The Spirit of the Juniper Tree

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They should know we’re watching.

They should know we’re watching. And in hindsight, many of them will say they do, they did. And yet.

And yet.

And yet we still bear witness to all the secrets and horrors that mortal lives suffer, and even welcome. Is it any wonder we dryads have no great love nor devotion to humanity? Better to stay hidden, lest we be drawn into their drama, we say. Unlike our treacherous and arguably royal cousins, the Sidhe, we gain no pleasure from tricking an unarmed enemy. But over and over, we’re forced to witness every imaginable betrayal.

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How do we bear it?

How do we bear it? By remembering that we are souls of wood, that we do not have to be soft, that only the laws of the wild magic, such as they are, apply to us, and we need not be bound by mortal folly.

Even so, even so. Even so, there are happenings that will move even the slow and steadfast heart of a dryad. Most of us have a story: this one is mine.

I have lived as the spirit of many trees, moving from seedling to sapling, slipping away when death comes near, and many years ago, I lived in a juniper tree that was sat in the forecourt of a wealthy man and his wife.

The wife had a liking for trees, and she believed in many things it was not seemly to believe in for a woman of her age and time. She wanted a child, badly, and she came out and sat beneath my tree every single day. She told her husband she was praying. And she was, after a fashion: she was beseeching the faeries to bring her a child, whether it be her own or a changeling she did not mind.

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She left me gifts

She left me gifts, apples mostly. That always made me laugh. Could I not walk over to one of the apple trees and pick my own? Is a gift a gift, if one can get it oneself with so little trouble? I am sometimes plagued by these philosophical questions. But suffice it to say that apples did not interest me overmuch.

No, it was the day she cut her finger peeling one of those apples that she got my attention. She gave herself a good nick, and blood dropped onto the snow. That’s when I started listening, because while human drama doesn’t interest us, human blood, even to a tree spirit, is a lovely, lovely treat.

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I went away and conferred with the Council.

I went away and conferred with the Dryad Council. And bicker, bicker bicker, back and forth, but finally I was allowed to place a magical juniper berry into the woman that would certainly cause her to bear a child. It had to be done while she was asleep beneath the tree, which was a bit of a faff, but I’m perseverant (most of us are).

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And there follows the tale you may know.

And there follows the tale you may know, of this beautiful lady finally conceiving and bearing a child, and of her being so pleased with the baby boy that she died of happiness on the spot, once she had looked upon him.

Mortals. What are they thinking? What was she thinking, dying of happiness because she’d borne a child, with no consideration of its future, its welfare? I cursed myself for my softness in helping this lady’s wish to be granted, because while I’m not the oldest dryad in the forest, I’m old enough to know how these tales go.

Child born, mother dies, father remarries evil stepmother.

It’s drilled into us. This is how the stories go. And even if the second wife wasn’t evil to begin with, fairy stories will twist her to evil, and that’s exactly what happened here.

After a long mourning period, the man of course remarried, and his new wife gave him a daughter, and that’s about the time the story twisted her to evil.

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She became obsessed with her daughter’s future.

She became obsessed with her daughter’s future and decided that the best way to ensure house and lands for the girl would be to kill her older brother. Of course, it took her years to come up with this plan, by which time her daughter and the boy were beautifully bonded as siblings, despite the fact that the stepmother did nothing but abuse the boy. No-one ever called her out on this behaviour, not even her husband (also known as the boy’s father). So by the time she got around to killing him, he was something like ten years old and the girl was perhaps seven. I do not know: time goes by so quickly for mortals; for trees it is a bit more slow.

But you know the next bit of the story too, don’t you? You know that she killed her stepson by decapitating him, and then to cover up what she’d done, she placed him in a position where his sister would surely find him and knock his head off, effectively making the girl believe she was the murderess and not her mother.

I think, mortals, that there should be rules about this sort of thing. There really should be. First of all, it is not acceptable to die of happiness on the day of your child’s birth. That opens the child up to a future of torment over which you, happy mother, will have no power.  Secondly, if you’re going to murder your child, evil stepmother, it should not be acceptable to pin the blame on the surviving child whom you mean the death to benefit. Think of the psychological scars!

Luckily for the boy, the sister knew quite a bit about fairy tales, and after having seen her mother cook the boy up into blood puddings, which her mother and father ate happily at a dinner where she could only cry, she had enough wits still about her (a miracle, considering her day: oh, it makes me fume even now to think of it!) to gather up the boy’s bones and bury them beneath my branches.

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I sang with the wind all night.

