The Talende Tree

CHAPTER 18 - The Army Comes Home

By the beginning of June the new buildings at Fjaerland were taking shape. The lovely new hostel for visitors had had its first customers, and the new water fountain, with a summer canteen around it, was very popular. So was the bonfire pit, now a permanent feature and a favourite place to gather in the evenings. A huge lawn had been laid out and was growing well and a start had been made on the music arena. Signals had been rebuilt, single storey this time, and more open plan. And the Great Hall had been cleaned and repaired so that it shone like the treasure it was.
Over in the army's area, they had made accommodation their first priority. Some fine new barracks had been built, and a great stack of tents was available too. The word had gone out to every sprite in the realm: Come to the Peace Celebration! But to the army sprites out on duty, at Hills and river crossings, at potential flashpoints and near awkward colonies, at Essen and at Herzenwald too, another message had gone out: Come home, first.
“On your way to Titisee, come first to Fjaerland. It belongs to the realm now, but it's still our home. Come and see the changes, and just for once, let's all get together. If anyone wants to cause trouble, let them. We'll sort it out later. Army, come home!”

And they came. From every country in Europe, from every unit, in small groups and big ones, they arrived day after day. Micael in Otta and Karl in Hella were greeted dozens of times a day by friends old and new. And once they were on the mountain, stories were told and retold, old friends were reunited and everyone looked around and saw the changes and heard about the plans. Some people, who hadn't been back for years, like Colonel Pentreath, were bewildered and disappointed and had to be gently reminded just how much of camp had been burned down during the battle. Others were full of suggestions, and Gus Thurlgrove listened to all of them. Some, he explained why that wouldn't work; some, he made a note of right away.
Everyone brought things. Not just beer and orange juice, welcome though those were, but glass and copper and tin, steel and paint and fabrics. They knew what would be needed. Sergeant Olt greeted every single arrival, and never forgot a name. The nights grew lighter and lighter until there was no hour of the day when there wasn't someone, somewhere, talking and catching up. And everyone went to see the Tree, whenever they wanted to.
On 10th June, Sergeant Olt and Major Thurlgrove decided that building work needed to stop for now. There were just too many people around. So they organised a tidy-up and told the buildings teams that everyone was on holiday now until after Midsummer. Ace helped stack tools away and went to join Will, who was obviously lazing around by the fountain, the slacker. He burst into a run when he saw who Will was talking to.
“Clover! When did you get here?” he asked, giving her a hug.
“Last night. I went straight to sleep, I'd flown from Balestrand. Oh, Ace, our buds! They're so lovely. What a bunch of characters. I'm sure there's another Clover, she's always falling asleep.”
“What if there's another sycamore?” laughed Will. “Or more twins?”
“It's all right for you to laugh,” said Ace. “I've got to name them all! What if I don't know what they are? How on earth are you supposed to know, just like that?”
“It's a good point,” said Will. “There must be a way.”
“Instinct,” said Clover. “You'll know. And you've got till autumn, that's when they'll be born.”
“People are saying there'll be another batch of buds in the autumn,” said Will. “Things are getting back to normal, and two batches of buds a year is normal.”
“Wow,” said Clover. “Another batch, just when the first lot are running around?”
“They'll be all right,” said Ace. “They'll look out for each other. They'll have loads of freedom, just like we did. And sometimes we can go home on leave and join in the fun.”
“I was at home when David got your text about what Colonel Zsennye said,” said Clover. “I honestly think he was fighting back tears. Everyone at home sent their love.”
“Wonderful. They're all coming, aren't they? To Titisee?”
“Everyone except Dominic. He was already going to Iceland on a school geography trip, so he didn't mind too much having to miss this. And John Selby is coming too! They were all amazed about that. He had to get a passport, he's never had one before. He's bringing Hogweed and some of the teachers and the older pupils.”
“So many people,” said Ace. “All the Allies and all the sprites, it must be a huge place we're going to.”
“It is,” said Clover. “I saw a photo. It's a campsite, it's right on the lake, and Karl booked the whole place for two weeks.”
“And he did that back in December,” said Will. “When he can't have known for sure how things would turn out. How amazing is that, when he'd only just met the Tree?”
“I know,” said Ace. “It's awesome. What a chance it will be to say thank you to all of them.”
They looked up as one of the helicopters came over.
“That's Kiefer, waving through the window,” said Will.
“Kiefer? That means Rose is here, too!” said Clover. “Come on!”

While they were greeting everyone who'd just arrived from Herzenwald, an announcement went round. There was going to be a special ceremony that evening at 7pm. That caused a lot of interest and also quite a bit of smartening up, so the sprites who filed into the Great Hall that evening were all looking their best. It was a bit of a squash, but they managed to fit everyone in and left the doors open for air.
Gia walked out to the front and the army cheered her to the rafters. It went on and on and on, thanking her for her leadership and courage, endurance and patience. She looked really overcome, it lasted so long, but finally she got them all to settle down.
“Thank you,” she said. “Your faith in me uplifts me. But here I have come to thank you. All of you, even those who fought for parliament. We are all soldiers and we all did our duty. At the end of the day, we are all sprites who are prepared to fight for what we believe in. I ask you now to welcome our generals onto the stage: General Herdalen, General Stalden and General Arley, General Ormul and General Széchenyi.”
Again, the cheering and applause went on and on, and Gran and Madge in particular looked very emotional.
“Without their leadership and courage we would not be where we are today,” said Gia. “I thank each one of them and say that wherever the future may take them, whatever honours the future may bring, they retain the rank of general in this army forever. And there are others whose courage and sacrifice will be remembered forever; those who died in the Battle of Fjaerland. Butterblume Rangsdorfer and Brunkulla Verndalen, who drowned in the fjord, and Thistle Aberchalder and Rowan Harpsden, both killed on the beach. I ask you now to stand for a minute's silence, to remember them.”
The contrast was sharp and instant, the silence so profound you could have heard a speck of dust settle. And when it was over, Koivu walked to the front carrying a wooden plaque he had made. It was beautifully carved and on it were names painted in gold. He hung it in a place of honour, then stepped back and saluted.
“As long as there are sprites at Fjaerland, their names will never be forgotten,” said the Commander softly. She waited until Koivu had returned to his seat, then spoke again.
“Next, I have medals to award to you all. And I do mean all, including those few who could not join us here today. It is not my intention to honour individual acts of courage and leadership, though there were many of those, and I thank you for every single one of them. Rather, we chose to award campaign medals, and there are five of them. A Civil War Service Medal, for every single one of you. A Marcher Medal, for those who took part in the March of 1000 Sprites. The Fjaerland Medal, for those who defended our home so bravely in battle, and the Herzenwald Medal, for those who endured captivity and those who fought in the liberation. And the Swedish Winter Medal, for those who went with General Herdalen to gain us the final victory. The generals and I will come and distribute them to you. But first, I will ask one sprite to come forward to receive her medals, because by chance she is the only person to be awarded all five. And little wonder, for she is an imp of the very finest, and now Senior Imp of the Realm: Sizzle Speicher.”
Another great crash of applause as Sizzle, looking completely stunned, went forward and received her medals, and then the generals came down with trays, and went along the rows. They knew who they were looking for, and although it did take a long time, it was smooth and well-organised. Gran came to Ace and Will, and when he pinned on their Swedish Winter medals, he murmured to them.
“If single acts of courage were mentioned, you two would top the list. Thank you for all of them.”
“This is more than enough,” said Ace. “It was an honour.”

