“C’mon Mom, please?” Meghann whined again.
“Meggie, I’ve already told you, I haven’t got anyone else to ask. It’s only two weeks and you might have fun.”
“It’s not fair. I don’t want to stay with her. I don’t know her.” Meghann puffed out her scrawny, twelve year old chest and said, “Why can’t I go with you and Dad?”
“Meghann Eileen Maddox, don’t you dare start this again! You know that your father and I need to find a house for us to live in! We don’t want to drag you around with us. It’s not fair to you.” Her mom took a deep breath. “Honey, Aunt Mabel is a nice lady, and she is the only person we know willing to watch you on short notice, and we really have no other choice. I’m sorry Meggie; please try to get along with her.”
Meghann pushed her short, reddish brown hair behind her ears, and settled back in the seat for a good pout. Nothing in her life had gone right for almost a month; she did not know why she thought this would be any different.
It had all started three weeks ago at dinner, when her parents dropped the bomb on her.
“Darling, we have wonderful news. Daddy got a big promotion at work! Isn’t that great?” her mom had said. “Uh huh.” Meghann was busy piling mashed potatoes on her plate. She didn’t exactly know what her dad did at his hardware store, so this was really not very interesting.
“Tell her, John,” her mom said quietly.
“Meggie, my new position is in
“What do you mean? We can’t move! I go to school; I have friends here. That’s not a funny joke, Dad!” She said. “I start junior-high next year! Junior-high!”
“Meghann, they have schools in
“No, I don’t want to go. I don’t want to start at a new school, or make new friends. I like my old school, my old friends. I wanna stay here. This is our house,” Meghann argued.
Meghann was starting to panic; she knew it, and she couldn’t help herself. After all, it had taken her ages to meet Sarah, her best friend, and finally feel like she belonged. Until then, Meghann hadn’t had an easy time of it. In the 6th grade, you either had to be good at sports, schoolwork, or have a pool to be popular. Meghann didn’t have a pool.
“Meg, Dad will be making more money, so we can afford a bigger house. One with a really big yard; maybe even big enough for a dog,” Mom said.
Meghann knew a bribe when she heard one. She had always wanted a dog, and her mom knew it. She knew what kind, too. She wanted a big, white, shaggy one, with a great wet nose, and a long tongue that slobbered. It’s what she had always dreamed of. She wasn’t giving in, though.
“Mom, we can’t move! I-”
“Meghann Eileen Maddox; we are moving, and that’s final,” her mom said.
Meghann knew that when her mom used her middle name, it was time to give in. She was going to move, and there was nothing she could do about it.
“I don’t know, John. I wouldn’t feel right asking her. I mean, gosh, she was old at our wedding. She must be… Oh, you’re right. I’ll go call her.”
Meghann leaned her head on the car window, watching the cruel world pass by. She and her mom were driving to see an old lady Meghann had never met, one that her mom hadn’t seen in years. Life couldn’t get any worse, she thought. At least school was out for the summer. Maybe this Aunt Mabel had a pool. As Meghann looked out the window, she realized they had started to climb higher into the mountains. Ok, she thought, maybe Aunt Mabel had horses.
Meghann must have drifted off to sleep, because the next thing she knew, her mom was shaking her awake. “We are here, Meggie, come on.” As Meghann sat up and opened her eyes, she sighed. Great, she thought, no way does Aunt Mabel have a horse. She looked around at the chickens in the yard, the small house that badly needed a paint job, and the tiny ancient woman coming out the front door. Meghann opened the car door, and got slowly out. Her mom hurried up to the old lady, and threw her arms around her.
“Aunt Mabel, how are you!” she said very loudly.
“Hello Dear! I’m so glad you’ve come. It’s been way to long since I’ve seen you. Now, where is that little…? Well!” Aunt Mabel said as she spotted Meghann, “I was expecting a little girl, but you are practically grown!” She smiled.
Meghann smiled shyly. “Hello Aunt Mabel. Nice to meet you.” Meghann held out her hand.
Aunt Mabel said, “What is that? Families don’t shake hands, deary, they hug! Come here and give me a hug, Meghann.” She held her arms out.
Meghann walked into her open arms,
and was enveloped in a much stronger hug than she had thought possible from the
old lady. “Yep! That’s it!” Aunt Mabel said. “
Her aunt led her up the crooked, squeaky steps, and through the rusty screen door. Meghann looked around at the old musty furniture with doilies on every surface, and back again. Something was missing.
“Aunt Mabel, where is your TV?” she asked.
“Oh, I don’t watch television. Nothing on it worth watching since they took off ‘I Love Lucy’ anyway.” she said.
“But, I mean… What do you do all day?” Meghann asked.
“Oh, I work in the garden; I can my own tomatoes you know. I play with Mr. Scuttles when he is in the mood. I like to do puzzles, and I read. There’s a lot to do, if you have a mind to do it,” Aunt Mabel replied.
Meghann was almost afraid to ask, “Who is Mr. Scuttles?”
Aunt Mabel answered, “Oh, he’s around here somewhere. He’s my tomcat. Keeps the mice down.”
