He fell. He knew not for how long or how far. Worlds slipped past him: the human world, blind to magic, focused only on what it could see and hear and touch. The fairy realms, steeped in magic and moving to their own rhythms, so different from those of mortal men. He fell until the sun faded and the five golden rings over Aurolwyn shimmered, bright against the distant stars.
He was not sure when he finally hit the ground. He felt neither warm, nor cold. Nor could he feel the rain. On some days, the blinding sun shone on his face. His only companions were the birds that perched on his wings. At night, the wolves came out with the waxing moon. He lost track of time. How long had he lay there, broken, unnoticed, a silent figure of stone? All he could do was watch and wait.
He had no choice.
“Come on, L’ree, we’re late!”
The little Moonfairy sat upright in bed, rubbing her eyes. “Oh, nettles!” she said, when she saw the sunshine streaming through her windows. “We’re late. Why didn’t you wake me up on time?” She shook her head at the dozing cricket in the corner of the room.
She quickly pulled on her new clothes, dusted her wings and ran to her mother, Mila, who was busy in the kitchen.
“No time for breakfast,” said her mother. “We’ll eat something once we get there. Here, make yourself useful. Will you carry these for me? And please do something about your hair. It’s all over the place!”
L’ree tied the two little bags to her belt, and meekly stood by her mother.
“Right, that’s it. Let’s go.” Mila hoisted two large rucksacks onto her shoulders and nudged L’ree ahead of her out the door.
“Wow, that’s a lot of people,” said L’ree. Hundreds of fairies spilled out onto the woodland paths and fluttered to the skies. The forest shimmered in their wake.
It was the Annual Winter Solstice Harvest Fair. Magic creatures from all over the world came to set up their trades there, in time for the festive season. L’ree was going for the first time. She had been too young before. Strange people came to these fairs, including certain dangerous folk who would bewitch little children and spirit them away. So, the younger ones were not allowed to visit the fair. They could go only when their wings were as long as they were tall.
L’ree waved at an enchanted carriage that hurtled by, filled with chattering StarSprites. She and her mother walked together towards Everglade at the Northern edge of the woods, where the fair was happening.
“Remember what I told you, L’ree?” her mother said, fussing with L’ree’s hair. “You must stay close to me. Don’t wander off on your own, be polite-”
“-and don’t talk to strangers. I know, I know.” said L’ree, “I can take care of myself, Ma.”
“That’s what I am afraid of,” sighed her mother. She gave her daughter’s raven hair an affectionate tug as she finished braiding it.
It was the end of autumn, but not yet winter and the forest was lush and alive. The trees were green and gold, their branches hung heavy with fragrant blossoms and ripe fruit. They sang songs only the Dryads could understand, but L’ree felt the soft music fill her with a deep contentment.
The fair was bustling with throngs of families. People were laughing, talking and bargaining, all at once, and the commotion was terrific. Merchants shouted their wares above the din. Street performers and musicians entertained at every corner.
“Step right up for a bottle of Star Dust! Make your eyes sparkle like diamonds! See in the night! Get your Star Dust!” shouted a wee Bottle Elf from a stall.
“Freshly pickled eyelash of Newt! Salve of Salamander! Dragon tooth! For weak chests and the faint of heart!”
“Meteor Showers, just the thing! Make your skin glow & shine! Want a bottle, little girl?” asked a wrinkled hag, looking pointedly at L’ree. L’ree held her mother’s hand tighter, alarmed.
“Enchanted Lilies,” sang a chorus of tinkling voices, “Shake a little, wave a little and they sing and dance for you!” They were Kalla elves, tall and graceful. They were selling white Kalla lilies that looked like miniature ballerinas, in glass bubbles, that danced to the rhythm of their song.
L’ree stopped to watch, fascinated, but her mother tugged her hand again. “We’ll come back later, dear, to see them. We have work to do first.” They walked quickly through the maze of stalls and finally stopped outside a very morose looking tent. A sign on one side said “Barter Office – Trade your magic for money”. Another board displayed all the latest rates for starlight, moonbeams and more.
