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

Dorie’s Cottage

This story will eventually be in a collection tentatively named “The Dreamweaver’s Tales.” I have several of them done; this is the first.


Dorie’s Cottage

by Robin Wood

Once upon a time there was a young girl who lived in a mostly-forgotten house at the edge of a mostly-forgotten village tucked away in a mostly-forgotten corner of a great kingdom.

It wasn’t mostly-forgotten by the people who actually lived there, you understand. They saw it every day, and called it home, and everyone they loved lived there. They weren’t about to forget it.

But the mapmakers, carefully drawing towns on parchment under the watchful eye of the King’s Master Cartographer, mostly forgot to put it in among the little triangles that showed the Great Eastern Forest.

The historians, recording Incidents of Interest on snowy paper in their careful round hands mostly forgot it, because things they considered Incidents of Interest tended not to happen there.

Even the Traveling Merchants, with their brightly painted wagons and bolts of exotic cloth and expensive spices from Distant Lands mostly forgot it, because the people who lived there would come to the see the displays and marvel; but they didn’t have coin to actually buy.

So Dorie, for that was her name, lived alone in a tiny cottage on the outskirts of Little Hambleton with her papa.

Her papa was a kind man, and he worked hard, but they had very little because the plot of land that had been left to him by his father and his grandfather before him backed up into the mountain. There was a bit of level land in front of the cottage, about the size of your living room, and from there it rose in leaps and slides and cliffs with hillocks on them mostly straight up into the clear air.

It was so steep that if you went into the front door of the cottage, took seven steps across the room to the ladder, climbed up into the loft, and scrambled out of the window next to Dorie’s bed, you would be standing on the ground.

It was land fit only for raising goats. So that’s what Dorie’s papa did.  But so did most of the other people who lived in Little Hambleton, so there wasn’t much call for milk, cheese, or wool; and Dorie and her Papa were quite poor.

That didn’t bother them so much. Everyone they knew was poor.

But there was something else that bothered Dorie’s papa quite a lot. You see, Dorie was very pretty, with soft black hair, a winning smile, and a laugh like the chiming of silver bells. But her eyes were as white as the snow that fell on the mountains in the frosty winter. For Dorie was quite blind, and always had been.

Which is where the problem lay. Not because she was blind, although that did pose certain difficulties. But because when she was very small her papa, who sometimes had more imagination than good sense, had started lying to her. And now he couldn’t stop.

He hadn’t meant to lie. He had only meant to make her smile. But now he was stuck.

It had started innocently enough. She had been very glum one day, when she was about three years old. She had been sitting at the table, kicking her heels and scowling, and her papa had been at his wit’s end trying to cheer her up. At that moment, the sun had broken through the clouds, and a ray of light lit the table right next to Dorie’s little hand.

“Oh, Dorie-my-dear,” her Papa had said softly, “if you open your hand and move it just a little, you can catch a sunbeam!”

She did, and felt the warmth against her palm. “Oh Papa!” she whispered, enchanted, all gloom forgotten, “I caught a sunbeam!”

Her papa had been delighted, and so encouraged to see a smile on her little face that he couldn’t help but embellish it, just a bit.

“A sunbeam with a rainbow in it!” he agreed.

“A rainbow!” breathed little Dorie. “Where did the rainbow come from, Papa?”

Her papa, at a loss, found himself telling a bigger lie to prop up the first one, as usually happens.

“Oh, from the stained glass in the window.” he replied.

“We have stained glass?! I never knew that! What is stained glass, Papa?”

Her papa could not disappoint that little face, turned so eagerly towards him. So he invented a beautiful stained glass window, with roses and lilies, and a cloud breaking over a mountain and sending fingers of light down to caress the crystal stream that was so realistic you could almost hear it chuckling over its bed, tucked tenderly in its little valley.

That’s where it started. But that’s not where it stopped.

As time went on, he invented more and more.

The faded curtains, worn nearly threadbare, became iridescent drapes of the softest gauze. The ancient quilt on Dorie’s bed became a marvel of pattern, color and design. The newspapers pasted on the walls to cover the bare boards became rich wallpaper.

He invented carvings all over the beams, where Dorie could not reach, and described them so well that all the flowers, leaves, squirrels, butterflies, and strange, capering forest gnomes were alive in Dorie’s mind. She knew their names, and exactly which ones were above her at any moment.

In Dorie’s sightless eyes, the cottage glowed with light and color. The bare rocks behind the house, which she was forbidden to climb because they were too steep and dangerous, were covered with wild roses, climbing in her place. She ate off of plates with a delicate glaze, that changed colors as the light hit them. The thatched roof was patterned with different colored straw, and had straw animals marching along the ridgepole. The house itself was painted glowing white, as pure as driven snow, with green shutters where painted birds frolicked among curling vines.

In short, Dorie thought that she lived in a kind of fairy cottage, tucked against the most picturesque of mountain sides.

This caused some confusion in Little Hambleton.

For instance, once young Dorie stroked the calico in the Mercantile, and asked what color it was. When Se Flourie, the kind woman who ran the store, told her it was red and white, she sighed and said, “that would never go with the iridescent gauze we have in the windows.”

Se Flourie thought about the gray rags hanging in the cracked windows that faced the street, and was totally confused.

When little Geoff handed her a bouquet of flowers, she asked, “Are they as pretty as the roses that grow behind my lovely cottage?” Geoff looked at the cottage, gray with age, and spotted with peeling paint, its shutters hanging askew and the thatch in need of repair. He stared at the bare bones of the mountain, with never a rose in sight, and shrugged, completely confused. Then he ran off without a word, because he couldn’t find a single one to say. (Which, truthfully, confused Dorie in her turn.)

When Bobbin Hamsin offered to give her a kitten, and she told him she had to reluctantly refuse his kind offer, because she was afraid kitty would tear the silks of their coverlets, he was very confused, and not a little hurt that she would mock him so.

Eventually, they all decided that young Dorie was not only blind, but “not quite right.”

Her papa heard the whispers, but was too ashamed to tell them what was really happening. He couldn’t face the thought of his neighbors disapproval, or of Dorie’s reaction if she learned she really lived in a hovel. So he went on telling lies to everyone, hoping he would not be found out, and growing more unhappy as the years went by.

Things continued like this until the summer that Dorie was 12.

One bright day in late June, when Dorie happened to be at the Mercantile trading goat cheese for sugar, Vonnie Merlsin burst through the door, red faced and panting.

“Se Flourie! Se Flourie!” he cried, gasping for breath. “There is a Healer come to Greater Hambleton!”

Se Flourie gave a little yip, and dropped the sugar scoop, nearly spilling the precious grains all over the counter. (She was lucky, and it all landed on the brown paper she was going to use to wrap it.)

“A Healer, you say? Just down in Greater Hambleton?”

“A Healer?” Dorie whispered, clasping her hands tightly together, just above her heart.

She didn’t need to ask what a Healer was. Everyone knew.

But you might not, so I’ll tell you.

In that country, there were sometimes, very rarely, children born with the Gift of Healing. As babies in their cradles they could touch a bruise or cut, and it would heal instantly. When they were old enough, another Healer would come to their homes, and take them to the legendary Hospice. No one knew where the Hospice was; but everyone knew that was where the children would be taught all the anatomy and physiology they needed to develop their Gift. When they were old enough, they would leave the Hospice and wander all over the Kingdom, going from city to town to village to outpost, healing everyone who came to them.

They could heal practically anything but old age and heartbreak. Any wound. Any illness. Any deformity.

Even blindness.

There hadn’t been a Healer anywhere near their nearly forgotten corner of the kingdom in almost 20 years.

But now there was.

Word spread through the village like a hot summer wind. By nightfall, Dorie and her papa had been outfitted by their neighbors, with better clothes and a borrowed wagon so as not to shame Little Hambleton in front of the Healer.

They spent a restless night, Dorie in a maze of anticipation, her Papa in despair as he knew his lies were about to be revealed.

The next morning, when the mountain peaks blushed pink with dawn while night clung to the valleys like a sleeper reluctant to roll out of bed, they set off.

Greater Hambleton was nearly 17 miles from Little Hambleton, in a wider, and therefore richer, fold of the valley. By the time they reached it, the sun was well up in the sky, and the lines of people waiting to see the Healer snaked around the Headman’s house, into the Village Square, around the well a couple of times, and then meandered down a side street. There was a boy with a hand cart doing a brisk business selling sweet buns, and several girls with buckets and dippers earning pennies refreshing the thirsty crowd.

By the time they finally were ushered into the room where the Healer sat, Dorie and her papa were both nearly sick with excitement and fear.

“Good afternoon,” said the Healer. She sounded very tired to Dorie. “Ah, you are the patient,” and she took Dorie’s hands. Her grip was soft yet firm, and her hands felt very hot. “Blind since birth?”

Dorie’s Papa cleared his throat. “Yes. Her mama had a hard pregnancy, and a long labor. She didn’t survive. And when my precious daughter opened her eyes for the first time, they were as you see them.”

The Healer drew a long breath. “Close your eyes, my dear,” she said, “and sit here on this stool.” And she guided Dorie to a low stool and helped her sit down. Then she moved behind her, and covered both Dorie’s eyes with her hands. Slowly her hands grew hotter, until Dorie was afraid they would burn her. Then there was a sharp, short pain, and something in her eyes moved. And then, for the first time, Dorie’s world was flooded with light!

The healer moved her hands, and Dorie’s papa started to cry. “Your eyes are the color of walnuts!” he sobbed. “Just like your Mama’s.”

Dorie blinked, and looked at the Healer. She looked kind, but tired, and she was older than Dorie had expected. Her hair was streaked with silver, and there were lines in her face.

“Oh, thank you!” cried Dorie, and tears filled her eyes as well. “How can I ever repay you!?”

The Healer gave her a tired smile. “Just be kind to everyone you meet.” She said.

She turned to Dorie’s papa. “You should stay in the village tonight. It will take your daughter some little while to adjust to her vision. I believe there are several barns that have been opened to travelers, or you can camp in the meadow if you would prefer. The weather will be fine all night.”

