Thursday, July 30, 2015

Into the Land of the Elves: Number Six

The Diary of Miss Aidyn Hall, human by blood only
August 11
4:42 PM

Number Six

             I understand. I understand why the Jadeites and the tree elves hate humans; pushy, demanding, overbearing, impulsive, obnoxious, entitled humans. I have no doubt that it was the humans who provoked the animosity. Humans provoke everybody and everything. It’s all that they know how to do. They strong-arm their way into where they’re not wanted or welcome. They are mindless pack animals of the highest degree, and anything out of the ordinary that goes against the pack is cause for endless scrutiny and absolutely no respect or privacy. Nobody is allowed to have secrets among humans, unless those secrets are approved. Nobody is allowed to have a personal life, unless that personal life is approved. Nothing is left alone and everything is there to be disturbed. Meanwhile, the Jadeites just go with the flow, perfectly content to leave anything alone that does not pose a threat. They never feel the need to impede upon others’ lives, and have the ability to show that they care for others without scrutinizing them like a bug under a microscope. That being said, there’s a point when “caring about someone” becomes more about appeasing the feelings of the “carer” than about the well-being of the person they claim to care about. That’s never a problem with the Jadeites, but among the humans it is far more common than it should be.
            The Jadeites are naturally inquisitive, and yet they never feel the need to know everything. They know that it’s better to leave something alone than to upset it and yourself in an attempt to know everything there is to know about it. Not everything needs to be known, everything has its secrets, and the Jadeites understand that it’s not necessarily your place to uncover those secrets in the name of knowledge. When does the pursuit of knowledge become less about the information and more about what you gain from it? I know that when I discovered the Greenwood and the Jadeites, my desire to learn everything about them was entirely based around personal gain. Of course, the genuine curiosity was there, but for the most part I just wanted the information necessary to publish my great novel. It wasn’t until I abandoned these prospects and focused all of my time with the Jadeites on just being a friend that they actually began to accept me. Of course they didn’t trust me, an outsider who was forever jotting everything down in a notepad, poking her nose into everything and trying way too hard to see too much. It even got to the point where I was stealing from them just to find things out that I wasn’t meant to find out in the first place!
            That’s the way humans are, I realize now. They are inherently self-absorbed creatures that think it is their god-given right to push their way into anything they want to, even if it means disrupting the peaceful lives of others. They may call eachother friends, they may claim to care about eachother, but in a way even their friendship is tainted with selfishness.
            Apple Blossom and I were playing tag near the magnolia archway, and I still don’t know who had the greater advantage there; my legs were longer and could work like springs if I really wanted them to, but Apple Blossom maintained her usual fox-like swiftness. In the end, I think we may have had an equal advantage as well as equal difficulty in trying to keep up with one-another. Apple Blossom had tagged me as I was attempting a flying sprint through some huckleberry bushes, and she darted off as quickly as she had shown up. I did my best to follow after her, pumping my legs as fast as I could. “I’m gonna get you, you little fox!” I said in the voice of a crooked old witch, and her giggling gave away her location just as I had planned.
            We made our way through a grove of boxy cedar trees, when all of a sudden she halted in her tracks as if an actual witch had hit her with a petrifying spell. “What is it?” I said, slowing down to a jog as I caught up with her. “Apple Blossom, are you okay?” I laid my hand on her shoulder and felt her trembling. Something was rustling around at the magnolia archway, and I followed her terrified eyes to see what it was.
            It was Katie! Katie was right there, ducking her head under the guardians’ webs and even picking them aside with her fingers as if she had any right to! “Get behind me, Apple Blossom,” I said urgently, but by then she had already scurried behind one of the cedars like a frightened rabbit. I looked around for the taggers, but if there were any around, I couldn’t see them. A guardian must have jumped at Katie, as she shrieked and frantically beat at her arm and shoulder. “Get off, get off!” she hollered, and nearly tripped over a fallen branch in her desperate attempt to shake off the spider. She was a total wreck, and I knew I had to do something about her before she got hurt or alerted any other Jadeites to her presence. I darted over to the Grand Elder Guardian’s lowered web and called out, “Katie!”
            She spun around abruptly, and without thinking about it I crawled under the Grand Elder Guardian’s web and searched the ground for the spider. If Katie had killed a guardian of the Greenwood, she was going to be in the deepest trouble of her life. Thankfully, I found it rapidly crawling away from her foot and I scooped it up. “What in the world are you doing, Aidyn?” Katie asked as I examined the spider for injuries and gently set it back on the branch of its magnolia tree. “Are you trying to be a spider whisperer now?”
            I whirled on her. “I thought I told you not to come looking for me, fool!”
            “That’s exactly the kind of thing you say when I should come looking for you!” Katie insisted.
            I was about to fire off something absolutely filled to the brim with curse words, when I heard the rustling of a cedar tree and I turned around to see Apple Blossom crawling out from her hiding spot. My heart stopped. In that moment, I hoped that I had spontaneously developed telepathic powers. Go away, Apple Blossom! I willed with my mind. Please go away! But there she was. Katie was looking right at her, and she was looking right back. She took a few steps forward and peered through the threads of the Grand Elder Guardian’s web. “Do…do you…know Aidyn?” she asked in a shaky little voice.  
            Instead of answering her, Katie turned to me. “Aidyn, who in the world is that?” I wanted to push her away, but I knew that wouldn’t get anything done. She’d just push back, and right now she was getting dangerously close to the web of another guardian, all set and ready to tear it down. “She’s an elf, Katie!” I said abruptly.
            “You’re lying,” she hastily retorted. “Who is it really?”
            “Katie, she’s a freaking elf!” I rubbed my temple with the tips of my fingers. “What else would she be?! Do you think this is an elaborate prank or something? You think I just dressed up some random little girl, took her out into the woods, and planted her here on the off chance that you would come out here and find us? Look at her, Katie, does she look entirely human to you?!”
            “But there aren’t any elves!” Katie insisted. My god, how could anybody be that stupid? “Katie, you’re looking at one!” I said, raising my voice in total exasperation. “There’s…” But I was interrupted. Something zoomed past me, making a “whoosh” in the air as it ran by. I looked up, and all I saw was a blur that darted past Katie and disappeared almost as soon as I had laid eyes on it. Katie yelped and lost her balance on her right foot, and I reached out to hold and steady her. Apple Blossom’s eyes were fixed in the direction in which the thing had run off. “Something just pulled at me!” Katie cried. “It grabbed at my pants leg and pulled my ankle!”
            “Roll up your jeans,” I instructed her.
            “Aidyn, this is crazy!” she complained, but she followed the instruction anyway. “Oh, there’s something stuck to me!” Reaching into the fold of her jeans leg with two fingers, she pulled out a round, flat green jade stone. For the second time that day, my heart stopped. I looked to Apple Blossom, and her eyes were as wide as an owl’s.
            “What is this thing?” Katie looked at the jade as if it were so much more than a jade. The jade was carved with a few scribbly lines, just like my own, and I didn’t have to know the language to know what they meant: the number six. Katie was the sixth human to come by the Greenwood, the sixth human to be tagged.
            “Katie,” I said with all of the urgency I could manage, “just forget about it! Don’t worry about what it is, all right? Get rid of it, and most importantly do not come back here! You can’t come back here! They don’t like having humans around!”
            “But you’re…” Katie began, and I held up my hand to stop her. “I’m different, Katie!” I told her. “It’s different for me! It’s not going to be different for you! Please just stay away!”
            “But how can I stay away?” Katie asked, looking upon the little tag with a curiosity that infuriated me. Would nothing I said penetrate her thick skull? Was she going to assert her ability to meddle around where she wasn’t welcome no matter what I told her? She had no right, and I was one hundred and ten percent done with her. I grabbed her by both arms, and she yelped. “Aidyn, what the hell are you doing?!” I gave her a hard shove that sent her stumbling backwards and tripping over herself in a desperate attempt to regain her footing. Apple Blossom shrieked, and I must say that until then I had forgotten she was even watching. “Get out of here, Katie,” I said, and for a second I was horrified by the sound of my own voice. I had no idea that I could sound so wrathful. Katie took a few steps back before stopping in her tracks, looking at me like a child who had suddenly and unexpectedly been spanked. “Aidyn, what is going on with you? Why are…”
            “I said GET OUT!” I charged her like an irate moose, and she ran off, spouting off obscenities that turned to unintelligible hollers in the distance. Apple Blossom began to sob, then, and my fury melted away as I ran to her side to comfort her. “It’s all right, sweetheart,” I said as I held her and stroked her hair. “Don’t cry, dear. Everything’s okay now.” But I felt like crying myself, because I knew that everything was not going to be okay. Katie isn’t going to stay away. She will be back and she won’t care about all of the trouble she will be causing, because that’s the way she is. That’s the way that humans are.
            I hate them too. 


