Not so very long ago, in a place not at all far away...
There was a fairy. She was a young fairy, as gentle and lovely as the breeze wafting over the meadows and the moonbeams falling through the warm night air. In fact, that was her name, Moonbeam.
Moonbeam’s parents had high hopes for her, because she was so beautiful and modest and gentle, and they hoped that she would marry a high-born fairy, or perhaps the Prince of Fairyland himself. So they sent her to all the best teachers, so they could teach her proper deportment and the best manners, until she was not just beautiful and gentle but polished and educated as well.
The only thing that remained was to teach her magic, because of course all fairies should know magic. But Moonbeam did not want to learn magic.
Her mother tried to reason with her. “Why don’t you want to learn it?” she asked. “You’ll never get a good husband without knowing magic.”
“I don’t want a good husband, or any husband at all,” Moonbeam said, for the first time in her life contradicting the wishes of either of her parents. “All I want to do is live among the waving grass, the breeze, the light of the sun and the sprinkle of the stars.”
“But nobody can live like that, not even a fairy,” her mother objected. “You will have to get married, and in order to get married, you must learn magic. You must learn the spells which will help you win the heart of the prince, and, when won, to keep him yours.”
So Moonbeam was sent away to learn magic under a mean old warlock who lived inside a hollow tree by the river. It was cold and damp inside the tree, and all sorts of poisonous things grew and scuttled about. This made it ideal for the old warlock, whose magic was also full of dark damp things, but it made poor Moonbeam very miserable and not a little frightened. And because she was always miserable and frightened, she did not learn very well.
One day the warlock summoned Moonbeam’s parents. They went to him filled with apprehension, because, of course, he was a warlock, and one did not get summoned to a warlock for anything good. And when they arrived, he glared at them terribly.
“Your daughter,” he said, “is useless. She will never learn!”
“We’ll talk to her,” Moonbeam’s father said, desperately.
“Please give her another chance,” Moonbeam’s mother pleaded.
“There’s no point,” the warlock grumbled. “She simply cannot learn magic. Or at least she cannot learn the kind of magic I can teach her.”
“Then I will teach her what I can,” Moonbeam’s mother said despairingly. “Little enough as I know, it will have to do.”
So Moonbeam’s parents took her home, reproaching her bitterly all the way, and when they got there they sent her up to bed without her supper of dewdrops and pollen. But she was so glad to be away from the warlock’s dreadful tree trunk that she didn’t mind too much, and only cried a little at all the scolding.
The next morning, Moonbeam’s mother, Starlight, began teaching her magic. Unlike the warlock’s magic, it was fluffy and airy, filled with sunbeams and the smell of roses, but the little fairy was no happier.
“I don’t want to learn this,” she thought miserably to herself. “It isn’t any life, to have to do magic to win a prince I’ve never seen, and more magic to keep him – when I don’t even want to be married at all.” But because she saw the pain in her mother’s eyes when she made mistakes in her spells, she did try her best, though it wasn’t any good.
One day her mother came to her as she was trying to mix some magical powders. “You’ll never manage like this,” Starlight said at last, after watching for a while. “It just isn’t doing any good.”
“I can’t help it,” Moonbeam said miserably. “I’m doing my best.”
Starlight sighed. “I’ve been talking to some of my friends,” she said. “They told me that there is one piece of magic that will win and keep the prince. Even if you learn nothing else, you could learn that.”
“What is it?” Moonbeam asked.
“It comes from the wind that plays in the petals of the flower of night and day. But the flower doesn’t grow here.”
“Where is it to be found?” Moonbeam asked, because her mother was obviously waiting for her to ask.
“It grows far, far away,” Starlight said, “across the Mountains that Reach the Sky, in the lands of the Goblins, the Trolls and the Dwarves. No fairy ever goes there, for the path is so long and difficult. But for your sake, I will go and fetch the flower.”
But Moonbeam saw the tired lines in her mother’s face, and the deep weariness in her eyes. “I’ll go,” she said. “I’ll fetch this flower for you.”
“Be careful of the trolls and the dwarves,” Starlight said. “But most of all be wary of the goblins, for they are a dreadful race, and they hate the fairy folk.”
So Moonbeam made her promises, and she rode a trail of cloud into the air and followed the sun and moon until they came to the Mountains that Reach the Sky. Then she got down from the cloud and walked among the mountains, searching everywhere, but she could not find the flower.
Then she grew extremely sad, and sat down to quietly weep in the shade of a great old tree. And as she sat sobbing, her face buried in her hands, she felt a light touch on her shoulder.
“Why do you cry, fairy?” someone asked.
A huge head looked down at her, round and leathery and ugly, with great bat-ears and deep-set eyes. It was, of course, a goblin, and she instinctively shrank away in fear.
“Go away,” she said. “Leave me alone!”
“I will do that,” he replied gravely, “just as soon as you tell me what makes one of your folk sit here crying, all by herself. I could not go away with that weighing on my heart.”
And because Moonbeam was young and sad and far away from home, she forgot her mother’s warnings and told the goblin everything. Every single thing.
The goblin listened and nodded. “Come with me,” he said. “I know where you can find your flower. We will go and fetch it, and you can go home and win your prince’s heart. But it is a long walk.”
“I can walk,” Moonbeam promised. “Lead the way, sir goblin.” She was always polite, even to goblins, you see.
“My name is Gnork,” the goblin said. “Please don’t call me sir.”
“Very well,” Moonbeam said. “Lead the way, Gnork.”
