The Dragonfly Crown (short story)

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Summary

10-year-old Hattie finds a sparkly crown in an antiques shop and realises that it has magical powers. Trouble comes when others see her wearing the crown and want it for themselves.

Genre:
Children / Fantasy
Author:
Victoria Kelly
Status:
Complete
Chapters:
1
Rating:
n/a
Age Rating:
13+

The Dragonfly Crown

“We’ve a few minutes before lunch,” said Aunt Harriet. “Would you like to look in the antique shop?”

“If you want,” muttered 10-year-old Hattie. She didn’t care much for antiques. Meanwhile, her aunt, with whom she shared a name, always went bonkers over old teapots and the like. Hattie supposed she would get dragged into the shop either way. On the other hand, it had been kind of Aunt Harriet to take her out for the day and at least an antiques shop was better than being at home with her parents fighting all the time.

The antique shop was squashed between a hairdressers and a vet’s. Hattie couldn’t remember seeing it before but it was such a dull-looking shop that it was no wonder that she hadn’t noticed it. A bell trilled overhead as Aunt Harriet pushed the door open. The gloomy interior was packed full of old furniture arranged in groups, as if there were several different living rooms vying for the same space. A smell of dust and polish hung in the air. “Hullo there.” An old man in a beige carpenter’s jacket ambled out of the depths and immediately fell into discussion with Aunt Harriet. They were talking about lamps. Hattie wandered off by herself.

The shop went back a long way. Actually it was much bigger than it looked from the outside. She drifted past a display of mouldering carpets, followed by a forest of wardrobes. Right at the back, something shiny caught her eye. Going closer, it turned out to be a display of antique jewellery arranged on a shelf. Hattie cast a disinterested eye over it. Even this was pretty boring. Most of the pieces were old-fashioned junk that Hattie wouldn’t have been caught dead in. Necklaces made of huge, faded beads and broad broaches of swirly mother-of-pearl. On a rail hung a few sparkly things that she thought were bracelets, but upon looking closer, she realised they were tiaras.

Those were more interesting. Hattie was a bit past the stage of fancying herself as a Disney Princess but she could at least try them on. A broad mirror stood conveniently near. She untangled the first one off the rail and then stuck it on her head. A bit too big. Was it an adult tiara then? What kind of full-grown ladies would wear tiaras? Hattie tried to imagine her aunt or mother wearing one and shook her head in disgust. It wasn’t the kind of accessory you’d wear to the shops or the dentist. And neither of them seemed to ever do anything more interesting than that.

The next couple of tiaras were equally disappointing. Hattie put them back on the shelf with a sigh. “It’s not like I really need a tiara after all,” she muttered. The last one was partly covered by a bit of old velvet. Hattie peeled it off and then caught her breath at what was underneath.

It wasn’t a tiara, it was a crown. What’s more, it looked new! The sparkly stones could have come from the jewellers yesterday. The colours weren’t in the least faded. At the front of the crown was an exquisitely wrought collection of gemstones and wires depicting a dragonfly. It was beautiful!

Holding her breath, Hattie slid the dragonfly crown off the rail and held it in her hands for a moment. It should have been heavy with all those jewels, but it wasn’t. It just felt nice. Warm and exciting. She couldn’t wait to try it on. Hurrying to the mirror, she held the crown in her hand for a second, looking at her reflection and savouring the moment.

She was about to lift the crown onto her head when a piercing noise broke the air.

“Cuckoo!”

A deafeningly loud cuckoo clock on the wall behind her had begun to chime the noon hour. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the clockwork was only half functional. The little doors that were supposed to let the cuckoo out didn’t open properly and the bird kept getting stuck on its way in and out, adding a horrible whirring sound to the earsplitting cuckoos.

Hattie grimaced. The horrible clock had ruined her moment with the crown. But she wasn’t going to let it put her off. Ignoring the racket, she focused back in on her image in the mirror and lifted the crown, smiling at her own reflection before she placed it on her head.

The moment the dragonfly crown touched her head, the mirror and everything around her disappeared. The shop was gone. She was standing outside, in a meadow. Bright sun beat down onto her face.

“Oh!” gasped Hattie. “Oh!”