Mice? No TV? This can’t be happening, Meghann thought. Her mom came in just then loaded down with her things. “Where do you want these, Aunt Mabel?” she asked.
Aunt Mabel replied, “The first room you come to on the left is Meghann’s. The one on the right is the bathroom. Or is it the other way around?” She wondered aloud.
Meghann followed her mom down the hallway, and into the tiny room that was to be hers. There was a small bed, made neatly with a homemade quilt, and a small dresser by a window. A small table with a little lamp completed the room. It wasn’t bad, Meghann thought. Just then, a large, fluffy, gray cat strolled in and hopped on her bed. He looked at Meghann, stretched out, and started to purr.
“That, my dear, is Mr. Scuttles. He likes you, or else he wouldn’t have come in,” Aunt Mabel said from behind her.
“Well, that’s everything,” Meghann’s mom said.
“You aren’t leaving yet, are you?” Meghann asked on the verge of hysteria.
“Meggie, I have to go. I still have to go pick up your dad and get going.”
“Go on now, hit the road. We are
Meghann ran after her mom and threw her arms around her in a death grip. “Meggie, I love you. Have fun, and I will be back before you know it,” her mom said as she peeled Meghann off her.
“But, Mom! She doesn’t have TV! What am I gonna do for two whole weeks? Pleaaase take me with you!” she pleaded. Her mom smiled, said she loved her, got in the car and left her with Aunt Mabel, her cat, and the chickens. And no TV for two long weeks.
Meghann turned around, and Aunt Mabel was grinning at her. With a sigh, she followed her into the house, then into the kitchen. “I was about to make myself a sandwich when you got here, would you like one?” Aunt Mabel asked.
“Sure, I guess,” Meghann said.
“Do you like peanut butter and banana? It’s one of my favorites.” Aunt Mabel smacked her lips.
“Yuck! That sounds gross. Don’t you have any jelly?” She asked. She liked bananas and she liked peanut butter, but together? No, thanks!
“Sorry, no jelly here. Why don’t I make you one, and if you try it and don’t like it, we will find something else together, deal?”
“Alright,” Meghann mumbled. She could feel a good pout coming on again. After a moment, Aunt Mabel put a plate down in front of her. Meghann eyed the sandwich with doubt. She finally picked it up and took a cautious bite, fully prepared to puke if necessary. It wasn’t bad really. She was surprised. She took another bite and thought, Okay, this is delicious!
“Not bad, eh?” Aunt Mabel asked knowingly.
“It’s alright, I guess.” Meghann replied, as she scarfed down more. There was even ice-cold milk to wash it down. They ate in silence, and when she was done, Meghann dutifully got up and brought her dishes to the sink. She looked around and asked, “Aunt Mabel, where is your dishwasher?”
The old woman smiled and held up her hands. “Got mine right here, but look! You got one, too!” She cackled at her own joke. “Around here, I wash it if it’s dirty, pick it up if it falls, and put it away when I am done with it, whatever it is. While you’re here, you will too.” She brought her own dishes over to the sink and washed them out. When she was done, Meghann did the same.
“Let’s go outside. I’ve got something to show you,” Aunt Mabel said when she had finished. Meghann followed her down the hall, past her room to a door at the very back of the house. To the right was a bigger bedroom, with a bigger bed, but everything else looked very similar to Meghann’s room. On the left were an old washer and dryer, with an empty laundry hamper beside it. As they stepped out into the sunlight, Meghann got her first look at the yard. There was a high fence surrounding the garden, she assumed it was to keep the chickens out.
“Over here, Meghann.” Aunt Mabel called her over to the garden. “Now, these are my tomatoes. I water them every day. When they get ripe, I can them so that they keep all winter.” She pointed them out. “Those over there, are my eggplants. Mmm, I can’t wait for those to ripen. I also have carrots, onions and radishes. Every day I come out to water and pull all the weeds. You’ve got to keep on top of the weeds, mind you. They take over real quick if you don’t.” She leaned back and smiled proudly. “By growing my own vegetables, I save over $100 a year.”
Meghann thought it sounded like a lot of work for less than $10 a month savings, but it wasn’t her money, after all.
“Now, I’ve got to do my weeding, so why don’t you go get all settled in. I left a box of books in there, that I got at an estate sale. I wasn’t sure what kind of books you liked, but the whole box looks to be kid’s stuff. I am sure you can find something to keep you occupied,” she said as she opened the gate to the garden.
Meghann went to her room and started putting her stuff away, feeling extremely sorry for herself. She muttered things under her breath about her parents leaving her behind with a crazy old lady. She slammed the dresser drawer shut, threw her suitcase in the closet, then sat heavily on the bed. This was going to be the longest two weeks ever. She looked over at the dusty box of books and decided that she might as well have a look.
