Princess Irene – Short Story

Another Short Story, this time from a collection about princesses. Hope you like it!

Princess Irene

by Robin Wood

Princess Irene loved flowers.

Her mother and father, the Queen and King, had huge flower gardens at the palace. There were beautifully kept beds of gorgeous blooms from all over the world. There were hidden nooks sheltered by sprays of sweet-smelling shrubs, and holding worn wooden benches where you could sit and rest. There were fountains of purest marble, white and cool as snow, where bright water splashed down to amuse brilliantly colored fish. There were towering trees with spreading canopies that sheltered choirs of hidden songbirds. There were arbors and pergolas cloaked with flowering vines, with delightful swings where you could feel as if you were about to touch the crystal blue sky.  There were winding paths, and open walks, and even a formal maze of strong-smelling boxwood with tall golden gates so no one could enter alone and unwatched, and be lost for hours or days.

You would have loved those gardens as much as Irene did, I’m sure.

She was about your age, and she liked nothing more than playing in those gardens. When it rained, and she was forced to sit inside, with nothing to amuse her (except, of course, all her books and toys and magical trinkets,) I’m afraid she would get quite cranky.

“For you see, Nettie,” she would explain to her nurse, “none of them are alive a bit. It means nothing to any of them whether I care for them or not. Not like the flowers. When I love them, they love me back.”

“I love you, little Princess.” Nettie would say, “come, cheer up. The rain won’t last much longer.”

“I know, Nettie.”

And Irene would smile bravely, give Nettie a hug, and try to be cheerful, as a princess should; but her heart was not in it.

(You should not imagine, by the way, that Irene was one of those unfortunate princesses who was given over to her nurse to raise. Her mother and father loved her dearly and spent as much time with her as they could. But it takes a lot of work to run a whole kingdom, and someone had to watch Irene when her parents couldn’t.)

The day this story starts wasn’t rainy, though. It was one of those glorious days you get sometimes is the spring. There had been rain, just the day before, and it had washed all the dust and clouds out of the sky, so it was such a brilliant blue it made you ache to look at it. All the leaves were shining from the rain, with that vibrant, tender green that you only get in the spring. The birds were busy impressing each other with their very best songs, and the air was full of brightly colored butterflies, dipping and soaring over the banks of cheery daffodils and heavenly pink and purple hyacinth.

On a day like this, no one could resist going out, least of all Princess Irene.

Truth to be told, Nettie longed to be in the gardens almost as much as Irene herself, so as soon as breakfast was over, they were out the door.

Now, Irene loved all the flowers, of course. But as much as she loved them all, she had her particular favorite. Can you guess what they were?

Not the roses, although she did love them for their bright colors, soft petals, and beautiful scents. But roses also have thorns that are liable to stick your fingers when you pull a spray close to sniff. And that, as Irene explained, is not as friendly as one could hope.

Not the prize dahlias, although they were gorgeous, with their hundreds of petals on blossoms nearly as large as Irene’s head. Because, she would explain, there was something about them that made you suspect they were a bit too proud and full of themselves.

Not even the violets, although she loved them dearly.

Her very, very favorite flowers were lily-of-the-valley. Do you know them? With their white bells on slender stalks, just waiting to chime for dancing fairies? With their sweet scent, like dreams of angels? With their glossy green leaves that almost hide the shy flowers?

There was a great bank of lily-of-the-valley in a hidden corner of the garden, where things were allowed to run a bit wild. Someone had planted some there long ago, perhaps as long as a hundred years before, and they had propagated and spread and planted themselves among all the tree roots in that shady spot, filling it with heavenly scent and bright white bells, like a million bits of glory shining under the trees.

That morning, Irene ran to the spot as fast as her little feet could take her, skipping and laughing for pure joy.

She ran so fast that I’m afraid she left poor Nettie quite behind, for Nettie wasn’t exactly young any more, not was she as slender as she had been, and preferred a slower pace.

So Irene was quite alone when she came to her flowers, and plunked to her knees, crying, “Good morning, my lovely ones!”

Except, it turned out that she was not quite alone after all! Because someone answered her!

“Good morning yourself!”

The voice sounded very kind, and there was a laugh in it, so Irene wasn’t really scared. But she was startled.

