Not too far from you, but maybe farther than you can see, is a forest. You would find this forest on a map, and it even has a name that humans have given it. This forest is also a place where magic exists, where mythical creatures are real, and where a dream can be made into reality with no more than a wish. You may call it one name, but to others, the forest is called Everwood, and it is a fantastical place.
* * *
It was Poppy Dell who saw the first changed leaf of autumn that year. She was a young elf, only three years old, and she was the one to see the bright flash of autumn red, high in the maple tree closest to her home. Every year, every season, it was an elf child who first noticed the changes: the first changed leaf, the first snowflake falling, the first sprout reaching up from the ground, the first warm breeze. The elven adults were paying attention, of course, but never quite as much as the elven children.
The red leaf was large with five pointed tips and it stood out from its green brothers and sisters, as if it were a little red boat in the middle of a large, green ocean. Poppy looked up from the grassy clearing and shrieked with delight. She stood almost exactly in the center of the Common, a large circular meadow with worn dirt footpaths coming and going from every direction. Her sister, Fiona, was nearby in the theater, playing on a stone bench.
“Fi Fi!” Poppy yelled toward her sister. “Come here!”
Fiona was accustomed to Poppy yelling her name hysterically, whether Poppy had fallen and hurt herself, or had gotten lost and was frightened, or had simply seen a firefly and was excited. Fiona did not run over to Poppy, but she looked over, rather sleepily, to see Poppy running, her wispy skirts billowing up and her wooden shoes nearly flying off.
“What is it, Poppy?” Fiona asked, still not moving an inch.
“It’s Autumn, Fiona!”
With that, Fiona Dell’s eyes widened and she sprung up from her seat. She put her hands on her hips and looked upward, to the sky. She was searching for the leaf that Poppy had seen. Everyone knew that a red leaf was the first sign of fall in Everwood, and Fiona herself was the one to spot it only four years earlier.
“Where is it?” Fiona asked. Poppy pointed to her left, and Fiona looked. In the distance, she saw a very small speck of red, but it was unmistakable. It was the first changed leaf, and it meant that Autumn was here.
The fact that it was now Autumn was very important to the elves. The first day of Autumn was just as important as the first day of Spring, or of Winter, or of Summer, for that matter. It meant that there was a change in the seasons, and that something new needed to be done. With the changing of the leaves, the elves needed to start working to get ready for the cold weather coming – they would need to harvest their gardens, and chop firewood, and put the finishing touches on knitting their cozy sweaters. And, for the elven children, it meant that school would be beginning again.
The first day of school was always a week later than the first day of Autumn, and the first day of Autumn was always the day that the first leaf changed. Though they studied the seasons and the weather in school, and though very important text books have been written about Autumn, there was always a moment when the text book, or the teacher, would stop and tell everyone that the first changed leaf of autumn couldn’t be explained by science or by facts, but it was one of those things in the world that had to do with magic. In the elf world, there were many, many things that had to do with magic, and weren’t so easy to explain with logic.
“So you get to start school now, right, Fiona?” Poppy asked. The two elf children were still looking up at the little red leaf.
“That’s right,” Fiona said.
Fiona had started classes at the Elven Academy when she was five years old, and this would be her fourth year. She would be starting class again after a whole month off, and she had the same teacher as she had last term – Mr. Pendragon. She would also be in class with the same elves she had been at school with for the past two years. Fiona liked most of her classmates – there were only twenty-two of them, in all – but she loved three in particular: Lyric Sagewood, Walden Alderhill, and Clover Piper were her best friends.
The four elves were eight years old and they had known one another since they were little elven babies. Their parents were friends – a couple of them even worked together – and their pet bugs and snakes were friends. Their houses were all within running distance of one another, and most nights during the school year, they might all be found having dinner together at one elf’s house, or another elf’s house. They had sleepovers and adventures together, and all four knew that they would be friends forever.
The houses were lit up by candlelight in the darkening evening. Though these elven homes were not the type of house that a human might live in, with windows made of glass and walls made out of bricks: these homes were really more like elaborate burrows within the trees, complete with rooms and staircases and specially made wood stoves. In TK, like in any elf village, there were hundreds and hundreds of trees, more than a person could try and count. As elder trees fell, young trees grew bigger and stronger.
There were always plenty for the elves to carve and empty out, where they created bedrooms and kitchens and playrooms, doors and secret passageways and hallways – an entire home inside the tree. Windows and doors were plentiful in these homes, though they were carved-out ovals and circles in the trunk of a tree. From far away, or to human eyes, they likely looked just like little animal holes.
If a human ever came across an elf home – and they rarely every do – that person probably would not recognize it as an elf home at all. That person might stop and look at the tree, and think that they tree looks a tiny bit unusual, what with all of the holes and grooves, and of course, the strong feeling of magic coming from the it, but then the person would most likely keep walking on, and forget all about the tree.
Elves are very good at hiding themselves, even in a forest where humans hardly ever walk. Between skills in camouflage, expertise in building, and a good amount of magic, elves can hide quite well.
“Lyric!” Fiona called to her friend. She saw his bright blue wool cap down the lane. From a distance, it was the only thing that made him stand apart from the other little elves. It was the color of robin’s egg, with large white spots all over. Fiona often wondered if any robins ever flew over the village and spotted Lyric from above, confused and ready to land, thinking it was one of their friend’s eggs.
Lyric stopped and turned, then gave Fiona a big, toothy grin. He waited for her and gave her a hug before they continued walking together toward the tree where the Elven Academy lived.
For a bird, or a fox, or definitely for a person, the distance from home to school wouldn’t be so long – a couple of minutes walking from one side of the village to the other. But for the elves, it took a little longer. They have much shorter legs, along with much shorter bodies, so walking to school really was quite a stroll.
But when Lyric and Fiona arrived at the very old big-leaf maple tree of the Elven Academy, it was like coming back to a second home. The large tree trunk had several openings and doorways, and had been hollowed out just enough to make space for a school, but still keep the tree alive and sturdy. Elven magic had played a key part in carving out the rooms and staircases and windows just right.
“Where’s everyone else?” Lyric wondered to Fiona as they stood outside of the main doorway.
“I don’t know,” Fiona said. “Maybe they’re already inside.”
Together, they nodded, then linked arms and walked inside.
“Good morning, little elves!” Finn Pendragon said to the class of little elves.
That was all he had to say, and twenty-two children ended their excited conversations, and looked up from their benches at their teacher. Mr. Pendragon was, as many of the elven adults said, an exceptional elf. Most everyone in the village knew him, and most everyone who knew him respected him. He was an older elf, with crinkles around his eyes and mouth, as if he had spent a great deal of his life laughing and smiling. He had brown hair the color of rich soil and he always wore his worn wollen red and white mushroom cap. He had a deep voice that was often kind, but that he could make even deeper when he was being stern. When his voice was on, other voices turned off.
Though all of the elf children were watching Mr. Pendragon, that didn’t stop two particular elves, Windy and Raven, from taking turns pulling on Fiona’s ponytail. They sat next to one another behind Fiona, and the moment Mr. Pendragon looked down or to the side, one would take a little pull and snicker almost silently. They seemed to have a particular magic, in that they could be downright bullies without the adult elves ever seeing or noticing. Fiona gave them a dirty look and scooted her chair farther away. The room was tiny, though, and there was only so far her little wooden desk would move. She knew from experience that if she told on them, they would put on innocent faces, widen their huge blue eyes, and claim that they would never, ever do such a thing.
Fiona sighed as Mr. Pendragon announced the math work of the morning. He began writing on the chalkboard while the other elf children wrote in their notebooks, but she just stared at the blank white page in front of her. She wondered if the fairy children or the dwarf children had to deal with mean classmates and math problems.
At the end of the school day, Mr. Pendragon rang the small brass bell that sat on his desk. He told the elves to enjoy the rest of the fine autumn day, and to play in the sunshine before the rainfall that was coming that evening. They had been back in school for almost ten days, an every afternoon had been sunny and warm, but Mr. Pendragon told them that the weather would be changing soon.