Meghann got up, pulled the box to the middle of the room, and had a seat on the floor beside it. As she looked over the top of the box, she noted the dust, at least a half an inch thick, over the top of everything. She picked the first book up and blew on it to clear the dust. It wasn’t the greatest idea she had ever had. With a cough, and more than a few sneezes, she saw that it was a picture book for very young children, much too young for her. She set it to the side and picked up another. This one was Peter Rabbit, a good book, but it smelled musty and the pages were all stuck together. It must have gotten wet once, she decided, as she laid it on top of the last one. The next one was a history textbook, which she quickly set aside as well. The last thing she wanted to read over the summer was a schoolbook! She began making two stacks. The largest stack was made up of books that she didn’t want to read for one reason of another. The second stack was much smaller, and held the few that she might read, if she were bored enough.
At the bottom of the box, underneath everything else, was a large, old book. As Meghann pulled it out, she saw that the binding was real leather. Its cover was stamped with a picture of a lush forest. The leather had been dyed to make the picture look more real. She ran her hand over it, enjoying the feel. It was a beautiful book. Large, ornate silver lettering across the top read Elfin Lore. She sat staring at the book, thinking that it wasn’t at all dusty like the others. She could smell the leather, it wasn’t musty either. It must be because it was at the bottom, she thought. The other books had kept it protected from the weather.
She got up and sat the book on the table by her bed, then hurriedly stuffed the others back into the box, and went back outside. Her aunt was still inside the fence, pulling weeds. Meghann went to watch her hoe the garden.
“You can join me if you like.” Aunt Mabel offered without looking up. Meghann felt a little bit guilty, watching the little old lady stooped over, picking weeds, while she just watched. She stepped inside, latched the gate and bent down to pull a weed.
“Don’t pull that!” Her aunt screeched. “That’s a carrot, child, not a weed. Here, let me show you.” Then she showed Meghann the difference between weeds and plants. They looked the same to Meghann, but eventually she got the hang of it. They worked together as the sun beat down upon them, clearing the vegetable patch of the little green offenders.
When at last Aunt Mabel was satisfied, she stood up and stretched her back. “That’s enough for today. We’ll finish up tomorrow. Let’s get inside and clean up,” she said. Meghann stood and stretched too. She was sore, she was tired and she was very sweaty. And not just playing in the yard sweaty, either. She was Dad after the gym sweaty. She smelled bad, and her hair was plastered to her head.
They went inside, and Aunt Mabel ran a bath for her. When Meghann stepped into the bathroom, she saw a huge, old, white bathtub that had animal claws for feet. It had no curtain around it, just a gigantic tub full of hot water. She stripped down and got in. The water reached all the way up to her neck, it was so deep. It was a little scary at first, but then she began to enjoy it. The soap smelled like roses, and the shampoo did too. She ducked her head under, and pretended she was a mermaid in the ocean. It was easy to pretend. It felt like a swimming pool to her. She played until the water started to get cold, then quickly washed off. When she was good and clean, she toweled off, and put on her pajamas. She found Aunt Mabel in the kitchen fixing dinner.
“Pour us both a glass of milk, Meghann, dinner is almost done,” she said.
Meghann poured the milk, and got plates and forks out. She set everything out on the table. Aunt Mabel brought the food when it was ready. There was fried chicken, mashed potatoes and fresh corn on the cob. Meghann’s mouth began to water, and she tried hard not to think about the chickens running all over the yard.
“Aunt Mabel, can I ask you a question?” She asked as she piled her plate high.
“Of course you can. What do you want to know?” Her aunt asked distractedly.
“Why do you always call me Meghann?” She asked.
“It is your name, isn’t it? I haven’t been calling you the wrong name all day, have I?” her Aunt asked, concerned. “I could have sworn your mom said it was Meghann. I am so sorry. My hearing isn’t what it once was.”
“No, it is my name. I just meant, Mom always calls me Meggie, and Dad calls me Meg. No one ever really calls me Meghann, just you,” she said. “I was wondering why that is.”
“Humph. I believe that things have names for a reason. All names have a meaning, and it’s special to that person. Tells others who you are, see?” She looked at Meghann. “Take my name, Mabel. It means lovable. And I am, once you get to know me. Do you know what your name means?”
“No. I think Mom made it up, Meghann said. It’s spelled different than other Megans I know.”
“Well, I guess she wanted you to be different than other Megans. Your name, Meghann, means ‘strong’. And your last name, Maddox, means ‘good’. That means you have a good heart, and a strong will, or something like that.” Aunt Mabel took another bite of chicken and said, “Now, does ‘Meggie’ sound strong to you? It doesn’t to me. And the other, Meg, sounds like a spice; nutmeg, ya know? I like Meghann; it’s a good, strong name, no pun intended.”
Meghann took a moment to let that all soak in. Her name meant good and strong. She liked the good part; she tried to be good most of the time. She wasn’t sure about the strong, though. She was pretty puny, in her opinion.
“How do you know so much?” Meghann asked around a mouthful of potatoes.
Aunt Mabel just laughed. “I have a lot of time to read.” After they had finished dinner and done their dishes, Aunt Mabel announced it was time for bed. “You don’t have to sleep if you aren’t ready, but crawl up in that bed anyhow. I don’t like it when people prowl around at night. I am going to have a bath, and get in bed myself. Goodnight, young lady.”
