A Child’s Life at Sea Part 4

I slowly reach my hand out for my brother. It is so dark I can’t even see where my hand is. Then suddenly I feel something on my foot. ‘There is something on the ground,’ I whisper to my brother. ‘I felt it.’ Then I hear a splash and a croak and several other small splashes. ‘It’s just a frog, dummy,’ laughs my brother. ‘Perhaps you should try kissing it. Maybe it will turn into a prince.’ ‘Yuck!’ I say. ‘You kiss it yourself if you dare.’ But my brother doesn’t fall for that. He just keeps teasing me. I still am not able to find his arm in the dark, but hearing his familiar teasing is kind of reassuring. Then suddenly we hear footsteps behind us.

The sound is heavy and thudding, like it belongs to something really big. I hold my breath. My heart is pounding and I close my eyes, even though it doesn’t make a difference, it is just as dark in the tunnel as it is when I close my eyes. Then suddenly it is quiet again. My brother has stopped his teasing. He must be just as scared as me. I am completely frozen, I can’t even run. Then all of a sudden I feel a big hand on my shoulder and a voice whispers in my ear: ‘Got you!’

‘Daaaaad!’ Complains my brother. ‘I knew it was you!’ A flashlight lights up and I see my father laughing in front of us. My brother looks pale, but he starts laughing too. ‘Good one, dad!’ I want to laugh, but I can’t, my heart is still kind of racing around inside of me. ‘Come on,’ says my father and takes my hand in his. ‘ Let’s go see the canon.’ And we do, and just like that, with my hand in my father’s, I feel safe again, and everything is right in the world.

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A Child’s Life at Sea Part 3

‘Did the soldiers really hide in here, daddy?’ ‘Sure did, honey. They used these tunnels to move unseen underground when there was an attack. If you follow the tunnel to the end you will find a lookout post with a canon pointed to the horizon.’ ‘Did they really shoot the bad guys, daddy.’ ‘They had to, honey, there was a war and if they didn’t protect our country, innocent people would die.’ I stare at my father. ‘Did you fight in the war, daddy?’ My father laughs. ‘No, sweetie, the war was long before I was born.’ I feel a little disappointed, I really wanted my dad to be a hero. ‘Come on!’ complains my brother, ‘let’s go inside!’

We are on a small island on the south coast, known to be one of the many military bases during the Second World War. Our boat is docked by the stone pier, and my father has taken me and my brother up to see the tunnels carved deep into the mountain. They go on for kilometers and have no natural, or any other form, of light. But my father has brought a flashlight. My brother is already on his way into the pitch black tunnel. I take my father’s hand and we follow him.

There is water dripping from the ceiling of the tunnel and it makes an eerie drip-drop sound that echoes far into the deep. My father switches on the flashlight, but all we can see is black wet slippery stone walls, uneven and bumpy. The ground is also wet. Our plip-plop footsteps bounce off the wall and disappear into the deep, only to return as a hollow mimic of themselves ten seconds later. The sound makes me think of ghosts dragging their skeleton feet on the ground. My brother seems to think the same because he whispers in my ear: ‘I bet it’s haunted! Soldiers must have died in here, you know.’ I shiver and all of a sudden I feel very cold. I grip my father’s hand tighter. We walk further and further in.

‘If the tunnel collapses now, we’ll be dead,’ whispers my brother. And even though I am sure my father can’t hear him, he just adds to the horror be saying out loud: ‘well kids, we have reached the point of no return. We are further from the entrance than we are from the exist.’ I swallow hard. The flashlight flashes a couple of times, and both my brother and I jump. ‘Hold on, let me just…’ My father lets go off my hand to adjust the batteries in the flashlight. Then all of a sudden it goes completely dark. I want to scream, but for some reason I seem to have lost my voice. My brother on the other hand has not. He lets out a roar, fit for a lion. ‘Daaaaaaaad, what’s going on?’ There is no answer. I desperately reach out for my father’s hand, but it is not there. He is gone. My father is gone, and with him: the flashlight.

To be continued…

Granny’s House – Memories of a Norwegian Childhood

Mormor hus

My grandfather and great grandfather built a house for my grandmother as a wedding gift. The house had, as per my grandmother’s request, a big garden with apple – and plum trees, a strawberry bed, a patch of potatoes, and, my granny’s favorite, a lush Lilac tree filled with soft lavender blossoms.

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Granny’s Garden at the peak of Summer.

The house was fenced in by shrubs and hedge, so that my granny could tan in her shorts and bra, like she was used to do on the secluded island she grew up on. The underground basement had a laundry room, a carpentry workshop, and a small toilet in which my great grandfather decorated the walls with calendar hangings from national romantic artists depicting scenes from the island life my granny came from. The basement later became the place of ghosts in our, the grandchildren’s, imagination. The attic, with its slanted roof attic window, housed the girls’ bedrooms, the girls being my mother and her two sisters. This attic later became the grandchildren’s’ haunt, a lair for spy headquarters and secret meetings. But the best part of the house was the hidden tunnels, snaking around the interior of the house. They were so narrow that even as children we had to crawl to get through them, and so deep (around 10-15 meters) that no grown-up had the will or the elasticity to crawl into the very end. My grandfather made them for storage purpose, and they were filled with delightful olden-days treasures, like antique toys, sleds, clothes, books and postcards dating back to wartime. We grandchildren built ghost lookout posts in every single one of the tunnels, without our grandfather’s permission of course, but with granny’s blessings in the form of a wink and crossed fingers behind her back.

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One of the many toys found in the “tunnels”. This particular doll is over 100 years old!

The house, my mother’s childhood home, never changed. It remained the same from my mother’s girlhood up to the arrival of the six grandchildren and beyond. It became a place for the girls to drop off their children when they needed a much deserved break. And the girls needed lots of breaks because my cousins and I spent almost every other weekend in granny’s house, and two weeks of summer holiday. In bad weather my grandfather rented a VCR player and let us grandchildren choose one movie on video cassette each (these were the glorious 90s!). There was no restriction on which films we could rent, and we watched Jaws and James Bond, Gremlins and Police Academy, and other highly inappropriate movies, while munching store-bought pastel-colored candy and drinking liters of mixed soda into the wee pre-dawn hours.

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All us grandchildren eating sweets and watching a movie at Granny’s House.

When the sun was out we loved playing horse. Well, it was mostly us three girls who enjoyed this game; the three boys did not participate. All us girls had inherited the original three girls’ love for horses and horse riding, but it was only Annie, the oldest, who were big enough to actually take riding lessons, so Cecily and I, pretended to be horses while Annie instructed us to run and run and run around grandfather’s meticulously mowed lawn. Well, let us just say, there was not much lawn left after a three days visit, but granny just winked and crossed her fingers behind her back, and we took no heed of grandfather’s angry warnings.

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My grandfather desperately trying to arrange us to pose for a photo. The only one who is really listening is my brother, here about 14 years old.

Ghosts and Witches were welcome inhabitants of granny’s house. One weekend, after watching the movie “Witches” based on the book by Roald Dahl with the same title, we went looking for hidden witches inside grandfather’s old paintings of traditional Norwegian farm life. Of course, we discovered that every painted milk maiden was a witch in disguise, and if we tapped her with our fingers she moved! Cecily, the youngest of us girls, were not a bit fond of these frightening games, and today’s date she will narrate nightmarish childhood memories of being forced to enter a haunted basement to listen to a ghost playing the piano, or look for witches in wardrobes with old smelly fur coats.

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Cecily as an adult dressed up in one of Granny’s favorite dresses from the 80s. For some reason my granny loved the 80s and never modernized her wardrobe after that beloved era.

Of course, after reading Nancy Drew and Enid Blyton’s Famous Five we had to establish our own Spy Club. My brother, the oldest and most adored of the grandchildren, became the boss, or the Chief as we called him, I was the planner, Annie was the accountant and secretary and Cecily was the assistant. The two youngest boys were too small to be appointed any specific role, so we decided that they could be door guards (standing outside the door while we held meetings, making sure no adults were allowed to enter). The Spy Club’s main concern was environmental issues, such as car engines being left on while the designated driver was grocery shopping. We made our own tickets to put on the wind shields, warning the driver of a fine if he did not improve on his environmental protection awareness. We even made our own monthly newspaper with crossword puzzles and short stories, mostly edited by myself and printed in my mother’s office. I proudly distributed these newspapers to all my classmates in school, and even convinced some of them to sign up for subscriptions.

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Here I am at school 😀 Perhaps 11 years old.

My grandmother was a lover of all animals and wildlife. This was an issue of constant annoyance for my grandfather who hated flies in particular. My grandmother would hide his Fly smacker, and try in her sweetest voice to coax the flies to fly out the open window. Spiders were much loved by granny, she would name every single one she saw inside the house, and referred to them fondly as spinning ladies. But it was cats that she loved the most. There must have been around 10-15 homeless (both by choice and not) cats living in granny’s garden at the most. Of course they all had babies, and soon my grandfather had to put his foot down and set out to find the cats’ owners, while my granny secretly let them sleep on her sofa and eat biscuits from a silver plate. We grandchildren loved the wildlife in granny’s garden of course. Cecily and I had a particular fondness for the hedgehogs, and one night we hid under a huge blanket spying on the nocturnal animals drinking milk from a rosy saucer.

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One of the many cats who roam Granny’s Garden.

My grandfather was a huge book worm, he read every book he could find, including our pony books, fairy tale books and school ABCs, but his favorite was 1001 Arabian nights. He had a beautiful hardback copy of the book given to him by his grandfather when he was little, and from that book he read us stories of Aladdin and Alibaba and enchanted caves and robbers being chopped into pieces. This all went over our heads, and I cannot remember feeling any particular fear or dread from these fantastical but grotesque stories. Fairy tales, by H.C Anderson, the Brothers Grimm and the Norwegian folktales, were popular, but our favorite was a book about children growing up in the olden days in Norway called “The Kids on the Block”.

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My brother making a funny face to get me to smile. My grandfather at the end of the table, and my grandmother in between us.

I was particularly enchanted by the olden-days, and I would beg granny to tell me stories about her childhood on the island, and she never disappointed. I listened, completely enthralled, to wartime stories about German soldiers trying to eat paper Christmas apples, or looking for the secret radio my great grandfather hid under the floor boards, or other stories about a vindictive Sunday school God sending little girls to hell for stealing carrots or for dipping their chewing gum in the neighbor’s sugar sack.

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This is the house my granny grew up in. Built by her father.

Summers at granny’s were magical. We would run free the whole day (and night) without anyone telling us what to do (well, my grandfather tried to, but he was overruled by my granny. It ended with him going to bed at 10 pm and leaving us up to fend for ourselves). My favorite summer game was to play Christmas. Playing Christmas meant taking down all of granny’s stored-away Christmas decorations and adorning the whole house with santas and angels. Granny would play Christmas CD’s, and let us make Christmas cakes by sandwiching jam and nutella between marigold biscuits. There was something so magical about seeing all those forbidden decorations in July. When summer ended, we children had often prepared songs and plays we would perform for our parents when they came to collect us. These were most of the time authored by yours truly and was of varying quality, but all of them typed neatly on grandfather’s typewriter, to be taken out and laughed over at later teenage years.

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My brother and I enjoying a juice box on the way home from Granny.

After the summer was over and we drove away, passengered in three cars behind three sets of parents, granny would always stand in the kitchen window and wave goodbye with a sweet smile on her face, while my grandfather was nowhere to be seen. And we waved eagerly back, reassuring our parents that of course we had been good and listened to grandfather and gone to bed when told so, while we crossed our fingers behind our backs and winked happily to each other.

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Granny in her garden, relaxing after a weekend of grandchildren bonanza! 😀

The Great Fairy Rescue

pauline-bayne

It was the first day of December and it was snowing. It had started early in the morning when no one was awake. The soft powdery specks had fallen so quietly not even the winter birds had stirred in their sleep. Now a white-washed sheet of tiny fairy diamonds covered the garden gnomes and the bronze-fashioned forest nymph, giving the town garden a touch of Wonderland splendor. There was hardly any engine sounds, only a faint twitter of frosted early birds muffled by the gentle stillness of water being transfigured into ice. A lamp from a window cast a warm yellow shadow on the sparkling china rug, followed by ringlets of brightness and the fluttering of wings. A little figure could be seen in the window. It was a girl, perhaps about eight years old. She was wearing a silver-colored crown on her head, and she kept waving a starry wand back and forth, but nothing seemed to happen. The window sill was lined with porcelain Christmas Angels wearing red frocks and sporting a halo above their golden-haired heads. “Why don’t you just try flying?” said the girl. She opened the window and a cold wind blew the tiniest angel unto the floor. The little girl sighed. “Vieeennnaaaa!! What are you doing? close that window!” Vienna closed the window before her mother had even started to climb the stairs. She gave another little sigh and headed down for breakfast. So you see, she couldn’t see the tiny flutter behind the snowed-in clay pot in the garden. She couldn’t hear the bell-like whispering like falling silver. “See, Marciana, I told you she believed! Nothing is lost yet.”

“Oh, there you are, Sabine.” Marciana tip-toed out from her hiding place, dusting her feathers and tucking her scarf tighter around her little body. “You missed her, Marcy! Why are you always so timid?” “Who did I miss, Sabine?” “The human of course!” Marciana chuckled and rolled her eyes. Sabine was always going on about humans. “Come on, let’s go home while it is still snowing.” Sabine sighed. Nobody ever listened to her! The Snow Queen had said that they needed a human, and this girl, with her little winged figurines, was just perfect! “We have to hurry, Sabine, the sun is going to peak at any minute.” Marciana took hold of a snow flake and tapped it with her pinky, and the snow flake grew until it was big enough to carry the little fairy. “Why can’t we just use our own wings?” complained Sabine. “You know the magic only works with snow, Sabine.” Sabine knew that that was what the Snow Queen said, but she had never quite believed it. But nevertheless, she did as she was told, and joined Marciana on her own snow flake, and together the two little fairies ascended, and vanished into the white flutter of shimmering winter crystals.

