Monday, November 21, 2011

The Tumbledown Fairies Grow Tall

The tumbledown fairies loved mischief, and it was this mischief, more than anything that earned them their reputation as the king’s naughtiest subjects.  It was the fairies no less who baked the blackbirds that they might sing from the pie and it was they too who tickled the forlorn maid, causing her to squeal with delight as her pecked nose came to rest beneath the large, warm seat of an old mother swan.
The indignity of this deed, a poor maid laughing at the loss of her very own nose, did nothing to interrupt the fairies’ afternoon sport.  No sooner indeed had the dear old bird settled with grace upon her unexpected care, the sound of its sneezes causing her to look uncertainly about, than the round-faced tumbledowns were skipping off in search of some new naughty quest.
It was to be found on the evening of that long summer’s day in the square of garden beneath the splendid gold casing of the ever watchful royal window.  No fairy in all the land could doubt the greatness of the king’s displeasure, if he were to catch them there.  And so it was with the quietest of giggles, and the gentlest of skippings that Flora Tumbleden climbed over the garden wall.
The royal gaze, occupied at that very moment with the most serious of stately matters, the counting of the few remaining gold pieces, did not notice Flora’s stick-like form, despite the large knobbles of her nose, feet and hands.  Nor did the ever vigilant royal eye catch the flutter of the many-coloured petal-rags in which Flora’s friends were dressed.
The sound indeed that travelled to the royal ear was no louder than that of a common cabbage butterfly, and the hushed giggles of the tumbledowns might have been a mere whisper from the many flowers the king dressed his garden in.  And so the royal thought remained upon the shortages of the royal mint as the king counted out his holdings once again.
“One, two, three, four, five.”
Flora and her friends cared little for such important business, intent as they were upon matters of a mischievous sort.  Their eyes fixed firmly upon the purple petals of an aster, they climbed slowly up the long green stem, their sharp white teeth already imagining the golden crunch of the stamen, just as their bellies, stretched now and empty of food, longed for the rich sweetness of the aster’s pollen.
It was this, the most treasured of the garden’s delights that kept the fairies climbing on and on, past the thin green leaves, their tiny knobbled fingers stretching high above their heads and pulling their long, thin bodies upwards, causing their tired, brown feet to scrabble among the plant’s many fibres as they gave chase to their very own legs.
It might have been bedtime when they arrived on to the golden platform, so long was their climb, and the thought of the cosy petal hammocks in which they nightly slept made them cranky for their homes.  Only Flora, the naughtiest tumbledown of all, could still think of any wickedness.  She stepped forward on to the king’s flower, bowed low before her watching friends and spoke without a care.
            “I’m tall”, she announced in her most important, grown-up voice, “so tall I could eat a horseleech.”
The fairies laughed loud at these mischievous words, the thought of the slimy, black leeches wriggling down into their tummies, making them squirm and skip in delight.
            “I’m tall”, said Dente, taking up the fun and stepping forward to join his friend, “so tall I could eat a horse mushroom.”
This food, a favourite of the fairies, brought more laughter, and as they danced and skipped, not caring for the noise they made, Ferkel now joined the game.  Ferkel was the smallest of the tiny fairies, with a black tuft of hair on his round head.  He wore a bright red tulip tunic over his stick frame, and he stretched up on his toes as he spoke, his dark eyes glistening with naughty delight.
            “I’m tall,” he said, his voice as loud and important as the other two, “so tall I could eat a horseslip.”
This strange slip, better known for its attachment to a cow, brought no response at all from the waiting fairies.  The tumbledowns liked their silliness to make sense and so they looked on and waited, and as they did Ferkel’s eyes started to glisten now with sadness.  If it had not been for Flora’s wicked behaviour he would indeed have told them that he wished he had not come on the silly adventure at all.
But Flora knew that the best way to cure a fairy from his cranky words was to fill his belly with delicious food.  And so she broke the tallest stamen of them all, its yellow needle reddened from the rich juice it contained, and without any care for the king whose royal flowers she was proposing to eat she began the feast with a noisy, hungry chomp.
There was no need for sadness now, nor cranky thoughts of bed.  The fairies all were friends again and they danced and skipped and laughed as they fed, soon turning the tidy aster into a fairy mess.  It was to this mess that the king’s eye was drawn, but even as he reached for the spray it was sleep-time and they were gone, cosy in their hammocks, dreaming of the wicked deeds that would surely come when they awoke.
©2011 Padraig De Brún

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