3. On Thin Ice

By Ælfstangard

Fantasy / Adventure

A Gift Of Languages

Gliss is sitting scrunched up in a chair wishing she could be somewhere else. Peri and Spike flew off the moment the arguing started. She, though, felt she had to stay because of the promise she made to her Mistress to always be there lest she have need of her. Right now, she felt abandoned and helpless. Mistress and the Oracle of the Tree were arguing in a language she did not understand and she didn’t know what she could do about it. Then she has an idea.

“Perhaps Mistress would allow me to go to the kitchenette to make a pot of tea for her and bring her something to eat,” Gliss thinks. “Food and some tea always help me calm down when I’m upset.”

Gliss moves to where Ishandra can see her and pantomimes pouring tea and eating and is relieved when Ishandra nods and waves her on.

“Do you think you know my language better than I do?” storms Flora in Linphean.

“No, I’m not saying that at all,” replies Ishandra in the same language while raising up clawed fingers in frustration.

“Then what are you saying?” demands Flora.

“Look Priestess,” growls Ishandra, “don’t get all up on your high horse with me. I’m just saying that you have to be a little more open-minded about some things. I’m not questioning your expertise in Modern Linphean but this is not Modern Linphean nor is it your secret language. This is Ancient Linphean and we are dealing with a whole different language and mindset.”

Flora huffs with her hands on her hips but allows Ishandra to continue.

“Look, Flora,” says Ishandra. “I know that this word exists in Modern Linphean,” and points with a silver lacquered index fingernail to a word in the passage they are examining, “but your interpretation does not make sense within this context. Could you be willing just for a moment to consider that the meaning of this word has changed over the millennia since this was written and look at alternate possibilities?”

“Fine,” says Flora with a wave of her hand, “figure it out for yourself then,” then turns to leave.

“Where are you going?” asks Ishandra.

“On break, out, away from here,” replies Flora, spreading her wings and taking off down the hall.

Ishandra puts her hand to her forehead and shakes her head. “Have I become more a Faerie or has she just turned into a Witch?” she asks herself.

When Gliss reaches the kitchenette, she is out of breath and feels herself still quaking inside. She reaches for a china teapot, fumbles, but manages to catch it before it hits the floor.

“Come on, Gliss,” she whispers while putting the teapot on the ledge beside the water pump, “you’ve made tea a thousand times before for Master Dewey and also your Mistress. This is not the time to get uptight about it.”

She rinses out the teapot then brings down the hollyhock tea stored in its acorn container. She scoops some tea into the pot then realizes that she has put in a double measure but, before she can do anything, the leaves are already damp from the water remaining in the bottom of the teapot.

“If I throw out this lot to start again, Master Dewey will clip my wings,” she thinks because any tea imported from the Summer Meadows came at a steep price and therefore it is near unforgiveable to waste any. Gliss does not want to risk replacing the acorn container back on its shelf while she is still feeling unsteady and perchance spilling any of the precious tea. She places it instead in the corner by the wall, grabs the sink ledge and forces herself to breathe deeply. Bit by bit she feels herself calm down.

“Okay, how to resolve this?” she is thinking. “At double strength, this tea is undrinkable but Mistress is always good for two pots of tea and the Oracle will want tea too. So…, if I brew the tea for a bit longer I can put a third into two other teapots and dilute it down to drinkable. Then she remembers that she will have to dilute the Oracle’s tea with hot water and wonders why she and the other Winx liked their tea hot enough to burn out their insides while any sane person drinks her tea chilled or at least cooled to room temperature. “Now, I’ll have enough to make two pots of normal strength tea and enough left to make Mistress her second pot when she’s ready,” and now feels happy for coming up with this clever solution. Then she looks to the corner where she put the acorn of hollyhock tea and groans for not seeing Tinker Bell’s fast tea brewer sitting right beside it.

A minute later, Flora flies into the kitchenette.

“Or…,” begins Gliss then corrects herself. “Duchess Flora, is there something I may do for you?”

Flora is still lathered from her dispute with Ishandra and is biting her tongue not to snap at the Frost Faerie. Then her empathic nature kicks in and she realizes that Gliss is upset as well.

“It’s okay, Sweetie,” she says gently. “You’ve done nothing wrong. We’re…,” but does not finish before Leffi flies in.

“Whoa!” exclaims Leffi. “What’s with all the doom and gloom?”

“Your sister and I are at odds over the interpretation of parts of Queen Rhianna’s books,” Flora tells the Storm Talent.

