The starry-eyed youth named Carson cast his gaze at the full moon. His father had just cursed it, or rather, he had cursed those who dwelt upon it.
“A storm is coming,” his father said, gazing up at the low and looming clouds. “A storm with high winds.”
Yet another storm, the fourth one in as many days.
“Soon it will storm day and night,” his father said. And then he raised a fist to the full bright moon and shook it.
After a quick curse at the mischief of the lunar fairies, his father turned to Carson and instructed him on how they must prepare their shop and their home for the coming of this newest storm.
“How do you know it is the lunar fairies that are causing these storms, father, if we can’t see them?” the youth asked.
“Of course you can’t see them. They’re all the way up in the moon.”
Carson gazed up at the moon as the wind whipped his cloak. “But how far away can the moon be if we can see it?”
His father pointed to the horizon. “You can see that mountain too, can’t you? How long would it take to reach it? The moon is even further. Unless you can fly. Can you fly, son? No? Then help me secure the shop and the house before the storm arrives. And be thankful we don’t live in a harbor town. Those poor fellows over the mountain will have a time of it when the storm passes over them and troubles the ocean.”
The lunar fairies spent their day playing games and challenging each other, and many of their challenges had them making mischief on the earthen realm, and most of that mischief came in the form of terrible weather. Storms and unrelenting rainfall.
According to legend, the lunar fairies were the children of the man in the moon, born without a mother, transformed from the few hairs the man once possessed. That was why the moon was now bald. Sustaining his children as they grew drained much of the man in the moon’s life, and that was why the moon was so pale.
Before the moon had children, the weather in the lands below the sky was often calm, with the occasional storms during the fall and winter seasons. But after the moon had children, the earthen realm began to suffer more and more abysmal weather, and in seasons where such weather was unexpected. Frosts appeared overnight during spring. Heavy fogs coated and chilled summer days.
One evening, Carson and his family prepared to bed down for the night when his father clasped his head against the unceasing pounding of thunder. It had been thundering all day. Half the townsfolk were hoarse from yelling at each other just to be heard over the crashing, crackling, booming, and fuming of thunder.
Carson’s father looked out of the window and up at the crescent moon, and he cried, “Why do you not command them to stop!”
Little rest did they receive that night.
The lunar fairies tossed lightning at each other, and when the lightning collided, the sky cracked with thunder. All night long did they play, and Carson thought he could hear their gleeful laughter under the whistling and howling of the fierce winds that blew.
The next morning, the weather had calmed to a light drizzle. Carson woke to find his father already on the roof, assessing the damage as many were doing. Several shingles had been torn off and blown away beyond recovery. Carson’s father called down to his son and asked the starry-eyed youth to go and purchase more shingles, stronger shingles. That is, if there were any shingles to be had. Carson’s town received much of their goods from the sea trade of the nearby harbor town, and that town too suffered from the incessant storms.
The errand would take all morning, but Carson was glad to do it. For he had an errand of his own in mind.
His father’s words from the night before still haunted him. And the same words that his father had cried out, more as a demand than a question, were the words that Carson mulled over in his own mind.
Great man in the moon, whose children’s mischief troubles us so, why do you not command them to stop?
Carson trudged through the muddy streets of the town center, searching for the person whom he believed could answer such a question.
He soon found her inside her tent—the moving tent he called it, for every few days, she would pack it up and move it elsewhere within the town according to her comfort.
Carson entered the tent, as rich within as it was humble without. The outside was made of oiled canvas to keep out the rain and cold. The inside was made of satin cloth in dark rich colors hung in no particular pattern. Small but gallant tapestries hung on the flowing walls of the tent. A small woman with a dark complexion and snow-white hair approached him and smiled. The scholar, Iona.
“Greetings, Scholar,” Carson said. “I have need of your wisdom.” As payment, he offered a small book filled with blank pages, which he himself had crafted.
“On what subject?” the scholar asked, ignoring his offering for the moment.
“The storms.” Carson hesitated. “The man in the moon.”
“Ah,” Iona said, and she waved away his offering. “In these times, when it comes to the storms, we must give aid when and how we can without expectation of reward.”
She welcomed him to sit at a low table and drink a hot spiced tea that she brewed while he waited, listening to the patter of the light rain as it fell upon the canvas of the tent.