Wednesday, July 8, 2015

The Knights of the Jewel: Princess Cordelia and the Jewel

            Troy was the first to awaken that morning. It was early enough that the sun was only a sliver of gold on the smoky horizon, and yet late enough that it could be seen at all. The others were still asleep, stretched out as comfortably as they could manage in the soft patches of grass. Troy was dismayed to notice that grass stains and streaks of dirt had appeared on Lovisa’s white gown.
            There was nothing to do but wander. Perhaps venturing out into the woods would yield him a deer or another wild pig for the company’s breakfast. He took up his rifle and stepped quietly around the sleeping forms of his new comrades, while at the same time he was stung by the thoughts of his old comrades, who he had left behind with no explanation. What would they make of his sudden disappearance? Would he be accused of desertion? A chill ran through his body at the thought, and though he tried to push it away, it would not leave his mind once it had made its way in.
            The woods were as still and quiet as if they, also, were still asleep. Troy toyed with the idea of returning to the clearing where he shot the pig the night before, but decided that with the woods in such a state of inactivity it would be more likely for him to catch fish in the way that Alicia had. When he reached the stream, he was taken aback by the sight of a woman lying stretched out along the bank. Her silver diadem and the showy jewel that she wore at her neck indicated that she was wealthy, but she wore an outfit as simple and practical as any woodsman’s. She looked so peaceful and content in her sleep that Troy decided to leave her to it as he searched the ground for a suitable branch to fashion into a spear. Still, he wondered why she was sleeping out here in the woods. Had she come out for a stroll and lost her way? Had she ventured out here for the sole purpose of falling asleep beside the stream? Or had she, like himself and his company, been led out here from another world by those mysterious lights? As this latter possibility registered in Troy’s mind as the most likely, he knelt down beside the woman and shook her gently. “Miss?”
            The woman didn’t stir. He shook her again, more firmly this time. “Are you all right, Miss?” As she began to awaken, he wondered what she would think when she saw his rifle, and thought for a moment of taking it off. But there was nowhere to lay it where she wouldn’t see it. As she opened one eye, he said abruptly, “I’m not going to hurt you, Miss. I was just wondering if you’re all right.” She opened her other eye, rubbed the dust out of both, and rolled over to look at him. For a few moments, she just stared at him as if trying to register his facial features. Finally, she smiled at him, and Troy suddenly had the idea that this had been planned, that she had been waiting here for him. He wasn’t sure how to feel about that.
            “So you have arrived!” said the woman, confirming Troy’s speculation. “But where are the others? Were there others with you?”
            “Well, yes,” said Troy, “there are others. They’re all asleep back at the camp we made.”
            The woman held out her hand for him. “Take me to them,” she said.
            “First, I want you to tell me who you are,” said Troy.
            “Princess Cordelia,” she told him, “of Rasta. I’ve called the eight of you here to my land because you are meant to protect and defend its most precious artifact. You are meant to become Rasta’s Knights of the Jewel.”
            “You called us here?” Troy asked.
            The princess took hold of the jewel she wore at her neck and held it up for him to see. There, reflected in the brilliant, trillion-cut stone were all eight of the colors of the lights that had guided Troy and the others here: red, blue, green, orange, pink, purple, turquoise blue, and shining onyx black. They were eight colors, in a single stone, that otherwise never would have gone together. But in this stone, they blended in with one-another so naturally that they came close to forming an entirely new hue. Troy had to blink to adjust his eyes to the effect, which was oddly disorienting in that his eyes had never beheld anything like it before. When he regained his senses, he finally said, “They were your lights?”
            “They are Rasta’s lights,” said the princess, “Rasta’s colors.”
            Troy took the princess’ hand and helped her to her feet. She dusted herself off and he patted the dirt off of her leaf-colored flannel. “Follow me,” he instructed, and the two of them headed back towards the meadow where Troy’s seven comrades were surely still asleep. “By the way,” he said, “I’m…”
            “Troy Conrad,” Cordelia cut in. “You are Troy Conrad, a lieutenant in the Arcadian military.” She smiled good-naturedly when she took note of the astonishment on his face. “I know all of the Knights of the Jewel, Troy, and I trust that they have been chosen well.”
            “So we are meant to be knights,” said Troy. “But why did you choose us? Not everybody has a warrior’s background. I mean, there’s a guy who plays the harp, and a young girl who I’m sure has never had any fighting experience.”
 “That does not trouble me,” Cordelia assured him, “for not everyone can be a warrior. But certain attributes have been identified in each one of you that make you desirable protectors. A warrior’s spirit and prowess in combat are not the only qualities that make up a knight.”
            “I understand that,” said Troy with a slight nod. “I just hope that you know what you’re doing, and that the others are as cut out for it as you think they are.”
            “I have no doubt about it,” Cordelia said knowingly.