She jumped to her feet, and whirled around to face the speaker.

And who do you think she saw?

There was a woman in a green apron kneeling among the lilies, with a trowel in her hand, and dirt on her fingers. Her red-brown hair was streaked with white, and her skin was brown and freckled from the sun. She had wide greeny-brown eyes, a wide nose with a wart, and a wide smile. She looked kind, but she was also the least pretty person the princess had ever seen in all her whole life.

Irene realized she was staring, and caught herself, giving her best court curtesy, for a princess is always unfailing polite to everyone, no matter who they are. Unless, of course, she forgets.

“Pardon me,” she said, “but you rather startled me. Ummmm… Who are you?”

The woman smiled wider, and little laugh crinkles appeared around her eyes.

“I’m sorry, Princess Irene. I didn’t mean to startle you. As you can see,” gesturing at her apron with her trowel, “I’m one if the gardeners here.”

Now, this startled Irene even more, because she knew all the gardeners; from Mr. Morrison, the head gardener, through all his staff to little Tommy Seaburg, who was just a beginning apprentice, and was only allowed to weed the paths in the less-frequented corners.

She was a great favorite with them, and often stopped to chat with them, and ask questions. She was even allowed to deadhead some of the flowers, if she was very careful. (That means to cut off the old, faded blossoms so the plant will replace them with new, bright flowers.)

But she had never seen this woman before in her life.

“Are you new, then?” she asked.

The woman chuckled, a low sweet sound like water chuckling in a brook.

“Oh no, Princess,” she said. “I don’t think anyone could say that.”

“I’ve never seen you before! What is your name, please?”

“Ah, but I’ve seen you, many a time. And you may call me Mag.”

“Please, Mag, why have I never met you before now? I thought I knew all the gardeners.”

“You never needed me before.” said Mag. “And I’m sure you do know all the regular gardeners. The garden I tend is a bit… different.”

“Different how?” asked Irene, very puzzled. She would have been quite alarmed by now if Mag hadn’t looked so very kind and friendly, the conversation was so strange.

Mag cocked her head to one side, and looked up at Irene. “Let’s just say that you are one of the most beautiful flowers in my garden.”

Irene felt her mouth drop open. “Me? But… I’m not a flower!”

“Irene! There you are!” Nettie called as she came up the path behind the princess. “Talking with the flowers again, my love?”

“No,” said Irene, “I was talking with … ” but her voice died as she turned to introduce her nurse, for even as she gestured to the gardener she realized there was no one there. They were quite alone with the lilies.


Irene was very quiet that night. She had a lot to think about.

She asked her mother, the Queen, if they had a gardener named Mag, but her mother was quite sure they did not.  She asked her father, the King, and he called Mr. Morrison, who assured them there was no such person employed in the gardens.

That worried her mother enough that she called in Mr. Braithwaite, the Butler, who was in charge of all the people who worked in the palace; but there was no Mag, or anyone who fit her description, anywhere on staff, in any capacity.

Nettie insisted that there had been no one there, so eventually they decided that Irene had been imagining it.

Her mother was troubled, because Irene was generally a truthful child. But there was nothing much she could do except post a few extra guards to watch Irene’s room as she slept. So she did that, and then went to her own bed.

But Irene did not sleep. She lay awake, watching the stars outside her window, and thought and wondered.

The next morning, she was a bit cranky and out of sorts, which is not to be wondered at, since she had had so little sleep. (That is one of the reasons it’s so important to get enough sleep every night.)

She didn’t much want her breakfast. The toast, she said, was burned, and the eggs were runny, and the jam tasted “weird.”

She didn’t want to wear the dress that Nettie laid on the bed for her, and she didn’t know which dress she did want.

When it was time for her lessons, she told Sir James, her tutor, that doing sums was stupid, and that General Barton had deserved his famous defeat for being so dumb.

In short, she was as short tempered and unlike her normal, sunny self as she could be.

After lunch, everyone finally gave up, and sent her out to the garden to play, and see if the fresh air could improve her temper.

So out she went, and wandered sullenly along the paths, resenting the extra guards and the lack of Nettie, who had a headache, and had declined to accompany her.

