* * *
When he tells the story of how he got his sword, Jeremy likes to begin with the moment he realized he was being held captive by forest elves, because he likes to recount the epithets he hollered at them from the cage they'd put him in: "Toad-skinned, pointy-eared weed-chewers! Scum-puddle-drinkers! Two-legged insects! Milk-livered, twig-boned cowards!" Though he will acknowledge that keeping him locked up was more practical than cowardly: after all, elves are only about this tall (with his hand held at the level of his lowest rib); the tallest of them could barely have punched him in the chin, if he'd been polite enough to hold still for it. So how had they gotten him in the cage? (If not asked this, he will supply the question himself.) Well, he'd been out of it for a while after falling out of a tree. And how came it that they had a cage strong enough to hold him? Because these elves, and this was the really unfair part, lived in caves in the forest, like bees who had found a cleft in a rock and moved into it. The cell they'd put him in was a kind of crevice inside a cave, and across the mouth of it were stout wooden bars, and on the other side of the bars were elves with long stone knives they were happy (as he quickly learned) to jab him with, say he tried to get out. But now it might occur to him that you don't necessarily know what forest elves look like, apart from being small. Well! It is just as in the stories your mother told you, he can say that now with certainty. They have gray skin like river stones, and tall pointy ears, and skinny lips -- almost no lips at all, really -- and woolly rust-colored hair that they braid things in sometimes. Hunters braid stone beads in theirs, but some others favor strips of hide or feathers or bird bones that dangle and clatter, and some of them powder themselves up to the elbows with orange pollen. But beneath their decorations they all look the same, which is the first reason talking with them is difficult. You can never be sure which one you're talking to.
They all have long grabby fingers and toes, too, for climbing. And oh -- the most important thing about them is their big eyes, like mouse eyes, all dark pupil and rounder than human ones. Try looking out through the bars of a cage at ten or twelve of those! Just staring in at you by the light of their little lamps -- they hang them from the walls, these little dishes full of oil, only they don't smoke somehow. They don't give much light either, but it's enough for elves with big black mouse eyes, you suppose. So then you try reasoning with them, and that's when you learn the second reason talking with them is difficult, which is that they mostly can't speak your language.
At last, after Jeremy had stopped trying to mess with the bars and the elves had stopped poking his fingers with their pointy little knives, one of them kind of ululated and a new, different elf came in and they all talked for a while. And it is at this point that Jeremy learned the third (and so far last) thing that makes discourse with elves difficult, and it is that their language is so sibilant and low, so like the rippling of a brook or the sound of shuffling through dead leaves, that just listening to it puts him to sleep. "Every time!" he will say, though he'll admit that falling out of a tree didn't predispose him to staying awake anyway. So he fell asleep in his stone crevice with the bars across it, and he didn't wake up again until he heard someone say, "Hey! Why are you naked?"
Because oh yes. He was naked. In going right to the yelling, he'd skipped this part. See -- and this is what he said to the elf who had spoken to him, the new one, who had metal earrings -- see, he'd gone swimming in a pool in the forest, naked of course, and when he'd dived as deep as he could go he'd found something glittering down there in a finger of sunlight, and he'd come up with it and guess what it was? A green gem the size of an eyeball, all sparkling and many-faced. And when he got out of the water to put his clothes back on, someone had appeared with a crossbow and tried to shoot him. Yes! He remembered now: off he'd run, naked as the day he was born, and thunk a bolt had appeared behind him in a tree trunk, and he'd stuck the gem in his mouth and climbed until he was so far up no one could have seen him and only then had he noticed that he was bleeding. Just a little, though, from where the bolt had grazed him.
"So you see I'm not completely naked," he said to the earringed elf, because at this point he noticed someone had put a bandage on his leg. He patted it, happy to be reminded of the magic of injuries, that when you covered them up for a while hey presto! they disappeared, and there you were, ready for fresh adventures. "But that is why I am not wearing clothes."
And then he'd figured an enterprising thief might follow the trail of blood to the trunk of the tree he'd climbed, and wait for him to come down, so he'd decided to run along the branches. And that was when it got weird, because up there is where he saw the fairy. His father had seen a unicorn once in a clearing in the forest, but Jeremy had never known anyone who claimed to have seen a fairy. And such a pretty thing it was, too, almost translucent, with hair that didn't stop so much as fade away at the ends, as if it were made of steam. And it pointed at him and the gem spat itself out of his mouth and the fairy caught it and skipped away. And Jeremy thought that after all it was true what his mother had told him, that fairies will never fly when humans can see them -- it's a point of pride, like never speaking languages anyone else can understand.
