Thursday, June 11, 2015

Into the Land of the Elves: Chokana and Newt

The Diary of Miss Aidyn Hall, elf friend and storyteller
August 9
9:42 AM

Chokana and Newt

“What do you want to hear first?” I asked Apple Blossom as I opened my diary. “Or do you want me to start from the beginning?’
            “What’s in there?” asked Apple Blossom.
            “Everything,” I said, “from the day I was tagged up to about an hour and a half ago.”
            “Start from the beginning, please,” said Apple Blossom. So I obliged, beginning with my backyard exploration and the discovery of the magnolia archway. I had expected plenty of interjections, but Apple Blossom was a quiet and attentive listener. I ended with the discovery of the tag in my sandal and said, “I think that will be enough for today.” She sighed disappointedly and said, “But you didn’t read anything about me!”
            “I’ll read you that part tomorrow,” I told her. “In fact, I’ll start off with it.”
            “You heard my celebration horns that day,” Apple Blossom informed me.
            “Oh! So that’s what all the honking was about.”
            “Yes,” said Apple Blossom. “Whenever there is a big celebration in the Greenwood, we get to blow the horns. We had smaller, quieter horns at Crystalline’s birthday that only we got to hear, but mine were so loud that the whole wood could hear them.”
            “Lucky you,” I said.
            “You have a pretty backyard, Aidyn,” said Apple Blossom. “I wish I could see more of it. I want to see all of those lovely things you wrote about.”
            “You saw the tiger lilies,” I reminded her. “Besides, nothing in my world could be as lovely as your Greenwood.”
            “I disagree,” was Apple Blossom’s response.
            Apple Blossom is at her lessons now, hopefully discovering the origin story of the doll we found in the fairy tale room. I’ve done all of my work that doesn’t require a computer at the castle, and all of my work that does require a computer at night. What should I do? Watch TV, browse the web? What’s so fun about sitting and watching pictures in a box? Oh! I know! I’ll go out and take pictures of all of the things Apple Blossom liked about my yard: the pond, the cherry tree, the interior of the mini forest…
            Then again, I do have several missed calls piled up on my phone. Half are from my mother, the other half are from my friends who are wondering where the heck I’ve been. Maybe I should return these calls.
            But I won’t talk for very long. I do want to take those pictures.