Vienna liked her school, but she wished the lessons could have been taught outside. Even now, in the biting cold, she longed to be outside. The assignment the teacher had given them today was an essay assignment, they were to write about their dreams. Of course, Vienna’s essay was all about fairies. Vienna always had strange dreams, vivid and magical. Her favorite dreams were the ones in which she could fly. “Vienna! Vienna! The bell rung, didn’t you hear?” Elisabeth was pulling Vienna’s arm, trying to make her get up. Vienna hurriedly flung her books and pencils into her pink backpack and followed Elisabeth outside. It was a beautiful afternoon, all quiet and yellow, just like Vienna liked them. Afternoons like this always reminded Vienna of angels. Elisabeth and Vienna usually walked home together after school, but today Elisabeth had choir practice, so Vienna had to go through the woods alone. She didn’t mind though, trees were her favorite kind of beings. “See you tomorrow!” Elisabeth waved and ran for the after-school building. “See you!” replied Vienna and took a right turn on to the forest path. She was alone on the path, and the only company she seemed to have were birds twittering happily about. The snow was soft and pliant and made that delicious squishy sound under her boots. When she came to the little stream she stopped abruptly. Wasn’t there someone there? Someone…ice skating awfully fast on the frozen water? Vienna squinted her eyes, and looked closer. Yes, yes! Someone was definitely there! But, it looked like….Vienna had to look twice, yes, it looked exactly like a garden gnome!

“Oh, there you are!” said the little gnome and looked straight at Vienna. Vienna startled and had to hold on to a drooping branch, she felt quite dizzy. “But…I can…see you!” she stuttered. “Of course you can see me, silly girl, you believe, right? I mean that is what the Snow Queen said anyway.” “Yes, yes of course I believe, but I have never been able to see you before,” replied Vienna. The gnome sighed and looked at her as though she was completely clueless. “Well, that is because we have never showed ourselves to you before of course!” “But then, why are you letting me see you now?” Vienna had let go of the branch and dropped to her knees so that she could see the tiny gnome better. She had always wanted to see a gnome! Any fairy creature really, she had, up till now, only seen them in her dreams. “The Snow Queen has sent me to fetch you,” said the gnome resolutely. “Fetch me? Fetch me where?” “To her Queendom of course! Come on let’s go, there is no time to spare.” Vienna shook her head, “but that is impossible, I am much to big to go anywhere with you.” The gnome chuckled, “well, that can be fixed.” He reached into his messenger bag and took out a piece of red mushroom and offered it to Vienna. “But,” protested Vienna, “our biology teacher has told us that red mushrooms are poisonous!” The gnome snorted in annoyance. “Of course they are! The Queen made it so, she wouldn’t want just any human to wander into her land, that would be stupid, don’t you think?” Vienna nodded her head, she knew well enough what her class mates thought about fairies. “So will you take it or not?” Vienna reached out for the tiny mushroom, swallowed hard, and popped it into her mouth.

As soon as Vienna felt the bitter taste of the mushroom on her tongue, a peculiar sensation arose in her feet, it traveled up her body and turned into a tingling behind her ears. Then suddenly she was falling, but no, she wasn’t falling at all, she was…shrinking! She shrank and shrank until she was just about the same size as the gnome, perhaps even a bit tinier.
Vienna was relieved to see that her clothes had shrunk too. “There,” said the gnome, “now you are just about perfect. Put on these.” He handed her a pair of ice skates. “We are going that way,” the gnome pointed down the frozen stream. Vienna nodded and put on the skates. Together they skated down the stream, past the hoarfroadted sieve and withered straw, the abandoned ant mount, and the drooping gigantic snow clad firs. The gnome stopped abruptly when they arrived at a wind blown tree, turned over so that the roots were twisted against the sky. Vienna bumped into his back and excused herself shyly. “Pay attention to where you are going, silly girl!” Scolded the gnome. “It’s this way!” He beckoned Vienna to follow him. They both removed their skates and continued on foot towards the muddy root. The gnome tapped his pinky a couple of times on a tiny pebble and then suddenly, a tiny door appeared. Vienna stared in amazement at the door. “Well, come along! We haven’t got all day!” Said the gnome and opened the door.

Elisabeth finished Choir practice early that day, and she hurried home to play with her dog Frances. Frances was a snowy white golden retriever and he was Elisabeth’s best friend in the whole wide world. Of course Vienna was also her friend, but she couldn’t quite measure up to Frances. Maybe because Elisabeth had known Frances since he was a puppy, and Vienna she had only known for two years. “Frances! Frances! Come and play!” Elisabeth flung open the door and dumped her school bag on the floor. She expected Frances to come running and jump on her and lick her face. But he didn’t. “Frances! Come here boy!” Elisabeth was getting a bit worried. But this time Frances came trotting lazily towards her. He gave a small woof and licked Elisabeth’s foot. “Hey boy, what’s the matter with you today, why are you looking so sleepy?” She patted Frances and fetched his leash, but Frances turned on his heel and went back into the house. “Frances? Don’t you want to play?” Frances woofed again, apologetically, and went to sleep in his basket.

Vienna blinked her eyes twice. Could this really be happening to her? All her life she had dreamed of finding a secret door and visit Fairyland. And now, she was actually here! All Fairyland was bathed in a soft yellow light, and a surprisingly cold wind went swooshing by. Vienna could hear chiming sounds all over, like a thousand wind chimes or silvery sleigh bells. And right in front of her, troops of red-robed elves hastened by. Vienna realized that the music was coming from them, even though they didn’t appear to be playing any instruments. “Welcome to Cinderwood!” announced the gnome and flung his arms out lavishly. “Cinderwood?” questioned Vienna and wrinkled her nose at the strange name. “Well yes, it is the name of this place, of course!” “But I thought we were in Fairyland,” protested Vienna. The gnome snorted. “Fairyland! What nonsense! This is one of the many Fey realms, the one ruled by her majesty the Snow Queen.” “Oh, there are many?” asked Vienna excitedly. The gnome looked at her sternly and sighed. “We don’t have time for a geography lesson, lass. The Snow Queen is expecting you!” The gnome marched after the Elf troop, and Vienna felt she had no choice but to follow him. She did want to see the Snow Queen!

The Snow Queen was the most beautiful lady Vienna had ever seen! She was everything she had ever dreamed a fairy to be! Her wings were perfect sheer gossamer lace, her hair was long and silvery and her eyes full of stars. Vienna couldn’t help herself, she had to curtsy in front of this divine queen. The Queen smiled at the gesture and said in a very sweet sing-song voice: “Please, dear child, arise, I want to look at you properly.” Vienna rose and stared into the Snow Queen’s lovely eyes. “Aah, there you are, little girl. Our most faithful believer. We have been waiting for you, little one.” “Waiting for me?” asked Vienna curiously. The Snow Queen nodded and smiled. “Your majesty,” stuttered Vienna, ” Why am I really here?”. The Queen came to stand next to Vienna, she patted her head gently and, out of thin air, conjured a cup of hot chocolate topped with pink mini marshmallows, Vienna’s favorite. She gave the cup to Vienna and beckoned for her to drink. The cup was a perfect white china tea cup with little pink roses painted on the sides. It was just the kind of cup Vienna had always dreamed of drinking from. She took a sip and relished the sweet taste of the deliciously hot chocolate. The Snow Queen smiled, and then she wrapped Vienna in her delicate arms and chuckled, “Why Child, you have come to slay the dragon of course.”

Elisabeth woke up even before the sun had started rising that morning. The dark blue sky was full of white stars and there was a tiny silvery moon glittering melancholically against the sapphire backdrop. She tried to go back to sleep, but somehow she just couldn’t, so she decided to get up and take Frances for a walk. She quickly got dressed and fitted her feet into some chunky snow boots. “Frances! Frances! Let’s go boy!” Elisabeth heard a faint woofing somewhere. “Frances! Frances, where are you?” Woof! The sound was so muffled Elisabeth didn’t understand where it came from. Then she heard someone scratching at the door. Woof! “Frances, are you outside?” Elisabeth hurried over to the door and unlocked it, Frances jumped up on her and started licking her face frantically. His fur was so cold, he must have waited outside for a long time. But Elisabeth remembered saying goodnight to him and watching him go to sleep in his wicker basket the night before. “Frances, where have you been? Who let you out in the middle of the night?” Woof! said Frances and trotted over to his bowl. Elisabeth sighed, and started filling the bowl with dog food.

“But…but,” stuttered Vienna. “I am just a little girl! I don’t know anything about slaying dragons!” The Snow Queen flashed her one of her most endearing smiles. ” But you are wrong, dear, you are not so very little. You are human.” Vienna shook her head, ” No, I am not anymore! You made me tiny!” ” well, that is a mere trifle, we will get you back to your own size in no time, and then the dragon will not even be tall enough to lick your cheek.” The Snow Queen sighed when she saw Vienna’s terrified face. ” I am sorry my dear, that I have to ask you to do this. But when that Snow Dragon came down from the North and started developing a taste for fairy puppies, I just knew that we needed help from a human, and well, there aren’t many believers left in the world, so when Sabine told me about you, I just knew you were our champion. ” Sabine, who had been hiding behind a pink fairy tree, stepped out and waved to Vienna. Vienna waved back, she didn’t really feel like it, but she thought it was too rude not to. ” So,” she said and looked the Snow Queen straight in the eye, ” you expect me to go out there and slay a dragon all by myself?”. “Oh, no!” Answered the Snow Queen, ” Sabine here has volunteered to go with you.” Vienna looked distrustfully at the tiny fairy, and somehow she didn’t feel very comforted.

The Snow Queen’s magician arrived in a hurry to brew the potion that would restore Vienna to her normal height again. The potion was a simple one involving brown mushrooms and juniper berries . “And then I’ll be needing some of your hair, human girl,” said the magician and reached out to pluck one of Vienna’s hairs. “Ouch! What was that for?” Demanded Vienna. ” That was for me you silly girl,” said Sabine, and in 1-2-3 she gulped down the potion containing Vienna’s hair. Then suddenly something odd started to happen, the tiny Sabine started growing! She grew and grew until she was so tall Vienna looked like a caterpillar in comparison. ” But…but, ” protested Vienna, ” I thought the potion was for me!” ” of course we have one for you as well,” snorted the magician, ” bottoms up!” He placed a little golden tumbler in Vienna’s hand, and she obediently tipped it down her throat, and just like Sabine had done, she started growing too, until the two girls were just about the same size. Sabine smiled to Vienna and took hold of her hand. ” Hurry up, girls!” Called the now tiny Snow Queen, ” and remember, Sabine, the spell breaks at midnight, and then you will go back to being your regular fairy size again.” Sabine nodded. ” Good luck!” Said all the fairies in unison, and Sabine and Vienna, still holding hands, turned, and started their journey north to where a puppy-eating Dragon was waiting for them.

The coming evening Elisabeth decided to stay up and watch over Frances. She didn’t want him to get trapped outside in the cold again. They played for a little while, then Frances ate his evening meal and went to sleep in his basket. Elisabeth must have dozed off too, because when she abruptly woke up a little later the room was completely dark. She looked around, curious to see what had startled her, and then she discovered that Frances’ Basket was empty. “Frances! Franceees!” Elisabeth got up and started searching the room, then suddenly she heard Frances whimpering in the hall. She found him standing by the front door, clearly wanting to go out. “What is it, boy?” Elisabeth scratched Frances behind his ear. She didn’t want to let him out, but then, what if he needed to go to the toilet or something? Elisabeth sighed, she got the leash from the hat shelf and attached it to Frances’ collar. It was freezing outside, the whole lawn was covered in hoarfrost and the sky was so clear Elisabeth could see at least a million white stars up there. Frances pulled at the leash, wanting her to let him loose. ” Hold on a minute,boy,” said Elisabeth and went to make sure the garden gate was closed, then she let Frances off the leash, and he immediately trotted over to the bushes to do his business. Just then it started snowing. Elisabeth shivered in her thin sweater and looked miserably up at the bleak winter sky. ” Come on, boy, let’s go back inside!” But when she looked towards the bushes, where Frances had been just seconds ago, he was gone.

The Northgoing path was a tricky one, with slippery rocks, big enough to even challenge the two human-sized girls. It was slowly getting dark and the snow was pouring down like a vicious rain shower. “This would have been so much easier with wings!” Sighed the wing-deprived Sabine. Vienna squeezed her hand, but offered no words of comfort. It really would have been easier with wings! The snowy track was difficult to follow and became more and more so by the minute as it got darker and darker. But the two girls braved through the weather and found comfort in each other. Suddenly there was a cracking sound, and a swooshing and then something heavy landed somewhere in the snow. “What was that?” Squirmed Vienna and clung a little tighter to Sabine’s hand. ” Quickly,” urged Sabine, “get behind that tree!” Vienna and Sabine hurried over to a huge fir tree, with snow-drenched thick branches. ” Look!” Whispered Vienna and pointed to a huge white animal appearing on the same path the girls had just vacated. ” What is that thing?” Vienna tugged nervously at Sabine’s hand. ” That,” said Sabine, ” is a Fairy Werebear.”

“W-w-what is a Fairy Werebear?” stuttered Vienna. it certainly didn’t look like anything particularly friendly. “A Fairy Werebear,” whispered Sabine, “is a Snow Fairy who turns into a Polar Bear at night.” “Are they dangerous?” Vienna could not hide the terror in her voice. “Well, when they are fairies they are just as nice or naughty as any other fairy, but when they take the form of a bear….well let’s just say, they are not always reasonable.” Vienna swallowed hard. “So what do we do?” “We wait here, and hope it will go away soon.” But just as Sabine said that, the bear roared loudly and stood up on his hind legs. At first Vienna thought that it had seen them, but then she heard the flapping sound in the sky, and she looked up to see what the Fairy Werebear was roaring at, and that is when she saw it: the dragon.