            Eluani was awoken by a vision—not a dream, she was certain, but a real vision. A woman was standing in the meadow just a few steps ahead of the camp, looking at her with a smile that was warm and friendly, yet somehow secretive. She wore a starry silver diadem that a princess might have worn back in the days when the world had a need for princesses. Her well-tended hair was kept in a braid trimmed with gold and silver ribbons, her face was clean and smooth and seemed to glow in the starlight that hit her, and at her neck was a golden necklace that contained a spectacular gemstone. This gemstone gave off a bright glare that caught Eluani’s attention above all else, and when she looked into the gem and saw the eight colors in the light it gave off—the eight colors that had appeared in her scrying pool before she had been spirited away to this world—she woke up with a start. She sat up, passing a hand over her tired eyes. The others were still asleep, some peacefully and some noisily, but Troy was gone. Eluani’s first instinct was to wander off in search of him, but as quickly as this came to mind, she knew that it would not be necessary. Troy would return, emerging from the woods to the northeast of the camp. But he would have somebody with him, and Eluani could not determine who it was. All she could do was watch and wait.
            Troy emerged from the woods, leading a woman by the hand, and the two of them were making their way towards the camp. Eluani saw this before it happened, and when it did happen she let out a gasp when she saw that he was leading the woman from her vision. Her surprise quickly turned to understanding; he needed to find this woman. He was meant to, for she knew something that they did not know and that they needed to. It had been apparent in her eyes and in that secretive little smile. Eluani stood up in order to call Troy’s attention. He looked to her and waved his hand. Eluani wondered if she ought to wake the others, but she decided to wait and see what Troy and the mysterious woman had to say.
            When she and Troy reached the camp, Cordelia smiled in much the same way she had in the vision. “Hello, Eluani,” she said, and when Eluani’s eyes widened, she went on, “Eluani Adash, of Calner’s House of Sight.”
            “Another clairvoyant,” Eluani determined, but Cordelia shook her head. “I am no clairvoyant,” she said, “but I know exactly who you are, for you have been personally chosen to protect and defend the pride of my land of Rasta.”
            “Have I, now?” Eluani said thoughtfully. “And is that true for all of us?”
            “It is,” said Cordelia with a nod, and then she took hold of the jewel at her neck and held it up for Eluani to see. There were the eight colors that had appeared in the inky waters of the scrying pool, and in her vision. Eluani knew then, and she gave Cordelia a nod. “I’ll wake the others,” she said.
            “There’s no need,” said Cordelia. “Let them rest. They will need it. The two of you ought to rest as well.”
            “And what will you do?” Troy asked.
            “I will wait,” was Cordelia’s cryptic answer.