She wandered here and there for a while, too tired and unhappy to care where she was walking, until she found herself back among the lilies-of-the-valley.

And can you guess who was waiting for her there? Yes, that’s right. Mag!

Mag was kneeling among the flowers, exactly as she had been the day before, busily digging up clumps of lilies, carefully separating them, and then replanting them with room to breathe between them. As she planted each one, she poured water on it from a blue earthenware pitcher, humming the while.

Irene stared at her with eyes as round as two teacups, and then looked back down the path at the guards. They were a respectful distance away, watching her and chatting to each other. It was plain they saw nothing alarming.

Irene turned back to Mag, but she just continued with her working and humming.

“Can they even see you?” she blurted out

“I shouldn’t think so, and good afternoon to you, too, your highness.”

Irene blushed. She knew she had been rude all day, and she didn’t like it, but she didn’t seem able to stop.

“Good afternoon, Mag” she said as politely as she could. “Who are you?”

Mag looked up at last, and clicked her tongue. “Oh, my poor princess. What a state you have worried yourself into. I told you who I am yesterday.”

“Yes,” Irene said impatiently, “except you don’t work here. No one has ever heard of you!”

Mag raised one eyebrow. “And that means I don’t work here? There are thousands who work in these gardens that Mr. Morrison doesn’t know. All the bees and earthworms, the butterflies and squirrels, the toads and birds. All working to make the gardens beautiful, and Mr. Morrison doesn’t know a one of them.”

Irene sat on the ground, too tired to stand, but determined to get a straight answer. “You aren’t a bee or butterfly. Now who are you?”

Mag smiled. “I might be. Not everything looks the way you expect it to. But you are right, and I can see you are too tired to tease. I am a gardener, as I told you, and you were given into my care by your great-great grandmother, who was a good friend of mine.”

Irene just stared at her. “But that would make you more than a hundred years old!”

Mag just smiled.

“And why did I never see you until yesterday?”

“I told you yesterday. You didn’t need me until now.”

“How do I need you?”

Mag smiled fondly at her. “You need me to tell you something important, so you’ll know it when the time comes.”

“Is something going to happen to the kingdom?”

“Oh my, no, although it speaks well of you that your people are your first concern.”

Mag put down her trowel and wiped her hands on her apron.  “Our personalities are formed from the little decisions we make, day after day.”

Irene blushed. “Mine haven’t been good today,” she said.

“No. But anyone can have a bad day.  It’s your usual decisions, and your decisions about what to do about your bad decisions, that form your personality.

“But sometimes we have an unusual decision to make. And that can set us down one path or another. Paths can always change, but the farther you travel, the harder it becomes.”

“When you are faced with the decision, you will know which path is right, if you listen to your heart and your internal compass. But sometimes it’s difficult to do what’s right; it can seem very risky. Wrong often seems easier in the short term.”

She picked up her trowel again, dug a hole in an empty corner, then carefully uprooted a clump of lilies.

“Tell me, little princess, how do you feel when you are here, with the lilies of the valley blooming all around you?”

By now, Mag’s quiet voice and the birdsong had soothed Irene enough that she felt relaxed and sleepy. The world seemed unreal and dreamlike to her.

“I feel safe,” she said, “Happy and calm and quiet. It’s so peaceful, like nothing bad can happen here, and all my problems are far away.”

Mag nodded. “Lilies of the valley are one of your Centers of Strength.”

“Centers of Strength? What are those?”

“Things and places where you are the most like yourself. The world can be a very confusing place. Most people cope with it by changing who they are a little, from place to place and time to time. For instance, you’re kind of afraid of Mr. Braithwaite, right?”

You remember that Mr. Braithwaite was the butler, and was in charge of all the servants in the palace. He was very tall, and very narrow, and very strict. Unlike most of the servants, he didn’t much like the little princess. But then, he didn’t much like anyone, really; not even himself. He was inclined to look down his very long nose at Irene, and he “tolerated no nonsense.” To be honest, Irene wasn’t ‘kind of afraid’ of him. He scared her silly, and she tried to avoid him as much as she could.

So, faced with this question, she blushed, and said, “Yes. More than a little, really.”

“When you come across him in the palace, how do you act?”

