Aside from the spontaneous wind surfing the bats had been enjoying under the full moon, tranquility warmed Lore Valley the evening our story begins. Golden moonbeams occasionally broke through the billowy clouds drifting across the sky, and the rapid changes in shadow and light as the clouds gathered and broke inspired games of hide and seek amongst fairies and animals alike.
Only Queen Pasha’s palace escaped the effects of the changing moonlight. Anchored high amongst the intertwined branches of a giant oak tree, the royal residence shimmered with an otherworldly light that outlined the branches of the tree in which it perched. The palace’s grandeur was the crowning jewel of Lore Valley’s fairy kingdom, and the valley’s inhabitants often found excuses to visit the grand oak simply to marvel at the intricate work that had gone into creating a structure of such elegance and beauty. The palace had towers and balconies on all nine sides. Its windows sparkled even on rainy days, and ivy interlaced with flowering vines grew wildly over its peaked roofs.
Its interior matched its exterior in its combination of beauty, elegance, and surprise. There was a ballroom with ceilings high enough for dancing fairies to soar upwards as well as across the floor during their grand balls, a banquet room big enough for the grandest feasts, an elaborate kitchen with its own herb garden, a music room full of instruments, chambers for holding meetings, private quarters where the queen lived, and a maze of hidden passageways. In addition, the palace held rooms few castles or mansions of any kind could boast. There was a romping room for young fairies, an imagination room for minds to wander, strategy rooms for coming up with tricks, balconies for dreaming, and laze-about rooms for doing nothing at all. All these rambling rooms were assembled in what the fairies agreed was a perfectly logical arrangement, even though some of the valley’s birds claimed there was no sense to the arrangement at all. Thanks to the casement the sparrows had woven together with ruby threads they’d borrowed from drapes in Prince Jeffers’ abandoned castle, the palace hung snugly in place.
As day gave way to night, Queen Pasha stretched out on her favorite lounge in the West Garden Chamber. She closed her deep blue eyes to rest. Her long, auburn hair tumbled across her pillow. A sliver of moonlight traced the curves of her face, lighting the laughter and wisdom lines that accented her dark skin. Even as she rested, her rosy lips curved upward into a quiet smile.
She paid scant attention to Luc and Rupert, the two Knight Guards stationed on the balcony just outside her room. The window that separated the West Garden Chamber from the balcony was made of a special fabric that allowed her to see out of her chamber while preventing others from seeing in. Prince Frog had invented this fabric, inspired by his observation that water could often hide what flowed beneath it even though those underwater could quite clearly see the earth and sky above.
Queen Pasha had a special fondness for the guards on duty that night. Luc and Rupert were brothers who could read each other’s minds, a skill that came in handy when action left no time for words. Not that calls to action happened very often, as the queen would have been the first to admit. She knew that serving as a guard was one of the easiest jobs in the peaceful land over which she reigned. Altogether there were fifty-five guards, eleven of them assigned to palace duty. The queen did not believe guards necessary, but to satisfy her father’s dying wish, she agreed to hold on to them as a small consolation for her intention to do away with soldiers of any kind when she took the throne.
From the time she was a young princess, Queen Pasha had believed that good served as the best defense against those who might wish to harm Lore Valley, and the day she bowed her head to receive the crown she dismissed the army, banned all weapons of destruction, and set her finest tailors to weave an invisible shield over Lore Valley. Woven of fine, fragile strands of the essence of things that come from pure hearts, the orb-shaped shield served as a barrier that even the strongest foe could not penetrate. Much like the window coverings between her chamber and the guard’s balcony, outsiders could not get through the shield while those within the valley were able to leave.
No one had broken through the shield in the seven complete cycles of the seasons since the young queen had dismantled the army and banned weapons. And while all the inhabitants knew they were free to leave the valley if they so desired, no one had ever seen a single reason to do so.
As our story begins, the queen employed guards merely as a tradition that added charm to the valley, although the guards did routinely inspect the shield to ensure it remained strong and intact.
While the queen rested, the affectionate teasing of Luc and Rupert as they played a rousing game of Chinese checkers drifted into her room. Her lips twitched into a grin as Rupert let out a shout of victory. Even with her eyes closed, she knew he would be flashing his glowing firefly posterior rudely in Luc’s face.
“Won again!” Rupert boasted.
The queen sighed when she heard the beginnings of a familiar argument, but she did not interfere. She felt it best to let everyone work out differences without her intervention.
She couldn’t help but be impressed by Rupert’s victory as he bragged, “Hah! Jumped seven of your marbles in one move to beat the living daylights out of you! You should be ashamed!”
As the queen expected, Luc quickly defended himself. “Blind luck. That’s all you have going for you.”
Luc’s voice had a tinge of anger that seemed out of proportion to Rupert’s boasting, and a current of warning sizzled through the air. The queen gave it little attention. These two guards went at it periodically. It had never affected their ability to guard the palace before. She doubted it would this time either, so she was caught by surprise when the sizzling warning intensified, triggering her heart to race.