When it was done, the Commander carried on with her speech.
“Whether you defended a school or guarded a bridge, whether you endured the cold, or blistered feet, or fought an enemy, you defended the realm. On behalf of the realm, thank you. Wear your medals with pride. In years to come, they will unite you. In years to come, we who are already grown will be completely, totally outnumbered by those who come after!”
Everyone laughed, thinking of all the buds.
“Knowing what you went through together will be a bond that will always unite this generation, whichever side you were on and whichever battles you fought in. And now, it is time to look to the future. Our dear general, Madge Arley, is now Senior Fairy of the realm. Her place will be filled by Luke Olt, who now becomes a general and Chief of Staff. General Olt, please!”
As the new general went forward, beaming, someone called 'Keep practising!' in a very good Romanian accent. Even he and the Commander were still laughing as she put the purple band on his wrist. He shook hands with General Arley, and she gave him her seat and went to sit in the body of the hall.
“And our dear general, Gran Herdalen, is now the first President of the Realm. It is never easy being the first. But anyone who has ever seen him forging a path through virgin snow will know that if anyone can do it, he can. His place will be taken by Bjørk Kinnekulle, whose job title will not be Head of Land Forces, but Head of Marcher Regiment. What's that, you are wondering? I'll tell you in a minute. General Kinnekulle, please!”
Gran shook hands with Bjørk, and gave him his seat and went to sit with Madge, listening as Gia moved on. She mentioned that General Stalden would now be Deputy Commander, with special responsibility for liaison with parliament and the sprite college. General Széchenyi's job was now Head of Foresters Regiment and General Ormul was Head of Guard Regiment. She mentioned Clover and Ross becoming envoys, and Krokus Zawoja becoming a Judge, and promoted Saul Lavall to senior training sergeant and Major Inari to colonel.
“Many other changes and promotions will happen soon,” said Gia. “All I want to do tonight is explain about the new regiments. We will have three large, new, mixed regiments – some with ancient names, as you just heard! - full of smaller, flexible units. And who is in which regiment? That is entirely up to you. Blank sheets will be pinned up, and I ask you to write down your name under the regiment of your choice. To help you choose, I'm now going to describe the work each regiment will do.”
This caused a great stir, and Gia paused to let everyone settle down again.
“There are no numbers any more. No-one is pre-eminent, no-one is elite. And no disrespect to flyers is intended by choosing the word regiment rather than squadron. It just sounded more neutral. Any smaller unit that is formed, composed of flyers, can of course be called a squadron.
So, here goes. Marcher Regiment will be mobile. It will move in large groups or small ones as required by events and it will respond fast to problems of any kind. It will need elves who know their way around road and rail – and helicopter! It will need goblins who can cope with change and travel. It will need flyers of endurance and fighting ability. It should appeal to sprites who are problem solvers, and first in the queue when there is fighting to be done.
The Forester Regiment will take care of communications of all kinds, ancient and modern, supplies and scavenging and deliveries, technology and surgery, teaching and training. It is for you if you have a specialisation, or would like to learn one. They will be based here, or at Essen or Herzenwald or a school, depending on their own specific jobs.
The Guard Regiment will guard the realm. It will have one base in each country and it will work closely with the Hills, providing guards when needed, but also patrolling, looking out for trouble, caring for the environment. It will be the first point of call for anyone who needs help. It will need sprites with many different talents, some with wisdom and experience, some with youthful enthusiasm, who feel they can be of most use at home.
So those are our regiments. Now, those of you who were at the Peace Conference will know that there was a wish that the Wielkopolska Unit should be restored to its former function, an honourable unit guarding the parliament, its buildings and its envoys. We feel that the name of Wielkopolska holds too many bitter memories. But the legacy of the unit itself can certainly be revived. I propose that within the Guard Regiment there shall be a Herzenwald Unit for that very purpose and I invite Captain Debin Wilanów to be its first leader.”
Debin got to his feet and bowed.
“I am honoured, ma'am, and I accept with great pleasure.”
“Thank you. In that case, the Guards has its first member. Now is the time for the rest of you to be thinking – and the faster you think, the faster we can sort you all out. Thank you, army.”
Ace and Will looked at each other as everyone began to file out. And Ace saw on Will's face the same determined courage that he hoped Will saw on his.
“We can do this,” said Will.
“We can,” said Ace.

Next morning, with their medals still on their shirts, they watched as General Stalden pinned the sheets up on the wall of the newly-rebuilt Conference Room. They were the first to sign. Under Marcher Regiment, Ace Moseley. Under Foresters, Will Moseley. They knew it would cause a bit of a stir, so they walked off, still feeling rather stunned at what they had done. But as they had been watching General Stalden, Clover had been watching them. She followed them and put her arms round them both.
“Are you all right?” she said.
They both nodded, stiffly, holding it together.
“You have done some brave things, you two, but that was one of the bravest. So unselfish. You put the army first.”
“I think we always knew it would come to this one day,” said Ace. “It's not so bad. We have so much to be grateful for.”
“We're too different,” said Will. “For now, for the army – and for each other too, in a way – we have to do this.”
“The two halves match because they're not the same,” smiled Clover.
“How did you know that?” gasped Ace. “That's what Cory always used to say to us.”
“Did he? It's something the Tree said to me in December. It seemed to mean that it didn't matter if there were two sides to an argument. Both sides were needed and they balanced each other. But looking at you two, I can see it's got more meanings than that.”
“Thanks, Clover,” said Ace. “So Debin's going to be at Herzenwald too? You bet he said yes. He wants to be near you.”
“I'm glad about that,” Clover admitted. “There'll be an awful lot of people there I don't know. I'm glad of every single friend. But Rose wants to come too – she's putting her name down for Foresters too, Will – she wants to do Supplies at Herzenwald. If she gets that, I will be so happy.”
“Wonderful,” said Will. “Well, the fuss should have died down a bit now. Let's go and see what the rest of our friends are choosing.”

