The next day came too soon for Hi-lee. Jocy had expected her to get up on her own and was surprised to find the mouse still asleep after the eagle had eaten her breakfast. Jocy was very annoyed.
"Elk-lore," she said quietly to the fairy (who had started glowing again), "would you go over there really quietly and take one of her earplugs out?" Elk-lore looked at her questioningly but obeyed. Suddenly, the eagle yelled -loudly- into Hi-lee's ear. "HI-LEE!! GET UP!!!!!" she exclaimed. Hi-lee jumped up two feet in the air.
"Wha-Who-Where's the fire?" asked the shocked mouse.
"That wasn't very nice," said Elk-lore to Jocy.
"That's all right," said Hi-lee, smiling a bit. "She woke me up, didn't she?"
Sela Kotu hurried into the courtyard. "Good. You three haven't left yet. Elk-lore," she said, handing him the fairy letter from the a few evenings before. "Does this look at all familiar?"
"Yes, Your Majesty," said Elk-lore softly.
"Do you know the author?" requested the queen.
"I used to know her very well, Your Majesty."
"Do you know why her signature no longer sparkles like it once did?"
"Yes, Your Majesty."
Since Elk-lore was quiet for a while, Sela Kotu asked, "Would you tell me why it doesn't sparkle?"
"Yes, Your Majesty," he quietly replied. "It no longer sparkles because the author has been dead for a little while...."
"I see..." said Sela Kotu. "Thank you for your help, Elk-lore. I'm sorry to have taken so much of your time." She said, more quietly, to Elk-lore, "Keep the letter. It will be of more use to you than it will be to me." Elk-lore took the letter and put it in some hidden pocket in his clothing.
"Your Majesty is most kind," he said.
"Sela Kotu loudly said, "Now, you three go on your journey, and may Tay-free go with you."
Hi-lee jumped onto Jocy's back and the eagle took off, changing her color to a light lavender, for it was still early morning. Elk-lore wondered how the mouse could stay on Jocy's back without slipping as he followed closely behind them.
It took a full 48 hours of traveling at an easy pace to reach Tas-et-lal. Part of this was due to the fact that Hi-lee was almost constantly hungry during the trip.
"Well, if you had stopped for breakfast before we left, then I wouldn't be hungry now," was the mouse's response.
Much later, Elk-lore asked, "How does Sela Kotu pay you?"
Jocy intelligently answered, "Huh?"
"Well," he responded, "Before, Hi-lee said that the Sela shouldn't let me risk my life for a country that doesn't even give me a paycheck. How do you two get paid?"
"She works cheap," said Jocy, speaking of her partner. "Sela Kotu gives her a handful of kotu-berries and she's happy."
"Hey!" said Hi-lee loudly. "That's not true! She gives me...two handfuls if we did good work." Hi-lee tried desperately to retrieve her dignity. "Even if they're out of season! And maybe some corn, too."
"Oh, I stand corrected," said Jocy, still gliding through the air.
"Well, then, how does she pay you?" Elk-lore said to Jocy.
She answered, "Sela Kotu makes sure that her fishermen bring back my favorite kind of fish from far out in the ocean, but I pretty much work because I like the adventure."
The three spies continued on, and reached the border of Tas-et-lal.
"Is it going to be hard to sneak in?" whispered Hi-lee to Elk-lore. She was unfamiliar with this country because Sela Kotu would never dream of spying on a true ally.
"It's not a matter of sneaking in at all," said Elk-lore. "They don't care if we enter--well, if you two enter. I don't think that they like fairies coming in to their country."
"Well, if they don't, we'll be caught for sure," said Jocy. "Let's just say that a flying, glowing creature may attract their attention a bit."
"True," said Elk-lore. He quickly faded into a black shape like he had the night before, like a shadow. "This better?" he asked, crouching beneath a tree.
Jocy looked around but didn't see Elk-lore. "I...uh...suppose that method will have to do," she said.
Elk-lore poked his head up from the tree's shadow, where he had been hiding. He had blended in so well that the eagle had not seen him. "What do you think?" asked Elk-lore, glowing again.
"I think," said Hi-lee, "that you'd better not do any more spy work once we're done with this mission."
"Why not?" asked Elk-lore.
"Because," she continued, "I think Jocy and I would be out of work."
They decided to wait until late that night to sneak in to Tas-et-lal, so they had a whole afternoon on their hands (or paws). Hi-lee stared longingly at fairyland, wishing that Sela Kotu would let her enter.
"Is it true that whoever goes into fairyland loses his or her memory completely?" asked the mouse.
"No... That's just what everybody wants to believe. The truth is... Whoever enters fairyland never wants to go back out here, except for fairies, of course, and whoever enters wishes that he or she could forget the outside world. Some even get themselves to believe that there is no outside world. It was the worst for them, of all outsiders, when we lost our magic, because fairyland lost some of its magic, too."
Elk-lore remained silent after that sentence. Hi-lee realized that the curious fairy answered most questions freely and seemed to expect the same of his companions. She shrugged and didn't say anything about it. A few minutes passed, and Elk-lore pulled out a beautiful jar from somewhere within his clothing.
Hi-lee was just about mesmerized by the container. It looked like it was made of crystal, and it was carved into intricate designs. The entire bottle glowed brightly, except for a cork which served as a stopper. Elk-lore looked at the bottle wistfully, as if it symbolized something that he could never reach again.
Though she hated to break the silence, Hi-lee asked, "What is that?"
"This?" asked Elk-lore, glancing at the jar again. "It's fairy dust."
"It's beautiful," said Hi-lee, almost in awe.