The Fairy Werebear kept roaring at the dragon, and the dragon, to Vienna’s utter astonishment, looked almost scared, but then it was as though he remembered that he was a dragon and snorted out, not dancing red flames but white icy whirlwinds of thick freezing snow! The bear sneezed, fell down on his front paws and gave a last half-whimpering roar before he turned around and trotted hastily away. The dragon kept an eye on him until he was gone, and then he made a swift side-flip and headed North. “Come on,” urged Sabine, “Let’s follow him!” “But, is that wise? he might freeze us!” Sabine looked sternly at Vienna, “don’t you understand anything? That is the dragon, the snow dragon, you are supposed to slay!” Vienna gave Sabine a sharp look, “but he wasn’t that small! He was in fact quite big!” “Well, the Snow Queen might have exaggerated a little, besides, he is much smaller than the fire-breathing dragons!” There was nothing Vienna could do, she sighed and followed Sabine as they headed after the dragon. It didn’t take long before the dragon started descending and landed in front of a huge black cave. Sabine pulled Vienna out of sight, as the dragon entered his cave. “Listen!” said Sabine suddenly, “do you hear that?” Vienna pulled off her cap and listened intently, and then she heard it too, someone, or something, was yapping madly in there, in fact, it sounded just like a chorus of puppies!!

“The Fairy puppies!!” exclaimed Vienna, “They are alive!” “But for how much longer,” interrupted Sabine, “We’ve got to get them out of there now!” “But how, Sabine? The Dragon is right there!.” Sabine gave her one of her stern looks and shook her head in frustration, “but that is why we are here, Vienna. That is why you are here. To slay the dragon. How many times do I have to keep reminding you!?” Vienna’s whole body shook with suppressed anger and fear “And what, if I may ask, had you all planned I was going to slay the dragon with?” Sabine looked up at her, and then she looked at both of their empty hands. She didn’t seem to have any answers to that. “Let’s get the puppies out first, and worry about the snow dragon later,” suggested Sabine. And Vienna did not object, she couldn’t think of any ideas herself. The two girls cautiously approached the cave, and when they were just at the entrance, Sabine started calling out softly: “Come, little ones, come here! Here puppies, come to Sabine now!” “They must be tied up,” whispered Vienna, but to her astonishment a tiny fairy puppy revealed itself just outside the darkness of the cave entrance, and soon another joined in, and then another, and not long after a whole bunch of fairy puppies were trotting happily over to Sabine’s outstretched hands, but then suddenly another shape appeared out of the shadows, a much bigger shape, making an awful angry snorting sound. “Draaagooon!!!” shouted Vienna.

Sabine had just managed to get the last Fairy puppy to safety when the big white dragon wobbled out of the cave. She looked helplessly at Vienna, but Vienna had no idea whatsoever what to do. The snow Dragon came closer and closer and soon they would both turn to ice, but just as the dragon took a deep breath Vienna caught a glimpse of a broken over branch on the ground, she reached for it and started fencing back and forth with it, as though it was a perfectly sharp sword, but this seemed to just anger the dragon more. It lifted its front paw and aimed to strike Vienna, but just then Sabine shot forward with a warrior cry like nothing Vienna had ever heard before. But just as the dragon started backing away, shocked and unraveled by Sabine’s awful scream, the worst possible thing happened, Sabine started shrinking! She shrank and shrank and shrank….

…and shrank until she was back to her normal fairy size again. “Oh no!” Exclaimed Vienna, ” it must be midnight, and the spell is over! Now what do I do?” The snow Dragon stepped forward and lifted his paw, and Vienna was sure it was all over, but then she saw something, something familiar…it was a collar around the dragon’s neck…Vienna knew she had seen that collar before somewhere, but how?… where?

And then she remembered it…Frances! It was Frances’ collar, Elisabeth’s dog! “What did you do to Frances?” Vienna screamed at the Dragon, more fiercely than she had ever screamed at anyone ever before. But then something weird happened, the dragon seemed startled and started backing away, until he was sitting, hunched down on his derriere, whimpering pathetically. Vienna approached him cautiously. “What did you do to Frances?” she said again, a bit milder this time. The moment she said “Frances”, the dragon started howling. He sounded like….like….a dog crying. “What happened?” asked Sabine who had come flying on her fairy wings as fast she could to assist her friend. “I don’t know,” muttered Vienna, “he just kind of gave up and started crying.” Sabine approached the dragon, she tried pulling at the dragon’s collar, but it wouldn’t budge. “There is no way he could have put this on himself,” she stated, “it is enchanted, he seems to be under some kind of spell.” Then suddenly a mad idea came to Vienna. “Sit!” she said firmly to the dragon, and the dragon sat up abruptly. Vienna looked into the Snow Dragon’s golden eyes. “Frances?” “Frances, is that you?” “Woof!” said the dragon.

As soon as they heard the dragon woofing, the fairy puppies came wobbling on their chubby legs over to the dragon. They lay down by his side and started licking his paws. “Oh, look!” said Sabine, “they are comforting him! So they were never in any real danger after all! But, Vienna, who is Frances?” “Frances,” answered Vienna, “is my best friend, Elisabeth’s dog. But don’t ask how he can be a dragon here in Fairyland, because I have no idea about that!”
“Hmmm,” said Sabine, “maybe he ate the magic mushrooms in the forest, they work differently on animals. I have heard of it before, it is like with the Fairy Werebear, they turn into something differently at night.” “But that means,” said Vienna, “that as soon as the sun goes up, he will turn back into a dog and go home?” “Yes, that is how the spell works, but we can’t let that happen! What if the people of Cinderwood don’t believe us, and continue to hunt the dragon tomorrow night! We have to bring him back to the Snow Queen before the sun rises, I am sure the court magician have something that can break the spell entirely.” But just as Sabine said that, the sky went from pitch black to dark blue, and on the far away horizon, a golden light appeared.

“We will never get there in time!” exclaimed Vienna, “the sun is almost rising!” “We will never get there walking, but we could make it if we were all flying,” said Sabine mischievously. She fluttered her own delicate fairy wings, then looked over at Vienna and pointed at Frances. “You will have to let him carry you, it is the only way.” Vienna shook her head violently. No way was she going to fly on a dragon who was really just a dog! “You have to!” insisted Sabine sternly. “Look, the fairy puppies and I will go ahead and lead the way, Frances will just have to follow.” Vienna looked nervously over at Frances. He seemed harmless enough, now that she knew who he really was, but flying on his back! That was really asking too much trust in a dog, even though he was supposed to be man’s best friend. “Come on!” called Sabine encouragingly. She was already in the air, followed by the fairy puppies. Reluctantly Vienna got up and climbed on to Frances’ back, and as soon as she wrapped her arms securely around the dragon’s neck, he took off and leaped up in the cold pre-dawn air.

It was a race against time like none other. Vienna felt that she had never seen the sun rise so fast before. Sabine was flying like a hurricane, tightly followed by the fairy puppies, flapping and panting and trying their level best to keep up with their leader. The Dragon did not seem to have any problem at all with the speed, he only wobbled a bit now and then in the strongest gusts of wind. “See!” shouted Sabine from the front troops, “There it is! It is Cinderwood!” The sun was almost up, it seemed like they were just going to make it, but then Vienna spotted something they had not been expecting: The Snow Queen’s Archers!! And they were pointing their arrows straight at Frances!!

” Noooooo, stoooop!!” Cried Sabine, ” He isn’t dangerous! He is enchanted! Please don’t shoot!” The Snow Queen listened intently, and made a move with her hand, and then, to Vienna’s great relief, the Archers put down their weapons. Sabine was the first to land, followed by the fairy puppies, and then shyly and carefully, Frances landed, with Vienna on his back. Sabine sprang forth and hurriedly explained the circumstances. The sun was just finishing her dip behind the mountains when the Snow Queen, in a high shrill voice, called for her royal magician.

Frances landed softly on the snowy ground and Vienna hurried over to the Snow Queen. ” He is not a mean puppy-eating Snow Dragon, your majesty, he is my best friend’s dog! And he must have been lonely, that is why he took the fairy puppies.” The Snow Queen nodded thoughtfully. ” My magician is working on a cure, a counter spell of sorts, it will only take a minute.” ” But your majesty, we don’t have a minute!” And just as Vienna said that, the sun rose above the trees and Frances disappeared. ” oh no!” Cried Sabine, “we were too late!! ” The magician came running just then with the counter spell in hand. ” Quickly, Sabine take the spell,” said the Snow Queen, ” You must go with Vienna to her world through the snow portal, it will be quicker, give the spell to Frances immediately. I don’t know if it will work but we have to try!” The gnome who had escorted Vienna to Cinderwood approached Vienna and gave her a piece of mushroom. ” Eat this, and you will shrink to fairy-size again.” Vienna didn’t hesitate this time, she quickly swallowed the mushroom and felt herself shrinking until she and Sabine were the same size again. Sabine took Vienna’s hand and hurriedly grabbed on to a snow flake, and together they drifted off into space. It didn’t take long until they landed in Elisabeth’s garden, and there was Frances standing helplessly and forlorn shivering in front of the door to Elisabeth’s house. Sabine handed Vienna the spell to make her big again and Vienna gulped it down, then she ran over to Frances and shoved the magician’s cure into his mouth. Frances yelped and barked and that woke up Elisabeth who came out to see what the noise was all about. ” Vienna? What are you doing here? And what’s wrong with Frances?” ” It’s a long story,” replied Vienna, ” I’ll tell you later.” Just then Elisabeth spotted Sabine hiding behind a garden bush. ” A fairy!” She exclaimed, ” A real fairy!”. Sabine came out of hiding and did a deep curtesy. ” Did it work?”asked Vienna. ” I don’t know,” replied Sabine, ” I guess we will see tonight. But Vienna, I have to go back now. I’m not supposed to be seen.” Vienna nodded, and the two girls gave each other a heartfelt hug. ” will I ever see you again?” Whispered Vienna into the tiny fairy’s ear. “sure you will,” replied Sabine and gave a little wink, and then just like that, she was gone. That day, Vienna and Elisabeth had a lot to talk about. Vienna told Elisabeth everything that had happened, but if it hadn’t been for the fact that Elisabeth had actually seen Sabine with her own eyes, she would not have believed the extraordinary story. That night, while the two friends were sleeping, it started snowing, and one little dog, sleeping happily in his wicker Basket felt an itch on his back, and when he woke up to scratch it, he discovered, to his astonishment, that he had grown a beautiful pair of snow white wings.

The End

How to catch a Fairy

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It happened on the night that the fairies were busy bathing in the stream. She had been visiting her godmother in the North, and on her way through the moonlit woodland path she spotted them. They were quite naked, except for one, she was sitting on a throne on the bank bossing a couple of pixies around. A rabbit laughed by accident, and the queen scolded him until he ran away into the forest, mumbling something about a watch and a waistcoat that needed mending. But he was obviously just embarrassed to have been caught laughing at the naked fairies. Emberly crouched down between the brambles to have a better look. Her godmother had given her a glass jar to catch fireflies in for light, but now Emberly thought better of it. She was going to catch a fairy! But she had to be real clever about it.

“I don’t need a bath,” protested a small fairy baby, or to Emberly it just sounded like a faint squeaking sound, but that is just because she was too big to understand fairy language. The little fairy baby was sitting on a pebble with a leaf over his head. He was trying his best to appear invisible. The grown-up fairies didn’t seem to notice him at all, so maybe he really was invisible to them. “That is the one I will catch!” said Emberly to herself. The queen of the fairies had ordered the crickets to play music and some of the pixies began a funny dance, jumping and sprinting around the lavishly decorated throne. The pixies were wearing suits woven with pine needles and snake grass, and hats made of hazelnut shells. All the bathing fairies were watching the funny pixies now, and Emberly saw her chance. She crawled on her arms and legs closer to the stream and held her open glass jar out in front of her. She had put a piece of her godmother’s strawberry cream cake inside the jar and was hoping the fairy baby would smell it and willingly climb into the jar. She pushed the jar so that it was quite close to the fairy baby, and she had been right. The little creature wiggled his nose, turned his head and sniffed. He smiled when he saw the white and pink little cake, and threw the leaf he had been hiding under to the side and staggered on his little fairy legs into the glass. As soon as he was inside, Emberly quickly tipped the jar so that it stood upright again and closed the lid. She had done it! She had caught a fairy!

“It is a nice dance,” said the queen from her throne, “but something is missing.” She got up and looked ponderingly around. Her eyes went to the pebble where the fairy baby had been sitting just minutes ago, and she gasped. “Where is the little prince!? Where is he!?” she shouted as loudly as a fairy can shout, but to Emberly it just sounded like a little tingle of teaspoons of sugar being dipped into a small cup. Emberly peeked into the jar to have a better look, but when she tilted the jar to give the fairy a bit more space to move around, she saw to her astonishment that there was no fairy in there anymore, just a very small green frog with big yellow frightened eyes. “What happened to the little fairy?” she said out loud and shook the glass until the frog became so dizzy he almost fainted. The pixies had begun to dance again, but the queen stopped them and commanded rather sternly: “Stop! Stop! What is the matter with you? The prince is missing and the only thing you can think of is dancing and being funny!” The pixies stopped dancing and looked at each other, rather ashamed of themselves. “Your majesty,” said the oldest pixie, “what do you want us to do?” “Find the prince of course!” said the Fairy Queen. The pixies nodded and started looking around the banks of the stream, under pebbles, behind rocks, in between the snake grass and dandelions, but the prince was nowhere to be found. Suddenly a tiny blue fairy appeared before the queen. She had finished her bathing and was wearing a lovely frock made of bluebell petals. “I will find the prince for you, your majesty.” The queen was very pleased to hear this and asked the blue fairy to get started right away. The little blue fairy, whose name was Minoria, flew up in the tallest tree, a white slim birch, and from there she could see the entire forest.

Emberly was sure the ugly green frog must somehow have gotten into the jar before the fairy baby and eaten him up, and she was very much disappointed in her catch. A frog was a very common thing, and nothing really to brag about. So she opened the lid of the jar and the frog hopped happily back into the green grass and headed for the stream. When the bathing fairies saw the frog coming at them, they screamed in fright and disgust and swam to the shore as fast as they could. And as soon as their wings had dried they flew away from the stream. The Fairy Queen did not much like frogs herself, and she called for her firefly horses to pull her carriage home. Emberly saw the fairies leave and so she lost her interest in the forest and headed home. The only one who was left on the scene was the little green frog. He did not really like the stream, even though he was a frog, so he climbed into a walnut shell, left behind by the fairies, and fell asleep.