“Good night, Aunt Mabel. Sleep tight.”
As Meghann crawled between the sheets, she spotted the book she had set aside earlier. It was really a pretty book. She picked it up and saw again, the wonderfully painted forest on the front. Maybe I will stay up for a bit, she thought. ‘I’m sure it’s not a very good book. It probably has a pretty cover just to fool you into reading it’, she told herself.
She sat back in the bed, tucking her feet under the quilt and opened the book to the first page.
‘Heed this warning dear reader’, it started. ‘For you must not read this book if you are not a believer. Elves, fairies, goblins and more, make their homes in these pages; so if you don’t believe, turn away. To stay and learn, is to know the secrets of this realm, and only a champion of elves and a defender of fairies should share in this knowledge. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!’
Well, that was a bit corny, Meghann thought. I mean, no one really believes in elves and fairies. It was a fun thought, but she was no idiot. Did they really expect her to just put the book down and walk away? Oh, that’s the catch! Of course no one would put it down, so therefore anyone who reads it would be a believer by default – clever.
She turned to chapter one and started to read. It wasn’t really a story. It was more of a travel manual she thought after a few pages. The book described a place called ‘Oberon’, a realm of elves, fairies, and other things. It said that the kingdom of elves was located in a vast forest, and that many different species lived in the areas surrounding it. It warned travelers to beware of harpies and goblins that would attack unsuspecting visitors without any notice.
It went on to say that although the fairies were friendly enough, not to cheat them or cross them in any way. Although they were small, they could be quite dangerous if angered.
The book mentioned other creatures as well. Some that she had heard of, and some she had not.
Meghann’s eyes began to get heavy halfway through the first chapter. She marked her page with a pink hair ribbon and closed the book. She sat it on the bedside table, and turned off the lamp. As she snuggled down into the pillows, she thought about what an odd storybook it was. It was called Elfin Lore, but she hadn’t read a single story.
It should have been called ‘Load of Junk’, she thought as she drifted off to sleep.
Sometime in the middle of the night, she wasn’t exactly sure when, Meghann sensed something happening. It felt like someone was looking at her; the hairs on the back of her neck were standing up. She sat up in bed, at first not sure where she was. She looked around, and her heart stopped for a moment. She knew the lights were all out. It was supposed to be pitch black in her room. Instead, the room was lit up and glowing blue.
On the bedside table, the pages of the book she had been reading were pulsating with a blue light. Meghann rubbed her eyes. It was still there. Her heart began to pound. Her palms began to sweat. She leaned forward to peer at the book more closely. The prettily painted cover of the forest was there, but it had something new. She picked the book up and sat it in her lap, as she tried to figure out what the little blue dot on the cover was.
As she watched, the little dot got closer. No, that’s not right, she thought. It got bigger. It couldn’t get closer, it was on a flat surface. But it was getting bigger, and it was definitely moving. The blue dot zigzagged across the cover, and a few times disappeared, as if behind one of the trees in the picture. Meghann was so mesmerized by it, that she forgot to be frightened. It continued to get bigger, and it was glowing like the pages. Finally it was big enough for Meghann to make out what the blue dot was. It was a tiny, flying boy! Finally, he paused and hovered at the front of the picture.
Meghann nearly threw the book when he turned and looked right at her, as if he could see her. Impossible! He was a picture. He couldn’t be real. But then he winked.
Meghann couldn’t believe it. She sat the book down on the bed beside her, and got up quickly. She was going to get Aunt Mabel, even if she got into trouble for waking her. Something very strange was happening, and she wasn’t ready to handle it on her own. As she grabbed her robe, she looked back.
The little glowing boy was watching her, with his hands outstretched. He was doing something, but she couldn’t tell what. She went back to the bed, and without getting too close, looked down. He had his hands pressed together as if her were praying. And then, while watching her closely, he slowly separated them on one side. Meghann watched, fascinated, but had no idea what he was doing. The boy could tell that she didn’t understand. He looked very frustrated, as he ran a hand through his long hair. He pressed his hands together again. As he made the motion again, she murmured, “Is it a flower?”
He shook his head no and did it again. “A book?” She asked. He started nodding vigorously and made the motion again and again.
Suddenly she understood. The boy, or was it a tiny man, wanted her to open the book. Maybe if she opened the book, he would fly out and grant her a wish! Or, maybe if she opened it, he would fly out and attack her. She just couldn’t take that chance.
“No, I can’t let you out. You might hurt someone, or mess up Aunt Mabel’s house. No, little bug man, I’m sorry, but I don’t think I should.” Meghann couldn’t believe she was talking to a tiny blue man. He did seem to understand, though, because he fell to his knees and pleaded with her. He really didn’t seem to want to hurt her.
Meghann picked up the book cautiously, and the little man was nodding happily. She looked at him and asked, “Do you promise not to hurt anyone?” He nodded again and acted out crossing his heart. Meghann made up her mind. She ran her hand over the cover, feeling the cool leather. She wasn’t as frightened as she was before, she was more curious. Her mind made up, she opened the book in her hand.