1:50 PM

            I’m going out for coffee with Katie tomorrow morning. I haven’t see her in nearly a month, and her bitter lament about how she feels forgotten by me stung enough for me to agree to a morning at the cafĂ©. Apple Blossom understood when I told her during lunch in the garden. “You ought to have some time with other humans,” she said. “You must get tired of being with Jadeites all the time.”
            “I would rather be with Jadeites than humans,” I told her.
            “So would you ever fall in love with one?” Apple Blossom asked, and I nearly dropped the mug of blueberry juice I was sipping from! “Excuse me?” I said. “What did you just ask me?”
            “Do you think you’ll ever meet a nice man from the Greenwood and fall in love with him?” Apple Blossom asked casually.
            I don’t even know any Jadeite men, except for the extremely unavailable king! “What put that idea in your head, Apple Blossom?” I asked.
            “What Beryl told me,” Apple Blossom said, “about the doll.”
            That did it. “What did she say?” I asked, nearly leaping up out of my seat.
            “She told me the whole story, “Apple Blossom said, “though she was quite reluctant to. ‘You’re already far too concerned with humans,’ she told me, ‘and if I tell you this it’ll only encourage you to plunge even deeper into their world and their ways. But I suppose if I don’t tell you, you’ll never let it rest.’” I laughed at her stern impression of her teacher. Clearly, Beryl knows Apple Blossom very well.
            “So she told me,” Apple Blossom continued, “that the doll is a human woman named Chokana. She was alive during the time of the tree elves, and she lived with her family in a forest where lots of tree elves lived. The tree elves didn’t like humans either; they thought they were loud, mean, strange, and always in the way of the forest. But Chokana loved the tree elves. Every day, she would come out into the forest just to watch them and see how they lived. They wouldn’t trust her and they kept away from her. Some even hissed at her, threw sticks and leaves at her, and called her ‘sharrasht,’ which means ‘beast’ in tree elven. But it didn’t stop her from watching them and longing to be their friend.
            “And then there was Newt. Newt was a gatherer who lived with his family in a big red oak tree. While out on a gathering trek one day, he saw Chokana watching him. He had heard stories of the human woman who sat in the bushes watching, and he was told that she was dangerous and to stay far away from her. But when he saw her for the first time, he saw that she was so pretty, and so quiet and sweet. She did not seem so dangerous at all, and he was drawn to her. He approached her and she drew back, because she didn’t know if he meant to shout at her or throw sticks. He told her not to be afraid of him, and though she couldn’t understand him, she understood that his tone was gentle and his face was calm.
            “After that, the two of them started to see eachother, and then they fell in love. Newt’s parents were so angry that he had chosen a human lover that they disowned him. They said that he was foolish, that Chokana was dangerous, and that having him around with Chokana would put their family in danger. Everybody else was so afraid of Chokana that they couldn’t bear to have Newt around if he was going to be with her—and he was going to be with her, because he loved her. So Newt became an outcast.
            “After that, Chokana did everything that she could to take care of Newt. She brought him food. She helped him build a shelter in the middle of the woods, out of the way of both the tree elf wood and the human village. She would visit him every day, and the two of them would explore the forest together. The doll of Chokana has her arms outstretched to Newt in an embrace.”
            “So we need to find Newt,” I said.
            “Yes, we do,” said Apple Blossom with a nod. “But I really must finish the story first!” Her eyes were wide with urgency. “I’m listening,” I told her.
            “Newt and Chokana went out on one of their walks through the forest,” Apple Blossom continued, “when they came upon a little rock quarry in the middle of a mossy clearing. Rock quarries aren’t especially uncommon in the forest, but this was different from the others they had seen; this one had several strange, jaggedy stones that were bright green, and Newt had never, ever seen a green stone before. Chokana had, though, and she told him about jades.
            “The jaggedy little stones that they found didn’t look a thing like jades. Jades, Chokana told Newt, were brilliant, round, and shiny stones the color of the leaves on the trees. These were rough and chalky stones that were only a hint of green, the color of the moss on the ground all around them. They ignored these stones, but Chokana promised Newt that she would bring a real jade stone for him to see. Jades were used for jewelry and crafting in Chokana’s village. Chokana had a jade necklace, and the next day she wore it when she went to see Newt. Those brilliant jades were nothing like the chalky green stones in the quarry, and Newt was absolutely enchanted by them. In fact, he was drawn to them in a way that they seemed to be calling to him, coaxing him to come closer. He sensed that there was a sort of energy in them, a force. It was as if they were a live thing that had a spirit.”
            “The jade essences!” I said with a gasp.
            “Yes,” said Apple Blossom, “but he couldn’t have known about the jade essences then. He only knew that the jades possessed energy that he could feel. He asked Chokana if she could feel it too, but she said that she couldn’t; the jades were only ordinary stones to her.
            “But together, the two of them made attempts to tap into that energy. They slept with jades under their pillows. They meditated under the sun with a jade in each hand. They walked through the forest with jades around their necks and in their pockets, and bathed in the stream surrounded by jade stones on all sides. They spent almost all of their time with jades, and it got so just about everything that they did involved a jade in some way. For Chokana, none of this made any difference. But for Newt, it meant everything! Newt succeeded, Aidyn! He succeeded in tapping into those jade energies and using them! Newt was the very first tree elf to harness the jade essences!”
            “How did he use them?” I asked. I became increasingly aware that my heart was pounding against my chest like it was trying to bust down a door. “What did he do with the jade essences? How did he know that he had tapped into them?”
            “Newt began to change,” Apple Blossom said. “He developed certain abilities: he could make moss and heathers grow on dry, barren patches of soil. Soon, he learned to grow flowers in this way. The flowers he grew at first were small and scrawny, but he gave them as gifts to Chokana and she was always delighted with them. His newfound power allowed him to tap in to the energies of the trees and manipulate them, allowing them to produce apples in the summer, berries in the fall. The trees spoke to him now, not in the wind or the rustle of the leaves, but in his own language. They told him where to find food, how to navigate the forest, and if there were any changes in the weather that he ought to be aware of. He brought Chokana to all of the lovely streams, glades, and wild gardens that they would direct him to. By then, he knew enough of Chokana’s language, and she knew enough of his, to tell her about all of the things the trees whispered to him. The magic that Newt found within the jades changed the way he looked as well. Green streaks appeared in his hair, and flecks of green appeared in his hazel eyes. Even his skin began to turn green—though only slightly, like those jaggedy stones in the quarry.”
            “Wait a minute!” I interjected. “Do you mean to tell me that Newt became the first Jadeite?”
                Apple Blossom shook her head. “Newt didn’t become the first Jadeite,” she said. “But…” She looked right into my eyes then, and her own eyes showed me that she was about to drop some news of epic proportions. An ear to ear grin began to form, and I braced myself. “Newt became the father of the first Jadeite!” she told me. “The first Jadeite was Newt and Chokana’s child!” 