The four friends ran down the spiral staircase that led to the front doors of the school tree, avoiding tinier elves in their path. The double doors of the school were held open as elf children left the building in pairs and groups of three and four. A light breeze blew the first fallen leaves into the school’s entryway, and they all shivered as they walked into the patchy sunlight.
Clover and Lyric walked toward their own homes after telling Fiona and Walden about the various chores their parents has asked them to perform.
Fiona and Walden lingered just outside the school’s doors.
“What are you doing this afternoon, Fiona?” Walden asked.
She shrugged and looked out across the Village Common, to where the footpaths ended and the true wild began.
“Nothing? Do you want to go down to the river to look for stones?”
“I don’t know,” Fiona said. She was distracted, and barely heard what Walden had asked her.
Sensing that something wasn’t right, Walden asked his friend what was going on.
Fiona sighed and shrugged again, but when Walden would not look away, she scowled and said, “Windy and Raven were total goblins to me today.”
“Maybe they’re part-goblin! That would explain so much,” Walden replied.
She laughed, but she did not look happy. “They don’t listen to me. They just don’t leave me alone. Today it was back to pulling my ponytail.” Fiona tugged on her light yellow hair to demonstrate.
“Fiona, you have to tell an adult. Tell Mr. Pendragon. Or your parents. Or even their parents! But you need to do something. You can’t let them be so mean to you,” said Walden.
“No one would believe me. Everyone thinks they’re perfect. Even Mr. Pendragon.”
Walden shook his head. “Every elf in our class would believe you, because Windy and Raven have acted the same way to them. Just not as much as they act to you.”
Just the other day, Raven had bumped into him on purpose leaving school, and when Walden stumbled, Raven stuck out her foot to trip Walden.
Fiona was silent.
“Either way,” Walden continued. “They’ve been tormenting you ever since school started back up. It’s not fair. If you don’t talk to one of the adults, then I’ll do it for you.”
That thought made Fiona feel even worse. She didn’t want her friends telling on Windy and Raven for her. The mean elves already had targeted Fiona; if she couldn’t stand up for herself, that would just make her look even weaker.
“I’ll think about it,” she mumbled.
“Okay—but think fast Fiona!” Walden yelped.
“What?” Fiona responded confused.
Before she could turn to look at Walden, she felt a cloth ball hit the back of her head. She rubbed the spot where it had hit, and looked behind her to see Poppy, her sister, smiling and jumping up and down on one foot on the front stoop of their house.
“Fi! Mom and Dad are looking for you!” she yelled.
Fiona picked up her school bag and gave Walden a little half-smile.
“I’ll try to think faster next time,” she said with a little wave, and followed her sister to their home.
Have you ever seen an elf before?
They are experts at hiding, and generally prefer to go unseen by those who are not magical folk. Of course, the fairies, dwarves, gnomes, goblins, and ghosts of the forest see the elves all the time, and vice versa. But a human seeing an elf is a very special thing; even more unusual is for a human to see an entire elven village, though it has certainly happened in the past.
Their villages are found deep within the forest, and occasionally a hiker or a backpacker will come across a village. That person will see the hollowed-out trees encircling a very large clearing, and the thick overhang of branches and leaves, which seem to form a roof over the entire area. The clearing will be empty of trees, but full of curious-looking wooden miniature structures, like tables, benches, signs and fountains.
The trees surrounding this clearing will look different, too. They will appear to have doors and windows on their trunks, low to the ground and up high as well. Above that person’s head will be branches intertwined in complicated patterns, with ropes and swings and walkways, creating floating passageways throughout the clearing.
Even the air in an elven village is different – while most of the forest smells of trees and moss and dirt, the villages will commonly smell like bread baking, or cookies fresh from the oven, or chestnuts roasting over a fire. If you even come across a spot in the woods that mysteriously smells like the most delicious food, it’s likely you’ve come across an elf village – but do not mistake it for a fairy town, which smells more like flowers and honey.
Everwood is home to many elven villages, and these communities are found in the woods all over the world. Golden Grove is the safe haven within the wild dark woodlands surrounding their homes.
And the elves themselves – they often travel far and wide, especially older elves, so even if you have never ventured into the deepest parts of the darkest forests, it’s possible you’ve seen an elf out and about in the world.
If you are a child, and you see a child-elf, the first thing you will notice is the size of that elf – they’re quite small. An adult elf might be about half your size, but a child-elf is even smaller, reaching the height of your knees. And baby-elves are only the size of kittens, and are just as cute, too.
Size aside, elves are remarkably similar to humans. They have regular arms and legs, and a head with hair on it. Unlike the fairies and sprites of Everwood, they are wingless and do not have shimmery skin. Elves have hands and feet similar to those of a person and are able to do most things a person can – play and run, garden and dig, draw and paint, write and read.
What is a bit different, and what can be a distinguishing marker (again, besides their size) is the face of an elf. At first glance, an elf face could be mistaken for a human face. But look closer, if you ever get the chance. You will see noses and chins that are a bit more pointed than you might be used to, and larger ears with sharper tops and bottoms. Their eyes are truly remarkable, though. While a person might say, “I have green eyes,” their green eyes could never compare to an elf’s green eyes (or brown, blue, hazel, purple, yellow, or orange eyes).
An elf’s eyes can be any color found in nature, all except for red. There has never been an elf seen with red eyes. Their eyes are more brilliant than any color you see in your world, and they glow and shine more brightly than they eyes of anyone else inside or outside of the forest.
With her sharp aqua-blue eyes, Fiona looked at her parents. They looked at her with similarly sparkling aqua-blue eyes, but theirs were darkened in anger.
“You left your sister outside alone, again, Fiona,” her mother, Misty Dell, said.
“Lake Sagewood was walking through the village common this morning and found here, and brought Poppy back here. He was wondering why the little elf wasn’t with her sitter,” Fiona’s dad told her.
“Why didn’t you bring her to Dawn’s house, like always?” Her mother asked impatiently.
Fiona sighed. She had meant to, of course. But it was one of those things that she forgot about. It seemed to Fiona that she could only keep a few things in her brain at one time, and as soon as one thought enters, a different, sometimes more important thought, gets pushed out.
She looked at the door. She looked at the brown-red dirt floor and noticed three black pebbles to her right. She looked at anything other than her parents Her mother cleared her throat in irritation. When Fiona looked back up, both sets of flashing eyes were on her, and she scrunched up her mouth.
“Why didn’t you Fiona?” her dad’s tone was a little less angry, and a bit sadder.
She didn’t want to have to say it aloud, but it seemed as if she had no choice: “I really just forgot. Poppy was behind me, like always, then I started thinking about these other kids at school and kind of worrying about them, and I just went to the Academy.” Fiona paused to look up at her parents. “I’m really sorry.”
Now it was their turn to sigh.
“We know, Fiona,” Misty Dell said. She put her hands on Fiona’s shoulders and her bright blue eyes looked softer. Fiona couldn’t stand disappointing her mom, and her mom couldn’t stand being upset with Fiona.
Her father, Ember Dell, looked over his shoulder at the open room behind them. “Dinner is almost ready, everyone,” he said, as a way to change the topic. There was a large black metal pot hung over a roaring fire in the fire pit, and the aroma coming from the pot was delicious – cinnamon and clove and apple for Fiona’s favorite meal, an Apple Stew.
Ember walked to the fire to stir the stew and Misty stayed with Fiona a moment longer. Fiona did not smile or meet her mother’s eyes, but her mother looked deep into her daughter’s eyes.
“What’s distracting you, little honeycomb?” she asked softly.
Fiona’s eyes widened and her mind immediately went to Windy and Raven. The hair-pulling. The tripping. The snickering. The eye-rolling.
She couldn’t help it – a little tear began to form in her right eye, and a dazzling blue tear drop fell right onto her nose.
Still, she said: “Nothing, mom.”
Misty suddenly looked very sad, and hugged her daughter, but did not say anything more.
“Dinner!” Ember Dell sang out.