There were hills in the distance. A narrow path stretched off to her right, winding through the meadow’s tall grass and colourful wildflowers. To the left were birches and willow trees gathered in the beginnings of a friendly-looking wood.

How did she get here? Hattie’s hands darted up to check her head. Yes, dragonfly crown was still in place. Had it transported her here? She had no idea. But she was certainly glad to be away from that dingy shop. These bright surroundings were something entirely different. Crickets buzzed in the grass around her feet. Butterflies flitted among the blossoms in the grass. Hattie stood for a few moments, considering what to do. The bright sun was already making her thirsty. It was really rather hot and she wanted to get out of the glare. Turning left, she swished through the long grass in the direction of the trees.

It was a relief to reach the shady copse. Spotting a path through the trees, Hattie wandered a little way along it, enjoying the dappled coolness. Birds twittered in the canopy overhead.

“That’s a very fine crown.”

Hattie started in surprise. Whirling around, she saw a little man, just a bit shorter than she was. He was wearing brown clothes that blended with the surroundings and he had wispy hair that stood up on his head. He was very short. In the real world, he would have been practically a dwarf, compared to adults. Here, where she was the only other person around, he seemed just a little on the short side.

“A very fine crown,” he repeated. “It suits you.” There was a twinkle in his eye but Hattie didn’t think he was making fun of her.

“Thank you,” she said. “Do you live here?”

“What, here in the woods?” he raised his eyebrows.

“Oh, well I meant nearby.” Hattie felt silly for assuming things, but to tell the truth, he reminded her of a leprechaun.

“Yes, I live nearby.” His eyes had gone back to her head. “A very fine crown,” he repeated. “I have a friend who had a crown just like that.”

“I didn’t steal it,” Hattie said quickly. She wished he’d stop looking at the crown.

“No, no, no.” He exclaimed. “I never meant to imply such a thing. Never meant it at all. And it does suit you.”

“Thank you,” Hattie echoed faintly. She wondered how she could politely end the conversation. She’d been enjoying wandering about by herself.

“Would you like to meet my friend?” the man asked. “She lives very close by. She could offer you refreshments, as it’s a hot day and all. She has a very fine recipe for elderflower cordial. Passed through the family for generations. Yes, it’s a very fine recipe.”

Hattie wasn’t keen on meeting the man’s friend, but there didn’t seem to be a polite way to refuse. And she was rather thirsty. A drink would be welcome. Perhaps she could just drink it quickly and then leave. “Well, as long as it’s not far,” she said.

The man did a funny little caper and gestured along the path. “Not far at all. This way, m’lady.” Hattie followed him through the trees. As they got deeper into the woods, there were some very colourful mushrooms growing among the trees. The man pointed them out and told Hattie the names. “That’s called Blue Bombshell. That one’s Lady’s Doom. Next to it is Flimsycap. Oh, here’s George.” The last was directed at a man in green who’d stepped out from behind a tree. He was even shorter than Hattie’s companion.

“Hello Dorvan” nodded the man in green. “And who’s this?” He turned sharp eyes on Hattie.

“This is the Dragonfly Queen,” said Dorvan, indicating Hattie with a grand gesture. I’m taking her to see Lora.

“Lora will want to see her,” agreed George. “It’s a very fine crown she’s wearing, this queen.”

“Very fine,” echoed Dorvan.

Hattie shifted uncomfortably and wondered if she could simply run away from them. But she didn’t know where to run to. And it would be rude.

“Come on then,” Dorvan capered down the path. “No time to lose. Lora has the best elderflower cordial.”

“After you.” George indicated that Hattie should go first. His keen gaze didn’t leave her for a second.

“Thanks,” she muttered, and marched past him. A few metres down the path she turned to see whether he was still following. He was.

“And here’s Tenny!” came an exclamation from ahead. Dorvan had run into yet another short man. He gabbled an explanation to the newcomer. Tenny, who was wearing pale blue and had blonde hair plaited into several braids, made the same comment about Hattie’s crown being a very fine crown, and agreed that Lora’s cordial was the best to be had. He fell in, next to George as they continued down the path. Hattie started to feel like Snow White.

By the time they reached the edge of the woods, there was quite a following behind Hattie. As they’d continued along the path, she’d heard George and Tenny whispering explanations to yet more people who’d appeared out of the undergrowth. When she looked back, she wasn’t surprised to see a sizeable group of following them. All of them were shorter than she was and everyone seemed to be wearing clothes that blended with the forest colours.