Monday, June 8, 2015

The Knights of the Jewel: The Arrival

Ion opened his eyes to a sky streaked with golden beams. He blinked twice, held his hands out in front of his face, and sat up when he was sure that he was able to move. His lance lay beside him, and he took hold of it and held on as if it was the only thing that anchored him to reality. He had lost his horse, his opponent, and the raucous crowd that had been cheering them on at their joust, and even the jousting arena itself had vanished without a trace. He remembered that he had been pitched from his horse and that his lance had been forced out of his hand, and the overwhelming shame he felt upon hitting the ground and realizing that he had been defeated; Mighty Ion of Lamorak, never before bested in joust or battle, done in by a country boy just barely into knighthood! As the world blurred before his eyes, he longed for the comfort of death rather than a life to live in dishonor.
            If this was death, it did nothing for the shame, for it came flooding back upon the memory. He fought away the tears that burned his eyes, for even a humiliating first—and final—defeat must be handled with dignity. Closing his eyes, he could see the colorful lights that had been the last thing he saw before going under. There were eight of them, in eight different colors of equal brilliance. Ion had allowed them to overpower him, trusting them to lead him to the peace found n death. Wherever they meant to take him was preferable to returning to Lamorak, where he would live the life of a knight stripped of his honor; the life of a pariah, mocked by all of those who once revered him.
            Ion rose to his feet and examined his surroundings. He was alone, surrounded on all sides by lush green fields that stretched out into a distant fir forest. It had been May Day in Lamorak, but out here it was as warm as a day in midsummer. If this is heaven, wondered Ion, then where are the saints? It cannot be hell, for it is too peaceful. But if I am to be alone, with nothing to satisfy my need for combat nor to challenge me and test my might, then perhaps it is my private hell.
            He took a few steps, though he wasn’t sure how productive it was to wander in a place like this. He still held tightly to his lance, the only memento of his life as Mighty Ion of Lamorak. If I am dead, he pondered, then how and why has my lance crossed over with me? There must be a need for it. Yes, there must be an enemy to overcome, somebody to defeat...redemption for my shameful performance in the joust! Ion began to run, though he did not know where he was going. The idea of a battle brought his energy back to him. Though his ceremonial lance was no serious weapon, he was driven into action by the very idea of a fight, as well as his passion for such affairs.
            He halted in his tracks when he caught sight of a pale little figure emerging from the fir trees. From a distance, he could only see golden hair and the shimmer of a moon-white gown. A dainty physique indicated a woman. He took off his helmet so that he might not look so intimidating, waved his hand, and called out to her. He saw her turn to look in his direction, and then she came towards him, hitching up her skirts so that she might pace herself. As she came closer, he saw that she was young—perhaps eighteen—and that her soulful sapphire-colored eyes seemed to take up her entire face. The front of her golden hair was braided, the rest trailed down like a veil. Her lips were the color of an early spring rose and the shape of a heart. Her white gown was tiered like a wedding gown and accented with a velvety sash the color of the sky.  Ion wondered if she might be an angel, or even a saint. She did not look like any of the saints that he had learned about from the priests, but he wondered if even priests could be so sure of what the saints really looked like.
            The maiden stopped in front of Ion and looked up at him with a mixture of shyness and curiosity on her angelic face. He smiled cordially and held out his hand to her. “Salutations, my lady,” he said as gently as he could manage.
             “H…hello,” she shakily stammered. She took his hand and he shook it lightly. “Do you…do you think you can tell me where I am? I’m awfully lost.”
            “If you are lost,” said Ion, “then so must I be. I haven’t any idea what or where this place may be, though when I arrived here I thought that it might be heaven or hell.”
            “Heaven or hell!” the girl exclaimed. “My goodness, I hope that it’s neither! I’m not ready to go to either place, and if I’ve died, I can’t possibly imagine how!”
            “I woke up here after I was thrown from my horse,” said Ion.
            “Oh dear!” cried the girl. “Are you all right?”
            “Only my pride is injured,” said Ion, wincing at the shame.
            “You were in a battle?” she asked him.
            “A joust,” he answered. To change the subject, he asked, “What is your name?”
            “Lovisa,” the girl replied. “And yours?”
            “Ion, Mighty Ion of the Knights of Lamorak. Do you know of Lamorak?”
            “I’ve never heard of such a place,” said Lovisa. “I’m from Eridell.”
            “I can’t say that I’ve heard of it,” said Ion.
            “It’s a wonderful place,” said Lovisa. “It’s very peaceful. I was out wandering, just seeing where the road would take me, and I suppose it decided to take me here. You don’t really think that this might be the afterlife, do you?” The girl’s sapphire eyes displayed unconcealed fear and uncertainty, which softened Ion’s heart. “I had my suspicions,” he said to her, “but I don’t think that you are dead. Did you wake up here, as I did, or did you simply wander in?”
            “I’m sure that I wandered in,” said Lovisa, “but it was on account of some strange lights that appeared before me.”
            Ion looked her in the eyes. “Tell me about these lights,” he said gravely.
            “They weren’t very bright, but they were very colorful,” Lovisa explained. “There were about eight of them. They appeared on the road right in front of me, and I thought that they might be fairies or pixies, so I followed after them.”
            “What were the colors?” Ion inquired.
            “I remember that one was green,” said Lovisa, “another was red, and one was a beautiful turquoise blue…”
            ‘I have also seen these lights,” said Ion. “They appeared in the blackness that enveloped me when my head hit the ground, and they led me here.”
            “Are you sure that these were the same lights?” Lovisa asked, the rate of her voice quickening in excitement.
            “I am not,” said Ion, “but…there’s somebody approaching.” He moved to stand in front of Lovisa, who craned her neck to get a better look at the figure that was heading towards them. They wore a deep red hooded robe trimmed with golden threads, which completely obscured their features. A priest, thought Ion, or a mage. He maintained a tight grip on his lance. “Don’t move,” he warned Lovisa. The two of them stood their ground as the figure slowly approached them, kicking its long robes at the hem as it walked. It stopped at Ion and Lovisa’s feet and stood quietly, examining them behind its hood, and Lovisa instinctively took a step back. They could see the bottom half of a face the color of tea cream. Finally, the hood was removed to reveal a woman of about thirty, with hazel-colored hair tied in a braid around the crown of her head.
            “You are spirits?” the woman asked.