Minoria saw the frog from the tree, and thought to herself that he must not be much more than a baby, and she felt so sorry for him that she flew down from the tree, and covered his green ugly body with violet leaves. Feeling rather tired herself, she climbed into a marigold and settled herself in between the soft delicate petals and fell fast asleep. The next morning, when the frog woke up, he found the sleeping blue fairy beside him and woke her with a lick of his long tongue. Minoria was startled by the unfamiliar awakening, but she did not get scared. She actually laughed and started playing with the little frog. It was a rather charming sight to see, and the squirrels came down from the trees to watch. “Maybe he can help me to find the prince…” said Minoria to herself and she beckoned the frog to follow her.

For hours they walked around in the forest, sometimes Minoria took little flights into the trees to see a bit further on, but there was no sign of the prince. “You should ask the witch,” chirped a blackbird from its nest. “But how do I find the witch?” asked Minoria. “Oh, she lives here and there. Try under that root over there,” replied the blackbird and pointed towards a fallen over tree with its wing. The root looked rather abandoned and forlorn, but Minoria found a small piece of solid wood that perhaps looked a little bit like a door and knocked it three times. “Who’s there?” said an old hoarse voice. “It is Minoria, the blue fairy, and a little green frog; we have come to see you on urgent business.” Minoria could hear the sound of something being pulled and pushed and kicked, and then slowly the piece of wood, that was indeed a door, opened.

The witch was old and wrinkly with a toothless smile and a round, rather red nose. “What is it you want? I have a cold and a fever and I am not up to any spells today,” said the witch and coughed noisily. “I am so sorry to hear about your cold, Madam Witch, I will not keep you, but please we need help urgently!” The witch reluctantly let them inside. The root-home was dark and damp( a very bad place for colds, thought Minoria to herself), and there were only a few cones for furniture, and a big black cauldron made of a broken crow egg sooted black with coal. “Now, hurry,” said the witch impatiently, “tell me why you have come.” The little green frog huddled close to Minoria and stared at the witch with his frightened yellow eyes. “It is the Fairy Prince,” said Minoria, “he is missing. We have looked everywhere, but we cannot find him.” The witch looked from Minoria to the frog and cackled. “Oh, I think you have,” she said, and laughed even louder. Minoria looked at her puzzled. Perhaps the witch was mad with fever. “Take this seed,” said the witch and held out a little yellow and brown object, “and plant it tonight, when the moon comes out, in the garden of the white and blue cottage just at the border of this forest. By next morning a tree will grow from that seed, and you must pick the first berry that ripens on the tree and feed it to the little green frog.” “And then what will happen,” asked Minoria. She didn’t understand what the white and blue cottage and the frog had to do with finding the prince, but she was scared to disobey the witch. “Then you will see,” said the witch and cackled even louder.

Minoria knew the white and blue cottage well; she had flown there many times to look at the enormous golden haired girl who lived there. Fairies were not allowed to interact with, or be seen by humans, but Minoria had always been careful. The cottage garden was beautiful this time of year, all ripe and lush with roses, periwinkles, jasmines and forget-me-nots. Minoria chose a barren spot right next to the white strawberry flowers to plant the seed, and once it was done, she and the frog went to sleep amongst the sweet smelling flowers.

They were awakened next morning by a bumblebee who had mistaken Minoria for a bluebell. “Shooosh with you,” hooted Minoria and the startled bumblebee buzzed hurriedly on to the bed of roses. “Look!” called Minoria, “the seed has grown into a tree! Just like the witch said!” She kicked off and flew up to the crown of the tree to examine it closer, and there, just on the top branch, she spotted a little red berry. She picked it and gave it to the little green frog who hungrily gobbled it up in one bite (breakfast was his favorite meal). Then something funny happened, the frog started to grow! He grew and grew until he was almost as tall as the tree! His face changed too! His big yellow eyes became blue and small, and his green frog-skin turned white and pink. “You are a boy!” exclaimed Minoria. “A human boy!”

The frog, who indeed had turned into a human boy, looked at himself and smiled. Unfortunately he didn’t have any clothes on, and this seemed to bother him immensely, so Minoria helped him to gather some maple leaves to fashion into a suit. When it was done, he smiled happily and took a few dance steps in the garden. “Who are you?” called out a voice. Minoria, who could tell that the voice was human, quickly hid under a rose petal. The frog-boy turned around and saw the most beautiful girl he had even seen stand before him. She had golden hair and pink cheeks and lovely brown eyes. “I am a prince,” said the frog-boy, who discovered to his great delight that he could talk like a human. Emberly, yes it was indeed Emberly who lived in the white and blue cottage, looked at the boy and smiled, “then I should very much like to kiss you,” she said. The frog-boy smiled back at her and lifted his face up to hers. Emberly planted a big wet kiss on his mouth, but then as she did so, something strange happened. Emberly started shrinking, she shrank and shrank, and something else happened too, her white and pink skin turned green and her lovely brown eyes became large and yellow. She had turned into a frog! Frightened out of her wits, Emberly started hopping around frantically. The frog-boy hurried to catch her, and he put her into a glass jar that stood nearby. “I will keep you forever and ever,” he said to frog-Emberly inside the jar, and kissed the glass wall tenderly.

Minoria, who had witnessed the whole scene, was now beside herself with worry. What was she now to do? She still had no fairy prince, only a frog turned into a live boy, and a human girl turned into a frog! She sighed in frustration. “I better take both of you to the witch,” she said. But neither the frog nor the boy could hear her. But she motioned desperately with her wings, and soon they understood that they were to follow her. The frog-boy carried frog-Emberly in the jar, and Minoria flew a few feet ahead. When the witch she saw them, she laughed and laughed, even more than she had done before. Her whole face twisted in involuntarily grimaces and she held her stomach hard as she threw back her head and heaved for breath. Minoria looked at her a bit sternly and gave a little cough. “I am sure you find this all very amusing, but I need to find the fairy prince and your advice did not help at all!” “Oh, you think so, do you?” said the witch and smiled mischievously. “But what am I to do with these two?” asked Minoria and threw up her wings in resigned frustration. “You are to take the frog in the jar to the fairy queen. Tell her to keep it there for three days and three nights. She is not to open the jar. The boy has to go back to the cottage and live there for the same amount of days and nights. On the third day you will return to him, and take him back with you to the fairies, but before you go, pick all the ripe berries from the tree you planted, and mix them into a juice. When the sun sets that same day, give one cup of the juice to the boy, and one cup to the frog, they should drink it just as the last rays of the sun disappear.” “And then what will happen,” asked Minoria, rather confusedly. “Oh, you will see,” said the witch. And Minoria could do nothing else but take her advice.

The boy, who now had to live in the white and blue cottage, soon became very lonely, there was no one to play with, and no funny things to look at. The frog on the other hand, was thoroughly amused. Frog-Emberly had no idea how much fun it was to be a fairy! They painted nutshells purple, and danced along leafy paths, they flew and twirled in breezes, and slept in petal hats, they dried the tears of squirrel babes and hung their firs to dry, they sat and read on mushrooms and never did she see them cry! On the third day, Minoria flew to the little cottage as she had been told to do by the witch. She found a very sad boy sitting on a rock outside the door, waiting for her. He lit up when he saw her, and wanted to leave right away, but Minoria remembered the berries and motioned to the boy to pick them and keep them in his pocket. They boy understood and did as he was told. The Fairy Queen was not at all glad to see the boy walking into her little queendom. She had been reluctant enough to let the frog live with them for the past three days, and she had only agreed because it had been locked up in a glass jar. Now, however, she was to entertain a fully grown human! She stamped her foot so hard her daffodil slipper came off, and the youngest pixie had to run after it as it was caught in the wind.

Minoria lead the boy into the meadow where he was made to sit down on a log-stool next to the frog, then she started pounding the little red berries into a juice, just as the witch had told her to do, and poured the liquid into two cups, one big and one quite small and flat for the frog. Then the she told the pixies to open the lid of the jar. The frightened pixies were clumsy, but after a few attempts they managed to open the lid just enough for the cup to be brought to the captured frog, and just as the last rays of the sun disappeared behind the trees, the boy and the frog drank the sweet juice. The first thing that happened was that the jar broke. The fairies shrieked and leapt up, some of them even hid under leaves and behind dandelions. Then the boy disappeared, and in his place stood a tiny naked fairy baby, and next to the fairy baby, an enormous golden haired girl. “Who are you!?” demanded the astonished Fairy Queen. But only the fairy baby understood what she said. “I am the fairy prince,” he said, and the queen saw to her delight that he was in fact the missing fairy prince. Emberly said something too, but no one understood her. But she reached out her little finger, and the fairy queen touched it with her hand, and then she left, and to everyone’s surprise the fairy prince started crying. “Fairy babies don’t cry,” said the fairy queen sternly. “Perhaps there is a little bit of boy in him still,” offered Minoria, and all the fairies nodded their heads in agreement and stared at the fairy prince rather worriedly.

The fairy prince grew up to be a handsome fairy king, and Emberly grew up to be an author. She wrote many books about the fairies and how lovely they were, but how one should never try to catch them because if you do, they might just turn into a frog. The fairy king and Emberly met again one day, when they were both grown-ups. The fairy king was the ruler of his own kingdom then, and needn’t bother too much about rules and such. Emberly was so delighted to see him, she wanted to make him something special to drink, and then she thought of the witch’s tree in the garden. She picked all the ripe berries and pounded them into a juice. She offered one glass to the fairy king and took one herself. The fairy king did not want to be rude, but ever since he was a baby he had hated the taste of juice, so he just pretended to drink, and poured the juice discretely in the flowerbed. Emberly however loved juice, and it was a hot summer day and she drank thirstily. But as she drank she started shrinking, and shrinking, and shrinking, and suddenly something light and feathery poked out from her back. She turned around to see, and to her delight discovered that they were wings, and when she looked up at the fairy king she could see that they were the same size! Emberly had become a fairy!

The fairy king, who had always had a secret crush on the enormous girl, fell in love all over again, and asked her then and there to marry him. Emberly, who remembered being a frog inside the jar and seeing how much fun it was to be a fairy, said yes of course. . They married shortly after, and ruled the fairy kingdom as fairy queen and fairy king for many many years to come.

THE END

 

 

The Wizard’s Spell

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Art by John Howe

I wrote this story for my cousin, who loves the Fantasy Genre just as much as I do. When we were kids I wrote him stories all the time, and it was so much fun! To inspire this story he gave me three words: An old woman, a dog and a forest, and I had to include all of them in my text. I had so much fun writing this, and I hope you will enjoy reading it too!

He walked over to her quickly, shook her old calloused hand, and thanked her for her effort in the Kolkaran battle. She was dressed as she had been when they had first met, her criss-crossed face half hidden in a long muddy brown cape, her whole appearance dark and foreboding. She greeted Reeves courteously, but showed no sign of affection. Dagda Mora was not a woman of sentiment, she was a spell caster, and today she had won a war for her people. Well, they weren’t really her people, but she hated “the other ones” more, and consequently made her decision.

Reeves had been followed into the hall by Baylin, and a number of woods-men warriors seeking merit after the day’s battle. He had none to offer them. He knew there would be more battles to come. Dagda Mora sat down at the head of the table, enjoying her position as the eldest, Reeves motioned for Baylin to sit down next to him to the old woman’s right. Baylin was from the Westland and his lean, but strong built, had gained him the leadership amongst the men. Baylin’s thin brown eyebrows were raised in concentration as he studied the old woman who had, against all possible odds, been the heroine of the battle. “We need a weapon,” stated Reeves, and pierced his blue young eyes into Dagda Mora’s shadowy black. “And what makes you think I can produce such a weapon?” Croaked The old lady. “You are the spell caster, and I saw what you did on the battle field today.” Dagda Mora gave a hoarse eerie cackle that made Baylin jump in his seat. “I’m not a witch, you foolish boy”. Dagda Mora’s face had turned black and ugly with the torrent of rage produced by the inarticulate insult. “You can do it, and we both know it.” Concluded Reeves, unmoved by the charged atmosphere.
Dagda Mora broke into a violent laugh. “Of course I can, but what’s in it for me?”

For a brief moment Dagda Mora and Reeves locked gazes, as if to judge each other’s intentions. Dagda Mora smiled coldly at the young warrior, challenging him with her expectant silence. Baylin knew instantly that Reeves was inviting trouble, and that everyone in this room and beyond would end up paying for the foreboding favor. Reeves stood up determinedly and cleared his throat. Dagda Mora shot him an annoyed but bemused gaze. “What will it be, dagger boy, out with it!” She demanded blackly. “You will receive whatever payment you choose.” “Ha!” Cackled the old woman and broke into a roar of laugh. “So be it, gentlemen. I will claim my payment when I find it suitable.” For some reason, this particular answer, terrified Baylin more than any amount of gold, silver or even blood. A sense of foreboding filled his lungs and made him heave for breath. Reeves sat back in his chair, relaxing quietly in his seat, a barely audible sigh of relief escaping his lips as he coolly thanked the old woman for her cooperation.

Outside the assembly hall darkness had spun it’s black net of invisibility around the small houses and cottages in the village. The air was cool, and washed over Baylin’s hot grim face like a wave of chilled water. The shadowed moonlight barely made its way in between the eaves of the snug houses. Baylin leaned idly against the wall of the long wooden building housing the assembly hall. The meeting had concluded, and Reeves had asked him to wait for him. The tall chieftain was still inside making preparations with the old witch. Baylin knew that they could not expect to postpone the inevitable battle for too long. They were living like prisoners in Kolkaran , while the enemy prepared his battle plan.

Reeves looked quietly at his brother of arms, who stood lost in thought, staring at the play of moonlight and shadow on the darkened earth, and he felt a sense of betrayal, had he promised the spell caster too much? But then again, how could he have done things differently? She was their only chance. Reeves wished he did not have to involve the young warrior in this matter. But he had no choice. Baylin was his best tracker, and without a tracker they could not enter the Forest of Roan Mor.

Reeves was forced to call a second halt, only minutes after their journey through the forest had begun, to allow Dagda Mora another rest. The two men sat quietly down at the side of the trail and listened in dismay to the old woman’s panting. The roll of thunder, still distant, had been announcing its arrival for some time now, and Reeves did not like the slow pace they had to keep for the sake of the spell caster. Soon, the storm would be upon them, and the trail would disappear in mud and darkness. Baylin glanced over at the exhausted witch, her face was bloodshot and wet from perspiration, he could hear her moaning through shallow breaths. He looked at her and felt that this quest would fail and he himself would pay the price for this failure. It angered him, the whole idea of this journey was crazy, but he was loyal to Reeves and would remain so till his last breath left his body, something he suspected would be soon if the old witch didn’t decide to turn herself into a crow or something else that would suit her haggard exterior. But even then, could this old woman really save them from the warlock of Gundaban’s army? He had his doubts.