After the scolding by her parents, Fiona and all of the other elf children had had the weekend ahead of them. This gave Fiona the chance to focus on playing with her friends and painting pictures of the woods and animals, which was one of her favorite pastimes. But soon enough Sunday evening came, and she laid out her woolen clothes in anticipation of the next morning.
The next day was important. Mr. Pendragon knew it. Fiona, Walden, Lyric, and Clover knew it. And all of the other elf children in Year Four knew it. They all went to sleep that night knowing that Monday morning would come very soon, and this would be the morning when the elf children fashioned their very first magic wands.
Even baby elves played with magic wands, but most wands held no real magic in them. Really, they were just sticks. Some had been carved beautifully by older family members, or painted with bright dyes, but a stick wasn’t a magic wand until magic was added.
That Monday morning, the sun was shining on the meadow behind The Academy. A light breeze blew, rustling leaves both on the trees and on the ground, and there was an unmistakable feeling of excitement in the cool, crisp air.
At the edges of the meadow, small groups of rabbits, squirrels, and chipmunks could be seen, watching the elves. Though helpful, kind, and friendly, these animals would never hold magic themselves, and so they enjoyed watching it occur whenever they could. They could smell the magic brewing on the morning wind.
Mr. Pendragon asked each little elf to sit in a circle around him, and he stood tall in the center. In each elf’s hand was a stick. These sticks were chosen by the elves, and had been taken home in September to be carved, shaped, painted, or dyed. Everyone’s stick looked different, though they were all about the same length and width. Some had pictures of animals etched into the bark, some had beautiful designs carved in. Some were red or yellow or green. Some had little knots. Soon, though, they would all hold magic.
Mr. Pendragon held up one of his own magic wands. It was dark brown and completely smooth, except for a miniature carving of an elk in the middle of the stick. Everyone knew that Mr. Pendragon had carved the elk himself, after one of his adventures from many years ago. He had traveled to another magical forest, far from his home, and in his travels and had befriended and even ridden on the back of a great elk.
“Elf magic is special,” the teacher said to the elf children. He turned in a circle as he spoke, so that all of the elves would hear him. His voice held the attention of every last elven child.
“Elf magic is not flashy or showy, and we only use it when our hands and feet, arms and legs, brains and bravery, won’t quite do the trick. You will not be able to summon a dragon with our magic, or fly across the world, but elf magic will help you. You all hold magic within yourselves, and this is due to the simple fact that you are all elves. The magic is already there, and has been since the day you were born. A wand is a tool that will help you bring that magic out into the real world.”
Mr. Pendragon lifted his magnificent wand and closed his eyes. After a moment of absolute quiet, the trees surrounding the meadow began to dance. Their branches moved faster and faster, in rhythm with one another, up and down, to the left and right. Leaves fell from the branches, and instead of dropping to the ground, they floated together into a line, one behind the other.
In patterns of rusty red, burnt brown, and deep yellow, they spiraled in the air, performed loop-di-loops, created firework designs against the sky, and as a grand finale, formed at least twenty arches reaching over the circle of elf students, creating a leafy den for the class.
Everyone smiled, giggled, and whispered to their friends standing next to them. They had all seen this type of magic before, but it was still new enough to be exciting and novel.
When all of the students where silent again, which took very little time, Mr. Pendragon asked, “Any questions?”
It was a very silly thing to say to the students, because they all had the exact same question on their minds. Every elven child in the circle was holding a wand; that had been the easy part. What they all wanted to know – what they ached to know – was what to do with them.
While everyone was wondering the question in his or her minds, Clover was the first elf to raise her hand high in the air. Before she could finish raising her hand, she loudly asked, “Well, how do we do that?”
The other twenty-one elves, aside from Mr. Pendragon, all nodded vigorously and chimed in with variations of “Yeah!” and “How?”
“Good,” Mr. Pendragon said. “You’re asking the right question. Not, ‘how do I make myself invisible for the rest of my life?’ or ‘how do I banish my little brother to the Dwarf kingdom.’ You want to know how to make a leaf dance.”
He paused (Mr. Pendragon could be very dramatic while he was teaching) and then asked, “Who would like to try?”
Again, before Clover’s hand could reach over her head, she said, “But we don’t know how!”
Their teacher nodded slowly, as if this idea had not occurred to him before.
“Of course. But who would like to try? Would anyone?”
They looked to one another. Who would be brave enough to try something that was almost certain not to work?
Clover raised her hand once again, but more slowly this time. She was not smiling, but her yellow eyes shined with determination. Hers was the only hand raised, and all of the other students looked at her, and then at Mr. Pendragon.
Mr. Pendragon smiled a very warm smile.
“Clover, you may stay right there.” He wove his wand, and the leaves fell backward out of formation above, and into large piles behind the circle of elves.
“Alright. Turn around and pick one leaf from the pile. Choose whichever leaf calls out to you. Place it on the ground in front of you. Hold out your wand, and summon the magic within you. Let it flow from your center, find it’s way into your hand, and from there, into the wand you hold. Then, lift the leaf. It’s as simple as that!”
Clover listened with a solemn look on her face. A cold breeze came through the meadow, and she pulled her wool sweater closer around her body. Then she turned and looked at the carpet of leaves behind her. A yellow maple leaf, the exact shade of her eyes, sat atop the pile. Carefully, she picked it up and placed it in front of her, before all of her classmates.
She closed her eyes, held her wand out in front of her, and concentrated.
Later, she would not be able to quite explain what she concentrated on in those long moments. Walden would tell her that she stood there for about ten minutes while the class patiently waited for something happen. There was an intense sensation that came over Clover during those ten minute which passed through her body like a faint electrical buzzing. That was what she focused on. She wondered if that feeling was the magic.
Because as she stood there with her eyes closed, concentrating on a feeling, and thinking only about that yellow leaf lifting itself up from the ground, the leaf listened. The yellow leaf slowly rose, swaying back and forth, until it was directly under Clover’s wand.
Her eyes were still closed when she heard gasps all around her. She kept the wand steady but opened her eyes.
Clover was at the same time both amazed, and not amazed at all, to see her yellow leaf floating in front of her, waiting for her to ask it to do something. She grinned and looked at her teacher, who was also grinning.
“Congratulations, Clover,” he proudly said. “You found your magic, and now your wand will help you yield magic.”
She let her wand drop and let her mind wander, and leaf dropped as well. Mr. Pendragon looked in the circle at the astonished little elves and began his lecture.
“You will harness your magic and imagine tiny pieces of your magic traveling into your wands. Then, your wand will have traces of magic, and you will be able to use your wands as true magic wands.
Once you are able to find the magic within yourself, you are able to use it. This does not happen until you are ready. Just like the baby elf knows when it’s time to walk, or when the leaves know to fall from the trees, or when the snow knows to fall, you will know when it is time for your magic to emerge. You are all ready for it – I know, because I have taught you all for so long. You are all 8 years old now, and it your time for magic, just as it was once your time to crawl, and your time to talk.
As you get older, your magic will also get stronger. Just like your minds and bodies grow, the magic within will become more and more powerful. So do not be discouraged if some tricks are still tricky. Simply practice, and use your magic for small and gentle pursuits.”
School let out early that day for the Year 4 elf children. Mr. Pendragon dismissed the class so that they could go practice magic. They excitedly ran from the field, wands in hand, to their homes or to the small group gathering in the village Common. Many had been able to make a leaf float in front of them, but others had focused until their heads hurt, and still nothing had happened. Mr. Pendragon had told them all to work hard at it and keep trying, and they would all find their magic soon enough. Mr. Pendragon was usually correct about those sorts of things.
Clover, Walden, Fiona, and Lyric walked together to the playground near the school tree. Clover, Walden, and Lyric were chattery and happy because they all had made their leaves float, but Fiona was quiet, because she had not been able to.
Gathering in the circle of her classmates that morning, Fiona had been certain that she would not be able to put magic into her wand, and she was also certain that Windy and Raven would whisper and point, making mean comments and rolling their eyes at her when she was unable to. Unfortunately, both things turned out to be true.
Walden always had something to kind to say to Fiona, even when he did not have such nice things to say to other elves. He gave her a hug and assured her that she would find her magic before the Harvest Festival.