            Alicia awoke to a fresh dawn sky streaked with orange, gold, and rose. She sighed happily at the sight and rolled over, brushing blades of grass and fallen leaves out of her hair. The others were still asleep, and she felt that now would be a reasonable time to wake them. She chuckled at the sight of Sanjaia sleeping beside her with his arms wrapped around his harp, holding it to his bosom as if it was a favorite stuffed toy. Quietly, she crept over to him and gave his shoulder a gentle shake. “Sanjaia,” she called with her voice barely above a whisper. “Wake up, Sanjaia!”
            Out of the corner of her eye, Alicia saw that there was someone awake and sitting up. Turning to look, she saw that it was not a member of her company at all. It was a woman, wearing a silver crown with a green flannel shirt and brown cotton pants. How strange, Alicia thought, to wear a crown with plain clothes. Her own crown was reserved for formal events or public affairs, where it served to properly designate her as the princess. The woman watched the sky as if the visuals of the sunrise enchanted her. She must be from the castle that they saw yesterday, Alicia determined as she slowly approached the woman. She stopped a few paces away from her, momentarily silenced by the shyness that so often got the best of her. Just as she was about to say hello, the woman gave her a welcoming smile and said, “Hello, Alicia!”
            “Oh!” Alicia abruptly stepped back and nearly tripped over her own feet.  The woman’s eyes indicated her amusement at such a reaction. “I am Princess Cordelia of this good land of Rasta,” she said, “and you are Princess Alicia of the Earth Sylphs’ Clan Meadow-Vale, hailing from the land of Areida.” 
            This must be a dream, was Alicia’s first thought. Then she said, “Yes, I am. It’s a pleasure to meet with you, Cordelia.” The custom for meeting with the royal figures of other lands was to extend a branch of holly or laurel, a symbol of welcome and cordiality. Since there were no shrubs of holly or laurel available, Alicia hoped that a stalk of asphodel would be a viable substitute. Cordelia unhesitatingly accepted it.
            “What have you come to see me for?” Alicia asked.
            “Before I tell you,” said Cordelia urgently, “I need you to wake the others. They must hear this too.”
            “Of course,” said Alicia. “I was just about to wake them anyhow. If you will give me a few moments…”
            Cordelia stroked the petals of the asphodel and waited patiently as Alicia roused the members of her company one-by-one, and they all awoke with varying degrees of willingness. Alicia began to suspect that this was not a dream at all, and she mentally debated the plausibility of waking others up in a dream. When Eluani was roused, Alicia was astonished to hear her say, “Hello again, Cordelia, and a good morning to you.”
            “You know her!” Alicia exclaimed.
            “We had a bit of an early-morning meeting,” Eluani told her.
            “And I’ve known her even longer,” said Troy, “at least forty-five minutes longer than she has.”
            Morgana was the last to be roused. “Get away from me,” she growled in response to Alicia’s gentle coaxing. “I’m not moving.”
            “But there is someone here who wishes to speak with all of us,” said Alicia, “and it would be awfully rude not to allow her that.”  
            “She can come back at a better hour,” said Morgana.  “Otherwise, she can leave me alone and so can you.”
            “It’s disgraceful to speak to a princess in such a way!” said Ion, raising his voice. “So I suggest that you clean up your manners before I am forced to intervene!”   
            “I dare you to come near me,” Morgana snapped, rolling over and covering her face with her arm. Ion began to advance on her, but Cordelia tapped his shoulder and said, “Please don’t, I will handle her.”
            “She is out of line and she must be put in her place!” said Ion, but Cordelia ignored him. She knelt down beside Morgana and said very softly, “You don’t need to get up, Morgana. You only need to listen.” Morgana responded with a growl.
            “She will not behave respectably unless you give her an incentive to do so!” Ion insisted.
            “But we don’t want to make any trouble, either!” said Lovisa.
            Cordelia dismissed the interruption. “Morgana,” she said, “listen carefully. In fact, I want all of you to listen to what I am about to say. You are all here in Rasta because I sent for you. I sent for you on behalf of the Jewel, our greatest treasure and our pride.
“For centuries, the Jewel has served as the provider and the guiding force of our land. It was given as a gift to Rasta’s first king by Aliandra, the queen of the fairies. It is an otherworldly thing, imbued with powerful magic from those fairy realms, and by the era of Rasta’s third king this magic had been identified as the source of Rasta’s ceaseless fortune and prosperity. The Jewel is a living thing, and it is the true guardian of Rasta; kings and queens are only figureheads. The Jewel shapes the land and ensures that the weather conditions are always ideal for a bountiful crop season. It gives the warriors of Rasta the strength and the willpower to fight, and the unlucky few who have challenged these warriors were quick to discover that they are unmatched in their prowess and ferocity.”
            They ought to tangle with the Knights of Lamorak, thought Ion.
            “The Jewel speaks,” Cordelia went on, “and for centuries it has whispered the hidden answers and secrets of this life to our thinkers and philosophers, who have all gone on to publish books and essays in hopes of sharing this knowledge with others who have searched for it. That being said, the education system in Rasta is known for producing the finest scholars that have ever walked this world. Those who opted to pursue the arts of enchantment and healing have discovered magic within the Jewel that they were able to tap into and harness, and so hundreds of mages, clerics, healers, and wizards from surrounding lands have come into Rasta to reap the benefits of this magic. They returned home as sorceresses, grand wizards, and healing priests of the highest caliber.”
            “So essentially,” Troy interjected, “this Jewel is some kind of physical deity.”
            “It is not a deity,” Cordelia said, “but it is the physical embodiment of the fairy queen’s personal blessing to Rasta. And now, it is in peril.”
            “What’s happened to it?” Rodin asked.
            Cordelia looked at the ground for a few moments, her hands clasped behind her back and her shoulders heaving with a long sigh. Raising her head and fixing her eyes upon all eight at once, she said gravely, “It is at the center of a war.”
            “And you have chosen us to protect it,” said Ion.
            “Yes,” said Cordelia. “Rasta’s neighbor, the country of Aldine, was once its ally. This alliance was formed centuries ago, when it was noted that Aldine’s people would often come into Rasta to reap the benefits of the Jewel. It was agreed that the two countries would form an alliance, and that the Jewel’s gifts would be shared between them. But the recent death of Queen Alora of Aldine, the last living monarch after King Ruther, has called for their son Harkinian to ascend to the throne. Harkinian is a man whose ultimate purpose in life is to consume, to take as many things as he can for his own personal gain. The very moment of his coronation, he decided that the Jewel should belong exclusively to Aldine. He’s determined that Rasta has had it for long enough, and that it’s time for Aldine to experience the full extent of its power. But knowing Harkinian, he does not want the Jewel to benefit his country; he wants it to benefit himself, and that is all.”
            “So now we know who we must go after,” Ion said, his heart pulsing with the anticipation of a battle. “But tell me, why have you chosen the eight of us? You’ve mentioned that Rasta has its own collection of warriors—elite warriors, by the way you’ve talked about them. What can the eight of us do that they cannot?”
            “I have not chosen you,” said Cordelia, “the Jewel has. I am only its messenger. When I received the news that Harkinian meant to declare war upon Rasta for the Jewel, I was heartbroken. I fell at the Jewel’s side and wept, and I begged it to tell me what I could do to ensure its protection. There was nothing that I would not do—if it was necessary, I would even take up arms myself. But that’s when it showed me your images in its eight colors. Looking at you now, I can see clearly that you really are the ones the Jewel had shown me. But I was as skeptical as you are now, and for the first time in my life I questioned the Jewel’s judgement. How might maidens and fairies and ordinary citizens be able to fight in a war?”
            “You don’t know what I can do,” Morgana harrumphed.
            “You must be right, Morgana,” Cordelia said with a light chuckle. “The Jewel insisted that you were meant to be its knights, and that it didn’t need warriors, but knights. I realize now what it meant—a knight must be more than just a warrior. A knight possesses certain traits that may just as easily be found in a bard or an elven princess or even an ordinary country boy. The Jewel told me your names and the lands where you reside, and then it instructed me to take up its beacon, this pendant I wear at my neck. It said that if I signaled you, then you would come.
            “But you didn’t come,” Cordelia said disappointedly. “From day to night, I waited outside of the Palace of the Jewel, watching for your eight forms to appear over the countryside. When you didn’t show up, I wondered if the Jewel had really been mistaken. But the Jewel had been around for centuries, and it had never once been wrong. Now was not the time to doubt it. I decided that I would go looking for you, and felt very confident that I would find you.”
            “And you did find us!” said Lovisa.
            “We found you,” corrected Troy. “Or at least, I did.”
            “And you have no idea just how grateful I am for that,” Cordelia said with a sigh of relief. “And now, the eight of you are to accompany me to the Palace of the Jewel, where you will be knighted.”