Suddenly, a strange sensation started at her head and swirled around her to her feet. Meghann felt heavy and light at the same time. Everything blurred in front of her. She couldn’t see. She felt as if she were floating, or sinking, she wasn’t sure which.
The sensation stopped as quickly as it had started, and suddenly Meghann felt normal again. The strange feeling was gone. She opened her eyes and almost fainted. Indeed, she had to sit down immediately. She was no longer in the small bedroom in Aunt Mabel’s home. She wasn’t sure where she was, but she was outside. There was green everywhere, trees, bushes, plants, and grass. She was sitting on a soft mound of clover, and there was a breeze blowing. The sun was streaming through the trees, but she was sure it was nighttime. It had been at Aunt Mabel’s, at any rate.
As Meghann tried to figure out where she was, and how she had came to be there, a voice behind her said, “Finally! I wasn’t sure you were coming!” She turned quickly around, saw the little blue bug man speaking to her, and she understood him.
“You aren’t what I was expecting, really, but no matter. We had best be on our way, we haven’t much time. Everyone is waiting for you, Hero,” he said.
Meghann then said, “I’m sorry; this is all too much for me. I think I need to wake up now. I am sure you are a very nice bug man, and this would be very nice dream, but it’s causing my head to hurt.” She closed her eyes tightly, and willed herself to wake up. She peeked one eye open, but the little man was still there, and he was looking at her oddly. She closed her eyes again, and concentrated really hard on waking up. She opened her eyes again and he was still there, sitting cross-legged in the grass.
“Are you ready yet?” The little man asked.
Meghann realized that one of two things had happened. Either this was real, and really happening to her, or she was in some sort of coma that she couldn’t wake up from. Funny, she thought, I can’t remember what happened. I must have fallen out of bed and hit my head on the nightstand. She had to assume that she was in a coma, because she couldn’t, no wouldn’t, believe that this was real. But for now, she had no idea how to get back to her warm bed, so she had to talk to the bug man. “Please, I need to get home. I just don’t know exactly how. Can you help me?” She pleaded.
“Home? But you just got here. You don’t go home until the deed is done. That’s how it works, how it has always worked. Listen, are you here to help us, or not? You aren’t helping them are you?” The little man asked crossly.
“Them? I don’t know who they are. I don’t know who you are, as far as that is concerned. Now, please, can you help me, or not?” Meghann asked.
“Of course I can help you. It is my job, my assignment, my first assignment, actually. My name is Zander, and I am your guide.” He stood and made a small bow. “And it’s a pleasure to meet you, Hero.”
“Err, Zander is it? Yes, well, my name is Meghann – Meghann Maddox. What exactly is this place? And what type of creature are you?” She looked him up and down, trying to figure it out. He was about as big as her father’s hand, with long brown hair. He had blue eyes, pointed ears and his face was rather angular. He had wings coming out of his back, shimmering in the sunlight. He wore no shirt, brown pants to just below his knees, and black boots made of some sort of soft material. His hands were on his hips and he looked to be extremely irritated with her at the moment.
“This place is Faylinn, of course. It’s the most beautiful land in all of Oberon, next to Shindarr, if you ask me. What do you mean, what sort of ‘creature’ am I? Isn’t it obvious? I’m a fairy, of course. You did read the book, didn’t you?” Zander asked doubtfully.
“Well,” Meghann said, “I read the first few pages, but then I fell asleep. Don’t look at me like that; I’m not a fast reader! I’m only twelve, you know.”
“Yes, said Zander, but if you read the book, then you must have read the warning. And if you read the warning, and still read the book, you must know all about us. You wouldn’t have read the book if you didn’t believe we were real. You wouldn’t have, would you?”
“Err, no, of course not,” she said. Meghann felt it would not be good to tell him the truth, just yet. She did need his help, after all.
“Then let’s get moving,” Zander said. “We have wasted much time, and I will surely be blamed.”
“But, where are we going?” Meghann asked.
Zander replied, “To see Aisling, of course. She has a quest for you, of the utmost importance. That is why you were called.”
“I see. And Aisling is… who exactly?” Meghann asked delicately.
“Why, she is the Elf Queen, of course. Don’t you know anything?” Zander sighed. “Look Hero, if you weren’t prepared to be called into service, you shouldn’t have had the book! Now are we going, or not?” he asked.
Meghann really had no other choice. She decided she would go to this Aisling, and explain her problem. Maybe Aisling knew how Meghann could get home. Zander obviously had no clue. She nodded to him then and stood up.
“Good,” Zander said, “I was beginning to doubt, you know. Follow me, and stay close. They may already know you are here.” He fluttered his wings and a soft, blue glow surrounded him as he lifted smoothly into the air.
“Who may know I am here?” Meghann asked.
“Well,” Zander said, “the goblins for one. Also, there are the trolls, harpies… anyone really. Don’t worry, Hero. You are safe for now, but we really need to get moving.”
He flew off and Meghann followed.
