The next week was rather hectic for Lila. Giselle and Dimitrius' celebration ball was coming up, and all of the servants were busy with preparations. Lila and Karmella were working especially hard, as they not only had to deal with arrangements for the ball, but Giselle's anxiety. She wanted everything to be perfect for her ball, and she was constantly worrying over the tiniest details. Giselle almost fainted when she saw some servants carrying in a new chandelier - she was convinced that they were going to drop it. Lila also had to be on her toes around Prince Dimitrius. She had enjoyed their brief friendship while it lasted, but she had gotten far too close to him, and she couldn't allow that to happen again.
Today, the queen had taken Giselle to meet a famous dressmaker to pick out materials for her ball gown. So, instead of having a day off, Lila, Karmella, and a few other servants were ordered to deliver invitations to the magical creatures of Nouvelle. They had to travel by foot since servants weren't allowed in the carriages, so it would take around two days to complete their task. For time's sake, they would only venture to the outskirts of each section of Nouvelle where they would deliver each invitation to the king's guards who were stationed there. That way, the guards could spread word of the ball, and all who were available could attend. Although it was a rather tiring task, Lila was looking forward to it. She had only been to one of the magical realms, and that was long ago.
When Lila had first begun to serve the kingdom, the king had taken Giselle to the fairy realm to meet with the fairy elders to determine if she would become an honorable queen. Lila, Karmella, and some of the king's other servants were required to accompany the royalty to the fairy realm so that the king and his daughter would have all the comforts of home. Lila remembered the trip well - it was the most amazing experience she had ever had. The fairy elders had asked the king and servants to stay in one room while they evaluated Giselle in another. Lila didn't mind at all, considering that there was so much to see. She could clearly remember the elders' quarters. They were obviously built from magic, yet seemed to be spun from sugar. The walls were covered in portraits of the elders, and Lila was astonished at the realism of the paintings. Lila was also fascinated at the colors of the wings of the fairies. They seemed to sparkle at every turn, and whenever they caught the light, they almost glowed. The light! Oh the light. It poured in from every crack and window, yet it didn't hurt Lila's eyes. She remembered wondering if it ever got dark there. She, of course, knew now that it did, indeed, get dark in Nouvelle's fairy realm. The only difference was that the stars shined slightly brighter there than any other part of the country.
After an hour of evaluation, the fairy elders emerged from the room where they had been talking to Giselle. From what Lila could hear, they deemed that she would have a few rough patches here and there, but over all, Giselle would be one of the better rulers in Nouvelle's history. The king was ecstatic, and thanked the elders profusely. Lila remembered being sad to leave such a gorgeous world, but she hoped that today she might catch a glimpse of the beauty that had amazed her when she was so young.
At the moment, the servants had finished delivering invitations to the gnome, elf, unicorn, and ogre realms. Like the fairy realm, each part of the land had it's own unique quality. The ogre realm, once a brutal and harsh part of the country, was now covered in lush foliage and full of surprisingly attractive mud huts where the ogres lived. The unicorn realm was the quietest of all of the realms so far. It was layered with colorful flowers and plants with special medicinal properties. Needless to say, Lila was enjoying visiting the realms immensely, even if her feet were paying for it. As the servants were nearing their next destination, the leader of the group, a servant named Argus, pulled out his map of Nouvelle.
"We should be reaching the lagoon soon," he said, folding up the map and putting it in his pack. The group soon came upon a patch of weeping willows. As they walked through the hanging leaves, they began to hear a faint tune. Lila listened as hard as she could, but she couldn't quite make it out. It was mystical and enchanting, and no one in the group could turn away. They walked further and further, until the tune and words became clear. Lila was captivated by what she heard.
"Keep your wits about you,
Or you will never leave.
Although we are kind creatures,
Do not be deceived.
We will protect our world,
Our waters are ours alone.
We have many treasures,
But there is more than what is shown.
Turn away from here,
If your intentions are not pure.
Leave with peace in your heart,
Stay far from our shore.
But if you have no malevolence,
Then this is where you belong.
Just listen to our magical voices,
And follow our enchanting song..."
The entire group had stopped in their tracks. Their eyes were closed, and each person seemed to be in a daze. Finally, a fluid voice broke their trance.
"Welcome to the mermaid realm. My name is Vari. What can I do for you?", the voice said. Lila looked up to see one of the most beautiful women she had ever laid eyes on. She had waist-length, sea green hair that seemed to flow like water down her sides. She wore a light pink scarf around her chest and a longer, matching scarf around her waist.
"If you don't mind me asking, where are the guards that are supposed to be stationed here?", Argus asked. Vari motioned for them to follow her. They walked through the remaining patch of weeping willows and came upon a very large lagoon. Vari pointed towards some rocks at the other end of the lagoon. There, dangling their feet in the water, sat the three guards who were supposed to greet the servants. A female servant sighed and rolled her eyes.