Dorie’s papa bowed to her. “Thank you. Thank you. I have no words to thank you.”

Then he took Dorie’s hand and led her away. Behind them, the young mother who was next in line, holding her ailing baby, slipped into the room.

Dorie’s papa dropped the coin the village had given him to give to the healer into the pot by the door, and added the fine cheese he had prepared as a gift the night before, and then they were back in the street, where the shadows were lengthening into twilight. The whole thing had taken less than five minutes.

There was still a line, but now the people in it were getting ready to settle into their places for the night. The Healer would not work after sundown, as everyone knew, but she would start again at dawn.

Dorie’s heart was as light as a hummingbird that night. She kept pointing things out to her papa, all joyous and excited. “What is that color? Is that what clouds look like!? What kind of flower is that? Look! That’s a bird, isn’t it? Listen to it sing! I never knew they were that small! Oh! Oh! Is this a sunset? It’s more glorious than I ever imagined!”

But over and over, she would tell him that she could not wait to see their pretty little cottage for herself! And she would describe it to him, in loving detail, just as he had described it to her.

His heart grew heavier with each word. He started, several times, to explain. But he simply could not bring himself to do it. He was afraid to quench her joy, and see the light go out of those beautiful brown eyes. Eyes that were so very like her mother’s.

So he said nothing. He smiled, as well as he could, and tried to share in her delight. He told her which names went with what colors, and answered her eager questions, and dreaded their eventual homecoming.

She was still just as excited the next morning, as they set out on the return journey. And he was just as reluctant to break her happiness.

Finally, about a mile from their village, he made one final attempt. “Dorie,” he began.

She turned to him, eyes sparkling. “Yes Papa? Oh, Papa, why do you look so unhappy? Is something wrong?”

For the first time, her brow grew troubled, and he could not go on. He told himself he could not deprive her of a single moment of joy; she would know the truth soon enough.

So he smiled. “It’s nothing. Just that Little Hambleton is right around this next curve in the road.”

“Oh! At last!” She breathed. And in her excitement she stood up in the wagon, impatient to see her village, and her fairy cottage, for the first time.

And then they were there, and the whole village turned out to welcome them, and the children were jumping with joy, because pretty Dorie could see!

She laughed her silver laugh, and looked all around. “But where is our cottage?” she asked.

Little Geoff (though he was not so little now, being the same age as Dorie,) flung a careless hand towards an aging hovel huddled into the mountain, as if it was too weak and tired to stand on its own.

“It’s that one, there.” he laughed, “hard against the mountain! See it?”

Dorie turned pale, and sat down very suddenly. “Yes,” she whispered. “I see it.”

Se Flourie looked at her shaken face, and her father’s unhappy one, and her shrewd mind suddenly put all the pieces together.

She grabbed the horse’s bridle, and led the wagon to the door. “Go home, you lot,” she said. “Can’t you see the child is tired? It’s all a bit much for her. She can see all of you tomorrow. She’ll be seeing everything for the rest of her life. Now give her some space, and let her rest.”

And she lifted Dorie off the wagon seat and whisked her into the house.

Inside, Dorie shrank into herself as she looked at the  gray, ragged curtains. The cracked, dirty glass in the window. The newspapers on the walls. The threadbare quilts. The house beams adorned with nothing but cobwebs. The bleak and cheerless house that was her home.

“How could he?” She whispered.

“What did he tell you?” asked Se Flourie.

“He said there was stained glass. Iridescent gauze at the windows. Carved beams.” Her voice rose as she went on. “He said it was white with painted shutters. He said there were roses! He said it was beautiful!! It’s a dump! I’ve wanted to see it all my life, and there is nothing to see!”

She turned to her Papa, where he stood miserably in the doorway, with his hat in his hands.

“How could you!?” she yelled. “You lied to me! You made me look like a fool!”

“I….” He coughed, and then looked up, tears streaming unnoticed down his worn cheeks. “I don’t know. I’m so sorry. It made you smile. It made you happy. Watching you believing it, I could almost believe it myself. I had so little to give you. I..” He shrugged. “I’m sorry,” he whispered.

Se Flourie watched them, and her kind heart broke a little, and then firmed in resolve.

“Don’t you see, Dorie? He gave you a beautiful place to live, your whole childhood.”

“He gave me a lie!”

“Yes. And it was wrong to lie. He should have told you your beautiful cottage was only in your imagination. It would have saved some confusion and hurt feelings. But don’t you see? He imagined beauty for you, and he gave you that gift.”

“But it was so real to me! I could draw that window now!”

“Sweet girl, you are very smart,” said Se Flourie. “You must have known at some level.”

“I didn’t! How could I?”

“Think, child. Did you ever smell roses? Did you feel the patterns in the glass? Did you feel silk under your fingers when you touched your quilt?”

Dorie covered her eyes, and sat very still. She loved her father dearly, but this was betrayal of the deepest order!

But as she sat there, she knew she could hear the wind whispering through the cracks in the wall, as it had whispered her whole life. She could remember lying at night and listening to the slow drip where the roof leaked. She could smell the dust and decay all around her. She knew she had never smelled roses. She sighed, as she realized that she had known.

“But I wanted so badly for it all to be true,” she whispered. “I believed it with my whole heart, to make it true. But it doesn’t work that way, does it?”

“No,” said Se Flourie. “It takes more than just believing and wanting to make our dreams and wishes come true. It takes a lot of hard work.”

Dorie dropped her hands, and stared at Se Flourie. “What do you mean?”

“I mean, my dear, that you can make it real. You said you can draw that window? So draw it! We’ll have to start with a good scrub, but unless I miss my guess, you can live in a pretty cottage. Oh, maybe not the exact one your papa imagined for you, with stained glass and silk coverlets and iridescent gauze at the windows. But anything a good cleaning, new paint, and honest calico can do for you, you can have! I need help at the Mercantile. I’m not as agile as I once was. And I’ll pay you with cotton and paint.”


So Dorie wound up living in the prettiest cottage in the village after all. Although most of them are prettier than they were. It turned out that she had quite a talent as a painter. So many of the village homes have painted shutters, and paintings on the walls.

Dorie’s, though, is the one there, with all the roses and lilies in the yard, and the cat curled up on the window sill. The white one, with the green shutters that have painted birds frolicking among the flowering vines. You can tell it by the fancy thatching. She got that in trade for painting flowers and squirrels on the thatcher’s shutters.

If you go inside, you’ll see pretty calico curtains hanging at the shining window. There are all kinds of fanciful things painted on the beams. They may not be carved, but Dorie knows all their names, and can tell you their stories. On the beds are the prettiest patchwork quilts you have ever seen.

And hanging on the wall, just where it catches the evening sun, is the most exquisite painting with roses and lilies, and a cloud breaking over a mountain and sending fingers of light down to caress the crystal stream that is so realistic you can almost hear it chuckling over its bed, tucked tenderly in its little valley.

It might not be as splendid as the fairy cottage that existed in Dorie’s imagination when she was growing up. But as she would tell you, it’s much cozier!

These days, her papa walks around whistling all the time. He is also much in demand as a storyteller, although he is careful to make sure his listeners know the stories spring from his imagination, and nowhere else.

Of course, it took a few years to make all this happen. It takes time, as well as hard work, to pull something from the Realm of Imagination into the Real World.

These days, when Geoff comes courting, Dorie can see the beautiful bouquets he brings for her. And she never compares them to her roses, although she could, because she loves Geoff nearly as much as he has always loved her; so his flowers are dearer to her than any others. Not even the fairy roses of her imagination can compare.

Because his flowers, like his love, are real.

The End


Hope you liked it! As always, I welcome any comments or feedback. Thanks!

Each More Beautiful

A fairytale by Robin Wood

I’m one of 12 princesses, each more beautiful than the last.

Sounds great, doesn’t it? Except that “more beautiful” is a relative term. It would be just as true to say that I’m one of 12, each plainer than the next.

My youngest sister, Eleanor, is lovely, with golden curls, dimples, and bright blue eyes. In fact, the youngest four are all really quite stunning, in their separate ways. The three before that are fairly pretty as well. Megan, Princess number five, is just ordinary looking; nothing special, but nothing untoward. Juniper, number four in line, has an unfortunate squint (she will not wear her spectacles) and unruly hair. Grace, the third oldest, is sadly knock-kneed, but happily her dresses hide it. She also freckles and somehow manages to look rumpled most of the time.

Jasmine is the oldest. You’d expect her to be the plainest of all, and I suppose if your idea of beauty is based entirely on softness and femininity you’d think you were right. She looks exactly like our father the king, but without the beard. She inherited his regal, beaked nose, his height, and his breadth across the shoulders, as well as his straight dark hair and piercing blue eyes. Like him, she’s slender and athletic, and inclined to stride about bellowing. She’s also going to inherit his crown, so really, her looks aren’t terribly important. She has plenty of suitors.

I’m Gayla. Second oldest. And I’m a mess. I’m as tall as Jasmine, but also what our mother the queen describes as “heavy set.” She means fat. On someone shorter, as I’ve had explained to me many, many times, it might be considered plump or cuddly. On me, because of my height, it just looks formidable, and unladylike. I’m not at all athletic, so our father has explained to me that there’s no reason for me to be so tall. I’d love to be shorter, but somehow it’s been years since I’ve managed it.

I also have wiry mud-brown hair that knots itself into tangles and escapes from all attempts to control it. My eyes aren’t any particular color, and they’re weak, necessitating the use of spectacles (which I wear.) I have freckles. And a wart next to my nose. And I’m clumsy.

There are 12 of us because our father the king really, really wanted a son and heir. But that didn’t happen, and by the time my mother the queen had had 12 daughters in 14 years, my father realized what story he was stuck in. Privately, I think he’d also grown so fond of Jasmine he wanted her to have the throne, not some hypothetical son of unknown character.

I’d figured out that we were going to be 12 Princesses by the time I was 10. I’d also realized that I was going to be the one that never married. At the time, I was delighted, because I had very little use for boys; I found them loud, stupid, obnoxious, mostly sticky, and with a tendency to laugh at things that weren’t funny.

So I decided I’d grow up to be Court Magician instead, and help our kingdom that way.

