Thursday, July 10, 2014

Into the Land of the Elves: Why I Stole the Jade Stones

The Diary of Miss Aidyn Hall, author
July 20
5:17 AM

Why I Stole the Jade Stones

            Of course I can’t sleep. Did you really expect me to be able to? This is the second time I’ve woken up. When I try to rest my head, I think I hear the footsteps of Jadeite soldiers outside my window, and I’ve already had two nightmares that I don’t care to force myself to relive by divulging the details. Let’s just say that one of them involved the stock punishment of yore, and another involved spearmen.  
            Since I won’t be getting back to sleep, I shall use this time to answer the very pressing question that I know you have: why on Earth did you go and do something like that? Well, I took the jades because I hoped that I could use them to teach myself to harness the jade essences. Apple Blossom refused to teach me, and even though she had a good reason, it made me angry.
            When Apple Blossom saw that I had returned, she let out a mighty squeal and gave me one of the biggest, warmest hugs I’d ever received…oh man, thinking about that makes me feel like even more of a jerk. I’ve completely betrayed this little girl’s trust—and the trust of her entire kingdom—when all she’s ever done is shower me with kindness and welcome and even love. This girl loves me. She adores me. What have I done?
            Anyway, as she took me by the hand and led me in, I asked if she would teach me to harness the jade essences. I wasn’t ready to tell her why, so I just told her that I was so fascinated by the concept that I wanted to learn everything there was to know about it. Apple Blossom looked uneasy, even a bit embarrassed. I’d never seen her look that way before, and it was more than a little disconcerting. “Is there a problem?” I asked her.
            She looked at the ground. “Well…yes. Yes, there is a problem.”
            “What’s wrong?”
            She looked back up at me. “I’m sorry,” she said, “but I can’t teach you to harness the jade essences. They belong exclusively to the Jadeites, and it is forbidden to pass them on to anyone who is not a Jadeite.”
            “But would I be able to harness them if you did teach me?” I asked, getting excited.
            “I cannot and will not teach you, Aidyn,” said Apple Blossom.
            “Couldn’t you get permission from your parents?”
            “They would never grant it.”
            “They granted permission for me to be here,” I reminded her. “Technically that was also forbidden.”
            “They will not grant this!” said Apple Blossom. “The jade essences belong to the Jadeites alone, and they have for as long as there have been Jadeites. They are what set us apart from our ancestors, the tree elves, and the dryads before them. They set us apart from today’s common wood fairies and earth elves, the water sprites and the sand elves of the deserts, the mermaids and the forest nymphs. They are unique to us and they always will be. But if you really want to learn about them, then perhaps I can get us into one of the Temples of the Jades. The monks won’t like to allow a human in, but if I’m with you they may be at least willing.”
            So far this was working out beautifully, and I absolutely hate myself for ruining it the way I did. “Oh, thank you so much, Apple Blossom!” I cried, hugging her. “That’s going to help me in such a big way!” But in actuality, it only half helped. It was likely that the monks had the largest collection of information available about the jades, the jade essences, and their various uses and properties, but there is information and then there is experience. They could describe it to me and I could write their words down, but without the full experience my writing could never be as real as I wanted it to be. There are plenty of writers who don’t write based upon the full experience—after all, any writer who kills off their protagonist hasn’t experience death and been able to write all about what it’s like! But that’s why I’ve never killed off a protagonist. To me, writing is about taking experiences and finding ways to make them even more interesting than they already were, and without the experience the writing could still be good, maybe even great, but it could not be what I wanted it to be.
            But what really got to me was that Apple Blossom had not said it was impossible for a human to learn the jade essences, just that it was forbidden. In fact, she had subtly implied that I could very well learn them if I was allowed. An entire world of magic and fantastical new experiences was locked away by taboo! I could not let this rest, especially after Apple Blossom was able to get permission for me to be let into the Northern Temple of the Jades (there is one on every corner of the Greenwood). When Apple Blossom told me that I would need to leave a gift to thank the monks, I got the idea of buttering them up with the best possible gift, hoping they would be so enamored with it that they would be willing to make me the exception to the rule.
            “What sort of things do they like?” I asked Apple Blossom.
            “Oh, they like any kind of sweet fruit, flowers, coins…some even leave jewels or silk. Really, the monks will appreciate anything. They are a very humble lot.