“Well, at least I don’t see any bumps or bruises on you,” says Leffi, half laughing. “Usually when Darcy and I have a disagreement with her we end up being smacked around or beaten. And you should know by now how immovable a Witch is when she’s made up her mind about something.”

“I know only too well, Leffi,” sighs Flora, “but it still does not help matters.”

“Here, Duchess,” says Gliss, “I have some hot hollyhock tea for you. There is honey in that little pot and I have a little something special for you,” then places a plate of what looks to be flower heads in front of her.

“What is this?” Flora asks the Frost Faerie, holding up something about the size of a generous slice of melon on Alfea.

“It’s a crystalized rose petal,” replies Gliss. “It is a delicacy made by the Summer Art Talents. Each petal has been hand painted with fruit sugars. Sometimes the sugar makes it look like it has been touched by a Frost Talent. Crystalized dandelion leaves are also great – the sweet offsetting the bitter – and dandelion flowers are a feast when glazed with honey.”

“Stop it!” teases Leffi. “I was hungry when I came in but now this talk of food has me starving. I hope there is some owl mince to be had.”

The conversation turns serious once again after Flora has drunk half a cup of tea and finished a crystalized rose petal, Leffi has grabbed several owl mince pastries from out of the pantry and Gliss has returned after flying to Ishandra her pot of tea and pastries.

“So, what’s the snag in translating Queen Rhianna’s books?” asks Leffi.

“It is that Queen Rhianna’s books are written in Ancient Linphean,” Flora explains, “and in a form so old that I doubt that it is known even to the wisest scholars currently living on Linphea. I have figured out some things and Ishandra has figured out a few other things through her expertise in ancient languages but neither one of us has a complete understanding of it. We are guessing about a lot of it and arguing over whose guess is the better but even at that we may both be wrong. At this rate, the Winter Woods could perish before we get past chapter one,” then Gliss stares at her shocked and frightened.

“Sweetie,” says Flora while taking the Frost Faerie into her arms and rocking her, “I swear to you that we’ll never let that happen.”

“Why not ask the Chamber of Voices for the ability to understand Ancient Linphean?” asks Leffi almost casually.

“What?” says Flora.

“Darcy made me swear not to tell anyone,” says Leffi, looking uneasy, “but she told me that Iridessa has suddenly started speaking Witchspeak as if she were born knowing it. When I asked her how that happened, Darcy said it was after she and Iridessa had a fight because she was trying to explain some abstract something to Iridessa for which there are no adequate words in Hollowese. Iridessa flew off in a huff saying that she was going to the Pixie Dust Tree to be with the Tinx. It seems that Tinker Bell told Iridessa to go meditate in the Chamber of Voices to help her calm down which she did but she fell asleep while there and when she came back the next morning she was suddenly able to speak in Witchspeak to Darcy.”

Flora sits down hard with her mouth agape. “You did the right thing by telling me,” she tells Leffi once able to speak again. “We’ll keep this confidential,” and Gliss nods in agreement.

“Now,” says Leffi, looking relieved, “if I’ve figured this out right, the Pixie Dust Tree knows every language it has come into contact with. This Queen Rhianna must have lived in the Royal Chambers in the Tree for a long time so it must have acquired an in depth knowledge of Ancient Linphean. Maybe it is just a matter of going to the Chamber of Voices, asking for it nicely then taking a snooze and the Tree will give you all you need the same way it gave Ishandra, Darcy and me Hollowese.”

When Gliss finally works up the courage to return to the main library, she finds Queen Aisha, The Oracle, Mistress and Lord Milori standing in a group. The air about them seems calmer if not completely calm as the conversation goes on in Hollowese. Queen Aisha is telling Mistress and The Oracle that they both look worn out and need to take a break and Lord Milori nods his agreement. The Oracle mentions something about wanting to visit the other Winx to bring them up to speed on recent events. Lord Milori, taking Mistress’ hand, is talking about long, restful sleigh rides through the Winter Woods as he and Mistress smile at each other.

“Twitter-pated,” says a quiet voice so close to her ear that Gliss nearly takes to the air from fright. She turns to see that Peri and Spike have come up quietly behind her.

“It looks like Sis might get her wish after all,” whispers Peri with a mischievous smile.

“I had better prepare to go with Mistress,” says Gliss but Peri holds her back.

“I don’t think so,” Peri tells her. “I think this time she’d rather go alone.”