Irene thought about the last time she’d seen Mr. Braithwaite. She had been walking back to her rooms after a lesson with Sir James. He had just given her the list of principal exports of the kingdom to memorize, in order, and she’d been making up a song to help fix them in her head, and singing it quietly to herself. And then suddenly the butler was in front of her, with that expression on his face that said he utterly despised her.

The song had died on her lips, and she’d blushed and looked down. She knew he didn’t approve of princesses acting less than courtly.

“Umm… I get quiet. I try not to move, and not to draw attention to myself. I hope if I’m stiff and proper enough, he won’t say anything, and I’ll be able to just sneak away.”

Mag looked at her kindly, as she poured water from the pitcher into the hole she had made. “Yes,” she said, “You become quite a different princess from the one you are with me, or with your parents, or with the cook.”

Irene squirmed uncomfortably. “I guess I do. I just never thought of it like that before. Is it terribly wrong?”

“Oh, sweetness, it’s not wrong at all. It’s perfectly natural, and most people do it. Most of the time, it doesn’t hurt anything for you to pretend you are invisible when you see Mr. Braithwaite. But sometimes, it’s important to remain who you are, even when you are frightened or unsure.”

She put the lily tenderly into the hole, and brought the earth up around it, pressing it firmly down against the clump of roots, so it would be securely grounded in its new home.

“In times like that, you need to know that you can carry your Center of Strength with you.”

“Carry it with me? How?”

“Why, you just imagine that you are here. You have a connection to this place. In a very real way, it’s part of you. The secret is that you can move your mind and heart to places where you have connections, even when your body is far away. Just picture in your mind the lilies blooming, and the feelings of warmth, and strength, and peace, and love, that you have when you are here, and you’ll find that you can face the things you need to face.”

“It’s that easy?”

Mag laughed, as she patted the earth around the transplanted clump, which looked now as if it had always grown in that spot.

“Not easy, no. Not the first time, anyway, although it becomes easier the more you do it, like anything else. Say ‘possible’. It is possible to face things when your heart and mind are holding to your Center of Strength that might seem impossible if you didn’t know that secret. Can you remember that?”

Irene nodded.

Mag smiled kindly at her. “Then, for now, why don’t you go back inside, apologize to Nettie and Sir James, and take a nap. You’ll feel much better for it.”

Irene smiled, and got to her feet. “Thank you, Mag, and I hope I wasn’t rude when I first saw you here.”

“Well, you were, a little. But I understand.”

“Then I’m very sorry, and I’ll try to do better in the future.” and Irene curtsied very prettily.

“Beautifully done, and I accept your apology. Have a good nap, my little flower, and remember that I love you.”

And Irene grinned all over her face, yawned hugely, (remembering to cover her mouth) and went back inside.

The very next day, after her lessons with Sir James, Irene was in her room alone. Nettie’s headache had turned into a cold, and she had to stay in bed. The extra guards had been sent back to their regular duties when Irene had been her normal, cheerful self at dinner the night before. So she was completely by herself, and trying to figure out how to hold the ribbon just so and hold the picture of the flowers in the right position and glue them both down on the get-well card she was making for Nettie with only two hands, when she heard a noise in the hall.

She ran and opened her door, and saw that it was Flossie, industriously dusting one of the little tables that held cut flowers, just down the hall from Irene’s rooms.

Flossie was one of the servants, but she was just Irene’s age, and very friendly and fun to play with. Except, most of the time, she was working and couldn’t play. Mr. Braithwaite had told Irene more than once, quite firmly, not to bother the servants when they were working. Still, she only needed her help for a minute, just long enough to apply the glue. So she whispered, “Flossie!”

Flossie looked up, and winked at her, not stopping her dusting for a moment.

“Please, Flossie, I need your help for a minute,” whispered Irene.

At the exact same moment, Mr. Braithwaite spoke from down the hall. “Flossie, you are needed in the kitchen.”

“Not now,” said Flossie, who hadn’t heard him and was replying to the princess. “I’m dusting!”

“How dare you!” thundered Mr. Braithwaite, and in a flash he swept past Irene’s door, and grabbed the hapless Flossie by the elbow.

