“Shhhh… Don’t wake her, Prudy.”
“Oh, but look at those precious curls, Judith!”
“Where ever did she come from?”
“Shhhh… I say!”
“Oh, Judith, can we keep her?”
“Prudy, whatever would we do with a human child?”
“Really, Prudy, they grow up to become one of them!”
“I know that, Constance! But she is so small still…”
“Prudy, you stay here with the child. If you can, try to lead her to the Wise One. Constance, come with me. We will need to consult with the Wise One. She will know what to do.”
Prudy watched her sisters, both fairies of light, fly off deeper into the forest. She let her wings fall still and she lighted on a small branch and watched the young human girl sleep among the tall trees. Humans had not come to The Wood for decades. The Wood had been walled off, forbidden for humans to enter, left to be a sanctuary for the gnomes, fairies, sprites, nymphs, and other creatures of magic and lore. Prudy scratched her head in concern wondering if the wall had been compromised, for how else could this child be here, and already so far into The Wood?
She stood on the branch lost in thought and then suddenly realized the little girl had woken and vanished from sight. Alarmed, Prudy took to wing and flitted down closer to the forest floor. She zipped this way and that looking for the child. As she flew around one especially large tree she slammed into something soft but solid.
“Ooof,” she grunted as she instinctively flew backward to see what she hit.
“Oh! Pretty birdie!” squealed the little girl in delight, reaching her hands out into the air before her to try to touch Prudy.
Prudy nearly fell from the air in shock. The little girl could see her! That shouldn’t be! Humans were only supposed to see the People of The Wood if the People allowed it! Regaining her wits enough to stay out of reach of the child, she hovered in front of the child’s line of sight. She stared at the girl, and the girl stared back with wonder and delight reflected on her face and in her exuberant smile. When the little girl started to jump up and down laughing and clapping her hands, Prudy couldn’t resist smiling back and doing a small loop in the air in front of the child.
Earning more clapping and laughing, Prudy danced in the air for the child, spinning, and twirling, high and low.
“What do you think you are doing?” a deep voice rumbled from behind the girl.
The little girl’s eyes grew wide and round as she turned to see the creator of the deep rumbling voice. There stood before her a grizzled brown bear, a scar running across its muzzle, its fur no longer soft and luxurious, but more matted and worn thin in spots. Prudy sensed the fear in the child, and she flew between the child and the old bear.
“Greetings, Madame Bear!”
The old bear swatted at Prudy in impatience.
“What is going on here? I demand to know this instant! This child doesn’t belong here.”
Prudy frowned, and she heard the girl sniffle behind her, her wide blue eyes still glued to the bear, who was quite intimidating.
“We just found her. My sisters have gone to consult with the Wise One.”
The old bear nodded her huge head in approval. “Very good. No doubt, she will see that this trespasser will be quickly dealt with.”
Prudy flew closer to the bear, a sudden idea forming in her mind for she had long desired to help ease Madame Bear’s cantankerous demeanor.
“Madame Bear, the girl can see me!”
The bear abruptly sat back on her haunches, a look of sudden intrigue lit her eyes.
“You don’t say.”
Prudy nodded her head vigorously, and then excitedly flew around the girl’s head, causing her to laugh and smile widely again in glee.
“See that! She can! I think we should take her to the Wise One without delay, without waiting for word from my sisters. She could be in danger, you know.”
“The Wise One? In danger?”
“No, no, no. This child. We must get her to the Wise One.”
The bear raised a huge paw and rubbed at her chin.
“What is this ‘we’ business? You found the child, you take her.”
Prudy dared to fly close to the bear and landed on the bear’s long snout. She looked directly into Madame Bear’s big brown eyes.
“Madame Bear, I cannot lead this child. I cannot carry her. I can maybe get her to follow me some of the way, but I am more likely to lose her, or simply end up following her around in circles, because she is a child following childish whims. It simply wouldn’t do to let a human child wander along in The Wood with only a tiny fairy to try to protect her. Don’t you agree?”
Madame Bear harrumphed in response.
Prudy continued. “Imagine it. You. Madame Bear helping guide a human child who has the gift of Sight. Guiding her safely through The Wood directly to the Wise One. Can you imagine it?”
“Oh, yes. I can imagine it. I can imagine being away from my warm den. I can imagine the tears and tantrums all young ones are known for. I can imagine the tugging at my fur, the tears and snot and heavens knows what else when she has to be carried after a fall or one of those tantrums. I can imagine.”
