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The Fairy Bower
That part of the Enchanted Isle which was kissed by the rising sun was called Dawna; the kingdom that was tinted rose and purple by the setting sun was known as Auriel, and the southland, where fruits and flowers abounded, was the kingdom of Plenta. Up at the north lay Heg, the home of the great barons who feared not even the men of Spor; and in the Kingdom of Heg our story opens.
Upon a beautiful plain stood the castle of the great Baron Merd — renowned alike in war and peace, and second in importance only to the King of Heg. It was a castle of vast extent, built with thick walls and protected by strong gates. In front of it sloped a pretty stretch of land with the sea glistening far beyond; and back of it, but a short distance away, was the edge of the Forest of Lurla.
One fair summer day the custodian of the castle gates opened a wicket and let down a draw-bridge, when out trooped three pretty girls with baskets dangling on their arms. One of the maids walked in front of her companions, as became the only daughter of the mighty Baron Merd. She was named Seseley, and had yellow hair and red cheeks and big, blue eyes. Behind her, merry and laughing, yet with a distinct deference to the high station of their young lady, walked Berna and Helda — dark brunettes with mischievous eyes and slender, lithe limbs. Berna was the daughter of the chief archer, and Helda the niece of the captain of the guard, and they were appointed play-fellows and comrades of the fair Seseley.
Up the hill to the forest's edge ran the three, and then without hesitation plunged into the shade of the ancient trees. There was no sunlight now, but the air was cool and fragrant of nuts and mosses, and the children skipped along the paths joyously and without fear.
To be sure, the Forest of Lurla was well known as the home of fairies, but Seseley and her comrades feared nothing from such gentle creatures and only longed for an interview with the powerful immortals whom they had been taught to love as the tender guardians of mankind. Nymphs there were in Lurla, as well, and crooked knooks, it was said; yet for many years past no person could boast the favor of meeting any one of the fairy creatures face to face.
So, gathering a few nuts here and a sweet forest flower there, the three maidens walked farther and farther into the forest until they came upon a clearing — formed like a circle — with mosses and ferns for its carpet and great overhanging branches for its roof.
"How pretty!" cried Seseley, gaily. "Let us eat our luncheon in this lovely banquet-hall!"
So Berna and Helda spread a cloth and brought from their baskets some golden platters and a store of food. Yet there was little ceremony over the meal, you may be sure, and within a short space all the children had satisfied their appetites and were laughing and chatting as merrily as if they were at home in the great castle. Indeed, it is certain they were happier in their forest glade than when facing grim walls of stone, and the three were in such gay spirits that whatever one chanced to say the others promptly joined in laughing over.
Soon, however, they were startled to hear a silvery peal of laughter answering their own, and turning to see whence the sound proceeded, they found seated near them a creature so beautiful that at once the three pairs of eyes opened to their widest extent, and three hearts beat much faster than before.
"Well, I must say you do stare!" exclaimed the newcomer, who was clothed in soft floating robes of rose and pearl color, and whose eyes shone upon them like two stars.
"Forgive our impertinence," answered the little Lady Seseley, trying to appear dignified and unmoved; "but you must acknowledge that you came among us uninvited, and — and you are certainly rather odd in appearance."
Again the silvery laughter rang through the glade.
"Uninvited!" echoed the creature, clapping her hands together delightedly; "uninvited to my own forest home! Why, my dear girls, you are the uninvited ones — indeed you are — to thus come romping into our fairy bower."
The children did not open their eyes any wider on hearing this speech, for they could not; but their faces expressed their amazement fully, while Helda gasped the words:
"A fairy bower! We are in a fairy bower!"
"Most certainly," was the reply. "And as for being odd in appearance, let me ask how you could reasonably expect a fairy to appear as mortal maidens do?"
"A fairy!" exclaimed Seseley. "Are you, then, a real fairy?"
"I regret to say I am," returned the other, more soberly, as she patted a moss-bank with a silver-tipped wand.
Then for a moment there was silence, while the three girls sat very still and stared at their immortal companion with evident curiosity. Finally Seseley asked:
"Why do you regret being a fairy? I have always thought them the happiest creatures in the world."
"Perhaps we ought to be happy," answered the fairy, gravely, "for we have wonderful powers and do much to assist you helpless mortals. And I suppose some of us really are happy. But, for my part, I am so utterly tired of a fairy life that I would do anything to change it."
"That is strange," declared Berna. "You seem very young to be already discontented with your lot."
Now at this the fairy burst into laughter again, and presently asked:
"How old do you think me?"
"About our own age," said Berna, after a glance at her and a moment's reflection.
"Nonsense!" retorted the fairy, sharply. "These trees are hundreds of years old, yet I remember when they were mere twigs. And I remember when mortals first came to live upon this island, yes — and when this island was first created and rose from the sea after a great earthquake. I remember for many, many centuries, my dears. I have grown tired of remembering — and of being a fairy continually, without any change to brighten my life."
"To be sure!" said Seseley, with sympathy. "I never thought of fairy life in that way before. It must get to be quite tiresome."
"And think of the centuries I must yet live!" exclaimed the fairy in a dismal voice. "Isn't it an awful thing to look forward to?"
"It is, indeed," agreed Seseley.
"I'd be glad to exchange lives with you," said Helda, looking at the fairy with intense admiration.
"But you can't do that," answered the little creature quickly. "Mortals can't become fairies, you know — although I believe there was once a mortal who was made immortal."
"But fairies can become anything they desire!" cried Berna.
"Oh, no, they can't. You are mistaken if you believe that," was the reply. "I could change you into a fly, or a crocodile, or a bobolink, if I wanted to; but fairies can't change themselves into anything else."
"How strange!" murmured Seseley, much impressed.
"But you can," cried the fairy, jumping up and coming toward them. "You are mortals, and, by the laws that govern us, a mortal can change a fairy into anything she pleases."
"Oh!" said Seseley, filled with amazement at the idea.
The fairy fell on her knees before the baron's daughter. "Please — please, dear Seseley," she pleaded, "change me into a mortal!"