Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Fairy's Tail

If you were to travel outside of the great civilized cities of Candlin, heading east past the wide rushing river Melhasawump where it cuts through the plains of Nuhla, traverse the dense Felaria Forest and enter the great desert our maps label as Quilistoriavni, and if you were to get lost in the desert, you might find yourself coming upon an oasis that stands in the middle of nowhere. Only three people I know have ever claimed to have found the oasis: one was an old drunkard, another was a traveling fool, a the third was a merchant woman from a foreign land she never told me the name of. I listened to each of their stories, one story each night for three nights. Here are the stories they told me:

The Drunkard’s Story

He used to be a treasure hunter, but there was no luck in his trade anymore. After thirty years, it seemed that there was no more treasure in the world to find. He followed rumors of caches, or of hidden gold or gems or artifacts, but they had turned out to be dead ends, every one of them. So finally, desperate for any sort of money, he turned to different rumors: rumors of rare beasts that had been sighted, beasts whose hair or hide or horn, hoof or head, shell or skin or skull, claw or carapace, paws or poison could fetch a high price. So a poacher he became, hunting the venomous Lord-stinger, the swift Avalant, the aqueous Pike Ripper and the great horned Malthan Retriever, among others. The stories of those hunts are good for an evening’s entertainment, but they are not what I wanted to hear. He told me about the oasis.

It was a flock of Dustchoke hawks he was after, out in Quilistoriavni desert- which his people called Tavni desert– when a great storm of sand rose. Whether it was a natural dust storm or the work of his quarry he didn’t know, but he was blinded and turned about in circles. The dust settled, and everything was changed. His waterskin growing emptier, he pushed on, until a green speck showed in the heat-hazy distance. The green speck turned into a tree, then another tree, then the oasis.

His tongue dry and his forehead burning, he fell into the pool of water from which sprang this patch of life. The water was cool and clear and cold; the trees bore fruit that was ripe and red and ready to be eaten. The flowers were fragrant and fanciful, like something out of a story. Some had petals the size of his hand or bigger, all of them in the most vibrant colors you could imagine, some of them spotted or striped or both.

At first he thought the flowers were just swaying in the breeze, but then he realized there was no breeze. He splashed water from the pool onto his face, wiping his eyes and trying to clear his vision. But still they were there, looking like smaller buds of the flowers, brilliant red and bright yellow, shining blue and deep purple in color. It was their wings that were such loud colors. The tiny beings flitted about, unfolding their wings until they were almost the size of the flowers, flapping and flying and fluttering.

But what was most beautiful about them was not the graceful, minuscule human shape of their bodies, nor was it the moving display of their rainbow wings. No.

It was their tails.

For as small as they were, he described their tails as far too large for them. The fairies– for that was the only name he could think to call the creatures– were no longer in body than his first finger, yet their tails trailed after them for nearly a foot in length. Feathery but not made of feathers they were, sparkling wetly but floating like sand in a draft. The trailing tails changed colors in the light that filtered through the oasis canopy in distinct beams.

As a poacher does when he sees a beast worth taking, the man decided he would capture the fairies and take their tales to market. They would fetch a handsome price, he thought.

But the fairies were not easily caught. They were not tempted to fly towards things that shone bright, like some insects, nor were they easily outwitted by a poacher’s usual traps. They could not be snatched out of the air by hand– they were too fast– nor could they be coaxed or teased into a cage or sack. Even their long flowing tails, if he grabbed at them, seemed to always be just out of reach, or slipped from his hand at the last second, even as his fingers were closing on them.

He didn’t realize how he had exhausted himself until he stumbled and couldn’t catch himself. He wasn’t quick enough, and fell face-first into the pool. The fairies made no noise, but he could have sworn he heard their laughter in his ears, their giggling next to his head, their chuckles taunting him. Dragging himself from the pool, he wrung the water from his clothes and hair, made one last feeble attempt to grab a fairy prize, and left the oasis, defeated.

The Fool’s Story

A fool is best off when he has a person take him on and keep him as almost a servant. But only the greatest, most foolish of fools earn places in castles by the sides of kings. The fool who told me of the fairy oasis was not one of the greatest of fools; he was an ordinary fool. Oh, once he had been the fool to a tyrant-king, a king who was kind to few people, and the fool was one of them. He capered and tumbled and danced, he told jokes and spun tales and made insulting comments about the king in private. His clothes had been checkered or spotted or motley, his face had been painted white. Or half-black and half-green, or checked blue and yellow, or any other strange combination. But that king had been rebelled against and had been killed, and the fool had fled.