By nightfall, everyone there had signed up for one regiment or another. The Commander was delighted. Now the generals could get started on individual jobs.
“It's working well so far,” said Nella. “I must admit, I was shocked at first at the idea of losing squadrons. But the younger flyers seem to think mixed units are perfectly natural, so it is I who must move with the times.”
“Thank you, Nella, for being willing to do so,” said Gia. “We have an excellent outline here, well-balanced. In the morning, we will get Luke and Urzica and Bjørk and fill in all the detail.”

It took two full days' work, and when they weren't sure which job to assign, they spoke to the sprite in question and offered a choice. They spent an evening writing neat lists and checking they hadn't missed anyone, then passed the word round that there would be announcements in the morning. So naturally, in the morning, everyone gathered round and the Commander hardly had to raise her voice.
“Every one of you has a position in the regiment you chose,” she said. “Thank you for choosing so sensibly and making our work a lot easier. Your generals will now give out the appointments. General Széchenyi will take the Foresters into the Conference Room, General Ormul will take the Guards into the Barracks Common Room and General Kinnekulle will take the Marchers into the big new canteen.”
That was hard. Ace was afraid he was going to lose it, but Will messaged him at just the right second.
This won't take long. See you in a bit.
Their eyes met. Will went into the Conference Room and Ace walked off, keeping his eyes on Bjørk.
“Welcome, Marcher Regiment!” called Bjørk, as everyone squeezed in. “Thank you for choosing this one! You won't regret it. My first happy job is to announce the promotions. Major Hagtorn Maridalen is promoted to colonel. Major Lärk Jokkmokk is promoted to colonel. Captain Ornus Vidilica is promoted to major. Dan Moseley is promoted to captain. Pendo Elveden, Carda Rysy and Droz Zlatni are promoted to lieutenant. Congratulations to you all!”
Everyone cheered as they received their new wristbands. Ace was so pleased for Dan, and so interested in what Bjørk was going to say that he forgot to feel lonely.
“Marcher Regiment will be well spread out across the realm,” Bjørk continued, “so we can respond to anything, anywhere. We're going to be the fastest-moving mixed unit the army's ever had! There will be four big bases and three smaller ones. The big ones will be in France, Norway, the Alps and Romania. They'll be commanded by colonels. Colonel Jokkmokk, you get Romania and Colonel Zsennye, you get the Alps. By the way, do all you elves and goblins know Colonel Cam Bruach, formerly senior colonel of 1st Squadron? Colonel Bruach, you get France. Norway goes to Colonel Maridalen. The smaller bases will be in Germany, Poland and Czechia.
Major Vidilica, you get Czechia, Captain Ace Moseley gets Germany and Captain Dan Moseley gets Poland. These will be rapid response units, so they get a helicopter each, and the fourth helicopter will be at the Norway base.”
Germany? thought Ace. They gave me Germany so I'd be near Will. How kind is that!
He was thrilled by the thoughtfulness and thrilled to be chosen as a leader. It made him even more determined to show that he could cope. He listened carefully as Bjørk read out the names of the people who would be in each team. Ace had forty; he didn't even know them all, but he was looking forward to meeting them. And he had Dub and Lupa, Pendo and Gazania, that was a great start. He listened out for his friends, too. Rob and Phil were going to France, Carda was with Dan of course, and Droz, Kes and Vin with Ornus Vidilica. They'd been together forever, they were a great team. Mento Zsennye had all the former Special Brigade elves. Perhaps they had asked to stay together for now.
“After the Peace Celebrations at Midsummer,” said Bjørk, “join up in your new units and travel to your area, and pick a good strategic position for your base. Get to know the place, introduce yourselves to the local colonies – and Hills, if any – then widen out, exploring, seeing what's going on. I will check in with you all every day to start with and I will come around and around. But above all, get to know each other. You've all been in great teams before, I know that. Legendary, some of them. Make these the best yet. I'd like the commanding officers to meet me in the Conference Room at this time tomorrow. By then, it will have sunk in and we can consider any thoughts or questions you have. But for now, that's all. I am really happy to be your general and I am here to help you. It won't be easy at first. We're making this up as we go along and it will be what we make it. If things don't work, we'll try something else. Just keep in touch and never think you have to struggle alone.”