            “We are not,” replied Ion. “I am Ion of Lamorak.”
            “I am Lovisa,” Lovisa said, “of Eridell. And if we are spirits, we certainly don’t know it!”
            “Interesting,” the woman said, brushing the sleeve of her robe with her hand. “So this is not the spirit world?”
            “Not that we know of,” Lovisa answered, “but we are not sure exactly what this is, or where it is.”
            “How did you arrive here?” Ion asked. “And what is your name?”
            “Eluani,” the woman replied. “I was…” But she was interrupted by the sight of others emerging from the horizon, coming forth from the forest, scrambling over the field. There were five of them, and by the looks of them they were human, or at least humanlike. “Here, over here!” Ion called out to them, waving his hands. They paused and turned to look in his direction. Only one of them heeded his call without pause or hesitation, an autumn-haired young lady with long ears pointed like those of a storybook elf. Her long, fast legs carried her over the field as quickly as those of a running deer. After a period of indecision followed by assessment, the other four finally decided to follow after her, though they were unable to keep up with her pace. She reached Ion’s party several feet ahead of the others and took a moment to catch her breath. Her face was angelic and ethereal, the only genuine example of a perfect face that either of them had ever seen. Her clean creamy skin, willowy physique, and pointed ears suggested a member of the fair folk in every way. The girl was struck dumb, confusion and fear as plain as the nose on her face. Eluani nodded cordially and said, “Don’t be afraid. Speak. Tell us who you are.”
            Behind her, the others had caught up. They stood several paces behind the elven girl, gawking at their unexpected company, shifting around on their feet, and muttering to themselves. The girl quickly glanced at them before saying, “My name is Alicia. I am an Earth Sylph, from Clan Meadow-Vale of Areida.”
            “An Earth Sylph,” Lovisa said in awe. “I have only heard of the kind that live in the clouds and the skies, and even then, only in stories!”
            “How did you arrive here?” Ion asked.
            “I thought that I was answering the call of the Elementals,” Alicia explained. “In our lore, the Elementals of the Earth signal those that they mean to give their personal blessing, and this blessing can be anything; the ability to manipulate fire, the power to call upon the auras of the air, a simple perk such as fast feet or a quick-thinking mind. I was thrilled to have been selected, because it is an honor that most only ever dream of! I answered the call, following the signal until it faded away…but the Elementals did not appear! Instead, there were only these humans, and this woman who claims to be a fairy from the land of Arganell.”
            “I do not claim,” a woman behind her spoke out. “I am a fairy—a fairy of the twilight, to be precise—and I am from Arganell.” She was not an especially small woman, and she did not have wings, as might be expected of a typical fairy. But even in the sunlight, she glowed as if she were made of stars, and the effect contributed to an odd distortion in the air around her. She shifted uncomfortably, and now and again shot a disdainful look towards the sun that was as warm and intense as on any morning in midsummer.
            “Right, of course,” Alicia said abruptly. “I am sorry, Morgana! Anyhow, I asked where the Elementals might be, and if it was now their way to give blessings to others outside of the Earth Sylphs. They told me that they knew nothing about Elementals, and that they all had their own reasons for coming here. Like Morgana, for instance, told me that she had been enticed by the sight of a globe of colorful lights that had appeared in the night sky above her.” 
            “I thought that it might harbor some great power,” Morgana explained.
            “My horse was startled and bucked me off his back,” said a jet-haired young man in dirty cutoff jeans. “I was thrown down a ravine, and when I finally stopped tumbling and rolling I ended up here.”
            “Did you also see lights?” asked Ion.
            “My head was spinning too much for me to see anything,” the young man replied. “But I remember a sort of colorful dazzle in my eyes.”
            “I saw the lights,” said a man with a silver harp at his side. “They appeared to me suddenly while I was working on my melody. It’s a melody that I’ve played often enough, but this had never happened before! The lights appeared—I counted eight of them—and their glow seemed to resonate with the chords that I was playing. I played and I watched them until I fell into a sort of daze. When I was freed from my trance, I found myself in this lovely meadow.”
            “This cannot be a coincidence,” Eluani determined. “I’ve also seen these lights, in my scrying pool. There were eight lights, and at least most of us have seen them. There are eight of us, and all of us have been led here, to meet in the same place. It’s all too convenient for there not to be a purpose behind it. There is a reason for our being here. We’ve all been chosen for something, by someone.”
            “There’s no one around to have chosen us,” said the jet-haired young man.
            “No one that we can see,” Ion pointed out.
            “What if we were chosen for some nefarious purpose?” inquired an armored man with a rifle at his shoulder.
            “It’s too beautiful out here to be nefarious,” Lovisa said.
            “Never think that way,” the rifle-wielder said sternly. “It is how you get wrapped up in a false sense of security.”
            “What should we do?” asked Alicia. “I don’t feel entirely safe about just wandering this place.”
            “I will choose two of you to set out with me to survey the area,” said Ion. “The rest of you will stay here and remain together. If there are any threats, holler and do what you can to fight them off. Eluani, come with me.” He turned to the rifle-wielder. “I want you to come with me as well.”
            “Please be careful,” Lovisa said to Ion as Eluani and the rifle-wielder took their places at his side.
            “There is nothing out there that could pose a threat to me,” Ion assured her, patting her head.
            “If you don’t come back…” Lovisa began.
            “We will,” said Ion. His natural passion for the fight had returned to him, and the shame of his first defeat was already a distant memory. Whatever was out there, he would take it by storm. The rifle-wielder unstrapped the weapon from his back and checked it. Ion donned his helmet. The others, as instructed, stayed close to one-another, huddled together like campers around a fire. Only Morgana sat alone, wincing and grimacing at the touch of the sun’s rays. The rifle-wielder removed his shoulder pads and gauntlets in order to take off his uniform jacket and drape it around her.
            “Thank you,” she said dryly. Through the heather-colored jacket, a glowing aura could be seen.
To boost the company’s morale, the bard began to strum out a few chords, which evolved into a comforting melody. Lovisa watched Ion, Eluani, and the rifle-wielder as each step took them farther away, off into the unknown in search of who-knew-what. She shivered slightly with anxiety for the three and for the five camped out in this strange but beautiful meadow so far from their homes. She sat down beside the bard and hoped that the sound of his harp would drive away her unease.

