The elf hung upside down, suspended from a tree branch by a cleverly hidden rope. He was angry. Mostly at himself, for not having seen the trap, but also at the human who had dared to erect it.
He knew he had to free himself before the human came back to check on his trap. Humans didn’t know elves existed and the elves wanted to keep it that way. Humans had a nasty habit of imprisoning and dissecting any being they didn’t understand.
Calling for help was useless. Not many elves ventured this far from their hidden city. And who knew if there were any humans lurking about? He twisted, trying to reach to untie the knot. But as strong as he thought he was, he lacked the upper body strength to reach.
The bushes behind him rustled and he instinctually froze. Surely the human hadn’t come back so early? But the rustling quickly stopped. He pushed his hands off the ground, spinning around to face the source of the noise. He didn’t see anything and assuming it must have been an animal, curious as to what he was doing.
Reassured, the elf reached for his hunting knife. He wasn’t able to reach the knot to untie it, but he could reach the rope in general. If he could cut the rope, he’d be free. But alas, it was not to be. When the rope was cut through halfway, he again heard rustling. He once again spun around, but his spin went uncontrolled and he revolved several times before he could gain control. Dizzy, he realized he no longer held his knife. Frantically looking for it, he found it several yards away, far out of his reach. It must have flown from his hand and sailed through the air. Not good. He looked up, studying the rope. It was a little more than halfway cut, but waiting for it to fray and break under his weight would take an eternity. He needed a new plan. A foolproof plan. Unfortunately he had nothing.
The rustling came again, this time from right in front of him. He watched the bushes closely and was surprised when a butterfly flew out.
“Huh. All that noise for a butterfly.”
The butterfly flew closer, close enough that he could make out some details, and he saw it wasn’t a butterfly. It was a tiny woman, dressed in tree bark, with dark green hair and butterfly wings. It was a fairy. He had heard of them, but he had never before seen one. They were a shy and secretive race. He was rather surprised to see one now, but he was so angry at his predicament, he couldn’t do anything but scowl.
The fairy didn’t seem frightened though, turning over so she could see him right side up. She waved.
“You want to help me?” he asked. If he hadn’t scared her off, maybe she could get him down. After all, he didn’t know what fairies were capable of.
The fairy’s face scrunched in a comical expression of thought and concentration. Then she pulled a thorn from her belt and started hacking away at the rope. It took a while, but the rope frayed enough for his weight to take over and snap the rope. He fell to the ground in a heap. The fairy doubled over in laughter, though no sound could be heard. He supposed that she was so small, her voice was too high-pitched for him to hear.
“Thank you, uh, I don’t know your name,” he said when he sat up. The fairy opened her mouth and gestured. “I can’t hear you.” The fairy frowned and looked around. Then looked some more. Eyes widening, she flew over to a tree.
“You’re name is Tree?” The fairy shook her head and gestured again. “Something about this particular tree?”
She shook her head yes.
“I know! Aspen, is that it?”
She shook her head yes, a large grin on her face.
“Hello, Aspen. I’m Cedar.”
The fairy gave an exaggerated wave. She had to in order to be seen for she was no bigger than his thumb.
“Thank you again, Aspen,” Cedar said, retrieving his knife and moving away. The fairy didn’t seem to like that for she flew after him, tugging at his hair and pointing in the other direction. He ignored her and continued walking. To get to his home, he had to walk in his current direction. He had no intention of going the other way, despite Aspen’s protests.
He should have listened to her, he quickly realized.
A long detour would have been preferable than dealing with the bear that towered in front of him. He froze, unable to anticipate the bear’s next move. If he didn’t move, maybe the bear wouldn’t see him as a threat and lumber away. Maybe. As long as the blighted fairy didn’t do something stupid. Speaking of the fairy, he suddenly realized he had no idea where she was. She wasn’t hiding in his hair or tugging on it anymore.
A long moment passed as the bear stared at Cedar, sizing him up. He didn’t move, he didn’t breathe, he didn’t blink.
The leaves rustled in the trees behind the bear. Momentarily distracted, the bear turned and Cedar slowly backed away. As he did, he caught sight of her flitting through the trees, grabbing the branches and giving them a good shake before flying to another branch. He could have hugged her. If he wasn’t a thousand times bigger than her, that is.
The bear turned and lumbered off, apparently deciding he wasn’t that much of a threat after all. He kept retreating in the opposite direction until his adrenaline caught hold of him and he ran.
He stopped running a good league away, bent over double, trying to catch his breath. Resolved to listen to the little fairy next time, he wondered where she had gone. Surely she hadn’t hung around after the bear left.
But no, there she was, flying towards him as fast as her little wings would allow. He held out his hand and she dropped into it, wings drooping. He had never seen a sight that filled him with more relief.
“I don’t suppose you know where we are? Or where water is?” he asked. Aspen just looked at him, then tiredly pointed. He followed her directions for a good ten minutes before he came across a small stream trickling through the forest. Gently setting her down on the banks of the stream, he knelt down and cupped his hands, first drinking the water then pouring it on his head in an attempt to cool off. Aspen simply walked into the water, using it as her own personal swimming pool. Considering her size, it probably was.
Without warning, she jumped into the air, her wet wings refusing to take her very far. Her gaze was fixed in the distance and when Cedar squinted, he could see an expression of worry on her tiny face.
“What is it? What’s wrong?”
But she didn’t answer him, instead darting away. He debated letting her be, but the expression on her face made him follow. And he was glad he did. Hiding in the bushes, he took in the situation. Fairies were flying every which direction in a state of panic. What looked like little houses had been knocked from their perches in the trees. Debris laid everywhere on the forest floor. And a bear was rampaging through it all. Although there were no significant markings, Cedar was sure it was the same bear. But why would it attack the fairy village unprovoked?