But the elf with the earrings was not interested in this. "It took the gem?" she cried (he thought it was a she, but maybe this is just because it was so small).
"Yes," he said, sadly. "I tried to chase it but I fell. So I guess you found me on the ground." But the elf didn't say anything to him because she was busy talking excitedly to the others, who sounded unhappy. When elves sound unhappy, they talk the same, just louder, like a river rising.
Jeremy was dozing off when the others ran out, leaving him alone with the elf with the earrings.
"That gem," she said, "was ours." She said it as if Jeremy had done something wrong, when he had done only what any sensible person would do, from first to last.
"I beg your pardon, it was mine," he said. "I found it fair and square. Besides, you're the third person so far who wanted it to be theirs instead of mine, so why should I believe you and not a highwayman or a fairy?"
At this point someone ran in and handed something to her, and she pushed it through the bars at him. It was made of hide and looked like a dress. "I'm a man, you know," he said, holding it up to what light there was. It was pretty, stained a dark orange and with fancy swirly stitching around the collar and cuffs, and he pulled it down over his head to see if it would fit -- which it did, though it was a bit snug in the chest.
"It's a robe," said the elf. "We don't have pants for anything your size." She was wearing pants; all the elves he'd seen so far had been wearing pants, presumably because it's hard to climb trees in a dress. "That's better."
"Is it?" Jeremy found this difficult to believe, looking down at his knees, which the hem of the dress-that-was-a-robe did not reach.
"Much better," the elf assured him. But he thought, despite the poor lighting, that he saw amusement in her mouse eyes.
"Do you have underthings for someone my size?" he asked, because -- and he might ask, at this point in the story, have you ever considered the impracticality of dresses, for men? Men have bits that women do not. But then, maybe this is not the case among elves. Maybe elves don't even have men and women, maybe they're all the same down there. He didn't think to ask this when he was among them, but he wished later that he had.
Anyway, he never got an answer to the underthings question either, because before the elf with the earrings could answer him, assuming she would have, lots more elves piled into the room again with their stone knives and whatnot, and he was released. And he distinctly heard laughter when he emerged from the crevice to stand in their midst, and doesn't that seem like poor form? It had been their idea in the first place to put him in a dress.
But now they were taking him down a long dim corridor in which he had to duck his head uncomfortably. His elf was trotting by his side, talking fast all of a sudden:
"The stone you found is magic, and if the fairies have it they can drive us away -- out of the forest. They left us alone before because they thought we had it. And we did, long ago. But then it was lost."
"How do you lose something like that?"
"It's more like it was stolen, but that's not important. We could use it to defend ourselves, but now that they know we don't have it…"
Jeremy drew his finger across his neck.
"But we have one other meelat -- one other magic thing? That's what we're taking you to see."
Why, Jeremy will be happy to ask on your behalf, would elves want to show him anything of theirs? Particularly something valuable? He had no time to ask this because he and his crowd of escorts stepped into a room where ah, he could finally stand upright, and there it was, lying on a kind of wooden litter held between two elves. What was it? The sword, of course. Oh, he can still remember that first glimpse of it, golden-green and twinkling by the light of the smokeless lamps, nearly as long as the elves holding it were tall, and he went down on his bare knees to see it better, and he saw -- do you see? He'll show you -- that serpents with half-lidded eyes were twined around its hilt, and when he looked closer still he saw that their scales were serrated like leaves.
"It's beautiful," he breathed. He ran his finger against the blade to test its sharpness and then carefully, as if it were made of glass, lifted it into the air. He hefted it experimentally, first with both hands and then with just one, and swung it in a sweeping arc. The elves backed away from him, and their river-babble filled the room. "You can't lift it," he said, realizing. "None of you. You're too small."
"That's right," said his own particular elf. "Now don't do anything stupid, or you'll be dead in half an eyeblink."
Half an eyeblink? Perhaps this phrase sounded better in Elf, or whatever elves call their language. But Jeremy took her point. They all had those knives and were at just the right height to sink them into his belly. Not that he'd intended to do anything they'd want to stab him for doing, not yet anyway. "So what's magic about it?" he asked. He swept it up and down, back and forth, recalling a story his mother had told him -- a story about a sword so sharp that it could slice open the membrane of the air, revealing the world that lay behind it. What, he wondered, would live there?