The brightness of a golden morning made way for a warm and pleasant afternoon. The five could not be entirely sure of the time, but Rodin, the jet-haired boy, assured them that the position of the sun indicated that it was around one in the afternoon. Alicia danced to the rhythm of the upbeat jig that Sanjaia, the bard, played on his harp. Lovisa happily pranced around the meadow, plucking flowers to fashion into a nosegay. Her anxiety for Ion and his party had almost completely left her, though they still remained in her thoughts. She was in the process of arranging the daisies she had picked into a formation when she spotted the three making their way over the hill up ahead, Ion taking the lead with his helmeted head held high. “They’re back, everyone!” Lovisa cried, relieved to see that the three were safe. “Ion and the others are back! They’ve returned!”
“Finally,” said Morgana. Sanjaia ceased his harp playing and rose to his feet. The others watched as Ion and his party crested the hill and made their way across the field. By the looks of them, they had not run into any danger, though of course it is always difficult to tell by looks. Alicia was the first to greet them. “What did you find?” she asked excitedly. “Did you see anybody else? Did you find out where we are or why we’re here?”
Ion removed his helmet and took a seat on the grass. “First of all,” he began, “the forest that you see surrounding the fields can hardly be called a forest at all. It’s a small area of woodland that proved to be laughably easy to traverse. Troy, Eluani, and I expected a fight through thickets of brush and hanging vines and boots packed with mud. What we got was a rather leisurely trek through a grove of firs and shrubs, with the occasional wayward branch lying in our way—easily thrown aside. It was hardly any effort at all to make our way through to the other side, and when we did so we came upon a white dirt road. It looked as though someone had drawn a chalk line through the countryside, and there was no sign of civilization that we could see. We followed this road, and the thick white sand that it was made out of made for quite a difficult walk. Eluani was having an especially hard time of it in her flat shoes and long robes. I offered to carry her, but she would not allow it.  Troy offered her his shoulder, and she was agreeable to that.
“Eluani saw the castle before we did. She said that she could see, off in the distance, six white stone towers reaching up out of an otherwise unremarkable spot of country. Troy and I craned our necks, shaded our eyes, stood up on our toes, and did all that we could to see these towers for ourselves. But we saw nothing of the sort, either close by or in the distance. I suppose that Troy feared that dehydration was making her delirious, and he offered her a sip from his water canteen. But she rejected it and insisted that she felt fine. We figured that she had been telling a story, perhaps in an attempt to keep up our spirits on such a long and dreary walk. We did not say anything more about it.”
“But I wasn’t telling stories,” Eluani said, flashing him a cheeky grin, “was I, Ion?”
“Indeed, you were not,” said Ion with a good-natured smile. “After we had walked ahead for about a mile, maybe two, we found Eluani’s towers. There they were, the six of them rising up out of a little grove of fir trees. We realized then that Eluani has a gift of clairvoyance, of future sight.”
“And I don’t suppose a castle was very helpful to you,” said Morgana. “They never are.”
“For your information, my lady, we were not able to reach the castle.” Ion was stung by Morgana’s generalization. His own castle always did all that they could to help vagrants, wanderers, and travelers who had lost their way. “It was much too far off,” he went on. “To travel there would have taken up the rest of the day, and possibly a substantial amount of the night after that.”
 “I’m glad that you decided to return to us instead!” said Lovisa.
“I figured that we can camp out here for the remaining hours of the day,” concluded Ion, “and then early tomorrow morning, the eight of us will set out for the castle together. Even if those at the castle prove to be unhelpful, there is likely to be a city or a village nearby.”
“Let me speak to those at the castle,” said Alicia. “I’m the princess of Clan Meadow-Vale, and I’ll tell them that I’m there on behalf of my clan and that you are my company.”
“You are a princess!” Ion exclaimed. “My apologies, your grace, but I couldn’t have known!” He knelt down beside her and bowed his head, and Alicia was taken aback by his sudden formality. “There is nothing to apologize for!” she assured him. The Earth Sylphs’ troops did not behave in such a manner. She was their equal, and they would never kneel or submit to her.
“And what are you people going to eat?” Morgana asked. “I don’t suppose that you humans can get by off of light in the way that I can, and I don’t suppose that anyone thought to bring food with them on their unexpected trip to who-knows-where.”
“I just have a sandwich, an apple, and a bottle of water in my bag,” said Rodin. “I’m not sure how well I can split those among eight people.”
“Seven,” Morgana corrected him.
“I can manage off of foliage from the trees,” said Alicia, “but I don’t suppose it’s the same for humans. If we look through the woods, though, we might find some fruits to eat.”
“I’ve brought a few rations with me,” said Troy, opening up a pouch on his belt and producing some dried fruits and thin slabs of meat. “But since I’m the only one with a gun, I’ll go out hunting.”
Everybody had something to do. Eluani and Rodin calculated the number of people that Rodin and Troy’s rations could be split between. They determined that the sandwich could be portioned for four people and the apple could be cut in half. The water bottle was large enough to be passed to everybody at least once, so long as everybody took their fair share. The dried fruits and the slabs of meat could go to two each. The others, with the exception of Morgana, had gone out into the woods to hunt and gather. Lovisa and Alicia were frequently startled by the sound of Troy’s rifle.  Morgana assigned herself the task of making a cooking fire, a task that she insisted she could do without anybody’s help. The sparks that emanated from her fingers had startled everyone else and enchanted Rodin, who sat down beside her to watch her at work.
“Focus on your own tasks, boy,” Morgana said coldly.
“I’m sorry,” said Rodin, a bit taken aback by being spoken to in such a way. “It’s just that I have waited my entire life to see a fairy. My city of Shalorre glorifies the fairies and their magic, but to actually see one…well, most have never had the opportunity!”
“I suppose that the human existence is so dull,” was Morgana’s callous reply, “that they will place anything outside of their norm on a pedestal to be glorified.”
Rodin supposed that the fairy woman was still upset by her sudden displacement so far from her home. He left her to her work.

