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The Woe of the Fountain Faerie


by destervetha

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It was a quiet evening in Faerieland. The sun was just sinking beneath the rim of the great clouds forming the base for the enormous city, tingeing everything a deep and soothing shade of violet. A warm breeze sang through the spires of the Faerie City, kicking up languorous wisps of cloud from the soft, fluffy ground. Streetlamps were beginning to wink on near the low outbuildings surrounding the city proper as the more diminutive constructions lost the touch of the sun, though the tall towers of the Capital still gleamed with the light's dying kiss.

     The soft babble of water filled the evening air, the gentle splashing noise mixing with the dull mutter of a large crowd. There were two long lines of creatures straggling off into the pastel distance.

     The animals forming the waiting queue were moaning in pain, or snuffling unhappily through blocked-up noses. Some were alone; some were accompanied by humans in varying states of annoyance or irritation. Snippets and fragments of conversation drifted past on the dreamy breeze, angry voices scolding or complaining.

     Comprising the second queue was an equal number of owners and pets, all walking with closed and distant expressions, their footsteps hurried and purposeful. Even the pets that left looking much better wore the same inward-looking expression as those pets staggering slowly away clutching snowballs or nursing wounds.

     New unfortunates joined the waiting line every moment, all trying to get to the common destination of a large fountain, big enough to qualify as a small lake. Jets of perfumed water arced high into the rapidly darkening sky from a fluted centerpiece, splashing down with tinkles like silver bells to pool on the cloud itself, forming glassy ponds and lakes that rested in depressions carved by centuries of use. The soothing noise could barely be appreciated over the clamor of plaintive voices at the water's edge.

     The lines diffused slightly as they neared the fountain, those comprising them scattering to the nearest beautiful fish-tailed Faerie lining the banks. The Faeries all wore short sleeveless blue shirts, and the golden hair of each was held back demurely from their pretty faces by identical shell ornaments. As each was approached by a new supplicant they smiled and spoke soothingly to the drawn and silent faces then proffered their hands and gave something to each sufferer. Sometimes they dipped white arms into the water and drew out a ball of perfect colored snow, sometimes they laid glowing palms on their customer's brows and then gently sent them on their way. But very rarely would they receive a smile in return, or even get a response to their warm greeting. Even when pets were cured of their ailments they would leave without a word or thank-you, seeming to accept it without question as their due.

     Most of the water Faeries who worked there regarded this philosophically. They greeted the constant stream of visitors with rehearsed warm smiles, and spoke the same words of comfort over and over. But there was one young Faerie who worked at the Fountain for whom things were not so easily acceptable. She went by the name of Arolyn, and every morning she arrived bright and early with her uniform always cleaner than average and her hair tied perfectly to the regulation style. Every time she got a customer, she always gave them her brightest smile and tried her best to give them real healing every time they asked. And every time she drew a snowball out of the water instead of a healing potion, or watched a needy face leave unfulfilled, she became a little angrier inside.

     Why couldn't she help everyone? Why wouldn't the fountain heal everyone who asked? Why, oh why did she have to give the needy - the starving, the wounded, and the sickened - snowballs instead of healing? And especially, why didn't anybody thank her? She worked so hard for them! Did they think it was easy for her to fail? Did they think she was spiteful? Did they even realize she cared? And worst of all were the ones she did manage to help, who went away without even acknowledging her! It was almost enough to make her want to…to quit.

     So after one particularly unrewarding shift Arolyn hauled herself out of the fountain to make room for the Faerie coming to relieve her. With a sigh Arolyn unfolded demure, dragonfly-style wings from her back and buzzed them, floating into the air with an irritable flip of her tail.

      "Bad day?" asked Cheryl - the Faerie up for next shift - sympathetically.

     "You have no idea," growled Arolyn. "Guess how many times I was yelled at today? Go on, guess."

     Cheryl winced sympathetically. "At least once, then."

     "Not just once, Cheryl. Four times. Four angry humans who didn't think I did enough for their pets. It's like, hello! I'm trying my best here! It's not like it's my fault, either. But they always have to go and blame someone."

      Cheryl eased herself into the water and patted the hovering Arolyn consolingly on her sadly drooping tail. "Don't worry about it, honey. Just think of the ones you help."

     But as Arolyn flew slowly back to her home in the Faerie Citadel she wanted to think of anything but the ones she'd helped. The ones who ignored her and didn't thank her, or didn't think her help had been "enough". And as the sun fell beyond the ground clouds of Faerieland, its last dying rays momentarily flashed off the windows of the highest spire of all - Fyora's tower. It caught Arolyn's eye, and she stopped and hung in the air, wings a bare shimmer behind her.