As soon as Bjørk dismissed them, Ace went straight to Dan and hugged her.
“Oh, Ace! I don't know how to be a captain!”
“You do, you know. You just be Dan. That's all you have to do. Be Dan, remember everyone's names and always check the map references.”
“I'll remember that! Thank goodness I learned some Polish. Do you think I ought to be getting people together now, getting to know them?”
“I was wondering that, too,” said Ace, “but I think, no. Time enough for that. What people want today is to find out what their friends are doing.”
Ace was just as keen as anyone else on that, and as he called pretty much everyone he'd ever met a friend, it would take a long time. He managed a word with everyone he knew there in the canteen, and made some new friends too, as some of his new team came to say hello. But then someone just outside the door called in that the Guards people were coming out.
“Come on, Ace!” said Dan. “I want to know what Wayne and Stan got.”
“Herzenwald Unit!” shouted Wayne as soon as he saw them. “Just what we wanted!”
Fran and Peter had chosen Guards too, but they were going home.
“We've had enough adventures,” said Fran. “To go back to England and work there sounds very good right now. Colonel Pentreath's in command, but he's not bad when you get to know him.”
“Tivo's coming too,” said Peter. “And your old friend Ace Foxfield.”
“Is he? I must catch up with him. I wish you two the best of luck. But what about Betch and Dale?”
“They chose Foresters. Dale wants to learn more about computers, and Betch said his only real talent was cheering people up, and people who'd spent all day staring at the inside of a mobile phone probably needed more cheering up than most.”
“So they're going to be at Essen,” said Ace. “That's great! If you see Ace Foxfield, tell him I'm looking for him.”
The Foresters were coming out now. Betch was first, and went straight to Fran and Peter and Ace.
“What have I done?” he said. “Is it too late to change my mind?”
“Not if you're serious,” said Ace. “What's up? Captain Pamisos?”
“Does she even know how to smile, Ace? Has she ever cracked a good joke in her life?”
“It's your new mission in life, to make her laugh then,” said Peter.
“It may be beyond me. I thought you two were crazy, going home, but now I'm not so sure.”
“I know you think we'll just get roped in looking after all the hundreds of little ones there are going to be. But you know, if that's what's needed, we don't mind. The thing is, too many English colonies are a bit stuffy. If we can help the next generation have more freedom than we did, that's all right by us.”
“Good for you, Fran,” said Ace quietly.
“Well, I think you're in terrible danger,” said Betch. “You'll probably end up being a senior sprite one day, and you know what they're like.”
Ace just laughed. He felt very glad Betch and Dale were going to be at Essen. It was all right being surrounded by like-minded geniuses, and Will would enjoy that, but sometimes you just needed old friends. Finally, Will came out, talking to Rose and Kiefer. But he came straight to Ace.
“All right so far?”
“All right so far. You?”
“Yes, I think so. I had a bit of a shock.”
“Will's a captain too now,” said Rose.
“About time!” said Ace.
“Two Captain Moseleys!” said Kiefer.
“No, three,” said Ace. “Dan's one, too!”
“Oh, what a scream!” yelled Rose. “That's so great. And Kiefer is a lieutenant, Herzenwald Supplies team, and that's my team too.”
“So you'll still be with Clover,” said Will.
“That's the best bit of all,” said Rose. “What? What are you grinning about, Ace? What are you going to be doing?”
“Leading a rapid response unit. In Germany.”
“Oh!” said Will. “I'm so glad for you. You'll be brilliant at that. And so glad for us both that you won't be too far away.”
Ace was about to answer when he felt a pair of hands clamp onto his shoulders.
“Hello, shrimp!”
Ace twisted his head round and grinned at the other Ace.
“Hi, Will! So what's this I hear, that all these buds are your fault?”
“It's a malicious rumour,” said Ace. “It was all General Herdalen's doing. How many did you get?”
“Eighteen,” groaned Ace Foxfield.
“Ha! We got twenty-four. I haven't met them yet, though.”
“Seriously? Pretty good! Listen, let's go and find Heldreich Pesentheim. When do the best sycamores in the army ever get a chance to have a get-together?”
“Aren't you the only sycamores in the army?” said Will.
“Ha, yes... actually, no! I met one in a subway in Oslo. David, his name is. He tried to arrest me for being Special Brigade.”
“Oh, wonderful! I have to meet this one. Which unit's he in?”
“He used to be a delivery elf for Technical. Don't know what he is now.”
“Oh, I know who you mean!” said Will. “Now you mention it, I can see he's a sycamore. He's still inside the Conference Room, I think.”
Inside the Conference Room the two Aces found David, and Heldreich too, and persuaded them to go for a wander in a line. Will watched them go, arms across each other's shoulders, keeping step very well. That would start a thing. Elves who were the same tree would see who could get the biggest line. Well, the acers wouldn't win and neither would the willows. Will wasn't going to start anything, but if Sal Loughton or Saul Lavall wanted him, he wouldn't say no. The oaks or the spruces would win. They always did. But it was a great way to get everyone mixing up and laughing. They'd been sensible for far too long.
Will went looking for Dan. He could guess how she was feeling, because it was how he was feeling himself. It was all right for Ace, who could take being a captain in his stride. It was more of a shock to other people. Betch, Bjørk, Dale and Pendo had a line going now, and the beeches were getting organised... Gus Thurlgrove, Herbert, Buchel Arnsberg and many, many more.
Will found Dan and Carda watching the fun.
“Congratulations, both of you!”
“Congratulations yourself!” said Dan. “Oh Will, would you ever have thought on Wildside that we would go so far?”
“Not in a million years,” said Will.
Clover came to join them.
“What a brilliant way of getting to know each other. Not. Do elves ever sit down and just say hello?”
“Sometimes,” said Will. “But this is more fun. Uh-oh.” Sal was waving at him. “Sorry, got to go!”
Left alone, Lance came over.
“I hate this game,” he said glumly. “There's only one of me.”
“Find Phil, then,” said Dan. “There's only one of him, too. Make a line of singletons!”
“Hey, thanks, Dan! Great idea!”
Dub, Debin, Peter, Rob... Boris, Eichel, Eich... the oaks were a fantastic sight. Then a great cheer went up as the spruces gathered to Gran Herdalen and the larches to Lärk Jokkmokk. The lines were enormously wide now. It finished, as it always did, in a tug of war between deciduous and evergreen. This time, all the beeches and oaks had the pulling power and the deciduous won. Then the winning team had to pull against the goblins and were utterly defeated, so everyone was happy. And the bonfire was lit and there was beer to drink and it was a glorious evening, pure fun after so much hard work and serious thought.
And so many friends, thought Ace, as he lay down to sleep. Really, so many friends. I'm so lucky.
He was just drifting off when he had a sudden thought. Two friends he hadn't seen all day, who had definitely chosen Foresters, but hadn't come out of the Conference Room. Where were Maag and Campanilla? There was nothing he could do about it now, not without disturbing people – this dormitory was rather full – but it worried him.
In the morning, before he'd even had a drink, he started asking people if they'd seen them. He hadn't got very far with his enquiries when the Commander herself came to talk to him.
“I should have realised you'd notice,” she said. “Maag and Campanilla have already left for Germany. Special job, I don't want it talked about yet.”
“Thanks for letting me know, ma'am. I won't say a word.”
And he didn't, but he did wonder, very much.

Two days later, the army was ready to leave. Only Calla was going to remain, to keep the Tree company.
“I have already seen the world,” she said, “and as for the events to come, I will see them in my mind if I stay close to the Tree. Off you go and have no fear for your home. If winds or storms come, I will care for it.”
So they wished her good luck and set off, some on foot, to cross the fjord by boat, some flying, and the oldest elves and goblins in the helicopters. And down from the north others had come, goblins from the mountains, Hill workers from Vingen, sprites young and old from colony after colony, Bessheim and Starheim and Herdalen. And from Dovrefjell came Leif and Inge Salvesen, leaving their farm in the care of their young assistant, their first holiday for years. With them were their daughter Marta and their little son Pedr. And from Hella came Karl Hagen. At a quiet spot outside Otta, everyone met up. Ace went straight to greet Marta as the human adults were enquiring if any sprites would like to continue the journey by car.
“Oh, you've grown!” said Ace. “What a tall young lady you are now. And still beautiful.”
“I'm a teenager now,” said Marta. “I was thirteen last week. Are you all right, Ace? I have heard that you and Will have done some hard things.”
“Yes, we did,” said Ace. “But those hard things, we didn't have to do them alone. And they were worth it.”
“You have made everything all right again. I knew you would.”
“Doesn't it look wonderful?” said Ace. “Did you ever see such a crowd of sprites and Allies? And we've hardly started yet.”
“I'm so excited. And Mr. Hagen is being so mysterious! Whenever I ask him anything, he just smiles! And he's got something in the back of his truck. Something the Tree asked him to bring, Dad says. I wonder what it is?”
So did Ace, when he heard that. He was so intrigued, he wondered what his chances were of hitching a lift with Karl so he could sneak a look, but decided there wasn't much chance. The leader of Rapid Response Germany couldn't say he was old and doddery enough to need a lift.
“Ace!” called Pendo. “Give us a hand with this fuel, will you?”
Ace saw that Karl had brought a big can of fuel for the helicopters. There was a lot of expanding and shrinking to do.
“Have a good journey, Marta!” said Ace. “See you in Germany!”

