Kya frowned at the moonscape stretching out as far as her eyes could see. It wouldn’t be fair if they had to leave now, not when they’d only just arrived. But like its earthly counterpart, the moon had its rules and regulations to keep it spinning straight and true.
“I’m afraid we didn’t bring anything with us,” she said, regret weighing down her voice. “We didn’t know we were supposed to bring anything.”
The mouse shook his paw at her. “What sort of guests arrive—uninvited I might add—without a gift for the host?”
Hearthorne strained against the force of her roots keeping her down in one place. Never before had she appreciated the ability to move even a single step to the side. But now that she no longer had any feet to step with, she would have to make do with what she had.
“What offering?” she asked again, her petals spread wide against the coming day.
Kya’s frown deepened a little. Hearthorne didn’t seem at all surprised to hear about the offering.
The mouse straightened, though his nose continued to quiver at them. “A wish or a dream is the usual fare.”
“Too expensive,” Hearthorne said, shaking her head. “What else?”
“There’s always blood,” the mouse said with a little too much interest and not enough hidden glee. He leaned forward. “Only a drop, of course.”
Kya took a step away from the mouse. Surely the moon couldn’t be as blood thirsty as all that. Still, a drop of blood was far cheaper a trade than that of a dream or a wish.
“No,” Hearthorne said, shaking her petals. “Blood is perhaps the most expensive of all.”
The moon mouse bowed his shoulders in disappointment. “You won’t trade a dream or a wish or blood, but you cannot enter the Moon’s country without thought or regard.”
“Well,” Kya stepped forward with the feeling of one treading barefoot across a path strewn with glass, “is there nothing else we can offer?” Being a flower at heart, she had never given much consideration to blood, nor to the very real power of what a wish or dream may lead to. But now her heart had changed, had shifted slightly, and she wasn’t sure of much of anything anymore—only that she was gaining an inkling of how little she truly ever knew.
The moon mouse regarded her with his night bright eyes, his nose all a quiver as though he had a secret to sneeze. “There is always a task,” he said offhandedly, waving a paw as though the suggestion hardly merited mentioning. And yet his nose stilled and he leaned forward as though they were wild truffles that had fallen across his path.
Kya glanced at Hearthorne who surely had more experience in dealing with mice, moon or otherwise, but the faerie-flower had gone silent. That, of course, would not do. She would have gladly traded a wish, a dream, or even a drop of blood for the honor of entering the moon’s country without understanding the danger. She still didn’t quite understand the danger, to be sure, but thanks to the flower, she was at least sensible that a danger existed.
“Well?” she whispered, brushing a finger against one of Hearthorne’s leaves.
Hearthorne shook her head as though rousing herself from a dream. “The choice must be yours. As a flower, I can watch and observe. I can advise and warn, but I will not be able to carry out the task myself.”
“The task will be hard,” Kya said, thinking back to all the stories her keeper had read to her throughout the seasons.
“Of course it will,” the moon mouse squeaked, affronted. “The task must be worthy of the offering. To enter into the moon’s country, you must lose your heart.” He quivered his whiskers at Hearthorne. “One way or another.”
Kya bit her lip as she tried to reason with herself, but her heart had already been captured by the shining streets and the glowing fruit of the moon. “What is the task?”
“You must accept the task before it can be revealed,” the moon mouse said, straightening. He smoothed the wide sash wrapped about his ample belly. “That is the first condition.”
“All right,” Kya said, feeling as though she was about to step onto the tongue of a highly accommodating dragon. “I will accept your task.”
“Not mine, but the moon’s,” the mouse said. “But done is done, and this is done. Have some cheese.” He held out a small wedge of cheese with both paws.
Kya darted a quick glance at Hearthorne, but accepted the gift. “Thank you.”
The mouse nodded sharply, having accomplished his mission. “Eat up, and you may be on your way.”
“Oh, I’m not really hungry,” Kya said, giving the cheese a dubious look. Mice were not known for being fastidious when it came to food, and Kya had never tasted more than rain water and sunshine and soil.
The mouse sighed even as the fur along the ridge of his nose and the top of his head bristled. “That is one hundred parts genuine moon cheese. You cannot complete your task without it.”
“What does cheese,” Kya held out the food in question, “have to do with anything?”
The mouse began to fidget with impatience. “Namely, it will keep you from getting eaten, probably. And without it, you won’t be able to see the dragon.”
“Dragon?” To a flower, a dragon is largely an abstract, airy idea. The sort of thing that happens to other people, usually in storybooks. The idea of actually meeting one made her head spin a little. “They exist?”
“Of course they exist,” the mouse huffed. “Now eat your cheese so you can fetch the apples, for that is the task the moon requires.”
“Apples?” Hearthorne asked, her eyes narrowed. “I thought the fair garden of the Hesperides was in the west.”
The mouse sighed and gave Hearthorne a sorrowful look as though she had personally disappointed him somehow. “Mortals are doomed ever to forget, and those of earth,” he nodded at Kya, “keep their memories locked up tight in seed and slumber. But you, you ought to remember. You ought to know, even if you don’t understand.”
“Perhaps you might remind me then,” Hearthorne said through her teeth as little nubs of thorns broke out along her stem.
. . . TO BE CONTINUED . . .
© 2015 by Danyelle Leafty. All rights reserved.
Moon mice. Cute. Furry. Infuriating.
Join me next Monday to see why Kya and Hearthorne need to fetch the apples, what moon cheese tastes like, and a little bit more about why a dragon guards those particular apples. 🙂