Aeridel led Bridget and Tim out of the Minstrels’ cottage and into the safety and camouflage of the trees that stood close by.
Clutching onto the straps of her bag, Aeridel began to think about the journey ahead, and a sinking feeling weighed down upon her heart as she thought about her parents.
Her hand-made wooden bracelets, adorned with symbols of good luck and health jangled as they approached a three-way crossroad; one way leading to Bragverla, where they had just come from, and the other two lead to either sharp, snow-topped mountains, and the other, a dark, mysterious wood.
“This way,” Aeridel muttered, pointing to the woods.
She was just about to walk into the path until Bridget asked;
“How do you know? The mountains don’t look scary.”
“Do you want to get robbed by Wranglers hiding in the hills and have your throats slit with a knife? The only thing that will get us into the other town safely is through the woods,” she said merely,
“At least the only things that may harm us are a few pixies,” she spat.
“Oooooh! Pixies!” Bridget exclaimed with glee, “I’d love to see one!”
“And indeed we shall in these woods, its full of the blighters,” Aeridel said, and she led them into the woods.
The daylight shone dimly through the blanket of leaves above their heads as they walked between the grand tree trunks. Tim thought that he knew what Harry Potter must have felt like when walking through the Forbidden Forest. The ground was springy with layers of think, green moss. Bridget thought she was on a trampoline. Then, she looked up and noticed tiny sparkles of light dancing amongst the branches of the trees.
Aeridel saw her looking and said, “Well, there are your pixies.”
“Oh, they just look so small it’s hard to see them properly…”
“I’ll catch one if you like, Bridge,” said Tim, eying one for the hunt.
“No, idiot you don’t know the first thing about catching pixies, so you can learn from someone who can.”
Aeridel told them to wait in the bushes.
She stood perfectly still, whispered words in a strange language. Bridget understood and told Tim that she was calling the pixies in their own language.
It sounded like the noise a ferret makes.
Eventually a ball of light came floating down into her outstretched hands, and sat waiting. Aeridel beckoned Bridget to come out of the bush.
“What did you say?”
“I explained to them that we wanted to gaze upon their fair shapeliness. Pixies love a good compliment.”
“Aw, it’s so cute!”
The pixie had pale yellow skin and beady, hazel brown eyes. Its hair was white and grew in little tufts.
Somehow, the pixie has styled it by tying tiny ribbons in the sides. It wore a small golden dress, which shimmered when she moved.
She had a pointed nose and pointed little ears. Her amber coloured wings looked very delicate and fluttered lightly.
She sat on Aeridel’s palm, glowing radiantly. Her smile made Bridget sigh.
“Okay, you can let her back with her friends,” said Bridget.
Aeridel told the pixie to go back in the ferret voice, and thanked her for coming down.
The pixie waved at them both with her tiny hand and flew back into the high branches. Bridget was waving goodbye.
Tim just sat there watching the whole thing.
‘That pixie looked like one I read in a book somewhere…’ he thought.
He got up and began to walk down the dirt path, as the girls followed, talking animatedly about the other magical creatures.
Tim caught small snippets here and there, about how pixies can find the sweetest honey from bee’s nests.
“It’s really nice here, actually,” Tim said, after looking around at the serenity of the woods, “Seems really peaceful,” he sighed, “I wish I was a squirrel…”
“A squirrel?” Bridget said turning to him in surprise, “I’d rather be a rabbit.”
“What, hopping around with droopy long ears and eating nothing but grass? I do not think so! At least I could have a big bushy tail, now that would be cool!”
Bridget tried imagining what Tim would be like as a squirrel, and she giggled quietly to herself.
“That’s fair,” interrupted Aeridel, “But why be a normal animal? Why not a nymph?”
“A nymph? What’s a nymph?”
“Oh, I forgot, you guys don’t know what one is, do you?” she said cynically. “I can show you if you like”.
“Great, thanks a lot,” Bridget said.
Tim and Bridget followed Aeridel, who had turned right whilst looking at the map that the old woman in the cottage had given her. Aeridel said,
“I know of a place where one of them might live, it’s not too far from here. I think my mother said they were water-dwellers, or that they are always near water I am not sure. They need it to survive. There should be a lake nearby… Ah, be quiet now, we’re here”.