“I wonder,” Carson said, taking a sip of tea as a courtesy to his host, “if it is possible for our kind to travel to the moon. Have we ever done so?”
He went on to explain how he came to be so curious. For it was his father’s constant consternation with the lunar fairies, and his demand of the man in the moon that inspired in Carson a thought about the constant season of storms, perhaps even a solution.
“Someone should go to the moon,” Carson said, “and entreat the man in the moon to chasten his children, to restrain the lunar fairies.”
“You are correct,” the scholar said. “The man in the moon cannot hear us all the way down here, past the ruckus that his own children create. But even if it were as quiet as a rainless night, he would not hear. His ears are too far away. If he were inclined to listen, someone would need to go to him as you have come here to me. But who?”
“Gordon is the strongest and bravest man in our town,” Carson said. “He would surely take up the challenge.”
“Then why is he not here in my tent, instead of you?”
“I came to gather knowledge. I have not heard of any one of our people traveling to the moon. But if it were possible, I would next entreat Gordon to help us.”
“You are a thinker,” Iona said. She peered at him. And for many moments, she said nothing.
Carson waited, for he knew that wisdom would come in time. But he grew impatient, and at last, he broke from her gaze and said, “Is it possible? Can it be done?”
The scholar cocked her head. “I doubt you could travel to the moon. It is far from our reach. Beyond the realm of the birds and the cloud spirits. It sits in the realm of night, queen of the stars, unapproachable by a mere mortal, even a mortal who could cast magic.”
Upon her last words, she snapped her fingers as she turned her hand palm upwards, and a buttery honeyed cake appeared in her hand. She smiled and handed it to Carson.
The starry-eyed youth accepted the cake with a bow of his head.
“I too have never heard of any one of our people traveling to the moon,” Iona said. “But I should very much like to know if such a thing can be done. And I have heard of some legends of those who have done so in ages long past, when there was still a queen who ruled the moon. It was said the queen had bridges built between the realms of earth and moon. They looked just like ordinary moonbeams, and they only appeared when the moon was full. Some of these lunar bridges were watery and could be swum through, and some were solid enough to walk upon. If you could find such a beam, you could tell the hero Gordon, and he could swim or walk up to the moon.”
Before he would approach the bravest and strongest man in their town, Carson decided to find a lunar bridge. He waited for the full moon to come, and for three nights, he braved the rainfall, the chill winds, and the cracking of thunder to search for a moonbeam from which one might travel to the moon. But all the moonbeams he saw were ordinary familiar moonbeams, made only of light and no more solid than a handful of air.
Undaunted, he waited one more month for the full moon to return, and tried again. Still he found nothing. And still he tried again. After failing to find a lunar bridge in the third month, Carson gave up and visited the scholar Iona again. For the storms had not relented, and there was still need of a hero to rise up to the moon and entreat the man in the moon.
“Forgive me, Carson,” the scholar said. “I did not mean to lead you into illness.”
Carson coughed and blinked slowly through drowsy eyes. He had contracted a mild cold, weakened as he was from his wanderings in the chill rain and nights without proper sleep and rest.
“You warned me it was but a legend. Now we know for certain. Either the bridges are all gone. Or perhaps they never were. Have you any other ideas?”
“Have you?” the scholar asked, as she pointed a finger behind herself. Carson’s gaze followed the direction of the finger and landed upon one of the fine tapestries. This one was embroidered with beautiful, many-colored creatures. As his mind was slowed by sickness, it was only after gazing upon the tapestry for a few moments that he came to realize what all the creatures had in common. Birds, butterflies, beetles. They were all flying creatures.
If there was any calm between the storms, that calm came during the day, when the lunar fairies slept, and only the remnants of their mischief and commotion remained, a few lingering dark clouds still weeping a steady rain as they shuffled away, or a sky still crackling with lightning.
In the half a year that the storms had worsened, none had perished. But many, including Carson, feared the day would come when lightning struck not a tree or a tower, but a person, wandering upon a high hill at the wrong time. And the day would come when storm floods would drown those who could not escape in time. And the day would come when the people would become so weakened by cold and sleepless nights that a greater illness would strike, a fatal illness.