            I knew exactly what to give to them; for my senior prom many years ago, I had been given a gold-embroidered brocade scarf to match my gold cheongsam dress. I had worn the scarf only two other times since the prom, to the weddings of two different friends, and I was willing to part with it. This was much more important than ever wearing it again. I told Apple Blossom to wait for me by the magnolia archway while I went to fetch the scarf. My heart was pounding so hard I could feel it in the back of my throat, and I thought it was going to push itself up and out. Oh, please, oh, please like my gift enough for that! I silently pleaded. It wasn’t until we were finally on our way to the temple that it hit me.
            They weren’t going to like my gift enough for that.
            No gift was enough to break an age-old taboo that existed since the very first Jadeites. Who was I to think that a fancy scarf was enough to inspire a couple of honor-bound monks at a temple to break a time-honored tradition? It was wrong for me to have even thought of bribing them. There had to be another way.
            And then, as if on cue, we passed by the jade stones; five of them lying all by themselves on a mat laid out along the Bell’s Rush. Nobody was around, and yet I knew they must have belonged to somebody.
            But nobody was around!
            Don’t you dare, Aidyn Hall! Don’t you even think about it! I saw that Apple Blossom was several paces ahead of me and she wasn’t slowing down, so I had room to lag behind. I took a step closer to the jades. I’m only going to look at them. Even as I told myself this, I knelt down and picked up the five jades. I waited for either the owner or Apple Blossom to catch me, but nobody came around, and for a flicker of a second I could’ve sworn that I felt just a tiny spark of power coming from the jades. Apple Blossom doesn’t need to teach me anything! I can learn it all myself! I don’t need her! As my fist closed over the five jades, I felt a sudden resentment for Apple Blossom, as if it was all her fault that I was forced to steal these jades. If she had just agreed to teach me, there wouldn’t be a problem! If she really trusted me, the only human who has ever treated her and her race with respect, she wouldn’t have had any real reason to refuse! But she was just like any other princess, who cared so much more about honor and tradition than friendship…
            I was still seething with resentment when I slipped the jades into my pocket and heard Apple Blossom call my name. I didn’t want to go to her. I was angry with her, and in that moment I even disliked her. So I turned around and I ran. I ran as Apple Blossom continued to call for me, as she took note of my sudden wild flight—“Aidyn! Aidyn, come back! Aidyn!”—and as her calls gave way to tears. Apple Blossom was speedy, but for once I could outrun her. I was taller and my legs were longer and I was fueled by panic. I could not let her catch me with those jade stones! I ran past confused Jadeites looking on, past the Bell’s Rush and the paths leading to the palace, over the bridge. I ran until there was a nasty stitch in my side and I still didn’t stop. When I reached the deep forest leading back to the magnolia archway, I didn’t even stop to duck under the webs of the spider guardians. More than once, I got a face full of web and sticky threads clung to my arm. There was no sign of the Grand Elder Guardian.
            I collapsed in front of my house, and it was only then that I realized exactly what I had done. Guilt attacked me, both for the theft and for my anger towards Apple Blossom, and it wouldn’t let up. And soon I remembered that the tag was in my other pocket…
            There’s nothing left for me to do but return the jade stones. I don’t want to try to learn the jade essences anymore. I don’t deserve to. My story will be lacking, and that is the consequence for my terrible behavior. I will face any additional consequences like a soldier.
            It’s still very early. If I can get back to sleep now, I’ll return the jades the very moment I wake up.

8:03 AM

            My way in was blocked by the Grand Elder Guardian.
            It was disheartening, but I suppose it was no surprise. “Please get these back to whomever they belonged to,” I told him, leaving the jades on the ground below his web. “My name is Aidyn Hall,” I went on, “and I stole these jade stones. You know that, but I want the person I stole them from to know it as well. I don’t want to let myself get away with this, and I deserve any punishment that comes my way. Will you get the message to them?”
            The Grand Elder Guardian made no form of response. He is a spider, after all. I nodded respectfully and took my leave. Now there is nothing to do but wait. I’m not sure if I can focus on work today, but I have to try.

3:28 PM

            The jades have disappeared, and my way into the Greenwood is still blocked. My way may be blocked forever. Has Apple Blossom come by to look for me? If so, have any of the guardians told her why I wasn’t there? Or has she gone about her business without even giving me a second thought? I have a strong feeling that I’ve destroyed our friendship.  

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