The Azalea Garden
The girl was shining her flashlight into the garden again, attracting insects. Leylya shifted in her flower, then froze as the beam of light swept over her azalea bush. Her butt was hurting from sitting so long, and she had a terrible itch between her wings. She wanted so bad for her watch to be over. Why wouldn't that girl just go to bed?
Christie stood at her window, searching for fairies. She thought she had seen one a few nights ago, while she was plant-watching, but it had flown away. Still, the glimpse was enough to make her keep looking. The fairy had looked like a little woman with dragonfly wings. She shone the flashlight on the azalea bushes one at a time: purple, orange, pink, red. All she could see were the moths and june bugs that clustered at her window, drawn to the light. Christie hated bugs. She switched the flashlight off and banged on the window pane, trying to scare them away. There had to be a fairy out there. She just knew it.
The light was off. Leylya stood up and scratched between her wings. That felt soooo much better. She stretched her legs and bounced on the azalea petal. What a relief. She was ready return to the castle and tell the king that he would have to find another little girl to kidnap. This one was too old, and besides, she'd never make a good changeling. Much too boring. All she seemed to be interested in was classifying plants. Leylya wasn't really sure why the king had wanted this girl in the first place, unless he just had a soft spot for curly-headed blonde girls. She was just about to launch for the sky, when the light shone out of the window again, directly on her. She ducked into the flower, hoping the girl had not seen her.
There! In the red bush! A fairy! Christie kept shining her flashlight, hoping the fairy would stay put long enough for her to catch it. Carefully holding the flashlight in her right hand, she reached under her bed with her foot and dragged out her fairy catching kit. She had put it together the morning after she saw the fairy for the first time. She had a butterfly net, a bug viewer, and some glitter together in a pink tote bag. She stuck her toes through the handle and passed the bag from her foot to her left hand, keeping the flashlight focused on the azalea bush the whole time. Now, came the hard part. She shouldered the tote bag and unlocked her window.
Leylya could hear some kind of creaking, but she was too afraid to lift her head above the petals. She didn't want to give her report to the king now. She was going to be in so much trouble! Maybe she could recommend this child for kidnapping after all. Then maybe her error in being seen too soon could be passed over, since it didn't matter because the girl would be turned into a fairy anyway. But the girl was so boring! There had to be some other way. Make her think it was all a dream or something. The beam of light faltered, then found its focus on her azalea bush again. Leylya could hear some strange scrambling noises. “Heeeeere, fairy fairy,” the little girl called. Oh great. Leylya had screwed this one up big time. She could think of only one quick way out of here.
Christie crept across the kudzu, sprinkling glitter and calling for the fairy. Her skin felt tight and prickly and her hand trembled a little. She wished she were wearing shoes. But she tried not to focus on that. She was going to catch a fairy. Suddenly a line of sparkles shot from the red bush, coming strait at her. She couldn't get her net in time. She swatted at the thing, trying to keep it away from her face. She fell back on the kudzu and leaves. The bugs clustered around her as the flashlight beam tilted into her face. She covered her face with her hands and threw her flashlight away from herself. The bugs. She got up and scrambled back in her window, crying.
Leylya had confused the girl long enough to get away. It was about time. It felt good to beat her wings against the air, as she headed back over the rooftops to the Great Oak. What could she tell the king? He would know if she tried to lie to him. Him and his stupid truth sense. She just had to go to the castle and say what happened, and hope he wasn't too angry. At least she hadn't been captured. By that little girl! Yuck! Finally, she reached the Great Oak. She flew thrice around the tree and then entered a narrow crevice in the branches. Magically, she was in Fairyland. Surrounded by brightness and swirling colors, she flew through the color mists until she saw the bright blue and purple of the king's castle. She flew inside and landed in a great hall decorated with rich tapestries in reds and blues and purples. The lush purple carpet felt good on her bare feet.
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. Leylya pushed through the others until she reached 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 Leylya, 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, still 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. Darn his regal glamour! 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 king yawned internally. He'd hoped this report would be more glamorous than those boring court cases. After all, he had a particular fondness for this page. Leylya, 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. And so curious! It would be safe enough. The king was tired of hiding from the mortals. He was tired of playing that 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. He could inspire the onset of a Second Age of Belief.
But the page 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. How 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 page was still waiting on him. “You are dismissed,” he told her, “We need to be alone.” The page 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 that 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.
Finally, Christie gave up. The fairy must have got away that first time. Christie was out of glitter and ready to sleep. She tossed her butterfly net and purse back into her window and then scrambled back through the window and tumbled into her dark room. She stood, and closed the window, leaving the screen in the garden below.
Hopefully no bugs had invaded her room. 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! Christie 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.
Leylya 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? Leylya 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. Leylya 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…”
Leylya 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! Leylya 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, but the girl didn't recognize fairy sign language. 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 Leylya made it back to the azalea garden, the window was closed and the room was dark. She 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. Leylya 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 Leylya 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. Leylya followed him. The king replied, “You may escape if you wish. We shall do no such thing.” He gave Leylya a blue stare that brought her to her knees again. “And the page should be flogged for daring to touch the king without permission.”
Leylya 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 page. 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 page 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 page 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.”
Leylya 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.
“We did not mean to offend.” The king was trying to be smooth.
“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!
Christie 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 classify them for her science project. She wanted them to be her pets. They could show her magic…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.
Christie 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. Christie swooped on them with her butterfly net. Couldn't be easier! Two in one scoop. Real fairies! The girl only hoped she really was 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 page 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.
Leylya felt that annoying blue gaze as she 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!