So as soon as Carson recovered, he went out into the forests surrounding his town, and using a few phrases he had learned from the scholar, he began to ask the various flying creatures if they could and would fly him up to the moon. He asked the sparrow and the pigeon. He asked the swallowtail butterfly and the ladybug beetle. All of the flying creatures he asked could not fly that high. But from each one he asked, he learned of another who might. And so he was led to ask the barn owl and the dragonfly and the night eagle. At last, he learned of one creature who might be able to fly all the way to the moon.
They were named the lunar moths, for they shifted color according to the phases of the moon. When the moon was new and dark in the sky, the lunar moths were completely black. As the light of the moon began to appear, as a crescent, as a half, the wings of the lunar moth began to turn white from edge to middle. At last when the moon was full and bright, the lunar moth too turned a full and powdery white. They only emerged at night. A full-grown moth was large enough to cover Carson’s hand. Yet because they shifted color, they were easiest to find during the full moon.
The starry-eyed youth went searching the depths of the forest to find a lunar moth, and one rare clear night, his eyes widened as he spotted a pure white moth fluttering away across a clearing. He locked his gaze upon her, fearful she would fly away, and he approached as slowly as he could.
“Hail and good evening,” Carson said in the language of the moths. “A friend approaches.”
He held his breath as the moth fluttered further away from him, but then flew closer, landing on a branch above him, just out of his reach.
“Hail, friend,” she said.
They exchanged their names. She was called Skoros.
“I am happy to have found you,” Carson said. “I am in great need and you may be the only one who can help me, if you are willing.”
“I am willing to listen at the very least.”
“Thank you. As we are newly acquainted and not yet friends, I bring a gift.” Carson pulled a bottle from inside his coat. It contained the sap of a tree that the scholar claimed was a favorite of the lunar moths. But that tree had not grown in their region for many generations.
The moth’s furry feelers twitched when she saw the bottle. No doubt she could smell the fragrant sap within. For even Carson could smell it.
“I wonder, friend, if you are able to fly all the way up to the moon and back,” Carson said.
“Of course. I have made the trip once or twice.”
Carson’s chest swelled with a hopeful breath. “Then…would you be able to carry a man upon your back and take him to the moon?”
“How big is this man?”
Carson thought about how big the hero Gordon was. He was taller than Carson by almost two heads. And heavier. And wider. He described the man to the moth.
Skoros raised her wings and folded them behind her. Again her feelers twitched. “What gives you the idea that I would be strong enough to lift a creature your size?”
“I know a scholar, a clever scholar. I’m certain she can find a way to make this man smaller, small enough to ride upon your back.”
As Carson spoke the words, he still had not told the hero Gordon of his plan. Perhaps the hero would not want to be shrunk down to the size of a bean. If so, Carson would go himself. After all, there was no battle to be done in the endeavor. He would merely be seeking out and entreating the man in the moon. Supplication was no heroic deed.
The kindly moth agreed to the bargain. She would meet him in that same spot when the moon again grew full. And if he was small enough to ride upon her back, she would fly him to the moon.
So Carson returned once more to the tent of the scholar Iona, who was delighted to hear that he’d found and spoken to a lunar moth, and equally as perplexed and irked to hear of the strange bargain he had made.
“What gave you the idea that I had the power to shrink a man to the size of a bean?” Iona asked.
Carson stood speechless, his eyes wide, for he had never doubted that the scholar could do the deed, or at the very least that she would know of someone who could. When he finally overcame his shock, he told her so.
Iona cocked her head. “I am a scholar, child, not a god.”
“Then…you truly cannot do it?” Carson’s heart sunk into his belly.
“I cannot. Nor do I know any who can. Nor do I know if such a transformation is even possible for our kind.”
“Then all is lost,” the starry-eyed youth said. And as he spoke, thunder cracked the sky above them.
“Perhaps not,” Iona said. “The moth is willing to carry a weight to the moon, if she could bear that weight. She cannot bear your entire weight, much less Gordon’s. And you cannot lessen your weight. But perhaps she does not need to carry your entire weight, but only a piece of it.”
Carson’s eyes widened. He looked down at himself. “What do you mean?” He imagined cutting off a toe or a finger, and wondered why the scholar would suggest such a thing.