Fiona smiled sadly at her friend. “I hope so. I can’t be the only Year 4 up on stage, pretending to do magic while everyone else actually does it.”
“You’ll be ready,” Walden told her. “Mr. Pendragon wouldn’t have us put on the show if there were some of us who weren’t able to do the magic.”
Feeling more and more negative, Fiona did not know how to respond to that. Did that mean that she might be responsible for the magic show being cancelled altogether? She was getting ahead of herself, she knew. Other elves had been unable to lift their leaves. But she was having such a hard time thinking about it reasonably.
And so Autumn went on.
Each day, the temperature dropped bit by bit. Dreary rain fell throughout the nights and mushrooms popped out of the ground, circling around the village’s tree trunks. In the mornings, the elves splashed through puddles and played on the thick moss growing on the rocks. The elven village ran alongside a talkative river, which grew daily with the fall of rain. The leaves piled upon the ground, and the elves were hard at work.
The elves were always hard at work at something – there was always much to be done for themselves in their village. The Elf Elders, who were the rule-makers and leaders, were finishing their fall travels to other villages and lands, and beginning to settle in as the weather became less and less hospitable. Lyric’s parents, Madrona and Lake Sagewood, were among the eight Elders. It was only recently that Lyric understood that the Elders were not necessarily all that old in age, but “Elder” was actually a title of leadership. There were far older elves in Golden Grove, who although were definitely elderly, were also definitely not Elders.
As the cold ice and snow of winter were approaching, it was the job of the gardeners and farmers to put the fields of food to sleep until Spring came back around, and to set up food preservation. Walden’s parents, Basil and Cloud, proudly farmed their land behind their spruce tree home. While every elf home had their own pantry and cellar full of vegetables, fruits, grains, and meats, their homes were tiny in comparison to their needs. The village kept a massive store of food for the winter months, and because of their preservation and storage, everyone would be able to eat well all winter long.
A giant also lived in Golden Grove. This giant was an ancient cedar tree that stood by the river, just beyond the outskirts of the village. The long, immense trunk of the giant cedar was dark and rough, and at the base, where the dirt met with its roots, there was an even darker and rougher little door with a golden knob. Through the door was a tunnel that went down, down, down into the earth, burrowing beneath the cedar and the surrounding trees. This was the Store Cedar, which many elves simply called “Cedar.” No one in the village would mistake another cedar tree for the Store Cedar. The tunnel that had been carved out below Cedar was tall and wide, with room enough to push elven wheelbarrows. Very soon below ground, the tunnel shot off into smaller passages, which led to various rooms. The main tunnel, though, kept going and going, slowly becoming narrower. Some elves might have known where it ended, but the elf children certainly did not.
In fact, the elf children of the village were not technically allowed down below Cedar, or in any of the other many tunnel systems below Golden Grove. Of course, this did not stop most elf children from exploring the tunnels, and most elf adults would admit to having done the same exploration when they were young.
Once the nuts, seeds, dried fruits, pickled vegetables, grain, ciders, jams, and the crates upon crates of other food was tucked away safely under Cedar, it was up to the adults of the village to keep watch over their winter provisions. Misty and Ember Dell, Fiona’s parents, led this task. Playful animals, curious fairies, and troublesome goblins had all, at one point or another, tried to get into Cedar and see what could be found.
While the elves worked at the tasks which made up their day-to-day lives, others in the forest went about their own business.
The fairies were not quite as fond of Autumn as the elves or the ghosts or the goblins. They spent the crisp days mourning the loss of summer more than celebrating the change of season, preparing for their subtle hibernation in the winter. They would not disappear completely, but during the colder months they spent more of their time indoors, within their own villages and within their own homes. It was rare to see a fairy at all in Everwood, but it was particularly rare to see one in the late fall and winter.
The elves loved fall, though, just as they loved each season in its own way. The ghosts of the forest also thrived in Autumn.
Perhaps it was the chill found in the wind, or the shiver that whispered through the forest during Autumn. It may have been the hush that fell over the trees and rivers. Spring and Summer brought revelry, but Autumn and Winter brought somberness; as soon as the days began to shorten, and the darkness came earlier and stayed longer, ghosts could be seen lurking in the shadows of the woods.
Out of Fiona, Walden, Clover, and Lyric, only Fiona had ever seen a ghost. The experience frightened her as much as she anticipated it might have, though there was no reason for her to be afraid. Fiona saw her only ghost on a lonely and quiet October night the year before. She was outside her home, staring into the dark of the woods, thinking rather sad thoughts, when a flicker of light caught her eye. The ghost was not in the form she expected it to be – it was not elf shaped, or dwarf shaped, or human shaped. It was a glow, and she could not see any features like a face or arms. But it moved slowly – reverently – through the trees, stopping here and there for only a beat, then continuing on. When it was directly in front of Fiona, one hundred feet away, it stopped for nearly a full moment. Fiona did not look away, and she did not even take breath. She curled herself into a ball and waited for it to move out of sight.
The ghost would not have harmed her, or any elf, or any other inhabitant of the forest. All of the creatures of Everwood knew this, but still, each and every one (even the goblins) felt a sort of fear rise up within themselves when a ghost was near. Perhaps that was the reason the ghosts felt so comfortable with Autumn. The change in season and the passing of summer seemed to awaken a tiny seed of fear within everyone, despite there being no need to despair.
In the thick of Fall, one week before the Harvest Festival, Mr. Pendragon gathered his students in the Village Common for class. A large theater stood in the common, carved out from a massive boulder. Stone had been scooped out so that an overhang of rock covered the stage. Miniature tree stumps and delicate stones had been placed in an arrangement facing the stage, offering enough seating for the entire village.
This magical theater was the venue for all manner of Elven events, plays, concerts, and town meetings. A small clearing next to the stage was specially reserved for the orchestra when the theatrical elves put on musical performances. It was also the location of the Elven Academy’s annual Harvest Festival Performance of Enchantment and Illusion. In other words, it would be the place where all of the little elves, Year 4 and older, would entertain the festival-goers.
The oldest of the student elves would perform elaborate magic shows, and the youngest – the Year 4s – would do a musical number that involved small amounts of trivial charms.
“All right, everyone take your places,” Mr. Pendragon’s voice boomed.
This was the second-to-last rehearsal, and each elf knew his or her place. They moved quickly from the audience tree stumps to their correct spots on bleachers the tallest of the elves in the back row and the shortest in the front. The boulder ceiling loomed over their heads. For many of the elves, this was their first time performing in the stone theater; it would be the first time for everyone when magic was publicly performed.
Mr. Pendragon faced his students and held up his own wand. The elves held their wands in front of their chests, and sang their autumnal song while Mr. Pendragon nodded along, smiling with encouragement. The little elves sang of dancing trees and waterfalls of leaves, fairies lighting up the darkening skies and hearty feasts of stews and pies.
“And…now!” Mr. Pendragon announced and in perfect harmony, the wands were lifted into the air. The combined magic of all of the elves – and mostly helped along by their teacher – brought a parade of fallen autumn leaves up the rows of the audience, rushing into the air. Thousands of leaves came together to form the impression of a large cedar tree rising in front of the theater, reaching up nearly as high as the real trees surrounding the clearing.
Mr. Pendragon laughed. “Very good! Keep the magic going! Keep the leaves steady!”
It was too much of an enchantment for any one of the young elves to accomplish individually, and even as an entire class, they would have struggled. Mr. Pendragon did most of the work, but enjoyed giving the majority of the credit to his students.
“Keep them steady! On to the last verse of the song!”
Some of the students smiled widely as their own magic helped keep the leaves afloat, and others wore pained expressions as they used all of their effort to focus on the magic. Walden, Fiona, Clover, and Lyric stood side by side, each of them thrilled by what they were doing. Only Fiona looked uneasy. Her friends did not notice Windy and Raven standing behind Fiona, whispering below the singing.
“She’s faking, she’s faking!” Windy said in a teasing whisper, loud enough to be heard by both Raven and Fiona.
“Fiona can’t even hold a leaf up in the air!” Raven whispered back, her voice thick with a nastiness that made Fiona cringe.