She went pale, and dropped the duster. “Mr. Braithwaite!” she squeaked! “Sir, I… I… I… ”

Mr. Braithwaite shook her, as she grew paler still, and her eyes got big and round. “I will not tolerate this kind of impudence and disrespect! Who do you think you are, saying ‘no’ to me?”

“Sir! I didn’t! I would never! I was… ”

“Do you think I’m deaf, girl? You distinctly told me ‘no’.”

Irene felt sick. For a moment, she was strongly tempted to quietly close the door, and pretend she had never heard Flossie in the hall. But Flossie would be in bad trouble, and might even lose her place in the palace. It would be wrong to sneak away. But Mr. Braithwaite was so scary, especially when he was like this.

She remembered Mag, and remembered her Center of Strength. She pictured the sheltered corner so hard she could almost smell the lilies of the valley.

And she stepped into the hall.

“Pardon me, Mr. Braithwaite.”

He whirled, still holding the drooping Flossie by the elbow. “What do you want.”

Irene leaned back into the feeling of the lilies, and remembered that she was, after all, a princess. “I’m sorry, Mr. Braithwaite. But Flossie was telling me ‘no’, not you.” she swallowed hard, as he glared at her.

“I’m sorry. I know it was wrong of me, but I had just asked her to come into my room and help me with something. She knew her duty, and was refusing to leave the dusting. I don’t think she heard you.”

Mr. Braithwaite stared at her, unmoving for a moment. Then looked back at Flossie as if she was something he’d scraped off his boot. “Is that true?”

“Ye… yes sir. I would never think of refusing anything you told me to do, sir.”

“Then go to the kitchen, you’re needed there.” He gave her a final shake and released her.

“Yes, sir. Sorry, sir.” and Flossie bobbed her head and was gone, without even retrieving the duster, which lay, forgotten, beside the table.

“As for you,” Mr. Braithwaite looked at Irene with much the same look he’d given Flossie, “If I have to tell you one more time not to interfere with the servants, I will be forced to speak to your parents.”

“Yes, sir.” said Irene.

Mr. Braithwaite gave her a final glare, turned on his heel, and stalked away.

That was when Irene got the shakes. She closed the door, crept back to her table, grabbed her favorite doll, Lily, who had been “helping” and curled up around her.

“Not easy” she whispered to her doll. “Not easy at all. But possible. I did it.” She felt a small grin beginning to grow, deep inside her. “I did it, Lily. I really did. I did the right thing, when the wrong would have been so much easier. But I know I did, and Flossie knows, even if Mr. Braithwaite never forgives me. But he didn’t like me anyway, and I did it!”

Then from deep in her Center of Strength, she heard Mag’s voice saying, “Yes, you did. I’m so very proud.” For a moment she thought she felt a warm, loving hand, patting her shoulder.

And then it was just the sun, streaming through the window.

The End

Marissa’s Story

Sorry it’s been so long since I’ve posted a story. As some of you know, I’ve been down with some kind of virus for weeks and weeks, and got behind with just about everything.

I’m trying to get caught up; so here’s another of  The Dreamweaver’s Tales.

Marissa’s Story

by Robin Wood

Once upon a time, in a far distant corner of the multiverse, there lived a little girl about your age, and her name was Marissa.

She had curly black hair, and soft brown skin, and bright gray eyes. And she was brave and passionate, which means that she cared a lot about things that were important to her.

She lived with her Mommy, and Daddy, and Granny, and brother, and a dog, and two cats, and eleven chickens, and a fuzzy gray donkey named Graymalkin, in a big ramshackle farmhouse.

The house was just shabby enough that no one scolded if you shuffled your feet. Or if you accidentally made a mark on the wall, when you got a little too enthusiastic with a pan in one hand. But the family kept it clean and comfortable, and that’s what matters.

Every weekday she walked a mile to her school, which was a big building, built all of red brick with white trim, and wide windows that let in the sunshine. There she learned all the things the grownups thought it was important for children to know.

She learned how to read, and write, and do sums, and multiply on her fingers. And she learned the history and geography of her country, and the other countries that the leaders of her country thought mattered. And she learned singing, and knitting, and magic; for magic is everywhere in that corner of the multiverse, and everyone has to learn how to use it.