“Think, child. Think. What part of you can she carry to the moon that weighs the least and yet is the weightiest?”
Carson did think, but he could not find the answer. “I do not know.”
It seemed the scholar had the answer, and he wished she would simply reveal it. It was not his wish to ride to the moon on a lark. He was trying to save his people from a certain doom. Already one of his fellow townsfolk had been struck by lightning and lay in a sickbed, still alive, but just barely so. It was no time for riddles.
“What have you been seeking to do?” the scholar asked. “What would you do if you were to reach the moon?”
“I would entreat the man in the moon to stop his children.”
“I would speak—“ The starry-eyed youth stopped speaking suddenly as he realized the answer to the scholar’s questions.
His voice. His voice weighed the least and was the weightiest.
He could not ride with the moth up to the moon. But he could send a message through her.
“A message will not be enough to convince him,” Carson said. Now, it was he who peered at the scholar in the way she usually peered at him. “If a message is all I can send to the moon, then I must send the right message. And I must send it to the right one.”
“You have an idea,” the scholar said, rubbing her hands. “What is it?”
The starry-eyed youth took a breath and he told her, for his idea was a dangerous, perhaps reckless, one. If it was too reckless, the scholar would tell him. But when he was done explaining his idea, the scholar, though sobered, agreed. And she helped him to craft his message.
Carson met the lunar moth at the appointed time and place, and explained that he had not found a way to shrink himself, but he hoped that she could carry a message from him. The kindly moth agreed. Skoros heard his message and she carried it up to the moon.
He had thought it would take a long time, perhaps many months, for the moth to fly up to the moon. But she spoke of riding waves of light that would carry her to the moon in mere days. Her description reminded the starry-eyed youth of the fabled lunar bridges.
There was one other way for one of their kind to reach the moon. A lunar moth was too small to carry a man to the moon.
But a lunar fairy could do it.
The lunar fairies had powers far beyond the knowledge of the scholar (though they certainly lacked in wisdom).
They might even have the power to change a man’s size. But they certainly had the power to carry a man, even one who was larger than they were, up to the moon.
Unlike other fairies, who sometimes took interest in the people of the earthen realm, taking children, seeking lovers, and the like, the lunar fairies had never taken an interest in the doings of those who lived in the realms below them. Not the cloud spirits. Not the birds. And certainly not the people of the earthen realm.
Only one thing seemed to hold their interest.
So Carson had sent a challenge in his message.
Night after night, the starry-eyed youth returned to the place in the forest where he’d met with the moth. Most nights were rainy. Some were foggy. A rare few were clear and mild.
It was on such a clear and mild night that Carson watched as a moonbeam thickened in the air, even though there was no full moon. The beam struck the clearing before him and then vanished.
In the clearing stood a being who looked like a tall child, and whose features were slightly longer than that of a child or any person of Carson’s kind. The being’s features were girlish and boyish, neither and both. The being’s eyes were black orbs that glittered as if set with tiny bits of silver. Carson had expected a moon-pale complexion, perhaps white hair, and perhaps even a ghostly or ethereal visage. But the being was otherwise quite common-looking, with choppy black hair, blue-gray robes, and shiny black boots.
“I am Fengari,” the being said, the lunar fairy, whose eyes belied amusement. “And I have come to answer your challenge.”
Carson was no hero. He was not brave and strong like Gordon. He was not wise and skilled like Iona. So the challenge he had sent to the lunar fairies—to any lunar fairy who might hear the words of the kindly moth—was not a grand challenge. He had not asked for a duel. He had not asked for a contest of wits. He certainly had not challenged them as they challenged each other, to create more and more spectacular lightnings and whirlwinds.
His challenge had been a simple question.
Why did the lunar fairies challenge each other? And why did they come to the earthen realms to fulfill those challenges? Why did they not stay upon the moon?
Fengari proclaimed that the moth had been a true friend to the starry-eyed youth indeed, presenting Carson’s challenge to one fairy after another. Though all respected the moth and her kind, they found her questions peculiar, and when they learned that she asked them on behalf of a man, they dismissed the questions. But Skoros kept asking, until she came to Fengari, who listened to the questions, and agreed to answer them. And so, the fairy answered.
“It is our way,” Fengari said. “It is our nature to be mischievous. What is your nature, challenger?”