She bent down on her knees, and beckoned Tim and Bridget to do the same. They obediently crouched down next to her.
A leafy bush protected them, and they believed they were out of sight from whoever was at the lake. Through the twigs, they could observe any movement in the lake.
The lake shimmered calmly as the specks of light shining through the leaves made the surface dance. The water looked clear and cool, the small rushing waterfall that lay opposite to where they sat flowing beautifully, making the water ripple in a rhythmical fashion.
For a moment, time seemed to have stopped, as the three of them sat there like statues, taking in the wondrous sight of the lake, the smell of the woods and the sound of trickling water.
“Hey what’s that over there?” asked Tim with a hushed voice.
“Where?” whispered Bridget, getting excited.
“Over there, coming out of the waterfall,” he replied, squinting slightly.
His eyesight was not very good at the best of times, but luckily, he did not need to wear glasses.
“It’s the nymph, so shut up and watch, dimwits,” said Aeridel.
The figure stepped out from behind the waterfall and stretched its arms.
It was a female nymph, you could tell because of the effeminate shape of her body. Deep blue hair that looked a little like pondweed flowed from her head in waves.
Her ears were pointed and delicate, her eyes dark and mysteriously large. She seemed to be wearing a thin dress that looked silky smooth and almost like the water by her feet, but in actual fact it was excess skin that hung off her body.
The nymph walked towards the lake, sat down at the edge and slowly dipped her small feet into the water. She sighed with complete contentment, as the cold spread from her toes to her knees.
However, as soon as she touched the water, her pale blue skin turned scaly like a fish, and her hands became webbed. She smiled; gazing at her scales, feeling relaxed by the rushing of the waterfall.
She sank her body fully into the lake, and swam slowly, making long strokes and swimming lengths from one side of the lake to the other. The three travellers watched her with interest.
After this, she calmly swam towards the place where Tim, Bridget and Aeridel sat. She slowly reached the bank of the lake, resting her arms on the visible sand, just a few yards from the hedge.
The nymph rested her head on her arms and sighed;
“You don’t have to hide, I know you’re there.”
The three of them jumped with shock. They slowly rose from their hiding places, faces bent down, feeling ashamed. The nymph said politely;
“Don’t worry, I sensed your energies nearby a short while ago, that’s why I came out. It is nice to talk to someone every now and again.”
“Oh, well… thank you,” Bridget said, as they all stepped nearer to the embankment. “We’re sorry for intruding. I suppose we should have asked first…”
“Not a problem,” the creature replied with a pleasant smile, “So, what brings you to this part of the forest?”
“We’re on some sort of quest,” Tim said, “Very perilous, lots of danger, you shouldn’t get involved.”
Bridget punched his shoulder and he laughed, making the nymph smile even more at them.
Aeridel gave him a quizzical look; “No, that was before you wished you could be a squirrel.”
“Yeah, and then I said I wanted to be a rabbit. Then you said something about nymphs,” Bridget added.
“Oh yeah,” Aeridel said and then turned to the nymph; “For you see, these two have never seen beings as wonderful as you.”
“Oh, stop it, you’re making me blush!” the nymph cried with delight, holding her purple tinged cheeks with her webbed hands. “My name is Aurelia. We’re not that special really, but thanks for the compliment.”
The travellers decided to sit down, interested in gaining knowledge about the nymph.
“So, err, what talents do you have?” Tim asked, feeling a little awkward.
“Stop it with the praise! They’re not talents; it’s just who I am!”
This made Tim smile, so she began to explain; “Well, as you know, I can sense the presence of other beings. And as you can see, my body becomes scaly like a fish when my skin touches water, but it makes my skin feel really good whilst it’s in the water.”
She paused for a moment, thinking about her other abilities.
The three teenagers sat intently, patiently waiting for her to remember; “I can also control water with my mind, moving it at will. We call it water dancing.
“Wow,” gasped Bridget, “Can you show us how to-”
But she was interrupted by a loud mewling scream coming from beyond the lake.