Prudy stomped her tiny fairy foot on the bear’s nose, her hands in fists at her side, dismayed by the bear's apathy.
“I can’t believe that Madame Bear, esteemed and respected, would allow an opportunity to stand in the presence of the Wise One to pass her by. Not over some tears and snot.”
Madame Bear shook her head sending Prudy flying into the air. She said nothing, but observed the little girl who sat before her on the ground mimicking her every move. The child was beautiful by human standards, the bear supposed. She had blond, curly hair that fell in wild ringlets all around her face. Her bright blue eyes were clear, round, and showed a depth of intelligence to the child, despite her youth. In general, judging by the girl’s tattered cloths, she must be a commoner among the humans, and she was very young, certainly no older than three or four years. If the child had family, they certainly would be missing her.
Suddenly, Madame Bear stood on all fours, her nose to the air. She looked at Prudy who waited, hovering in the air near the child’s head.
“The wall. She could only be here if there is a breach in the wall.”
Prudy nodded in agreement.
That was important, and must be investigated, and corrected, for the wall protected The Wood from the humans, but also kept things in The Wood that should never again be allowed among the humans.
Looking down at the little girl, who had also moved to stand on all fours, Madame Bear lowered her head to the girl’s. Now, the girl showed no fear at all. She turned her head to meet Madame Bear’s, and as the bear sniffed at her, she acted as though she were sniffing back, making Prudy laugh and dance in the air at the simple act of playfulness. The bear looked the girl right in the eye and then nudged her. Knowing the girl could see Prudy, Madame Bear took a leap of logic assuming the girl would also be able to understand her as she spoke.
“Come, child. I will take you to the Wise One.”
The girl stood upright, her face bright and excited.
“The Wise One. The Wise One. We’re going to see the Wise One,” she sang in her little sing-song voice as she reached out to touch Madame Bear’s head.
Prudy gasped in astonishment that Madame Bear allowed the child to touch her.
Madame Bear ignored the fairy and spoke to the girl.
“Come, child. Take hold of my fur. Yes. Just like that. No. Not too tight. Yes. That’s it. Just hold it as we go, so I always know you are by my side.”
She stepped forward in the same direction that Prudy’s sisters had flown earlier, and she looked up at Prudy, who was gaping at her.
“Come, Fairy. I will need your help.”
Prudy grimaced. “My name is Prudy…”
“Yes. Yes. Whatever. Come along.”
Prudy hovered in place for a few moments and watched the bear and the child move away from her. Mission accomplished, she thought to herself triumphantly, but then her thoughts moved back to the implications of a child with Sight being in The Wood, and then to the wall.
Something was amiss. She couldn’t help feel worried, and with that in mind, she flew quickly to catch up to Madame Bear.
It would be a long walk to the Wise One, and The Wood held a great many wonders and creatures; not all would be happy a human was among them. Madame Bear would need her help, Prudy was sure of it, but she couldn’t help but wonder what a tiny fairy could possibly do to help a huge bear with a human child.
Prudy flitted about talking incessantly, making jokes, and singing songs that made the little girl laugh. Madame Bear felt her patience waning after they had been moving along for most of the say. She was about to tell Prudy to hush, when they passed through the trees and into a small clearing.
Prudy fell silent and lowered gently to sit on the tip of Madame Bear’s ear.
The little girl gripped Madame Bear’s fur tightly and tugged it causing the bear to turn her gaze to the child whose eyes were larger than ever as she stared straight ahead at two creatures standing on top of a small hill. Madame Bear understood the child’s wonder, for she herself had only seen the creatures once or twice, and she shared The Wood with them. For a human, the creatures before them were the creatures of dreams and wishes: a Unicorn and a Pegasus.
Madame Bear winked at the child. “Come, let us see if these fellows can offer us any assistance.”
The little girl nodded excitedly and pointed with her free hand. “Pretty horsies!”
As the three moved up the hill, the sun shone down on the pure white creatures causing their fur and mains to shine with the luster of the most beautiful pearls. The Pegasus’ wings were spread up away from its body, the light of the sun catching on every feather as though hitting a prism, and little spots of rainbows seemed to shoot away from them.