Though Carson had not prepared for the question, he knew the answer at once, for the answer was in his challenge. “Our nature is to be curious.” Carson smiled. “That is why I have challenged you. I am curious about your home. I seek to visit the moon.”
“There is not much to see. It is a barren land.”
“But I would very much like to meet your father, the great man in the moon.”
Fengari laughed. “My father is of no more interest to a curious man than my home. Mostly he sleeps.”
Carson felt a twinge of worry, both at the fairy’s resistance and at the news of the man in the moon’s nature. Suddenly, the starry-eyed youth doubted himself and his idea. Even if he managed to convince Fengari to take him to the moon and take him to the man in the moon, and even if he convinced the man in the moon that his children’s mischief was deadly to the people of the earthen realm, would the man in the moon do anything to stop his children?
Carson had always believed that if only he could reach the moon, all else would fall into place, that reaching the moon was the most difficult part of his quest.
“Is that why you come down here, to the earthen realm, to fulfill your challenges?” he asked the fairy.
“Do you know that your mischief has caused much harm among my people?”
Fengari frowned as if puzzled. “How much harm can there be? It is only mischief not malice.”
“It is a comfort to know you do not intend malice, but your mischief has caused great harm. Even as I speak, some may be lying upon their deathbeds because of the storms caused by your mischief.”
“It cannot be so. How?”
“Our lives are short and fragile. I can show you.” Carson saw that the lunar fairy too shared the quality of curiosity with him, even as his kind shared the quality of mischief with the fairies, though perhaps not in equal measure.
Fengari went with Carson into town, marveling at the edifices that Carson’s people had built, and witnessing the destruction wrought upon those edifices. The warping of wood, the scorching of walls, the caving in of roofs. The lunar fairy gaped at the people who worked to repair and build, the people who sold and bought in the marketplace, and finally, at those who lay in sickbeds in the town’s only hospital.
The fairy asked many questions as they walked about the town. And as evening neared, they returned to the forest. Carson noted that there were no storms that day, not even any rain.
“I see we have done much harm,” the fairy said as they approached the clearing where first they had met, “and I regret that we have. But we can make amends.”
Fengari held out a hand and upon it was a round stone. Before Carson’s eyes, the stone shifted color and quality, and it turned into a pearl.
“These are precious to your people, I see,” Fengari said. “We can give you many more in payment.”
Carson smiled. “And you will stop your challenges?”
Fengari frowned. “Why no. The pearls would be our payment to you for the cost of your losses from the storms, now and forevermore.”
Carson shook his head. “A pearl can pay for much that is lost, a house or a wagon, but not a life. I beg of you, good fairy, please restrain yourselves, at least for all but one season. We can bear one season of storms.”
Fengari sighed. “Have you ever tried to contain your nature? To restrain it?”
“We…have.” Carson thought of many times he had tried to resist his curiosity. Sometimes he succeeded. Sometimes he did not. As he was, so were his people. Curiosity had led them to great discoveries, but also to great follies.
Fengari raised a brow. “And when you were not able to, have you ever caused harm?”
“Then why would you ask me and my kind to restrain ourselves?”
To that Carson had no answer. But he knew he must say something to the fairy. “Because,” he said, “we are at your mercy.”
A shaft of moonlight fell upon Fengari, and the fairy once again offered a pearl to Carson. “Take this. It is not like your earthen pearls. And it is not like the common pearl I made you before. This is a moon-pearl. It will warn you when a storm approaches. Use it to help your people survive our mischief.”
With that the fairy vanished in a beam of moonlight.
The starry-eyed youth returned home as a heavy rain began to fall. He held the moon-pearl in his hand and watched it begin to glow just as he reached the town.
That night a terrible storm befell the town. But the town was accustomed to terrible storms. They survived.
In the weeks that followed, Carson knew of when the worst storms would hit the town. He knew by the glowing of the lunar pearl, which he named Moonbroch.
He was indeed able to help his people survive. But they did little more than survive. Still their lives were drained by the relentless rain and storm. Still their arms ached from hammering and their shoulders ached from lifting, and building and re-building. Still their ports were treacherous and few traders came by sea.
And even with the help of the moon-pearl, little had changed.