Suddenly the crowd stood back from the entrance, hands crossed over their breasts (which would have been the time to do something foolish, if he'd wanted to), and someone who was obviously very important came in. This person's importance was obvious because she was wearing a dress like Jeremy's, only on her it came down to the floor. So Jeremy curtsied to her, as he'd seen women do, only it was awkward because he was still holding the sword. (Also, the bits! Women don't have to think about those when they curtsy. Probably that's why men bow instead.)
The important personage gestured to Jeremy's particular elf, who ran up and began speaking with her excitedly. As they talked, Jeremy, who found the sword a bit heavy but was unwilling to put it down, rested it flat side down on his shoulder. He'll freely admit that he even nuzzled it a bit with his cheek -- the way, a little bit later, his wife would often nuzzle his hand if it came close enough to her face.
Finally the important elf waved the earringed elf to one side and lifted one finger and said to Jeremy, "Now listen. Endorion told you about the gem."
"Endorion?" asked Jeremy, turning to his elf, and she shook her head, which confused him until he remembered that elves shake their heads for yes. But when the important elf said the name it sounded very different, almost like a single syllable somehow; it's just that Endorion was as close as his mouth could come to saying it the right way. Telling the story, he'll stop here and try a few times to say it properly, but he will not succeed. So: Endorion. "Who are you?" he asked the important elf.
"Ixcalchetlan," said the important elf, or something that sounded kind of like that.
"I'm Jeremy," he said, and waved a little with the hand that was not holding the sword.
"That stone you found. We need you to get it back for us." Ixcalchetlan spoke slowly, maybe because human words came slowly to her, but also maybe because she thought Jeremy was a halfwit.
"Why -- oh. Because I can use the sword."
"Yes. It -- magic goes away from it."
"Oh, that sounds useful."
"Fairies only fight with magic," put in Endorion. "So if they can't use it on you, they can't hurt you."
Jeremy wasn't sure he entirely believed this. Fairies did nasty things like switching babies in their cradles that didn't seem to require magic at all. And what if they told a tree branch to break under him, or a wild animal to eat him? "What do I get out of it?" he asked.
Endorion made an insulted noise, or what would have been an insulted noise if a human being had made it, but Ixcalchetlan said, "We will let you leave our forest alive."
Well, that was no kind of bargain. "I want the sword," said Jeremy. "This meelat, I'll do it for that."
Ixcalchetlan said, "Very well." She seemed to be in a hurry, and no wonder. "Bring us the stone, and you can have the meelat."
So they gave him a buckskin sheath with silver buckles that he could use to carry the sword on his back, and he strapped himself into it and practiced drawing, and the elves all kept well clear of him for that part, which is understandable, because he had never held a sword before, if you can believe that. In the whole town where he'd grown up there probably wasn't a single sword -- people had knives and things, and his father, being a woodcutter, had had an ax, but where would they have even gotten a sword from, or the knowledge to use it? (Lysander had been very handy with that ax, though. Sometime Jeremy will tell you the story of how he chopped clean through a villain's leg with it.) And then Endorion led him to the outside -- along tunnels and more tunnels and finally up a passage so steep that steps were cut into the stone floor.
"Where did you get a sword like this, anyway?" Jeremy asked as they climbed toward the light. "You didn't make it or you would have made it smaller, right? You must have gotten it from a human."
"Yes," said Endorion. "He was killed by bandits on the road. They fought among themselves over it, and killed each other. We found it in the last one's hand, where he had fallen and died in a pool of his own blood."
Impressive, right? Impressive also was the sight that greeted Jeremy at the end of the passage. He and Endorion were standing in a fissure in a high rocky cliff, and trees pressed right up against the opening, their thick branches leading like paths into the dark maze of forest ahead.
"It's a big forest," he said. "How am I supposed to find them?"
"Follow the silence," said Endorion. "It always gets quiet around fairies."