Reeves’ sudden whisper of warning startled Baylin who instinctively drew his sword, but Reeves shook his head and motioned for them to follow him under the cover of the leafy trees. There all three flattened themselves against the damp earth and waited anxiously for whatever had caught the Chieftain’s attention. A moment later they heard the distinct sound of paws dragging along the trail from the direction in which they were headed, a huge black animal came out of the darkness ahead of them moving in the direction of their hiding place. Reeves had to restrain Baylin from drawing his sword again and charging forward. The animal pacing steadily towards them was no ordinary dog, it was a Black Varg, a northern creature triple the size of a wolf. What it was doing in these parts Reeves could not tell, but whatever the reason, their best chance of survival was hiding and hoping the beast would pass them by.

A stillness settled over the forest, broken only by the expectant breathing of the three huddled together under the tree. Baylin glanced back at the trail they had come from. The path seemed undisturbed save for the deep footprints they had themselves made just a few minutes ago. Dust and fog swirled in the dark light. Nothing seemed to move. Baylin hesitated for a second, then Reeves motioned him to slowly get to his feet. Baylin moved quickly onto the grass followed by Reeves and a reluctant Dagda Mora. Baylin looked for any movement in the dim obscure light. But everything seemed to be shrouded in a grayish light. They were about midway to the trail now, and Baylin let out his breath heavily. Then the darkness in front of them moved and seemed to surge upwards and from out of the shadows a big black monster emerged. Doglike in appearance, the creature charged forward, filling the empty space before them with its enormous body. A shriek of fury escaped its clenched jaws and pierced through the forest. Long clawed paws reached for the Warriors followed by pointed yellow teeth and burning staring eyes glaring at them viciously. Baylin and Reeves reacted instantly, drawing their swords and pushing the old woman behind them. Reeves got the first hit, his sword cutting through the monster’s exposed flesh. The Varg reared back in pain, and Baylin quickly seized the opportunity to stab it again. But to the men’s shock their swords seemed to only scratch the surface of the creature’s flesh. It’s retaliation was quick and merciless, with a roar it charged forward against the men. Reeves managed to dive out of its reach, but Baylin was not so fast, and he screamed as the monster’s sharp teeth dug into his right forearm. Another scream boomed through the forest as the Varg made a second attack burying the claws of his paw into Baylin’s left arm. Baylin fell to his knees. Reeves charged forward, but was prevented by a surprisingly strong arm holding him back. Dagda Mora.

Then, just as Reeves was about to turn and fight off the spell caster, a blinding aura of blue light that caused Reeves to squint and shield his eyes overwhelmed the forest. Reeves was momentarily blinded, but fought hard to regain his vision. He blinked and rubbed his eyes fiercely until he could make out the form of a man standing at the edge of the forest. His hands were raised and blue streaks of light shot out of his extended fingers, striking the black dog with such force it reeled back from Baylin’s unconscious body. The Varg snarled and snapped it’s huge jaws , but before it could compose itself for a counter attack, the hooded figure , partly hidden behind the trees, raised his hands again and a new arrow of light hit the dog a second time. Baylin’s body slumped heavily to the ground as the Varg finally let go of its prey, wheeled about and scurried away from the piercing blue light with a long whimpering cry of dismay. Dagda Mora let go of Reeves’ arm and he charged forward to examine his brother of arms. Baylin had sustained some serious wounds and was bleeding heavily, but he was alive. ” I can help with that, ” said Dagda Mora, surprisingly softly, and lightly touched Reeves’ shoulder, he spun around fiercely, ready to tell her off for keeping him back, but before he could open his mouth the man who had saved them appeared by his side. “This is neither the time nor the place to exchange unpleasantries, warrior. Pick up your friend and come with me. Quickly!” ” Do as he says, boy!” The rough tone of an old wicked witch had returned to Dagda Mora’s voice. “I demand to know who this man is, and why he is ordering me about before I go anywhere,” responded Reeves while heaving the body of Baylin unto his back. “Watch your tongue, you fool, this is the wizard Roan Mor himself, the lord and caretaker of this forest.”

“Roan Mor!” Reeves couldn’t believe what he was hearing. The legend of the wizard of Roan Mor was well known in Kolkaran, as it was anywhere in these lands, but surely it was just that, a legend! “There is no time, young warrior, quickly now follow me!” The wizard took the lead and reluctantly Reeves, carrying Baylin’s body, followed, with Dagda Mor making up the rear. They walked briskly until they came to a huge oak standing tall at the banks of a still blue lake. The wizard tapped his walking stick thrice at the lower trunk of the tree, then, to Reeves’ amazement, a door opened under the vegetation. In a hushed voice the wizard explained to the astonished warrior that this was the secret passage to the underworld of the woods, the labyrinthine tunnels, indistinguishable to anyone who did not know what to look for. And so, the company passed through the door, and found themselves standing on a damp ground of solid earth. Roan Mor motioned them forward along the narrow earthen corridor with patterns of roots snaking alongside the thick brown walls. A few minutes later he halted before an abrupt barrier with the look and texture of bedrock. The wizard gently touched something in the Rock and a hidden door swung open to reveal another passageway. Roan Mor stepped inside and Reeves reluctantly followed. When all three of them were inside the passageway the stone door closed noisily behind them.

Reeves noticed that the air inside the passageway was more comfortable and easier to breathe, and the dampness of the walls and ceiling had diminished. The wizard kept leading them further and further into the passageway until they reached the end of the tunnel. An iron door was fastened into the Rock in front of them. Roan Mor reached into his pocket and fished out a big brass key which he inserted into the door’s lock. The door swung open with a hard metal thud that echoed through the deep silence of the tunnel. The company stepped into a large chamber fashioned like a hall or some kind of parlor. “Welcome, guests, to my humble abode.” Roan Mor reached out his hand and gave a theatrical bow. “This is where you live?” Asked Reeves with an undisguised surprise to his tone. The wizard smiled and nodded his head. ” You may relieve yourself of your burden here, warrior,” said Roan Mor and pointed to a wooden bed in the corner of the room. Reeves realized that the “burden” was Baylin, and he carefully lowered the young warrior’s body unto the readymade bed. Dagda Mora quickly came to his aid and started, with soft gentle hands, to examine Baylin’s wounds while she was muttering something under her breath. ” Come sit, my friend.” Roan Mor motioned for Reeves to sit next to him by a table where two mugs of cold beer had mysteriously appeared out of thin air. ” Now, tell me, what are you doing in my forest? And why was a Varg from Gundaban following you?” ” it wasn’t…” Started Reeves, but Dagda Mora interrupted him. ” You know damn well what we are doing here! Don’t play games, old man! We’ve come for your spell!”

” My spell is it,” the old man chuckled as though this amused him thoroughly, “and what spell might that be, old friend?” Dagda Mora shot him a dark and threatening look. ” Oh, give it up you arrogant fool, there is only one spell that can save us all from the warlock of Gundaban, and there is only one man who knows how to cast it, or should I say, undo it.” ” I see…” Said Roan Mor, the bemused look had gone from his eyes, replaced by a hint of annoyance. ” And why would I….what was it you called it…..undo….?….this spell?” Dagda Mora’s temper flared up and she spat the words at the wizard as though they were a curse….” Because the warlock of Gundaban is about to make mincemeat out of this entire world, and unfortunately, or should I rather say fortunately, the entire world includes you too you useless old man. You can’t hide away in your tunnels forever!” Roan Mor was not very impressed by this speech, he simplyshrugged his shoulders and sighed, ” can’t I? And by the way, what makes you think I’m hiding….and another thing, my dear lady, when did you all of a sudden turn into a hero? I dare say, there is something else in it for you, besides pure altruism, I mean. Tell me young chieftain, what did you promise the old spell caster in return for her help?” Reeves looked from the fuming Dagda Mora to the cool nonchalant wizard next to him, ” anything she wanted,” he replied firmly. The wizard broke out in a loud hearty laugh, ” well then, noble lady, do inform us, what is that you want desperately enough to want to break ice with me?”

“Enough of your games! You’re avoiding the real question, will you undo the spell or will you not?” Dagda Mora gave the wizard a challenging look. Reeves had had enough, he rose from his seat and spoke, with all the authority he could muster. ” Now, will you two please stop mucking about, and tell me what this spell is and how the undoing of it is going to help my men defeat the Gundaban Army?”. Roan Mor looked up at the towering Chieftain, surprise emanated from his squinting eyes and he reached out a hand to motion the warrior to sit back down. “Easy now, boy, that tone will get you nowhere in my house.” Dagda Mora sighed impatiently. ” if you will not tell him, then I will. Long ago this forest was the dwelling place of a clan of powerful Wood Sprites, they ruled these parts without interference, but then as the battles of the black armies broke out, a wizard crossed the boundaries of their territory and cursed them. He stole their life force and trapped it inside a seed. Nobody knows where the seed disappeared to nor the wizard, but not long after, a forest of trees rose up from the ground where the Wood Sprite’s territory had been, and this forest became the forest of Roan Mor.” Dagda Mora kept her eyes fixed at the old wizard, but he betrayed no visible sign of emotions. “So,” began Reeves in astonishment, ” you are that wizard?” Roan Mor looked into Reeves’ eyes and nodded his head. ” yes, yes I am. But what Dagda Mora here has failed to include in her story is why I put the wood sprites under a spell. You see, this particular clan was a warrior clan, dark and mysterious and notorious for their, what shall we call it….inability to die….” ” immortality?” Interjected Reeves. ” No, not immortality, they simply didn’t get hurt or wounded by weapons. So naturally that would make them a very powerful alley. And that is exactly what the warlock was trying to do, to convince them to join his army and eventually his rule. Now, Wood Sprites are fickle creatures, selfish of course, and they like to play for the winning team, and I could simply not risk it. Without any sense of moral there was no telling what they would do. I suspect they would choose to play for the team that offered them the biggest prize, which would of course be the cunning warlock. So I did what I had to do to protect the people of these lands. Your ancestors, young Chieftain.” ” So if that is true,” said Reeves, glancing over at Dagda Mora, still sitting on the bed next to the unconscious Baylin, “how will undoing the spell help us now? Will we not be faced with the exact same dilemma all over again?” ” No,” answered the spell caster and stared straight into Roan Mor’s liquid blue eyes, ” because I know something he doesn’t.”

“Oh, I’ve heard the old tales too, Dagda Mora, but they are just that, old tales.” Roan Mor chuckled and dismissed the old woman with a lazy wave of his sinewy hand. “What tale?” Asked Reeves, a little annoyed now at all the half-dropped hints and secrecy between the two spell casters. “Oh, it’s not a tale, it’s something that happened long ago,” Dagda Mora looked triumphantly into the wizard’s inscrutable eyes, then turned and gazed at the expectant young Chieftain. “As I said,” she continued, “long ago…the wood sprites, the ancestors of this particular wood sprite clan trapped in the Roan Mor trees, were attacked by an army sent by none other than the warlock of Gundaban. The attack was cowardly, it came at night and was aimed at the sleeping youngsters and the females. It was over in an hour. Few survived. The Wood Sprites attempted retaliation of course, but the warlock is cunning, and he keeps himself and his followers protected by walls of black magic, once inside those walls nothing and no one can penetrate their defenses. The Wood Sprites still carry the thirst for revenge as an inheritance passed from one generation to the next. That is why I know that given a chance they would ally with us against a common ancient enemy.” ” Well, yes, that is the tale,” interrupted Roan Mor, “but I have seen no evidence of this to be true. None.” “I have, ” replied Dagda Mora with a firm finality to her old hoarse voice, ” I have seen the attack with my own eyes.” Roan Mor flinched, his eyebrows arched and he studied the old woman’s face with obvious sign of astonishment. “How…..?” Began Reeves, but Dagda Mora dismissed him. ” That will have to remain a mystery to you for now. But believe me the tale is true, and the Wood Sprites would do anything to get their hands on the Warlock of Gundaban .” Roan Mor regained his calm disposition and said with a calm cool voice: “well, that my friends, changes everything. I didn’t know your magic ran that deep, Dagda Mora, but I know a liar when I see one, and you are not lying.” ” I certainly am not!” Spat Dagda Mora offendedly. ” So, will you help us?” Interjected Reeves impatiently, ” will you undo the spell and free the wood sprites?” Roan Mor closed his eyes in contemplation, then took a long sip from the now luke warm beer and nodded his head determinedly, calmness settling over his wrinkled face, ” Yes, young Chieftain, I will do as you ask. It seems we must all lay our trust in the hands of the Lady Dagda Mora if we are to succeed in this dark quest.” Dagda Mora winced, stuck up her nose and gave a sharp satisfying ” humph”.

Reeves and Roan Mor were walking briskly through the damp forest. Dagda Mora had been left behind to tend to the wounded Baylin. Reeves was glad of it, the old woman moved too slowly for his patience. The wizard and the warrior were moving through heavy mist and rain, at times staggering on the uncertain footing of the wet mossy ground. Reeves felt his mind begin to clear and his sense of purpose return as he walked rapidly next to the wizard. The seed had been buried somewhere north of the tunnels, that was the only information Roan Mor had given away, but it was enough to give Reeves hope and a renewed strength in his muscles. Reeves’ eyes searched the darkness about them for any sign of Vargs, but he saw nothing but empty black space. Then abruptly he picked up a sound, the rushing throb of water, perhaps a waterfall or a river. Moments later they stood by the pool of a descending cascade of white foam and blue water gushing unto banks of slippery rock. Roan Mor began moving closer to the thundering waterfall, peering into the hollow gloom behind the steady spray of cold water. Reeves followed the wizard without question, his eyes still searching the whereabouts for Vargs. The mist had begun to thicken and it would not be long before the visibility would be obscured into oblivion. Roan Mor led him closer to the enormous shower pouring into mists of rainbows, then he halted and indicated in gestures, to avoid being muted by the roar of water, a small break in the waterfall. Quickly the warrior pulled his hood unto his head and together the company of two pushed off into the cascade of water.