Ace and Pendo, joined by Lance and Will, expanded the helicopters' fuel cans until they were big enough to be filled from Karl's twenty litre can. When Karl had finished pouring, he grinned at them all and went to answer a question from the Commander. The elves shrunk the filled cans again until they were small enough to stow away in the helicopters. By the time they'd done that, everyone was organised. Karl was driving straight to the campsite. Leif and Inge were going to keep pace with the sprites. Ace and Will weren't needed to navigate; it was simple enough to follow the railway line. Instead, they were each given a group who weren't used to trains, to shepherd them through the railway system.
“Off we go,” said the Commander. “Next rendezvous point, Oslofjord Hill.”

South through Norway, Denmark, Sweden, Finland ... west from the great forest of Białowieźa, from Poland, Slovakia and Romania, north from Italy and Switzerland and Austria, the sprites were on the move. And east, from Spain, France, England... and so were the Allies. At Moseley Wood in Cheadle, another rendezvous was going on.

John Selby had started at dawn, driving down from Fayrfield Farm. Now he was having a cup of tea in Sally's kitchen while Sally and Rowan finished packing suitcases. Laura and Tony were outside with Aesculus and Viola, talking to Hogweed and Miss Galantha and meeting the young sprites who'd come with them. Val and Primrose were making sure none of the buds wandered out of sight. Gary and David were loading the car boots with bags and boxes that were already finished. And Adam and Joseph were holding an old Fisher Price Lift and Load Depot. Then John came out, followed by Rowan, carrying cases, and Sally, who locked the door.
“Ready, love?” called Gary.
“Ready,” said Sally. “Go for it, Adam and Joseph.”
The boys placed the large old toy on the lawn. Full of colours and interesting nooks and crannies, it attracted the attention of the buds at once. They swarmed towards it, and Primrose carefully counted them in.
“Twenty-two, twenty-three, twenty-four... that's it, all aboard!”
The boys lifted it carefully and slid it into the back seat of Gary's car, then neatly hopped in on either side of it. Gary and Sally slammed the doors and Gary got into the driving seat. Sally got into her own car, with Laura beside her, and Primrose and Val, who'd been awake all night, lay down on the back seat for a rest. John helped his passengers into the back of his Land Rover and finally David and Rowan got into the Porsche. Gary lowered his window.
“David! You are driving my daughter. Just remember the speed limit is 70 mph!”
“Gary! Of course!” said David. “See you in Dover, slowcoaches!”

They didn't really get to Dover without stopping. They couldn't even stay together, but they did keep in touch. Round about midday Gary said the buds were now all over the car. They had plenty of water and were getting their drinks but Aesculus was going to have to come to his car and stay in the footwell. It wouldn't be much fun for him but he could grab any bud that came near the pedals and toss it to safety. Adam passed the message to Rowan. Aesculus was reluctant to leave the Porsche but he did see that it was a job only he could do, as Viola was frightened of being so near Gary's feet.
“Good for you, titch,” said David, as he pulled into a motorway services. “You are acting just like a grown-up elf.”
“I'll go to Gary's car too,” said Viola. “It's fairer on Aesculus, and maybe the boys would like some help doing the drinks.”
Everyone had a chance to stretch their legs. The humans had sandwiches and everyone had a drink, then Viola and Aesculus changed cars. Then they were off again on the M1, round London and down into Kent. Just past Canterbury they pulled off the A2 onto the Kent Downs. Here they could let Hogweed's pupils out to run and play, and let the buds out for a crawl. This was a nerve-wracking operation, because of the danger of losing one, but they managed to keep track of them all. It was worth it. The buds had to be tired out and ready to sleep for the next part of the journey. After a good long exercise, David laid the lunchbox on the grass and all the buds trundled towards it of their own accord. They knew it was warm and cosy in there.
“All aboard,” said David. “Next stop, the ferry port.”
“That's the part where you have to hide,” Sally reminded the sprites. “People will stare right into the cars to make sure we're not smuggling anything illegal into France.”
“But we're not illegal, are we?” said Viola.
“No way,” said Gary. “You're not people. Or livestock. But all the same, you might raise some awkward questions.”
“But what if someone sees us?”
“Don't worry about it for a moment,” said Rowan. “All you have to do is keep really still. It's sad, but true – they'd believe you were a doll quicker than they'd believe they'd seen a fairy.”

Once they were on the ferry, the humans relaxed and enjoyed the crossing. The buds were fast asleep in their box, in a big airy bag that Sally was carrying. The rest of the sprites were keeping together, to find a good place where they could look at the sea. But all too soon, the coast of France came into sight. Sally and John were nervous about driving on the other side of the road.
“You'll be fine,” Gary reassured them. “Just follow me, we'll all stick close together until we get to our hotel. Tomorrow will be easier, I promise.”
After a good night's sleep in a little hotel on the outskirts of Calais, they tackled the motorway heading south-east across France. After a few hours they stopped for another long break, in wooded countryside near Metz, but then they were back on the road, heading directly east now to the German border near Strasbourg, then due south, skirting the Black Forest to Freiburg im Breisgau. There, they saw the first road sign saying Titisee-Neustadt and everyone cheered. Nearly nine hours they'd been on the road today and even David was tired. Then, suddenly, they were there, pulling off the main road and into the wide streets of the town, thronged with people enjoying early evening strolls. There were shops and cafes everywhere, all still open, and the wooden buildings were covered with flowers. Huge flower displays brightened every corner.
“Oh, how pretty,” said Rowan. “Oh, there's the lake!”
It was glowing deep blue in the evening light and lights from the town and from the hotels on the shore were reflected in the water. At the far end of the little town they left the road and continued up a track that grew rougher and narrower until it ended at the entrance to a campsite. And at the gate, swinging it open for them, was Karl.
“Welcome!” he called. “Drive in, drive in, and I will close the gate behind you.”
Following Karl, they found the car park and everyone at once got out to greet him, and Karl shook hands with everyone, including Hogweed and all the pupils.
“I have saved you two large cabins as you suggested, Gary,” said Karl. “Right next to each other, one for the men and one for the women. Come this way... let me help you with that bag, Laura... you have everything?”
Loaded with bags and cases, they followed Karl to a lovely spot with a view of the lake. The town was now twinkling in the distance in one direction, while at the other end of the lake, the great mountain called Feldberg towered high. On the opposite shore, a road ran, lined with hotels and elegant homes, with the forest rising steeply behind it. But on this shore, there was only forest.
“Here you are,” said Karl, giving the keys to Gary and Sally. “You must be weary after your long journey. Eat, rest, sleep and tomorrow I will introduce you to all who have arrived.”
“Thank you so much, Karl,” said Gary. “You've done an amazing job organising all this. But yes, I am so very ready for a meal and a sleep.”