Fiona knew that neither of the girls could tell who was doing magic and who was not. She knew this, but she was not comforted by that fact because she was, in fact, faking it. Fiona held her wand in the air, her hand shaking, with absolutely no magic streaming forth to support the elf-made tree that stood majestically on thin air.
“Very good!” Aunt Sunny sang out.
Her aunt entered the kitchen so quietly that Clover hadn’t heard her come in. Clover froze and her cheeks flushed red, but Aunt Sunny was smiling broadly. Clover was standing at the large wooden table that her Uncle Gray had built, in front of a platter of small vanilla cupcakes. Next to the platter was a bowl of white frosting and Clover had her wand out, decorating the cupcakes. Though a fancy silver frosting spatula lay next to the platter, Clover had not handled it once. She had been using her wand alone to lift the frosting from the bowl and guide it to the cupcake tops.
Unfortunately, once the frosting had made its way to the cupcakes, it just slopped down and made a drippy mess on the platter, but Clover didn’t really mind. What she did care about was the fact that she was able to ask the frosting to leave one place for another, all with her wand and the magic inside her, and that was enough for now.
“It’s not exactly right…” Clover began to say, but Aunt Sunny shook her head and put up one finger.
“You know that doesn’t matter. You’ll get it to be ‘just right’ soon enough. You just keep practicing at it. Would you like more cupcakes?”
As Aunt Sunny was gathering more baked cupcakes from the pantry, a noise was heard outside. Both Clover and Sunny looked up from their work toward the front door, which was closed and showed nothing of what was happening outside. They looked at one another, and then walked to the door. Aunt Sunny pulled on the heavy handle to open it and they both peered out.
An older elf was calling out in the Common. Clover recognized him as Sylvan Huckleberry, one of the elves who worked in Village Safety. He was yelling for Avery Quip.
Avery Quip lived in the trunk of an impressive Western Hemlock situated near the center of the Town Common. His tree’s trunk had an ornately decorated door, painted in gold and shimmery green, and he enjoyed his home so much that he often did his work from inside the Hemlock, at the grand wooden desk that sat in the front room. He was the Elven Leader.
Clover watched Sylvan Huckleberry in puzzlement. The elf was running, his wooly sweater blowing in the wind, toward Quip’s home. Clover noticed that at other doors, her neighbors had also come out of their homes to see what was happening.
Lyric’s tree was three doors down from Clover’s, and she caught his eye when he and his parents, Madrona and Lake, came from their home to watch Sylvan.
Clover saw that his parents bent down to whisper a few words to Lyric before they walked quickly themselves toward Quip’s door, following Sylvan. As they walked in one direction, Lyric walked in the opposite, toward Clover’s house.
Neither of the little elves had reason to be worried about one older elf looking for the Elven Leader, but Clover was curious, anyway. Aunt Sunny was, too.
“Lyric, sweetheart, do you have any idea what’s going on?” Sunny calmly asked Lyric.
He shook his head. “No, Ma’am. My parents just said that they needed to go see what the matter was, and that they’d be back soon.”
At that point, Sylvan Huckleberry had made it into Quip’s home, as well as Madrona and Lake Sagewood, and a small handful of other elder elves, all of whom seemed to understand that their presence would also be helpful. No one had seen Avery Quip open the door, but the elves had all disappeared inside.
Lyric and Clover looked at one another and shrugged.
“Can we go play?” Clover asked her aunt.
Aunt Sunny nodded, but there was a frown on her face, and she did not look away from Quip’s home across the Common.
“Let’s go,” Lyric said.
Together, they walked hurriedly to the playground. A chilly breeze had picked up and it rustled their wool hats and jackets, bringing goose bumps to their arms.
“I wonder what that was all about,” Clover said.
“I don’t know,” said Lyric. “My parents rushed out. They’ve done that a bunch of times before, but never when something good happens.”
“Hey!” a voice yelled out behind them, carried by the wind.
Fiona caught up to Lyric and Clover. The expression on her face was more worried than usual, the furrow in her brow set deep with some unknown fear. Fiona always had a nervousness about her, even when she was in good spirits, but today there was something different.
“What’s going on?” Clover asked her.
“My parents went to Avery Quip’s house just now. After that elf was shouting through the Common. They looked…scared.”
“Scared? What could they possibly have to be scared about?” Lyric asked.
“I’d be scared, too, if I had to go to Avery Quip’s house while your parents where in there,” Fiona told him. They had all stopped walking and stood in a small triangle facing one another.
Lyric gave a little laugh. “Quip isn’t scary, and neither are my parents.”
“That’s because you’ve never been in trouble with them,” Clover said as she began to understand what was going on. Fiona’s parents had been summoned to Quip’s house, and it was not for anything good.
“Of course I have,” Lyric went on, not following what Clover was thinking. “I get in trouble with them all the time.”
“Your parents. Not the entire Elven Leadership. Fiona, do you know what happened?”
Fiona looked off into the distance toward the gray sky, and for a moment didn’t answer. In that moment, Lyric and Clover saw that there really was something big happening, and they each wondered just how worried they should be.
Finally, Fiona said, “I think it has to do with the Cedar. And the harvest that’s stored there. I heard my mother say something about it on the way out the door. They barely said anything to me; they just picked Poppy up and went.”
The three friends didn’t talk anymore, but they walked together to the playground near the school to distract themselves from whatever it was that the grownups were preoccupied with.
The food was gone.
The entire village found out later that day, as news spread between houses, down into burrows, up above on the floating passageways, from adults to children listening nearby.
Not all of the food was gone, at least. But every jar, box, and crate that had been saved and stored for the Harvest Festival has vanished.
Sylvan Huckleberry had discovered this when he went to check on the Storage Cedar that morning, as part of his caretaker responsibilities. The other caretakers of the Storage Cedar had been called to Quip’s house immediately – Misty and Ember Dell, Fiona’s parents.
Fiona did not know exactly what happened in Quip’s house, or what was said, because her parents would not tell her anything. But as the family ate their dinner that night in gloomy silence, Fiona continued to ask.
What became clear was the unthinkable – Misty and Ember both had been so distracted by something that they had forgotten to take all of the proper steps to fully and magically lock up the storage cedar the night before.
“And only five days before the Harvest Festival!” Ember said again and again, as if that information were new to anyone at the table. He buried his face in his hands and heavy tears pooled in Misty’s eyes.
Fiona wanted to know what could have been so serious and substantial that they would have forgotten the most important pieces of their job in the village. Unfortunately, by the end of dinner, it became clear to her.
Her parents did not precisely say it, but Fiona figured it out – they had been distracted for weeks because of her. Because of her sadness and the bullying at school, and her own forgetfulness with her sister and chores at home. Fiona imagined that her own inability to perform magic was also a reason.
Misty Dell had not-so-carefully stumbled around this notion as they somberly talked over their vegetable stew. After dinner, Fiona climbed the spiral stairs up through their tree, past Poppy’s bedroom, past her parents’ room, and to her little nook of a room at the very top of the home. There was a circular window in her room that looked out at the wild forest beyond the village. The mess of small knit pillows and shaggy blankets below the window was Fiona’s favorite place in the world to be. Sitting there, surrounded by warm and cozy things, she could look out at everything and remind herself that no matter what happened in the village, there was an enormous world out there, much bigger than whatever was occurring at home.
The next day was tortuous. The Dell parents were summoned into the tree of Avery Quip once again, and by mid-morning snack, the entire village knew what had happened. The only piece of good fortune was that it was not a school day, so Fiona was able to stay hidden in her nook, avoiding other elves and the entire world.
Her parents had returned home after lunchtime, a meal that Fiona had skipped, and she wondered whether or not she should go downstairs to the main room and gather information on what was happening. She only thought on this for a short while, before a light knock on her door brought her head out of the clouds and back into the tree.
It was her mother. Fiona did not answer.
“Please come on out, little one.”
Fiona still did not answer.
“I’m coming in,” her mother warned.
The brassy doorknob turned and her mother entered the room slowly. Misty Dell walked to Fiona and hugged her daughter tightly.