The Unicorn’s mane hung in ringlets even tighter than those of the little girl, and had the most delicate shades of pink, blue, and purple within its lustrous locks. Its horn wound up and away from its forehead to form a peak, and from the tip a continuous hum resounded that was as pleasant to hear as the brook that was bubbling at the far edge of the clearing.
Catching the two creature’s attention, Madame Bear bowed before the duo. Prudy, flying again, also bowed before the great creatures, while the little girl simply stared, her mouth hanging open, as she moved excitedly from foot to foot beside the bear.
The creatures responded by bowing to Madame Bear and Prudy in return.
“Well met, Madame Bear,” sighed Unicorn in a quiet almost musical voice.
Pegasus moved abruptly between Unicorn and the Bear.
“What have we here? Why, it’s a human! A human child! Oh, look Uni. Isn’t she just marvelous?”
Unicorn stretched his neck to look around Pegasus and responded almost dismissively.
“Yes. Quite.” Shifting so he could see Madame Bear more clearly, he curled his top lip back. “Humans are forbidden here.’
Prudy interrupted, “We know. We are taking her to the Wise One.”
Unicorn ignored Prudy and turned his attention to Pegasus who was sniffing at the girl’s hair and dress causing the girl to giggle.
“That tickles,” squealed the child.
Pegasus pranced backward. “Oh, she talked!”
Unicorn rolled his eyes. “They do talk, Peg. Leave that child alone. We were discussing something important, remember?”
Pegasus whinnied and pranced back to where he was standing before. He looked at Madame Bear and Prudy.
“Maybe you could help us.”
Madame Bear cocked her head to the side. “Help you? Help you how?”
Unicorn raised his head high and shook his mane, while Pegasus spread his wings upward and fluttered them.
“Which of us is the more perfect creature?”
Madame Bear’s jaw dropped. “Excuse me?”
Pegasus snorted jovially, “Oh, come now. We know Uni and I are the most beautiful creatures of The Wood…”
“Really, well, I never…” mumbled Purdy in Madame Bear’s ear.
“…but we can’t agree on which of us is the most beautiful,” finished Unicorn.
Madame Bear started to reply saying that they had no time for such ridiculousness, but Unicorn continued, “As you can see, Peg has the most beautiful, irredescent wings that catch the sun's light so perfectly, and…”
“Oh, stop, Uni! It’s you with that pearly horn and that incredible hum, and…”
“No, Peg. Look at you. You are so pretty, and appealing to look at. You get to fly above all of us and revel in the sky.”
“Oh, but, Uni. You are so handsome and majestic. You command attention and respect…”
“See, Madame Bear? We cannot come to an agreement. Please help us settle this.”
Madame Bear lowered her head and closed her eyes. Such vanity and foolishness. She raised her head and began to respond but stopped when the little girl stepped forward between the two magnificent creatures.
She stood there, dwarfed between the two who stared down at her in confusion. She raised her hands to each of them. Looking at one another, they both lowered their silky snouts to nuzzle to her hands. She gently oohed, and ahed, and petted them, murmuring lowly.
“Pretty, pretty horsies,” said the little girl over and over. Both creatures stood still, their eyes closed, their heads lowered to the little girl. Madame Bear and Prudy watched as the creatures visibly relaxed, and a mood of complete contentment seemed to settle over them all.
After a few minutes, Madame Bear and Prudy looked at each other and nodded in silent agreement. It was time to be on their way. Prudy flew to the little girl and caught her attention.
“Come, little one, we should go.”
The little girl smiled widely at Prudy, and she lowered her hands to her side. She moved back to Madame Bear’s side and grabbed a handful of fur. Prudy and Madame Bear slowly led the girl down the other side of the hill and into The Wood.
Prudy stopped at the edge of the clearing and watched as Unicorn and Pegasus laid down on the hilltop and stared after them.
She heard them begin to talk again.
“What a delightful creature, don’t you think, Uni?”
“Oh, yes, Peg. A delightful creature, indeed. Now, what was it we were discussing?”
“I don’t think it matters, Uni. I don’t think it matters.”
Prudy smiled to herself and turned to catch up once again. As she flitted along, she could not help but wonder at the effect the child would have on the other creatures of The Wood.
© 2021 Heidi Relge
Shauna L Bowling from Central Florida on February 11, 2021:
What a delightful story, Heidi! I'm curious as to how the little girl managed to find her way in The Wood.