Gift of the Fairies

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Fantasy  |  House: Booksie Classic
Ayla is a refugee and an orphan who metaphorically becomes a fairy sometimes. My possible explanation for the superstition that if you leave bread and milk out for the fairies, they will do your chores. The cover image is "Little Red Riding Hood" by John Everett Millais, 1865.

Submitted: March 14, 2017

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Submitted: March 14, 2017

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“You’re getting to be a big girl, Ayla.”

At first, Ayla was proud that Irmel saw fit to pronounce her a “big girl.” Ayla would beg to help hunt, set up the tent, or cook, but Irmel and Michel needed time to teach her those things and they were running on a scant supply of minutes each day. So the standard response to Ayla’s attempted maturity was: “Get out of the way, you’re too little for this. Find something else you can do.”

 

She picked what berries were there, and was shaken and scolded for finding the only nightshade vines in the forests south of Suvshahar. From then on, she built houses and towns out of twigs, peopling them with ladybeetles and junebugs.She resigned herself to perpetual babyhood, whiling away the time before bed by telling Vadim stories about things like houses and parents. Ayla liked Vadim. He was the only person more useless than she, but Vadim was four and Ayla was eight. Vadim had recently picked up a cough that Irmel said was due to spending too many nights outside in damp weather. It hadn’t always been like this.

 

Irmel was her older sister, and they had lived out on a farm towards the southern ports in Abhainn. Where the Troubles started. There was a house. Every spring, the Elurra tree by their front door with white flowers as big as her head would bloom, its fragrance infusing the air with a smell like the vanilla and cinnamon that came from across the sea.

 

“There’s no perfume as fine as the Elurra trees opening  in  the spring,” her mother said once. The apple trees  in the orchard blossomed, scattering their petals in pink flakes. And the apples fell in the autumn. Looking back on it, Ayla realized their lives then were effortless. Irmel and Ayla just had to wait for good things to land by their feet. No running was required.

 

One night, the sounds of birds ending their songs and the rushing Ragas river did not lull Ayla to sleep as usual.  She was kept up by too many feet pounding the road in time and the whistling of crossbow bolts. Irmel shoved her into a big linen chest and told her not to make a sound. It was dark in the linen chest. She could not move, and was convinced the hole in the back was too small for air, so she tried not to breathe.

 

 

When Irmel finally unlocked the chest, she had a black eye and her right arm was cut. Her dark hair was no longer in its shiny, tight braid but frizzed around her head like a lion’s mane. She roughly pulled her sister out of the prison of lavender-scented flannel and when Ayla inquired about the whereabouts of their parents, she just said that they had gone to Heaven. They packed up what they could find and carry in their ransacked house. When Ayla was tasked with pulling the carrots in the vegetable garden, she saw two mounds of loose dirt in the corner under an oak tree, each about as long and wide as a coffin. When she asked Irmel about them, she was told to stop asking questions.  They left with curly-haired Michel who lived on the next farm and whose parents had also “gone to heaven”, and little Vadim, whom they found by the side of the road on the second day. They took the track into the heart of the forest and kept moving. Michel insisted they move at night.

 

“Michel, we can’t see at night,” Irmel pleaded. “And the children want to sleep then no matter what we do.”

 

Michel sighed and slumped forward, giving the impression of a tree bowing in the wind as his skin was  the same color of cedar bark and his hair would make a wonderful shrub if he only would dye it green as Ayla once begged him to. “I know we can’t see at night, but neither can they. And your sister could be a problem during the day.”

 

“I am not a problem!” Ayla declared. “I am good. I help clean and I stay where you can see me.”

 

Irmel gave Michel a warning look. “Ayla, remember what Papa used to say when you were being naughty and you knew it?”

 

“He said: ‘Why did we steal this girl? She’s too much trouble.’ I don’t know what you mean.”

 

“Some people would say that we stole you and try to take you away from us.”

 

“Why?”

 

“Because you look like a little fairy child, not a farmer’s daughter. Not enough like me, anyway.”  This was true.  Irmel had tan skin from the sun, dark hair, and brown eyes. Ayla was blonde, a shade paler than her sister, and blue-eyed. But the farmers of Abhainn had intermarried with merchants and sailors from across the sea for long enough that an occasional child who resembled neither of the parents would not launch accusations of adultery. Father said that Ayla looked just like his mother when she was young. Ayla was too intrigued by the thought that some people would call her a stolen child to wonder who they were, who made them wear such silly red and yellow jackets and shoot people, and the exact way her parents went to heaven.

 

It was settled. Irmel and Michel said they were going north to stay with Michel’s aunt in the city of  Suvshahar. Until then, Michel and Irmel were grown up. At the ages of fifteen and fourteen, respectively. It was an odd thought.

 

After Ayla was declared a big girl, she had the privilege of washing out the soup pot. They had a good dinner that morning. There was soup with rabbit courtesy of Michel’s sling and potatoes from another abandoned kitchen garden. Somehow, Irmel had procured a loaf of good white bread.

 

“Where did you get the bread?” Ayla was not so scared to ask questions now that she was big.