"Some good they're doing," she said. Vari smiled. She and the group of servants watched as three mermaids swam up from the depths of the lagoon and beckoned the guards to come in. They happily obliged. Vari stepped into the lagoon and waded further out into the water. Lila, Karmella, and the rest watched as the skin on Vari's legs rippled into turquoise scales. She swam further into the water, flipping her transparent fins.
"Fancy a swim?", Vari asked casually. Lila and Karmella had to hold Argus back from jumping in.
"We'd love to, but we're actually here to deliver a message," Lila said while holding one of Argus' arms.
"A message?", Vari asked before diving under the water and resurfacing.
"Well...more of an invitation, really. An invitation to Her Highness Princess Giselle's wedding celebration ball," Karmella responded. Vari smiled and took the invitation from Karmella's hand.
"The princess is getting married! Oh, how lovely. I'll be sure to spread the word. Are you sure you don't have time for a swim?", Vari said enticingly. Lila and Karmella tightened their grip on Argus' arms.
"We really must be off, but thank you!", Lila said while struggling to pull Argus with her. Vari laughed and gave a small wave with her fins before submerging herself in the lagoon.
After Argus calmed down some, the group moved on from the mermaid realm. The last stop of the day for the group of servants was the fairy realm. Lila was extremely excited. She couldn't wait to see all of the sights that had bewitched her when she was younger. It was an hour and a half before the group reached the outskirts of the fairy realm. Their stop at the mermaid realm had held them back a bit, so when they arrived, it was almost nightfall. If Lila looked up into the sky, she could see where some stars shone faintly, and where others began to become brighter. She knew they were almost there. A few minutes later, the group came to a large silvery gate that Lila remembered well. Behind the gate stood two guards. Unlike the guards at the mermaid realm, they seemed much more serious. One of them had golden hair and a clean face, while the other wore a helmet, but had a light brown beard.
"Can I help you?", the guard with the beard asked. Karmella spoke up this time.
"Yes, we've come to deliver an invitation to the wedding celebration ball of Her Highness Princess Giselle," she replied. The guard looked each servant over. After a few moments, he looked towards the other guard who eventually nodded.
"Please present the invitation," the bearded guard asked. One of the male servants handed the invitation to the guard through the gate. He read it over quickly, and then looked back up towards the group.
"Right, then. Thank you for the delivery. You may go," he said. As the servants turned to go, they heard a light voice protest.
"Go? Why they just got here. Why don't you lot come inside?", the voice said. Once Lila turned around, she immediately recognized the speaker. It was one of the fairy elders that she had seen when she was younger. At first she was confused, but she soon remembered that fairies, along with most magical creatures, lived much longer than humans. This particular elder, if she remembered correctly, was named Alvar.
"Come on, do come inside and rest for the night. Surely you weren't planning on traveling during nightfall?", Alvar asked seriously. They all shook their heads. The guards opened the gate, letting the servants into the fairy realm. Alvar smiled at each one of them, looking particularly at Lila and Karmella.
"Ah, I remember you two. Handmaidens of Princess Giselle, no?", he asked. The two girls nodded their heads.
"I daresay, do either of you remember who I am? Completely understandable if you don't, it has been a while...," Alvar trailed off.
"Yes, we remember. You're Elder Alvar...correct?", Lila replied. Alvar turned around with a large smile spread across his face. Although it was night, his wings seemed to glow. They all walked in silence until they came upon the fairy housing. Lila hadn't remembered this part. Each tall oak had two or three fairy homes, each one circular and completely held together by magic. 'It was practical', Lila thought, 'Keeping ones homes in trees did keep away most predators. Plus, if you could fly, why not?'
"You are all welcome to stay in the guest quarters tonight. You've gotten lucky - you're the only guests here tonight," Alvar said with a wink. Lila smiled in return. As Alvar led them to the guest quarters, the servants looked up to the trees, where they could see fairies flying about, getting ready to sleep. Once they reached their quarters, the servants thanked Alvar and went to turn in, but before they got the chance, Alvar asked one more question.
"By the way, have you eaten today?"
The servants all looked at each other. Argus put his thumb and forefinger a few inches apart to suggest that they had eaten 'only a little'. Alvar smiled, clapped his hand four times, and each fairy from the closest oak trees flew down to the guest quarters, some sort of food item in their hands. Once they all had given away one portion of food, there was enough for the servants to eat tonight and tomorrow. They all thanked the fairies with gusto. Lila looked towards Alvar, who simply smiled.
Finally, after a quick yet filling dinner, Lila, Karmella, and the other servants picked their beds and drifted off to sleep. When she was sure that they were all asleep, Lila pulled Dimitrius' necklace out from under her servant dress. She looked at the thin chain and delicate pendant, and then let out a sigh. She closed her eyes, slowly falling into her dreams, her hand still wrapped around the necklace.