even the smallest hero
is still a hero
Once Upon A Time...for that is how all fairy tales begin, and this one is no different. Well, perhaps it is a little different. After all, this fairy tale does not take place in a typical magical kingdom, but on a quaint little farm called Nettlebrook. Though I dare say you may find it to be a magical place. Nor does this tale have knights galloping about on great steeds, though there are heroes aplenty (and come to think of it, there is one horse living on Nettlebrook, though she is decidedly old and hasn't carried more than a plow in years...) There are princesses, although they are not what we would call beautiful, as most of them have six arms. Of course there are villains that fly through the night and great beasts that lurk in the deep waters of Cattle Creek, but they don't even frighten the farmer's small grandson when he comes to visit. Still, it is a fairy tale, full of adventure and swordplay, magic and romance, good and evil.
How could such a thing be, you may be asking. It might sound as if the whole of the world had been swallowed up into that one tiny farm. Of course that could never be, but indeed there is an entire world there in Nettlebrook and to see it you must look down. Look down to where the grass grows, look down to where the seeds take root, look down at where the world begins.
For once upon a time, a small boy captured a firefly, and that world was forever changed...
In the late summer, dusks falls on Nettlebrook farm like this...The sky fades from brilliant blue into a deep and somber purple. Great flocks of starlings and crows fill the sky like fast rolling black clouds. A gentle breeze carries the sound of Cattle Creek burbling a tune that is elegant in it's simplicity. The cows sing along to this tune with hushed lulls as they wander in from pasture. The green leaves of the trees in Hollow Grove seem to be painted black against the darkening sky.
In the western most corner of Nettlebrook, a gnarled old crab apple tree stands alone. It's long boughs stretch into the sky, like long arms reaching to cradle the setting sun. The last of it's white blossoms are cast with a pink hue in the dying light. It's green fruit hangs ripe and swollen, waiting for the fall harvest. And for this moment, if for no other, this crippled and ancient tree is the most beautiful sight on all the land.
Then, without warning, the darkness is complete. The whole of the world is swallowed by the deep purple blanket of night. If you look closely though, you will see a new light emerge from the boughs of the tree. Just a flickering at first, until it is joined by another and another. Soon, the sky of Nettlebrook is filled with dancing lights, as if the stars had fallen from the heavens. These tiny stars are fireflies, the guardians of the night.
Ladybird trundled along the dark path. The towering oaks of Hollow Grove shut out the light of the moon from above and deep pools of shadows lay upon the forest floor seemingly waiting to swallow her whole. A gentle breeze rustled the canopy of leaves, the sound was dry and papery like a snake shedding it's skin. The scent of the spring rain was still evident here, though it was no longer the pleasantly revitalizing smell of the season's rebirth. The mighty trees also blocked out the sun and the earth here stunk of moss and heavy fungus, it smelled of last Fall's rotting leaves and drying pine needles. And in the dark of the night, Ladybird fancied that it smelled like death would smell.
She moved quickly through the woods, her pace driven as much by fear as by the urgency of her mission. She paused to duck back in one of the deeper shadows or to hide under one of the many hanging fern leaves every so often, catching her breath. Then, she quickly trundled off again towards the open fields that would lead to Citadel. Her legs hurt badly, and more than once she stumbled, falling to the ground with uncharacteristic clumsiness. But she dare not fly. Not here. Not at night.
The problem, she reflected to herself, is that ladybugs are not built for adventuring.
After an eternity of casting about in the dark, the trees began to thin. The oaks were younger, the grass higher and fuller. The light of the moon, full and pregnant in the sky, began to brighten. Soon, she would be able to see the rolling fields of Nettlebrook and beyond to the sweeping branches of the Citadel.
Ladybird breathed a silent sigh of relief. The terrors of the dark woods, the ones she had only imagined and the ones which were very real, seemed less horrific under the brightness of the moon and stars. She began to lessen her pace, content on walking at a fast stride rather than running blindly. In truth, it was a beautiful night and there was no reason why she should not enjoy the walk to the kingdom of the butterflies. So little by little, Ladybird let down her guard and allowed the peace of the world to flow about her.