So they walked down the mountain, and the goblin talked to her. He told her about the magic of the goblins, the magic of the sun on the leaves, the rain on summer grass, the wind in a bird’s wings. He told her of the ancient sorcery of the sky at night, when the moon duelled with the myriad stars, and the sun that overwhelmed them, only to sink away in his turn. And he told her of the lives of the goblins, in their little mountain villages, where the magic was in the dripping of raindrops from the roof, in the glitter of frost in winter and the first bud of the spring. And Moonbeam listened and drank it all in.
At last Gnork stopped beside a little stream, in the middle of which was a tiny island with a bush on which grew many small flowers of various colours. “There grows the flower of night and day,” he said. “But you must pick the right one. Go across and find the black flower with the golden heart, and pluck it.”
So Moonbeam slipped off her shoes and waded to the island, and when she drew close to the bush she saw, among all the beautiful flowers of red and blue, yellow and violet and white, one which was black as night, with a heart as gold as the noonday sun. But it was so wonderful in its beauty she hesitated to pluck it.
“Must I take it?” she asked.
“If you want to win your prince, you must,” Gnork replied from the bank. “But once you win his heart, if you wish to, you can set the flower free. And it will come back here, home to where it belongs.”
So Moonbeam plucked the flower and waded back across the river. And she walked back with the goblin to the mountains, listening to his stories, and so engrossed in them that she quite forgot her shoes.
“It is time I went away,” she said at last. “I will never forget you, dear Gnork, and I will cherish the memory of our meeting always.”
“And I,” said the goblin. “It is the first time that a fairy has not fled with fear from me because of what I am.”
“I hope there will be many more,” Moonbeam said. Then she thanked the goblin with a kiss on his leathery cheek, and climbed on a passing cloud. In time she drifted back over her home, and climbed down a sunbeam until she was standing before her mother.
Then Starlight took the flower and made magic from the wind in its petals, and taught Moonbeam how to do it too. It was simple magic, and even Moonbeam learnt it, though her heart was still among the sparkling brooks and grassy slopes of the goblin’s land across the mountains.
“You must do it every day,” Starlight said. “At least five times, you must blow the wind from the petals in the direction of his palace. And that will beguile his heart and keep him yours, forever and ever.”
“Must I then keep this flower forever with me?” Moonbeam asked.
“Forever,” said Starlight.
And so the day came when the fairy Moonbeam was to wed the prince of fairyland, whose heart she had bewitched with her spell, but whom she had never seen. And the land was filled with joy, because the fairies were all happy that their prince was getting married at last, and to such a beautiful fairy.
But Moonbeam’s heart was heavy, for she knew that this was not what she wanted for her life. She held up the flower, though, as her mother had told her, and as she waited for the prince to appear, she prepared to blow the air from the petals in the direction of his palace.
Then there was a commotion, as someone huge and ugly pushed his way through the crowd. “A goblin!” outraged voices said. “A goblin has dared to come here.”
“Throw him out!” other fairies shouted. “None of those foul folk should be allowed to mar this sweet occasion.”
But Moonbeam turned with a smile on her face, for she knew who it would be. And sure enough it was Gnork, pushing through the crowd, ignoring the voices raised against him and the blows raining down on his shoulders.
“Let him through,” she cried out. “He is my honoured friend and guest.”
“Greetings, Moonbeam.” Gnork came before her and bowed to her parents. “I came to bring back your shoes, which you left by the stream when you plucked the flower. And I am overjoyed to find you are about to be married. Now, having returned the footwear, and with my sincerest good wishes for a blessed future, I shall take my leave.”
But Moonbeam, ignoring the shoes he had placed at her feet, threw her arms round his neck and kissed him. “Tell me," she said despairingly. “Tell me once more of the magic in the sun and the frost, of the sorcery of the stars and the birds on the wing.”
So Gnork drew closer and spoke, and as he spoke, Moonbeam grew captivated, and everything else faded away; and she quite forgot to blow the wind from the petals towards the prince.
Then the prince woke from the magic, and asked his courtiers: “Why am I dressed as for a wedding, and who are the crowd assembled out there today?”
“The wedding is yours,” they told him. “And you are to marry the fair Moonbeam.”
“That is nonsense,” the prince said. “I have no intention of marrying. Tell them that there will be no wedding.”
And the courtiers announced this to the fairies, and a great outcry went up, though the prince had spoken, and there was nothing to be done.
“But you must be married,” the fairy Starlight said desperately. “The magic has all been done to make for a happy life for you, and you must marry now or not at all.”
“If that is so,” the goblin Gnork said, “perhaps the lovely fairy Moonbeam will do me the honour of being my bride?”
“Preposterous!” Moonbeam’s parents and the other fairies said. “Who ever heard of a fairy marrying a goblin!”
But Moonbeam looked with eyes filled with tears of joy at the goblin. “The fairy Moonbeam accepts,” she murmured, “and wishes for no better way to spend her life.”
“Then, my lady,” Gnork said, taking her dainty hand in his huge and misshapen one, “shall we go?”
Before anyone could stop them, they went hand and hand into a shaft of sunlight, and disappeared into a turn of air, going back to the world where there are no warlocks nor yet spells, and the magic is in the light of the stars and the wind in the leaves, the touch of frost on grass and the sparkle of water on a summer’s day.
So the Flower of Night and Day grew again on the bush on the island in the middle of the stream, where it belonged. And for all I know, it may be growing there still.
Copyright B Purkayastha 2015