Jac was distracted, and had been for the last two days. It was making Fin nervous. The previous day the two of them had flown to Nighttree Pond to collect Lorelei’s sample. Jac had barely spoken all day, except to repeatedly tell Fin the “proper” and “respectful” way to gather the required water samples. Fin had grown quite tired of hearing, “Lady Lorelei said…”. But other than Jac being a little bossy in the way they retrieved the water samples, he’d almost ignored Fin, making the younger fairy wonder if he’d done something wrong.
This day they were flying to Rock Falls to get the required sample for Lorelei. It was a long distance away, and the two of them rested every hour or so to give their wings a break. It was during one of these breaks that Fin finally had enough of the strange silence exuding from Jacoby and spoke up.
“What’s wrong, Jac? Are you mad at me?”
“Huh?” Jac looked his way, his expression confused. “Why would I be mad at you?”
“I don’t know. That’s why I’m asking. You’re barely talking to me,” Fin complained.
“I’ve just got things on my mind, Fin.”
“What things? Are you worried about collecting the water? Is getting it keeping you from doing your nature duties? Oh! Is it about your meeting with the Bond Guard?! How did that go? You didn’t tell me!”
Jac tossed him a mild glare. “I don’t tell you everything, Fin Earthenly. We’re not best friends or anything.”
Fin’s wings drooped dejectedly, matching the now crestfallen expression on his face. “I know, but I thought we were casual friends…kind of. I mean, you helped me with the rainbow water and you’re getting the samples with me. I just thought….” He gave a forlorn shrug. “I didn’t mean to upset you.”
Jac sighed, his glare quickly disappearing. “I’m sorry, Fin. We are friends, and you didn’t do anything wrong,” he consoled. “But my meeting with the Bond Guard is a private matter.”
“Why? Didn’t it go well? Did the Guard not know who your mate was? Oh! Did she say there is no mate? I’m sorry if she did. That would be hard to hear. Did she….”
“Fin!” Jac interrupted firmly. “Please, no more questions. I told you it was private.”
“But why is it such a big secret? No one ever told me we had to keep what the Bond Guard says secret. Is that something new? I just thought….”
“That if you keep pesting me I’ll tell you? Well, I won’t. I need to think on some things she said. That’s all.”
“Maybe I can help,” Fin said sincerely.
Jac’s pale green wings fluttered, lifting his feet off the ground. “You can help by getting the water samples with me and quitting with the questions. Come on, we’re almost to Rock Falls as it is.”
Jac took off, making Fin have to fly hard to catch up with him. He really wanted to know what it was that the Bond Guard had said that Jac needed to think on, but he didn’t want to be a complete nuisance with his curiosity either. It was just so hard to not press to know more.
A few minutes later they were nearly to the falls, but an unexpected sight caused Jac to land on a sunflower before continuing on.
“What’s going on? Why’d you stop?” Fin asked as he landed next to the older boy.
“Hush,” Jac ordered. “Look there.”
Fin looked where Jac pointed and then noticed what was causing their delay. A strange contraption had been set up in the woods. It looked like a flimsy little house, and inside it shadows were moving.
“What’s that, Jac?” Fin asked nervously. “Something alive is inside! Is it evil?”
Jac put a warm hand on Fin’s shoulder. “I don’t think so. I think those are humans inside it.”
“Humans?! What are they doing in our woods?”
“They show up from time to time. You know that, Fin.”
“Yeah, but I’ve never actually seen them here before. What are they doing?”
“I don’t know,” Jac whispered his reply.
Both fairies watched for a couple minutes. In the quiet, they could hear muffled voices of the people within the odd-looking house, but not the exact words. Eventually Fin’s nerves morphed into curiosity that couldn’t be ignored. Quietly his wings fluttered and he darted toward the enclosure, with Jac exasperatedly calling for him to, “Get back here!”.
Fin ignored him; instead, he flew near the strange enclosure that was tied down with ropes and hid under a fallen leaf. In moments Jac was at his side, hissing at him that they shouldn’t be so close.
“I want to see,” Fin insisted. “They won’t notice me.”
“They will if you don’t control yourself and start shimmering!” Jac reminded him.
Fairies, when they got overly excited or didn’t pay attention to their bodies, could sometimes produce a shimmering glow in their wings. Often the untrained eye mistook the glow for a firefly, but a fairy could never be too careful. Concealment was an important part of their continuing existence.
“I’ll be careful,” Fin contended, not letting on that until Jac had reminded him, he hadn’t noticed the subtle warmth in his wings that preceded the appearance of the shimmer. He forced himself to be calm and then slowly began inching toward the shelter and the humans inside it.
“This is a bad idea!” Jac insisted, but he moved quietly with Fin, his own fairy curiosity pushing him along.