Rowan cooked a quick meal for everyone, because she was the oldest human who hadn't been driving all day. David, sitting on a bench outside the cabin, wolfing down corned beef hash, gazed at the lake, where fairies he didn't know were flying low over the water like tiny swallows. An overwhelming feeling of happiness flooded over him. What a lovely place. And he could spend two weeks here with all the people he loved best in the world, and a gathering of sprites that could be so big... how big, they weren't sure yet, but that was exciting too.
But he couldn't keep his eyes open and neither could anyone else. They soon went indoors. Their cabin had six bunks, and he and John and Gary took the lower ones, with Adam and Joseph and Tony in the upper ones. Aesculus insisted on sleeping under David's bed, just like he did at home.

In the morning, he was woken by Adam climbing down from above, but he didn't mind. He felt much better now and didn't want to waste any more time in bed. John was just coming back in from the shower block.
“It's a lovely morning,” said John. “I was tempted to swim instead, but I suspect it'd be too cold for my old bones.”
“Hey, could we do that?” Adam asked David. “Swim, instead of shower?”
“Yeah, if you want,” said David. “Come on, then.”
All the boys were keen, and threw pyjamas onto the floor to join the clothes they'd taken off last night, and pulled on swimming shorts.
“You coming too, Gary?” asked David.
“Yeah, why not? I'll have to find this shower block too, though. Has it got shaver points, John?”
“Yes, all mod cons, very nice indeed,” said John. “I'll get started on breakfast while you all do that.”
There was a stony beach you could walk across and wade in slowly to the lake, or a wooden jetty where you could jump right in to a deeper part. The younger boys leaped like elves off the jetty, but their yells of shock at the cold persuaded David to follow Gary across the beach. It was even colder than he'd expected, but he soon got used to it and struck out for a floating wooden platform moored about 100 metres out. When he reached it he put a hand on it to steady himself and looked back at the shore. There were about twenty cabins, some big, some small, all well-screened from the track by trees and bushes. You couldn't even see the car park from here, let alone the track. There was a big meadow too, running down to a sandy beach. Beyond that, there was nothing but forest.
The sprites will be safe here, he thought. No-one to see them but Allies, they can relax too.
And there was Rowan, coming out of the cabin with a towel over her arm. She waved to him, but headed firmly for the shower block. David swam back, past the boys and Aesculus splashing each other and Gary floating on his back, gazing at the sky. He ran out, marvelling at how warm he now felt, and went inside to get dry and dressed. He gave John a hand setting up a trestle table he'd found, outside on the grass, and pulled benches up to it. Then he and John ate eggs and bacon and toast and drank coffee, so they'd be ready to look after the others. Rowan came, then the boys, then Sally and Laura with all the sprites. Jugs of milk and orange juice were ready for them. John and David were busy frying eggs and boiling water. Finally Gary came too, and David passed him a huge plateful.
“You,” said Gary, “are a hero. Thanks, David.”
As well as all the sprites from Fayrfield – four teachers and thirty little ones – there were all the buds to look after, too. Primrose and Galantha kept an eye on them all and made sure everyone had a drink. Some of them were a bit overawed by so many humans, and tried to hide. Others were over-excited and jumping around, asking when they could go for a swim, too.
“Soon,” promised Galantha. “Very soon. This is a holiday! There will be no lessons, even if it rains. You were all so good yesterday, sitting quietly in John's car. Today you can swim and run about and fly as much as you like. But there is no need to be giddy goats at breakfast! Sit still to drink your juice.”
What an expert she was, thought David. All the young sprites – even Aesculus – were sitting quietly now. And none of the buds had fallen off the table yet, though it was probably only a matter of time. Primrose pulled one back from the edge, right then. Galantha smiled at her warmly.
“You are very caring, Primrose,” she said. “But, you know, you don't have to worry quite so much. It is extremely hard to kill a bud. They are practically indestructible. Even if one jumped off the cabin roof, it would only break a bone or two, easily mended. And you really can't drown them. They bob up to the surface so fast.”
Gary was laughing so hard he made himself cough.
“I love the way you phrase it, Galantha,” he got out. “Like you've really, really tried, but had no luck.”
Galantha looked at him, then saw what he meant and laughed. Her eyes twinkled.
“Not been tempted yet. But there's still time...”
“Mr. Hagen!” said Laura, and jumped up to hug him. “This is a gorgeous place!”
“Hello, Laura! I'm glad you like it. I thought it looked private, but when I got here, I saw that it was even better than I had expected. It's so beautiful. Gary... Sally... David, everyone, hello! Have you all had a good night?”
“Everything's great, thanks, Karl,” said Gary. “Cracking place.”
“Even the buds slept!” said Sally. “Who else has arrived so far?”
“Of the humans, only Uwe and Gertrud. They have a camper van, parked near the Games Room.”
“Oh, what games are there?” asked Tony.
“Oh, snooker, table tennis, things like that. There are boats, too. You will find oars and life jackets in the little shed nearby.”
“Brilliant!” said Tony.
“And some sprites have arrived too?” asked David.
“Yes, many. Some from Waldkirchen, with Uwe and Gertrud. Some Italian fairies and a large party from an unpronounceable forest in Poland, who all brought their buds with them. And a party from Amutria School. If anyone has a good time here, I hope they do.”
“Yes, indeed,” said Galantha. “Where are they, Karl?”
“I'd like to show you,” he said. “The sprites are making a camp within a camp. Now you all know your human friends well and may prefer to stay with them. On the other hand, you might like to mix with other sprites while you have the chance. Will you come with me and see what you would like to do?”
“We love having you,” said Sally, “but you can see us anytime. If you want to join in, we won't be offended. Let's all go, so we can say hello.”
“Everyone pick up a couple of buds, then,” said David.
Karl led them across the campsite to the meadow David had seen from the water. At first glance, it appeared to be empty apart from a fire pit, then they noticed a collection of small green tents.
“Good camouflage!” said Laura. “You can hardly see they're there.”
“Hello!” called Karl, before they got too close.
The sprites weren't in the tents just then, but when they heard Karl's voice, they waved from the sandy beach.
”Good morning!” said Karl. “Here are more Allies, and friends from Moseley Wood and Fayrfield School.”
Karl introduced them all.
“And here are Jesion, Wici, Sosna and Nica from Poland, and Luigia and her people from Monte Amiata Hill, and Crina with her staff and pupils from Amutria.”
“Crina,” said Galantha, hugging her. “I am so sorry about what happened.”
“Thank you. I am glad you managed to fight off your own intruders! And this is Hogweed, who was such a hero on that day? I am honoured to meet you.”
“Thank you, Miss Crina, ma'am. I had some very good help.”
“And David, you said... David Chambers? You mean this is the David? Oh, my goodness.”
She flew right to David's feet. David at once crouched to greet her.
“We heard what you had done, heard all about the beautiful painting of memory. When we leave this place, I am taking my pupils home by way of Herzenwald, just so they can see the painting. Lavandă, bring the little ones over here, please.”
She seemed to be the eldest – lavender, David thought – and she ushered the smaller sprites towards their teacher. At first, they were staring with interest and curiosity at the crowd from Fayrfield, but when Miss Crina told them who David was, they stared at him instead.
“When you are old, you will be able to say that once you met David Chambers, the artist who made the painting of memory.”
“The honour is mine,” said David.
He sat right down on a rock and let the little ones clamber up onto him, just like Aesculus did.
“So, do you like being on holiday? Were you having a good play on the beach?”
They started telling him all about it.
“And here are some more people to play with. Look, here are Aesculus and Viola. And here are Cap and Jonquil and Mal and Bluebell... lots of people. Lots of buds, too.”
“This many sprites to play with?” asked Aesculus in awe.
“This is just the start!” laughed Karl.
“Come on, Viola! Come and play!” said Lavandă. “Don't worry about the buds, they'll just follow us!”
And Viola did. Her human friends were amazed to see it, but she flew across the beach with Lavandă, with streams of younger sprites and buds following behind them.
“Amazing!” said Val. “I never thought Viola would do that. Well, Primrose, I think it will do her good if we stay here, don't you? What do you think, Sally?”
“I think it will be lovely for Viola. But what about the buds? Will they get enough to drink?”
“Oh goodness, yes, don't worry about them,” said Wici. “They'll soon come back when they're thirsty. And the lake is fresh water, anyway.”
“But what if they get muddled up?” asked Val.
“They won't,” Wici assured her. “You've been looking after them, they have a sort of homing instinct to you now.”
“That makes sense,” said John. “Lambs always know which sheep to go to.”
“Oh well, in that case, we can take a bit of a break, Val,” said Primrose.
Yes, thought David. You two have been working too hard. It will do you both good to chill out with other sprites.