I sang with the wind all night, and in the morning, because of the girl’s quick thinking and my not inconsiderable talents, there rose from the branches a beautiful tufted bird with snapping black eyes and a voice that could make a Sidhe queen’s frozen heart melt.

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We conferred briefly.

We conferred briefly, the boy and I, and then he went off to collect the things you know from the rest of the story: the gold chain, the red shoes, the mill stone. Chain to the father, shoes to the sister, mill stone to crush the stepmother. Magically, the bird becomes the little boy all alive again, and seemingly regardless of the stepmother’s corpse out there somewhere in the forecourt, the man and his two children go inside and have their dinner. Which, I just have to hope, did not include any leftover puddings from the last meal served at that table.

And that’s my story of that one time I softened my heart and tried to improve a mortal’s life. I’m so glad this is a fairy tale and not a fable. If it were a fable, I’d have to come up with a pithy moral, like, The family that kills together, chills together, or something equally macabre.

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Juniper Tree and Juniper Bird, from Rivendale.

Style Card:
The Juniper Tree: Rivendale, Juniper Tree (At Enchantment until November 30th)
The Juniper Bird: Rivendale, Juniper Bird (At Enchantment until November 30th)

The Dryad:
Body: Maitreya
Head: LAQ, Lisa Bento Mesh Head (New at Uber)
Hair: Raven Bell, Willow (At Enchantment until November 30th)
Skin: Fallen Gods, Wood Nymph, Spring
Ears: Eclectica Elf Ear, Creature Version
Wings: Evolved Creatures, Fae Wings
Eyes: Seydr, Hallows Eyes, Grave
Leather catsuit: !go! Findis Overalls, Brown
Wrapped Tree Top: Shi, Tree of Life Creepers Top
Boots: Illi, Medieval Archer Boots

Environment:
Location: Awenia Faerie
Apple Trees: The Little Branch, Apple Tree
Wishing Well: Hextraordinary, Wishing Well (At Enchantment until November 30th)
Basket of Apples: Finishing Touches, Basket of Apples
Stone Wall: Artisan Fantasy, Maiden Tor Stone Wall
All poses, except tree sits (included with the tree) are from Frolic Poses (Beseeching, Harbinger, and Fairy)

 

Left Luggage

A magical pathway spread out before me as I entered the Realm of Erstwhile. My assignment wasn’t clear, but I’ve worked the Great Faire long enough to understand that sometimes you just have to find the Guard supervisor and let him (or her, or whoever) direct you.

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I stopped and turned to look.

I stopped and turned to look. Before me sprawled Erstwhile Station, an airship port that doubled as a floating (in the flying sense) market. While airships are mostly used to convey people from one Realm to another, their pilots have to make a little money while they’re in dock, and so for the Faire, the Station becomes a fascinating array of little markets from all over the meta verse. I had never been there before, so the assignment was going to be interesting.

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Erstwhile Station

Of course, I was pissed off about the getup they put me in. As usual, svart alfar were not welcome, so I got a budget for a skin and hair painting. Now, sometimes they want you to look a particular way, and I’m OK with that, but whatever was in that guideline letter that I handed over to Lumiya Rae was either completely unintelligible or intended as some kind of test, because when she finished up and I looked in the mirror, I was lavender. Lavender. As in light purple. Quick as I could, I thanked her for her beautiful work and quit the shop.

The fact was, I did look hot in lavender. I just also looked kind of sweet.I flickered my left hand in a wave to Lumiya as I left the shop and noticed how the tone of my skin almost matched the light amethyst of my engagement ring. You know, the one I never take off? From the fiancé I haven’t seen in…well, I can’t count the years. I wonder if he thinks I died. I wonder if I did die. Guys at the House were adamant that I shouldn’t ever google myself. It only leads to pain and heartache they said.

Crap, where was that hairdresser? I’d been so busy snowflaking I’d forgotten to look. What was her name? Ah, yes. Raven Bell. Surely she’d help me darken up this look a bit.

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“Rainbows? You have got to be kidding me.”

“Rainbows?” I was nearly shouting. “You have got to be kidding me.”

“I am not, Madam. It says here on the card.” Ms Bell quirked a brow. “But seriously, you can’t go wrong with a braid extension like that.”

“No,” I said, “I suppose you can’t. But couldn’t we have made it brown?”

“Brown would blend into your jacket. No way.”

I nodded, for once resigned to my fate. “I guess you’re right.” I summed up the courage to smile and made my way out of the shop on high wedge heels, which were at least easier to manage than stilettos. At least these ones had bats on.