            It was agreed that the company would have breakfast before they set out. Rodin sat with Cordelia, who had declined Alicia and Troy’s invitations to the hunting and gathering. “May I see the Jewel’s beacon,” he asked, looking upon the colorful gem with fascination. Cordelia unclasped it and held it out to him.
            “Was this made by a fairy too?” Rodin asked, looking over the gem with enchantment in his eyes.
            “It wasn’t,” said Cordelia. “The Jewel’s beacon was crafted by Hepsilon, one of the now legendary mages of Rasta. Hepsilon had an understanding of the Jewel that less than a handful of people possessed. His relationship with the Jewel was closer than that of the closest brothers, stronger than that of the most devoted friends, and more intimate than that of the most passionate lovers. He knew the Jewel intrinsically, and the Jewel knew him just as well. He knew the precise workings of its magic, the extent of its power, its inner feelings and emotions. It was this empathy and this understanding for the Jewel that allowed him to craft the beacon. The Jewel needed a method of contacting its people when it needed to send a message or it needed assistance. It needed a messenger, and there was no better messenger than Hepsilon. He synchronized his own magic with that of the Jewel and created a container for the synchronized magics. In this way, he created a beacon; the Jewel would send the message, but Hepsilon would carry the signal. Hundreds of years after his time, Hepsilon is still carrying the signals, right here in the beacon. Any good mage knows that he can never truly die, that he must live on through his magic.”
            “That’s lovely,” said Rodin, handing the gem back to Cordelia.
            “When the Jewel must send a message,” Cordelia went on, “it chooses one of its most trusted confidantes to take up its beacon and send out the signal. In doing so, it entrusts them with its own magic and with Hepsilon’s, and it acknowledges their ability to work the magic.”
            “The Jewel must really love you, then,” said Rodin with a hint of longing in his voice; what he would have given to earn the love and trust of a magical entity!
            “I am its keeper,” said Cordelia, “and like Hepsilon, I am its messenger. I understand the Jewel on a level that others could never hope to.”
            When the others returned, there was a breakfast of fish and fresh-picked fruits. Lovisa had collected water from the stream in Rodin’s water bottle and it was boiled over Morgana’s to fire make it drinkable. It was not the sort of feast they had enjoyed the night before, but it was enough to get them through the long trek to the Palace of the Jewel. Cordelia led the way, with Ion and Troy flanking her on each side. Rodin followed close behind, allured by the princess and her connection to the magic stone of a fairy queen. Lovisa walked behind him, with Alicia carrying the long skirts of her gown so she would not trip over them. Sanjaia shouldered his harp with one arm and Eluani with the other. Only Morgana walked alone, occasionally dragging her feet and lagging behind.
            To the company’s dismay, traversing the sandy road was to be no easy task. Sanjaia was forced to limp in his flat slippers, and Lovisa tripped twice in spite of Alicia’s help. Morgana grumbled and growled and, when she could stand it no longer, kicked sand at the legs of those in front of her. Eluani felt a clump of sand break against the hem of her robe, and she immediately turned on Morgana, her eyes full of fire. “I don’t suggest you do that again,” she warned.
            “You couldn’t see it coming, Miss Future Sight?” Morgana asked saucily.
            “This is your only warning,” Eluani said, turning around. “If I feel anymore sand, then you may find yourself in a very unpleasant situation.”
            “Of course you’re going to feel sand,” Morgana said with a jaunty toss of her hair. “It’s all around us.”
            “Please don’t fight!” Lovisa cried. “It’s disrespectful! We are meant to be knights, you know.”
            “Go in front of us, Morgana,” Sanjaia said, moving aside to let her pass.
            “No thank you,” Morgana said, tossing her hair again. But the princess turned around and looked at her knowingly, and though she was smiling just as warmly as she always seemed to be, there was something in the way that she locked eyes with Morgana that caused the fairy to avoid any further trouble. 
            Along the middle of the walk, Eluani said, “I can see the six towers. These towers belong to your Palace of the Jewel, correct?”
            “You are correct,” said Cordelia, “and what an eye you have. But there is still quite a way to go before we reach the palace.”
            Sanjaia played his harp for entertainment as they walked, but the oppressive summer sun and the struggle through the thick sands made it hard for any of them to keep their spirits up. Their skin was sticky from the heat, their faces grew red and puffy, and they had to stop several times to rest their tired feet. Nobody blamed Morgana for swearing under her breath and kicking sand around, so long as she did not kick it at any of them. The six white towers that had finally appeared in the distance seemed to taunt them, pulling away from them as they suffered a dismal walk that never came to an end.
            It was sunset when they finally reached the Palace of the Jewel, and the nine of them collapsed with exhaust at its golden gates. For the longest time, they lay there as they fought to regain the feeling in their tired legs, staring up at the six white towers that all this time had seemed to beckon them. With the exception of Ion, Alicia, and Morgana, none of the eight had ever seen a real palace before. This one was smaller than the average, but that did nothing to interfere with the beauty of its glassy white stones and the majesty of the six towers breaking through the rose-gold clouds of twilight. Even Morgana could not rightfully say that she was unimpressed.
            Cordelia rose to her feet and turned to face the company with a smile that established their friendship. “Welcome,” she said, “to Rasta’s Palace of the Jewel. I know it’s been a long and tiring journey, but I ask that you please rise and follow me. The Jewel has waited long enough for its knights.”

