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Fairies of the Orchard

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On the tree the buds were a rich pink. They covered it like a rose-tinted mist. And at the centre of each bud, clasped close beneath the folded petals, was a baby fairy. As the sun warmed, the petals opened, dainty blush-white, with a spangle of stamens at the heart of the flower. And the Apple-blossom Fairy woke.

She uncurled and rose, as the petals unfurled and spread. She stood, slim and dainty, and tossed her blonde curls under her bonnet of rose. She twirled, and saw the flounces of her skirt lift and shake like satin petals. Smocked embroidery spanned the flat bosom of her gown, in silken imitation of the stamens of her flower. Twirled knots of yellow dotted along the neck of her bodice like anthers. A drop of dew became her mirror; and she admired her gown.

With her sisters on the same twig, she danced in a sunbeam. She hid under a leaf from the rain, and her skirts blew wild in the gusts. But the next day dawned, and the sun was bright; her gown dried; and she danced on the petals of her flower until the bees came to visit. She petted their furry flanks, and filled their pots with honey. They came and left, and came again; and she knew that she was loved and lucky.

Then the day came when a petal fell from her flower, and a flounce from her skirt. She draggled and faded and drooped. She looked along the twig and saw a younger sister in all her finery; but peers her own age were drooping their skirts, just as she; and an older sister stood shamed in her shift, with no flounced embroidery to hide her modesty.

Petal by petal, the Apple-blossom Fairies lost their finery and stood in their plain green hose and shifts—and even those shrank at the hem till they were scarcely more than tunics. Their rose bud bonnets dimmed and darkened, till each wore a round green cap with five points curling round the face.

The Fairy looked at its flower in sorrow and found it bare—but not barren. It swelled at the base, round and green. The Fairy wrapped its arms around the codling, and cuddled its curves, and loved the baby apple. In the summer sun, it grew till the Codling Fairy’s arms could span it no longer. The sun was hot; and the Fairy curled up on the fruit and slept in the heat.

Summer rose to its height, and turned; and the Apple Fairy woke, blushing at his indolence, to find that the green fruit on which he slept blushed, too. He picked up colour with each dawning day: a hint of rose in the collar of his blouse, a flush of gold at the waist. In a week his tunic was laced with carmine ribbons, and the shoes on his feet had ruby soles that flashed as he capered along the branches with his friends. His apple ripened in the summer sun; his tunic was scarlet and his hose were striped; and he rose each morning, ruddy-cheeked and plump. In time, the fairy filled his crimson tunic stoutly, his face was broad, and his smile was sweet.

Laxton Superb and Cox’s Pippin; Blenheim Orange and Beauty of Bath. The Apple Fairy looked beyond his tree, and saw throughout the orchard Fairies arrayed in other hues—rose and russet, golden and green—each Apple Fairy true to his tree.

And then they came a-picking, with their ladders and their hooks, and the Fairy’s fruit was plucked and cast into a basket. The Fairy followed his fruit, as fairies do. He was taken to the larder, and placed in store. One day, much later, he came forth to the kitchen, and was peeled and sliced, and baked in a pie. And that was his last transmutation.

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Next spring, the buds on the tree were richly pink. And at the centre of each bud, folded in the cradle of its petals, was a baby fairy.