So that's what he did, and it took a good long time, so in recounting this part he'll skip ahead to when it seemed quite suddenly as if the birds were no longer screaming and the rustling things in the undergrowth were no longer rustling. He had just crouched -- it seemed sensible, somehow, to crouch -- and put his hand over his shoulder to touch the hilt of the sword when he saw it. Now, he hadn't gotten a good look at the first one, because it hadn't been there for very long, and he'd been distracted, but this fairy held very still for what seemed like a long time, just looking at him the way a cat might, as if it had nothing else to do until the end of the world; so he can describe it better. It was naked, of course, and it had little wings, of course, insecty ones; and it had the steam-hair as he already mentioned, but the important part (as with elves, but in a different way) was the eyes. They were all shifty-changy like fire opals, if you know what fire opals look like. One of the ways fairies are tricky is that light seems to behave around them as it would not behave around you or me, and the shifty-changy fire opal eyes are one example of this, and another is the way their fingernails seem to glow a little bit. There are stories about people who seem otherwise completely ordinary but whose fingernails shine in the dark, and if you meet such a person you are supposed to run away very fast, because the idea is that they have fairy blood -- though it's hard to understand how that would work. Could a fairy make a baby with a human? They are so awfully small, even smaller than the elves, like two feet tall. But there are these ballads: a man meets a pretty country maid and they go up into the hayloft, and that's when he sees her fingernails and hotfoots it out of there. And sometimes he gets away and sometimes he doesn't, depending on which ballad it is.
Anyway, this fairy began moving its fingers at him, and it began -- he supposed it was speaking, as its mouth was moving, but the sound that came out was nothing like speech: it sounded like harp notes and bells. He closed his hand around the serpent-twined hilt of the sword and drew it and, experimentally, poked the fairy in the shoulder with it. Which worked! The fairy seemed surprised about it too, but kept up its funny noises and its finger-wiggling, even as a sparkling clear fluid began trickling down over its naked breast.
Yes! This very selfsame sword that you now behold once stabbed a fairy in the shoulder. Jeremy is willing to bet that you didn't know fairies could be stabbed at all! He hadn't known it; and now he began to wonder what other types of damage the sword was able to inflict. He stretched his arm above his head, in preparation for swinging it down through that slender and almost see-through neck, and that's when the fairy pointed a finger at him and spoke a final note.
Jeremy heard a singing noise in his ears and felt lightheaded for a moment, as if he had been sitting down and had gotten up too quickly. Then the moment passed. He looked down at himself and up at the fairy, and flexed his fingers over the hilt of the sword, which was still up over his head. Can you credit it? The spell hadn't done anything.
The fairy realized this at the same time that Jeremy did, and leaped into the air so that it just cleared his swing (and if the sword had been able to pierce the membrane of the air, it would have done it then). It shot upward through the branches, its wings beating like a hummingbird's, and by the time Jeremy looked up only a few quivering twigs remained to mark its passage. Oh, and one other thing: a sparkling smear of fairy blood on a leaf.
He stuck the meelat back into its sheath and climbed up through the branches. All was stillness here, but he was soon rewarded with a glimpse of what he had been looking for: another smattering of blood, shining like a cluster of diamonds on a branch close by.
"A-ha!" he yelled, leaping forward. It was just like the bread crumbs in the story: he followed those drops of blood up and up until he thought he would bump his head on the sky, and then down and down until their sparkling was almost all he could see in the gloom. They were as bright as the pretty country maid's fingernails in the ballads. And they led him to -- well, how to describe it? A egg-shaped thing kind of like his mother's workbasket, but huge, and made of vines, and hanging from a branch as big around as a wine cask. And light was shining from inside it too; and also from inside came the sounds of harp notes and bells. You will have come to the same conclusion now that Jeremy did then: that the thing was full of fairies, and they were probably doing magic. Which was no good at all because they were probably using the little green stone and he needed that to give to the elves to keep his sword.
Of course he could just have done what you are supposed to do when fairies are concerned, and run away, and kept the sword anyhow; but then, probably, the fairies would have driven the elves out of the forest, and they would have been all over that country with their stabby knives ready to make his innards outward for not keeping his promise, so you'll agree that it was not so simple. Anyway, he'd stabbed a fairy in the shoulder, and he was still wondering what else he might be able to accomplish in that line. So he did what he knew even at the time was a foolish thing (so you don't need to tell him so now), which is that he started hacking away with the magic sword at the vines of that fairy workbasket.