That would have worked out better if I’d had some magical aptitude. I was great with potions, but not so hot with the magic itself.

When I was 11, I decided that I’d become a great scholar and historian. My vast pool of knowledge and incisive decision making would save our kingdom in its darkest hour.

But history bored me to tears, and although I loved books, and would read for hours at a time, the books I loved were fiction; especially fantasy stories about places with no magic, and no monarchy. Which weren’t exactly prime material to learn anything that would be useful in the real world.

At 12, it was my ambition to excel at strategy and tactics. I would be a great general, renowned throughout the continent, and opposing armies would quail when they heard my name. I blame that on General Wain, who my father the king employed that year to teach us older girls about the Art of War. I thought he was devastatingly handsome, and cut a dashing figure in his bright uniform, glittering with gold embroidery and so many medals they could have doubled as armor.

It certainly wasn’t because I like war. On the contrary, when I see someone in pain it hurts me, too, and I do whatever I can to ease it and make them feel better. I can’t even kill a bug. There’s not a chance that I could order troops into combat.

I was 13 when Eleanor was born, and my mother the queen said “enough.” In my mind, that pretty much sealed my fate.

In a world like ours, where Destiny and Magic are the most powerful of the Natural Forces, I figured that meant I was just a placeholder. It was clear that Eleanor was going to have some kind of adventure and wind up marrying a hero, and the rest of us would be the 11 Princess who weren’t the youngest.

So we grew up.

We learned all the things that young princess are taught, including Statecraft, and how to rule a kingdom. Even Eleanor had to learn that, because her Hero might also be a Prince. As both our parents, the king and queen, were fond of telling us, it’s immense help to a king to have a queen who is well versed in all aspects of statecraft, including trade and taxes. I’m afraid I didn’t pay much attention, though, because I knew I’d never need it. Jasmine excelled in it, because she was going to have to rule after our father the king, which delighted him.

None of us could actually get engaged until Eleanor had had whatever-it-was, of course. But as the years went on it seemed that the palace was always full of various princes, courting one or another of us, or just hanging around. There’s no lack of small kingdoms like ours, which means lots of alliances and treaties. There’s nothing like a marriage to cement peaceful relations between kingdoms. I never doubted that Megan and even Juniper would wind up marrying some prince or other.

Grace has a lovely singing voice, so I assumed some blind harper would probably snap her up.

Which left me as the only one with no prospects at all.

By the time that Eleanor was 16, and it was reasonable to think that her adventure would happen soon, I was  29. Jasmine had taken over a lot of the State duties for our father, and I was helping with judgements and so on, but I still hadn’t figured out what I was going to do with myself once Eleanor was settled. Most of the younger ones had “understandings” with various princes by then.

I liked all the princes, which was good since a lot of them might wind up being my brothers-in-law, but I mostly sat back and watched rather than joining in. I mean, really, who would want to dance with me? If I stumbled, and I probably would, I might lurch against him and crush him like a bug! They asked, but I knew they were just being polite, so I always refused.

Instead, I concentrated on being happy for the younger ones, and tried not to think of myself too often.

Then it happened, right on schedule.

My parents noticed that Eleanor, who had always had a complexion like a blush rose, was getting paler and paler. She stopped eating, and started mostly playing with her food. She was tired and listless all day, and sometimes her bed looked as if she hadn’t been in it all night.

My father the king knew exactly what to do. He’d been preparing for this for years, after all. As soon as he realized that this was finally it, he sent one of his councilors to check on her in the dead of night. Sure enough, she was missing; but the door guard swore that she hadn’t left the room, and she wouldn’t say where she’d gone, or why.

He sent out a proclamation that very morning, announcing that he would give the hand of a princess in marriage to anyone who could solve the mystery.

All the princes who had been hanging around lined up. A fair number of young, unmarried men who weren’t royalty did, as well. (So did a few who were not young, but after a hurried consultation with my mother the queen, they were disqualified. The proclamation was amended to read “young men (under 35 years of age.)”

I expected Eleanor to perk up. After all, she’d been waiting her whole life for this. But I caught her peeking between the curtains at the line of men signing up for their chance, with tears in her eyes.

“Eleanor?” I said, as softly as I could. “Come to your Gayla,” and I held out my arms. She came, and leaned against me, crying her eyes out. “Do you want to talk about it?”

She burrowed into my shoulder, and then mumbled, almost too softly to hear, “I hate Destiny. Hate it, hate it, hate it.”

I sat down on the bench next to the window, and took her onto my lap. Great girl that she was, I was still much bigger, and had no problem at all cuddling her as if she was still six, with a banged up knee. “Don’t you want to have your Adventure?”

She sat up, and glared at me. “No! It’s stupid! Just because I’m youngest, I’m going to have to marry one of them.” she spat it out like a curse. This girl, who’d spent her childhood dancing around, singing and teasing the rest of us about her Adventure, no longer wanted any part of it! I have to admit, I was stunned.

She collapsed against me again. “Oh Gayla! I wish I was you, not me!”

“Me!?”

She nodded, sobbing. “You’ll never be forced to marry someone you don’t like, while your True Love is out there.”

Oh. “Eleanor,” I said, as softly as I could, “Have you met someone you want to marry?”

She nodded. I handed her my handkerchief. She blew her nose.

“Are you sure that he’s not out there in line, in disguise?” After all, that’s what I would have done, if it had been me in love with a princess. This was the chance for anyone to win her hand, and our parents the king and queen wouldn’t be able to object, no matter what.

“He can’t be.” She sniffled.

“Why not?” I asked. “Oh Eleanor… he’s not a vampire or something, is he?”

She smiled sadly, and shook her head.

“Is he under an enchantment?”

She sat up and looked at me, as serious as I’ve ever seen her. “Can I really, really trust you?”

That hurt, but I tried to hide it. “Oh dear heart! Of course you can!”

She held up her little finger. “Pinky swear?”

I hooked it with mine, without a moment’s hesitation. “Pinky swear!”

She looked up and down the hallway. When you have 11 sisters, you learn to be cautious.

“He lives in an underground kingdom, and the gate only opens when the moon shines on it.”

“Ah.” My father the king didn’t want to waste any more time than had already gone by. He’d been waiting too long, and he wasn’t a patient man. So all applicants had to be signed in today, the same day as the proclamation, although from the looks of that line it would take weeks for each of them to have their night.

Unless the answer was found before that, of course.

“Okay. This is what we’ll do,” I said. I had her total attention now.

“If this batch all washes out, then our father the king will have to open the competition again, and your beau can nip out while the gate is open, wait for the morning and the new proclamation, and be first in line.”

She nodded mournfully. “But what if this group doesn’t all wash out?”

“I don’t suppose that you could just go without seeing your prince for a few weeks?”

Her eyes got huge, and she clutched her heart. “I couldn’t!”

“Not even if it meant that you’d be able to marry him eventually?”

She started to cry again, and shook her head.

“Then I’ll see to it that all the ones in this group fail. A sleeping draught is easy enough to make. If they’re asleep, they can’t very well follow you when you sneak out at night.”

She gave me a tentative, watery smile. “You’d do that for me?”

“To see you happy? Of course I would.”

So that’s what we did.

For the next two weeks, I fixed a sleeping potion every night, and every night I’d give it to that night’s prince (or whoever) as he got ready to wait and watch on the couch in Eleanor’s room. Every night, it made him super alert for the first 10 minutes or so, and then he’d sleep soundly. Once he was snoring, Eleanor would creep out, see her prince, and sneak back in.

Every morning, the poor prince (or whoever) would stand before the court, and admit that he’d seen nothing; just the princess laying there. Some of them said she was there all night, and some admitted that they weren’t able to stay awake, but none knew where she went. Only a couple were dishonorable (or desperate) enough to make up stories; but they had no evidence, and broke down under cross-examination.

Eleanor still looked wan, because she still wasn’t getting any sleep to speak of, and she was still not sure that our little ploy would work as we hoped.

In the meantime, all the princes kept hanging around, as they had for years, except now they were joined by an odd assortment of other young men, from the traditional soldiers and woodcutters to the occasional clerk or farmer. We even had one artist, a tall, handsome fellow, who painted little miniatures of all my sisters and thrilled them to bits. He offered to paint mine, too, but I didn’t want one. You wouldn’t either, if you were me. He was fun to talk with, though.

I did what I could to make them all feel comfortable and welcome. My father the king was at his most jovial, since the Long Wait (as he put it) was coming to an end. My mother was a little on the frantic side, as she prepared for a dozen weddings all at once. She was convinced that the rest of us would be married within the week, once Eleanor was “taken care of.”

For those two weeks, all went well, and I was sure it would continue to do so.

Then it was the artist’s turn.

As I handed him the potion, he asked me, “What’s this for?”

None of the others had asked; they all seemed to assume that I wanted my sister married as quickly as could be, so I would be on their side, of course.

For a moment, I couldn’t think of anything to say. Then I said, “I just thought you might want something to drink.”

He reached out, and took the goblet, examining it carefully. Then he looked up, and pinned me with his gaze. “Do you bring this to all the suitors?” he asked.

I smiled. “Of course!”

He nodded. “Of course.”

I watched while he drank it, but the room was dim, and his clothes were covered with stains and blotches from all the paint. I never noticed him dribbling it down his chin, and into his smock.

He handed me back the empty goblet, and I smiled, told him to take care, and left.

My heart was lighter than usual, because the moon was waning. The next night there would be no moon, and it would be safe. More fool I.

The next morning, as usual, we all assembled in the throne room.

Eleanor looked worse than ever, because she knew that she wasn’t going to be seeing her love for a day or so. I was on edge, although I didn’t know why. My other ten sisters were getting impatient; they’d hoped to have this settled by now. The rest of the court was enjoying the show.

The trumpets sounded, the double doors were flung open, and the artist walked up to the thrones with a huge grin on his face. My heart fell to my slippers.

“Well?” my father the king bellowed. Not to be alarmed. He usually does.