Carson cast his starry eyes to the moon often. And up at the sky where the storms raged. And he came to see that the storms raged more often over the nearby ocean. Fengari had perhaps succeeded in shifting his kin’s challenges away from the town. But not far enough away.
And as he gazed at the stormy ocean from the high hill above his town, Carson had another idea, another challenge for the lunar fairies. He told the scholar Iona, and she nodded with approval. And he told the lunar moth Skoros, and she too agreed that by her knowledge of the lunar fairies’ natures, it was a good challenge.
“They will always return to storms,” Carson said. “For they never seem to tire of thunder, lightning, fog, and rain. But perhaps this new challenge can keep them occupied for a while.”
“What if they can meet it?” Iona asked, casting out a last doubt. “They would cause even more harm.”
“I do not think they can meet it,” Skoros said.
Skoros went up to the moon and summoned Fengari back down to the earthen realm.
“Have you summoned me here to scold me again?” Fengari said by way of greeting upon seeing the starry-eyed youth.
Carson smiled. “To thank you.” He held up the pearl that Fengari had given him. He had set it in a pendant and wore it about his neck. “This has helped me to save many of my people. But…your people still make too many storms. I am only one. I often cannot warn all my people in time. I ask a favor of you. You once offered us many pearls. If you gave a moon-pearl to everyone in my town and the harbor town beyond the mountain, then we would all be able to prepare. We would all survive any storm.”
Fengari peered at Carson. “Common pearls I can give you. But moon-pearls are rare. There are not enough in the entire lunar realm to give each of your townsfolk a moon-pearl. And even if there were, it is too grand a request.”
“Then take this one back and make it bigger, big enough to be seen by all.”
Fengari took back the moon-pearl. “I will see what I can do.”
“There is something else.” Carson’s eyes twinkled.
“Another favor? You are a bold one, challenger.”
“Ah, yes, a favor. But not one I ask of you. One I do for you.”
“You would grant me a favor?”
“Yes, the favor of a challenge. One I do not think you have considered. And I do not challenge you, but suggest it to you, so that you may challenge your kin.”
The lunar fairy grinned.
Carson pointed west. They could not see what he was pointing at from the forest, through the trees, past the mountains. But they all knew it was there.
“Dare them to lift the ocean,” Carson said.
Fengari’s brows quirked up. “The ocean? Lift it?”
Carson noted the fairy’s hesitation. “You are right. Perhaps the challenge is too much—“
“No,” the fairy said, raising a hand to halt Carson from speaking further. “The ocean…heavier than mountains. Heavier than your earthen lands. The ocean…” The fairy’s eyes widened and widened, so wide that each eye became as round as the moon. And moonlight seemed to glow from the whites of the fairy’s eyes.
Fengari was clearly captivated by the idea.
A moonbeam began to form around the fairy, who turned in the midst of vanishing, and said, “Thank you, challenger.”
The storms ceased that very night. That summer night. And in the coming days, the townsfolk and the sailors who came to port witnessed the strange movements of the ocean tides. The tides seemed to follow the movement of the moon.
The townsfolk braced themselves each night for the return of the storms. But save for a few mild summer rains that did no harm, the days and nights were clear and free of storm.
The movement of the ocean tides remained strange, but also foreseeable. The lunar fairies, it seemed, had at last faced a challenge they could not yet meet. Summer passed into fall.
Then one chilly fall night, when the moon was full, the starry-eyed youth cast his gaze up at the sky, as he so often did. The moon was beautiful that night, and it glowed brightly. As he watched, a ring of moonglow formed beyond and around the moon’s surface, and then another, and another. The sight seemed familiar. Carson gasped when he realized why. He raced to warn his town that a storm was approaching.
Those rings of light around the moon, they reminded him of the moon-pearl that Fengari had given him.
The lunar fairy had done it. Fengari had found a way to make the warning of the moon-pearl visible to all, for the fairy had made the moon itself to glow in warning.
Carson told all the folk of his town and the nearby harbor town of that last gift from their lunar fairy friend. Whenever they saw the glowing rings around the moon, they knew a terrible storm was coming. And they mostly came to see such a sight during the fall and winter seasons.
And they named the gift after the name the starry-eyed youth had given to the lunar pearl, the Moonbroch.
Copyright © 2018 Nila L. Patel