“Everyone’s here, everyone’s here!” exclaimed Dorvan. “Just as it should be. Well come on then, my lady.” He made a sweeping bow, indicating that Hattie should precede him.

“Where?” asked Hattie. They’d arrived at the other side of the woods but all she could see was a field of grass with a little hump in the middle.

“The hill, the hill! That’s where Lora lives,” he exclaimed, running ahead.

There didn’t seem to be anything for it but to follow him. Once out of the shade of the trees, the sun made a renewed assault on Hattie’s head and her thirst returned in full measure. She hurried after Dorvan with their retinue following close behind, muttering and nudging one another.

When they got to the hump in the grass, Dorvan pointed to a little opening leading into the hill itself. It was a bit like a cave or an animal’s den. Sticks of wood propped up a little grassy overhang. It looked very dark and ominous inside. “In there?” exclaimed Hattie. “I don’t think I want to visit Lora, after all.”

“But you must!” declared Dorvan.

“You must!” came a menacing echo from behind her.

“Well I won’t fit, for one thing.” Hattie drew herself up. “How am I supposed to get into that hole?”

“It’s easy! You just crawl in. It gets higher just after the opening.” Dorvan bounded forward and clambered into the hole on his hands and knees. In a few seconds, he’d disappeared from sight.

Hattie cast a nervous glance at the group behind her. Rows of eyes gleamed in expectation. A few of the group made impatient gestures, shooing her on into the hill. There was nothing for it but to get down onto her hands and knees and crawl into the hole. “This cordial had better be bloody fantastic!” she grumbled to herself, feeling better for having sworn a bit.

In the end, it wasn’t as bad as she’d feared. As Dorvan had promised, the opening was the narrowest part. Within a few feet, the space opened up around her. The earth under her feet changed to smooth wooden tiles and the earthy smell became a more neutral aroma of wood and someone else’s house. Hattie got back onto her feet and squinted around. She couldn’t see anything after the bright sunshine outside. Someone shoved her from behind and a chorus of grumblings preceded the arrival of the followers, who were also crawling their way into the hill. Would there be room for everyone? Hattie turned back to scope out the room and gasped. Now that her eyes had adjusted she realised it was less of a room and more of a hall. Dim light cam from globes set around the edges of the circular space The earthy ceiling above was bedecked with roots dangling like worms. On the other side of the space Dorvan was talking animatedly to a lady seated in a very grand, carved wooden chair. He pointed towards Hattie and the lady glanced towards her. As their eyes met, Hattie felt a chill run down her spine. Lora was beautiful as anything but her eyes were fierce and angry. Hattie imagined that anyone who didn’t do as Lora wished would be in big trouble.

“Come, come. Meet Lora,” Dorvan hurried over and took Hattie’s arm, pulling her over to the grand chair. “See, Lora, doesn’t it look just like your old crown?”

“Indeed it does,” said Lora. Her voice was as silky and smooth as velvet. “May I ask where you attained this rather fine crown of yours?”

Hattie wondered what to answer. Should she explain about coming from another world?

Lora tapped a silver-slippered foot on the ground.

“In an antique shop,” said Hattie. There was a silence. “It’s a place where you can buy old things,” she added.

“I see,” said Lora. “It does look very much like my crown.”

“It does, my lady,” agreed Dorvan.

“Except mine had a butterfly. Not a long insect like that,” added Lora. “But it looked very similar.”

“So it wasn’t the same crown, then,” exclaimed Hattie. She felt relieved. It was silly, but she’d been imagining that the dragonfly crown really had been Lora’s and she’d be forced to give it back. Now she felt better.

“What did you say her name was?” Lora asked of Dorvan.

“Oh my lady, Lora. She declined to give her name,” declared the short man.

“No I didn’t,” exclaimed Hattie. “You never asked! It’s Hattie.”

“Hatty? Like a hat?” Dorvan frowned. “That’s a funny name.”

“Your cordial, ma’am.” a short woman with a tray had appeared at Hattie’s elbow.

“Oh, thank you.” Hattie lifted the cup off the tray. A sickly sweet aroma arose from it. She gagged. Was this undiluted cordial? How on earth was a person supposed to drink that?