     Fyora.

     She could ask Fyora. Fyora ran the city, regulating the magic that powered everything from the lights to the sewage system…to the Healing Springs. Fyora would know why, would have to know why everyone wasn't healed, why Arolyn couldn't give them all what they needed. With this thought in her mind, and suppressing the instant flash of nervousness at her audacity, she leapt forward through the air and flew with all speed towards the highest tower in Faerieland.

     The pastel distances of Faerieland were deceptive, and it was quite a long way to Fyora's Tower. Arolyn was tired and her scaly tail uncomfortably dry by the time she touched down on Fyora's balcony. Curling her fishy fins under herself, Arolyn knocked hesitantly at the beautiful glass-paned doors that looked into Fyora's public chamber.

     Arolyn felt a flush rise to her pale cheeks as the Faerie Queen herself opened her doors and ushered Arolyn in with a gentle smile. Laugh lines spiderwebbed lightly across the Queen's face, her lilac hair was graying, and Arolyn was awed at what was surely eternity she saw reflected in Fyora's eyes. For an immortal Faerie to show such signs of age…! Nervously Arolyn tried to think how to begin. The blushing young Faerie was spared the necessity when Fyora sat down behind a lavender marble desk and asked her quietly, "Why are you here, Arolyn?"

     "Well," began Arolyn hesitantly, "I work at the Healing Springs, and I have a…well, I have a question."

      Fyora didn't say anything, but motioned gently for Arolyn to continue.

     "Faerie Queen, why can't I always give the pets that come to the springs what they need? Why does it just…not work sometimes? It hurts me to see them have to leave still sick, or with a snowball, or something!" Arolyn's voice grew more and more animated as she continued, until finally she ran out of steam. She spread her arms imploringly to Fyora, begging an answer.

      "Well, my dear," the Queen said calmly, meeting Arolyn's eyes. "Would you rather give them nothing?"

      It was a very thoughtful Faerie who arrived at work the next morning. Arolyn did not blindly reach into the waters hoping for a cure this time. She simply relaxed a bit. Instead of wearing herself out worrying over whether her next spell would give her customers what they wanted, she focused instead on making them feel better herself, instead of hopelessly relying on magic to solve all their problems. She gave everybody a sympathetic ear instead of reciting tired words of comfort. She began bringing tissues for the sneezy ones and some bandages for those with scrapes, and always reached into the fountain knowing that whatever she drew out would be enough - instead of dipping her arms into the water full of desperation. She gave love with every gift and talked gently to the irritable owners instead of fuming back at them for their ill temper.

      Soon the ever-present lines to the Healing Springs changed. It was very gradual, so much so that few really noticed. People stopped being so angry - just a little. Pets with runny noses left with some tissues and those too unfortunate to have their own bandages would always leave with at least some bandages - no quick magic fix, but it was something. Smiles began to appear as people talked to one another instead of standing quietly with closed faces. Arolyn started getting greeted each morning by the people who came to see her.

      Never a social butterfly, it came as a surprise to Arolyn that she soon began knowing more and more of the hopeful faces that queued up as soon as she started her shift. Even the other Faeries working at the fountain noticed the change. Instead of leaving work at the end of each day tense and irascible, they left for home happy and speaking to one another - and Arolyn. Night after night she left to a chorus of farewells, which she always echoed back good-naturedly.

      One day, having stayed up far too late the night before at a party, Arolyn floated up the familiar hillock of cloud to see the brilliance of the fountain spread out before her. There was the all-pervasive rumble of a large assemblage of people thrumming through the dusky evening air, punctuated by occasional peals of laughter that lanced painfully through her aching skull. Wryly she told herself that she never would have woken up so tired back in the old days when nobody had invited anybody to parties.

      Then it hit her.

      Old days? Parties? When had she started getting invited to parties? When had she started hearing the babble of laughter rising over the hills instead of the low grumble of discontent? She didn't know. But as she flittered down through the warm dreamy air to the magical water that day and said hello to everybody, she thought she had an idea. As she chattered away with each familiar face, dipping her hands into the pool and exclaiming, "Oh, that was a good spell!" once or twice when particularly lucky, she thought she had a guess.

      Fyora.

      She recalled that she had gone to see the Faerie Queen, back when everything had been too much. Had Fyora helped her? Had Fyora changed the Healing Springs to heal more people? Arolyn carefully considered what the fountain managed to do for each customer that day, but it was no different than it had ever been. It was then Arolyn realized that the change had been within her own heart. Magic didn't and could never solve everyone's problems. All the Healing Springs had really needed was a bit of cheering up, and Arolyn had provided it - and it had spread to everybody else!

The End

 
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