“Oh my, what was that?” Aurelia asked.
“Sorry to leave you, Aurelia, but I’m going to see if I can help whoever’s in trouble!” Tim said hurriedly.
He gave her a salute and ran into the thicket of trees towards the noise.
“No, Tim, you might get hurt!” shouted Bridget, but it was too late. ‘Always playing the hero. He must think he’s in a video game or something…’
Bridget got up, shook the nymph’s hand and said her goodbyes, running to catch up to Tim.
The nymph woman wondered why she was still here, instead of helping her friends.
“You go off now,” she said.
“But, you’re all alone here… I don’t want to leave because of them...”
Aeridel looked unsure.
The nymph reached out and held her hand. It felt wet but eerily soothing. She kissed her hand lightly and stroked her cheek.
“Don’t worry about me, go and help those two get through this quest that you’re on.”
“I promise, Aurelia, that I’ll come and visit when this is over. Then you won’t be alone anymore.”
Aeridel got up and waved goodbye before setting off in the others’ direction.
The nymph sent each of them a telepathic message; ‘Good luck with everything’, before diving headfirst into the lake for something to eat.
Tim ran as fast as he could. He did not care how much his calve muscles hurt or how hard his heart was beating. He tripped over a stray root, falling flat on his face. He scrambled up quickly, his clothes now muddy and scuffed with green moss. He carried on running, concentrating only on trying to save whoever was being attacked. He imagined some poor old woman, innocently collecting flowers or mushrooms for supper from the small crevasses of tree trunks before being beaten around by some ogre or a bear. With this in mind, though it feared him to think in such a way, he sped on.
After a minute of running, he soon heard a faint twinkling sound towards his right. A glimmer of lights, like a small fire burning, shone through the long reeds that Tim had taken cover in. He watched, quiet as a mouse, at something he did not quite expect: a bewildered yet adorable grey kitten was playing with a group of fairies. Well, by the distraught look on the cat’s face, and the malevolent expressions emanating from the fairies, it was not playing at all, more like torture for the fearful feline.
There were about six fairies flying around the cat, and each was different; some had a red glow, some had blue glows, some pink, but all had the same mischievous look as they pulled the kitten’s soft looking fur with glee. Tim felt he could see through the cat’s eyes, which were pleading for the fairies to stop hurting it as he swatted and struggled to make the fairies go away.
However, before he could leap into action and do anything to help, Bridget, and then within seconds, Aeridel had caught up with him, both breathless and struggling to keep quiet. Tim put a finger to his lips and pointed to the reeds. The girls nodded, understanding. Aeridel and Bridget looked through the grass, trying to catch their breath and they struggled to contain their gasps of adoration as they saw the kitten.
Aeridel could not hold herself any longer, “I’ve got to help the poor little thing!”
She slowly crept through the reeds towards the frantic display. Tim and Bridget remained, watching with fear for their friend.
‘Don’t get hurt,’ thought Bridget.
Tim stared anxiously, whilst she moved closer and closer to the kitten.
Her eyes were glazed over with its cuteness. Above all her favourite animal were kittens, especially grey ones. Tim and Bridget feared the fairies could not only harm Aeridel, but could harm them too. Tim felt however, that something was telling him to stay behind and let Aeridel handle it. Maybe her ‘positive’ nature could prevent the worst from happening. Aeridel had made it through out of the other side of the reeds, into the full view of the creatures. The action froze completely as the fairies gazed at her, their faces no longer mischievous. Their faces changed into ones of pure fear. Their high-pitched shrieks droned through the air,
“A human! A human! Everybody run before they catch us and sell us to the wiccans!”
They flew about madly, crashing into each other, shouting “Wiccans!” in a state of madness.
Aeridel sat laughing at the hysteria in front of her. Their glows left a glittering trail behind them. They flew off into the bushes, leaving the little kitten dazed and confused.
“Come here, kitty, kitty,” Aeridel coaxed, slowly crawling to where the cat lay.
It bounded up to Aeridel and pounced onto her lap, snuggling its small face into her stomach. She stroked its body as it mewed loudly. Bridget and Tim came crawling out of the reeds after the fairies had gone.