“Very similar,” repeated Lora. She leaned forward. “May I try it on, Hattie?” Her eyes were piercing and intense. She managed to make Hattie’s name sound like a threat.

“I…” Hattie looked behind her. The group of short people that had followed her through the woods were all gathered behind. If she refused, would they grab the crown from her? Would they throw her in a dungeon? Or worse?

Suddenly, Hattie didn’t care any more. “You know what!” she exclaimed. “You can have it. It’s not like I really need a crown, anyway.” Putting both hands to her brow, she grasped the metal circlet and lifted it from her head.

“Cuckoo!”

Hattie looked around. The underground room was gone. She was back in the antique shop.

“Cuckoo!”

She looked down at her hands. The dragonfly crown rested there, gleaming softly. She stared at it for a moment.

“Cuckoo!”

On a whim, Hattie put the crown back on her head.

She was standing on a beach. Wind whipped through her hair. waves raced to throw themselves on the shore. Dark clouds gathered in the distance. A dull ringing sound came from a lighthouse some way along the coast. Its beam already swept the darkening waters.

She lifted the crown from her head.

She was back in the antique shop.

“Cuckoo!”

A rush of excitement swelled in her chest as she realised what she was holding. A crown that could transport her to other worlds! Just what she needed. She hugged it to her. She had to have it! But could she persuade her aunt to get it for her? Was it very expensive? She examined the crown but couldn’t find a price tag. She even debated hiding it under her clothes, but it was too tall to easily fit without leaving a tell-tale lump.

“There she is!” Aunt Harriet had come looking for her, followed by the shop’s owner. “My, what’s what you’ve found? A crown! Oh how lovely.”

“Can I have it?” Hattie blurted. Then reddened. She didn’t normally ask for things.

Aunt Harriet hesitated. “Well, it depends how expensive it is, darling.” She turned to the old man in the brown coat. “Is it very much for the crown?”

“The headwear is all £100 per piece.”

Aunt Harriet’s face fell. “Oh dear. I’m so sorry Hattie. That’s just too much for a bit of jewellery. Anyway it’s not like you really need a crown.”

“But I do need it!” Hattie surprised herself with the force of her outburst.

He aunt was also taken aback. “Now, young lady. You’ve been brought up better than that.”

Hattie could feel her means of escape slipping away rapidly. She hugged the crown to her and desperately tried to hold back tears.

“Wait a minute, which one is that?” the old man peered at the circlet clutched in Hattie’s arms. “Ohhhh….” He looked at Hattie sharply. “You found that one, did you?”

She nodded, eyes prickling.

“That means it’s yours.”

Hattie stared at him.

“Now wait a minute, did you say she can have it? That’s a bit much-” her aunt started to protest but the man gestured dismissively.

“Sorry ma’am, I spoke wrongly. All headwear is £100 except that piece. The dragonfly crown is a bit special. I can’t sell it. Tell the truth, I’ve been waiting for the right little girl to give it to.” His eyes twinkled at Hattie. “I think today is the day.”

Hattie beamed at him and hugged the crown even tighter.

“Gosh, Hattie, aren’t you a lucky girl. Come on, what do you say?”

“Thank you,” breathed Hattie.

“Well then let’s see you try it on,” exclaimed her aunt.

Hattie stared at her in dismay.

“Oh not here.” The man in brown rushed to her rescue. “Let her wait until she gets home and can put on a fancy dress to go with it. A crown like that deserves the right costume.”

“Well I suppose you’re right,” conceded Aunt Harriet.

The man led the way to the front of the shop where he said he had some paper to wrap the crown in. Hattie whispered an extra “Thank you!” to him while her aunt was distracted.

“It’s a very fine crown,” murmured the man in reply. “It suits you.” When Hattie glanced sharply at him, he winked, then went back to wrapping it up. When it was done, he presented it to her with a flourish. “There you go m’lady.”

“Come on then Hattie.” Aunt Harriet tugged her arm. “It’s already well past noon. We’ll miss lunch altogether if we’re not careful.”

As her aunt pulled her out of the shop, Hattie cast a final glance back at the man who had given her the crown. But he had already disappeared into the darkness at the back of the shop.

The End

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