            They say that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, and therefore nothing in this world can be inherently beautiful or ugly. The fact that beauty will always vary from person to person ensures that there is someone out there who will consider the most picturesque scenery to be an eyesore, and that even the loveliest of maidens will always find someone who will mercilessly nitpick at her flaws. The eight members of the company had their own vastly different perceptions of what constituted as “beautiful.” Lovisa could easily find beauty in everything that she laid eyes on, but felt that its ultimate manifestation took the form of a perfect rose. Sanjaia preferred the auditory over the visual, and found that true beauty existed in a perfect melody that takes over the mind of the listener and opens their eyes to dreams. The fanciful Rodin found real beauty in his own imagination, as he conjured up images of golden-haired fairy queens in flowery gowns and the picturesque fairylands that they resided in. Morgana would find these images to be ridiculous, and she herself reveled in the subtle beauty within a bolt of lightning or the flame of a candle.
            But when the eight of them were led into the Jewel’s chamber and they beheld the sight of the Jewel for the first time, the eight of them could contend that this object surpassed any idea of perfect beauty that was harbored by either one of them. No matter their highly varied ideas of beauty, the Jewel appealed to each and every one. It was indeed a jewel, a brilliant polished stone the size of a medium boulder. It was perfectly rounded on all sides in a way that even the most experienced of gemsmiths and the most adept of rock tumblers could never quite manage. There did not seem to be a single word to describe its luster, which could be perceived as a shine by one observer, a glow by another, a polish by a third, and another still may call it a gloss. Its color could not be determined; from one point, it appeared to be the crimson red of a fine ruby. From a different angle, it was a deep twilight purple. Another viewpoint produced the sight of a firey orange color that was so rarely seen in a stone. From where the eight stood, they could see that the stone was not any one color. The color of the stone was formed by the blend of eight different colors, coming together as one and yet still managing to retain their own radiance: red, blue, green, orange, turquoise, purple, pink, and glossy black.
            The eight, who were confident and rational when faced with the ordinary, were moved to silence and inactivity by this Jewel. None of them seemed to know how to act, what to say, or how to conduct themselves in the presence of this unearthly object. But there was Cordelia, who approached the Jewel as casually as she might approach a familiar acquaintance. She embraced it and kissed it like a dear friend, and spoke to it as if it was any trusted confidante. “Here they are,” she said, “the knights that you have been waiting for: Ion, Lovisa, Troy, Sanjaia, Alicia, Eluani, Morgana, and Rodin. You might imagine their confusion when they received the signal of your beacon and entered Rasta, and when they received the news that they were to be knighted. But they are here now, and they have accepted what you have planned for them.”
            The resulting silence did not seem as empty as silence tends to be. The eight were aware that there was conversation, though they could not pick up on the hidden language in which it took place. Cordelia did understand it, however, and she listened with the respect and rapt attention that a scholar would give to his professor. Finally, she turned to the eight and beckoned them to her side. “The Jewel would like to speak with you now,” she said. “Listen well and understand well. Remember that the Jewel has selected you out of trust and respect, and that you must extend that same courtesy to it.” She left the chamber then, gently shutting the door behind her. The eight were left there before the Jewel, and the Jewel began to speak. 