“We’re here, L’ree. I’ll just pop in and exchange all of our moonbeams for coins.” Her mother made her sit on one of the toadstools outside the tent. “See? There are other children waiting here too. Remember, this place is not like home. It can be dangerous. Don’t wander off. Don’t even get off this stool. Do you understand?”
L’ree nodded distractedly. A little red haired Imp on another toadstool stuck his tongue out at her.
“I will be back soon and then we’ll find something to eat. Stay where you are, alright?” Her mother took the little bags from her and went inside the tent. L’ree leaned back on the soft toadstools and waited, swinging her little legs impatiently. She desperately tried to ignore the imp who had progressed from making grotesque faces to rude noises.
All of a sudden, her skin started to prickle, as if someone was watching her. She looked around but she did not see anything. The Imp felt that it was an appropriate time to let out a long burp, frightening two young pixies nearby.
“Eww, disgusting!” she said, and jumped off the stool to look at the stall closest to her. Suddenly, L’ree saw an orange flash out of the corner of her eye. Half prepared to make a run for it, she turned around. She was startled to see a small, dark haired fox with bright orange eyes looking at her. It had a curious expression on its face. It had been standing half hidden behind a corner of an Alchemist’s stall. Then, in a poof of dust, it disappeared. She tentatively took a step forward, wondering if she was under a spell. The fox reappeared – and beckoned. She blinked and gave herself a little shake. Whoever heard of a fox that could beckon?
She jumped when a voice sounded in her head. “None to fear, as long as I am near, follow me close, dear, around this corner here.” The little fox winked and nodded at her, reassuringly. “Am I not handsome, am I not fine? Follow me, lass, for a meeting divine!” the voice swirled through her head. Images, alien to her, flooded her mind and she was hypnotized. Hardly realizing what she was doing, she followed the fox as it led her along. With its song in her head, she followed blindly, forgetting her mother’s warnings.
When L’ree came to, she was far away from the bustle of the fair. She was lying in front of a decrepit marble fountain. Beside her was a broken statue of a tall fairy. The figure lay on its side, its right arm was broken off and the wings were chipped. Vines twirled around its limbs and neck. Strange runes were etched into its body. L’ree saw that it had the most beautiful face of any being she knew, but also the saddest. Somehow, she felt comforted just by looking at its face.
She looked around her to see where she was. It was a deserted garden that had been left untended for a long time. The little fox was up in a tree, flicking its tail lazily. It smiled at her and nodded. L’ree smiled back. She leaned forward to clear a vine from the statue’s face. To her shock, the eyes of the statue opened.
“Oh my flying nettles!” she cried, terrified. She stood up, wondering whether to make run for it. The fox did not miss a beat. In a flash, he had jumped down from the tree and turned into a huge, dark horse. He stood in front of her, blocking her escape. His orange eyes glowed menacingly. L’ree stumbled backwards over rocks and vines. “No, please, don’t hurt me. Wh-What do you want from me? Why have you brought me here? Please, take me back to the fair. My mother will be worried. Don’t hurt me. I – I just want to go home!” L’ree sat down and began to sob.
It was a heartbreaking sight to see a fairy weep, and even more so, when it was a child. A single tear ran down the statue’s porcelain face. L’ree, astonished, forgot to cry when she saw that.
“All he wants is to go home too,” said the voice in her head. “Will you help him?“
The next moment, the horse had turned into a charming hobgoblin. “I promise, by the Keepers of Faerie, that neither will I hurt you nor let any harm come to you. This, I solemnly swear or let my life be forfeit. We only seek your help. Will you help us, little Moonfairy?” He spoke with his own voice now, not to her mind.
“What or who is that and why is it crying? Is it alive? What or who are you? Why have you brought me here?” L’ree had calmed down, despite her confusion, for no one could invoke the names of the Keepers in vain. Nevertheless, she wanted answers.
“Ah, wee lass, I apologize for my rudeness, but there was no other way to get you here, was there? Would you have followed me of your own accord? But first, promise that you will help us, for it is a task only you can do.”
“But, why me? I am just a child. I cannot do much of anything.”
