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Few people know that fairyland is made up of two kingdoms. Fairies live most of their lives in the larger kingdom. The younger fairies, however, briefly inhabit a realm all their own called the Land of Courting. It is here that adolescent fairies meet and form connections.

The Land of Courting is reached through a narrow tunnel, a passage shrouded in mystery. Before entering the tunnel, fairies are sworn never to reveal the details of their journey. No two journeys are alike.

As with any system, there are failures. Some young fairies are defeated by their experiences in the tunnel. But their shame is mercifully short lived. Soon after their return to the main kingdom, they are transformed into glass statues. These statues are displayed in a special park, immaculately kept, with lawns and flowerbeds and deep blue ponds. Fairy families picnic there on weekends, and children love to play among the subtly tinted, wonderfully life-like figures. Sunlight passing through them creates rainbows which captivate the youngsters. Generally, not more than two weeks pass between failure in the tunnel and transformation.

One day, a small gray kitten that lived under a hedge in fairyland crawled out to forage for lunch. As he emerged, he caught sight of an adolescent girl, her posture desolate, plucking at blades of grass. The kitten understood. “Poor girl,” he thought, “I’ll go and speak to her. Perhaps I can lift her spirits.”

He pranced over to the fairy and began to tug playfully at her dress. The girl was startled at first, then smiled to see the kitten. It was pleasant to have company, even a cat. Everyone else in fairyland ignored her. Those who failed to reach the Land of Courting were shunned by the other fairies as if they had some disfiguring disease.

The young fairy reached down and rubbed the fur under the kitten’s chin. The kitten purred and looked up at his companion. He wondered why she hadn’t reached the Land of Courting. She was pretty and looked healthy. Despite her worried expression, there was something in her eyes that hinted at a fine sense of humour. The kitten, curious as all cats are, felt he needed to solve this mystery.

“Pardon my nosiness,” he said, “but why didn’t you reach the Land of Courting?”

Immediately he regretted his brash question, for the fairy began to weep.

“I’m terribly, terribly sorry,” he exclaimed, offering to mop up her tears with his paws. “It’s really quite a compliment, you know.”

“A compliment?” sniffed the fairy.

“Why, yes. You look so eminently able to succeed. Otherwise, I wouldn’t have asked at all.”

The fairy made an effort to stop her tears. “That doesn’t help,” she said in a choked voice. “It’s no consolation to look all right if one really isn’t.”

“I do see what you mean,” admitted the kitten.

For some moments, they sat in silence. Evidently, the fairy bore no grudge, for she continued to caress the kitten’s fur. “She is awfully nice,” thought the kitten. What a pity she will soon be turned to glass.” He couldn’t resist asking: “I beg your pardon, but how long ago did you….return?”

Without looking up, the fairy replied in a muffled voice, “Almost two weeks.”

“I see,” said the cat.

“Look,” said the girl, thrusting her left hand in front of him.

The kitten inspected her hand. Yes, he could see the stiffness. The fingers and the pretty fingernails looked brittle and glassy. The kitten plucked up his courage.

“How is it that you failed?” he asked the girl. “Perhaps I can help.”

“How can anyone help?” murmured the fairy. “There is no second chance at the tunnel.”

Cautiously, the kitten glanced around him, then stretched up close to the fairy’s ear. “True,” he whispered, “there is no second chance at the tunnel…but another passage exists.”

The girl’s eyes widened. “Another passage? Where?”

“Right here, under the hedge,” said the kitten smugly. “I’ve been to the Land of Courting a dozen times.”

A little hope brightened the fairy’s expression. “Could I pass through?”

The kitten wrinkled his brow. “Perhaps you could. But first I must know exactly how you failed.”

“What about the vow of secrecy?”

“I’m only a cat. That really doesn’t count.”

The fairy considered. “Very well, I’ll tell you. I set out in fairly good spirits. The tunnel was narrow but the way was clear. It didn’t seem too dreadful, only dim and silent and a little lonely. But soon I found myself in a vast cavern. Boulders littered the ground like giants’ toys. Beside one of them, I noticed a wounded bird and stopped to offer comfort, wrapping his fragile body with my hat. Saddened by his suffering, I walked on. A little girl appeared. Her arm had been cut by rocks. I untied my scarf and made a tourniquet to try and stop the blood. Clinging tightly to my scarf, the girl vanished. The air was colder now, the ground more jagged. Before I’d gone much further, a boy approached, his bare feet torn and bruised. I offered him my shoes. He put them on and, with a whoop of joy, he disappeared. Without my hat and scarf and shoes, progress was painful. Suddenly, I heard my parents calling. The cavern echoed with the longing in their voices.” The fairy sighed deeply, her eyes bleak. “I couldn’t bear it. I turned and fled from the tunnel.”

“I understand,” said the cat. He looked up shrewdly. “Have you described it all?”

“There is one more thing,” admitted the fairy, “but it is trivial.”

She reached down into the pocket of her skirt. “Just as I left the tunnel, I noticed this half-buried in the ground.”

On her palm lay a torn silver chain, its fragile links tarnished and crusted with earth. “Some impulse made me pick it up,” she said. “It’s not useful for anything, I suppose. Still, it is real silver.”

The cat’s eyes shone. “This chain is not trivial at all. It’s just what I need, what I most despaired of laying paws on. You see, my tunnel is small…a grown fairy can’t possibly pass through. But,” he preened a little “I once befriended a famous sorcerer. From him, I learned a charm, a shrinking charm.” He snagged the bit of silver with a claw, “This is a vital ingredient for the potion.” He jumped lightly into the fairy’s lap. “Very soon, we can begin our journey. You’ll need my protection, for this tunnel is more hazardous than the other.”

He was pleased to see that his words hadn’t alarmed her. “Are you really permitted to come?” was all she asked.

“Oh you are much too conscientious,” teased the cat. “Yes, I am permitted. For this is my tunnel, and I permit it.”

“What a boastful cat you are,” reproached the fairy. But she sounded hopeful and eager.

With his magic, the kitten shrunk the girl and the two set off. The floor of the tunnel rose at a sharp angle and was littered with jagged rocks. Masses of foul-smelling vines clung to the walls, swaying and whispering as if alive. Tendrils reached out, winding themselves around the fairy’s legs, but the cat disposed of them with well-aimed bites. Sometimes shrieks erupted from the darkness. Covering her ears, the fairy girl climbed on.

At last, the earth grew level, the air fresh. Light filtered into the tunnel. When they emerged, the fairy caught her breath. Before her stretched a world of vibrant colours: fields sprinkled with flowers, blossoming trees, sunlight glinting on a sea of pure blue water.

The Land of Courting was an enchanted place. The dawns were delicate and filled with promise, the days were balmy, the nights were just cool enough and bright with stars.

After some time, the fairy returned home with a fine husband. According to a rather odd rumour, the handsome youth had once been a small gray cat, imprisoned in that form by an evil witch. Two things were essential to break the spell: a fairy girl who’d failed to pass through the tunnel and a discarded bit of torn silver chain.


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