“None of this is your fault, Fi Fi. It was a mistake, and we’re all working to fix it. First thing tomorrow morning, just as day breaks, there will be six small elven teams to go out and investigate. We have the cleverest elves on the mission, including your daddy and I. Everything will be okay.”
Fiona would not look at her mother. She stared out the window as tears began to fall.
“I love you, Fi Fi.”
Having passed on the information, Misty left the room, her warm words hanging in the air like dandelion fluff.
When it came to making decisions, Fiona often felt as though she had “no choice” but to do or to not do certain things. That night, she was certain that she had no other choice but to fix what had happened.
It was her fault, she felt. It wasn’t her parents, or a faulty lock on the tree, or the other workers who were managing the food – they were all careful and wise. It really came down to her.
As the blackness of the night approached and deepened, and the gentle hum of Golden Grove turned to silence, she could tell that her family had fallen asleep; a new quiet fell over the house once everyone else went to bed.
Fiona thought. She sat and thought and thought and sat for a long time, staring out her window.
Out of nowhere, she saw a great brown owl perch on the branch of a nearby tree. She was so close that Fiona could see the yellow of her eyes illuminating the night. She was large and imposing, stretching out her wings and ruffling her feathers. Her stare was intimidating. Fiona was not nervous, though, because the owls, like the other forest animals, would never hurt an elf – that was a fact that the elves could count on.
“There’s not much I can do when it’s this dark out,” she whispered aloud to the owl outside.
“Hoo-hoo!” the owl said, the call clear as a bell through Fiona’s window.
Fiona jumped back, startled. She stared at the owl, who was staring back at her.
“Hoo-hoo!” the owl repeated.
His eyes were so bright against the October sky, brighter than the full harvest moon would soon be. She spread her wings fully outward and the outline of her great figure could barely be made out against the dark.
“Hoo-hoo!” said the owl once more. Though her presence was intense and frightening, though Fiona knew that she had no reason to be afraid.
The lantern-eyes of the owl peered at her as if telling her an important secret. Their glow was hypnotizing. While watching the owl watch her, and without breaking eye contact, Fiona reached for her wand, which was sitting on the shelf in front of the window. She looked at the brown owl delicately painted onto the wand. It was an aspirational picture for her – she longed to someday be as wise as the great owl of the forest. Fiona looked from the painted owl in front of her to the read owl outside.
The owl flapped her wings, but did not move off of his perch. Fiona raised her wand, her hand trembling. Without speaking, she asked the wand for light.
Fiona closed her eyes and tightened her grip and she asked again. She asked herself, and she asked the wand. She called upon the ancient magic of all elf-kind.
Her mouth clenched in effort, and she asked again.
“Light,” her inner voice said. “I am asking for light.”
A flash came from the wand, blinding her for just a moment. Her room lit up with such burning brightness that she rubbed her eyes to readjust to the dark that followed.
She could not believe it – the magic that she had been struggling so very hard for had finally come! A smile spread across her face as she looked at the wand with new respect. Fiona glanced out the window to find the owl again, but she was gone.
It took only a moment for Fiona to pull on her warm wooly coat and hat and her thick-soled shoes. She gripped her wand tightly and crept quickly and quietly down the wooden staircase of her home. It was dark and completely silent – everyone had been asleep for hours.
The heavy door of her tree home opened and closed with only the slightest squeak, and then she was off. Fiona had debated whether or not she should gather up her friends for this – on one hand, she really did not want to do this alone. On the other hand, she might get caught if she started going to her friends’ trees and calling up for them to come out.
She decided that she would only get Clover – Clover had no brothers or sisters who might also wake, and her bedroom was closer to the ground than her Aunt and Uncle’s room. So Fiona scurried to Clover’s spruce tree home, directly to Clover’s window. She tap tap tapped on the window with her wand, and continued to do so until she saw Clover wake and look to her window.
Fiona smiled and waved. She held up her wand to indicate that Clover should bring hers, as well. Clover gave her a puzzled look, but it was only a moment until she woke up fully, had dressed, and was out her own front door.
“Well?” Clover whispered to Fiona once they had begun walking away from Clover’s home.
“Well, what?” Fiona responded.
Clover shook her head and rolled her eyed, though Fiona saw neither in the darkness of the night.
“Come on, now. What’s the adventure? Are we getting the others? Why do we have our wands? Where are we going?”
As usual, Fiona ignored all but one of Clover’s questions.
“We’re getting back the food for the harvest festival,” Fiona told Clover solemnly.
“In the middle of the night?”
They had been walking toward the Cedar, but Fiona stopped and pulled Clover off the dirt-and-pine-needle path. She held out her wand, and with even less effort than before, managed to light up its tip with a brilliant yellow light.
Clover smiled at her friend. “Excellent! How did you do that? I haven’t even done that yet!”
“Try it,” Fiona urged. She held her illuminated wand in front of her, and both of their faces glowed a soft yellow.
Clover nodded and held up her own wand. She asked it to light up, pulling the magic from deep within herself, and within a moment, her own wand acted as a lantern against the deep night.
They smiled at one another.
“Okay, what next?” Clover asked.
Fiona appreciated her friend’s eagerness to be swept up into an adventure. She looked toward the edge of town, in the direction of the Cedar, but in the dark, she was unable to see it.
“I don’t know,” Fiona admitted.
A look of confusion and disappointment crossed Clover’s face, but she tried to hide it. She nodded and though while gazing in the same direction Fiona was looking.
“We need to do some detective work, obviously,” Clover said after a moment.
Fiona had expected something better from Clover – a detailed plan, a specific idea, anything concrete. She felt a wave of frustration at her friend, followed by guilt – she was expecting something of Clover that she wasn’t able or prepared to do herself.
They decided to go to the Cedar tree first. The light of their wands helped them see the footpaths directly in front of them, but their surroundings were masked by inky blackness. Shadows twitched and swayed as a light, chilly breeze blew through the village. The sounds of deep night had been unknown to Fiona and Clover, but with their walk, they heard the scratches and whispers, the far off echoes and the immediate silence. Dead leaves fluttered about by their feet, and vague howls were heard from great distances away.
The two elves hurried, but the path seemed to be never-ending. Finally they found themselves in front of the giant Cedar, and each breathed a sigh of relief.
It would have been bad enough if an adult had found them and shooed them back home, waking their families and telling on them. But for the first time, both Clover and Fiona sensed that there were strange and nameless things in their forest of which to be fearful.
They stood at the base of the tree, once again feeling stuck at a dead-end.
“You really didn’t have any kind of a plan?” Clover asked. She was getting colder as the breeze was picking up.
It did not take much during those days for Fiona to feel like a failure, and there that feeling arose, yet again.
“There must be something here.”
“Something all of the grown-ups missed?” Clover asked impatiently.
“Everyone was in a panic today. They were running around, yelling. By the time Lyric’s parents went back to their house, it was past dusk. No one did anything. They just talked.”
“Maybe they were making a plan.”
Fiona was hurt. Yes, it was dark, it was cold, and it was becoming ever-more frightening in the woods, but she wished Clover would give her a break.
“Do you want to just go home? Do it. I’ll be fine here. I was going to go alone anyway,” Fiona said to Clover.
Clover responded with a sigh. “Of course I don’t want to go home.”
“Okay, then let’s do something. Talking isn’t going to get anyone anywhere if the fairies are off eating our food, or if the goblins are going to throw it all in a lake.”
Both girls gave one sharp nod and raised their wands.
They began by searching around the bottom of the tree. The ground with thick was moss and soft mud. Ferns swayed in the breeze, softly brushing against Fiona and Clover.
That was when Fiona saw something so small it was hardly of note, but it was precisely what she had been hoping to find.
“A seed!” she said.
There in the dirt sat a small sunflower seed.
“Our first clue,” Clover said with hope.
They continued to search the ground. Not far from the first sunflower seed, Clover found the second seed. They had found the beginning of a trail.
Working quickly and without speaking, they scanned the ground in the same way that they hunted for mushrooms only a few weeks ago. This hunt was much more desperate, though.