He moved from town to village, from village to city, and from city to hamlet. Inn stages he performed in, manor houses, and on street corners. And once no more coins fell in the cup nearby, he gathered himself up and moved on. So he found himself in Quilistoriavni by accident, hopelessly lost and with nothing but his face paints and his coin-cup and the clothes on his back. Now and again as he forced his feet to keep moving, he told himself all his old jokes, over and over again, to keep his eyes open and his ears listening and his mind awake.

His foot was practically in the oasis pool by the time he realized there was an oasis. He, too, nearly fell into the pool when he saw it, dunking his head into the cool, fresh, life0giving water. Nectar of the gods.

When he lifted his face, dripping the clear water from his ears and chin and nose, he too saw the fairies. At first like the flowers were shedding petals, they unfurled themselves and put their wings and tails on display for the fool. Then they began to dance in the air, twirling around each other mid-air, passing above and below one another, doing flips that made their tails arc after them in perfect curves.

Such beautiful tails! No tale or joke he knew spoke of creatures like these! What a story these creatures would make for me to tell a king, thought the fool. And what king could resist keeping the only fool that could be found with such a pet in a cage by him? The thought of having a sure seat with a king was heartening and so tempting that the fool could not resist. He thought to take one fairy with him as proof of his story, and he reached out a hand to a flower where the nearest of the little creatures sat basking in the light. But when his hand closed, he felt nothing but his own skin. Again he stretched out his hand to grasp at a lazily drifting one, and again he came away with nothing.

Only when the light faded to the black of night did he realize he had been hours trying to catch one and had no more to show for it than when he first began. He could not catch a fairy. Quickly, he realized that his legs felt made of rubber and that he was too tired to walk. He curled up in the shade underneath one of the oasis trees and fell asleep.

Upon waking, the oasis was gone.

The Woman’s Story

The woman’s accent was foreign, but she would not tell me from what country she was. She carried with her a wooden chest, and inside the little chest were a few smaller wooden boxed. These held fine paper and thick, one held pencils of color, one had pencils of different hardness, and one was full of stoppered bottles of colored paints and brushes to go with them. She was a scribe and an artist, though she spoke differently and was obviously not from Candlin.

The strange creatures that dwell in the sands of the desert were what drew her. No book held pictures of Dustchoke hawks or Timberback rattlers, or Yellow-bellied scorpions or the always-hiding Sandtrap spider. She wanted to be the first to draw these creatures that were in no book.

Well-laden with water and food, she entered the desert in search of the animals she wished to draw. For three days she saw nothing but sand and mostly-dead shrubs. It was on the third day that she lay down under the tent she had brought to shield her from cold night wind. She woke not to the heat of the sun baking her little tent, but to the clean scent of fresh water and lush greenery. For the duration of the morning, she looked at her surroundings, studying the flowers and trees, gazing into the water. She opened her case and sat, sketching the flowers first with uncolored pencils, then with colored, even though the hues and shades of her pencils did the real flowers no justice.

Only when she was about to put everything away did the fairies appear, wafting on the wind, bouncing on the breeze, their luxurious tails trailing after them. Hurriedly she pulled her papers back out, working feverishly to draw the beautiful creatures that were before her. Never did she try to touch one for fear of frightening them away, and when she was finished with her drawings, she carefully closed them up in her case and quietly crept from the oasis.

These are the three stories I was told about the fairy oasis. The old man had no more proof than his words, so I found it simple to pass his words off as the fanciful musings of a drunkard. The fool too had no proof of his tale and was dismissed just as easily.

But the woman, when I rolled my eyes at her story, opened her case and took out not one, not two, but five pieces of paper, sketched with the flowers of the oasis and three with the fairies. These could be the work of imagination, I told her, but that is not to say I do not find them beautiful.

She was not listening to me, but was staring into the case she always carried with her. Shaking, she reached a hand into the case and lifted out a long trailing item that glittered and shone in the firelight of the tavern room. It seemed made of feathers and yet not.

I have seen the tail of one, and I now believe in fairies.

"Fairy's Tail" is one of my favorite short fiction stories I have written to date. It was written for a project I and a few fellow writers undertook, called "Letters to a Pen". Sadly, the project was not completed. Still, this was one of the products, and I could not be happier with it.

1 comment:

  1. I love this! Such a great twist! I was serious about restarting the project if you still want to give it a try