They got right to the edge of the strange little house, and were now able to hear the voices inside clearly.
“They’re arguing,” Fin whispered after a minute.
Jac nodded his agreement, but continued to listen silently to the voices of two human males inside the shelter. Whatever had started the argument, one of the males was clearly mad while the other was upset and apologetic.
“I’m sorry, Matt,” the upset voice said in contrition. “I just forgot them.”
“I’m not angry that you forgot them, Ricky. I’m angry that you lied about it and hid it. I shouldn’t have taken you out camping if I couldn’t trust you to pack what we need and be honest when you forget something. I could have stopped at a half a dozen places to pick up matches on the way here, but you didn’t tell me about them until we had the tent set up and everything!”
“I’m sorry,” Ricky apologized again. “Will we have to go home now?”
The voice belonging to Matt got grumbly, and Fin’s nosiness drove him to get even closer. He slipped through a tiny gap in the shelter, putting him inside with the humans, but still out of sight as he hid behind a bag laying haphazardly in the corner. In moments Jac was with him, silently trying to urge him back out, but also curiously observing the two humans they could now see.
Fin guessed the males were roughly the same age as Jacoby—maybe a couple years older. One of them had his arms crossed while the other sat morosely across from him. The one with crossed arms turned out to be “Matt”. Fin recognized his voice when he spoke.
“No, we don’t have to go home,” Matt stated. “But our leisure time is getting cut into. We’ll have to take everything down, hike back to the truck, and go back to the last convenience store we passed. We’ll have to get a supply of matches there, and then come back and set everything back up again.”
“We don’t have to take everything down,” Ricky insisted. “One of us can stay here and one of us can go back to the store.”
“I’m not leaving you here alone,” Matt replied. “It’s not safe to be alone and isolated for either of us, and I don’t trust just leaving our stuff out and set up while we’re gone. We could come back and find everything stolen.”
Ricky looked defeated. “I’m sorry I ruined the weekend, Matty.”
Matt shook his head and ended up pulling Ricky into a hug, his voice getting lower and gentler. “You didn’t ruin it, little buddy. Were just going to take a detour from our original plans.” He kissed Ricky’s brow, and then his lips dropped lower and brushed across Ricky’s mouth. “You always keep life interesting, brat.”
After another peck on the mouth, Matt turned Ricky towards the shelter’s zippered door and popped his hand against the young man’s bottom.
“Matty!” Ricky complained, his hand immediately covering the smacked area.
“Don’t ‘Matty’ me. I could smack those jeans a few more times if necessary, or we can just start packing things up and get a move on. Your choice.”
“I’m packing! I’m packing!” Ricky insisted.
“Good call,” Matt chuckled.
The two humans disappeared outside the shelter, and Fin and Jac waited until they were sure no one was paying attention before silently slipping away and giving the humans back their privacy.
They flew into the branches of a tree, one close enough that they could still observe the two young men below them.
“I’ve never seen real humans before, especially so close,” Fin commented as he watched Matt and Ricky collapse the strange shelter they’d been in and start to roll it up.
“I’ve seen them before, but mostly from a distance,” Jac replied. “I’ve never been this close either. They’re bigger than I thought.”
Fin nodded. “Do you think those two are mates?”
“Maybe, but it’s hard to tell since they were fighting.”
“Just at first. Matt was nicer to Ricky later.” Fin sighed. “I wish we could talk to them. I’d ask if they were mates.”
“Don’t you dare!” Jac ordered firmly, his voice both determined and a little anxious at the direction of Fin’s thoughts. “It’s dangerous! Humans cannot be trusted by those of us with magic in our world. They abuse it!”
“I’m not stupid, Jac!” Fin defended himself. “I know humans don’t understand magical creatures. I was taught the same stories about captured mermaids and killed unicorns as you were in school. But I can still wish humans could be trusted enough to talk to. I’m curious to know more.”
“Curiosity killed the foolish fairy,” Jac quoted from a familiar fairy proverb.
Fin rolled his eyes. “I’m not a foolish fairy.”
“Maybe not,” Jac conceded, and then gave Fin a little push. “But you’re still a runt, and you can’t catch me!”
The older boy’s wings fluttered as fast as a hummingbird’s, and he took off toward the nearby Rock Falls.
Fin shouted out a “Not fair!” before darting after him, the two human males already forgotten.
The Sunshine Tide pools were a beautiful part of the fairy woods. Just as their name described, the pools were a dozen or so small water areas separated by rocks and sand, and their shallow depths were warmed by the sun and filled with small aquatic life.