Well… One bright day in early spring, Marissa was walking home from school. It was one of those days when the snow is mostly gone, except in the cold shady places. The crocuses and windflowers were just poking through the leftover leaves from the fall before, and the first shy butterflies were coming out of their chrysalises, and marveling at the wide, wide world. The sun was streaming through the trees, and the air was full of birdsong.

Marissa was very happy that day. She had earned a golden asterisk on her spelling test. (Did I remember to tell you that the children there have spelling, like the children here?) And she had learned a new song, all about daffodils. So she was on her way, half dancing from sheer joy, with her cheery red book bag on her shoulder, singing about daffodils. And every now and then, she made a daffodil bloom on the side of the road, just for fun. (They were only illusions, and would fade in an hour, but that didn’t matter.)

Then she turned a corner, and what did she see?

There was a boy, about her age, sitting on a rock with his head in his hands, and crying as if his heart would break!

“Oh little Boy! Oh, dear! What is wrong?” cried Marissa. “Why are you crying?”

“I can’t help it.” said the boy, lifting his tear stained face. “I lost my mittens, and if I go home without them, I’ll be in terrible trouble.”

Well… First, Marissa thought, ‘He’s awfully big to be crying for a pair of mittens.’ And then she thought, ‘Silly boy, why didn’t he just put them in his pockets?’ And then she thought about how she would feel, if her mommy had made her wear mittens that day, and she had lost them, and was going to be in terrible trouble. And she realized that she would feel sad that the mittens were lost, and angry with herself for losing them, and scared of the trouble, if it was going to be very terrible. And she felt tears coming into her own eyes.

She walked up to the boy and patted him on the shoulder. “Don’t cry!” she said. “I’ll help you, and maybe we can find them again, and everything will be alright.”

“Oh, will you?” said the boy, jumping off the rock. “I’ve looked all over, and they just aren’t there!”

“What do they look like?” asked Marissa.

“They’re blue, with red fishes on the backs, and white fishes on the palms.” said the boy.

“What were you doing when you last knew you had them?” said Marissa.

“I was walking along, and I saw a patch of egg flowers,” said the boy. “And I just had to let the birdies fly.”

I should tell you what egg flowers are, because we don’t have them here. They are early spring flowers that have masses of white blooms, with the palest of pale blue veins. And when they finish blooming, the seed pods look just like blue robin’s eggs with red speckles. When you squeeze the pods, they burst open with a pop! And release a cloud of tiny seeds with sparkling, iridescent “wings” that float up and up into the sky. Children like to pop the seeds; and they call that “letting the birdies fly.”

“You had your mittens then for sure?” said Marissa.

“Yes, I’m sure I did, because my fingers where too clumsy to pop the ripe eggs with my mittens on, so I had to take them off, and… Oh!”

And the boy ran back down the road to the place where the egg flowers were nodding their white heads in the breeze, and what do you think he found there?

That’s right! A pair of mittens. Blue ones, with red fishes on the backs and white fishes on the palms, right where he had dropped them.

“Thank you!” he said to Marissa. And now he wasn’t crying, he was smiling, as bright as the sun.

“You’re welcome!” said Marissa. “but all I really did was help you remember. Ummm … next time you take them off, you might want to put them in your pockets.”

“Right!” said the boy, and he went off whistling.

Well… Marissa was even happier after that, because it always makes us feel good to help others, doesn’t it?

But she wasn’t home yet.

She kept going along, more than half dancing now, and a little way down the road she turned another corner, and what did she see?

A young woman, holding a sleeping baby in one arm, and a big glass jar in the other, with a very distressed look on her face.

Marissa had just helped one person, so she thought perhaps she could help another.

“Hello!” she said. “Is there something the matter? Can I help?”

“Oh, hi little girl!” said the young woman. “I came out to collect some of this birdsong for a quilt I’m making, but it’s too cold to put the baby down on the ground, and I need both hands for the spell.”

Marissa had never heard of a spell like that before, but when magic is everywhere, you get used to unusual things.