Monday, July 6, 2015

Into the Land of the Elves: In Katie's Bad Company

The Diary of Miss Aidyn Hall, elf friend and storyteller
August 10
8:10 AM

In Katie’s Bad Company

            We searched the fairy tale room for Newt and found him in a little box under one of the tables, lying underneath a pile of other figures. There he was—a gangly-limbed tree elf with a greenish tinge to his skin and streaks of green in his hazel hair. His arms were outstretched toward his lost lover, his eyes full of passion. Apple Blossom placed Chokana beside him and they fit perfectly into eachother’s embrace.
            So Chokana and Newt were the connection that I had been searching for. The Jadeites are the product of the forbidden love between a human and a tree elf, imbued with the magic that their parent had passed along to them. And it wasn’t a sense of tradition and exclusivity that rendered me unable to learn how to harness the jade essences, it was a genuine inability. A human just does not possess the resources to work the magic in the way that a Jadeite or a tree elf does, in the same way that a human does not possess the resources to fly like a bird or digest eucalyptus leaves like a koala. I wonder why Apple Blossom didn’t just tell me this instead of going into that spiel about respecting traditions. I guess that she didn’t actually know.
            What gets me the most is that this means that the Jadeites, in a way, are humans. I suppose a few centuries’ worth of breeding was enough to biologically cancel out their human side, but it most certainly did not cancel out the unmistakable sense of humanity that I observed from the get-go. Jadeites are humans just as much as Jadeites are elves, and yet they will only acknowledge the latter. The tree elves had their own reasons for their animosity towards humans, but shouldn’t it be different for the Jadeites? Was it animosity that drove them to hide the involvement of humans in their origin, or were most unaware that there was any human involvement at all? Was the animosity towards humans simply passed down from the tree elves like an ancestral heirloom, or was there so much more to it than that? There are still so many questions that remain unanswered. I know that Apple Blossom can’t answer them all, and I won’t make her try. This answer—the essential answer—had come to use by chance, and I am going to let the others do the same. What matters is that I was right, and that there is a connection after all!
            After we reunited Chokana and Newt, I showed Apple Blossom the pictures I’d taken in my yard. “These are photographs,” I explained. “A photograph is a direct copy of an image, taken with a camera. What you see in these photographs is exactly what you would see if you were in my yard and looking at these things.”
            “They’re wonderful,” she said. “I wish I could make photographs.”
            “I’ll show you my camera the next time I come over,” I told her.
            We had lunch in the garden again after that, and then I read her my diary entries from the day of her birthday party, ending with my unexpected audience with the queen. She listened just as quietly and attentively as she had the day before, but when I finished, she said, “When you went home that day, everybody was mad at me.”
            “What do you mean?” I asked. “Who was mad at you, your friends and your parents?”
            “Everybody,” said Apple Blossom. “My friends, my parents, the servants, all of the people at the palace, even the citizens. My parents got yelled at because the citizens were mad at me. They said that I was careless, that I was foolish, and that what I had done might bring down the Greenwood…” She was beginning to tear up. “My mother and father yelled at me and asked what in the world I was thinking, and did I have any sense at all, and didn’t I know that I might have put everyone in danger, and lots of other things I don’t even want to say. And my friends…” By now her shoulders were beginning to tremble, so I had to stop her. “It’s okay, Apple Blossom, you don’t have to say anything else about it,” I said. “I can tell it’s a painful thing to remember.”
            “It is,” she said, wiping her eye with the back of her hand. “Nobody has ever, ever been that mad at me before.”
            “But why were they mad at you?” I asked. “I remember that day. Your mother approved of me, even then. She’s the one who said that I could come back! You even heard her say that—I remember you were eavesdropping from under the table. What made her blow up?”
            “She didn’t blow up!” Apple Blossom said with a gasp. I had forgotten that Jadeites weren’t too hip to figures of speech. “It means, what made her get so angry,” I clarified.
            “It was what the citizens were saying,” Apple Blossom told me. “It was what my friends and their mothers and fathers told them. They had spent the whole next day getting yelled at, being accused of this and that, having rumors spread, being blamed and shamed and having their competence as royalty called into question. My friends’ parents threatened to cut off all association with them, and they threatened to spread it around the Greenwood that my mother and father had connections to humans—such a thing could have branded them as traitors! It was all just too much for them to bear, and so they were angry. Now that I think about it, I think they were angrier with themselves for allowing it to happen than they were with me. But they couldn’t yell at themselves, so they yelled at me.”
            “Well, that wasn’t right,” I told her. “They shouldn’t have taken it out on you. But it’s over now, and nobody’s mad at you anymore.” I patted her shoulder and swallowed the guilt that had welled up inside me for my own contribution to the fury, as indirect as it may have been.
            My phone’s ringing. I think it might be Katie calling to tell me she’s on her way to the café. I need to take this.

