If there ever was a faerie who would avoid trouble at any cost, it was Ailem. Ailem is that elf you see, who looks about twelve years old, the one busy plaiting twine around his drum.
Of course, when we say twelve years old, it can be very confusing, because in The Realms, time has its way of twisting and turning. Ailem and his twin sister, Bibi, for instance, decided to stay seven for a very long time, finding it to be a most enjoyable age. Can you see Bibi, the fairy with the dark hair, cleaning her flute?
Totally unaware of the dire events about to turn The Realms upside down, Ailem and Bibi were arguing with Trikson Troll, their childhood friend.
Trikson, an agile young troll, around fifteen years old, give or take a few, leapt onto a log, to gain a height advantage, which he certainly didn’t have. His big hairy toes curled over the edge of the wood.
‘Oh, come on you two, it’s going to be awesome. You can’t miss out on this one. It’s the party of the centuries.’ he said, frustrated at his friends’ all too familiar reluctance to come to town.
Bibi, looking dreamily up from cleaning her flute and swinging her long dark hair away from her face, laughed. ‘We agree, Trikson, it will be huge and certainly nobody in the crowds will miss two quiet little forest dwellers like us.’
‘That’s where you’re wrong. I for one will be absolutely aware that there is a space where you should be. What is it with you two? Don’t you ever want to be with your friends?’ He gave his most forlorn look, crumpling his plump round cheeks as far as was possible into a sad, abandoned expression.
At this, Ailem looked up with a start. He hadn’t been paying a lot of attention, because he had been concentrating on the ache in his slim fingers as he tugged at the wiry twine that kept his drum in tune. He hadn’t thought how it would seem to his friend that he and his sister so rarely joined the others for celebrations. He could see now how others might interpret this as being unfriendly. And Ailem did value his friends. Especially Trikson, the best kind of friend an elf could have. He was happy and generous and funny. His jokes and riddles, while they could sometimes be rather gross, were always good for a laugh.
Ailem jumped to his feet and leapt onto the log with his friend, thumping him on the back.
‘You obviously need my drum in the circle, Triks, and I wouldn’t miss it for the realms!’
The troll, losing his balance with that friendly thump, tumbled off the log and landed in a heap. Trying to look dignified with leaves and bark sticking out of his fuzzy orange hair, he responded triumphantly, ‘Great! It’ll be magic. Then we can count you in as well, Bibi?’
‘Oh, okay,’ said Bibi, ‘I suppose it is time I came to town to find out the latest gossip. I’ll call Fairy Marie and talk about what to wear.’
Faeries as a rule don’t pay much attention to belongings, finding them a bore to store and wanting nothing to do with dusting, but when it comes to faerie wear, it is quite another story. They see clothing design as one of the highest forms of creativity and delight in using the materials of the garden and forest to concoct splendid, wild costumes to dress up for an occasion. They don’t expect their creations to last; the next day, they simply throw them into the forest and in a day or two, the whole pile becomes compost for the forest floor.
Fairy Marie, who lived down where the forest meets the sea, was the undisputed expert on the latest fashion trends and was sure to know what berries would make the cutest hair garland. Bibi put down her flute on a bed of leaves and started to scribble a message to Marie. A messenger bird, a blue fairy wren, flew down and sat on her shoulder, eager to see what the message would be.
‘You’ll excuse us if we leave you to it, fairy girl?’ winked Trikson, not being too keen himself on the fashion scene.
When Bibi didn’t even notice that the troll had spoken, the boys took this as a sign she would be preoccupied for some time. Trikson grabbed Ailem by the arm and pulled him playfully to the waterfall, daring him to be the first to jump. The waterfall was steep, with crystal clear water tumbling down to a deep green pool at the base. The boys stood at the top, taking a deep breath, ready for the plunge. Around them, hundreds of tiny black willy wagtails twittered madly, egging them on.
Trolls and faeries are quite different types of creatures, trolls being far heavier and not being able to fly. Trikson had soft pinkish skin, with orange freckles and hair to match. Ailem was taller and yet far lighter than the troll and his skin, like his sister’s was almost bluish and could appear transparent in some lights. His hair was long and dark and always looked windswept, which it often was, since he flew most places.
The rules of waterfall jumping had to somehow take account of their differences.
‘No using wings, right?’ said Trikson.
‘Agreed, but do I need to tie rocks around my ankles to make me heavier?’ .
“I’ll let you off this time,’ responded Triks, poised to jump.
He took a leap and hit the pool at the base of the waterfall with a loud splash, before Ailem’s graceful dive hardly disturbed the water. They both emerged, roaring with laughter and began their climb to the top, ready to jump again.
Of course, as they climbed the rocks, Trikson had to throw in a riddle.
‘What has ten legs, three heads, long ears, horns and two tails and climbs rocks with ease?’
‘No idea, as usual,’ puffed Ailem.
‘An elf, with his pet rabbit, riding on a goat!’ said Trikson, laughing loudly, as he usually did, at his own joke.