“You are a fairy that harvests moonbeams from the light of the full moon. It is a task only a Moonfairy can do. Moreover, you were the only one we could find. Will you help us? Will you help him?”
The statue looked at her with his eyes, beseeching. She felt sorry for him. “I cannot promise,” she said softly, “for I am small, but I will try my best.”
“That’s good enough for us. You are brave and kind,” said the creature, bowing low. “I will answer your questions now. The name’s Keegan and I am a Puca, a shapeshifter. I can take on the forms of a horse, a fox or a rabbit, but most of the time, I am a Hobgoblin, as you see me now. As for the statue, his name is Ahron. His kind live on Aureus, the tallest mountain in Aurolwyn, in the city touched by the five rings.
“An Aurean! From the Golden city!” said L’ree, “I have heard stories of them. Celestial beings, they are. I thought they never come down among us. How did he get here?”
“I cannot speak of how he came to be this way, for it is not my story to tell. I can only say this much, that I am bound to him as long as he is alive. Yes, he is alive, but trapped and broken. It took me many years to find him here, after he disappeared. We talk to each other through our minds. Now that you are here, you must help release him from his curse.”
“You still haven’t told me what it is that you need me for. Is it dangerous?” said L’ree, a little dismayed at being called brave. What was she getting herself into?
“Tonight,” the Puca said, “a very special moon rises. The path of the moon across the sky will cross the five golden rings. The moonlight that reaches us will have passed through the rings and will contain golden ring dust. We must gather the light where it falls and bring it back here before the morning light. For that, you must show us where you harvest moonbeams. Could you do that, little one?”
L’ree beamed. “Oh, that’s easy! We grow meadows of Solunae flowers on Azure Mountain, where the Crystal Falls are. But-” she hesitated, “you can’t go there. It is too difficult for anyone but a fairy to reach the mountaintop. Even if you do, you will not be able to see the moonbeams, let alone harvest them. That is a gift that only we have….”
“That’s why you must do it, Moonfairy. I will come with you. We would not ask you to do this alone.” Keegan said.
“Feathers and flying nettles!” L’ree exclaimed. “You want me to come with you? Tonight? I can’t possibly do that!”
“Why do you worry? What do you fear?” said Keegan, looking concerned.
“My mother! What ever will I tell her? She will have a fit. In fact, she will probably have one right now when she sees that I am missing!”
“Your mother? Is that all?” Keegan began to laugh.
“Don’t laugh!” said L’ree, looking distressed.
“My apologies, lass. We are most indebted to you for your kindness. Now, hop on,” Keegan said, changing into a horse. “I will take you back to your mother now.“
L’ree turned to look at the statue. It seemed for a moment that he smiled.
The dark horse raced wildly through the streets with L’ree on his back, clutching his sleek black mane. Before she could even blink, they were back at the fair. L’ree fluttered down. She stroked the Puca’s black coat as he changed back into a fox.
“Be ready as the sun sets,” he said, “I will come to your house when the woods have fallen asleep. You will know it, when the owl flies. Do not fret; your mother will hardly know that you’re gone.“
“But, wait, you don’t know where my home is!” she said. The fox winked at her and disappeared.
She returned to her spot on the toadstool. The Imp was there still, frightening the pixies. It was as if she had never left. Her mother came out and they explored the fair. However, L’ree was too preoccupied with the bizarre events of that morning to enjoy anything. Thoughts of the broken statue, the telepathic Puca and their unusual request filled her mind. Her mother brought her a dancing lily for being so good, but L’ree took no interest in it.
Back home, L’ree prepared for the night ahead. She packed her rucksack with a little fairy food and dew in a bottle to drink. She also took a few crystal tubes to store the moonbeams. At dusk, when she looked outside her window, she saw the fox up in a tree. She wrapped her fairy cloak around her and gently crept down the stairs.
Keegan was waiting for her at gate.
“Hello Keegan,” L’ree smiled at him bashfully, for he was quite a charming looking Puca, despite his orange eyes.
“We do not have much time, wee fairy. The moon has already begun its travel across the sky.” Keegan said, gesturing towards the rising full moon. “I hope you have everything you need to collect the moonbeams?” He motioned for her to start walking.