It wasn’t long before another seed was found, then another much farther away, and another and another.
Both elves had been so focused on the ground, that when they each finally looked up and around themselves, they did not know the trees surrounding them. They had walked past the cedar, farther along the river and into a hedgerow that neither had ever been before.
“Where are we?” Fiona whispered.
“I’m not entirely sure. We couldn’t have gone that far from the village.”
“No, I suppose not,” Fiona replied.
At the same time, they both spied another seed farther off, and instead of running to it as they had to the others, they walked carefully, while also keeping their eyes on the woods around themselves.
Fiona jumped at a sudden sound. When she pointed her wand at the noise, she saw the great owl whom she had met earlier that night.
Perhaps she might have felt afraid, but she did not; instead, she smiled at the majestic bird. She was certain that her owl friend smiled back. The owl flapped her great wings and shot from her perch branch, disappearing into the darkness.
“We’re at the right place,” Fiona said knowingly.
“Really? How can you tell?” Clover asked.
“I just feel it,” Fiona said. She chose not to tell Clover about the owl. “Let’s look around here.”
They had found themselves just outside of a small clearing in the woods. It was lighter here than inside their own village. The trees overhead formed no canopy, and through the cloudy sky, a few moonbeams fell upon the girls.
A scuffling sound in the ferns ahead made both little elves jump. They defensively pointed their wands in front of them. The sound came again, this time closer and off to their side. Still, Fiona and Clover walked forward. The noises began to multiply and on all sides of the two elves.
Whether it was the chill of the earliest morning or the sense of impending catastrophe, neither Fiona nor Clover were sure, but they each noticed that the other was shivering. They shook in either fear or in cold, and Fiona squeezed Clover’s hand. Clover squeezed back.
Their eyes darted from one corner of the clearing to another, waiting for a sign. The scuffling noises had stopped entirely. Above them, through the space in the trees, Clover saw that morning was breaking. The first light of dawn was emerging.
In a moment of foolish pluck, Fiona yelled out to the clearing, “Show yourselves!” As she shouted, her wand let forth an explosion of light, with white sparks jumping from the tip.
Clover looked at Fiona in disbelief, and was certain that Fiona had just doomed them both. But Fiona, full of new confidence, only gripped her wand tighter and continued to point it forward.
When Clover thought she could wait no longer, there was a loud rustle of branches and bramble directly in front of the two elves.
First, there was a paw – a small, brownish paw – followed by a leg. More paws and more legs poked from the bushes, revealing not a horrible monster or brute animal, but only the rabbits. Not all of the rabbits of the woods, of course, but six slight, young rabbits, nearly the same size as Fiona and Clover.
Fiona and Clover had both been preparing for a fight, or a chase through the forest, so it took them a moment to orient themselves to what they were seeing in front of them.
“What are you doing here?” Clover asked the rabbits.
They would never be able to communicate in the same language that elves used, but the rabbits were still able to converse with the elves using their own, simpler language. It would be nearly impossible for any outsider to the forest to understand, but the elves and forest animals have been able to interact in their own ways, though it was never quite as complete as when an elf spoke to another elf, or a rabbit conversed with another rabbit.
One rabbit hopped forward.
In a series of nose twitches, foot scratches, hops, jumps, and rolls, the rabbit told Clover and Fiona the entire story.
The translation of the rabbit’s tale would have been:
“Forest friends, we know why you’re here. We thought that we had done a careful job and that no one from your village would find our hiding spot or come here searching for us. You are looking for the food that was held in your large cedar tree. We know that, because we are the ones who took it. There’s no point in hiding it; if you found us here near our burrows, you would have found your food just up ahead.
I’m sorry. We are sorry. The harvest for our own families was very poor this year, and everyone has been very upset. We thought that if we could just get more food, then everyone in our own warren would be calm and happy. We were going to surprise them. It took us all night to move the food and we went slowly and quietly, bringing our baskets and wagons with us. We thought we had done something good; we thought that you would have had plenty more for yourselves and that it would not have meant that much to you all.
But then we heard the shouts from your village, and we knew that we had just caused more harm. We weren’t sure what to do. But it’s only right you get your food back.”
Fiona and Clover stared at the rabbit. Anger filled Fiona – she and her family were about to become outcasts in their community over this. She wanted to scream and stomp through the clearing, tearing up the bushes that the rabbits had hid behind. But she did not do those things. Instead, she took a deep breath, and then another.
Fiona simply asked, “Where is our food?”
More nose twitches, and a complicated little dance on his hind legs, and then all of the rabbits turned to the left, their ears flattened down, pointing in the direction to go.
Their whiskers wriggled one more time, a last apology for what they had done.
The light of the day was starting to arrive. The colors of the forest shifted, brightening and then darkening, then brightening again. Shadows began to drift away. The illuminated wands were hardly necessary. The air was cold. Fiona and Clover pushed aside a cluster of ferns and came upon an enormous hole at the base of a dead tree trunk.
Fiona and Clover looked at one another with relief.
“What do we do now?” Fiona asked. “Carry it back nut by nut?”
“Of course not!” Clover replied.
Clover had an idea – she knew elves could use their wands to send out a signal into the forest if they got lost or injured, so she figured that she could send out the signal to indicate that they had saved the harvest festival.
She held her wand over her head, pointed up toward the light of dawn. She closed her eyes and concentrated while Fiona watched her curiously. Clover’s fingers tightened around her wand while her other hand clenched. She imagined a fireworks display of sparks lighting up the sky above their heads, and as she saw the colors erupt in her mind, Fiona watched flashes of light shoot from Clover’s wand up into the sky.
Then they waited. The cold seemed to worsen and they stood side by side shivering in their woolen sweaters, pulling their caps tighter over their ears. Fiona became restless before Clover did, and wondered allowed where everyone was – didn’t they see the lights?
“It’s someone’s job to protect our village, Fiona. That means it’s someone’s job to also look out for emergency lights.”
The cold was making Fiona cranky. She responded by mumbling, “If it’s someone’s job then they should have been better at protecting our village from evil little bunnies.”
Clover shook her head patiently. “They aren’t evil, Fiona. You know that. They just made a mistake.”
“A mistake that almost drove my family out of town!” Fiona muttered.
“You can stay angry at the rabbits for as long you’d like,” Clover said with a shrug. “But I’m really glad you didn’t scream at them back there.”
Fiona narrowed her eyes. “How did you know I wanted to scream at them?”
“Because when you get angry or frustrated, your face gets completely red and your ears twitch – they twitch just like those rabbits’ whiskers do!” Clover said.
Fiona did not find that funny. She felt embarrassed that Clover could tell exactly how she was feeling. She did not respond, but Clover continued.
“Actually, I think that’s probably why Windy and Raven keep after you like they do. They just want to see how red your face will get and just how much your ears will twitch before you explode.”
Fiona crossed her arms, and for the first time, she noticed it – she felt her face go flush and her ears flutter. She had always known that she got embarrassed when Windy and Raven picked on her, but she hadn’t realized that she also got so angry.
“Uh, oh – I didn’t mean to push you to the explosion mark. You look pretty mad right now.”
Fiona took a breath. She was angry, but not with Clover. She was angry with herself for letting those two classmates of hers get under her skin. She was angry that she never did a single thing to stop them – not even stand up for herself or tell Mr. Pendragon. She was angry that she’d allowed all of this to go on for so long. But none of that was Clover’s fault.
“I am mad, Clover,” Fiona said. “But not at you.”
“Well that’s a relief!”
“I need to stop them,” Fiona said.
“Who the rabbits?” Clover went on. The colder it got, the more she seemed to cheer up. “You already did, Fiona! They looked super sorry about what they did – they probably thought we were going to blast them away with our wands!”
“No, not the rabbits. I need to stop Windy and Raven. I need to tell someone.”
Clover’s smile disappeared, and she lowered her voice. “The problem with them is serious, isn’t it?”
Tears began welling up behind Fiona’s eyes, and she knew if she began to speak, they would flow down her face like a little river.
But she didn’t need to say anything, because before a single tear fell, Clover enveloped Fiona in a big hug, holding her tightly. “Oh Fiona, it’s going to be okay,” she said.