        Sandwich fragments, apple halves, and dried fruit were only a fraction of the dinner that was shared by seven of the eight that evening. Troy had managed to bring down a fat wild pig which had enough meat to go around. In addition to the foliage that she had gathered for herself, Alicia had used a makeshift harpoon fashioned out of a branch to catch fish from a stream. Lovisa and Sanjaia found and nearly cleared out a thicket full of ripe wild strawberries and blackberries. They had expected meager rations and been presented with a feast, and it made them lively and merry and prone to cheerful conversation, and even bouts of song and dance courtesy of the bard. Even Morgana, lying stretched out in a spot where the starlight easily reached her, was in good enough spirits to sing. The cacophony of chatter and song was interrupted by the clear, bell-like, ethereal voice that resonated so loudly above it. They could not understand the words that she was singing, but the sound was something pure and magical and it placed the seven of them under a sort of spell. Ion and Troy were reminded of the angels in heaven that they had learned about from priests and churches. Alicia thought of the sounds of the wind, the streams, the birds calling from their treetop perches, and the angelic-faced nymphs that co-existed so peacefully with the Earth Sylphs. Rodin’s mind was filled with fairy stories, fairy magic, and the fairylands that were rumored to be hidden within Shalorre and its surrounding cities. Here was a girl from one of those fairylands, lying on the grass right there in front of him and singing for all she was worth. 

Monday, June 1, 2015

Roses, Dragons, and Wonderland (Once Upon a Time in the Fairytale Forest)

The sun is up, and it’s so bright today that even my Rose Dragon’s big wings can’t shut it out. Her wings are just like rose petals: soft, red, silky, and very, very pretty. I open my eyes and I kiss my dragon’s wing. That’s how she knows I’m awake. She folds her wing up and looks down at me with her great big eyes, which are green and glittery just like her scales. “Good morning, darling,” she says, and kisses me back.
The Rose Dragon is my mother. I used to have a human mother, and a human father, too. But they died. Another car was going too fast and hit their car too hard, and they died. I don’t like to think about it, because I cry whenever I do. I think about how I wish that they had never gone out that night, because then the fast car wouldn’t have hit their car, and they wouldn’t have died. But it’s too late now. I love my Rose Dragon, but I love my mother and father too. I miss them.
There are no cars here in Wonderland, and I’m glad, because cars scare me. Wonderland is where I met the Rose Dragon, and now I live here. When I was really little, like five years old, I fell in a big hole in the ground while I was playing outside. The Rose Dragon caught me, and I was crying, so she kissed me and patted me and told me that I would be all right. When I stopped crying, I hugged her and I told her that she was a very kind dragon. That’s how we met.
The Rose Dragon introduced me to Wonderland on that day, and it really is a wonderful land. There are gardens with flowers as big as mountains and mushrooms as tall as trees. There are birds that talk and butterflies that sing and recite poetry. The Rose Dragon comes from a rose forest where all of the animals are rosy just like her. There’s a pretty white castle made of pearls, sitting in a garden full of white roses and white daisies and shiny white roads. Blanc, the queen of Wonderland, lives there. She’s our friend, and she lets us visit her castle whenever we want to.
Today I am going there to meet my friend Usagi for a game of croquet. I’ve never played croquet before, but Usagi is going to teach me. My dragon makes me some sweet flour pancakes for breakfast. We bathe in the pretty brook that runs through the rose forest. I dress myself and she combs my hair gently with her claws. Then I climb up on her back and I hold on tightly as we lift up into the sky.

