The Azalea Garden: A Fairy Tale
Once upon a time, a little girl lived in a big house on North Wilson Street in Rock Hill, South Carolina. Her room was small, pink, and frilly, and it had a window overlooking a small azalea garden nestled in a crook of the house. In the garden, amongst a profusion of kudzu, bloomed four azalea bushes, one each of white, magenta, purple and red. The girl loved to look out this window at the garden, which she fancied to be her own private fairy garden. Each summer evening before going to bed, she would turn all her lights off and shine a flashlight out onto the blooms, until the insects clustered too deeply around the beam and made her afraid.
One such summer evening, the girl was standing there with her flashlight when she saw something moving inside one of the blossoms. She could have sworn that she saw a tiny woman inside the blossom. But the insects were thickening. She shut off her beam for a moment and sat back onto her frilly bed to think. Perhaps it was a true fairy! Perhaps she had seen something which she had always hoped to see out there in the azaleas, a true fairy living inside the petals as she’s always hoped. The obvious next step was to look again, to see if she could again see the little body in the flowers. Satisfied that the insects had mostly gone away, the girl stood at the window and switched on her flashlight again. There! In the red one, furthest from her window. A tiny lady was standing on the tip of a petal, poised as if about to take flight. She must have been surprised by the beam of light coming from the girl’s window, because she ducked back into the blossom as soon as she saw it.
I’m going to catch a fairy. The girl could not stop smiling as she searched beneath her bed for her butterfly net, her never-before-used bug viewer, and a small vial of glitter. Fairy bait. She grinned, tucking the items into a small crocheted pink purse and returning to the window. She turned her flashlight on and set it on the sill. With all her might she lifted at the window, slowly creaking it open. The bugs buzzed around outside the screen, making her hesitate. But then she saw again a tiny head peaking up out of that red azalea blossom, and she determined to pay the bugs no heed. She placed her fingers on the worn springs that released the screen from the window and tried to push them open and pull the screen out of the window. It didn’t work. She tried again, this time pushing on the screen. It fell outside, onto the dark carpet of kudzu below. A moth and a mosquito flew past her, into her room. She shivered. I’m going to catch a fairy.
The girl switched her light off. The soft darkness permeated by the distant glow of the streetlight was preferable to the cluster of insects that she attracted with her flashlight. She climbed into the windowsill and sat, feet dangling. It would only be a short jump into the soft kudzu carpet below. She could almost see a faint glittery glow come from the fairy flower. She jumped. The soft crush of leaves beneath her. A line of sparkles trailing from the bush to her face. A tinkling sound. The rush of wings. The girl had jumped. The soft crush of leaves.
The fairy flew in the girl’s face to blind her, beating her wings as fast as she could to rise quickly above the house, out of the line of that pesky mortal’s sight. The girl had seen her! The fairy could not stop thinking of this. She’s just a child. She won’t be believed. The time of belief has passed. Still, the fairy had just narrowly missed being captured. She had no idea what she would say about this to the king. Ratty child! The fairy had been watching her to see if she was worth stealing. The child was pretty, with fair skin, pale eyes, and cute blonde ringlets. But she was obviously a brat! The king was fond of the child, and had sent the fairy in secret to watch her. How could he have ever been so enthralled with the girl?
The fairy continued to fly over the rooftops until she came to the tallest oak tree in the human neighborhood. She flew thrice around the tree and then entered a narrow crevice in the branches. Suddenly she was in Fairyland. Surrounded by brightness and swirling colors, she flew through the color mists until she saw the bright blue and purple blob that marked the entry to the king’s castle. She flew inside and landed in a great hall decorated with rich tapestries in reds and blues and purples. Her bare feet sank into the lush purple carpet as she padded down the hall to the throne room. A crowd of fairy lords and ladies bedecked in finery filled the huge throne room. Around the edges stood sentries dressed in the king’s colors, blue and purple. The fairy pushed through the others to the back center of the room, where the king sat in his throne, hearing another boring case of one lord’s disputed property. When he saw the fairy, he stopped the lords with a gesture and stood. “Court is in recess,” he declared, “We must retreat to our chambers to receive a message.” He swept his robes about him and walked regally through a grand door in the back of his throne room and invited the fairy into his private chamber. She pulled the door shut behind them, afraid to report to the king. He stared at her with a stare so blue she felt as if her mind was being siphoned away. She wobbled a little, and went down on her knees in front of the king. Little sparkles flashed before her eyes as she started to tell her tale.