The three turn their attention back to the conversation to hear Queen Aisha tell The Oracle that in her current state there’s no way that she’ll allow The Oracle to go back to the Pixie Dust Tree except by owlback.

“I’d better see to the owl for The Oracle,” whispers Spike then slips away.

“And we’d do best to get back to the winter preparations we’ve been neglecting,” whispers Peri to Gliss, “or our queen may start thinking of eating our wings for dinner,” then they too slip away.

Flora did not feel the owl land. It is someone shaking her shoulder and anxiously calling her name that awakens her. Flora half opens her eyes to see a Faerie with long, dark hair and a worried look creasing her forehead.

“Silvermist?” moans Flora half-awake.

“Thank the Tree!” exclaims Silvermist. “Yes. And you have just given me the fright of my life.”

“Huh?” says Flora still groggy.

“How did you get yourself into such a state?” scolds Silvermist. “Do you realize that you nearly fell off your mount? Where did you think you were going?”

“I need to get to the Pixie Dust Tree,” mumbles Flora, “I have something urgent I need to do there.”

“Well, you can forget about it!” states Silvermist firmly. “You need food and rest. When was the last time you had either?”

“I don’t remember,” replies Flora, now fully awake. “Five or six days ago, maybe.”

“Tell me you’re joking!” Silvermist nearly explodes. “Well, first things first. You need a good bath. You reek of old castle and moldy books.”

Silvermist mounts the owl behind Flora, takes the guiding reigns, makes a series of whistles and again they are in the air. How long they were airborne Flora did not know because she soon fell back to sleep under the gentle beating of owl wings. The next thing she remembers is another series of whistles, a soft thump then Silvermist helping her to dismount. Flora realizes that they were now at Silvermist’s secret hot spring.

“Get in and get settled,” Silvermist tells her and Flora turns to see that Sil is stark naked but seeming not to care what anyone at this moment may say or think of her. “I’ll be right back.”

Flora steps into the warm water but looks up to see that the owl has taken up watch on a branch above them with the look of one having only scorn and contempt for anyone or anything that would dare to harm his two charges. “I guess that is one reason Sil is feeling so confident this time,” she thinks then steps deeper into the water.

Silvermist returns within moments holding a root in her hand. “Found just what we need,” she smiles. She goes to a flat stone at the edge of the pool whereupon she places the root and with another stone pounds it into so much loose fiber. Then twisting it over her head she allows the sap to fall onto her hair then squeezes a dollop of sap over Flora’s hair. A bit of water and some vigorous scrubbing and the sap lathers into a fragrant and relaxing cleansing foam.

Silvermist moves behind Flora to do her back then Flora feels slender arms winding about her waist and a chin resting upon her shoulder. “Don’t you ever do this to me again,” Flora hears Silvermist whisper into her ear. “Our lives are so entwined now that I fear that if you should die then I would die too,” then Silvermist bunts the top of her head against Flora’s jawbone in a gentle caress.

When they are again at Silvermist’s home, Flora can already smell the savory aroma of a vegetable stew. Silvermist goes to a box mounted to the outside wall and fetches from it a leaf and a piece of okra and writes something. She then fastens her message to the owl’s riding reigns then warbles and trills a string of notes.

“Is that the way you are controlling him?” asks Flora.

“Exactly,” replies Silvermist. “They are trained to respond to a number of different calls. That one tells him that his destination is the cargo drop-off terminal in the Winter Woods. The Animal Talents there will read my message and know to send him back in three days. This tells him to be on his way.” Silvermist whistles but the moment the owl spreads his wings to take off, she quickly whistles a different string of notes and the owl settles back.

“That was the command to land or stay put,” explains Silvermist but the owl turns his head to fix her with his huge eyes and hoots annoyed as if saying, “Make up your mind will you, Lady. Do you want me to stay or do you want me to go?”

Silvermist whistles the depart command once more and the owl, after taking a moment to decide that this was the intended command, launches into the air and the Faeries watch him disappear heading towards the Winter Woods.

Once in the house, Silvermist serves up large bowls of vegetable stew with wild oat bread to dunk into it. They eat until near bursting then share a large blueberry. When done, both have hands, mouths, cheeks and noses stained with berry juice and spend a long time laughing helplessly as they point at each other. They clean up and after some cool mint tea both are stretching and yawning.

“It has been quite a day,” says Flora, patting her full stomach. “Time to go to sleep.”