Usagi is waiting for us in Queen Blanc’s great big yard. She looks at her pocketwatch, and I hope we’re not late, because Usagi cannot abide lateness. But when we land, she smiles at us and curtsies. “Good morning, dear Aliss,” she says to me. “Good morning, dear Rose Dragon,” she says to my dragon. “Good morning, dear Usagi,” I say. I curtsy too, and my dragon bows her head most respectfully.
Usagi hands me a funny looking hammer that’s almost as tall as I am. “What’s this silly hammer for?” I ask her. “It isn’t a hammer,” Usagi says. “It’s a croquet mallet.”
“So you hit croquets with it?” I ask her.
“I don’t think so,” she says. She shakes her head, and her big white bunny ears bounce all around. “I don’t have any croquets, only balls and hurdles. Do you play croquet with croquets?”
“You know I’ve never played croquet before!” I remind her.
“Well, then you just hit the balls through the hurdles with the mallet,” says Usagi. She demonstrates, but instead of hitting the little red ball, she only gives it a light little push. “You’re doing it wrong, Usagi!” I tell her.
“No, I’m not!” Usagi says. “This is how you’re supposed to play!”
“You told me you’re supposed to hit the balls with the mallet,” I say. “You didn’t hit it, you just pushed it.”
            “Oh! Well, forgive me,” says Usagi. “This is the way I’ve always played, and I’m accustomed to it. Maybe it’s because I’ve only played with balls and not croquets. Do you think that you can show me the right way?”
            “I only know what you told me, Usagi,” I tell her, “but I can certainly try.” I walk up to a little yellow ball. I swing the mallet with all my might and give the ball a mighty hit.
It flies through the air and strikes a hurdle so hard that the hurdle falls right to the ground!
“Oh! I did it! Did you see that, dragon? I hit it so hard that I knocked the hurdle down! Did you see that?” I squeal and bounce and dance and laugh in celebration of my victory!
            “I saw,” says the dragon, and she nuzzles my face. “Good girl.” Usagi pats me on my head. “Aliss,” she says, “I’ve played croquet for a long, long time and I have never seen anybody play as beautifully or as interestingly as you.”
            “You flatter me, Miss,” I say as I take my bow.

            Queen Blanc has invited us to tea today. It isn’t really tea, because I don’t like tea. It’s hot chocolate. Usagi likes tea and she drinks it all the time with her pinky sticking up. She said that’s what you’re supposed to do when you’re drinking tea with a queen. But Queen Blanc doesn’t mind when I forget.
            The Rose Dragon doesn’t like tea either. She likes water, like roses. At tea, Queen Blanc fills up a little pond full of nice clean water for my dragon, right next to the tea table. She pulls out a chair for me and a chair for Usagi, and we curtsy before we sit down, like dutiful guests should.
            We have to wait for Queen Blanc to take her first sip of tea before we can start; the Rose Dragon says that it’s good manners and it’s respectful. She sips her tea and smiles at us over the glass, letting us know that it’s okay for us to eat and drink now. But just as I’m about to sip my chocolate, a little bread-and-butter-fly lands on my glass, and I’m so startled that I nearly drop it! I watch the little thing move its golden wings back and forth, back and forth. Then it takes off, and I jump up to run after it, but I quickly catch myself. I turn to Queen Blanc, nod my head, and say, “Excuse me, your majesty.”
            “Go on ahead,” says Queen Blanc with a smile, so I take off after that bread-and-butter-fly, following wherever its buttery wings take it. It lands on a big white rose and I stop and watch it flap, then it takes off again and I run after it. It leads me through hedges of red and white roses, past the yard where Usagi and I played our game of croquet, and around to the front of the castle. The guards are standing all in a row, with their heads held up high, and I am careful not to run into any of them. I follow the bread-and-butter-fly all the way to the castle gate, where it lands and flaps its golden wings some more. I stand up on my tippy-toes and reach out to catch it, but just as I’m about to close my hand over it, it flies away and over the gate. I am not allowed to go outside the gate without anyone knowing.
            How disappointing! Sighing, I go back to the tea table. The tea goes on as planned, without any more interruptions. 

