,” said Dani.
            “Even if it makes you more beautiful and you know it?” asked the princess.
            “I wouldn’t know it,” said Dani, “because nobody would see it that way.”
            “I see it that way!” said the princess.
            “I mean, nobody where I’m from would see it that way,” replied Dani.
            “That’s a pity,” said the princess with a sigh. “Anybody could turn ugly in a world where the most beautiful qualities are not valued. I can see why you feel as though you need jewels and adornments to be beautiful, but it is still no excuse for trying to steal my pearls. But even with your thievery, I know you are not really the scoundrel you’ve made yourself out to be. And in addition to helping you realize how wrong you were, I’d like to help you realize what beauty really is. Let me take you under my wing.”
            Dani was taken aback. “What in the world do you mean?”
            “I mean,” said the princess, “that I will let you stay with me and be my companion. You will have my old dresses and robes, but you will have no other luxuries. But I will be so kind to you and make you feel so beautiful and worthy that you will find luxuries to be quite unnecessary.”
            “You’re going to take me away from my home?” cried Dani.
            “I am making an offer,” said the princess. “If you want to take it, you may. If not, I’ll send you back home to your sad and ugly world. But if you do decide to stay with me, you will find that you have no more need for pearls.” With that, she let go of Dani’s hands and walked towards the castle.
            Dani looked around at the magnificent castle, the pristine brook, the splendid courtyard and the colorful garden beside it. She watched the princess’ golden ringlets bounce at her shoulders, her long velvet gown—a world away from Dani’s little pink velour dress—trailing behind her as she walked. Her kind and gentle smile was still fresh in Dani’s mind. When she wasn’t angry, the princess was so lovely and sweet, and she was ready to forgive Dani. What would an old ragtag assortment of jewelry matter if Dani could live as the companion of a fairy princess? What would her apathetic bar friends and her co-workers at the stuffy old office think if they could see her by the side of a princess straight out of a fairy tale? Then again, Dani was quite all right with not seeing them for a long, long time.
           So Dani followed after the princess, and it didn’t take too long for her to discover that she never had a need for pearls, rubies, sapphires, or anything else of the sort. But everyone who saw her by the princess’ side would marvel at just how beautiful she was, even lovelier than the princess’ spectacular pearl necklace.