The messenger started to tell her tale. The king yawned internally. He’d hoped this would be more glamorous than those boring court cases. After all, he’d had a particular fondness for this messenger. Shell, her name was. She had beautiful eyes. He’d sent her to look after the girl, the one he’d taken a fancy to. Too old for stealing, his advisors said. But he wouldn’t listen to them. They weren’t king, and they didn’t know his true thoughts. So he’d sent the fairy anyway beneath his advisors’ noses. He didn’t want to kidnap this one. No. Far better. He wanted to befriend her. He wanted to reveal himself to her. After all, she was just a pretty child. It would be safe enough. The king was tired of hiding from the mortals. He was tired of playing the eternal game. Now, in the age of disbelief, would be the perfect time for the fairies to return to their former status. Now would be the perfect time to recapture the mortals’ fancies, to inspire them to new heights of creativity.
But the messenger was talking. The king had been so lost in his thoughts that he’d hardly heard a word of her speech. “And she really is just a brat, your highness, and seeing as how I was almost captured by her—“
“You were almost captured by her?” the king interrupted. This could be perfect.
“Yes your highness. As I already related, the girl was preparing a trap to capture me with glitter and a butterfly net.”
“So she saw you?”
The king was ecstatic. This was the right girl. Nevermind that she was intent on capturing a fairy. She could see them! Rather, she would see them. She chose to look, to believe. The pretty messenger was still waiting on him. “You are dismissed,” he told her, “We need to be alone.” The messenger left.
As soon as the door shut behind her, the king flew out his secret window and into the color mists. He flew through the bright colors until he found the pine green portal which led to the little girl’s neighborhood. He flew over the houses until he found her house. The screen was out of her window. The girl was creeping through the azalea bushes in her sock feet with a butterfly net, sprinkling glitter on the flowers. “Here, fairy, fairy,” the girl called softly. The king was amused. He flew quietly into the girls open window and waited on her pillow for her give up the search and return inside.
Finally, the girl gave up. The fairy must have got away. The girl was out of glitter and ready to sleep. She tossed her butterfly net and purse back into her window and then tried to climb back up. It was hard! The window was just a little too high. She almost gave up and went to see if the back door was unlocked, when all of the sudden she felt as if she had gotten a boost. She tumbled easily into her dark room. She stood and closed the window, leaving the screen in the garden below.
Hopefully those bugs had left her room by now. She cautiously switched on her lamp and looked around. There! On her pillow, a purple dragonfly! She grabbed a book to smash it with and approached slowly. But wait! It wasn’t a dragonfly, it was a tiny man with dragonfly wings, asleep on her pillow! He wore rich purple robes and a tiny gold crown on his head! The girl backed off slowly, careful not to wake him, and picked up her butterfly net from the floor.
The court was getting restless. Court had been in recess for too long now, and the king was still alone in his thinking chamber. He could have at finished the case he was hearing! Several times, the advisors had been sent to knock on his door, and each time he refused to answer.
The fairy sat against the wall, near the king’s door, waiting for him to return. She was afraid she had displeased the king with her report, the way he had so abruptly dismissed her. But he had seemed happy rather than disappointed. And the courtiers were getting so anxious. What could he be doing in there? The fairy was contemplating a bit of insolence. What if she just barged in on the king. She could be flogged for such a breach of protocol. But on the other hand, maybe he would welcome her presence. He did seem to lavish more affections on her than some of the other ladies of the court, and she was only a page! Just then, a screeching wail came up from the middle of the court.
It was a seer. The fairy could not see her through the clustered crowd, but she could hear her screechy voice. “Woe to you, fairies! Woe to your kingdom!” Those seers were always vying for attention with their negative prophecies. The seer continued, “Your king has fallen into deception and your kingdom is in distress. Your king is following a path that may lead to the closing of all doors between fairies and humans. You must…”
The fairy was no longer listening. She had found her courage. She darted over to the door, cracked it, slipped inside, and pulled it shut behind her. She looked around the small but richly furnished room. There was no king, only an open window. The window! That brat! The fairy knew what she had to do.
The king awoke to feel himself jostled down some kind of funnel into a small clear container. He was too groggy to protest, until he heard the snap of a lid above him. He flew up against the clear lid and fell back into the container, unable to lift it. He had done it now. He looked out. The girl was setting the box on her dresser, staring in at him with her big blue eyes. He stood up and waved. Her eyes widened, and she waved back. “Hello, little king,” she said to him.
“Hello princess,” he replied, but she could not hear him without a spell. His voice was too small. He wished she hadn’t trapped him in the box, but it would be okay to start with. If she’d give him some rose petals he could make a spell to talk to her and convince her to let him out, that he wouldn’t run away.
“Can you talk to me,” the girl asked.
The king made the sign of the rose but the girl did not understand.
“I guess not,” said the girl. “I wonder what you eat?”
Again the king made the sign of the rose. He tried miming a flower growing in the ground, but the girl had already turned away. She yawned and crawled into her big pink canopy bed. The king was left alone in the little clear box, watching the girl sleep. She believes. He was right. He may be temporarily trapped in this box but he knew he was right. The girl believed.