She rose to get a full view of Luc and Rupert. She saw Luc’s arms as he reached for a glass of bat milk and lifted it toward Rupert’s glowing rear end. He clearly intended to sizzle Rupert’s flashing light.
Taking a closer look, the queen could tell the glint in Luc’s eye was mischievous and playful, not at all something that would activate her internal sensitivity to danger. She arched her brows, perplexed. What was causing her unease? Rising, she went to the window that separated her room from the guards.
“S-s-s-h-h!” she said, holding up her hand. She scanned her room for something that could have set off her internal warning. Finding nothing unusual, she stepped onto the balcony to investigate further.
Luc and Rupert hurried to the queen, spilling their game to the floor. Even the sound of sixty marbles rolling across the seashell tile floor could not drown out the drumming of the queen’s heart. Fiona, the first guard of the Firefly Knight Guard, fluttered to her side.
“Shall I sound the alarm?” Fiona asked.
The queen shook her head and held up her hand for silence. For several long moments she said nothing as she concentrated her attention on everything around her. Her ears, the tips of her wings, and her eyes worked together to seek the source of her discomfort.
Then, with a nod, she brought her hands together in a soft clap to begin the Couldbe Emergency Response. With tails glowing, Luc and Rupert swiftly signaled Louis, the three-toed woodpecker, to tap out a warning. Soon all eleven palace guards began their swift, thorough search of the palace rooms. The queen stepped back as her guards took action.
Louis tapped out a second message, and the mistle thrushes gathered atop the giant oak that housed the palace. Royal Loyal, the pygmy owl in charge of the Safety Commitment, nodded his order for the birds to pick up the corn-silk rope. They skillfully looped it around the tree limbs and tugged until the branches separated and moonlight filled the balcony.
Queen Pasha noticed the raven Lenore take to the air to scour the valley for a disturbance. The queen didn’t let this sign of the raven’s mistrust of her ability to adequately protect the valley bother her. For as long as the queen could recall, Lenore had taken it upon herself to act as an undercover agent, always patrolling the valley for unlikely dangers.
Once the guards securely camouflaged the palace, Queen Pasha used her antennas at the tips of her radar-like wings to detect anything out of order. She tasted the night air and found it crisp and warm with a hint of strawberries—exactly what she would have expected. She inhaled deeply and found the usual sweet scent the night flowers produced. One by one, she used each of her five senses to detect something amiss. But not a single thing struck her as unusual. So what had startled her so suddenly from her rest?
She tuned her ears to the buzz coming from the fireflies, wondering if they had spotted something she had overlooked. Their conversations revealed that they were as baffled as she.
“What’s up—besides the queen, that is?” she heard them ask each other.
As the question hummed from one firefly to the next, a dazzling light shot across the sky. Luc and Rupert hastened to surround the fairy queen, rendering her invisible with the brightness of their fire. From the east and the west, stars fell in patterns of violet and blue; orange, red, and yellow cascaded from the north and south.
“The Dream Master!” the queen whispered, her words barely louder than the catch of her breath. Her hands flew to her heart as Clover, the heather-colored honeybee, began circling her head.
“The Dream Master!” Clover repeated, and the queen heard the name buzz like a thousand bees through the palace.
Beside her, Fiona spun her wings like a windmill during a hurricane at the mere mention of this terrifying creature. Fiona had earned the queen’s respect for her clear thinking, and the queen counted on her to stay calm through even the most tumultuous times, but even Fiona could not help but react to such a catastrophic possibility.
“But he can’t get in!” Fiona protested.
The queen took a long, deep breath and slowly exhaled. “Of course he can’t,” she said. “Our shield is far too strong for him.”
Her words were not reassuring, though, for just then a strong wind whipped through the branches. The palace rocked and swayed as if it had turned into a ship caught in a storm.
Fiona trembled, but kept her voice steady. “No worries. Our shield is far too strong for the Dream Master,” she said loud enough for everyone within earshot to hear. Then, for good measure, she added, “Our barrier will keep him out.”
“Certainly it will,” Queen Pasha agreed, her voice firm. As she spoke, she turned in a slow circle to examine her valley. Her robe billowed out behind her. “But I do believe something has fallen from the Dream Master’s bag. It has most likely landed near our valley. Maybe even inside our shield.”
“Maybe even inside our shield,” the fireflies hummed. Could the news be any worse? Anything from trolls and ogres, cats and cougars, one-eyed monkeys and flying orange-tongue lizards could be in the Dream Master’s bag.
“There’s no need for alarm,” the queen said, a reassuring smile adding credence to her words. “Nothing larger than a raindrop can fit through the fabric.”
She felt a tug on her arm, and looked down at Jean Paul, the newest and youngest member of the Firefly Knight Guard. He had not yet learned to hold his tongue or to wait for instruction.