“These trees are the oldest in the land,” Zander said, as she looked at the gnarled trunks and huge branches. There was much to see as they followed along the path. Flowers were everywhere along the way, and added splashes of color to the lush green. Bluebells, marigolds, and wild roses were among the ones she recognized. The little fairy flitted along, chattering about this and that, filling Meghann in on the elves.
“Queen Aisling has ruled here for a hundred years. Her people and mine have always gotten along, helping each other. Centaurs live here in the forest as well, a great herd of them. The elves listen to their advice, and things they see in the patterns of the stars. They give me the willies; big, creepy things, if you ask me. The elves are interesting creatures though. Have you ever met one?” Zander asked.
When Meghann shook her head no, Zander continued. “Well, Elves are very… peaceful. I’ve never seen one angry, you know. They are one with the forest. Every living thing, plant and animal alike, respond to them. They are most peculiar beings, I think. Don’t get me wrong, I respect them, and I do like them. They are just very different than us fairies.”
Zander flew back to Meghann, and hovered near her head as he smiled. “We are more, fun loving, I guess you would say. Fairies spend most of our days playing and enjoying life. We work when we have no other choice. But if the chance arises, fun comes first.”
Meghann smiled. She could almost see this young fairy and his friends, racing through the forest, laughing and enjoying life. They had gone along for half an hour when Zander said, “Look, we are almost there!”
Meghann turned in the direction Zander was pointing, and got her first glimpse of the city. It was built completely within the trees, every building in the base of an ancient oak, or willow. The buildings seemed to be a part of the trees, adding to the beauty rather than taking from it. As they entered the city, she saw the elves up close for the first time. They were small. Most would come only up to her waist. Everyone that she could see had silver or blond hair. The lady elves’ locks swept down to their hips, the men’s past their shoulders. Their clothing was in varying shades of brown, gold and green. The colors of the earth, she thought. Long flowing dresses adorned the women, tied about the waist or under the breasts. The men were wearing tight trousers tucked into boots of leather, with shirts open at the throat. A thin circle of silver around their heads held their hair in place. Small pointed ears poked through to show at the tips. They looked so lovely, Meghann’s breath caught at the sight of them. As they saw her, they bowed deeply.
Zander kept going, and Meghann continued to follow. It was really quite lovely here, she thought to herself. Soon Zander pointed to a cluster of white trunked trees. “The castle is just ahead. We are almost there, Hero.”
As they reached the trees, several small elves bowed, and then greeted Zander. “Hello, Zander, welcome. We are greatly pleased to see you.”
“Hello, and thank you. We are here to see Aisling.”
“Of course. Welcome Hero.” They smiled at Meghann. “Aisling is anxious to meet with you. Please, go right in.”
The welcoming elves held the great door open, and Meghann had to duck her head to step inside. Once in, she found she could stand up straight. As she did, she took a quick glance at her surroundings. At the far end of the room was a beautifully carved wooden throne, and in it was a tiny, ancient woman. She was watching Meghann closely, and when Meghann saw her, the old woman raised her hand and bade her come closer.
“Go on, she is waiting!” Zander hissed in her ear.
Meghann hesitantly went forward, stopping when she reached the old woman. Zander landed in front of her and gave a low, sweeping bow. Meghann followed his lead and did the best curtsy she could. “Zander,” the old queen said, her voice soft and lilting. “Thank you, friend of the elves. You have done a great service, and it will not soon be forgotten.” Aisling then turned to Meghann and said, “Hello, Hero. We are honored by your presence. Please, can we get you some food, or something to drink?”
“I…no, thank you. I do wish to speak with you though, if I may,” Meghann said.
“Of course!” said Aisling. “We have much to discuss. I fear I haven’t anything for you to sit upon except…ah! That will do.” She waived her hand, and a long table was brought before her. As Meghann sat down, the queen continued. “I am Aisling, Queen of the Elves. I fear we are in dire need of your help, Hero. It is why we summoned you.”
“But that is just it, ma’am, I am not a Hero. I am just Meghann, Meghann Maddox, and I am only twelve years old. I can’t save anyone. I can’t even stay home by myself yet,” she said apologetically.
“I don’t understand,” said Aisling. “You answered our call, did you not?” She looked at Zander. “Zander, did you not bring her here to help us?”
“Yes, Your Majesty, I did.” He gave Meghann a meaningful look. “She said she had read the book, she opened the book, and I brought her here.”
The Queen turned back to Meghann. “I don’t quite understand, Meghann Maddox. If you have our book, our beacon when we are in need, you must be a Hero, a champion of sorts. The book was placed in your world by our ancestors for just such an emergency. We have, on occasion, called a Hero to us, when we had reason, and they all have answered the call masterfully. If you have the book, it must have been passed to you by the previous owner, knowing you could help us. Is that not true?”