11:42 AM

            Apple Blossom is better company than Katie ever was.
            Before we met at the café, I mentally sifted through a list of answers I could give when she inevitably asked where I’d been all of that time. I didn’t want to outright lie to her, but at the same time I wasn’t entirely sure that the truth would be in the Jadeites’ best interests. But then I figured that Katie is my best human friend, and that in all of the years I’d known her I had trusted her with everything. I never made anything up or fabricated anything to her, to the point where she could probably tell if I ever tried to. It would take a lot of lengthy explanation, convincing, and likely multiple repeats to get her to believe a word of it (she had already made it clear the last time I saw her that she couldn’t just believe something like that). But after she understood that I was serious, I was sure that she would at least try to accept it. It wouldn’t be the first time she had to accept my weirdness. There was no need to worry about the Jadeites; Katie wouldn’t try to go after them. She had no reason to, and even so, she would likely be too stunned to even try. Besides, I wouldn’t show her my diary or tell her how to get to the magnolia archway.
            We literally ran into eachother outside of the café and hugged. “Where have you been, you elusive lady?” Katie asked. “I was almost forced to drop in and check up on you!”
            “Oh, you know, I’ve been living my exciting writer’s life,” I said. “You know how that is. But I must say that I’ve found some real adventure this summer. And, well…let’s grab a seat and I’ll tell you everything.”
            “Of course you’ve found adventure,” Katie said with what I like to consider affectionate exasperation. “You’re always finding adventure. You’re always going off to this place and that, sampling foreign cuisine or jet-skiing through the open sea and leaving poor little Katie home alone and bored!” I know that she was ribbing, but I felt sorry for her either way. Katie, a sewing shop worker five days a week, had often complained of being unable to keep up with my adventurous lifestyle.
            “I’m really sorry, chick,” I said, patting her hand. “I feel like crap for making you feel that way. You know that I don’t mean to.” We eased our way into a booth. “Before I tell you anything,” I said, “you have to promise that you’ll believe me, no matter how absolutely absurd it sounds.”
            “It’s you, Aidyn!” Katie said with a chuckle. “I can believe anything that comes out of you!”
            We ordered our coffees before I said, “What if I told you that I’ve had a few dealings with the fair folk—fairies and elves and things like that?”
            “Somehow I’m not surprised,” Katie said with a playful roll of her eyes.
            “All right, so about a month ago,” I began, “I discovered a sort of gateway. You know those woods behind my house, right? Well, I was exploring around back there and I found a gateway. And I met this little elf girl named Apple Blossom. She’s the princess of a land deep within the woods called the Greenwood. It’s a lush and beautiful land where all of these elves live.” Katie was listening intently, as if I was reciting one of my stories. “I’m the first human who has ever been granted admission to the Greenwood,” I continued. “I met the other elves, the king and queen, Apple Blossom’s friends…and we’re all friends now. We have so many wonderful adventures together!” I had been speaking quickly, and I paused to take a breath. Our coffees had arrived, and we ordered our breakfast before I continued.
            “On my first day in the Greenwood,” I went on, taking occasional sips of my coffee, “I had the honor of attending Apple Blossom’s birthday party. Let me remind you that she is a princess! Can you imagine that? Me, of all people, a guest at a royal celebration! And then I went sailing across a brook that rings like a bell, and I’ve gone wading through bogs to pick bushels of cranberry greens. I’ve even gone swimming with mermaids!” Katie wasn’t looking at me then, but at her coffee. “I know you don’t believe me, Katie,” I said. “But think about it, have I ever lied to you before?”
            “It’s not that I think you’re lying,” Katie said, still not looking at me. “I just think that you might be doing a bit of embellishing. I mean, I understand it; you’re taking the ordinary and turning it into the extraordinary, into something worth telling a story about. That’s what a writer does, isn’t it?”
            “Yes, that’s exactly what a writer does,” I said. “But right now, I am honestly not embellishing anything.” I raised my right hand. “I swear on our friendship, Katie,” I said, “I have been having real adventures in a real land of elves.”
            Katie gave me an icy look. “Why would you swear anything on our friendship, especially a story as crazy as that? Aidyn, I know I’ve heard some pretty wild stories from you, but there’s a fine line between wild and outright crazy, and that story rests firmly in the latter category! I can believe wild, but I can’t believe crazy!”
            “Fine, then don’t believe it!” I said. “You asked what I’ve been up to, and I told you.”
            “Yeah, but you didn’t tell me the truth,” she muttered the moment our food arrived. I shot her a glare, she glared right back, we both thanked the waitress, and we ate silently. It was the first time we ever sat down for a meal together without nearly choking to death trying to talk and laugh with food in our mouths. The silence was unnatural, and I knew that it was up to me to be the one to break it. Katie’s stubbornness knew no bounds. “So,” I said after swallowing a bite of pancake, “what have you been up to lately?”
            Katie rolled her eyes. “Oh, I’ve been having the most wonderful adventures in Candy Land with my new pet unicorn, Sprinkles!” she said. “The other day we played together in the enchanted meadow while flower fairies danced all around us! It was just something else, I tell you!”
            I slammed my fork down. “That’s real mature, Katie!” 
            “If you’re going to be immature,” she said, “then so am I.”
            “You asked me where I’ve been,” I said, “and I told you…”
            “…an absolutely ridiculous story that, to any sane person, shows that you’ve got something to hide!” Katie snapped. “Obviously you’ve got this whole secret life now that you have to cover up with childish fairy tales, even to your best friend!” 
            “Katie,” I said, employing my stern school principal expression, “if you’re going to talk to me like that, then maybe we should just go back to being quiet.”
            “You would say that after shutting me and everybody else out for the entire summer!” Katie retorted. “Fine, we’ll be quiet. You’ve been doing such a good job of it after all.”
            I found it hard to swallow my anger with my pancakes. I understood that she was hurt, and I still felt rotten for ever making her feel that way, but did she really need to act like a bratty child about it? Of course I couldn’t have expected her to believe me, but I just assumed that the adult thing to do when you don’t believe someone is to let the matter drop. Silly me for ever thinking that way, I suppose.
            We finished our breakfast in our first dismal silence. I was beginning to wish that I had just lied, made something up on the spot that would be more believable than the truth. I was beginning to understand the meaning of “truth is stranger than fiction,” and now I knew that fiction would have been much more comfortable for Katie. But I’m a bad enough liar as it is, and when it came to lying to a friend, I had no ability. It went against my moral integrity. It was better to tell the unbelievable truth and be accused of lying than to outright lie for real.
            We were still quiet when the waitress came around and the two of us paid our separate checks. I decided that I would not attempt to be the bigger person this time; she could start speaking to me again whenever she felt the need, but I wouldn’t help her along. As she was gathering up her things and adjusting the red hipster beret on her head, she finally said, “Aidyn, if you want me to be honest, we’ve all been very worried about you. And now that you’ve told me that crazy story, I’m even more worried about you!”
            “Well, there’s nothing to worry about,” I said.
            “Maybe I need to drop by and check up on you more often,” she said, and her concern was genuine, which stung me. “If you feel the need to do that,” I told her, “then go right ahead. Just be aware that I’m not likely to be home when you do. And Katie…” I gripped her shoulder tightly then, and I looked her right in the eyes. “…if I’m not home, then please do not come looking for me. Please, for the love of god, do not come looking for me. You’re not very likely to find me, and you’re extremely likely to get lost if you try. If you must, wait at the house for me to come back. But do not come looking for me! Do you understand me, Katie?”
              She nodded and left it at that. But looking back now, I wonder why in the world I had been stupid enough to say something like that. The look on her face is going to haunt me for a good, long while. After the disgraceful way that she treated me today, I could really do without seeing Katie again. But somehow, I have a feeling that I’m going to be forced to see a lot more of her. I am going to go into the Greenwood now, to spend the rest of the day with Apple Blossom and try to get my mind off of Katie.