The water was cold and aggressive and with terrific force it wet the two men to the core. Reeves felt his bone going numb, but pushed on until they were both safely on the dry open space behind the cascade. Almost immediately Reeves felt the chill of the humid gloom cutting through his skin. It was another tunnel. Or perhaps not a tunnel, more like a cave with stale mossy walls and tomblike atmosphere. Roan Mor was moving slowly forward into a corridor leading up to some kind of iron door. Reeves followed him. Forcing down a knot of despair that this hollow room had conjured in him. Roan Mor approached the iron door and fished out a key from his robes. He unlocked the door with some difficulty, but finally the heavy iron gave in and Reeves helped Roan Mor to push the door open. Inside the door a dark room, looking like some kind of old dungeon, came into view. This was a place that would terrify most humans, lifeless and lightless with a clammy chill that cut into the bones. Glancing behind him in desperate search for light, Reeves could see to his horror that the day was dimming and the darkness of night would soon blacken the place entirely. Gritting his teeth he moved forward after the wizard. Then, to his astonishment he could suddenly see a faint light glimmering in the distance. Freezing into a motionless statue he squinted his eyes to get a better look. He could see it clearly now, it was weak, but it managed to break the darkness just enough for Reeves to see his own feet and hands. Roan Mor motioned for him to follow, and slowly paced towards the tiny flame. In carefully timed steps the two moved down the slippery corridor, like blind men seeking a flicker of light. Then, as thunder in a still night, exploded a thudding noise like the sound of a tomb being closed. Reeves looked panic stricken behind him into the empty blackness, he could see nothing, but realized with a rising feeling of terror that it was the iron door closing behind them. They were trapped.

Reeves paused, staring blankly at the wall of blackness that barred their way out. Then he turned and fixed his eyes on the mysterious flickering light ahead, ignoring the desire to run back the way they had come from. He locked the thought in his mind that salvation lay in the light alone. Reeves clutched the handle of his sword tightly as if trying to draw its strength, and followed the wizard further into the graying shadows of the dark tunnel, not once looking back into the dead silent of the shut walls. Minutes, that seemed like hours passed, before the chieftain and the wizard finally stood in the fringes of the lighted mist, cast by a tiny brass lamp fueled by a sweet smelling oil. They paused, studying the mystic lamp that marked the shrine of something that still remained invisible. Reeves waited impatiently for the wizard to proceed. ” There is madness in this, young Chieftain. Mark my words. You better pray the old spell caster is right.” And with those words Roan Mor lifted the lamp as though it was nothing but a cold mug of beer and poured its content into his mouth. Then, everything went black.

Reeves stared at the empty blackness where the wizard had stood. He carefully reached out his hand, and to his relief he could feel the rugged fringed fabric of his companion’s cloak. “Are you okay?” He whispered anxiously to what he gathered was the form of the wizard. There was no reply. Then suddenly he detected a faint, almost inaudible whisper: ” we must go on.” Reeves looked into the darkness, but nothing seemed to move. A few moments passed before Reeves felt something grab hold of him and pull him into the blackened haze.

Reeves could only make out vague shadows around him, as he stumbled after the wizard. There was no sound, only the thud of their boots and scrape of shingles. There was a damp dense mist about, giving Reeves the feeling of being slowly choked to death. Roan Mor moved faster as the tunnel deepened, giving Reeves the illusion of walking downhill. They walked for must have been hours in this blackened world of half-life, blurring their senses and confusing their understanding of time and space. Then at last the deep gloom began to draw back into a grayish haze and the contours of a rough and curt landscape rose out of the haze. To Reeves’ amazement he discovered that they were no longer inside the tunnel, but outside, breathing natural air again. Then abruptly the gray haze faded and the darkness was behind them. It happened so quickly Reeves was completely caught off guard. He stood in shocked silence as he discovered that the land surrounding them was the Forest of Roan Mor! The earth stretched away to the south, broken by wisps of grassland, and far ahead, shrouded in dusty sunshine, towered an oak above a blue familiar lake. ” How….?” Began Reeves in utter astonishment, but Roan Mor just tiredly dismissed him with a wave of his old pale hand. ” There is too much in this world you know nothing about, my young friend.” And with that he walked, rather briskly for such an old chap, towards the invisible entrance of his home.

Reeves, and the now fully recovered Baylin, stood a good distance away from the two spell casters in the dark wetlands of the forest of Roan Mor. Dagda Mora stared fixedly at the croaked over shape of the wizard, muttering inaudibly to herself. Amid the starkness of the scene Reeves could see the wizard for what he really was, an old weather beaten man weighed down by too many years of trials and tribulations. But there was a soft glow to his features, coloring the view of his being like a significant spark of a moment of exceptional extraordinarity. Then the vision exploded, and both Baylin and Reeves jumped and reached for their swords, but this was not something beatable by brute force, at least not that of a man and his iron sword. Suddenly a force, like an electric current seemed to strike at the wizard, hurling him several feet from where he had stood. Reeves forced himself to keep watching, unable to move, and before him was a light so intense he had to shield his eyes, it seemed to emanate from the wizard’s entire body, surging upwards from his open mouth. Beyond it, he could see Dagda Mora, her gaze fixed at the light pulsating feverishly. There was a sense of eagerness to its movement, as it strained to be released from the body holding it imprisoned. For a moment, the two warriors, the young Baylin and the Chieftain, struggled to comprehend the shock of the revelation happening before them, and they made no effort to advance or come to the wizard’s aid. Then their concentration shifted to the trees, completely immersed in the terrific light, their tall shape cleared with frightening sharpness, and abruptly their form seem to change, revealing contours of faces, arms, eyes. The flow of light went on endlessly. Reeves and Baylin recoiled in the mystery of what they were seeing, they simply could not accept the truth of the magic happening before their very eyes! Yet, they had to, their senses persuading them with the clarity of the vision in front of them. They could not sensibly deny this reality. The spell was being lifted, the curse broken. The trees had returned to their original form. They were no longer trees, but living breathing Wood Sprites standing as tall as their previous wooden form, glaring at the dwarfed wizard who had held them prisoner for so long.

Then a shadow descended upon the forest. The bright light emanating from Roan Mor dimmed sharply. Standing erect at the clearing, tall against the misty horizon, was a massive form shrouded in dust and haze. Instinctively, Reeves knew that this was the Chieftain of the Wood Sprites. His face was dark and deep set, and a green beard grew sluggishly underneath a mouth twisted in contempt. His eyes were fixed on the little wizard lying helplessly on the ground, completely fatigued by the undoing of his own spell. Reeves cried a warning to the old spell caster, but he was too late, the Wood Sprite Chief had already closed his claw-like hand around Roan Mor’s limp body and was, with tremendous ease, hoisting him into the air. Both Reeves and Baylin drew their swords and charged against the Wood Sprite, but Dagda Mora, who everyone seemed to have forgotten, stopped them by lifting her hand and freezing them into motionless statues. Helplessly they had to watch the scene unfold, paralyzed by the old woman’s powerful spell. The Wood Sprite held a iron-like grip around the wizard’s body, slowly squeezing the life force out of him, like the wizard had once done with him and his people. He wanted it to hurt, he wanted his capturer to feel terror, panic, fear, but the wizard showed no sign of any of these emotions, he just remained calm and dispassionate. The struggle was almost over for the old man when a shrill voice cried out. A voice that echoed authority and command. It was the voice of Dagda Mora.

The words were foreign to the two warriors, but the Wood Sprites seemed to understand, their chieftain hesitated, and his grip around the wizard’s body loosened slightly. The features of the Wood Sprite Chief twisted in recognition of the words, and his eyes widened in surprise. Then abruptly the unconscious form of the wizard was dropped to the ground, whether in anger or surrender was hard to tell. Reeves stared down at the crumpled form, suddenly he felt the spell holding him back lifting, and he darted to the wizard’s side, hurriedly checking his pulse for any sign of life. Now Baylin was there too, cradling Roan Mor’s other thin hand in his. “Is he alive?” It was Dagda Mora, still standing at the same spot, just a couple of feet away from the gathering of Wood Sprites. “Yes, but barely,” replied Reeves weakly. Dagda Mora sighed in relief.

As the mist thinned, Baylin could see that the forest was no longer a forest, but an open wasteland populated by hundreds of Wood Sprites. Before him Dagda Mora was kneeling over the limp body of the wizard muttering incantations. “He’ll be alright,” said Reeves reassuringly, “the spell caster knows what she’s doing.” ” What about the Wood Sprites?” Asked Baylin, ” What will happen to them?”. ” They will fight with us. Dagda Mora was right, they hate the warlock of Gundaban, and will do anything to have their revenge over him.” Baylin nodded. ” And what about Roan Mor?” ” He is too weak to fight in any battle, besides, Dagda Mora says battles are not his thing. He prefers to stay out of it.” Baylin snorted, somehow he found that hard to believe. ” And Dagda Mora?” “Will have her payment now…” Dagda Mora had come up beside the two warriors, standing as tall as she could against the black backdrop of a brightly starry sky. She had finally come to claim her share. Her promise fulfilled, there was nothing else to do but to give in to her demands. Whatever they were.

” Fifty years ago your father Treyan, Chieftain of Kolkaran, swore an oath, he would protect his land and people, no matter what. The promise was a black one, tied together with unbreakable magic, magic he extracted from Briannen Jain, a very powerful wizard, powerful and corrupted. If Treyan ever would break his promise and retreat from a battle, even if it was to protect his people, he would die. Treyan naturally became obsessed with winning, but he was no more than a mortal man. Again he went to Briannen to bargain another spell out of him. Briannen refused. But he had a weakness: gold. Treyan knew this and bribed the wizard with all the gold in his kingdom. So Briannen gave him a spell. A cunning one. When I met Treyan he was wandering the forest hunting game. He was alone. I didn’t know who he was, and I agreed to help him catch his dinner. I used a spell to lure the game closer, and Treyan was grateful for the help. But it wasn’t the game he was interested in. It was me. I had revealed my magic to him, and Treyan needed that magic to make himself invincible, so he bound me and my magical services to him and to his ancestors for as long as I would be alive. I helped him win many battles, as I have helped you win your battles, Reeves. But time has come for that bond to be broken, and for you and your people to fight your own battles. That is my price. That is what you will give me.” Baylin looked at Reeves, the shock was apparent in his eyes, ” brother, you can’t, we need her, without her magic we will never defeat the warlock!” Reeves stared at Dagda Mora, his eyes were solemn and unblinking. ” It is a fair price, Spell Caster. And I apologize on behalf of my late father, he was wrong to trap you, and you are right. It is time for Kolkaran to fight her own battles. I release you Dagda Mora. You are free.” The old woman’s haggard face broke into a satisfied grin, and she bowed her head in greeting and left, her shadow lingering on the barren land as a new sun rose from the white peaks in the distance.

Reeves and Baylin helped Roan Mor back into his house, where they left him with the company he mostly preferred, his own. ” Now what?” Asked Baylin as they stood side by side under the tall oak they now knew so well. ” We return to Kolkaran and prepare for battle. The Wood Sprites are already marching on Gundaban, we will not let them go to battle alone.” Reeves put his arm around the younger man’s shoulder, and together they started the long walk back to Kolkaran.

Note: You are more than welcome to save this story on your device. I know on Apple devices you can save the page as a PDF in iBooks. Then it will read like an E-book. I’m sure other devices have similar options.

For more John Howe art visit: http://www.john-howe.com

The Lost Tales of Silver Forest

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Art by: Svein solem

The darkness sparkled on a canvas of white stars and tiny specks of snow drizzled dazedly upon the roof of Elsie’s house. Elsie yawned in her sleep and kicked the duvet unto the floor. Not long after, she started shivering and woke up abruptly. “That better not have been you, Foxnap Longbeak!”, she shouted annoyingly into the blackness. A tiny red-capped House Elf appeared from the invisibility of the murky courner of Elsie’s bedroom. “What!? What is this now? Accusing me of this and that! Me!? The sweetest House Elf in all of Northland!”. Elsie sighed, that he was not, but it did look like he had been sleeping. She slipped into her clothes and decided to get up, it was just an hour before sunup and she might as well make the best of it. “Where are you going now?”, asked Foxnap grumpily, he fixed his cap, tied his scarf around his neck and carefully released his long grey beard from the scarf knot. Elsie didn’t reply, she knew he would follow her no matter where she went. Outside the grass shone with hoarfrost and the sky lay dreaming in a deliciously soft bed of blue and indigo. “I’ll start milking the cows first,” thought Elsie to herself. It wasn’t as though Foxnap would bother to do it, even though as head House Elf, it was supposed to be his job. Elsie’s wooden clogs made a crunching sound in the frozen grass, the only sound audible in the quiet bliss of winter, but then suddenly, something else disturbed the silence. It sounded like some sort of snort. Elsie looked up, and there, at the edge of the Silver Forest stood a tall handsome stag staring at her.

The stag bowed its majestic head in the direction where Elsie stood, lifted it’s hooves and kicked loosely in the powdery snow. Elsie could see that it was a red deer, the messenger between worlds. The red deers’ forfather was Dvalin himself, the one true messenger of the ancient gods. Elsie bowed her head too and quickly cast the rune of Onn, the symbol of the hidden and mysterious. The stag acknowledged her greeting and gave a snort before it turned and headed back into the forest. Elsie’s grandmother had taught her about runes and their ancient symbols, she had showed Elsie how to see beyond her eyes and how to follow signs. The rune Onn belonged to the hare, the friend and helper of Dvalin. Now the stag turned back and looked at her. “What is that thing doing?” Sniffed Foxnap behind her. “Shoooo! Shooo!”he called out, but the stag did not move. Again it bowed its head. Elsie felt herself drawn to the stag. She became the hare, secretly cloaking herself in white invisibility . “stop that at once!” Shouted Foxnap, “we are NOT following that thing!”. Foxnap had clearly lived too long surrounded by the comforts of the farm. There was not much wildless left in him, but protective, he was. ” We have to,” whispered Elsie. “Can’t you see that it is calling me?”