Well… First, Marissa thought, ‘Silly lady! Why didn’t she just carry the baby in a basket?’ And then she thought about how she would feel if she had gotten all excited about the birdsong, and grabbed a jar and the baby and run outside without thinking. Because as good and brave as she was, I have to admit that Marissa often did things without thinking them all the way through first. And she realized that she would feel worried for the baby, and disappointed that she might miss the chance to gather the birdsong, and upset with herself for not thinking it through. And she realized that when you’re upset with yourself, the last thing you need is for other people to point out your mistake.

So what she said was, “I can hold the baby for you while you get the birdsong, if it won’t take too long.”

“Oh, would you?” said the young woman. “I would be so grateful! It will only take a minute or two.”

So Marissa moved her cheery red book bag so it hung down her back, and wouldn’t be in the way, and she held out her arms for the sleeping baby.

The young woman put the baby in Marissa’s arms (and I have to tell you, he was heavier than he looked) and made sure that his blanket was tucked warmly around him.

Then she opened her glass jar, and started the spell to collect the birdsong.

Collecting birdsong, by the way, doesn’t lessen the song you hear in the air, any more than recording it does here. And it was fascinating to watch.

As Marissa struggled to hold the baby gently and securely, (and it wasn’t long before she was wishing that she had thought to sit down somewhere before she took him,) the young woman sang a few long, slow words, and the birdsong near her hand became solid, like glittering multicolored threads, that somehow still held all the music, and beauty, and joy of the bright song and crisp day. The young  woman fed the threads into the glass jar, and it wasn’t long at all before the jar was full of glorious filaments.

“Thank you so much!” said the young woman. And she put the jar down on the ground, and took her baby back, settling him into her arm. (He never woke up, but just kept sleeping peacefully.)

“You are very welcome,” said Marissa, handing her the jar full of softly glowing threads. “It’s going to be a splendid quilt!”

The young woman laughed. “It is, isn’t it,” she said, “Thanks to you! Well, I need to get home. Goodbye!”

“Goodbye!” said Marissa.

As soon as the lady was walking away and couldn’t see, Marissa shook out her arms so they would stop aching. That baby had been heavy! But her heart was lighter than ever, and she resolved to find that spell and learn it, although it was probably too advanced for her to do quite yet. And she went on her way, three quarters dancing now.

But she wasn’t home yet.

She hadn’t gone much farther, when what did she see?

An old, old man, standing in the road, and looking sad and worried.

I should tell you that at that spot there was a little stream that curved toward the road, chuckling as it pretended it was going to tap the path, and then curved away again. The road, as if it were playing with the stream, threw out a side path that hopped over the stream by way of a tiny humpback bridge, and then wandered off down a shady glen. But the bridge was so very, very small that whoever built it hadn’t bothered to put any railings on it.

Well… Marissa had helped two people, and thought perhaps she could help a third.

“Hello!” she said. “Is something wrong?”

“Hello, little girl,” said the old, old man, smiling at her. “Not wrong, exactly. But my legs aren’t as steady as they once were, and the bridge here has no railings. It would be fine, if it was level, but as you can see, it’s not. And I’m not quite comfortable venturing over it.”

Well… Marissa didn’t have to think much at all to know how she would feel if her legs were all wobbly and she needed to cross that bridge! She would be scared that they would give out part way, and she would take a tumble, and get a dunking too! And then she’d still have to get home somehow, all wet and bruised!

“Oh, let me help!” she said. “You can lean on me, and I’ll make sure you get across safely.”

“That would be most kind!” said the old, old man. “You are a thoughtful child, aren’t you?” And he smiled at Marissa.

So she put her cheery red book bag over her back again, and stood next to the old, old man. And he put his hand on her shoulder, and together they walked over the bridge.

When they were safely on the other side, Marissa said, “You’re sure you’ll be okay now?”

“Right as rain,” said the old, old man. “The rest of my way is as level as can be. Thanks again!” And off he walked, as jaunty as it’s possible for such a very old, old man to be.

Well… Marissa’s heart was as light and bright as the sun, and she really did dance all the rest of the way home to her Mommy and Daddy, and Granny, and brother, and dog, and two cats, and eleven chickens, and fuzzy gray donkey named Graymalkin.

And that night, after she had been tucked in bed, but before she fell asleep, she heard a musical humming sound, like this, HummmmMMMMmmmMMMMmmm. Her eyes flew open, and what did she see?