“Yes it is!” another voice said, thundering from the brush behind them.
The elves jumped, and from the bushes came Sylas Huckleberry, Sylvan’s brother, and another village caretaker.
“You little ones – are you both alright?” Sylas asked.
He was a large elf – as large as an elf could be – and he towered over the girls. They nodded up at him, and his face softened.
“There are other adults on the way,” Sylas said. “What happened? Why are you both this far from the village? What on earth brought you out here?”
Fiona rubbed her wet eyes and pointed to the tree hollow. Sylas gave her a puzzled look before walking to the stump and looking in. A certain slant to the morning light brightened the inside of the hole.
“This isn’t ours, is it?” he asked.
“It is! We found it! We found it all!” Clover said, excitedly. Fiona was drained of her energy, but Clover’s had only increased. “It was the rabbits!” she shouted.
Sylas smiled a big, toothy, goofy smile, and Fiona and Clover could just feel that everything would, indeed, be okay.
The next few days passed quickly. Every last crumb made its way back to the village. Bakers and cooks were busy preparing the delicious treats that they thought had been lost. Avery Quipp scheduled a mandatory re-training session for all village caretakers, and held a special class on village security class, open to every elf. A special surprise arrived for the elves once their food had been returned – the parents of the troublesome young rabbits sent an official apology to the elves of Golden Grove. The apology came in the form of a grand woven basket, three times the size of an elf. It was covered in beautiful decorations of pine cones, moss, and flower petals. The gift was placed in the Common when it arrived, and Avery Quipp accepted the apology.
With the problems of the village righted, Fiona knew there was one last loose thread to tie up.
Poppy was playing in her bedroom after dinner and Fiona was at the kitchen sink washing their food bowls. Her parents were also at work tidying up the room. Fiona did not want to make her parents unhappy, but she knew it was time to gather the same courage she had found within herself the other night and tell them about the bullies.
“Mom? Dad?” she began.
Her parents stopped their tidying and looked at Fiona with smiles on their faces.
“I need to tell you something.”
They came closer to her, their smiles frozen but their eyes beginning to cloud with worry.
“What is it, Fiona??” her mother asked.
“It’s about some kids at school. They…well, they haven’t been very nice to me. Actually, they’ve been completely rotten for a very long time.”
And so Fiona started at the beginning and told them all about Windy and Raven, and exactly how they had made her feel. She was sure that her parents would laugh at her and tell her that she was imagining things. But they did not; they nodded and hugged her and promised to talk with Mr. Pendragon the very next day.
After their meeting the next morning, Mr. Pendragon spoke with Fiona personally.
“Fiona, you don’t ever need to be afraid to tell me about something like this,” he told her with a serious face.
With that, Mr. Pendragon made house calls to both Windy and Raven’s homes that day to talk with their families about the bullying. He returned to his own home with a plan to help the two girls treat Fiona kindly, and for Fiona to feel safe at school.
At last, it seemed to Fiona that her life and the village were back on track, and that just maybe, she could relax.
The day before the Harvest Festival, Fiona, Clover, Walden, and Lyric sat together in the Common on a large stone bench near the General Store. They watched as elves of all ages bustled about, transforming their village center into a festive autumnal playground.
Clover and Fiona had told Lyric and Walden about everything that had happened on their nighttime expedition. After they had congratulated their friends on a job well done, the boys asked why they hadn’t been included. Though they were hurt at the idea of being excluded, they got over it when the four of them agreed that any new adventures would include all four of them.
“I’m so excited for tomorrow!” Clover squeaked.
“No school, and we get to spend the day eating honey bread, chocolate sticks, and berry candy,” Walden agreed.
They all nodded their heads in agreement. Just that moment, the scent of fresh-baked cookies began to waft their way from one of the many booths that had been set up earlier in the day.
“I see 17 food booths,” said Clover.
“18,” said Walden.
“19!” said Fiona, pointing to another table where an elf had just hung a sign for homemade felt hats.
“You can’t eat felt hats, Fiona,” Clover said.
“Maybe not, but I could sure use a new winter hat,” Fiona replied, her cheeks slightly red.
“That reminds me,” said Clover. “I need to help Aunt Sunny with some of the baking for tomorrow. This year, I can finally use my own magic to help her!”
Clover grabbed her bag and smiled at her friends, who waved at her as she walked down the path to her aunt’s and uncle’s home.
“I should go, too,” said Lyric. “I promised my parents I would help with some of the cleaning.” Like Clover, he picked up his bag and said goodbye.
Walden and Fiona stayed on their bench, watching all of the excitement around them. At first glance, it looked like chaos, but they both knew that by the morning, the whole spread would be laid out according to the careful plans that the Elven Elders had drawn up. Not a single leaf or berry would be out of place. The Elven Elders were a fussy bunch, and they liked to have everything be perfect and orderly.
“Look,” Walden said, poking Fiona’s arm. “The Ferris wheel is going up.”
Across the way was the most amazing piece of elven architecture she had had ever seen. The Ferris wheel was as tall as 50 elves, made entirely out of wood and grass, and was completely collapsible. It was stored away until the elves held a festival, at which point it was brought out and assembled with a great deal of magical help. It ran on magic, too. The older elves said that it needed to rest for a full three months between working – that was how much energy it took to run the machine for one just day.
They watched in wonder as a group of elves held up their wands and pieces of wood came together all on their own, invisibly bound by grass and twine and an assortment of other materials.
“We’ll get to do that someday, too,” Walden said.
“Sure,” said Fiona.
A week ago, that idea seemed entirely out of reach. A week ago, Fiona never would have believed that she could even move a single leaf. But that didn’t seem so improbable now.
“Or something even more impressive,” Fiona added.
The elves of the village awoke to bells chiming from the main buildings in the village Common. The sound rang out as the early morning light turned from gray to golden. The village shined that morning, in magnificent yellow, deep orange and red, with jeweled purple and sparkling emerald.
The Harvest Festival was ready, and the town was transformed for the day. Carnival rides had been set up in the night, surrounding the magical Ferris wheel. Soft chimes came from corners of the square, creating a beautiful melody that murmured through the trees. The booths were empty, yet the scent of food was everywhere, inviting everyone from their homes for breakfast. Decorations had been hung throughout the village – leaf wreaths and garland, intricate tree branch designs, and twinkling crystals strung overhead.
The Ferris wheel was already magically spinning when the first elves came from their homes, bringing trays of food, bags of toys to sell, artwork to be admired, and musical instruments to play.
In the center of the village Common was a large cornucopia, overflowing with goods recovered from the young rabbits. What had not been used to bake for the festival would be shared amongst the villagers.
Avery Quip was one of the first elves onto the village Common that morning, dressed in a fancy woolen robe stitched with all of the colors of fall. He stood tall, with his pointy nose facing the sky, as he walked from booth to booth, ride to ride, making certain that the magic holding it all together was strong, and that it all was just as it should be.
Soon, the peaceful morning chimes faded and a small band of musicians gathered in the theater to play upbeat music on a selection of violins, cellos, and guitars. In a very short time, Mr. Pendragon would gather his students there for their musical performance. By the time the sun shone fully in the sky, the Common was crowded with elves running and playing, talking and laughing, eating and dancing.
Fiona walked on a dirt path with her mother, father, and sister. Though she was full of excited wonder, she was also aware of how easily these festivities were almost sabotaged. The family found themselves in the center of the village in front of the cornucopia. Poppy plucked a handful of nuts from the pile, but Fiona took nothing. As the rest of her family walked along on the path, Fiona whispered a very quiet “Thank You” to the food, to the rabbits, to the forest itself that fed and sustained her and her entire world.
She then hurried ahead to join in on the celebration. The days were becoming short, and she did not want to miss out on the fun. After all, it would be dark all too soon.
* * *
Christie Megill writes stories for children. She is a former elementary school teacher with a specialty in early literacy and she received her B.A. in English Literature from Fordham University. Christie currently lives in Seattle with her family, gathering inspiration from the Pacific Northwest wilds.