I made my way up the gold-lit stairs and into the station, where I found my handler. It was hard to concentrate on anything he said, because someone was playing the most incredible music. Symphonic, dramatic, music that seemed to make the building itself into a film set, a dream of some kind. I was transported. The drama, the intensity of it, how it filled the hall.

“I’m sorry Derek,” I said to my handler. “I was miles away.”

Derek smirked. Smirks always look a bit menacing on dwarves. “Happens to everybody when that guy is here playing music.” He pointed to a startlingly handsome guy in a suit with a steampunk-y helmet on. “Anyway, for the next two hours, he’s DJing for some kind of a tour of the station, I don’t know.” Derek shrugged. “Your job is to make sure nobody gets too close to him while he’s working. He’s very focused. Just man the outside of the music booth and try to look nonthreatening but serious.” He nodded. “That skin painting really suits you.”

I grimaced. “Right, boss,” I said, ignoring the jab about the skin: this was undoubtedly Derek’s idea of a joke. “I’ll get right on it.” I made my way to the music booth and flashed my credentials, in the form of a Faire necklace made of some kind of rusted iron and set with little gears, to the DJ. He nodded back, then resumed his work.

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I did a visual inspection of the station. Oh, great.

I did a visual inspection of the station. Oh, great. There, attending the tour, was Queen Gwyneth. I hunkered down. It’s not like she’d notice or even recognise me: she seemed as lost in the music as everyone else. With her was an elegant lady in a cloak, the tour guide. The ten or fifteen folk on the tour were all talking excitedly about the furniture, the fittings, the green light that drifted down from floating orbs. To be honest, their conversations annoyed me, as they sometimes got a bit loud and it was harder to hear the amazing music.

It was impossible not to lose myself in the music that flowed from the DJ’s capable machines. Every horn motif seemed to make the hall bigger. The colours seemed brighter. My imagination soared. I thought to glance back at the music booth and there was his name on a little brass plaque. Nyza Stillwater. Well, Mr Stillwater, I thought, I’ll have to hope I end up being assigned as your guard more often during this Faire. At this point, I noticed two giggling fairies who’d just walked in. “Oh my stars, there he is! It’s really him!” Great. Fangirls. I mentally climbed out of the music, which had changed from a melody sweet enough to make Derek cry to a strange electronic circus march, to watch the fairies. Mr Stillwater hadn’t noticed them, thank the gods. If they got any closer, I’d have to say something.

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It seemed Her Majesty had noticed them as well.

It seemed Her Majesty had noticed them as well; she took up a post between them and the music booth on the other side. Wait: did she know him? Suddenly I felt the urge to actually go up and speak to her.

Luckily for all of us, the tour progressed up to the market and the fairies followed along, though they did cast several flirtatious glances in Mr Stillwater’s direction. I don’t think he even knew they were there, he was so immersed. Gwyneth left with the tour crowd as well—and that was just as well, because I really didn’t need any more drama in my night, or my life, than this music was giving me. And it was such good drama. I wanted to sit down right there and outline a novel about Erstwhile Station, some great intrigue, some lover’s tryst happening right underneath the not-so-watchful eyes of station personnel, maybe a forbidden auction of clandestine wares, perhaps some vitally important spy being transported to a safe house, but the only way through was through Erstwhile Station.

I’m usually so good at keeping my mind on my work, but all this music made me want to do was dream, and dance, and live a million stories, all at once.

Eventually, the women (they were all woman; that seemed a bit odd) on the tour made their way back down into the station itself. Everyone seemed to go their separate ways after that, and Mr Stillwater ended the music set. He acknowledged me with another nod and the briefest smile before he headed up to the docks, presumably to catch an airship to somewhere. I knew I’d hear these tunes in my mind as I went on to my next assignment.

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My next assignment turned out to be left luggage.

My next assignment turned out to be…. left luggage. Seriously? Left Luggage? I have years of combat training, enough magic to get by, and Derek puts me on Left Luggage?

Fine.

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I’d just pace around Left Luggage for what? Six hours? Great.

I’d just pace around Left Luggage for what? Six hours? Great. Sometimes I’m ready to blame the whole I-always-get-the-dumb-jobs thing on being female and not really into dressing like the cover of a circa 1980s fantasy novel, but whatever. I let the whole thing go. Unusual for me, I know. The Amazing Catwoman does not let things go.

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Instead, I looked out at the port behind me, and I daydreamed.

Instead, I looked out at the port behind me, and I daydreamed. Daydreamed to memories of music with titles like “Sky Is the Limit” and “Starfall” and “Chronopolis”, things I’d never imagined hearing before but knew that I must hear again. I almost pulled out my phone and did a search on Mr Stillwater right then and there, to see what the rest of his public Faire schedule was, but no: I’d wait til I got back to my digs in Pools of Ethuil in the morning to do that.