They stayed chatting on the beach for ages. Jesion was telling them about his journey with Wayne and Stan, and all the places they'd been, and that was interesting despite all the translation that was needed, because they'd all heard of Wayne.
“I hear many people who supported parliament are coming here,” said Jesion. “They were pleased there would still be a parliament, pleased about the elections, and a bit embarrassed to have been taken in by Huskvarna. When the new President said there would be a Peace Celebration, there was a good feeling about it. Many are on their way.”
“You're going to need a lot more tents!” said Adam.
“We have materials,” said Karl. “I brought an old tent, any new arrival only needs to take a piece to make himself a tent. But listen, there is a horn at the gate, that is new arrivals of the human kind.”
David went with Karl and was delighted to see a motorcyclist, with a small passenger.
“Janusz!” said David. “Oh, this is great! And this must be Dorota?”
“My sister, Dorota,” beamed Janusz. “Here is David, and here is Karl.”
“Hello!” said Dorota, climbing down and pulling her helmet off. “Oh, I am glad to get off this motorbike!”
“Welcome, both!” said Karl. “Let me show you to your cabin. There will be room beside it for the bike.”
Karl showed them where to go and pointed out his own cabin nearby.
“Come to dinner tonight,” he said. “We will cook a barbecue while the weather is fine. David, will you please ask all your people to come too?”
“Sure,” said David. “Thanks, Karl, that sounds great.”
They left Janusz and Dorota to settle in, and Karl drew David aside.
“Come in here a moment, David.” Karl took him into his own cabin and closed the door. ”You and I both know what our friends are hoping for.”
“I'm hoping, too,” said David.
“And I. But we have to be realistic. It may not happen, and I don't want the young ones to have hopes raised only to be disappointed. But there is this. The Tree told me where to find it, told me to bring it. So the Tree must think it will be needed.”
David gasped as Karl lifted a cover from a sprite-sized boat – a little ship, really. She was green and a little weather-beaten and her name was Queen Enid.
“Oh, beautiful!” said David.
“Isn't she? Now, I am not sure what part she plays, but the sprites will know. And if what we wish for happens, some might think of the ship. Gran perhaps, or Ace, or Gia, or Pice... if you hear them wishing the ship was here, you can reassure them that it is.”
“I get it,” said David. “Will do.”
“Also, here is the list of cabin numbers and names, and here a box of keys. In case anyone arrives soon. I drive into town now, to buy food and drinks for my barbecue.”
“I'll keep an eye on the gate,” said David. “Listen, Gary said you weren't charging anyone for coming. How come? We'd all be glad to contribute, it must have cost a lot to hire this place for two weeks.”
“You are thoughtful, but it was not I who paid. I organised, only. Hanna paid. She insisted. It was her gift to the Allies, she said, and the least she could do for those who had brought such joy to her life.”
“Wow,” said David. “She's a star.”
“Star in a Tree,” said Karl. “See you later!”

When Karl had gone, David had a look at the list. So many names familiar to him from the forum, but lots he'd never met. Ludmila from Brno, Elisaveta from Lauterbrunnen... Allies from all over Europe. They'd all been invited. Not everyone had been able to come – Ingrid in Balestrand, for instance, had said the journey was too much for her – but a lot had. Judging by Karl's list, they were mostly arriving today or tomorrow. Yvonne and Hanna were coming on 18th, two days later. But they were quite old – though not as old as Ingrid – so maybe they didn't want too many days in a cabin. And of course, Leif and Inge and their children.
The sprites loved Marta. Ace in particular couldn't hide how much he loved her. Ace loved Rowan and Laura too, but it was different. Yet some sprites David had met did feel that way about Laura... a love that was tinged with awe and respect. It was difficult to fathom.
David looked again at the ship, and a thought struck him. He had paints with him. Would it be all right, he wondered, to brighten up her paintwork? He'd ask Karl. But he'd have to leave it for now. A horn was sounding. Some more Allies had arrived.