Well, not only was that foolish, it didn't work, because while the sword bit into the vines all right, and sent their juices flying everywhere, the vines merely healed themselves right up -- and, as if to insult him, they started blooming as they regrew, with big pink flowers the size of cabbages. And what with the vine-sap and the pollen flying around, Jeremy was soon a golden-orange color all over, like those elfin forearms he'd recently seen. That wasn't a bad thing, but the sweet stench of the flowers was giving him a headache, which was. So he sheathed the sword again (it was golden-orange too) and climbed down to the ground to get a breath of air.
Down here was a clearing, faintly lit by the fairy light from above, and as Jeremy filled his lungs with the cool un-perfumed air he heard a single sound -- a very familiar one: in that little cottage on the other side of the clearing, which he could barely see, someone was chopping wood.
He went over and stood at the fence. There in the yard, with the chickens scratching about in the dust at her feet, an old woman wielded an ax as long as she was tall, on account of her being bent nearly double. "Good evening, grandmother," he said. (He thought it was evening by then, but perhaps it was that dark in this clearing all the time.) "Have you any water for me?"
"Help yourself," said the old woman, pointing to the rain barrel, and Jeremy did. "I've some bread for you too, if you'll chop this wood for me."
Jeremy was happy to do that, and he hopped over the fence and took the ax from her. She sat down on the woodpile and watched him go at it. "You do all right for a weedy fellow in a dress," she said after a while.
Well, he would have liked to take offense at that, but weeds are tall and skinny and Jeremy is both those things too, and the dress thing was also true, so he supposed he couldn't. "My father was just as weedy as me," he said, "and he was a woodcutter by trade, and he said the way you cut wood is you don't aim at the wood, you aim through it. A matter of the mind, he said."
"A wise man, your father."
"Are you not worried about the fairies?"
"Not I. I don't trouble them, nor they don't trouble me."
He finished, and she hobbled inside the house and brought him out half a loaf, which he did not so much swallow as inhale. Just imagine, he'd encountered all three of the talking peoples, and each of them had demanded something from him, and yet no one had fed him all day! Then he had what he thinks you'll agree was quite a clever idea. "Grandmother," he said, "may I borrow your ax?"
"If you'll leave me that fancy sword for a surety, boy, you may."
Admittedly, this was not ideal. But the sword was no use to him at the moment, so he drew it and stabbed it into the earth at their feet, and coaxed the haft of the ax into the sheath in its place (which was also not ideal, as it put the blade up against his right ear). Then he vaulted over the fence again and ran to the fairy tree and climbed it. And you know what he did up there, naturally: he planted his feet on an adjacent branch and chopped until the wine-cask branch fell, taking with it the fairy workbasket, which crashed through the darkness with a great jangle of harp and bell sounds until it struck the ground and everything became quiet and dark. Jeremy nearly fell too, as suddenly he couldn't see a thing, and it is not nice to be clinging in the dark to a tree branch so near the purpling roof of the world. But perhaps if he held on for long enough the elves would appear with their homely little oil lamps.
This did not happen. Around him the forest seemed to shake itself into life, and he heard the cries of birds again, and insects circled and buzzed and bit him. He got the haft of the ax back into the sheath and began feeling his way to the ground, branch by branch -- an anxious proposition, he'll assure you, but there was no way to avoid it. What a thrilling combination of sensations it was to make his way down to the very lowest branch he could find, and then to lower himself down until he was hanging in space, and finally to drop, trusting in the nearness of the earth -- which was only four feet below him, as it turned out, and such a pleasure it was to land that he fell over on purpose, just to remind himself that that wouldn't kill him. The ax blade did slide out of the sheath a bit and clonk him in the back of the head, but that was more funny than anything else.
So you can appreciate that he wasn't thinking, just at that moment, of elves or fairies or what would elves call it? meelatnar, he thinks that's what you say for "more than one magic thing." No, not even of the wonderful sword; it was too lovely, just then, despite the darkness, to roll around on the ground. But when he saw a globe of light in the distance he bethought him of the old woman's cottage, and he began to walk toward it. Maybe he could borrow her lantern and go searching for the stone. The thought was discouraging: being earthbound again was too familiar a sensation to remain delightful for long, and with each step he took it seemed less likely that he would find what he sought. Very likely the fairies had taken it away with them; very likely -- but wait, what was that?