“What fell from his bag?” he squeaked. He cupped his hands over his mouth when his words came out as loud as a trumpet blast.
“Only time will tell,” the queen replied. “And time has a mind of his own. Sometimes he acts quickly, other times he takes quite a long while.”
Jean Paul spoke up again. “Can’t we ask him to hurry? He’d listen to you, wouldn’t he? Everybody has to listen to the queen.”
The queen studied Jean Paul before replying. She believed that true power lay in letting others develop and use their own abilities to act as situations demanded. “My powers are not exhaustive, remember?” she asked, her voice kind. “That would not be safe. Besides, time is not ruled by anyone. We must have patience.”
With a quick pat on Jean Paul’s head and a nod to let Fiona know there was nothing more to be done for the time being, Queen Pasha left her balcony and returned to the West Garden Chamber.
Fiona followed her. “Your majesty,” she began, “I do not doubt your wisdom, but—”
The queen turned down the bed covers as she spoke, “But you wonder why I am not asking you to organize a search to see if indeed something has fallen from the Dream Master’s bag into our valley.”
Apology filled Fiona’s voice. “Forgive me, your majesty, for questioning you, but—”
Queen Pasha loosened the cords on her robe. “No need for forgiveness, Fiona. It is your job to protect our valley. But rest assured that I wouldn’t hesitate to have you start a search if I thought we were in any danger. Nothing that threatens us could have broken through our shield.”
She slipped her robe off her shoulders and climbed into bed. “However, I’m certainly curious about the situation and will look into it first thing in the morning. With your help, of course. That is if you don’t mind working late. Or early. But calling a search party now will only worry everyone. No one will sleep all night, and tomorrow there will be chaos. You know how much I dislike everyone fretting and worrying and hopping to conclusions of sure disaster. Better to rest well and then approach this with clear heads tomorrow.”
“Of course,” Fiona said and turned to resume her post.
The queen knew Fiona would tell Luc and Rupert to remain extra vigilant for the rest of their shift, even though there would be no need to remind them of their duties. To ease her guards’ worries, the queen slowed her breathing so they would think she had fallen asleep.
She listened to Luc and Rupert settle down and wondered briefly if word had reached the raven Lenore that she, the queen, suspected something had fallen from the Dream Master’s bag. If it had, Lenore would search feverishly to find it. Nothing brought the raven more joy than finding problems. The possibility of happiness simply didn’t enter Lenore’s thoughts. Best to leave the situation in the raven’s beak for the night. Lenore would awaken the queen if she found anything of concern.
Comforted by that thought, the queen finally fell asleep. She shifted restlessly throughout the night, trying to shake off a dream in which Clover, the heather-colored bee, repeated a single message: “Beware. Be careful. Be alert.”
It may have brought the queen peace if she had been able to follow Lenore. While the queen merely suspected that what had fallen from the Dream Master’s bag might have landed in Lore Valley, the raven had actually seen a tiny object tumble through the sky.
Lenore did a quick calculation. She multiplied the size she estimated the object to be by the speed it had careened to earth. She divided the number she arrived at by the slight wind to arrive at an answer. She tipped her head to consider the possibilities, and deduced that it would have landed in a bed of peonies near the northeast curve of the valley.
As the queen slept, Lenore shuffled tiny step by tiny step through the vast peony beds. She prodded into the folds of each plump blossom, taking care not to startle whatever had come to rest in the petals.
After searching for most of the night, she heard the flapping of bat wings in the distance as the night creatures made their return flight to the Bat Caves. She held her breath, hoping the bats weren’t curious about her movements. The last thing she needed was for them to swoop down and scare the interloper off before she had a chance to interrogate it, to disarm it if necessary.
And then she spotted it.
Hidden in the very core of the blossoms lay a translucent pearl holding the tiniest fairy she had ever seen. Lenore leaned so close she could sweep the pearl into her eye if she blinked. From its buttery scent, Lenore deduced the fairy was a little girl. The fairy’s eyes moved back and forth under her eyelids as if she was dreaming, and as her lips twitched into a half-smile, Lenore deduced the dream was pleasant.
Lenore’s feathers stood on end in awe as she gazed at the living, breathing gift that had fallen to earth. Lighthearted for the first time in her life, Lenore settled under a grove of foxgloves. She would guard her discovery until dawn. Then she would find a messenger and send for the queen. Until then, she would watch over what she felt deep under her feathers would change Lore Valley forever.
She spent the night contemplating how she could best safeguard whatever lay inside that pearl. She knew as well as she knew how to search for worms that the Dream Master would use every one of his black powers to reclaim this precious pearl and what lay inside it.
Would the queen, the great believer that beauty and goodness could conquer all, be equal to his dark powers?
As a lone cloud hung over the moon, a horrible thought crossed Lenore’s mind. Lore Valley was the only place on earth where fairies were known to live. So where had this fairy come from? Had this child fairy brought darkness of her own?