The phantasms of the night were chased away by the bright light and the cheerful songs of the birds, grateful for a new dawn. The queen put on a sombre dress, readying herself for a new day. Many things had to be settled before sunset…
The throne hall was filled with the rattle of voices concerned with countless, important matters of government. The Wind was the first to approach the queen, as she oversaw, with imposing stance, the flow of any day at the palace.
‘Majesty, though all is well in the Western forests and the water in the ground is ideal at this time of year for the thriving growth of the black locust young, things are different in the South. There, the chestnut trees are discontent with the meddling of these young black locusts. They say that the roots of the young cannot bear the scarcity of water in that area and that they, the mighty chestnut trees, must watch over them until they grow up.’
‘Unfortunately, they are right. But it doesn’t mean that we can’t continue. We must help the black locust trees thrive in that area. They requested the Southern lands. If there is no other urgent matter, summon the Clouds. I shall speak to them about this.’
The Wind consulted the scroll that he always had with him. As he was looking at it, he mumbled unintelligibly under his breath.
‘No, not here…’, again something unintelligible, ‘nor here…’, again indistinct mumbling, ‘oh, yes, well… so… Yes! Nothing else!’, came the triumphant answer. ‘Greetings and messages of friendship and high regards from the kingdoms at the Northern and Western borders.’
‘Very well, add those to the list, along with the greetings and best wishes we receieved yesterday. Wait for those that will come tomorrow, then send my answer and tokens of good will to all of them. Is there anything else?’
‘Just a marriage proposal on behalf of the Kingdom of Dapir.’
‘Didn’t they already propose?’
‘No, Highness, the ones you refused recently were the envoys from the Kingdom of Dapi.’
‘Write a very polite answer, convey my heartfelt apologies for the refusal and explain that an alliance between our kingdoms is not possible at the time being.’
‘Of course, my queen, leave it all to me, I’ve done it many times before. The Clouds are waiting.’
‘Send them in.’
‘Good morning, majesty! Did you summon us?’
‘I called on you because I wish to discuss the matter of water and the young black locust trees in the South.’
‘We are aware of the slight misunderstandings with the local chestnut trees. The water in the ground is insufficient. At least until the young ones grow up.’
‘Kindly ask the Great Clouds to go there for two months and help out with one rain a week.’
‘Of course, Highness.’
Once that issue was settled, the other subjects in the hall came forward with less important problems. The queen listened patiently to all of them, giving a sign of approval to the graceful swallows or wise advice to the butterflies. But she never dismissed anything and, so, everyone who came to see her left peaceful and satisfied. In fact, it wasn’t at all difficult, as she governed the kingdom in accordance to the natural order of things, asking her subjects to do just what they did best. Thus, they were only too pleased, almost anxious to fulfill any little job that fell into their lot. Such was the tiny, but very rich and peaceful kingdom, that thrived in perfect harmony with all those outside its borders.
The queen hosted a great ball every year and invited all of her friends and everyone else who wanted to attend. It was a very happy occasion for everybody, as the ball had become a tradition for many generations. Most alliances between the great houses had been planned right there, at the ball and, in the merrymaking of the opulent party, many of the quarrels between states were settled.
The Queen of Nature had kept her good relations, partly, due to the wise counsel that she gave on countless occasions to those in need. That was because her kingdom was the only animate realm of them all. In all other places mountains were just motionless mountains, the meadows were nothing but unfeeling meadows, while the waters were quick, yet insentient waters. All animate things that resided in her kingdom were of noble descent, as she was surrounded by all of nature’s royalty: the king of winds, the queens of birds and of all insects, the kings of clouds. All nobility in nature, capable of thought and communication, dwelled in her kingdom. There, not only could they speak, but they were heard, listened to and understood. Moreover, they knew everything that happened to all mountains, to all waters, all birds, in short, to all of nature in the whole wide world. They often informed their queen of what went on in distant corners of the globe. So, whenever some great house asked for guidance or warning of this or that natural hazard, the queen was perfectly able to oblige. And she was often asked for such advice.
After a few hours of incessant audiences, the parade of subjects in the throne hall came to an end. The queen was left with the Wind or, better said, she was left to stare somewhere in the Wind’s direction.
‘All done for today’, he said.
‘Yes, we are done here. Now we must make ready for the flying visit.’
The Wind left the hall for a moment, then came back with some more news:
‘There are other envoys. Just arrived!’
‘Who sent them?’
‘The messenger refuses to disclose that detail to me. He says he is only to speak to your Majesty. I don’t see any trouble in it, as I don’t sense danger coming from them. On the contrary, I might add.’