When they reached the top of their climb, someone Ailem would have preferred not to see was standing there, arms folded across his well - muscled chest. It was Lorz, a goblin from town, a well known trouble-maker.
‘Well, if it isn’t the faerie boy and the troll sidekick,’ he said.
Lorz had the knack of saying something in an ordinary tone of voice and making it sound like your worst nightmare was about to come true.
Trikson never seemed to take any notice of Lorz and his mates, but they bothered Ailem. They bothered him a lot. He would have liked to have said ‘He’s not a sidekick, he’s my friend.’ But he knew it would sound stupid, the minute he said it, so he kept his mouth shut. And what would he do anyway, if Lorz wanted to take it further. He was certainly no hero. No, it was better to keep quiet.
Lorz did a perfect dive off the waterfall and Trikson leapt after him, but the fun had gone out of it for Ailem. He couldn’t stand this kind of trouble.
In fact, he hated any arguments, conflict or tension. He couldn’t explain it; it was like an allergy. If he ever so much as sensed disharmony, he was out of there. In fact his friends had nick-named him Flit, because of his habit of disappearing in an instant, the moment he sensed trouble.
3: Tally of Virtues
At the Council of the Elder Ones, Ailem and his tendency to shy away from trouble was at this very moment being discussed.
The Elder Ones were the most respected folk of The Realms, the older wizards and witches, the ancient folk of the sea, the wizened old gnomes, goblins and trolls, the king and queen faeries. They met in the Great Council Hall.
Tulzo, the silken bearded wizard from the south, spoke first. ‘He is doing very well in the Kindness tally,’ he said, crinkling his ancient eyebrows. ‘Look at this,’ he said, indicating with his wand, a laser beam of light, ‘very impressive, five star rating.’
The old wizard had pointed to a huge glowing screen, which took up one whole wall of the council chamber. The words, “Tally of Virtues” were written at the top of the screen. He pointed again, further down the list. ‘And look at this, he is progressing well in “Humour, the ability to take oneself lightly”. See, three stars.’
Now Hollibina, a tubby witch in a brown cloak, spoke up, a little iritation showing in her voice. ‘Yes, well, he’s a faerie, so that is to be expected, they are all quite naturally gifted in this area,’ she said. ‘It is, after all, partly why they can fly!’
Tulzo responded defensively, ‘He and his sister did pass their Base Acceptable Level of Giggles at a very young age.’
Now Hollibina was getting exasperated.
‘Huh, the Base Acceptable Level of Giggles is the lowest qualification acceptable for the granting of wishes. Of course they were going to pass that!’ She sat her plump body down with a deliberately noisy thud and crossed her arms, as though she was not going to listen to any more of this nonsense.
‘All I was saying is, the boy knows how to have fun,’ said Tulzo with an approving smile.
‘That’s all well and good,’ said Hollibina from her seat. ‘But what good are Kindness and Humour going to do him, with what we have in mind?’
‘Exactly what I was thinking, Hollibina,’ added Grenda, an ancient fairy. ‘He’s going to need very big doses of Courage. Let’s see how he’s doing in that department.’
The screen moved automatically to give the information they sought.
‘Physical Courage, five stars, excellent,’ said Tulzo. ‘Mmm, but, oh yes, I do see your point. Moral Courage, only half a star..... hmm, yes,’ he said, stroking his long beard and looking concerned.
Tulzo went on, thoughtfully, ‘Since his parents disappeared into the Human Realms, he never ventures far from home, so he doesn’t have much experience. It will be interesting to see if Ailem takes on the challenge we have in mind for him.’
‘What’s the latest on the parents?’ asked Hollibina. ‘When was the last search party sent?’
‘We have all but given up,’ said Tulzo. ‘If you remember, it happened when the twins were around eight. Now they are, er, how old? Twelve?’
Grenda, the old fairy, wobbling a little as she leant on her walking stick, spoke again. ‘They have been stuck at twelve for some time now, haven’t they? I wonder if they have noticed?’
Now, a grey haired goblin called Falco spoke. ‘With all of this, is it really wise to present young Ailem with this task?’ he pondered. ‘After all, the fate of The Realms may rest with his ability to rise to the occasion.’
Falco scratched his wrinkled chin and many of the others followed him in this action. It seemed to be the thing to do when a big decision was being considered.
Now Reboya, the Grand Wizard, who had been sitting back and taking all of this in, spoke. His twinkling eyes revealed a curious sense of amusement. ‘Oh, dear, you are sounding like the teachers!’ he sighed, tossing his blue velvet cloak back from his shoulders. ‘It is not wise to take yourselves so seriously. It is only our job to put the challenge his way. If the lad manages, fine and well. If he doesn’t, then there will be other times and other places. Even if everything goes up in smoke, it is all a game, to be played again and again. You of all beings should know that!’
The stars on his cloak glimmered as he spoke.
‘A timely reminder, Reboya, you have not wasted your 700 years of existence.’ said Tulzo. ‘And, we have to remember that Ailem has friends to help him in the task.... Let the action begin!’