“Oh, you saved me, you saved me!!! Thank you, girl, thank you!” the cat said with glee.
“You… you can talk?” Tim asked.
“Of course I can, you ingrate!” the cat replied with the tone of a pompous butler, staring angrily at him. It seemed to have a British accent. You know the type, sounding extremely posh and accentuating every ending to each word. It was annoying, and Tim knew from the beginning he was not going to like this cat.
“Cats don’t usually talk where we come from,” Bridget said, propping the kitten on the ground.
The cat paced for a moment, and then sat, its eyes examining them.
“So, what’s your name?” asked Aeridel.
“How about Artie for short?” Tim suggested.
“That’s preposterous! Why would I want such a ridiculous name like that?”
“Because your name is too long.”
“Well,” said the cat, “I suppose I could stick with Arthur, I do have to keep my reputation up, you know.”
“What, as a snobby talking kitten? Great reputation, Mr. Tiddles,” said Tim, stopping himself just in time from crying with laughter. “I suppose you’d want to meet the Queen of England next!”
“Tim, leave Arthur alone, he’s just a cat,” retorted Aeridel, poking Tim on the arm.
“Aww... you’re ruining my fun!” he replied.
“Well, Timothy, I am not a figure for your amusement. I suppose I do owe you a favour, but clearly you don’t want it,” Arthur snorted, his small, pink triangular nose raised in the up most pride, as though he pitied Tim for his immaturity.
He leaped off Aeridel’s knees and prepared to crawl away, disgusted by Tim’s attitude.
“Wait! Would you be able to take us to the Foxglove Inn? It’s in the next village,” Bridget pleaded. Aeridel nudged her, feeling slightly offended;
“I know where it is!”
“Yes, but if he does this he won’t bother us anymore,” she replied in a hushed whisper. Aeridel nodded at her with surprise.
Arthur turned around to face Bridget, and with a cat-like scowl said,
“Of course I can you silly girl! What do you take me for, a dog? They are so dumb they cannot even catch their own tails! Of all the nerve-,“ he sat down grumpily.
“Okay, okay you know, I understand! Sheesh… Aeridel, do you still have that map?”
“Yep, it’s right here” she replied, bringing out the map, and then replacing it.
“Great,” said Tim, “now Artie-“
“Arthur…” grunted the cat.
“Artie, please lead the way.”
“I can tell this little expedition is going to get unpleasant very quickly,” Arthur grumbled, standing on his four paws and going ahead of the group.
The three human travellers followed. Arthur thought how much he hated that Timothy; he would get him a bit later. A sly smile played in his whiskery face as they walked.
A few days had passed when the four travellers silently made camp each night, and in the morning began to continue walking towards Delroth, the next town.
Tim had his hands in his pockets, after realising these ridiculous clothes actually had pockets, and looked at the floor, making sure he did not fall over on loose roots.
Aeridel and Bridget, pacing at the rear, were talking animatedly about what might happen once they get to the inn. ‘Her first best girly friend…’ Tim thought, feeling slightly envious.
“…yes, that does sound good and all, but what if we get into any trouble, like real danger?”
“It’s no problem, I’ve got healing powers remember? So, I can fix you up in no time.”
“Great, I’d really appreciate that,” said Bridget, smiling at Aeridel.
“”Of course I’d protect my new best friend!” Aeridel hugged her tightly, both of them laughing as they nearly tripped over a stray root.
However, deep down, Bridget was feeling a mixture of different things.
She felt that Tim would sacrifice himself when the time would come, but the thought scared her badly.
She did not want Tim to do such a thing; ‘he should not think like that for one, and if anything, it should be me, Bridget Barnsley, the most boring person in the world, who sacrifices herself.’
‘I have not been a good friend to him, and he would be better off alive than me. He could do so much better in the world, making people laugh, and having the biggest heart in the world’ she thought, ‘he has to carry on, not me’.
These thoughts continued to dawn on her as the four of them finally came out of the woods, and faced a glorious sunset, bathing the land in a deep pool of orange light emanating from the low sun.
Silently, a tear fell down Bridget’s face as she looked at Tim, dreading the outcome of their journey.
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