When the fairy made it back to the azalea garden, the window was closed and the room was dark. The fairy looked inside the window, trying to see through the darkness to find the king. She needed a light. She went back to her favorite azalea, the red one, and took a deep breath of flower. She used its energy to make herself immaterial for a moment and burst through the child’s window. The child was asleep in a big bier, and across from her, on a smaller table, was a clear box with the king inside. The fairy used the rest of her immaterial spell to duck inside, grab the surprised king by his arm and yank him out of the box with her. The box fell softly to the carpeted floor, but the fairy and her king were free. “Your highness, we must escape.” She whispered into the king’s ear.
The king disengaged himself from her arm and fluttered back to the carpeted floor. The fairy followed him. The king replied, “You may escape if you wish. We shall do no such thing.” He gave the fairy a blue stare that brought her to her knees again. “And the messenger should be flogged for daring to touch the king without permission.”
The fairy felt a shiver of respect run through her. She knew it was only the king’s regal glamour, but that did not lessen the effect. How could she have been so insolent? But the kingdom was at risk! Either that, or just another crazy seer had come to court that day. She looked once again into his face. “Sire…” she began, but could not finish.
The king looked down at the messenger. He seemed to have scared her. He always hated having that effect on pretty women, but on the other hand, it did seem to help him if he had other things in mind. He reached a hand down and offered it to her as she stuttered. He helped her to her feet and smiled what he hoped would be a comforting smile. “Thank you for trying to rescue us,” he began, “Forgive us our rash judgment. It is just that we are in no need of rescuing. We are following through with a plan that could renew fairykind’s fellowship with mankind.”
The messenger tried to smile. “But your highness, a seer at the court said you were in terrible danger.”
The king stopped her words with a finger to her lips. “Nevermind the seers. They’ve been doomsaying for years now, and we’ve seen no evidence that they are right.”
The pretty messenger looked upset. So the king kissed her. She seemed surprised, tried to push him away but then stopped. She seemed afraid, so he backed away.
“Does the king not please the lady?” he asked coyly.
She blushed. “I’m not a lady.”
The fairy was seething inside. She’d come to rescue the king, to save fairykind and all he wanted to do was seduce her? She’d long run out of her immaterial spell, so they would have to find a more mundane way out of this child’s room. But the king didn’t want to leave! The king had a plan. A rosy-we’ve-always-been-king-and-we-don’t-know-what-danger-is plan. She didn’t want to be disrespectful, but if the king tried to take her right there she’d kick him in the balls. Except for his regal glamour, which she wasn’t sure would let her lay a hand against him. The king was speaking, making some flowery comeback to save face.
“We did not mean to offend,” he finished.
“Forgive your servant but I still think we should escape this place. Humans mean only trouble…”
But there was that sweet blue smile again. Curse him and his romance novel moves!
The girl awoke slowly, to a strange buzzing sound. A bug in the room! She fumbled for the switch to her lamp and sat up in bed. There were two bugs flying by the window. As the light came on they landed on the sill. Not bugs! Fairies! Two of them. The little man with the crown and a lady too! The girl’s eyes shot to her dresser. The bug viewer had fallen to the floor and opened. The girl jumped out of bed and found her butterfly net on the floor where she left it. The lady fairy flew up into the girls face again and she swatted her to the floor. She had to catch them. She wanted to keep them as pets. They could show her magic and she could show them…but they were trying to escape again. The lady fairy was dragging the man fairy up towards the ceiling, where the girl couldn’t reach. But the man fairy seemed to be pulling in the other direction.
The girl waited patiently with her butterfly net. They had to come into range soon enough. And soon enough they did. The man fairy was pulling the lady fairy towards the girl again. The girl swooped on them with her butterfly net. Couldn’t be easier! Two in one scoop. Real fairies! The girl only hoped she was really awake.
Back in the box again, the king couldn’t be happier. He had a pretty lady, and a mortal child for entertainment. The girl was watching them through the box, triumphantly. The king knew she would change her mind in time. She would give them flowers, and they could make spells to talk to the girl, and slowly one by one they would attract believers. But for now, the pretty messenger was fuming at his side.
“With all due respect your highness, I told you so.”
He smiled at her, knowing she always regained her respect for royalty when he did so.
He smiled at her, and she felt that annoying blue gaze and knelt before him and smiled back at him with all the fury she could muster.
“Now we can live happily ever after,” he said to her. Then he bent and tried to kiss her again.
The girl watched the fairies in amusement. Two would definitely be more fun than one. And maybe tomorrow she could catch more. If only they didn’t have those bug wings, then they couldn’t fly away. Those bug wings. The girl lit up in excitement. She opened up her school drawer and rummaged around until she found what she was looking for, a pair of pink and purple safety scissors. Perfect!