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For now, it seemed enough to remember, imagine, and dream.

For now, it seemed enough to remember, imagine, and dream. Something about the way my mind reacted to that music made me want to dream more.

Maybe this will be a Faire for dreaming.


DJ Nyza Stillwater has handled the music for most of the region tours sponsored by the Fantasy Faire LitFest for the past three years, though he’s been DJing at Fantasy Faire Radio for longer than that.  He and I met last year after I led a LitFest tour of Raven’s Perch. Our first conversation was a little like TAC’s internal dialogue, above—how inspiring I’d found it, what wonderful ambiance he created. We were standing near the memorial stones on Raven’s Perch, and I explained that one of the names on the stone was my late husband, Joe Raftery. We talked a little about music, and I told him the story about how, during the last year of Joe’s life, he’d go around to conventions and sing “The Parting Glass” to make everybody cry, then follow it up with “I Am Not Dead Yet” from Monty Python’s Spamalot to make everybody laugh. I explained how, when I told my therapist what an emotional roller coaster this was for me, my therapist suggested that maybe I find a song to sing for him that explained how I felt. So I did something I’d been thinking of for a long time: I learned Annie Lenox’s beautiful song “Into the West” and began regularly performing it with the harp after Joe sang these songs. It always made people cry, and it’s remained in my regular repertoire since then. Even after Joe’s death, performing that song is a source of comfort for me, I explained. Nyza said, “Well, I guess I’d better play that for you right now, then.” And that he did. We became SL friends and kept talking to one another both throughout the Faire and afterwards. And, well, some of you might have noticed that my SL display name has changed. Nyza and I were partnered in SL last summer, and we will get married in SL tomorrow, 22 April, 2018, in Astrid’s Nemeton. 

Every year, the Fantasy Faire LitFest team prepares and leads tours of all the FF Regions. Nyza’s music helps set the scene and create the ambiance. If you haven’t been on a LitFest tour or experienced Nyza’s wonderful musical sets, check out the LitFest Page on the Fantasy Faire website. The tours are designed to promote inspiration and creativity, and everyone is invited to submit the stories they write about the regions to be published on the official Fantasy Faire blog!

Style Cards:
The Amazing Catwoman
Body: Maitreya
Head: LAQ Bento Mesh Head, Lulu
Skin: Lumae, Elvi (Ethisi) (Available NOW at the 2018 Relay For Life of Second Life Fantasy Faire, in the Realm Pools of Ethuil!)
Eyes: The Little Bat, AED Eyes (Available NOW at the 2018 Relay For Life of Second Life Fantasy Faire, in the Realm Severina!)
Ears: Gauze, High Elf Ears
Necklace: HarshLands, FFX Necklace, Steampunk (uncommon) (Available NOW at the 2018 Relay For Life of Second Life Fantasy Faire, in the Realm Willows of Nienna!)
Dress: Stitched, Ginnifer Dress (Available NOW at the 2018 Relay For Life of Second Life Fantasy Faire, in the Realm Pools of Ethuil!)
Hair: Raven Bell, Chronos (Available NOW at the 2018 Relay For Life of Second Life Fantasy Faire, in the Realm Erstwhile!)
Braid: Raven Bell, Bento Braid (Available NOW at the 2018 Relay For Life of Second Life Fantasy Faire, in the Realm Erstwhile!)
Shoes: The Dark Fae, DraciChic (Available NOW at the 2018 Relay For Life of Second Life Fantasy Faire, in the Realm Santoria!)

Gwyneth:
Body: Maitreya
Head: LAQ Bento Mesh Head, Lulu
Skin: 7 Deadly s{K}ins, Helena
Fantasy Faire, in the Realm Severina!)
Ears: Lumae, Leevi Long Ears
Necklace: Zuri, Sweet Bouquet Necklace Hair: Raven Bell, Chronos (Available NOW at the 2018 Relay For Life of Second Life Fantasy Faire, in the Realm Erstwhile!)
Tiara: Zuri, Zahra Floral Tiara (Available NOW at the 2018 Relay For Life of Second Life Fantasy Faire, in the Realm Erstwhile!)
Dress: Silvan Moon Designs, Vintage In Vogue Gown
Hair: Elikatira, Sophia
Shoes: The Plastik, Filvina High Heels

Location: The 2018 Relay for Life of Second Life Fantasy Faire, Realm of Erstwhile, Sponsored by The Looking Glass and designed by Sharni Azalee and Marcus Inkpen