L’ree took out one of the crystal tubes and held it up. “It takes us fairies more than half a day to get to the Azure Mountains. We fly with the wind. How will we get there now?” she asked, as she walked beside him. She returned the tube to her bag.
“Ah, that is the easiest part of this lark. I have a shortcut,” said Keegan. They soon reached a clearing in the woods. He took out a transparent gem filled with stardust and threw it in the air. The gem caught a ray of starlight and burst into a million sparks. They realigned to form a narrow ribbon that settled down on the forest floor, weaving a glittery path through the trees. L’ree gasped.
“Aye, a pretty sight, isn’t it? Jump on up and sit tight!” Keegan said, transforming into the dark horse. He took off at a wild gallop down the road of stars as soon as L’ree climbed on. She held on for dear life, her wings flat on her back. The wind whipped at her face, and the trees were a blur as they rushed past. On they ran and soon they left the woods far behind. They galloped across fields, brooks and streams, never stopping for a break. The mountains loomed closer. The golden rings arched across the night sky. Keegan came to a halt at the base of the mountain near the Crystal Waterfalls. She got off and he changed into his two-legged form.
“The meadows are up there,” L’ree said. “I can fly. Will you wait for me here? I will collect the moonbeams and come back.”
“You go on ahead. I will join you. There seems to be a way up.” said Keegan. He was looking at the ribbon of starlight snaking up the side of the mountain.
“You are going to climb the mountain? But it is high and far too dangerous. That path is too close to the waterfall. What if you slip and fall?”
“Don’t you worry about me. I cannot let you go alone. But we must not waste any more time. At any rate, I cannot grow wings and you cannot carry me. Therefore, I must climb. Fly up and wait for me. Keep an eye on the moon. Go now.” He said.
L’ree shook her head and flew up alongside the waterfall. She fluttered and landed on the soft grass when she reached the top. On either side of the river were meadows of Solunae flowers. They were special flowers made to store moonbeams, created by the fairies from evening primroses. They bloomed when it was time to gather the falling moonlight, and stored the light until harvest time.
The moon drew closer to the golden rings. L’ree stood near the edge of the waterfall, taking in the beautiful sight. Suddenly, she heard a yell. It was Keegan. She looked over the side of the precipice and saw him hurtling down towards the pool of water.
“No,” L’ree said. Without stopping to think, she flew after Keegan as he fell.
“Keegan! Hold out your hand!” She screamed against the wind as she strained to reach closer. “Turn around and give me your hand or you’ll crash!” Keegan twisted around in midair and reached out for her.
Just as L’ree closed her hand around his, he hit the water. She realized too late that he was too heavy for her. She had only managed to slow his fall. L’ree was pulled under the swirl of rushing water as Keegan crashed in. But she did not let go. She struggled, swallowing mouthfuls of water. Keegan had sunk like deadweight with the shock of impact. The combined weight of him and his wet clothes dragged her under. She took a deep breath at the surface and plunged into the pool to get a better hold of him. Wrapping both her arms under his, she hauled him back up with every bit of strength she had. Soon he came to and released himself from her hold.
“I can swim,” he gasped.
L’ree too exhausted to speak, nodded and released her hold. They floundered onto the grassy bank, panting and sputtering.
“Are you alright, L’ree?” Keegan was the first to speak.
L’ree was sitting up, catching her breath.
“I am fine, she said softly, “Just a little startled. You?”
“A little shaken really, I hate heights. But no harm done. Thank you for saving my life. I owe you-”
“Oh, nettles and thimblegums,” L’ree interrupted him. She felt awkward and could not think of anything appropriate to say. “It’s no big deal. But we need to go now. The moon has almost reached the rings. Now, how will you come?” She shook the water off her wings.
“Sometimes, I don’t think when it is required of me. I am heavy for you as horse or a hobgoblin, but I might be quite manageable as a rabbit. Easier to carry, don’t you think?” Keegan said, changing into a black bunny rabbit.
L’ree smiled and held her arms out for the little puca. He was soft and light. She held him close as she flew up again and set him down among the flowers, where he changed back.