"No self-respecting fairy would leave home without some of this stuff," said Elk-lore. He sighed. "It's about worthless now. Now that those... those... those--" He cut himself off. Though he didn't usually swear, he thought that the people who would steal the magic of the fairies were worthy of a four-letter word or two. Still, he tried to keep his temper, despite the fact that Jocy and Hi-lee would not know any fairy obscenity that he would use.
Elk-lore noticed that Hi-lee was still staring at his fairy dust. Jocy had grown bored, so she had left about three minutes ago. Elk-lore remembered that they hadn't eaten for hours.... He pushed the thought out of his mind, shuddering slightly.
"Hi-lee, do you want this?" he suddenly asked.
"What? Me? That? Don't you need it for something?"
"Take it," Elk-lore replied as he put the bottle into her paws. "Maybe you can find a use for it."
"Don't bet on that," said Hi-lee.
"Don't worry. This stuff does grow on trees." He pulled out another bottle, like magic, then quickly put it back into his pocket.
"It really grows on trees?" asked the mouse, skeptically.
"Of course it does! Someday I'll show you."
"If it grows on trees, then tell me about them," said Hi-lee stubbornly.
The fairy told her a tale about how the fairies harvested the fairy dust, and how it always seemed to grow back on the trees in no time at all. Before he was even halfway through the story, Hi-lee was asleep. Elk-lore knew that the mouse had been really tired, or that his story had been exceptionally boring. Or maybe he was getting his magic back. 'No,' he told himself. He had never used stories before. And Hi-lee was sort of childish. Don't children fall asleep when someone tells them a bedtime story? He hoped against the hope that maybe, just maybe... He realized with a shock that he had never intended for Hi-lee to fall asleep.
'Maybe,' he thought with a shudder, 'maybe I'm getting my magic back, but I can't control it.'
The eagle came back less then half an hour later.
"Oh, great. Is she asleep again?" asked Jocy.
At this noise, Hi-lee woke up.
"Not any more," said Elk-lore.
"She always falls asleep if I'm not around to keep her awake," said Jocy. "It's a wonder that she hasn't gotten killed by now. Well, we've got a few hours before we sneak in. Anyone have any ideas of what to do?"
"Why don't we take a nap?" asked Hi-lee enthusiastically. Jocy glared at the mouse. "Sorry," said Hi-lee. She absently noticed the bottle of fairy dust on the ground beside her, and she put it in her cloak carefully. "Well, then, why don't we sneak in now?"
"Are you crazy?" asked Jocy. "They always taught us to never sneak into any country in daylight unless-"
"Unless a special situation arises," finished Hi-lee. "I know. But isn't this a special situation? We're all bored..."
"Jocy, if someone from Tas-et-lal sees us near their border, just waiting, they're sure to be suspicious, don't you think?" asked Elk-lore.
The eagle glared. "Well, all right," she said reluctantly. Hi-lee couldn't tell if Jocy had been persuaded by Elk-lore's last statement or if she was just being adventurous, or risking her life to prove a point. "What are you two waiting for? Come on!" said Jocy, who had become impatient in a flash.
The three proceeded to sneak across the border. They didn't make it more than 200 feet across before they saw four men from Tas-et-lal attempting to enter Jet-a-Miray. Elk-lore impulsively shot two arrows at the men before Jocy and Hi-lee could stop him. Naturally, the two men that he shot dropped dead, and, naturally, the other two men went to investigate who or what had killed their two comrades.
"How come you fairies have so much trouble killing these guys? You made it look awfully easy," said Hi-lee.
"Ssssh," Elk-lore quieted her. "Now, don't look," he said, placing Hi-lee's paws over her eyes. Hi-lee noticed that his hands were warm--well, of course they were warm; he was a fairy!--but also tense. Elk-lore aimed and shot the other two men, too. Hi-lee heard the 'twang' noises and was glad that she couldn't see the other two men die.
"How can you just kill living creatures like that?" asked Hi-lee, already forgetting her previous question. As an afterthought, she uncovered her eyes.
The fairy responded quietly, as he often did at Hi-lee's 'innocent' questions. "Those people took our magic. They've killed too many of us to count. All of us fighters have gotten to the point where we blindly hate those people from Tas-et-lal. We get ourselves to believe that they aren't humans, that they have no feelings, that they have no family or friends. We try to believe that they're monsters who spend all their time plotting against us. I'm sure that they try to think the same of us. I know, it's insane. Not that battles make any sense. You just get used to the killing, I suppose."
"Why do you have so much trouble getting rid of them, then?" asked Jocy. She knew that Hi-lee usually came up with good questions but was too forgetful to remember them, so the eagle took it upon herself to ask the questions that Hi-lee forgot to repeat.
Elk-lore didn't answer for almost a minute. He finally responded in a whisper. "Besides whatever's killing us from the outside... The other fairies don't like the fighters. They try to stop us, and they're very effective. It's a wonder I'm still alive. If I went back into my homeland... They're sick of Sela Kotu, too. They don't think that she's doing a good job, and I saved her life." Elk-lore remained silent for a long time after that, and, though the other two spies were still curious, they thought it was best not to ask any more questions. He finally broke the silence by saying, "Come on. We'd better find a good place to hide. There's probably more invaders where they came from, and they won't be happy when they see their comrades."
The unlikely trio found the ruins of a stone house that seemed to have been built about 250 years ago and crouched behind the highest wall in the shadows. They waited for night to fall, because the cool darkness of the midnight hours was the best time for a spy to explore his or her enemy's territory.
Go on to Chapter 9
Go back to The Stories of Julie Bihn