And when the attack came, she was very unprepared.
The moth's wings were a furious tattoo, like war drums rising from the heart of a jungle. The sound was everywhere, a deafening assault that was meant to paralyze the moth's intended prey. As fear crept into Ladybird's tiny heart, she realized how effective it was. Ice ran through her veins, freezing her limbs, chilling her soul.
The moth swept down from the nighttime sky, looking for all the world like a miniature bat as it silhouetted against the moon. It landed with uncanny grace on the path in front of Ladybird. For a moment, it only stood motionlessly blocking the trail, regarding Ladybird with it's expressionless black eyes. Then, without warning, it stood to it's full height and opened it's wings. The creature's squat body was covered in fine white hairs that blended to gray against it's dark skin. It's feathery antenna rubbed together greedily on top of it's teardrop shaped head.
But, it was the moth's wings that captured Ladybird's gaze with hypnotic power. Those wings are nature's cruel joke. So much like the wings of it's cousin the butterfly, but without the flawless beauty. It is like trying to view a magnificent stained glass window through years of dust and neglect. The beauty is warped into something sinister and haunting, a vague echo of what might have been in another lifetime.
"It is late," the moth rasped in it's gravely voice. "It is ever so late for such a pretty to be walking alone. Walking alone in the dark."
It is well known throughout Nettlebrook that the ladybugs of Downwood are great healers who help all manner of creatures, good and evil, without discrimination. Most times, they are given consideration and left to their own affairs. Ladybird was counting on this, this and the fact that the moth had, so far, only been an annoyance. She stood firmly in front of the moth, trying hard not to show the fear welling up inside her. To show fear would be to invite death.
"Be gone thief, I am an Abbess in the Order of Downwood and I am on a mission of peace."
The moth chuckled dryly. The sound was like a handful of pebbles being ground together. "I think not, pretty. I think not." The moth flapped it's wings once, twice, very slowly. It's antenna continued their endless greedy rubbing. It's black eyes bored into her, seeking her weakness.
The moth began to advance upon Ladybird menacingly. It's face was a cruel mask that promised only pain and hurt.
"You must not tell the butterflies what you know, pretty. You must not."
The moth became a flurry of motion, rising off the ground, filling the world with the deafening pulse of it's wings. Driving all thoughts from Ladybird save one.
Ladybird obeyed that thought without hesitation.
The chase was on.
Anyone who has ever seen a ladybug travel on the ground, with their waddle-like walk and slow manners, would be astonished to see them airborne. They take wing with the unerring grace of an acrobat, performing death defying feats high above the crowd without a net. Their short, compact bodies slice through the air like a bullet. And over short distances, I should think that a ladybug could out race any other insect that calls the air it's home.
Unfortunately for Ladybird, Citadel was yet far away. And the moth, though slower, would eventually overtake her. Time was working against her.
Rather than traveling out into the fields that would lead her to the apple tree, Ladybird turned a fancy loop and headed back for the dark forest of Hollow Grove. She flew up into the tree tops, and darted in and out of the narrow openings of oak branches. She flew as fast as her wings could carry her, urging them on to speeds she had never flown before.
She did not have to look behind her to know that the moth was still there, and in truth I doubt she would have dared. As she ducked and wove through the natural maze of leaves and branches, could hear the beast crashing wildly behind her. The moth didn't bother trying to fit through the cracks of sky, it made it's own, tearing through the forest in gleeful abandon. It knew only that it must catch it's prey.
Taking a huge risk, Ladybird suddenly changed direction and flew straight down, aiming herself at the earth. She folded in her wings and allowed gravity to take it's natural course. She plummeted like a stone.
Above her the moth flew in a slow circle, confused by the tactic. Then cautiously, it followed her descent, keeping a prudent distance between it and the daring ladybug. The moth was a slow witted thing, but it was just bright enough to know that Ladybird was trying to outsmart it. It smelled a trick coming and it wanted to be ready for anything.
And Ladybird did have a plan, though the moth would not have expected such a thing even if you had told it what was coming.
DeadPunk's Forbidden Fiction