If Senegalia were human, she would look like an eleven-year-old girl, but even though she was the youngest in her family, she was over three-hundred-years old.
That’s not as long as it seems, since for the first one-hundred-and-fifty years after emerging from her pupa stage, she fluttered about the nest, and later, the verdant wooded high-canopy with the other overly curious and somewhat clumsy adolescents, a collection of fireflies, each glowing some shade of amber, sapphire, emerald, or ruby, no larger than three-year-old children, cavorting nude, for clothing was a human concern, and existing in a state both being careless and carefree.
For Senegalia, she believed her life was one of eternal play with the other nestlings, gossamer wings fluttering as fast as invisibility, racing around the feusha blooms, dodging errant moonbeams, their overarching background of earth tones and the deep greens of a mythical rain forest, competing to be the fastest, the most acrobatic, and certainly majestically fearless fliers. Of course, the grown-ups were always watching them, secure in the knowledge that they were all safe in the fantasy pocket universe, nestled in a depression of local timespace right next to the larger quantum reality of their greatest enemy, humans.
But while an isolationist policy several millennium old served to preserve their species, there was always the hope that one day humanity would finally mature to the point where the fairy folk could cease their long period of hiding and co-exist with them again in a larger world.
To that end, once every century, a single fairy was selected to make an overture to a single human being. The fairy had to be strong, fearless, at least past the age of three-hundred, and especially determined, since facing a live human being was no minor task.
“You can’t go, my dear. You’re just a child.” Senegalia’s father Rovumae was well over a thousand and had made the transition to the human world once, over five centuries past. He returned with his wings and dignity barely intact.
“Oh, father, I’m of age, and lawfully selected by lottery. I’m not afraid of the humans. Why, I’m faster than most of my pupa-mates, so certainly no slow, plodding man could ever hope to catch me.”
They stood on the ceremonial mushroom top in the center of the forest green, it being large enough for a hundred fairies. King Burkei and Queen Densispina had already issued the decree following the announcement by Princess Wrightii, who chose her name at random by picking it out of the rabbit’s hat.
“Isn’t there something you can do, my Queen? Our daughter is so young.” Her mother Mahrana turned to Her Highness Densispina and appealed to her as a parent.
“It is done, dear Mahrana.” The royal mother put her hand on the concerned fairy’s forearm. “Senegalia is worthy. You must have faith.”
Rovumae and Mahrana paused, torn between duty to their people and worry over the fate of their youngest, then bowed to the royal family. They then turned toward Senegalia and embraced her.
“Be safe, my child,” murmured her father. “We love you, Senegalia. We are so proud…” Her mother couldn’t finish what she was saying for her sobbing.
“I’ll be fine, Papi, Mami. And who knows? I may find a worthy human being.”
Even though she was speaking softly to her parents, a few in the audience still heard and snickered. The young fairy frowned, though with her face pressed against her parents’, no one could see. She knew the chances were far less than slim that a human worthy of the company of the fairies, mythic folk elevated to the highest stature of peace, tranquility, and love, could be found. During the last encounter one hundred years ago, they were still barbaric, unfeeling, cruel brutes, addicted to war, money, and lust.
Humans evolved so slowly. It might be a thousand or ten-thousand more years before they tamed their base passions. But the fairy folk needs continue to try, lest they consider themselves as intolerant and cynical as those whom they perpetually considered across the vastness between them.
Senegalia let go of her parents and took several dainty steps backward. Then she faced the royal family and bowed deeply, her wings standing erect above her back, twinkling and shimmering in moonlight. Even the nestlings were motionless on the upper branches of the canopy, their own enchanted glow, which vanished from Senegalia’s own skin when she aged past two-hundred, dimmed to reflect the solemnness of this moment.
Then rising, she declared. “I am ready.”
King Burkei and Queen Densispina each raised their right arms in the air, paused, and then in unison, quickly lowered them to their sides while commanding, “Go!”
The young fairy girl’s wings fluttered slowly at first, and then faster and faster, the hum of their beating becoming a whine, and then a squeal while her face shifted into a mask of determination. She glowed a brilliant azure, far brighter than any of the nestlings, and then in one final glimmer, she vanished.
She was perched on a tree stump, white mist slowly evaporating around her loins. Golden wings, like those of an angel or a dragonfly, were still, extending upward from her back. Her hair was midnight dark and wet, as was her face, which was dripping with early morning dew. Scarlet lips were pursed as if to kiss the day awake, and darkling eyes looked upon the forest in the human world with wonder and trepidation.
The girl of fable and legend had nearly forgotten clothing, but what she wore was almost entirely transparent, clinging to her slight frame as would the web of Sedis the Spider. Yet modesty wasn’t a fairy’s virtue, even though she was aware it was (more or less) expected here.
There was a clearing ahead. No, it was the edge of the forest, and beyond, a human community. Someone was out there. A human, male, she sensed something was ailing him. His breathing was heavy and uneven. He made sounds of distress, groaning. He needed help. This was her chance. If she could rescue a human, perhaps the others of his kind would understand the value of kindness over cruelty, compassion over indifference.