“Come sleep beside me,” whispers Silvermist, patting the waiting space beside her.

Flora comes to Silvermist who guides her head to her shoulder. Soon, the two Faeries are fast asleep in each other’s embrace.

In the morning, both Flora and Silvermist awake feeling refreshed. They spend the morning doing a lot of nothing much but, after the midday meal, Flora once more feels the urgency to fly to the Pixie Dust Tree. Silvermist decides to join her because she wants to visit with the rest of the Tinx.

After they land at the Pixie Dust Tree, they soon find the other Tinx and Iridessa among them.

“Good morning, Iridessa,” Flora greets Iridessa in basic Witchspeak. “How are you this morning?”

“Just fine,” replies Iridessa in the same language, “and how are you?”

“I’m fine as well,” smiles Flora but then Iridessa launches into a Witchspeak dialogue that is far beyond Flora’s understanding.”

“So, you can speak Witchspeak now,” says Flora, reverting to Hollowese.

“And beautifully,” says Darcy who had stepped into the room as the conversation began. “It was quite a surprise for me too,” she continues, smiling at Iridessa but also looking miffed that Flora has tricked Iridessa into letting the cat out of the bag. Flora, though, is quietly pleased with herself for confirming Iridessa’s new ability without betraying Leffi. “Does Darcy even know or care that Leffi has been spending so much time in the Winter Woods?” Flora wonders.

Flora leaves Silvermist chatting with the Tinx while she flies to her new home. She finds Bloom alone so updates her on recent events including Iridessa’s acquisition of Witchspeak.

“So tonight you are going to see if you can acquire Ancient Linphean by meditating then sleeping in the Chamber of Voices?” asks Bloom.

“Yes,” Flora confirms, “and if it works, you’ll be the first to know. Just keep it to yourself for the moment.”

“Certainly,” replies Bloom, “and good luck with it.”

“Thank you,” smiles Flora then flies immediately back to the Pixie Dust Tree. When back, she explains to Silvermist her intensions.

“That works out well all around,” Silvermist tells her. “I have been invited for a Tinx only sleepover at Vidia’s tree. I’ll meet you back here tomorrow morning.”

On the way to the Chamber of Voices, Flora stops to pick up a few items to help get herself into the proper headspace for meditation – some light fruit, water, and a lamp filled with scented oil. When she gets to the Chamber, she finds the small table still there and so too a meditation mat. She places her items on the table and lights the lamp. While waiting for the lamp to fill the room with fragrance, she eats a small portion of fruit and takes a few sips of water. Satisfied that she is ready, she sits on the mat, moves into the lotus position and clears her mind except for a prayer to the Chamber of Voices to be granted the ability to completely understand Ancient Linphean. Immediately she feels the light-headed giddiness of one slipping into deep meditation then nothing.

Flora is awoken the next morning by someone gently opening the Chamber door and silently slipping in. She opens her eyes to see Bloom’s smiling face.

“Did it work?” asks Bloom, skipping the usual greeting.

“No idea,” says Flora while Bloom goes to the table to fetch for her some fruit and a glass of water.

While munching on a slice of apple, Flora tries to go over from memory some of the passages of Rhianna’s books that she and Ishandra had disputed. She feels that she has a somewhat clearer understanding but is unsure if it is that or just wishful thinking. “I can’t be sure,” she finally admits, “until I get back to the Winter Woods Library and have the actual texts in my hand. I can only hope for the best.”

“Speaking of that…,” begins Bloom as a shy face peeks around the door.

“We have only about time for our midday meal here before we have to fly back to my home,” finishes Silvermist. “By the time we return and I have packed for you some provisions to take back with you, the owl will have arrived to fly you back to the Winter Woods.”

As Silvermist predicted, they are hardly back and Silvermist has packed Flora’s survival basket when the owl from the Winter Woods lands and is soon hooting and scratching the ground wanting to be underway. The Faeries give each other quick hugs and wish each other good luck then, as soon as the basket is secured and Flora is comfortably seated, Silvermist whistles a string of notes and the owl with Flora is aloft.

While on her way, Flora starts thinking about the commands used to direct the owls and hopes that Silvermist had given her mount all the commands required to get her to the Winter Woods library. Then she starts thinking about how interesting Musa would find this. “If I know Musa,” she thinks, “she will use this as the basis for a new composition. She would most likely call it Snow Owl Serenade and have it performed on Melodia by the group known as The Hoo.”

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