“Err… not exactly,” Meghann said. “My Aunt Mabel, who I am staying with for a few weeks, bought the book from a yard sale.” Meghann said uncomfortably. “And I had only read a few pages when it started glowing. I didn’t know what would happen if I opened it. But, if you could get me home, I could try to find you a Hero. I mean like a real one, and I could send him here to help you…”
“Oh, heavens above,” said Aisling, “what will we do? I cannot send you back. It doesn’t work like that. Once you are called to help, you cannot go back until the situation is resolved. That’s the way the portal works. It’s designed that way. I am afraid, dear Meghann, that you are here until we can solve this dilemma.”
Meghann wasn’t prepared to hear that. She had hoped to be home before Aunt Mabel got out of bed and discovered her gone. How was she to get home now? “What exactly is the problem that you needed help with, maybe I can think of something,” she said.
“Our sacred Silver Acorn has been stolen,” Aisling said. “It is what gives us our magic. Elves without magic, well, we cannot survive for long. Our lives are entwined with all living things, Meghann. Trees, birds, animals and flowers. Everything living in the forest helps to keep us alive. We take only what we need to eat, clothe ourselves, and create shelter and such. And with our magic, we keep it alive, we help it to regrow, we heal it of sickness and the like. It is a necessary balance, you see? But with the acorn gone, and with it our magic, we cannot heal the forest. It is now in jeopardy, and with it every living thing within it, including ourselves. Already it has started. We have several trees with the sickness. It is only a matter of time before my people get it as well.”
“Who took the acorn?” Meghann asked in horror.
“That we do not know, said Aisling. It was hidden, of course, and protected by magic. It could only be reached by one of my people. I hate to believe it, but it seems that one of our own has taken it. We have no idea who. Many of our kind are gone at the moment, hunting groups and travelers. I cannot fathom why one would take the sacred silver acorn. They would know that without it, we will surely perish.”
Meghann was thinking. If she could help solve this puzzle, she could get home faster. If they couldn’t find this acorn in time, she may never get back. She had to find a way to help. “You’re Majesty,” she said. “I am not sure what I can do, but I will help in any way I can. Do you have any ideas? Anything that might point us in the right direction?”
“The only thing we know is that it was an elf, and that death and destruction are imminent,” the queen said gravely.
“Ok then, who would want death for the elves?” Meghann asked.
“There are many in our lands who wish others harm,” Aisling replied, “but none more than the goblins. One called Killian has wanted total domination of the land since he first became leader. Before him, goblins were a nuisance, running amok, killing animals, terrorizing our people, things like that. A problem to be sure, but one we could handle. Since Killian, though, things have progressed to the point that we can no longer control the situation. No longer are they hunting animals of the forest, now they hunt others as well. Elves, fairies, water nymphs, anyone they run across is considered fair game. Killian will not be happy until all of the goodness is gone from the land. Unfortunately, I cannot say it was the goblins behind this. As I have said, it could only be elfin blood that crossed the protection that was placed on the acorn.”
“But, couldn’t he have an elf steal it for him?” Meghann asked.
“To what end?” Aisling asked. “What elf would willingly give up their magic to a known enemy? Knowing, as they would, that he only meant harm to them and their people? I cannot fathom any elf doing so,” she sighed. “Let us get you some more… suitable clothing, and then we will try to figure out what to do now.”
Meghann looked down and realized that she was still in her pajamas and robe. Where were they going to get her clothes that would fit? Everyone here was half her size, or smaller if you counted Zander. As she was trying to figure it out, the Queen called someone to her and whispered in her ear. In moments, Meghann was surrounded by tiny women, who measured every inch of her, including her feet. While they measured, Zander flitted down next to Meghann and watched her eat for a moment before he said, “I don’t mean to interrupt, but have you any idea just how much trouble you are in?”
Meghann looked up in surprise.
“I mean, you do understand, that you can’t go back to your world, ever, if we don’t find that acorn, right? Without it the elves have no magical power, and the queen is the only one who had enough magic to get you back. You are stuck here Meghann Maddox, and I am going to be blamed. I just know it. You were supposed to be a Hero. And I was to escort you. My first mission, and I failed,” Zander said dejectedly.
“No, Zander, it’s not your fault. You did what you were to suppose to do. They can’t blame you because I am not who they thought I was.” Meghann said.
“You don’t know the council of elders very well, obviously,” Zander said dejectedly. “They weren’t thrilled to give me this mission, but I was the only one available on such short notice. The last time a Hero was escorted here, it was Padraig who was chosen. He is one of the most well known fairies in the land. No one had ever heard of me. I haven’t done much. I am usually just a messenger for the council.”
Meghann felt sorry for the little fairy. He seemed so upset, and she was partly to blame. She didn’t take full blame of course, as she had no idea that opening a book could cause so many problems. She was not sure what she could do to help, either. After all, she was only twelve years old, for goodness’ sake.
“Look, Zander, I’m a kid,” Meghann said. “I don’t have magic powers. I’m not even the smartest in my class. I’m just a girl, who started to read a dumb book. I’m really sorry, but I…”
“You’re sorry?” Zander said. “You ruin any chance we have of getting a real Hero, and you’re sorry? I will never get another mission, I will be a messenger for the rest of my life, and you are sorry?” He was getting really worked up. He stood up and with his hands on his hips he faced her. “I don’t think you have any choice here, Hero. You are going to work this out. I am going to help you like I was assigned to. And then you will go home and give that book to a real Hero immediately.” His face was red, and Meghann thought he was what her dad would call “hopping mad”.