Elsie turned towards the forest, making her way through the crisp grass with Foxnap at her heels. The stag started moving slowly, stopping, waiting, then moving again. Elsie was slow, careful, but not hesitant. She kept the rune Onn at her fingertips. Soon, the lampost marking the border between people and beast, village and wilderness appeared before them. Elsie had never been this far into the forest before. She had been warned, there was magic here, magic beyond the ancient familiar runes of old…Elsie came to a halt…someone was there at the courner of her eye, just beyond her visibility, something or someone watching her…The stag was gone. “Let’s get out of here!!” hissed Foxnap, not grumpy anymore, his voice was full of anger, warning, danger…But Elsie was frozen at the spot, eyed glued to the stranger watching her….

“Come over here, little girl!”. The stranger called out, beckoning for Elsie to approach him. Elsie quickly cast the rune of Huathe, the seer in the dark. “Rune magic, will not help you here, child,” said the stranger, “but if it is light you want, then so be it.” He stepped into the soft glow of the lampost and Elsie gasped. “You are a Grimlin!” she exclaimed. Foxnap grunted unhappily, a wolf-man was not something he had expected to meet in this forest, but then, there was a lot he did not know about the Silver Forest. He stepped infront of Elsie protectively and drew his little silver knife. ” You won’t be needing that, Elf, hurting the girl is the last thing I want, she is too valuable for that. Allow me to introduce myself. My name is Gwan, and I am indeed a Grimlin, one of the last of my kind in Silver Forest.” Foxnap lowered his knife reluctantly, but remained positioned infront of Elsie. ” And my name is Elsie, and this is my family House Elf, Foxnap. We followed a stag and ended up here, but now the stag seems to have disappeared.” Gwan nodded, ” I sent the stag to fetch you here. Silver Forest needs your help.” Elsie was just about to ask why, when she was interrupted by a deep piercing howl from the forest, and suddenly a flock of grey wolves appeared on the hill. The wolf leader blotted his yellow teeth and growled menacingly…

“Don’t be afraid, Elsie, the wolves are under my command. They are just put off by the Elf, we did not expect him to come with you.” Foxnap looked midly offended and put his hand on Elsie’s shoulder. “Where the girl goes I follow,” he stated. Elsie rolled her eyes, but secretly she was glad of Foxnap’s company here in this unfamiliar place. Gwan smiled, and nodded his head, “I can see that, House Elf, she is a lucky girl.” Foxnap was not sure if Gwan was being truthful or pulling his leg, but he decided to keep his mouth shut. For now. The wolves descended and formed around Gwan. They looked rather like an army of canine soldiers ready to jump the throat of any potential threat. Elsie shivered. She was glad the wolves were on their side. “Listen, Elsie, I have much to tell you, but not here, there are spies everywhere, even here, so close to the border. Let’s move quickly before they catch our scent.” “But….” protested Elsie, but she was cut short by a strong gust of north wind whirling up loose snow and rattling the heavy snow clad spruce trees so that a kind of white mist spun a web of invisibility around them. Elsie felt Foxnap’s hand in hers. “Come quickly!” said Gwan from somewhere in the mist, and before Elsie knew what was going on she had been lifted up on the back of a wolf, and the beast was running madly deeper and deeper into the Silver Forest.

Elsie held on as tightly as she could while the wolf leaped over rocks and branches. The mist was still too thick to see anything. “Elsie! Elsie, are you okay?” It was Foxnap, calling her from somewhere inside the mist. “Yes, yes I am. How about you?” she replied. Foxnap just grunted, obviously not happy with his means of transportation. But at least they were both safe. For now. As the Silver Forest grew denser and darker, the mist lifted, and Elsie could see the silhouette of a house appearing infront of her. The house looked gloomy and abandoned, with its aged wooden walls and darkened windows. The wolf’s pace slowed down as the house grew taller. Elsie felt something eerie and ghost like creep up on her, a feeling of dread, making the hair on her arms stand up as shivers went rapidly down her spine. The wolf came to a full stop right outside the old mansion-like house.

“Put me down this instant!” It was Foxnap and he was not happy having been carried, not by one of the wolves, but by Gwan himself. Gwan laughed and obeyed the House Elf’s order. “None of the wolves were willing to take him,” explained Gwan to Elsie. “Poor Foxnap,” thought Elsie, he was really not having an easy time of it out here in the wilderness. “Let’s go inside,” said Gwan and approached the door to the house. Elsie shivered again, but did not protest. “Stay behind me,” whispered Foxnap fiercely, and stepped infront of Elsie. She did not mind obeying him. The door made an old tired squeaking sound before it gave in and opened. Inside, a long dark corridor appeared and at the end of the corridor, another door. There were no lights and all Elsie had to guide her steps was the sound of Gwan and Foxnap walking infront of her. Finally, as the second door opened a tiny arrow of light shot through the corridor, and Elsie could see that the walls were covered with strange moss clad paintings. The door was pushed aside by Gwan and revealed another room, bathed in golden candlelight, and at the very end of the room sat a man, or was it a man? No, when Elsie looked carefully, she could see that it was a woman, a very old, and very witch-like woman staring straight at her with black raveny eyes.

“Come here, girl. Don’t be afraid.” The old lady beckoned Elsie to come closer. Her fingers were long and thin and crow like. Elsie hesitated, but Gwan gave her an encouraging look. “Go on, ” he whispered, “she is friendlier than she looks.” He gave a little soft laugh. Foxnap came to stand next to Elsie, “we’ll go together,” he squeezed Elsie’s hand and smiled. The old lady was waiting for them in her high royal chair. “I might not look it now, but I was once a beautiful Wildwoth. The wisest of them all. My beauty has been taken by the Mare people, but my brain is still intact.” She gave a small smile. Elsie looked at the old lady. She looked nothing like a Wildwoth, rumored to be so intoxicatingly beautiful that they could lure any man, beast or woman into their midst. ” Who are the Mare people?” asked Elsie. ” The mare people are why we have called you here, my dear. They are the darkness that lies upon Silver Forest. They consume everything that is good and beautiful in this world, until the only thing left is…..darkness, hunger, want….” The Wildwoth shivered and her smile disappeared. ” Is it because they hate the goodness and want to have the world for themselves? .” Elsie knew the stories of old, how conquerors and warriors and kings had tried to plunder and steal Northland, but they had always failed. ” Not exactly, ” answered the Wildwoth. ” The Mare people are so drawn to everything good and beautiful, because they themselves are nothing but empty shells. They want to posess all beauty, but their greed and their want never ends for as soon as they touch something good it disappears. Nothing and nobody can come in contact with a Mare and live to tell the tale.” ” So then, it is hopeless,” sighed Elsie. The Wildwoth smiled, ” for me perhaps, and for Gwan and your House Elf here, but for you Elsie, it is not.”

“But…” Stuttered Elsie, “what is so special about me?” The Wildwoth smiled again, and her eyes twinkled slightly. ” You, Elsie, have the ancient Rune Magic.” “But Gwan said Rune Magic was not going to work here in Silver Forest.” Elsie was confused and gave the Wildwoth an uncertain look. “That is not entirely true, child. For if you know the Rune Magic, you will also posess the lost tales of old, and that, little girl, is where the true magic lies.” Elsie opened her mouth to say something, but the wildwoth was not finished talking. ” Gwan, take Elsie, and the House Elf, to Ash, he will know how to help her. I will send Arn, my most trusted friend ahead to let Ash know that you are coming. But go quickly, my friend, we have no time to lose.” Gwan nodded, and before Elsie could ask another question, she and Foxnap were guided back out by Gwan. Outside, the wolves were waiting for them in the snow. The air was crisp and cold, and not very inviting. Gwan lifted Elsie up on one of the wolf’s back and just as they were about to take off, Elsie heard a shrill cry from the air above, and when Elsie looked up, she saw a majestic eagle sailing the wind above the white frosted peaks. ” Arn,” said Gwan and smiled. “If the wildwoth’s must trusted friend was an eagle,” thought Elsie to herself, “then who, or rather what, was Ash?”

The wolves carried Elsie and Foxnap deeper into the snow clad forest. The mist had gone, but been replaced by an eerie silence, as though the forest was holding its breath, waiting for something to burst out of the night. The winter darkness lay thick upon the forest, even the exquisite Northern Lights did not penetrate the wild green canopy of the Silver trees. The wolves did not move quite as fast this time, they carefully chose their steps, perhaps afraid of losing their precious cargo. Ice blanketed the rocks making them shimmer beautifully, but dangerously. All of a sudden Elsie thought she saw something moving in the shadows, something tall and dark, but when she looked carefully, it was just a tree. The wolves stopped abruptly, aware of the sudden movement. And then, the tree moved again, but there was no wind to shift its tall shape, everything was still and quiet. Elsie felt her heart starting to beat faster, louder. The tree was, clumsily and slowly, moving towards her!

“Good evening, Ash.” Gwan strode nonchalantly out of the shadows behind Elsie. ” Ash!!?” Elsie’s eyes widened and she stared unbelievingly at the tree. ” Ash is a…a tree!?” ” I am no tree!” Came the angry reply from the tree. ” I am a Tree Lork.” ” A Tree Lork!?” Elsie had heard about these mythical creatures in stories and fairy tales, half man and half tree, the Tree Lorks were a terrible sight to behold, ancient and fierce and no friend to man or beast. ” And this is the creature you have chosen to teach Elsie?” Foxnap’s voice was shaking with anger. Ash looked at him with eyes ready for the kill. ” What is all this nonsense, Gwan. Arn told me to expect a young wizard, not a little girl and an obnoxious elf.” ” The girl is the wizard,” replied Gwan, ” and it seems the Elf comes with the bargain, whether we want him or not.” Foxnap hissed and was about to fire another insult at the Tree and the Grimlin, when Elsie hushed him with a pleading look. ” She knows the ancient Rune Magic,” explained Gwan to Ash. Ash looked at Elsie suspiciously. ” Well does she now, so let’s see it then!” Elsie hesitated, but what choice did she have, it seemed, if she did not impress this Tree Lork, she would never learn the magic behind her magic. She steadied herself, closed her eyes, raised her hands and formed the rune of Nuin, the rune signifying secret passageway to the hidden and unknown,the rune belonging to the Ash tree, the tree where the warlocks of old wrote down their mystic knowledge to preserve it from the darkness. The air seemed to light up around them, it pulsated and shifted and opened, like a door someone had pushed aside, there were voices in the still wind, whispering riddles. Ash backed away from Elsie, clearly astonished by what he saw. ” Enough,” he said eventually, sternly and with finality. ” We will take her to the painted caves. They will test her, and if she can break the codes written in blood, she will pass, and I will teach her.” ” Codes written in blood!? What is this barbaric test!? Elsie will undergo no such test!” Foxnap could not hold back anymore. This had gone too far. ” it’s okay, Foxnap, I will do it. I will take the test.” And with those words filling the air, Ash led the way to the painted caves.

The Panited Caves were not far. The Wolf pack came to a quiet halt outside a slick grey wall covered in red shapes. The air was a bit thicker here, like it contained too many secrets to hold. The snow was absent, and yet, it felt colder. Elsie climbed down from the wolf’s back and approached the wall. She could see that the paintings were old, perhaps over 3000 years. Foxnap came to stand next to her. ” I don’t like this, Elsie. Not one bit,” he whispered anxiously. ” I know,” replied Elsie, “but I can feel that I must do this. It’s important.”
“Yes, it is my child, more than you understand.” It was Gwan who spoke. He put his hand on Elsie’s shoulder and gave her an encouraging smile. ” Well, this is it,” Ash’s voice did not carry any warmth or friendliness, it was simply on point. “And she must go alone.” These last words were directed at Foxnap, who looked as though he was about to burst into an anger fit at any time. Elsie nodded. She touched the paintings with her fingers. Here was the great elk, looking tall and majestic, and wolves…being hunted. There was also a bear and…Elsie looked carefully….a lynx? Elsie knew that the bear was the balancer beteween the spirit world and the human world, old spirits often took the shape of a bear when they wanted to visit the world of men. The elk was the carrier of knowledge and old wisdom, and the Rune of the Elk would help the caster of it find their own inner wisdom. The lynx gave the power to see the spirits and reveal the hidden secrets, and the wolf was the strongest protector. So then, why were the humans in the cave paintings hunting the wolf? Elsie took a deep breath and entered the cave.

The cave was dark and humid, blanketed by a wet damp cold that tore at Elsie’s limbs. It was an unwelcoming feeling, making Elsie hesitate. But she could not give in to fear, not so soon. Elsie raised her hand and cast the rune of the wolf. A formless figure appeared next to her, it was not exactly visible to the eye, more like a mass of energy and vibration not bound by matter. Elsie could feel the strength pouring into her, and she became calm again. The cave turned into a tunnel leading Elsie along black moist walls and a slippery hard floor. The wolf walked next to her, making no sound only a slight vibration. Suddenly the air shifted, it was no longer stiff and stale, but surging with energy, there was a tiny flash of light, and then, the empty air formed into a big black bear. Elsie screamed and the wolf leaped at the bear, but the wolf was no match for the bear, and soon it was whimpering on the cave floor. The black bear beckoned Elsie to follow it, and then she remembered the rune of the bear, the bear was a messenger, a spirit in animal form. Elsie patted the invisible wolf and together they followed the black messenger deeper into the cave.
Soon, the tunnel widened into a room. The bear signed for Elsie to hide, and then with a flicker of his paw, the room changed. Colors started taking shape, a soft light started glowing. The shapes took form, and Elsie saw to her utter horror that the cave was filled with ugly looking, loud, boisterous and terrifying Dwargs!

