A Fairy Tale

Once upon a time, in a kingdom called Xarda not so very far away a lovely elfin girl was given by the gods to Dandra and Arles. Xandria was born with three particular assets; a brilliant smile, bright green eyes that held the sparkle of a sun-danced wave, and magical powers.

Of course, magic comes easily to elves, for Xandria was an elf, you see, but it was unusual that they could wield wonders without some basic instruction. Dandra and Arles noticed right away that Xandria could make the animals laugh and talk just by glancing in their direction and it made them very proud. Xandria's parents whispered together of how powerful and great their tiny child would be, what great miracles she would bring to the world.

Xandria was adored by her parents and for the first year everything seemed to be as good as things can be, which in the elfin world is just about perfect. Then, one day as Arles was building a ship for a troop of adventurous elves, a soft, alluring ocean breeze swept over him. As the air filled his lungs, the unutterable call of the Sea Spirit rang in his ears and his heart swelled with a terrible desire. The still air that hung over the land rasped hot and dry in his lungs and a moment later he cast his soul onto the swift ebb of an ocean wave.

Arles was gone.

When Dandra discovered her loss she was stunned with anger and a bitterness toward the Fates who swept her husband away. A resigned despair settled over her spirit and she felt certain that she could not manage on her own. As acrid tears slid down her throat she packed Xandria's things and sent her to live with a family of old, childless gnomes deep in the Azure Forest.

They were a kindly pair, the old gnomes, gentle and good, but they didn't speak the elfin tongue and they didn't understand the child's words. Worse, they were confused by her tears, for gnomes, as you may know, don't cry.

Gnomes do understand sadness, though, and they knew the plaintive cries welled from the cruel loss of her father. To quiet her they lavished her with affection and stuffed her open mouth with sweet meats and fragrant nectars.

Dandra visited as often as she could, and, she, too brought guilt-laden gifts to spoil the child, though Dandra's presents were magical words and secret incantations. Time passed quickly and Xandria grew tall, though quite round for an elf. She carried herself with a strong measure of pride and a touch of arrogance, and she seemed magical beyond her years.

One day, shortly before she turned six, Dandra took her back from the gnomes, to a small tree where the forest dropped into the sea. There the two might at last live happily together, Dandra thought, but Xandria had grown strong-willed from indulgence and praise and she clashed often with her mother. The Furies would visit Dandra then, and she would threaten to send Xandria to live with the Ugly family of Crabs in their dark cave by the sea.

Terrified, Xandria would crawl into a knotty hollow in the tree and cry. The hollow was warm, but it was dark and it frightened her, too. If only she could fill it with the soft feathers of birds and silken flower petals, it wouldn't be such a scary place, she thought.

She spent all her time gathering blossoms and quills -- and no time practicing magic. And still the trunk of the tree remained dark and hollow, as if a bottomless pit swallowed all her soft presents. And little by little the animals laughed less and stopped talking to her altogether.

All the animals, that is, except for the butterflies, who flocked about her head smiling all the time and whispering. Xandria at first, did not notice them, but one especially persistent Monarch finally caught her attention.

Who are you, Xandria asked, and why do you still talk to me when all the other animals have stopped?

My name is Athene, said the butterfly, and I belong to you. You could hear me even if you had never uttered one magical word. But you must listen carefully and you must stop trying to fill up the tree trunk. It is your own Self you must fill.

Xandria cried a long time before she spoke again to Athene.

And where am I to find what I need? she asked.

In your heart, said Athene, you need only look within.

The End

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