The artist gave a sweeping and courtly bow. “Your Majesty, I have solved the riddle!” And he proceeded to lay out the whole thing. How as soon as the moon rose, my sister got out of bed, and tapped on the wall, opening a secret door. How she crept out, and he followed. All about the meeting with a prince dressed in white velvet, moonstones, and pearls. How they whispered vows of undying love, and spoke of the gate being closed except when the moon shone on it. He even had a tiny piece of the prince’s cloak, which had gotten caught on a bush, and tore off as he rushed to get back inside before the gate closed at moon-set.

As he spoke, poor little Eleanor got paler and paler. When he held up the scrap of white velvet, with tiny moonstones sewn to it, she was as white as it was.

Everyone in the court could tell that the story was true. There was no sense in denying any of it.

My father the king sighed, took her hand, and held it out to the artist.

“You have solved the mystery, and her hand is yours,” he said. I don’t think he was happy. He did love her, the most beautiful of his daughters, and she was obviously heart broken.

“Sire,” the artist said, “Your proclamation stated that I could have the hand of any of the princesses.”

My father the king blinked, and said, “You don’t want Princess Eleanor?”

He shook his head. “No sire. I have no wish to break a maiden’s heart.”

Eleanor smiled like the sun coming out. “Oh thank you!” she cried. I don’t think anyone has ever been so delighted to be rejected, before or since.

My father the king let go of her hand, and she quickly withdrew it. “I don’t understand! Would you rather have another of my daughters?”

He nodded solemnly. “Yes, sire, I would.”

“Well, which one?”

There was a rustle among my sisters. He was just an artist, although he was very handsome. I could tell that some were hoping it was them, and some were hoping he’d choose someone else, because of their “understandings.” Jasmine’s jaw muscles bunched, and I knew she was thinking that he was going to claim her, and through her, the throne.

But he smiled, and looked right at me. “Princess Gayla,” he said.

I sat there, stunned, while the room erupted in cheers.

Jasmine and Grace, sitting on either side of me, nudged me. I got to my feet, and stumbled over to my father. He took my hand, smiling as if it would crack his face, and put it in the hand of the artist. He’d scrubbed his hands well. There was only a hint of paint left, around his cuticles.

“Why me?” I asked, under the noise of the crowd.

He smiled fondly at me. “Because you’re the kindest.”

“But I’m so ugly!”

His eyebrows shot to the top of his forehead, and he stared at me. “Why would you say that? You’re lovely!”

I just stared back, thinking that perhaps he needed spectacles too.

He smiled. He has a wonderful smile. “You’ll make a striking queen, as well as a kind one.”

I smiled ruefully back at him. “Oh dear. I’m afraid that it doesn’t work that way. You have me, but not the title.”

“Oh, right! I was forgetting.” He grinned, and winked at me.

“Your Majesty!” he had to bellow almost as loudly as my father the king to be heard. But the crowd quieted as soon as he had.

“Yes?”

“I have a confession to make.” He let go of my hand, and ripped off his old paint-stained smock.

You can guess what happened next.

Sure enough, under it he was wearing a doublet made of cloth of gold, with emeralds sewn in an intricate pattern all over it. “Art is only a hobby of mine. I’m really Prince Giles, heir to the kingdom of Luxinstan.”

I thought the cheering had been loud before. The court pretty much exploded at that. I mean really, hats were tossed, the trumpeters each started to play a different fanfare for no particular reason, children were shouting and jumping up and down. It was just bedlam. After all, Luxinstan is the largest, richest kingdom around here, and my father had been trying to set up an alliance with them for ages. Being allied through marriage pretty much meant that there would be peace in this corner of the world for the foreseeable future.

So my mother was right. She did have to arrange a duodecuple wedding, (which was probably less work than 12 separate ones, but still.) Eleanor married her Prince, and was glowing so brightly she was practically luminous. They got married here, and also in his kingdom, because, as she said, anything worth doing was worth doing more than once. Jasmine married the prince she’d picked out to be her king nearly a decade before, and all the others married the princes they had understandings with. Even Grace married a prince, not a blind harper after all.

It turns out that looks aren’t everything, although Giles still insists that I’m not lacking in that department.

But I do wish I’d paid a bit more attention during Statecraft lessons. Life is a weird, unexpected journey. You never know what you’re going to need.


So, that’s the new story promised every-other-Saturday. I’m sorry there’s no picture for this one. I’ve been pretty sick, and didn’t manage to make one. 🙁

I hope you like the story! If you want to keep ’em coming, please consider joining my Patreon. Thanks!

Bully for You

Another Kip Andrews story! Enjoy. It’ll be up here for everyone to read for free until July 2, and then I’ll be moving it to Kindle.


I was in the middle of a book when the big Glass in the living room chimed.

“Kip, can you get that?” My mother was in the kitchen, making dinner.

I sighed, put my book down and got it.

“Kip Andrews.” The glass cleared, responding to my voice, and revealed a very pretty lady with a huge smile.

“Hi!” she said, all bright and chirpy, “This is Dana from the Pertwee Magical Supplies Assessment Office. Is a parent home?”

“Sure. Please wait a moment.”

I went into the kitchen, “It’s a lady from some Pertwee place.”

Mom put down the apple she was slicing. “Oh good!” She hastily wiped her hands on her apron, and bustled out of the room, calling “Keep your fingers out of that salad!” over her shoulder.

Fair enough. I opened the drawer, and got out an eating knife. No fingers, as ordered.

A squeal from the living room stopped me cold, with my knife poised over the bowl. My mother is not the squealing type.

“Mom? Are you okay?” No answer. I dropped the knife, and rushed into the living room.

“Mom?”

“Oh Kip!” my mom grabbed my hands, and twirled me around. My mom does not do things like that! I pulled my hands free.

“Mom, what happened?”

She clasped her hands under her chin, beaming at me, with tears in her eyes.

“Kip, we had the wood from the tree assessed. It’s all pure Lighting Struck Oak, grade 4, worth 3 ells a decidun. A decidun Kip! And we have a whole tree of it!”

We had a whole tree, because a couple of weeks ago, lightning struck the tree in front of our house, almost killing my brother, Jasper. Usually, lightning struck oak gets burned, or some of the tree isn’t energized. But this had been a big bolt, followed by enough rain to quench any fire. Grade 4 meant it was super charged, and the wood was sound, in pieces big enough to carve things out of.

“Now, we won’t get that much, of course. That’s retail, and we’ll be selling to them wholesale, but still, it’s going to come to several million!” My mom gave a little hop. I could see why. I couldn’t help grinning myself.

We were rich.

This was going to change everything.

By the time I got to school the next day, everyone knew. I have no idea how. I sure hadn’t told anyone. But somehow, the news had spread, and everyone was staring at me.

This was not going to make my life easier.

“Hey, Rich Kid!” I froze. I knew that voice. Lem Carter. He was the biggest kid in school by a fair piece, and he was an equal-opportunity bully. He picked on everyone. But there are degrees of being picked on.

Until two weeks ago, I’d been low on his list.

Yeah, I was hopeless in magic class, but I was a whiz in math. It evened out, at least in Lem’s tiny mind. Until I saved my brother’s life by using magic to get that tree off his throat. Some kids flat didn’t believe I’d done it, and Lem was their leader.

“I hear you got a pile from that tree. What say you give me a thousand or so?” He poked me in the shoulder. A tiny hint of what would happen if I didn’t.

I closed my locker, swiping the crystal to make sure he could see it was locked. Then I turned, swallowed the lump in my throat, and looked at him.

“Are you crazy? It’s not my money. It’s my parent’s!”

“Is that so? Hummmm… “ he rubbed his chin, pretending to consider, but his eyes were narrowed and gleeful. “Well, I guess I’ll just have to be content with whatever you have on you, then.” He grinned.

I scanned the hall. No teachers. Of course. Just his backup squad, cutting me off from everyone else.

I gave him a friendly smile. I hoped.

“Why do you think I have cash, Lem?” I could hardly hear myself over the pounding of my pulse in my ears.

His smile turned meaner than ever. “That’s a point. And I can’t ask you to glass it, you’d only stop the payment.” He paused. “I know! You can bring me cash tomorrow.” He stopped smiling. “At least 100.”

“Why do you think my folks would hand me 100 in cash?”

“You better pray that they do, Stunto. Just pray that they do.”

He laughed, and he and his so-called friends turned and sauntered away. I leaned back against the lockers, trying not to be sick. There was no way I could get that much money. No way.

After that, things just went from bad to worse. Of course. It was Tuesday, and that meant Magic Lab.

I’ve hated magic since I can remember. Two weeks ago, the very day that lightning struck, I realized it’s because I hate change. Magic makes things change into things they have no business being. I mean, I guess I don’t hate the magical tech, or anything. I’m not a Fudder. But tech is different. It’s not something I have to do, myself.

I had hoped that when I understood what my problem was, it would go away, at least enough to get through Magic Lab. But no such luck. It seems that just knowing why isn’t enough. I still had a hard time making myself do it.

So there I was as usual, making a mess of Larkin’s Smooth Surface. It has an easy sigil, which I’d already drawn, but it takes more power to activate than anything we’d done.

Mr. Wilfred had given us all little petri dishes full of dirt. Mine was mixed mud, gravel, and what looked like a crumpled candy wrapper. The spell was supposed to turn the whole thing into a polished slab.

Most of the other kids weren’t having any problems. Their dirt melted and flowed into what looked like marble.

But mine just sat there, stubbornly remaining a handful of dirt. Probably from the playground.

Jamie, who was next to me, leaned over. “Having trouble, Stunto?” she whispered. Then she looked quickly to the table past hers, where Lem was leering as he watched.

I didn’t blame Jamie. She didn’t want to be on Lem’s bad side. No one does. Of course, all his sides are bad, but you know what I mean.

I ignored her.

“Someone who can work half a tree of Lighting Struck Oak shouldn’t have any problems with a measly little smoothing spell.”

I sighed. “What are you trying to say?” I looked past her, at Lem. I knew who was the puppet, and who the puppeteer. And I wasn’t going to waste words talking with the puppet.

“Admit it, Stunto.” He left Jamie out, too. “That tree missed your brother. He broke his arm falling, and you stepped in and took all the credit. You just wanted to look a little less like the Magical Stunto that everyone knows you are.”