You don't know, of course, and if you're an attentive audience you will say so, so that Jeremy may inform you; and you might as well, because he is going to inform you anyway, because this is the good part -- he knows that now that it's over: this is the part when he realizes that the globe of light toward which he is walking is not the only one visible. There was another to his right, and when he turned he saw more of them, six or seven, and more still surfacing out of the blackness all the time, like bubbles rising out of a deep dark pool; and worse still, he saw that they were sparkly white, not the honest yellow of a lantern, and O heavens, they were all coming toward him! Converging on his barefoot, swordless, unmagical self.
"Grandmother!" he cried, fumbling to draw the ax and brandish it. "Grandmother, bring me the sword!"
He cannot explain how he saw what happened next, but he did see it -- and heard it, too, as it began with the bang of a door being thrown open, and he turned to see the old woman, unbent and taking enormous strides, slashing the sword before her one-handed. "Begone from this place!" she cried. "You are not welcome here!" And he saw also the fairies with their teeth bared, and their teeth were terrible, each mouth like a mouthful of needles -- he saw them close their lips and fly like arrows into the dark trees around the clearing. And when Jeremy looked back she was just an old woman with a lantern in one hand and his sword in the other.
"Grandmother," he said, "you're a witch!"
If he sounded a bit indignant saying it, well, that's the sort of thing you expect people to tell you about themselves.
She laughed. "And a lucky thing for you, boy, wasn't it? Here, you take this and give me back my ax."
"That was nice work you did with it," he said, sliding the sword back into its sheath.
"I ought to have," she said, and laughed again. "I made the thing."
Well, of course!
In the cottage (which was very interesting inside, he must tell you about that sometime) she made him a cup of tea and explained. It was a short explanation: "There were three very discourteous young men, and I gave it to them so they'd kill each other over it. And didn't they just! But where'd you come across it?"
Jeremy told her, and he told her about finding the green gemstone and getting shot with a crossbow bolt and having magic cast on him by a fairy and being put in a cage by elves and being obliged to wear a dress without underthings, and being sent out into the forest without anything to eat and wandering over tree branches for hours and stabbing a fairy in the shoulder and following the trail of its sparkly blood, and that brought him up to the parts she knew about. "Ah," she said. "It didn't do them any harm because they had no use for it. You, though," and she pointed her cup at him. (They were sitting on opposite sides of a table, only he was sitting sideways because there was no hope of fitting his knees under it.)
"What about me?" Worried is not the right word for what Jeremy was, because he is not a worrier generally, but he certainly hoped she wasn't going to say that he had to give the sword back, because then he would have to try to fight her for it, and probably someone who could tell fairies to go away would be able to rip him into lots of little pieces. And people do not rip easily! Have you ever tried?
But she said, "It's not only here that men kill each other for things like that."
"Well, they can't have it," said Jeremy. "But do you not want it back?"
"I can make myself another if I ever have need of one," she said. "Now take the lantern and go out to that pile of vines, and I think you'll find your gemstone under the first big leaf you turn over."
And he did, of course. And he washed the pollen off at the rain barrel, and shook himself off like a dog, and went to sleep in front of the fire with the gem in his mouth. In the morning the old woman gave him a plate of porridge and sent him on his way.
Up up up he went, back into that same tree from the night before, though you'd think he would have had enough of it by then, wouldn't you? Well, he had, but there was something he wanted to see, and see it he did: the trail of fairy blood he had followed, each drop now hardened to a little sparkling jewel. It was a good thing that dress had pockets! A good thing too that Ixcalchetlan and Endorion came to the entrance in the rock wall when he hallooed down the passage. He gave Ixcalchetlan the magic stone, bowing as he did so (because he had learned his lesson about curtsying) and saying, "Your meelat." Then he poured into Endorion's little gray hands as many drops of fairy blood as they could hold, and laughed to see the astonishment in her big round mouse eyes. "These ought to brighten up your place," he said. "Put them in your hair or your ears so I'll know you if I pass this way again -- which heaven forfend! And give me something to eat before I go, I'm famished."
So this is a story with a happy ending, and that happy ending is supper. (And why aren't all happy endings supper, Jeremy would like to know, as it is manifestly the happiest thing there is?) Furthermore, it is a story with a moral, and that moral is: if you ever have the chance, take supper with forest elves, as they prepare songbirds in such a way that you can just pop them in your mouth whole.
What do you mean that doesn't count as a moral? It's an excellent moral!
* * *
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