 

“The good fairies gave it to us a few days ago.” Irmel smiled. “Do you want to see if the fairies have anything more for us this morning?”

 

Something about Irmel’s sly look led Ayla to suspect she was joking.

 

“Fairies don’t exist, Irmel. I’m a big girl. I don’t believe in them.”

 

“Spoken like a true child,” said Irmel as she tucked Ayla’s runaway blonde hairs back under her red hood. “Go to the back step of that house through the trees and see.”

Ayla gulped. Houses were dangerous these days. Anything could be living in them. Best to stay behind the tree line, as Irmel and Michel told them repeatedly. Until now.

 

“Don’t worry, Ayla, it’s a fairy house. I looked at it before I even considered sending you there.”

 

Irmel placed one of their few baskets into her hands, covering it with the red-checked napkin. “Put what you find on the fairies’ back step  in this basket and bring it back to us. I don’t know how generous these fairies will be, but I know we won’t see any for a while after we get walking again. If you can see something that needs tidying up, do it but don’t take too long about it. Go on!”

 

Ayla crept away from their camp to where the trees were growing thinner. The Fairy House stood on its own in the middle of a field. It looked like their old house with its white plaster and dark wood beams. The things inside could be fairies, but they may as well have been nasty people that would throw stones and set their dogs on Ayla because she and her tent-mates now fell into the broad category of “ Southern Wanderers”, which meant they were liable in the minds of some to steal everything from chickens to children. Why some people thought this mystified Ayla as she knew Irmel and Michel had enough worry looking after her and Vadim. And if there was no sharp-tongued farm wife lurking behind the door with a heavy stick, the house could be sheltering soldiers, men who were professionals at inflicting pain. She gave the path one last terrified glance and  sprinted across the grass. It was starting to get light.  She’d  have to move quickly.

 

The back step was quite visible because the house was built facing away from the forest. There was a loaf of bread on a clean cloth and a full wineskin. It looked like it would have been a nice place to sit in the sun, but needed sweeping. Someone, presumably some lazy fairy, had leaned a broom against the wall. Ayla swept the back step, grabbed the bread and wineskin, and ran away. Her feet squished in the mud  in front of the step.

She tripped over a root once she was into the undergrowth, but managed to catch the bread as it slid out of the basket and right the wineskin. Dusting herself off, she walked back to her sister and her friends.

 

“Ah, the fairies were generous”, said Michel. “I wonder what’s in the wineskin.” He unscrewed the top. “Milk! Come here, Vadim.” He took out a couple of cups from their pack and filled them up. Vadim crawled out of his blankets and gratefully slurped up the contents of his cup. Ayla demurely sipped the milk. It was quite good. Irmel was finishing the washing and hanging it on branches so it would dry while they slept.

 

“Michel,” Ayla asked, “what is Suvshahar like?”

 

Michel smiled grimly. “We’ve still got twenty miles to go till we get there. I’ve only visited once. There are lots of great big houses of stone. When we are living there, you can go to school. That is in it’s own stone house. It will be colder than what we’re used to, as Suvshahar is in the north. I’ve heard tell that there are people with blue skin in the hills.”

 

“Blue skin?!” Ayla was shocked.

 

“Well, some people are pale and whitish like you, some are brown like me, and people come in every shade from whiter than you to coal-black, so it stands to reason that blue people fit somewhere in there.” Michel took their empty cups.

 

“I hope we see some”, Vadim sleepily muttered.Michel made a mental note to see to it that Vadim got some more milk when he woke up.

“If we should, it would not do to stare at them. They are still people like you and I. Bedtime.”  

 

The sunlight dripped through the tree branches and lit the inside of their tent. Ayla took off her red hood and folded it. She stretched out against Irmel. Irmel rested her head on Michel’s shoulder, and Michel wrapped his arms around poor, shivering Vadim. They slept well knowing there would be milk and bread the next night.As the accidental family in the forest went to bed, the inhabitants of the farmhouse were beginning their day. A little boy of eight opened the back door.

 

“Ma! Something did the sweeping and took the bread and milk!” His mother came from the kitchen.

 

“Let’s see. Yes, the fairies came last night.”

 

“Are you sure it’s the fairies? You could of done that, Ma.”

 

The woman stepped outside and brushed the flour off her hands. “Well, I certainly didn’t leave those footprints,” she remarked, gesturing to the imprints of a tiny pair of shoes in the mud leading to and away from the step. “Those look like fairy tracks.”

 

The boy was impressed. “If I leave bread and milk in my room, will they clean it?”

 

“No, Heinrich. The fairies are very busy going from place to place. They have their own fairy families to look after too. Just be lucky they swept the back for you.” They went inside.The mother made more bread and Heinrich finally cleaned his room. He pretended he was a cleaning fairy but didn’t tell anybody that because it was a silly thing to do.

Long after the war ended and Ayla became an old woman, the people in the countryside of Abhainn still put out bread and milk for the fairies. Usually the cat would drink the milk and the mice would gnaw the bread. But sometimes, both would disappear without a trace and the step would be swept, or if there was a lot of bread and milk, something would chop some wood and put it in a neat little pile.


© Copyright 2017 Alard Ermentrud. All rights reserved.

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