“Believe what you want.”

“Oh, no. I’ll believe the truth. And the truth is that you are just a pathetic Stunto. You’re not fooling anyone. If you could do magic, you would. But you can’t, can you, Stunto?”

Around me, I could hear the whispers starting. “Stunto, stunto… “

Mr. Wilfred looked up, from where he was helping Sherri Therein, in the front of the room.

“Lem, do you need something?”

“No, sir.”

We all turned back to our dishes. I hate Magic Lab.

I tossed my stuff onto my desk, and looked over at Jasper. That’s my brother. He’s Perfect, you know. But right now, he has yellow bruises all over, especially on his throat, and his arm is in a cast.

He was reading, with his face all kind of screwed up.

I’ve been trying to be gentle with him, since the accident. I don’t really mean gentle; that’s not the right word. It’s more like he’s taken care of me, ever since I can remember. So I’ve been trying to take care of him. Like the power running the other way, or something. Anyway, I’ve been trying not to bug him.

But this was too much for me, and he was still my big brother, so…

“Jasper, I have a problem.”

He looked up, his eyes clouded. “Oh, for…   What now?” He sounded disgusted. He never sounds disgusted.

“There’s this kid at school, Lem Carter.. “

He rubbed his hand over his eyes. “Let me guess. He’s being a bully.”

“How did you know?”

“He has a brother in the year below mine. Bad news.”

I sighed with relief. I didn’t have to explain.

“Yeah, and he’s telling me that I have to bring 100 ell in cash to school tomorrow, and give it to him.”

Jasper frowned. “Where did he get the idea that you have that kind of money?”

I shrugged. “I dunno. It seems like everyone knows about the tree, and that we’re rich now.”

“We’re not rich now. We’ll be rich in a couple of months, when the sale of the tree goes through, and all the taxes are paid. That kind of money takes a while to set up and transfer.”

“Yeah, I know. I tried to tell him.”

“What do you want from me, Kip? I can’t go to your school and beat him up for you. This is your problem. You handle it. You know what to do. Tell someone, ignore him, make a joke – Mom’s told you all of this.” He went back to his reading.

“Jasper? But.. “

He slammed the book down. “Just leave me alone for once in your life, and don’t keep asking me to do everything for you! Okay?” He got up, and left the room.

He’s changed. I mean, I know he’s in pain and all of that. Mom says he’s coming to grips with his own mortality, whatever that means. But still.

My old brother’s superior attitude could be really annoying. But right then, I wanted my old brother back.

Did you know that you can mold mashed potatoes like clay? They’re lots softer, but they can hold a form, for a while.

“Kip, that’s enough.”

I looked up at my Dad.

“Stop playing with your food, and eat it.”

I sliced the head off the tiny statue of Lem, lying defeated on my plate, and dutifully ate it.

“What’s wrong, Kip?”

“Lem Carter,” said Jasper. Traitor.

“Who is Lem Carter?” my dad was puzzled.

“This kid at Kip’s school. He’s decided to extort 100 ell from Kip, or the beatings will commence.”

I glowered at him, but he ignored me.

“Oh Kip!” said my mom, putting her knife down. “That’s serious! What did your principal say when you told her?”

I looked away. “I can’t tell her. It’ll just make him worse. I was hoping Jasper would have some useful trick, or I wouldn’t have told him, either.” I shot him an accusing glare.

“I’m glad Jasper told us,” said Dad. “And we will certainly let your principal know. This ends here.”

But it wouldn’t. I knew it wouldn’t. It would only give Lem a real reason to hate me.

“Kip,” said my mom, “I’ve taught you how to handle a bully, haven’t I?”

I nodded. Only about a thousand times.

“A bully targets you because they’re jealous, to feel powerful, or to look popular. Some are being bullied themselves, or in other kinds of intolerable situations. You need to understand, reframe the bullying, and treat them with empathy and .. .”

I tuned her out. Yeah, yeah. Poor unfortunate bully. Acting out because they’re so unhappy. Yada yada. There are other ways to handle unhappiness that don’t involve making everyone else miserable. I’m sorry, but I didn’t pity Lem a bit. I thought he probably deserved whatever bad stuff might be happening to him.

“Understand? Kip?”

I snapped back, and quickly reran the conversation in my head. Oh no! They were seriously going to talk with my principal!

“Mom, Dad, really, I can take care of it. Okay?” He’d break my bones if I got him kicked out of school! Then I remembered my parents gushing over the idea of a new house. “Besides, we’re going to move soon, right? I can handle it a while longer. Please.”

They looked at each other doubtfully.

“Even if we had the money in hand, Kip, it will take at least six months before we can move. I really think we should have a meeting with your principal,” said Dad.

“But what if he was just kidding?”

“Do you really think that’s a possibility?”

“Maybe? Please.. Just don’t go to the school about it.”

“Okay. Unless he actually assaults you, we’ll let it ride. For now.”

Predictably, Lem was waiting for me in the hall by my locker.

“Hi, Stunto the Rich Kid,” he grinned, and held out his hand.

I don’t know what came over me, but I reached out and shook it.

His little cohort whooped with laughter, but he pulled his hand out of mine and scowled. “Yeah, good joke. I want 100 ell, punk.”

I smiled innocently at him. “I can understand that. I’d like 100 ell, too. But you know, neither of us actually has that kind of money.” In fact, I didn’t have cash at all. I’d made sure of that.

“Yeah? I gave you a whole day to come up with it.”

“I could explain how long it takes to actually get money when you’re selling magical supplies, but you’re not interested, are you?”

He grinned evilly. “No, I’m not. Tell ya what, since you don’t have cash, I’ll take that jacket.”

“This jacket? It would never fit you!” It just popped out.

“Yeah, that’s a point. Tell you what, give it to me, and I’ll sell it.” He smirked. “It would be nicer if you just handed it over now. I’ll get it, one way or another, and I’d prefer it without bloodstains. They’re such a nuisance to remove.”

He advanced, and I retreated, looking quickly over my shoulder. No teachers. How did he do that? If I tried to do anything bad, a teacher always popped up! Maybe I should do something against the rules now, and conjure one.

He took another step forward, and I took another back. Thinking about rule-breaking had given me an idea.

Most people need to physically draw sigils before activating them. But there are people who can do magic in their heads. They don’t need to draw anything. They just visualize the sigil on the thing they want to change, activate it, and wham.

I’d never been able to do that. I’d barely managed to do any spells, no matter how carefully I drew the sigils, except in an emergency.

Judging from the racing of my heart, this was one. And Larkin’s Smooth Surface has a really simple sigil.

I pictured it on the floor, as clearly as I could, and activated it as strongly as I was able. I couldn’t tell if the floor was any slicker than it had been. It was pretty polished anyway.

I took another step back.

Lem and his friends took another step forward. And it was perfect! Their feet went right out from under them, landing them smack on their rumps! They tried to get up, but they couldn’t; the floor was too slippery. They just kept sliding around, while the ones who hadn’t fallen laughed like loons.

And yep, there was a teacher, right on cue.

I reversed the spell as quickly as I could, and was relieved to see that worked too. As they climbed to their feet, I murmured, “You wanted to see me do magic.”

Lem glared. His face was brick red. “Just you wait, Kip Andrews” he whispered.

Oh no. I’d only postponed the beating. I was dead meat.

I couldn’t concentrate on any of my classes after that. Well, who could have?

Everything I knew about bullies and how to deal with them kept going round and round in my head. I knew that nothing worked with every bully, but there had to be something that would work with this one. Negotiation didn’t work. Joking didn’t work. Placating didn’t work. Nothing worked! It was horrible! There was nothing I could do!

But then I looked at Lem’s broad back in the seat in front of me, and remembered what Jasper had said, about Lem’s brother. For my whole life, Jasper had always been kind and patient; someone I could depend on. Right then, he was in a bunch of pain, and snappish from it, but even so, I knew he would never beat me up.

What would it be like to have an older brother like Lem had, instead. To be afraid of someone in your own family? Someone you could not escape?

His parents must be just as bad, or they would have stopped it.

That would be awful!

He didn’t even have any friends. All he had were followers, who followed from fear. I mean, I don’t have a ton of friends. But I do have a couple, and we’re friends because we like each other. He had no one.

It’s strange, but I really did feel sorry for him. I wished he could have a friend. A real friend, who wasn’t afraid of him.

How would I act around him, if we were friends?

I was musing it over, kind of lost in that alternate reality, when my pencil broke. Without thinking, I leaned forward, and tapped him on the shoulder. He turned around, with his mouth open, and one eyebrow raised.

“Got a spare pencil I can borrow, please?” I whispered.

He glanced at the teacher, then back at me, and wordlessly handed me a pencil.

“Thanks!” I smiled at him.

“No problem.” He looked kind of pole-axed, and turned back to his work.

After school, sure enough, there he was by my locker. But his hands were shoved deeply into his pockets.

“Why did you do that?” he blurted out, as soon as I was in hearing distance.

I shrugged. “I broke my pencil, and didn’t have a spare.”

He shook his head.

“I really don’t have the money, you know.”

He shrugged. “It’s not important.” He looked at me quizzically. “I can’t figure you out, you know?”

“What’s to figure?”

Lem shrugged, looking puzzled.

I pulled the pencil out of my case. “Here. Thanks for the loan!”

He took it from me, and carefully put it in his own case.

Then he looked up. “You’re all right. You know that?” He turned, and walked off.

I thought about that all the way home. We’ll probably never be real friends. But at least he was off my back. And really, he’s not completely evil.

New Story on Patreon

I just put a new story up on my Patreon page, for those people who subscribe at $5 a month or more.

This could be you!

The story is from a collection that I’m tentatively calling The Dreamweaver’s Tales. Here’s the introduction for the collection.


The Dreamweaver

Introduction to the Dreamweaver’s Stories
by Robin Wood

Long ago, in the Before Time, our arm of the galaxy twirled through a spoke of the Cosmos that was filled with Enchantment. In those days, all the world was thick with Magic, and fantastical creatures roamed land and sea, bringing joy or terror, according to their natures.