There on her pillow stood the most beautiful fairy you could ever imagine! She was only as big as Marissa’s hand, and she shone all over, like the sun shining through leaves. She had two gorgeous wings springing from her shoulders, shimmering with all the colors of the rainbow. She was fanning them gently, which was making the humming sound, and as they moved they left trails of light.

Marissa held her breath. She had never seen, never even dreamed, of anything half so lovely. Because, you see, even in that corner of the multiverse, where magic is everywhere, fairies show themselves as themselves only a little more often than they do here.

“Hello, Marissa!” said the fairy. “You were very good and kind today.”

“Oh! I was? How did you know?” whispered Marissa.

“I know, because I was all the people you met today. I was the boy who lost his mittens, and the young woman with the baby, and the old, old man. And no matter my guise or trouble, you went out of your way to help me.”

“Oh!” whispered Marissa. “But … how?”

The fairy laughed, with a sound like silver bells. “I’m a fairy! We can be anyone or anything we like. You never know when the stranger you see is really one of us.” And she smiled at Marissa.

“You never once thought about reward, and you didn’t say the unkind things you thought. Those are both important.”

“But I did really get a reward,” whispered Marissa. “I felt really good, inside.”

The fairy smiled. “That’s why they say that kindness is it’s own reward,” she said “but I’m a fairy, and I like to give people who help me something a bit more substantial.” And she held out a tiny book. “This is the spell to collect birdsong,” she said. “Keep it safe until you know enough magic to work it, and someday, your weaving will be famous throughout the world.”

And with that, she fanned her wings until they got so dazzling bright that Marissa had to close her eyes. When she opened them, the fairy was gone. But she still held the little book tightly in her hand. She opened it and looked inside, of course, but one glance showed her the spell was really too advanced. After all, she was only about your age. But she knew she’d be able to work it one day.

So she slipped out of bed and put the little book safely with her most precious treasures. And then she climbed back in between her covers and snuggled down.

But as she drifted off to sleep, she couldn’t help but wonder…

Why had the fairy’s mommy made her wear mittens on such a warm spring day?

The End

The Arcade September 2016 Round is Open!

It’s that time again, and The Arcade is open for the September round.

Items from the R(SW & YKFK Gacha machine at The Arcade in Second Life
R(S)W Playful Pastimes 2 – Arcade Sept. 2016

Marianne McCann and I have collaborated on a set of Retro toys for this round. (I did the mesh, and she did most of the textures. Mari also did the animation in the plane. We both worked on the scripts.)

If you’re a resident of Second Life, you can visit our Gacha Machine at The Arcade, and try your luck! It’s just L$50 a try, and everything is mod/transfer.

All of the items do something. The tops jump onto their tips and spin when you touch them. Touch them again, and they fall over. Or just wait, and they’ll fall over by themselves after a bit (because this isn’t a dream.)

When you touch the handheld pinball games, you hear the plunger, and the ball rolling, and then the ball appears in one of the slots. It’s exactly like really playing it! (Or as close as I could manage, in SL.)

The sliding puzzles scramble or solve themselves with a touch.

If you wear the plane, your avatar holds it up in the air. If you touch it, you get a really cute kid voice making a plane noise, so you can run around pretending the plane is flying.

The ray gun water pistol is the most fun! If you wear it and go into Mouse Look, you can shoot a cascade of water at your friends! The disks on the front of the gun also light up and spin when you’re in Mouselook, so everyone knows you are ready to douse them at a moment’s notice.

If you play the machine 25 times, you get a special Reward; a tin Police Box Bank.

Tin Police Box Bank - Reward for playing the gacha machine 25 times
R(S)W Playful Pastimes 2 Reward – Arcade Sept 2016

There’s no other way to get it, and it’s only available during this round of the Arcade, so if you want one, you have until September 30. Unlike all the rest of the things in the machine, the bank is copy/mod, so you won’t be able to buy, beg, or borrow one from anyone.

When you touch the bank, you’ll be able to hear the coins dropping into it. There’s also a script in the Instructions (in the Object Contents) that lets you turn it into a tip jar, if you want to.

So that’s part of what I’ve been up to! Hope you enjoy it, and if you’re in Second Life, I hope to see you there!