Senegalia poised herself upon the tree, wings beating into blurriness, and then leaped skyward. The journey lasted mere seconds, and when she alighted on the ground in front of the man, he collapsed into her arms.
“No.” She gently lowered him onto a bed of fallen leaves and withered grass. He was trying to speak, but only managed a gasp. Large eyes stared upward through some sort of lenses across his face. His ivory-white mustache crinkled, and his face wrinkled as he began to smile upon seeing her face.
“Beautiful,” he murmured. “My Wasp…my Jan…” He exhaled and as he did, the greatly aged man’s entire body seemed to fall inward (even she could tell that the human was advanced in years). For the first time in her long existence, Senegalia, the fairy girl, knew death. And so she wept over the old man’s crumpled body now empty of his soul.
“I’m sorry. I wish I could help.” Her tears wet his pale, lifeless face. Then determination rose in her breast. “No, it can’t end this way. He was worthy, I know he was. I have to do something.”
Truthfully, she didn’t know exactly what she was supposed to do, so she did the only thing she could think of. Her body began to glow a soft, ethereal blue again, as her golden wings beat to the time of the hummingbird. Though she was small compared to the man, as she shone more brightly and her wings shimmered to near-nothingness, Senegalia stood, picking up the man with the arms of a child, possessing a strength she had never imagined in herself before. Light spun about the two of them, like moths circling a flame, like electrons in their relentless orbits around a nucleus.
And then…and then.
She couldn’t see for a moment, which puzzled her, because as a fairy, she could always see everything. There was a snap, like when a person steps on a fallen twig, but much louder, and then there was a door, no, it was a portal, wide as the ceremonial mushroom top, and round, and through it, came a bright light. And behind the light, there were gods, such that even the fairy Senegalia was in awe.
“You are so beautiful.” Doe-brown eyes were wide with wonder.
“I will take him, lass.”
He was more than a man, as tall as the tallest of human men, but regal, like a King, hair so golden it made her wings look tarnished, a beard as grand as Great-Papa, the oldest fairy in the mythic realm, and he possessed a mighty hammer of an unknown metal, hanging by a strap at his side.
He wasn’t alone. There was a fierce giant all of green, and yet his savage face was wet with tears, a man and woman, smaller than any pupa, the man riding an insect, and the woman with tiny wings so much like her own.
There were many, many others. Another man dressed in armor, a boy in flames, a woman who could go unseen (to the humans, that is), a man with wings like a bird, an archer with unerring aim, another boy so much like Sedis, but dressed in red and blue, the most noble human she had ever seen, wielding a shield, and yet another dressed in the black of a panther.
“Heroes,” she whispered. “The fabled realm of the heroes.”
“Aye,” said the golden King who handed the old man’s body to the emerald giant. “We are all heroes, but none so mighty, so courageous, so worthy as he, for he was the father to us all.”
“Then I have found the one human who could accept our kind, who would welcome us to the world of men.”
“He would have, but he has passed, and he was exceeding rare. I fear your mission incomplete, for there are still far too few of his kind in Midgard.”
She looked at her feet, shuffled one in the dirt, for she was still on her side of the portal leading to the hero realm. “Then I failed, just like all those who’ve come before me.”
The fairy felt a strong hand on her shoulder. “Fear not, for in the short hour you were among men, you gazed into the face of the greatest. Take heart. His legacy will live on in us, and I swear by the All-Father that someday you will return to this world, for they will all see, through his example, that they can all be heroes, if not of sinew and uncanny power, then of compassion, kindness, patience, and hope. We thank you for bringing him to us. We will guide him to his rest, for he has earned it a hundred times over.”
“Then I am privileged to have seen his passing, and to have witnessed his multitude of children. Thank you.”
He removed his hand from her shoulder, and though possessing avenging strength, tenderly grasped her own frail extremity, they both being fictional, but intensely real.
When the doorway to the heroes realm closed, Senegalia found herself again alone in the forest in the human world. “I will watch and wait, and if I may, I will come to this place again. As long as there is one mortal man who can father a race of immortal heroes, then someday there will be others.
Dedicated to Stan Lee, 1922-2018, the father of our hopes and dreams..and our heroes.
I wrote this for both Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie Photo Challenge and the Tale Weaver, Life’s Journey writing prompt. The latter had a word count limit of 500-600 words, but my story is over twice that. Oh well. This was a tale that required a little more detail.
I took the various fairy names from HERE.
I’ve already written my personal eulogy to Stan Lee, but a story about fabled creatures seemed to lend itself to his particular imagination. I know Stan didn’t pass from this world in the manner I’ve described above, but maybe he should have, especially if the consequence was to be taken into the care of his greatest and most beloved of characters, the heroes of my own childhood, and yes, my adulthood.
So long, Stan. Nuff Said.