There were many kingdoms then that have since fallen to dust, and even the ever-so-very-great grandchildren of the ancient Kings and Queens no longer remember their names.

You might be one, all unknowing.

In one of those kingdoms there was a mighty city, with walls and towers of shining alabaster that blazed white in the sun. Many-hued banners snapped in the breeze at the tops of the towers, and the air was filled with the perfume of a thousand flowers.

There was a bustling marketplace there, where hundreds of merchants hawked their wares under colorful canopies. There were rows of booths filled with amazing fabrics, shimmering in the sunlight. There were hidden nooks where mysterious figures shrouded in robes stiff with mystical embroidery sold jeweled treasures glimmering with magic. There were pens and cages filled with animals from every corner of the globe, from small crested dragons no bigger than your thumb to towering, tusked creatures that were armored for war. There were sections filled with a thousand musical instruments, all inlaid woods and gleaming strings. There were whole squares given to selling foods from plain bread rolls to the most exotic spiced confections you can think of.

Imagine it, if you will.

Picture the rows of booths, each with its bright awning to shade the buyers and sellers. Picture the sunlight, dazzling as it reflects from polished wood, metal, and precious stones.

Picture the sounds with your mind’s ear; the sweet notes of women singing of perfumes and baubles to entice customers. The harsh bellows of men outshouting each other in their attempt to engage the crowd. The calls of the livestock, the peals of metal chimes, the snatches of song played by wandering minstrels, the calls of the street performers, all mixed into a cacophony that somehow blends into a busy, harmonious whole.

Picture the scents with your mind’s nose, perfume, and heat, the spicy musk of the wooly beasts, spices, rare woods, meltingly delicious desserts, and the cool fragrance of growing plants.

Picture the crowds, dressed in clothing from all the world, feathers nodding in an elaborate head dress here, long sleeves flowing there. Bare feet, scarlet slippers, and tooled leather boots with curled toes all vying for space on the red porphyry pavement. Children in splendid finery, and children in little more than rags laughing and playing as they slipped through the crowds together.

Let us follow two of them, a boy and a girl in plain homespun with just a touch of embroidery, as they race below the elbows of their elders.

Together, they weave their way past the booth where an old, old woman is selling sweets dripping with honey. Past the fat, bearded old man with ranks of toys. Past the young woman with bunches of bright ribbons. Not even pausing for the flute player, or the puppets, or the man with a basket of silky-furred puppies.

Down to the far corner of the market they run, to a nondescript tent of dusty brown, with a single silver star on a deep blue banner trailing down the side.

Here they pause, catching their breath and each other’s hands. And then they lift the flap and slip inside.

Inside, all the noise and light from the market are gone. Inside, it’s quiet and cool, and stars glimmer in the twilight. Inside, it’s outside, on a still hilltop, on a summer evening.

There are other children here, and grown-ups, too, all sitting in a circle, watching a still figure draped in white.

For a moment she remains motionless, as we settle in the circle with the others.

Then she lifts her head, and smiles gently.

“I spin you a dream,” her soft voice stirs her listeners. “a dream from the Borderlands between this world and the next.”

Then she lifts her hands, and starlight and dream-stuff pour between them. She gathers it up, spins it into shimmering strands, and from the strands she weaves a visible dream. A dream of shifting colors and flowing shapes, of light and substance. Of pale shadows and strong sparks.

A dream of Good and Evil. Of how our smallest choices can make huge differences. Of the warmth and courage of the human heart.

This is a Dreamweaver, and these are some of her Dreams.

The End – Or perhaps The Beginning

If you want to read the first one now, instead of waiting for a month for it, you can support me on Patreon.

There will be another story posted here tomorrow; it’s the next Kip Andrews. Those are written in a totally different style than the fairytales, like the Dreamweaver’s stories. You might like it better, or you might not. I’d love to hear one way or the other.

Finally, for people from Second Life, the mesh for the hammock that I showed yesterday is finished!

hammock for Second Life, work in progress, with no textures
The finished mesh for the hammock.

I still need to make all the textures, the LODs, bring it into SL, and assign animations and script it so the hammock will swing. So yeah, next week, at the earliest.

In the meantime, I hope you all have a wonderful weekend, and I’ll see you tomorrow!


Picture – a shot I took in a glassblower’s booth at the Michigan Renaissance Festival in Holly, MI. I wish I knew whose work it was, but sadly I didn’t keep a note of it. (If you know, please tell me!)

Expectations

I was working on an embroidery panel for Sami’s wedding dress when I heard the unmistakable sound of a mouse skittering through the wall. My house is warded against natural mice, of course, so I checked the magic signature to see who it was.

Then I heard the scrabbling as he emerged into my pantry! I jabbed the needle into the cloth to hold it, and practically threw the whole piece onto my side table.

“Willoby Jamison Vogelman, don’t you dare touch my food in mouse-form!”

There was a flash of magic, and my great-grandson sauntered out of the pantry, with a brownie in each hand.

“How did you know it was me?” he asked with his mouth full. He was scattering crumbs everywhere. I have no idea why ten year old boys disdain little niceties like plates and forks, but in my experience they all do.

“I have ways.” One thing I’ve learned, with 3 children, 9 grandchildren, and 21 great-grandchildren is never to tell them how you know things about them. Not until they are old enough to need the tricks for their own youngsters. Thinking that adults simply know everything is a powerful deterrent, and with a brood like mine, I need all the deterrents I can get!

He settled on the stool in front of me, chewing serenely.

“You’re making crumbs in my sitting room.”

In reply, he shoved both brownies into his mouth at once. They didn’t fit, of course. The child has a wide mouth, but I am generous when I cut my brownies. He made a valiant effort, but crumbs leaked everywhere. I thought about requiring him to return to mouse form and eat them off the floor, but he would probably enjoy that. So I just glared at him instead.

For some reason, that made him grin, which made the crumb problem worse. I decided to ignore him, and picked up the embroidery, making sure the charm that kept the white from getting smudged with anything, including chocolate, was intact.

Will chewed energetically and watched me work until the double brownies were gone.

“Why didn’t you want me to eat in mouse-form? I would have gotten full more quickly.”

“You know that only lasts while you are a mouse. As soon as you became a boy, you’d have been as ravenous as ever. And I’d have been left with half-nibbled brownies, and tiny chocolate footprints all over the pantry.”

“What would you have done if I’d stayed a mouse?”

Will is one of the ones who always wants to know the outcomes of every possible choice. Not a bad trait; it will make him a careful, thoughtful adult. But at the moment, he’s still a child, and sometimes prone to repeating behavior, good or bad, to test the variables.

“I’d have dragged you out of the pantry by your tail, and warded it against you for a week.”

He looked at me, his hazel eyes full of mischief and speculation. “But would you have been able to catch me?”

I almost laughed. “We can try the experiment any time you like.”

He smiled and sat back. He has learned that when I’m that sure, it’s not wise to test me. Besides, I never, ever, lie to any of them, and they know that.

I finished the leaf I was stitching, and cut the thread.

“So, to what do I owe the pleasure?” I asked. There are times my family drops in just to visit, but I was pretty sure this wasn’t one of them.

“Mom sent me,” he answered. “She said to give you this.” He fished in his pocket, and pulled out a note. It wasn’t in bad shape, considering everything I was sure had happened to it since his mother handed it to him.

I set aside the embroidery, broke the seal on the note, and spread it on my lap, smoothing the wrinkles enough to read it. I was being invited to dinner on Friday.

That was odd. Not the invitation; I was frequently asked to join my various family groups to share meals, celebrations, and so on. But generally not in writing.

Will craned his neck, trying to see, and I realized that for some reason, Peg hadn’t wanted him to know I was coming. I folded the note in half, thwarting his efforts, and tucked it in my work basket. Peg hadn’t given me any details, so she was either assuming I could handle whatever it was on the fly, or that I already knew what was going on.

Sometimes giving grandchildren the illusion that you know everything can come back and bite you!


On Friday, I showed up at Peg’s house punctually at 4:00, as requested. I find punctuality important. It allows people to plan.

“Nana!” Peg greeted me warmly. “Thank you so much for coming!”

I laughed and hugged her as tightly as I could with one arm occupied. “Of course! Now, care to tell me what this is about?”

“It’s Steph. She’s very troubled, but she won’t tell either Greg or me what is wrong. We tried to send her to you, but she won’t go. So I decided to bring you to her.”

“Ah. Why the note and the mystery?”

She shook her head and smiled, “You know Will; he’s such a tease. If he knew, he’d be likely to taunt Steph with it, and close her up tighter than ever.”

Steph is one of my younger great grands. She’s only seven, and very quiet and reserved. Unlike the rest, she never changes into something unexpected and just pops over and lets herself into my house. When she does come to visit, she always knocks on the door, and always in human form.

I put the cake I’d brought on the kitchen table.

“Where is she now?”

“On the swings. She’s been spending most of her time there. What a lovely cake! You didn’t have to!”

I just smiled. If I ever showed up without something good to eat, I’m fairly sure they’d all wonder if it was really me.

I let myself out the back, and walked to the little copse where the swings are. I could see Steph, her back to the house, listlessly kicking the ground in a half-hearted attempt to swing. Something wrong, indeed.

She looked up as I took the swing next to her. “Grandnana. I knew they’d make you come.”

Might as well get right to the point. “They are worried, because they love you.”

She turned her head away, but not before I saw her eyes fill with tears.

“They won’t, when they know.”

Oh dear. This was worse than I thought. I stood up, gathered her out of her swing, and carried her over to the double glider. I’m so glad young children are small enough to pick up easily!

For a while, I just held her and swung gently, while she cried. “That’s right.” I murmured, “Let the tears wash the pain away. And know that I will always love you, no matter what.”

She wrapped her arms around me, and wept for a while.

“Now,” I said, “who did you murder?” She was startled enough to laugh, and doing that while crying caused her to hiccup. Loudly. Which made her gulp and half laugh again.

She sat up, and I handed her a handkerchief to dry her tears. She took it, took care of herself, and shook her head.

“It’s not that! You know I’d never do that, right?”