The two young fairies had flown there the day after visiting Rock Falls and seeing the human males. They gathered their samples as Lorelei had instructed, but then took the time to enjoy the pools themselves. They swam and explored the small, underwater worlds, and then floated on their backs in relaxation.
“I could live here,” Fin said happily.
“Mm,” Jacoby murmured in response. He was tranquil, his eyes closed, as he floated on his back, his wings underneath him creating a type of water hammock.
Both fairies were quiet for several minutes, but quiet was not something that lasted long with Fin. He swam over to wear Jac was floating and tapped the older boy’s shoulder. Jac sleepily opened one eye.
“Are you done thinking about the Bond Guard yet? Can you tell me what she said?”
Jac’s mouth turned down as he closed his eye. “It’s private. I told you that before.”
“But why?” Fin whined.
Jac grumbled and moved from his floating position to tread water next to the younger boy. “You’re always such a pest, Fin. Some things just aren’t your business.”
“I’d tell you if I’d gone!” Fin wheedled.
“And that would be your choice. Mine is that I want what the Bond Guard told me to be private. I’ll share what she said when I feel it’s right.”
Fin crossed his arms in the water. “Keeping secrets is mean, Jacoby.”
“No…some secrets are mean, but some aren’t. Some things aren’t meant to be shared, and I wouldn’t trust you with a secret, runt. You’re too excited to be in everyone’s business, especially mine apparently.”
“Well, just see if I tell you anything when it’s my turn to go to the Bond Guard. I won’t ever tell you who my match is,” Fin said petulantly.
One side of Jac’s mouth tipped up and his head tilted in humor. “I’m pretty sure I’ll know the second you leave the Bond Guard’s house…me and everyone else in wing distance.”
Feeling insulted, Fin swam to the edge of the tide pool and climbed out. “I’ll never tell,” he insisted. “And I’m going home.”
The sound of wings fluttering was behind him for a moment before the presence of the older fairy appeared at his side. A damp hand gently squeezed Fin’s neck, and then moved up to ruffle his short purple locks. “I didn’t mean any insult to you, but you have to admit that secrets aren’t your strong suit. Right now I need to keep what the Bond Guard told me to myself. It’s important, and it’s trying my patience just as it’s trying yours. I’ll tell you someday. I promise. Ok?”
Fin looked up into Jac’s green eyes. “You really promise?”
Jac’s face lit up in a boyish grin. “I really promise. Now let’s get these samples back before Lorelei thinks we’ve run away with them.”
Fin nodded, his natural buoyancy returning. “Race you home?”
“You’ll never win, runt,” Jac declared, and then laughed as he grabbed a bag of the samples and took off into the air.
“Cheater!” Fin yelled, and took off after him with the rest of the samples secured in his arms.
A few days later, Fin was rather grudgingly fulfilling the chore of organizing Lady Lorelei’s water cellar. The task had been interesting initially. Lorelei had more kinds of water than he’d ever seen in his life. Besides the waters found throughout their fairy wood, she had pristine bottles of rare waters from around the world: glacier water from Alaska, murky water from the Caribbean salt flats, red-tinted water from the Egyptian Nile, and even an exceptionally rare bottle of earth-core water—water so close to the center of the earth that it never cooled. Fin had to make sure he wore special gloves whenever he touched that bottle, or any of the frigid glacier waters.
“Can you even drink earth-core water?” he’d asked Lorelei when she’d given him a tour of the cellar.
“Oh yes, but never by itself. It must be carefully mixed, first two fingers of glacier water—preferably that from the arctic region—then a choice of any special water you prefer, and then just a drop of earth-core water to give it kick and fizzle. Done right, an earth-core mix is divine.”
“Wow,” Fin murmured in awe.
“Yes, well, don’t be getting any ideas little mole-boy,” she warned. “You’re here to organize my cellar, not drink its contents. Can I trust you?”
“Yes, ma’am,” he assured, although he couldn’t deny there was a strong temptation to indulge, as well as to comment that he didn’t really care for the nickname “mole-boy”.
He’d manage to deny his desires to taste as he worked the day away. Per Lorelei’s instructions, he separated the bottles as she directed, alphabetized, washed, and even put new labels on some of them. His arms were tired and aching from all the lifting and moving, and his wings were dust-covered. The one good thing was that the underground cellar with its moss-covered walls was cool and conducive to working such a heavy job.
He finally finished in the late afternoon, and helped Lorelei down the stairs to check his work.
“Good. Quite good,” she said in satisfaction. “I believe I had the right fairy for the job,” she praised.
Fin preened a little, appreciating the approval since he knew he’d worked hard.
“Come upstairs now,” Lorelei directed, but then changed her mind. “Actually, go outside through the basement door first and flutter that dust off yourself. Afterward you can come in and use the shower, and I’ll have some food made up for you. I suppose it’s only right to feed you for your effort.”