The barbecue was a great success. By the evening, another ten Allies had arrived, and too many sprites to count. Not all the sprites dared to come too near to humans, even ones they knew to be Allies, so the humans were careful not to overwhelm them and kept away from the camping field. But all those bold enough to come near found a warm and loving welcome, plenty to drink and lots of people to talk to. David, doing the cooking for Karl, soaked in the scene.
It was still warm, and everyone looked relaxed and sun-kissed after so much time in the open air. Rowan had been for a swim, and now she was wearing sandals and a white dress, with her hair loose. She looked as beautiful as a fairy herself. She was talking to Elisaveta. Gary and Sally were sitting at a wooden table sharing a bottle of wine with Uwe and Gertrud. Karl was setting out bread, salad and plates on another table, and Janusz was helping him. Dorota was tearing about on the beach with Adam and Joseph. Laura and Tony were sitting on the grass, with sprites clustered round them, sitting quietly to encourage shy ones to come and join in.
David stacked cooked sausages on a tin tray to keep hot and laid chicken legs onto the grill instead. This was a really good barbecue, big enough to get an even heat and cook enough for a crowd. It was quite hot, though; some fairies were overhead, playing at floating on the hot air. David glanced up and was very pleased to see that one of them was Viola.
And where were the buds? He had no idea, and the thought that they could be anywhere on this big campsite, or the rocky shore, or the beach, or even in the lake, did worry him. But the people who had real experience of buds weren't worried in the slightest, so he tried not to fret. He was less sure that they wouldn't all get muddled up, but Aesculus could tell the difference between them, he would know which were the Moseley ones. And where was Aesculus? He hadn't seen him for hours. He hoped he was having fun and hadn't done too many crazy or dangerous things. Then, suddenly, there he was, landing after an impressive jump on a wooden worktop behind the barbecue. About nine or ten other young elves followed him.
“Hi, David! There!” said Aesculus. “That's food. That's the kind of food called meat.”
“Euuurgh!” groaned the elves.
“Humans put it in their mouths and swallow it?”
“Well, you have to chew it first, with your teeth,” said David, breaking off a piece of sausage. “Like this.”
The elves stared with a mixture of horror and fascination.
“You're so brave,” said one of them. “Doesn't it hurt?”
“Not at all,” said David. “It tastes good, that's all, just like delicious drinks taste good.”
“Are we having delicious drinks tonight?” said Aesculus.
“Oh yes,” said David. “Karl went shopping. You don't think he forgot you, do you?”
Some of them were talking languages David couldn't guess at, and some were trying to translate and laughing about it. That was good. They were all mixing, finding people their own age and making friends. Then the young elves noticed that at another table, humans were filling dozens of sprite-sized jugs and they were off, to find out what might be on the menu.
David smiled fondly, stacked up the hot chicken and laid out some burgers. Maybe the heat could be better? He poked the charcoal, and released more heat. And a cloud of smoke. There was a sound of coughing from above. Whoops.
“Sorry, fairies!” he called. “But nearly done now.”

As soon as Karl announced the food was ready, Adam, Joseph and Dorota were first in the queue, but Sally sent them off to wash their hands and gave place to Uwe and Gertrud. They were a jolly pair and well-used to an outdoor lifestyle. They thanked Karl for his hospitality, praised David's cooking and sat down to tuck in, followed by everyone else.
Once the humans were sitting down, and not walking around like terrifying giants, even the shyest sprites came over, tempted by the sound of laughter and the lovely drinks. Sure enough, the buds came trundling along after them. True, they looked grubby, but they also looked perfectly content, as if they had had a very exciting day.
“There, they'll sleep tonight!” said Wici. “Now, we ought to just count them, to set minds at rest. How many did you bring, Luigia? Six? And we brought eight and Moseley Wood twenty-four, so that is thirty-eight.”
A careful count and then a recount only got to thirty-seven. Primrose was looking alarmed, but Wici wasn't, and neither was Luigia.
“I think it's one of ours,” said Luigia. “Fierce little thing, independent-minded. Think it's an imp. Giacinta, would you please fly back to our tents and see if it's taken itself off to bed?”
Giacinta reported that not only was it there, it was asleep on Luigia's own personal favourite blanket.
“Oh well,” said Primrose, “it looks as if we were much too careful. But at least we gave them a good start.”
“Don't worry,” said Luigia. “It doesn't do any harm to be careful for the first week or so, until their instincts kick in. But it really is okay to relax a bit now.”

David got up to get another cold beer, and walked around, drinking from the bottle. The shadows were lengthening now and the light was rich and golden. It seemed almost to be sparkling as bits of dust caught the light. He wished he could photograph all this, but that would never do. Perhaps he could draw it from memory, no-one would mind that. All those faces... Aesculus listening in awe to two older elves, trying valiantly to stay awake. Half a dozen buds already asleep on the table. Wise old Jesion talking to Uwe, Viola and Lavandă giggling together in the grass. Pretty Giacinta talking to Hogweed, Karl, Janusz and John roaring with laughter about something... Sally and Rowan gazing at everyone so lovingly. If he could just fix it in his memory, he would draw them all. Then someone's phone rang. Rowan's... she was pulling it out of her pocket.
“It's Clover!” she exclaimed, as she answered.
“Hi! Yes, we're all here, it's a wonderful place. Where are you? Oh, brilliant. Yes, yes, I'll tell everyone. We can't wait! Bye for now.”
Everyone was looking at her, to hear the news, including David.
“They're nearly here! Everyone from Norway, all met up tonight at Freiburg. They'll be here tomorrow.”
“Good, good!” said Karl. “Leif said he hoped to arrive on Tuesday, they have made good time. And all the army too? Then tomorrow will be a busy day and an exciting one.”
“That's wonderful!” said Sally. “What a crowd we shall be tomorrow! But now I think it's time our smallest humans were in bed. Come on, Laura and Tony, yes, and you too, Adam and Joseph. It's getting very late.”
“It is,” said Galantha. “Time that little sprites were in bed, too. Say goodnight, my dears, and come along.”
All the humans were enchanted as the young sprites whizzed around them, calling goodnight, calling their names.
“David,” said Aesculus, “is it really all right if I go with the others? You won't be lonely?”
“I'll miss you,” said David, “but I won't be lonely. I want you to have fun with other little elves while you have the chance. Why don't you get your own blanket from our cabin and go off with your friends?”
“Thank you!” said Aesculus. His tiny hands hugged David's hand and he jumped off.
“Bless,” said David fondly.
Everyone was starting to move. Rowan came over to him and they wandered hand in hand down across the beach to the lakeside, watching the waves on the dark water.
“Beautiful,” sighed Rowan.
“Yes, you are.”
Rowan laughed and put her arms around his neck.
“Beautiful, yourself. You've made quite a hit among the fairies, I hear.”
David laughed too. “Rowan, can you even believe all this is happening? The real world seems so far away.”
“I know. Who would ever think all this was real, too? Yet we know it is. We're so lucky.”
He bent his head and kissed her, and they were lost in the moment, and never knew that they themselves were part of the beauty of the night.

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