“I didn’t think so.” I gave her a squeeze. “So, we’ve established it’s not as horrible as murder. What is it?”

She sighed, and relaxed against me. “You know they teach shape-shifting in second grade, right?”

I did, indeed. Although my descendants  generally figure it out well before that. I’d never seen Steph – oh no. I knew where this was going.

Sure enough, she started to sob again. “I tried, Grandnana. I tried really hard. They’re going to kick me out of the family, aren’t they? Please don’t hate me, Grandnana! Please!”

I held her as tightly as I could, and covered the top of her head with kisses.

“Oh, my poor little Stephie! My very own, dear little Stephie! Of course not! I’m so sorry you thought that for a minute! You’re our own darling Steph, and we don’t care a bit if you can’t Shift! Not everyone can, you know!”

“Everyone in this family can! Everyone but me. I’m a failure.”

She was holding me so tightly that it hurt. She had accidentally grabbed a pinch of my skin, under my shirt. I’d have a bruise there tomorrow, but that was insignificant next to this.

“No, honey bunch, you are not a failure. Don’t say that about my great-granddaughter. Lack of one talent does not a failure make.

Besides, haven’t I taught you that people may fail at many things, but people, themselves, are never failures?”

She nodded, and sat up slightly, releasing her hold. Oh thank goodness!

“But you are so famous for shifting, and I can’t do it at all! People will make fun of me.”

I held her close, taking her hand in mine. She could hold my hand as tightly as she liked. “What will they say?” I asked.

“They’ll say I can’t Shift!”

“Is that true, as far as we know right now?”

She sniffed, and nodded miserably.

“Then say, ‘Yes. And?'”

“What?”

I sighed. “People who tease are trying to get a reaction from you. Lots of times, they don’t care what reaction, as long as they get one. Any reaction at all makes them feel, just for a minute, like they mattered to you. Just for a minute, you saw them, and interacted with them.

“People need interaction with other people as badly as they need air and light. They’ll do anything to get it, even when they have no idea that’s what they are doing.”

“So, if I just say yeah, as if it’s no big deal, they’ll leave me alone?”

“Perhaps. They might also be reaffirming their group identity, showing their friends that all of them like the same thing, so they are part of the same group.

“The trick is a two prong approach. Let them know that not shifting is something neutral for you, like having dark brown hair or green eyes. But also interact with them doing things that make you all feel good, because it’s the interaction they crave.”

“But it’s not neutral! It’s one of the most important things there is! Ever since I was tiny, I’ve been waiting until I could turn into a bird and fly through the sky, or turn into a horse and run like the wind, or be a fish in the brook! And now I never will!”

I held her close, and felt the pain I would feel if I had to give up all those things. “You’re right. It’s hard to give up dreams and expectations. It hurts a lot. I know.”

“How? Did you ever have to give up anything?”

“Oh my darling, yes. Think how old I am. I’ve had to give up so much! So many dreams, plans, hopes that never happened.”

“Can you tell me one?”

Well, it was only fair. She’d shown me her pain. “The worst was when I realized I’d have to live without your GrandGrampa. I didn’t think I could. I’d always imagined us going on forever together. But life doesn’t go on forever, and his ended before mine.”

“How did you manage?” she whispered.

“By concentrating on the things I still had. Your grandpa, and your great-aunts, and all your aunts and uncles and various cousins.”

“And me?”

I squeezed her. “You weren’t born yet. But now that you are, yes, you.”

She was thoughtful as we swung for a while, and I left her space to think. I had memories of my own to think through.

Finally she said, “I can still throw a charm faster than Will or anyone, even if I can’t shift. If he wants an interaction, I can make his pants fall off!”

I had to laugh. “Well, yes. But that’s not quite the kind of interaction I was thinking of. That would probably not make him feel good.”

She laughed too. I was so happy to hear it. “Probably not! What is the most important thing, Grandnana?”

I could answer that one without thinking. “Being kind. And that’s not dependent on any talent or ability or skill in the world. Everyone can do that, no matter what.”

She nodded, thoughtfully. “I better go tell mom what’s been bugging me, huh?”

“Yes. Want me to come with?”

She turned, gave me a kiss, and slid off my lap. “No. I can do this. You’re sure she’ll still love me?”

“I’m sure. She might want to have you tested, or tutored, but that’s because she doesn’t want to give up her hopes and expectations for you, not because she doesn’t love you, even if you never shift at all.”

She nodded. “That makes sense. Okay. Love you, Grandnana!”

“Love you, Steph.”

She straightened her little shoulders, and marched off to the house.

I watched her go, her back straight and head up, and thought about my husband. I still missed him dreadfully, at times. But I know he’d be so very proud of our brood!

Stormy Weather on Amazon

I got Stormy Weather made into a Kindle book yesterday, and today it’s up for sale on Amazon!

I really should have researched the title before I used it. I had no idea how many other books were also called “Stormy Weather” although I certainly should have. It’s not like it would have been hard to do. Oh well, too late now! It’ll be easier when it’s just the name of the first story in the collected Kip Andrews book. (It’s a very short read – only 13 print pages, so it’s perfect for reading during break.)

If you’re a member of KindleUnlimited you can read it for free. If not, I’m afraid it’ll cost 99¢. Amazon won’t accept a lower price.

I’d like to thank everyone who read it here, and encouraged me. If you liked it, and you can leave a review, that would be great! Good reviews really help.


If you’d like to read any of the 3 stories that are still here, while they’re still free, you can find links to them below.

Beauty and the Beast Retold

A Little Bird Told Me – A Grandnana Story

May Eve

May Eve Story

It’s Saturday, and time for another short short. This one is just shy of 1000 words. I wrote it on May Eve, and thought I should post it before the month is over.

Hope you like it!


May Eve

It was raining that day. If it hadn’t been for the rain, none of the rest of it would have happened.

Without the rain, I’d have been out on the Lake, sailing to the Island where the woods were carpeted with spring beauty and glory-of-the-snow. I’d have been picnicking under the tender new maple leaves.

That was my plan for the day.

If it hadn’t rained, I wouldn’t have been stuck indoors. I wouldn’t have gotten bored, and decided to put together a wreath out of dried flowers and bird feathers and bits of this and that, all hot glued to an old form I’d been given for a long-ago housewarming. Without the rain, I’d have been far away from the house, and I’d never have heard the doorbell, even if it rang.

But I did make the wreath, and hung it proudly on the front door, where the porch sheltered it. And I was home, so when the bell rang I answered it.

At first glance, I thought it was a child, standing there as gray as the rain, dripping on the mat. I wondered who was letting their little girl wander around in the rain, without so much as a hat. But then she lifted her eyes, and I realized it wasn’t a child at all.

I can see you expecting me to say it was a Little Person. But it wasn’t.

She wasn’t human. No human has ever been born with eyes like that. Solid green, those eyes, with flecks of gold floating in them. No whites, no dark pupils, just shades of green, dancing like leaves in a forest breeze, burning as if lit from behind.

Those eyes captured me, and I stood there stunned, unable to move.

“Can I come in? It’s very wet out.”

I stepped aside, and motioned her past me. That was probably a mistake, in retrospect, but I wasn’t thinking really clearly at that moment.

“Ah much better!” she chirped. She scooted by, and straight to the fireplace. There wasn’t a fire, of course. I seldom turn on the gas, except for holidays and other special occasions.

“Your hearth is cold!” She gave me such a look! Accusation, disappointment, condescension, disdain, annoyance. In my own home!

Wordlessly, I walked over and flipped the switch. With a whoosh the gas caught, and blue flames licked the artificial logs.

She started, and then peered at the fire. “What is this? You’re no sorcerer!”

I shook my head. My voice was still not working.

“Speak!”

She pointed a surprisingly long finger at me, and I found myself saying, “It’s a gas fire. Natural gas is piped into the house, and a spark from the electronic ignition unit causes it to burn, but very cleanly. There’s no ash, and no smoke.”

“Huh.” She turned back to the blaze. “Well, it’s truly fire, so I suppose that’s legal, even if it doesn’t smell right at all.”

She turned her diminutive back to the warmth, and shook her hair out with both hands. In no time at all, it dried to white frizz like a dandelion clock, all over her head.

“So, I suppose we should come right to the point,” she said.

“The point?”

“Why I’m here. Are you daft?”

“I’m not sure.” Ten minutes earlier I’d have said not a chance, but I was standing there talking to someone who wasn’t human, and I had no idea if anyone else would even find her visible. So yeah, of course I was questioning my sanity. Wouldn’t you?

She peered up at me, and then around the house, or as much as you can see from the living room. “Not bad, although it’s been far too long since you washed your curtains. Still, I’ve seen worse.

“Okay, I’ll take the job. Payment will be a full saucer of cream, delivered nightly, and mind it’s fresh! I’ll have none of the waste that you’re thinking of giving to the pigs.”

“Wait.. what? What job?”

She looked at me, my own puzzlement reflected on her tiny face, and then scampered to the door, and threw it open. “There’s the sign, right enough, hung smack dab on the middle of the door, on May-Eve.” She pointed to my new door wreath. “Did you think no one would answer?”

“I … Did I… Sign for what?”

She stared at me for a moment, and then started to laugh. I’d never heard such a sound, like a brook chuckling, and butterflies dancing, and bright ribbons waving in the breeze. It was pure merriment. I had to laugh too. I couldn’t help it.

“Oh me, oh my!” she gasped for air, and then sat right down on the floor, pointing weakly at the wreath.

“You’ve no idea, do you? Well, that’s just too bad. I was looking for a new situation, and I’ve found one! You’ve hung the sign, and invited me in. You kindled your fire anew for me. It’s all signed and sealed, according to the old laws. The contract is made, and now you’re stuck with it!”

“Stuck? What?”

She hopped up and skipped over to me, where I’d collapsed on the couch. As quick and soft as a kitten, she patted me several times on the knee, and said, “It’s okay. You’ll get used to it. But don’t forget the cream, or you’ll wish you’d never been born!”

Then she twirled around once, and vanished.

But she didn’t leave. Oh no. She never left.

I’m not saying that I’m not grateful for her help at times, although I’ve learned not to say “thank you.” Not ever.