They were just in time. The moon touched the rim of the first of the five rings and a narrow beam traveled down to the ground. It was like a sliver of gold falling from the sky. L’ree watched as the thousands of Solunae flowers that had been soaking in the moonlight began to close and go back to sleep.
“They are not supposed to do that,” she said, confused. “We have to harvest the falling moonbeams from them. What do we do now?”
Keegan, who could not see the moonbeams, shrugged his shoulders. “We wait and watch. They might open up again?”
The first flower hit by the moonbeam began to grow and transform itself. As the moon crossed each of the rings, the golden rays falling down grew more numerous and brighter. The flower turned a deep yellow gold, shining brilliantly as it drank in the golden rays. The moon crossed the fifth and final ring. The golden light slowly faded away. The Solunae began to bloom again, soaking in the silver moonlight. The Golden flower stopped shining and pulled its petals shut. It was all over in a matter of seconds.
L’ree touched the drooping yellow flower and exclaimed “Why, it is gold! Solid gold!”
“Well, there you have it,” Keegan said, breathless with excitement.
She held a crystal tube to the mouth of the bud to collect the Moonbeams. Nothing happened. It was solid and closed tight. The next moment, the stem snapped and the flower fell to the ground.
“Take the flower with you,” said Keegan, “We don’t have time to spare.”
L’ree placed the cold yellow flower in her bag and took a deep breath. “Let’s go.”
Keegan galloped like the wind on the return journey. L’ree dozed off on his back, as it was late and she was still a little fairy who had stayed up past her bedtime.
When they finally reached the deserted garden in Everglade, the moon hung low in the sky. Keegan realized that he had a fairy child fast asleep on his back. He lowered her gently onto a soft patch of grass in the alcove and covered her with her cloak. He took the Golden flower from her bag and placed it on the statue’s chest. He did not have to wait long. Keegan held his breath as the flower began to throw delicate golden vines around the statue. It sank thin roots, like rivulets of gold, into the ground and sent thousands of wisps into the air, rippling and pulsating. A burst of fiery yellow light surged through the garden, and for moment all was as bright as day.
An owl hooted close by. L’ree opened her eyes and found herself wrapped in her cloak. A roaring fire danced merrily against the night sky.
As she rubbed her eyes, she saw two figures on the other side. One was the familiar figure of Keegan. The other – L’ree sat up, speechless. The Aurean sat there, whole, unbroken, and alive. Wrapped in a cloak and drinking from a cup, he smiled at the Puca. When he realized that she was awake, he came and sat next to her. His eyes were the same, beautiful and sad. He took her hand and pressed it to his lips.
“My child, I greet you. Will you accept these words of gratitude?” he said, softly “I am Ahron of the Golden City, yet I find myself too poor to repay one who has saved me. Thank you for releasing me from my miserable fate. I am in your debt for as long as I live.”
L’ree, overcome with emotion, could not bear to meet his piercing gaze. She just shook her head.
Keegan came around and sat next to her. He said, “There was a story that was not mine to tell.”
“Ah, the curse of the broken statue,” said Ahron “Will you listen to my story then?”
“Yes, I will,” said she.
“Then I must start from the beginning.” Ahron lay down on the grass and stared at the skies. “As you already know, I come from Aureus, The Golden City.
“The Aureans are a strong race, peace loving, but proud and just. It is a beautiful city, so named for the golden sheen that bathes it. The celestial rings are so close that if you climbed to the highest point in our city, you could touch them. The colour of the city comes from the dust that falls from those rings. This dust runs through our veins and permeates our skin. It is what keeps us alive.
There is a world outside of our fairy realm, hidden to us. It is called Earth and their people are called Humans. They are lot like us. They do not possess our magic or our camaraderie with nature, but they are resourceful and inventive. The most powerful among them seek to bend nature to their whims and turn it into monstrous things of utility or terrific objects of beauty. They once possessed the gift of magic, but they did not use it wisely. In their quest for dominion over nature, they lost that gift.