She almost made it sound like a chore to feed him, but he guessed the tone was more for show than any true derision. Lorelei was definitely bossy and a bit prickly, but Fin had figured out that she wasn’t mean or nasty. He went outside to shake his wings off, and then made quick use of the shower to clean away the day’s labors.
When he joined her a few minutes later, his tummy rumbled at the sight of rice toast with berry jam and fresh basil and honeycomb salad.
“Sit,” Lorelei ordered as soon as she saw him. “Dig in. It’s not right for the hostess to eat before her guest, so the sooner you take a bite, the sooner I can sate my hunger too.”
“Yes, ma’am. Thank you, ma’am,” Fin said eagerly. He immediately sat down and filled his plate with the sweet toast and fresh salad. “It’s so good!” he said sincerely around his first mouthful of food.
“Of course it is. A good host only gives her guests the best. Need a drink?”
Fin nodded. “Yes, please.”
He was startled a moment later when his glass began filling up with a colorful beverage. First red, then orange, yellow, green, blue, violet, and purple. He turned wide eyes up to the elder fairy. “Rainbow water?” he squeaked.
“Of course. I serve my guests the best,” she repeated, but her bright blue eyes sparkled at him. “Good work deserves recognition and reward,” she explained. “Eat and drink little mole-boy. There’s plenty.”
It was a surprisingly enjoyable meal for Fin. Lorelei told him how she had obtained her water collection, and he learned that she had been quite an adventurous Water Watcher when she was a young fairy.
“We are born to do what we love. We fairies are lucky like that. You enjoy your Earth Reader duties, do you not?” she asked.
Fin nodded. “Very much. I love making the soil rich and pure. Did you know the darker the soil, the better it is to grow vegetables, but fair-colored soil is better for green flora? I also try to make the best ground I can for the animals in the area, like good mud for the beavers to build with, or the right grains of sand for the beach-dwelling creatures.”
Fin spoke with passion and joy, clearly loving his fairy job. Lorelei nodded approvingly. “Good for you. It is good that you think beyond just the soil. All life works together. The soil to grow food and beauty. The plants to provide sustenance and homes. The water to quench thirst and irrigate the world. And the magic of fairies, sprites, mer-folk, and others to add mystery to the universe.”
Fin agreed wholeheartedly, and by the time the food was gone and he was saying good-bye to Lorelei, he wondered if he had made a bit of a friend in the older lady. Tired, but content with the day, Fin’s wings buzzed as he flew through the trees, debating whether to go home or possibly stop by Jacoby’s house and tell him about his time with Lorelei.
As he was flying, he saw some of his other friends and one of them, Coty, called out to him. He quickly turned in their direction and joined the group of them that were hanging around a honeysuckle bush and enjoying its nectar.
“Hi, everyone,” he greeted. “What’s flapping?”
“Nothing much,” Coty answered. “Where have you been this week? I’ve hardly seen you. Even Nak says you’ve been elusive the last few days.”
Nak was an Earth Reader, like Fin, and the two of them often worked together.
“I had to fulfill some tasks for Lady Lorelei, but I’m done with them now.”
“Great, then you can play with us!” Coty invited.
Fin grinned and got some nectar for himself. “Sounds great. What did you have planned?”
“We all wanted to go swinging,” Coty answered.
“Yeah,” Nymia, one of the fairy girls agreed. “Coty and Mio found some newly-grown vines today, so we’re all going to try them out!”
“Awesome!” Fin said gleefully. “He loved to swing. “Hey, let’s stop by Jac’s place and see if he wants to go too.”
“Oh, haven’t you heard?” Mio asked. “Jac’s gone.”
“Gone? What are you talking about?”
“I went to see him yesterday morning. We sometimes nurture the bigger trees together, and he told me he was leaving.”
“Where was he going? When will he be back?” Fin questioned.
“I don’t know.” Mio shrugged. “He said there was another Nature Nurturer who asked for his help in healing a section of land that had suffered a fire. He was leaving right away.”
“Hey, do you think the nurturer he’s helping is his mate?” Nymia asked. “I heard he went to the Bond Guard this week.”
“Wow, that would be really cool if it was!” Coty piped in. “Maybe that’s why he left so quickly. I can’t wait till the Bond Guard lets me know if I have a mate.”
All the other fairies started talking about mates and who theirs might be, but Fin was unusually quiet. He wanted Jac to be happy and to have a mate so he wouldn’t be lonely, but he was sad the older boy was gone.On the heels of his sadness, a bit of anger bubbled inside him. Jac had promised to tell him about his meeting with the Bond Guard, but now he was gone! Fin didn’t like that one bit!