But you see, that’s why I need cream. The freshest you have, please.


If you enjoyed this story, please consider joining my Patreon. You’ll be able to read the stories early, and I’ll be able to write more of them!

A Little Bird Told Me

A new short story; it’ll only be up for four weeks, so if you want to read it for free, now’s your chance!


A Little Bird Told Me

by Robin Wood

I was just starting to knit the lace trim on a cap for the newest baby, when a little blue bird with a yellow head and white bib flew through my open window.  It settled on the footstool next to me, hopped up down a couple of times, and then plunked right down on its tail feathers, sticking its little twig legs straight out in front of it.

As soon as it did, it’s legs grew longer and thicker, while its body stretched up, the feathers sank into her arms, and her face changed from a bird to a girl. In a moment, my fourteen year old great-granddaughter, Sophie, was sitting there, with her blond curls, a blue dress with a white collar, and a scab on one brown knee. Her eyes were still bright black, and still laughed at me.

I have no idea why she sits down like that to change. I find it much more comfortable, not to mention graceful, to change while standing. But grace wasn’t high on Sophie’s priority list.

“Hi Grandnana!” she said. “Do you have any cookies?” And she hopped off the stool and went into the pantry to investigate.

I only had three children, but between them, they presented me with 9 grandchildren, and so far I have 21 great grandchildren and 3 great-great grandchildren with no end in sight. All of these people feel free to drop in unannounced at any hour of the day or night. I do love them, but I tell you true, some days I think about going to live at the bottom of the sea just to get a little peace! Except I’m sure they would find me before I had a chance to unpack.

When I was young, and just had the three, I worked very hard to make sure everything was always even. If I made Gertie a new dress, I made one for Caroline, too, and a shirt and tie for Albert.

I tried to keep that up with the grandchildren, at first. But the day baby Ellie came crying because her little hands were cold, and I realized if I stuck to “everyone equally” I’d have to knit 9 pairs of mittens to give one toddler warm fingers, I gave it up. I made one tiny pair, and stopped worrying about the others.

Now I give to each what each one needs. If one needs more than the others, that’s for the gods to sort out. None are left wanting, and none have piles of things they will never use.

They help themselves to whatever food I have whenever they come over, though. All of them. I try to keep lots on hand. Anything I especially want to eat, I disguise. They think I have a fondness for particularly stinky cheese, and I’m not about to disabuse them of that notion.

On this occasion, Sophie’s voice rang out, “Chicken pie! That’s even better than cookies. I’m starving.” She wandered back out, with a generous slice on one of my good dishes, her mouth already full.

“Not that I’m not glad to see you,” I said, “but to what do I owe the pleasure of this visit?” I didn’t bother to mention she wasn’t using an everyday dish. I gave up that battle long ago.

She swallowed, and waved her fork airily, scattering pastry crumbs. “Oh, Mom’s started spring cleaning, so I thought I’d get out of there.”

“Didn’t it occur to you that your mom might want your help with the cleaning?” I asked.

“Sure! That’s why I left,” she chomped down on another forkful of pie. “I’ve cleaned enough for one day, and she’s nuts on the topic. No one will ever see the top of the cupboards.”

I let that pass, too, along with speaking with her mouth full. Her mother could teach her all of that. I was tired.

I was also not going to get any more knitting done. It was a new pattern that I hadn’t memorized yet, and counting stitches to follow written instructions was not going to be possible. I made a note of which row and stitch I was on, and folded the knitting neatly into the pattern, setting it aside for later, while Sophie polished off the pie.

When she was done, she licked the plate. Disgusting, but flattering in its way.

I got out some piecework to sew, while she mounted another raid on my pantry. She came back with a slice of cake, on the same plate. I suppose she thought it was “clean enough.”

She ate that without a word, while I sewed squares of bright cotton together with a quarter inch seam. Something was bothering her. If I didn’t push, she’d tell me what it was. I suspected that was the main reason for her visit, although avoiding housework had certainly played a part.

When the cake was gone, she got up without a word, went into the kitchen, washed the dish and fork, and put them in the rack to dry. Without being asked. Whatever was bugging her, it was bad.

Then she came back, reached into the work basket, and took out a block to sew. I keep them there, pinned together in order, for just such an occurrence. And my own convenience too, of course. She threaded a needle, and got to work.

Outside, the bees hummed around the window box, birds sang, and the creek chuckled to itself as it hurried to its eventual appointment with the sea. The only sound inside was the clock ticking.

I finished my nine-patch block, and started another. Sophie got the first three patches of hers sewn, and reached for the clapper board to set the seam.

“Grandnana, have you ever made a bad promise?”

“A bad promise?”

She sighed deeply. “Yeah. There’s this girl in my class at school. I don’t know her all that well. She doesn’t really have any friends, and I guess I felt sorry for more than anything else.”

She set the seams, and put the row aside, picking up the next two squares to sew. Not the way I’d do it. I sew all three rows before setting the seams. But her way would finish the block, and was only a little more work.

“Anyway, she asked if I’d help with a spell, and I said yes without asking what kind of spell it is.” She shook her curls away from her face, and looked up at me. “I know that was dumb, but I never thought it was going to be anything but a common, simple spell!”

“I take it that’s not what she wanted.”

Her mouth twisted, she looked back down, and jabbed the needle viciously into the cloth. “Not hardly. There is this new boy, called Mitt, who is really handsome. I mean, if you picture masculine handsomnimity, he’d be what you imagined. He’s rich, too. His Dad owns this big business or something. Anyway, they moved into that huge house on Chestnut, and he gets a ride to school in a limo with a chauffeur and everything.

“No one knows what he’s doing at our school. You’d expect him to be at a ritzy boarding school or something. Apparently he was, but his family missed him too much. Or maybe he wasn’t fully appreciated there. Or something. No one knows the real story.”

I could see where this was headed, but I waited for her to tell me.

“Anyway,” she dropped the sewing into her lap, heedless of the needle, and scrubbed her face with both hands. “This girl, Chrissy, decided she is in love with him. She wants help with a love spell. I tried to tell her she doesn’t know him. I tried to tell her how spells like that bind people, and it’s coercion and wrong, and how when the victim finds out, and he will, he will hate and resent you forever. I tried to explain how horrible it is to be bound to someone who hates and resents you.”

She dropped her hands, and grabbed her skirt, twisting it while staring at me with anguished eyes. “I tried every way I know, Grandnana, and she *still* insists she wants to do the spell!”

I reached over, and picked up the needle from her lap. She had missed running it into her hand by about half an inch. She glanced down as I did, saw how narrow her escape had been, and made a face.

“I don’t know what to do! I can’t let her do the spell, and she says she can’t anyway without my help. Her spells all fizzle, except the really simple ones.”

I used the needle to catch the patches she was sewing, and lifted them out of the way before she tangled the thread or did herself an injury. I put it back with the rest of that patch, and laid my own aside too. She just waited, looking at me with a tortured expression. Finally I said, “Then don’t help her.”

“But I gave my word!”

“You did. But you didn’t know what you were promising. Would you have promised if you had known?”

She shook her head violently, curls whipping everywhere. “No, never!”

“So promising was a mistake?”

“In the worst way! I wish like everything I’d asked her what spell, first!”

I nodded. “I’m sure you do. Would keeping that promise make the original mistake better, or worse?”

“Only about a quadrillion times worse!”

“Then break the promise.”

“But…. I thought breaking a promise is a horrible thing! You have to keep your word. It’s your honor and your bond!”

I reached out my arms, and she came and sat in my lap, great gangly girl that she is. I wrapped my arms around her, and held her close. “It is, honey bunch, and you must never break it simply because keeping it is inconvenient, or because you have found a different thing you would rather do, or because you are angry at the person you gave your word to, or afraid keeping it will be hard.

“But sometimes you find that it was a mistake to give your word in the first place. Sometimes, you’ll be coerced. Sometimes someone will lie about the circumstances, or about what they are asking for. Sometimes you simply won’t have all the information, like this time.

“In all those cases, and probably more, keeping your word will make a bad situation worse. When there is no good choice, always choose the path that will cause the least harm.”

She rested her head on my shoulder. “I’m going to go back and tell her I won’t help. She’ll tell everyone I broke my word, and people might hate me. But that’s better than helping to ruin two whole lives.”

I rocked her gently. “She might not tell anyone. Telling them will reveal the kind of spell she had planned. But if she does, even if you choose not to explain why, and you could certainly do that, people will get over it. They always do, eventually.”

She nodded, reached up, and kissed my cheek. “Thanks, Grandnana. I knew you would be able to help me.” As annoying as my family can be, they all know exactly how to  melt my heart.

I had just finished threading the ribbon through the cap for the newest baby when a little bird flew through my window.

It was Sophie again.

“Hi Grandnana!” She headed into the pantry. “Guess what! Oh! Donuts! Yumm!”

She came out, with a donut in each hand, spewing powdered sugar with every word. “You know that new boy I told you about? Mitt? Well…” She settled on the footstool, and looked up at me, eyes glowing, “It turns out he was expelled from that fancy school for ‘excessive cruelty’.” She put half a donut in her mouth, and chewed with great satisfaction. “He was caught torturing a puppy,” she scowled fiercely, “can you imagine? They took it away, and it’s going to be okay, and it has new owners now.” Her face cleared, and she popped the other half of the donut into her mouth. “But it turns out he’s just as mean and nasty as he can be, and he’s been expelled from our school, too.” She finished the other donut in three bites, and licked her fingers.

“Chrissy told me she is *so* glad that I didn’t help her with that love spell. Can you imagine being bound to someone like that? And she says she’s swearing off compulsion spells for life.”

She wiped her hands on her skirt, and gave me a very satisfied look. “So that turned out better than I expected! I’m so happy I came to you!” She hopped up, and went back into the pantry. “Ewww. There’s that horrible cheese again. Got any roast beef?”

I’m glad she came over too. And I’m glad she doesn’t like stinky cheese. I’m planning to have that leftover beef for my supper.


Picture Attribution; IMG_1878-333 by Nigel Used under a Creative Commons 2Generic License. Resized, but no other changes made.

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