What I have told you now is a closely guarded secret. Only a select few of the wisest Fairy folk know this. They are called the Chosen and I was one of them. We are bound by a common oath. We are the guardians of the Arcane Knowledge and the protectors of our realms. We keep the barrier between the realms intact and stop people from crossing over. If they do chance upon a meeting, we remove all traces of it from their memories. The basis for these restrictions is explained in our history. You only need to look at the volumes describing the wars fought between Faeries and the Humans, eons ago.
We walked freely in the human world, as long as we remained invisible to them. But that was the beginning of my downfall, for I fell in love with one of them. Her name was Beth. She was human but was possessed of an ethereal grace. I was drawn to her from the moment I saw her, I could not keep away. She was a Healer in their society. I would sneak out just to watch her work with the wounded and the broken. However, she was not wholly accepted by her people. She believed in treating their sad souls and broken hearts, not just the visible injuries. For this, she was shunned and disrespected. In my eyes, their behaviour was an injustice. I decided to help her, by using healing magic from our land. She only had to touch a person and he would walk away healed – heart, body and soul. It was something she could not do before. She could not see who helped her, of course, nor did she understand it. And everyday, I fell more deeply in love.
I pined for her, I longed to know how it would feel if she loved me too. If there had been a way to shed these wings and become human, I would have done so. It is forbidden for us to reveal ourselves to any human. But I was foolish and my love was blind, insane and selfish.
The day I showed myself to her, I still cannot forget. She smiled the moment she saw me. She told me she knew I was there, all along, that I had appeared in her dreams once. She called me her “Angel”. She asked me the reason why I had waited so long to reveal myself to her. She had been hoping desperately, for a sign, a reason to believe, to know that I was real and not just a part of her imagination.
We cherished our time together for we knew it was not going to last. In the end, I was betrayed by one of my own. Although, I realize now that it was I who had betrayed them, by defying every rule that we had sworn to keep. He was correct in doing his duty. I was sentenced to be stripped of my position in the Chosen and all my memories of her were to be obliterated. She would be charmed to forget me, led to believe that it was all a dream. But I refused to forget her. For my refusal, I was sentenced to an eternity in this stone prison. I was cast off from Mount Aureus, broken in body, heart and spirit.
Until Keegan came in search of me, I believed I was alone in my suffering. You ask how he came to be with me. I saved his life once, and from that moment on, we were bound to each other. It was an unbreakable magical contract. Years want by and he remained alive, even after everyone he knew had died. That was when he realized that I was still alive. It took him many centuries before he discovered my stone self fallen here. Once he found me, he set about looking for ways to break this curse.
The answer was simple. Aureus, my home, pulsates with the Dust from the five golden rings. I was born of the golden dust, and only the golden dust could release me. The flower that you brought me had imbibed the dust and its life force. That was what broke the curse and set me free.
You ask what became of her. I wish I knew. It has been so long now. She would have passed on like the rest of her short-lived kind. I only hope the Chosen were kind enough to make her forget me before she died.
Now I am free, I am forgiven and I can go home.”
He kissed L’ree gently on her forehead.
“Goodbye, my angel” said he, and he flew away into the sky. L’ree and Keegan watched as he disappeared.
“Where will you go now, Keegan?” said L’ree.
“You saved my life today. I am indebted to you. From now on, I am bound to you as I am bound to him. I will remain your faithful friend, for as long as we live.”
L’ree laughed, so did the Puca. They walked back home, hand in hand.
BIO: Nishida C. – Poet, writer, thinker, recluse, perfectionist. I am @CafeNirvana on Twitter
“I love anything to do with art, literature and science, especially astronomy. I dream of writing science fiction and fantasy books for children and hope to see a few well-worn books of mine on a library shelf one day.”
The inspiration for this story was from the lovely and immensely talented novelist Teresa Frohock [@teresafrohock] who tweeted the idea of a stone angel that came to life. I could not have written any of this without the expert penmanship of my partner in crime, Angie Capozello [@techtigger] and my parents who were my test audience. Much thanks to Alison Wells [@alisonwells] for picking out the title and to Jim Wisneski for being the most patient man in the world. We all wish to be published and ridiculously famous in the near future, so wish us good luck.