“Are they really Dwargs?” asked Elsie, her voice was shaking with fear. Dwargs were hateful, stupid, unpredictable creature who killed for sport. Her guide, the black bear, shook his head, and spoke, not out loud or by moving his lips, but inside Elsie’s head: ” These creatures are not Dwargs, they are what human beings will become if the Mare people are not stopped. These are only illusions, shadows of what will be, if you do not succeed, Elsie.” Elsie felt her whole inside stiffen, and her heart skipped a few beats. “Me….? But….I am just one girl!”. ” No, my child, you are not. You are not alone. Look inside you, look at the ancient runes, they are a part of you, look behind them, what are their stories? What are they telling you?” Elsie looked down at the wolf beside her. Even though he was invisible, he was just as real as herself, like an extension of her own courage. She looked back at the Dwargs, they were now no more than disturbances in the air, potentials not yet realized. And it dawned on Elsie that magic was no more than seeing the hidden potentials in the world that no one else saw, and fulfilling them. ” Everything is at its core nothing but energy and vibration, Elsie, governed by cerain laws. Learn these laws, and you can change any outcome. These are the lost tales of how everything came into being.” Elsie pondered these words while the black messenger guided her back into the tunnel and towards the entrance she had come from. As the soft starlight from outside penetrated the cave, the bear’s form dissolved and Elsie was alone again. The wolf leaped into her heart and Elsie knew she had passed the test. Outside the moon shone on the white snow and her friends were waiting for her. Elsie took at deep breath of the fresh night air just as Foxnap bolted to her side and gave her a rare and endearing hug. She was safe. For now.

When Ash saw Elsie appear in the cave entrance his dark wooden eyes opened wide and he gave Elsie a beady look of shock and astonishment. ” She passed the test,” he declared, trying to hide the tone of surprise in his voice. Foxnap stared at him and said darkly: ” Well, of course she did, you piece of a stick, she is MY Elsie after all.” Ash chose to ignore the rudeness of this remark, and turned to Gwan instead. ” You were right about the girl. I will take her to the swamp and teach her. We leave now.” Gwan nodded and looked proud. ” We will ALL leave,” added Foxnap, and put his arm protectively around Elsie’s legs. ” I’m sure we will,” replied Ash dryly, ” but this time, the wolves will not do, we need bigger beasts for this journey. The wolves should stay and guard the cave. I sense that something dark is on your tail and will soon try to enter the cave.” Elsie gave Foxnap a worried glance, somehow she knew that Ash was right. ” Very well, Ash,” said Gwan calmly, ” what do you suggest?” Ash looked at Elsie, who knew the answer instantly. ” Bears. We will call the bears.” Ash nodded, ” you do that, Elsie.” Elsie lifted her hand and cast the rune of the bear, and not long after a group of big brown bears came striding out of the shadows.

Elsie woke up abruptly from the deep sleep she had fallen into on top of the bear’s soft warm back. The air had suddenly changed, it was colder, solidified like ice, moving fast towards them. Ash, whose tall shape was walking next to her, looked at Elsie and nodded, “Yes, there is someone there. Why don’t you use the Owl Rune to see who it is.” Elsie lifted her fingers and formed the rune of Huath, the Owl’s rune, the one who could see in spiritual darkness and guide you out of it. Immediately a majestic white snow owl ascended from Elsie’s hand, it tried its wings and circled above Elsie’s head a couple of times before it set off into the darkness. This time, to Elsie’s astonishment, the owl had not been just energy and vibration, but it had taken full form and been filled with matter. The owl had been very much alive and breathing. Elsie looked at Ash who, for the first time since Elsie had met him, gave a small fleeting smile. They continued into the forest and Elsie was just about to fall asleep again when the Snow owl returned. She came to sit on Ash’s huge black arm seeking Elsie with her liquid amber eyes. When Elsie met her gaze she saw what the owl had seen. A bodiless crooked and terrifying head filled the sky above a small farm Elsie recognized as her own home, it gave an ice cold shriek before it dissolved, but Elsie could feel its cold bleak energy heading towards the forest. It was hunting her. “And that, my child, is a Mare,” said Ash calmly. He had apparently seen the same vision as Elsie. Elsie froze, ” but it’s coming this way, it will catch me!” ” And that is why we need to speed up, the swamp is not far, you will be safe there.” Ash snapped his fingers and the bears started running, and with Gwan in the lead, the whole party disappeared into the wintery darkness.

The swamp was just that, a dark cold and damp swamp. Why Ash chose to live here Elsie did not know or understand. Perhaps it was the tree in him that enjoyed the humidity. There was a little cottage there too, much too small for Ash who preferred the wild outside, but it was a warm and cozy little house designed solely for the purpose of guests. Ash served them some creamy mushroom soup and barley beer for Gwan and Foxnap. The food was delicious, and Elsie could feel it strenghtening her. ” We have about two days,” declared Ash. ” That is hardly enough time,” replied Gwan, ” why the rush, Ash?” ” In two days the Mare tailing us will reach the swamp and Elsie needs to be ready.” Elsie almost choked on her soup. ” Two days!” She cried out, ” What can I possibly learn in two days!? ” ” A lot,” came the somber feelingless answer. ” But first Elsie need her sleep,” interrupted Foxnap, and none of the others protested.
The next day Elsie woke up with a knot in her stomach, she was anxious about the day and frightened of the Mare closing up on them. Ash didn’t give her much time to prepare herself, right after breakfast he declared that the lessons were about to begin. ” Elsie, ” he said and gave Elsie a serious look, ” You must know by now that all magic follows laws, laws that we cannot manipulate. You have seen greed, greed is based on vanity and a want for power and control, this kind of greed is a thirst that cannot be quenched, it will ultimately consume itself. The greed of the Mare people is based on lack, on emptiness and a desire to fill that emptiness, this has led to jealousy, an idea that everyone has what I don’t and I need to take it from them to get it.” ” What has this got to do with magic?” interrupted Elsie. “Everything,” came the dry answer. ” Magic says that everything that can happen will happen, sometimes with a little help. There are endless potentials just waiting to burst forth and be realized. They want to be fulfilled. There are basically two types of energy, the energy that creates and the energy that destroys, both are necessary for life to exist. But as you probably have guessed by now, the Mares are made up of energy that destroys, not to break down and recreate, but to consume. Do you understand? ” Elsie nodded. ” So I have to destroy the destructive energy?” She asked uncertainly. Ash shook his head. ” You cannot destroy destruction with destruction. You cannot fill emptiness with more emptiness. Emptiness is nothing, so there is nothing to destroy.” Elsie looked puzzled. ” Think, Elsie. Use your intelect. Think.” But Elsie was blank. It seemed an impossible task.

” Let us try something more practical,” suggested Ash. ” I want to you to cast the rune of the Lynx. Not just to summon its energy, but to summon the lynx itself.” Elsie concentrared and lifted her hand to form the rune of the lynx. She felt it take shape inside her, then externalize and find form and matter to fill it with, and then suddenly, a beautiful white lynx came striding majestically out from behind the trees. ” Good, Elsie. Call it over here.” Elsie did, and the lynx came to stand next to them, looking up at Elsie with deep knowledgeable eyes. ” Can you tell me the tale of the lynx?” asked Ash. ” It is the animal who helps us solve riddles, find the answers to secrets and discover knowledge within.” ” Yes, exactly,” smiled Ash. ” Now I want you to try to become the lynx, to feel her energy within, to be her, to unite with her and feel her every molecule, her every vibrating cell, to see, hear and experience the world through her eyes. Not just in spirit, but in form as well.” Elsie concentrared again. This time it was tricky, she had never done this advanced magic before. She focused on the lynx, its energy, its being, the way it was created, she focused on the tale of the lynx from its very creation, and suddenly she was not Elsie anymore, she had four paws and the world looked and felt entirely different. Her senses were sharper and her energy pulsated faster. “Good.” She could hear Ash’s voice from far away. “Now come back to your own form.” It took all of Elsie’s energy to return to her own body and being. Ash smiled at her. “One last lesson, and then we are done.” Elsie was panting, and fatigue seemed to have taken her over. But she steadied herself, and lifted her hands, ready for the next rune. ” Now do the opposite, draw the lynx into you, let the lynx take your human form, and feel your human emotions.” Elsie looked astonishingly at Ash. ” How…?”, she began, but Ash interrupted her, ” just try, Elsie, trust your instincts.” Elsie closed her eyes, and invited into her, the tale of the lynx.

That night Elsie dreamt that she was fighting the Mare, but no matter what she did, no matter what rune she cast, she could not defeat the Mare. But just before the world persihed, and she with it, an elk appeared, it calmed her and told her to listen to the forest and what it was whispering, but before Elsie could hear anything more, she woke up, bathed in sweat. “Ash?” she asked at the breakfast table that morning, ” why was I chosen to defeat the Mare people, what is so special about me? Surely, you, or Gwan or the Wildwoth, are much more capable and skilled than to me fulfill this task.” ” That is a very important question, Elsie. What did the elk in your dream say?” Elsie looked at Ash with shock and surprise in her eyes, ” How did you know…?” ” Never mind that,” replied Ash, ” answer me, what did he say?” Elsie had never heard what the elk whispered in her dream, but all of a sudden she just knew, she could feel the elk inside her, talking to her. ” It says that I am happy, fulfilled, loved. It says that there is no lack or greed in me, that I am…whole…enough…worthy…” Ash looked at her approvingly, ” And that, my dear, is exactly why you were chosen”

Elsie thought about Ash’s words for a while. What did he mean when he said she was whole? It was true that she felt…loved. She did not feel that she needed something to feel…what was it Ash had called it….worthy? Was she in truth happy? She was often sad, angry, frustrated and upset, but that always passed, and she went back to…well…yes…happy in a way. ” But Ash, ” said Elsie, ” what about you? Do you not feel happy?” Ash looked at her and his eyes grew sad and colorless. ” I have seen too much wrongdoing and acts of terror, Elsie. I feel so helpless, there is nothing I can do to change it. Perhaps in a way I have lost faith in the world. Too many people turn to greed when they have an opportunity to. It saddens me, and…yes…it takes away my hope, my trust in love and goodness.” Ash sighed. In her mind Elsie saw a man, looking very much like Ash, but without the part of him that was tree and wood. He sat with his head in his hands in what looked like utter despair. Elsie felt compassion wash over her like a tidal wave and she wished to take the man’s pain away. ” But, Ash,” said Elsie suddenly, ” wouldn’t that make me the perfect target for the Mare people? You said they are jealous of happiness and seek to consume it?” ” Yes, Elsie, that is why you have them on your tail.” “Them?” Elsie had never heard him use the word “them” before. “Are there more than one? ” she asked Ash unsteadily, her shaking voice betraying her fear. But before Ash could answer her question, the trees outside uttered what sounded like a cry of terror, and the air froze solid with bleakness and stale hopelessness.

Gwan and Ash got up abruptly and hurried outside. The air was so thick they could hardly breathe. “It’s too soon,” said Gwan nervously, “she is not ready.” “She has to be,” replied Ash, “she is our only hope.” Through the darkness they could spot the shadowy silhouettes of the Mares. They were many, perhaps in hundreds! Elsie had come to stand in the doorway, she was shivering both with fear and cold. “Quickly, Elsie!” called Ash, “cast the rune of the wolf, it may stall them for a while.” Elsie raised her hand and cast the rune. Multiple wolf shapes shot out of her fingers, they seemed bigger and more menacing than regular wolves, and without further instructions the whole pack headed for the forest and the oncoming army of Mares. Ash and Gwan retreated back into the house, only Elsie was left standing in the doorway, frozen with fear.

” Get inside!!” yelled Foxnap from inside the cottage. But Elsie could not. Her legs would not move an inch. She just stood there staring the the menacing shadows getting closer and closer. Now she could see the rune wolves attacking the shadows, there were loud screams of horror, branches were cracking, snow disappeared, and the air was frozen solid with sheer terror. It did not take long, the wolves were no match for the Mares. ” Eeelsieee!!” shouted Foxnap again, but still, Elsie could not move. She watched as the Mares vanished from the shadows and their liquidy form became solid. They were a terrible sight to behold. Ash came out from the cottage and tried to shoot at them with a bow and arrow, but this seemed to just anger them more. ” Try the bears, Elsie!” he yelled desperately at Elsie, and Elsie cast the rune of the bear. A huge black bear, more than tripple the size of a human, shot out of Elsie’s fingers. It flung itself at the Mares and a gruesome battle commenced. But then, to the cottage dwellers horror, the Mares shifted form, they emerged with each other until they became one big terrorizing entity . In this form, the bear was easily defeated. It whimpered slightly and went back to its invisible spirit being. Now, the giant Mare looked directly at Elsie, and with a terrifying roar it stepped into the swamp and towards where Elsie stood.

” come inside!!” Foxnap’s voice was a desperate scream now. But Elsie still didn’t move. ” I’ve got to try to fight it! ” she shouted back. ” Nooooooo!!” Roared Foxnap, ” You aren’t ready! Even Ash said so! ” ” But there is no time to get ready!” Replied Elsie, ” I’ve got to try, Foxnap! ” Foxnap, Ash and Gwan came to stand next to her as she faced the oncoming Mare. ” You can do it, ” whispered Ash into her ear. ” just remember what you have learned.” And Elsie remembered. She closed her eyes and conjured the images of the lynx, the bear, the wolf, the owl, and then the Dwargs and the future that would await her friends if she failed. She raised her hand and made an ancient mysterious rune, and then, she opened herself up…she mustered all her power and strength and invited the Mare to merge with her spirit. The Mare did not need much persuasion, this is what it had waited for…to suck the pure innocent spirit out of the girl. But then, that is not what happened….the Mare was confused, it was being held fast, it couldn’t consume or drink dry, it could only….feel…feel Elsie’s spirit, and the light of that pure spirit was so bright…it filled the Mare, and it was no longer empty, it couldn’t hold the light…it was growing…expanding…and then it exploded…

Elsie had neither shape nor form, she was just light dissolved in space. Floating, flying, diving…then she heard a faint voice…”Elsie! Elsie it’s time to return. Elsie!” She moved towards the voice, let it guide her, then she felt solid ground and she was again bound fast by matter. She had a body, her own body, and next to her stood Ash, smiling. “You did it, Elsie, the Mares are gone.” Elsie was confused, what had happened…” You filled them with your wholeness. By inviting them into your soul, by using empathy, you finally made them stop wanting, and when that stopped, the Mares could no longer exist.” Elsie blinked, had she really done all that? ” Eeeeelsieeeee!!” Foxnap threw himself into Elsie’s arms, ” you’re alive!” Elsie smiled and patted Foxnap on the back. “Yes, yes, I think I am.” Gwan also came to join the party, and the four of them just looked at each other and smiled.
” Elsie, let’s go home,” said Foxnap suddenly. “Yes,”replied Elsie, “let’s go home.”