Once, there was a realm where scholarship was much admired and much desired. A trickster fairy appeared one day and kidnapped the king, leaving behind a riddle that even the youngest child in the castle could solve before sundown. The king’s highest advisor presented the answer. The fairy, being bound by his own promise, had no choice but to return the king. But he tried again, and again was thwarted by the learned and agile minds of the king’s subjects. Yet he tried again…
Lucinda held her breath, as she raised the glass rod above the vial and tapped the rod to release the single drop of liquid that clung to its end.
The drop fell in the vial, joining the muddy liquid within. The liquid turned ruddy, then clear. And it stayed clear.
Lucinda dared to exhale just as the liquid began to swirl and turn ruddy, then muddy. She ducked under the table just before the vial shattered, spraying red flames and charred bits of glass in every direction.
Oddnever adjusted her spectacles, tucked in her wings, rolled open her scroll, and touched the tip of her quill to her tongue. She peered into the mirror that was set in the modest front room of her modest abode within an acorn tree. That mirror had been locked so that she was only able to look through it, not step through it. Oddnever was, after all, different from other sprites. She could be trusted and relied upon. She was capable of focusing for long stretches of time. And she was thought to be too slow to evade the human gaze—likely because she was taller than was typical for her kind. Therefore she was forbidden from visiting the human realm.
While she wasn’t generally mischievous, Oddnever was keenly curious.
When I was young, I had an evil stepmother.
This is not an exaggeration.
Once upon a time, flowers lived long lives. They are now known to be fleeting, for the most part. They bud. They bloom. They grace the world with their beauty. And then they die. But it was not always so. They lived long lives indeed. Longer than creatures with many legs. Longer than creatures with four legs. Longer than creatures with two legs. And sometimes, even longer than the long-lived beings of the deep.
In those days, there were doctors of teeth already, just as there are now. And in those days, the doctors of teeth were avoided by most, just as they are now. The doctors did their best, just as they do now, the good ones that is. One such doctor of teeth did his best, but failed to root out the deep infection that had taken hold in his patient’s mouth, an infection that had seeped from the teeth to the gums to other teeth, and then began creeping to the patient’s brain and his heart. The man—the patient—was past middle age but not yet old. He died of that infection. A painful and bloody death.
“Alas! We are doomed to die as caterpillars, never having become butterflies.” Lickspittle shook his head. He gazed up and shook several fists at the sky.
Sobersides sighed gravely. “Perhaps tomorrow morning.”
The thief fell from the tower’s upper window. She had lost her precarious grip on the pitted brick. She remembered that she should roll herself up into a loose ball to protect her head and neck. But by the time she remembered, she had already struck the first branch of the tree in the orchard below. Then she struck another and another. Scratched and thrashed and bounced about, she finally reached the ground, thankful that the soil was soft. She lay there for far too long a moment. The breath had been knocked out of her. And she feared moving for fear she might discover that she could not.
No one calls me Hildegard. I insist that all who meet me and know me call me Gard. I was once a wanderer, but I truly am a guard now. This is the tale of how and when my watch began. For I have set myself the task of watching over a child, my sister’s child, a strange child. My hope is that hers will be a good strangeness. My fear is that it will be a wicked strangeness. She does not care for me, my niece, for I broke a promise I made to her many years ago.
“Can you turn into anything?” the little girl asked.
“Not anything. A mouse. A fly. Nothing bigger than myself. There are constraints to my powers. “
The tiny man looked down at his chest and said, “You wouldn’t understand.”
“What’s your name?”
“Must I tell you?”