A sharp tug of his hair stopped his observations. He glanced to the side and saw none other than Aspen. He wanted to tell her to stop, but she wasn’t paying him any attention. She was too busy pointing at his bow strapped across his back. He knew without asking what she wanted him to do, although now that she had his attention, she was pantomiming her wishes. He turned back to the scene unfolding before him. As an elf, he revered all life, including life that did not share that reverence. He hated taking a life, even when it was necessary. And this, he finally concluded, was a necessary situation. The loss of life was already too high.
As Aspen’s pantomimes became more frantic, Cedar unslung his bow and nocked an arrow. He handed her a second one, just in case the first didn’t kill the bear. The arrow’s weight caused her to suddenly lose altitude and she settled on a tree branch, using it to help her keep hold of it.
He lined up the shot, ready to fire, then stopped.
He couldn’t do it.
It was too abhorrent.
He could never take a life.
Aspen became panicked once more, even more so when he handed her the other arrow. Then he put his bow back on his back and she completely lost it. The arrows dropped from her hands and he swore she was yelling at him. Thinking it was a good thing she couldn’t be heard, he ran through the clearing, straight at the bear, yelling as he went. The bear stopped, paw midswipe, and looked at him with bright eyes. Suddenly finding some courage, or having suddenly lost all sense of reason, he got closer to the bear, yelling louder. If he didn’t have the bear’s attention, he certainly did now. He took off running as fast as his legs would carry him, a very enraged bear behind him.
This revealed a small flaw in his plan, or lack of one.
Now that the bear was following him and out of the village, how was he going to lose the bear? Preferably without getting himself killed?
Crashing through the underbrush, he realized he knew where he was. He changed his direction slightly. Then he jumped. Straight off a cliff.
He landed in the icy river below him, the impact jarring every bone in his body. The bear soon followed, the surging waters carrying him far away. Cedar swam to the bank and climbed out, collapsing in the dirt. Then he laughed, the effect of the adrenaline fading away and of realizing he’d survived. And he had survived. So had the bear. He wasn’t sure he could pull it off, but then, he supposed he got really lucky.
Shaking, he eventually pulled himself together and began the long walk back home.
Much to his surprise, it wasn’t the only time he saw Aspen or any of the other fairies. Grateful that he’d lured the bear away, and kept it alive, they revealed their presence to him and only him. They were as a whole annoying little pests, but they grew on him. And they were very diligent about warning him about dangers and guiding him away. This time, he listened.
The only fairy he liked was Aspen. She seemed to return the sentiment and often sought him out. He was glad for the company, even if she was hyper and constantly in motion. She was also playful and liked to sneak up on him. She tended to make him laugh a lot.
So when she became sullen and withdrawn, he noticed.
He asked her about it once or twice, but she never answered. Not really. She pantomimed being hot or thirsty or sick, but he knew those weren’t the real reasons. But she didn’t seem to be in any trouble so he let it go, preferring instead to go exploring with her. She knew the forest much better than he did and was always showing him new types of flowers and secret places the forest hid. And even though they couldn’t speak to each other the conventional way, they managed to hold conversations using special codes and hand gestures.
One day, she asked him to meet her in a week’s time at the waterfalls. The request was odd, but he agreed nonetheless. She looked relieved, almost happy even, and immediately flew off.
Cedar didn’t see her at all that week and missed her presence immensely.
When the designated meeting time came, he rushed to the meeting place, even arriving early. A whole day early. He was determined not to miss her.
Right on time, she arrived but not as he had expected her too. He blinked and furiously rubbed at his eyes, convinced that this was some sort of trick.
But it was no trick.
There she stood, five feet tall, no wings in sight.
“Aspen?” he asked, coming into her line of sight. Her gaze immediately found his.
“I think that’s my name,” she said, her voice light and airy.
“You think?” he asked, suddenly getting the gut feeling that something was amiss. She frowned and looked down at a piece of paper clutched in her hand. “What’s that?” He tried to hide the rising panic from his voice. She handed him the paper.
Dear, dear Cedar,
This is me, Aspen. But you’re smart, you’ve figured that out already. I did this for me, for you, for us. See, silly old me fell in love with you. I’m not sure when. Maybe it was when you didn’t listen to me about the bear. Maybe it was when you saved my village. Or maybe it was when we were exploring the forest. Either way, I fell and I fell hard. But I’m not stupid. Being so small compared to you, well, it would never have worked now would it? So I did this. Maybe it’s stupid of me. But if there’s even one small chance I can be with you, then I’m willing to take it.
Dear, dear Cedar, the mage says he will make me human. He says it will take away my wings. That I’ll never fly again. And I’m scared. He says I will forget who I am. He says I’ll forget everything. So please, Cedar, if you ever valued my friendship, tell me who I am. Tell me how we met, how you saved my people, how we went on adventures. Tell me everything. Tell me of you, of me, of us.
I fell in love with you once, I know I will do so again.
All my love,
“By the stars, Aspen, what have you done?”
“I-I don’t know.”
“Oh, Aspen,” he said. He could tell she was frightened, but then, so was he. What she had done was incredibly stupid, but he found he couldn’t fault her for it. Not when he cared so much for her. Was it love? He didn’t know. He’d never been in love before. What he did know was that seeing her like this was tugging at his heartstrings. He wanted to protect her more than anything.
“Do you know who I am?” she asked.
“Yes, I do. I’m Cedar. I was your friend and I hope to be your friend still. Why don’t you come here and sit? I’ll tell you all about yourself.”
“Alright,” she said, sitting on the moss next to him.
And so, he began to talk, starting with how they first met.
High up in the branches, hidden from their sight, the fairies watched, knowing smiles on their faces.