“Now wait one minute,” Meghann said. “I-” she started to say. However, at that moment, Queen Aisling waived her over again. Meghann went back to the queen’s side, and sat down.
The queen smiled and said, “Zander, please come and join us. Whatever we decide, whatever course of action, if any, involves you. You have every right to input your views.” Zander flew over and sat cross-legged on the edge of the table, arms folded tightly across his chest and a big scowl on his small face.
“Now then, Meghann; when we thought we had someone else coming, we had asked for a fairy guide, that would be Zander. We also asked for help from a few others, to be with you and help you with your task. They should be arriving today. We had hoped, of course, for things to progress from there. It seems that we have gotten ahead of ourselves in our plans,” said Aisling. “I believe the best plan of action is to back up. We should have waited and consulted with whomever the book chose. I propose we do that now.”
Meghann took a deep breath to clear her mind. Her dad taught her to do that before a big test, it allowed her to get her thoughts together. “Ma’am, I just feel so bad. I truly didn’t mean for this to happen. I really would like to help you, I would. I can’t think of any way I can though. I haven’t any special powers. I couldn’t go up against magical creatures. I’ve never been in a fight in my life,” she said.
“Meghann, it is not your fault,” said Aisling. “Do not worry yourself. No one blames you.” Meghann glanced quickly at Zander. “Of course, you wouldn’t need magic. When the portal was created to your world, the outer world, we knew that your people had not developed their powers, and relied solely on their might to fight battles. That was taken into consideration, so we put an enchantment on the portal that protects you. No one can cause direct harm to you with magic. Now, don’t get me wrong, you can still be gravely injured, but not by magic. That was one of the reasons we paired you with a protector as well as with a guide. I can tell you, I believe there is something unique and special about you, that drew the book to you. Nothing here happens by chance, Meghann. You are capable of this quest, I assure you. But not unless believe it. It will require great strength and strong will, as well as faith in your own abilities. You alone can stop the evil thing that is planned. I don’t know what it is yet, but I do know you are all that stands between us and them. It is your choice to make.”
Meghann suddenly remembered Aunt Mabel saying that her name means strong and good. Maybe she was meant to do this. Maybe she was their only hope. Maybe she had gone crazy because why else would she even be considering this?
“Maybe I can at least try to get you looking in the right direction. I could try to do a bit of investigating. Nothing dangerous of course, and see if I can find some sort of direction for you to take.” Meghann thought for a moment. “If it had to be an elf, are there any other elves, besides your group, that could get in?”
“There are the dark elves, but they couldn’t get in. They are a different race, and their magic stems from something else,” Queen Aisling said.
“Are there many different groups here, in this world?” Meghann thought to ask.
“Oh yes, of course. Elves obviously, Fairies, Centaurs, and the occasional Pixie are in this forest. There are dark elves, a few Fauns, goblins of course, a few trolls, harpies, and quite a few others,” Aisling said.
“I see. Are there any that would be helpful, or at least not dangerous to start with?” Meghann asked hopefully.
“The dark elves are relatively harmless,” the queen said. “The Faun, if you run across one, would not harm you unless it felt threatened. Zander can take you to Orla, the Fairy Queen if you like. You will get more information from the fairies than anyone, if they have any to share. I am sure, however, that Orla would have told me if she had known anything,” Aisling said. “Oh, look! I believe we have some clothing ready for you.”
Meghann couldn’t believe her eyes as the little women came back in to the room, beaming with happiness, and carrying large bundles of cloth. As they shook out the clothes to show her, Meghann was amazed. There was a beautiful, soft, moss green tunic with a pair of leggings in tan. Boots made of the softest leather Meghann had ever seen completed the outfit.
“Lovely, isn’t it? We thought you might be more comfortable in the men’s style rather than a dress, based on what you are wearing now,” the queen said. “Follow Mailey, she will take you to a place where you can change in privacy.”
Meghann turned to look at the little elf she was to follow. Mailey looked much like the others, pointy little ears, bright blue eyes and light blonde hair. She inclined her head and said, “Follow me please, Hero.” She turned and walked away before Meghann could correct her. Mailey led her to a small alcove off of the main room that had a folding screen she could change behind. Meghann ducked her head as she entered and quickly changed her clothes. As she slid the tunic on, she marveled at the tiny little stitching in the beautiful cloth. As she entered the main room again, Zander said, “now you look more like one of the elves. A lot bigger, of course, but at least you are dressed more appropriately.”
“Almost,” said the queen. She smiled at Meghann, and removed the lovely circlet from her own head and placed it on Meghann’s. “A loan, from me to you, as a reminder of how much trust we have placed in you. You must return safely, or I will never receive my circlet back.”
Meghann started to say thank you, but was interrupted as Mailey said, “Your Majesty, the protector has just arrived.”