            The Rose Dragon has promised that after tea I may visit the Butterfly, one of my very best friends in all of Wonderland. On our way to the Butterfly’s grove, we pass by a little conference of colorful birds, talking all at once about some dreadfully boring thing. These birds meet here every week to discuss what they call “a matter of utmost importance,” but the Rose Dragon and I can never make out just what is so important about it. They call themselves the Order of the Red Feather because each one of them has at least one red feather, though many of them have more than one.
            “Hello, ladies,” I say, nodding my head to them, “hello, gentlemen.”
            “Good afternoon, Aliss,” says the leader of the order, a scarlet macaw. “Good afternoon, Rose Dragon.”
            “Good afternoon,” says the Rose Dragon. “Are there any interesting topics of discussion for today?” I know she is only asking this to be polite, for their topics of discussions are rarely very interesting.
            “Indeed, there are,” says the scarlet macaw. “This afternoon, we are discussing the budding political alliance between the Lizotho lizards and the parrots of the Isla de Parrot (pronounced “par-ro”).”
            “That’s very nice,” the Rose Dragon says quickly. “I bid that it goes well. Right now, I am taking little Aliss to visit her friend the Butterfly.”
            “Oh, the Butterfly!” says a colorful lady-lorikeet. “What a character he is!”
            “Yes, he is quite a character,” I say. “Goodbye, now, and enjoy your discussion.”
            “Goodbye, Aliss, goodbye, Rose Dragon!” they all chirp as we walk away. They may be boring, but they are very nice birds.
            The Rose Dragon lets me ride on her back on the way to the Butterfly’s grove. The Butterfly’s grove is filled with colorful flowers the size of houses and big, red mushrooms the size of trees. The Butterfly himself is taller than I am, though only slightly. He was a caterpillar when we met a long, long time ago, and when he became a butterfly his big bug eyes scared me at first. But now I think that they are beautiful, just like the rest of him.
            “Hello, dear Butterfly!” I wrap my arms around him and kiss his pretty wings. He wraps his wings around me and nuzzles me with his long, curly nose, which he calls a “proboscis.” Then he flutters up on to the top of his favorite mushroom (the one he was born under and the one he transformed under). I do my best to climb up there with him, holding on to one of his long, gangly legs when I slip. Finally, I swing my legs over the mushroom cap and crawl over to where he is so daintily balancing on his legs. He folds his arms and asks, “What poetry do you have to recite for me today?”
            Uh-oh! I don’t have any poetry to recite for him today. The Butterfly loves poetry, so on most days I make it a point to learn a new poem for him for our visits. But today it’s slipped my mind, so I try to remember one that the Rose Dragon likes to say to me before I fall asleep:

Hush now, my baby!
The night is beyond us
And the black waters sparkle so green.
The moon and the waters look down to find us
In the holes all inbetween.
Where pillow meets pillow, there is the soft pillow;
A weary wee flipper curls at the knees!
The storm will not wake you, the sharks will not ache you
As you sleep in the waves of the seas.”

            The Butterfly listens quietly, looking very thoughtful with his head propped up on his arm. But when I finish, he says, “That isn’t right.”
            “Oh, it isn’t?” I say. “I’m very sorry. I tried.”
            “That is Kipling’s ‘Seal Lullabye,’ correct?” asks the Butterfly.
            “I think that’s what it’s called,” I say.
            “That isn’t how it goes,” says the Butterfly, shaking his head.
            “I’m sorry,” I say again. “I really didn’t have a poem to recite today, so I tried to remember one. But I guess I couldn’t remember it very well.”
            “You certainly could not,” says the Butterfly. “But I trust that you will have it memorized the next time you come to visit me.”
            “Oh, I will!” I say, glad that he isn’t upset with me for messing it up. The Butterfly is very serious, and he can be very cold, but he is still a very dear friend.
            And he is still quite a character!

            “Aliss, it’s time to come down from there.”
            I had hoped that the Rose Dragon would let me sleep in one of the rose trees tonight. “When will I get to sleep in a rose tree?” I ask as she lifts me down. “I think you’re much safer on the ground, my dear,” she says, giving me a kiss. “Now go wash up and get ready for bed now.”
            From my bathing brook, I watch the pretty stars twinkling all over the night sky. The moon isn’t out yet, but when it does come out the rose trees will look just lovely in its light. I put on my nightgown and rush over to my dragon’s side, crawling under her rosy wing. She places a rose at my head and a rose on each side of me, so that the fragrance may give me sweet dreams tonight.
            “Which poem would you like to hear tonight?” she asks me.
            “Please tell me the seal one again,” I say, “so I can remember it for the Butterfly.”
            As I listen to her gentle voice go on about sparkling green waters and the moon looking downward to find us, I wonder what we will get to do tomorrow. Maybe I will visit the dormouse, who lives in a hole taller than I am in the side of a house even taller than my dragon. Perhaps we’ll visit the seashore and play with the gold fish, whose scales are really gold. Or maybe we’ll stay in the rose garden and climb to the very tops of all of the rose trees, and I will finally get to sleep in one that night. There are always so many amazing adventures to have in Wonderland that I would never be able to have in my old home. I miss my old home, but I will never miss the boring afternoons.
            “Asleep in the storm of the slow-swinging seas,” finishes the Rose Dragon.
            “I love you,” I tell her as I snuggle under her soft, rosy wings.
            “I love you too,” she says, and she nuzzles my face. “Goodnight, my Aliss.”