‘On the contrary? What do you mean by it?’
‘Perhaps it would be best to see for yourself.’
‘Very well, then, let the envoys enter!’, resigned the queen.
The Wind widely opened the hall’s doors. He knew fully well why he was doing that for.
A suite of ten master-puppeteers showed up from behind the doors, each of them wielding a dancing puppet in a graceful ballet. The puppets glided over the marble slates, stepping lightly and drawing delicate pirouettes. A sweet music of harps and violins reached the throne. Behind the puppeteers came five boys and five girls, dancers in flesh and blood. They followed the graceful sway of the same ballet as the puppets. And to the same music. After the dancers came a group of ten acrobats that spread a carpet of autumn leaves, golden and ripe. Among the leaves were countless shiny jewels that made the carpet seem sewn with them. After the acrobats, came a little girl with round cheeks who held ten diamond threads tied to ten ice sculptures. Gliding smoothly on their invisible wheels, the sculptures represented the queen’s ancestors. Upon seeing them, the queen jolted in surprise. After the sculptures came ten doves that had light silk bindings in their pecks. They opened them just above the retinue and an immaterial rain of white cherry blossoms fell in delicate windings. After the doves, ten golden balls rolled into the hall which had become almost crowded. Behind them came the orchestra that had accompanied the entire procession with its sounds: five musicians who played the harp and five who sounded the violin. They all stood in two rows, leaving an aisle between them. A messenger in simple green garments walked casually down it, with a shrewd, playful look in his eyes. He stopped before the throne and took a deep bow, after which he spoke in a solemn voice:
‘Queen of Nature, please accept these gifts sent to you by my master who assures you that, as seasons chase one another in their natural passing, as do his thoughts of you. I come on behalf of the prince…’
‘I know who sent you’, interrupted the queen, who had guessed, more with her heart than her head, that the gifts came from the velvet eyed prince.
‘All the better. It means that this humble retinue carries the faithful image of my master.’
The queen smiled at the word ‘’humble’’, but she had judged the messenger correctly, as one who knew how to make skillful use of words.
‘I should imagine that you did not only came to deliver the presents.’
‘My master would like an audience with you. And he sent me to try and secure it.’
Her approving smile let the messenger know that he was on the right track.
‘I would be very grateful if we could establish the details of such audience in private.’
The queen stepped away from the edge of the balcony. The hem of her dress caressed the white marble in the swaying rhythm of her pensive stride. The scent of roses reached the transparent door in furtive breezes as the night wrapped the bedroom of the palace in its warm, friendly darkness.
A hand appeared on the door frame and the queen stood still, one step away from entering the room. A sigh, burdened with worries, vanished into the air. Her gaze lifted towards the crowds that glittered happily on the midnight sky, revealing her beautiful face with big, blue eyes shadowed by long lashes and surrounded by the rich waves of a dark hair.
She could feel the night shielding her away from all that was evil in the world.
Every now and then, something that felt like a sweet pain clouded her eyes. Where had that prince came from? She knew almost every great royal house and yet… the calm nobility and the imposing grandness that came from the unknown prince had left a vivid impression on her. Who was he? Where did he appeared from? How could it be that those piercing eyes and the mysteriously charming smile lingered on, like a careless weight, shattering her thoughts? The velvet eyed prince… that was the name she had, playfully, given him when she realized that she didn’t know which royal house he was of. Then came the dance, in fantastic whirls and endlessly sweet pirouettes, with a strong arm that stopped the graceful glide of her rich dress.
A gentle breeze played in her hair for a moment, taking her out of the revery. It was the Wind, who knew that it was time for his queen to rest and had come to her, as he did every night. She rewarded him with a smile and then lay in the whiteness of the pillows. The Wind breezed the drapes of the canopy that embraced the bed and its precious burden. Then, he crossed the balcony towards the grove of black locust trees and started to play a song of sweet whispers through the leaves. A wistful melody that would last until morning light…
The next day at dawn, all of the toy-people had gathered in front of the palace. In their mist, in the flower garden, a colorful balloon was tied down, with the nacelle’s small door open. Ani and Carmen stood next to the balloon, bidding farewell to the White Kingdom’s guests and to Smiling Teddy.
‘Great Counselor, keep in mind that Ella and Tina are in your charge. It is your duty of the upmost importance to bring them back safe and sound, in return for the courage that they have shown’, said Carmen. ‘There’, the fairy went on, pointing to a small chest on the basket’s floor, ‘you have supplies for the road. Whenever you feel hungry or thirsty, open it and, as soon as the lid goes up, the chest will fill with sweets and cups of fresh spring water.’
‘Well, then, let’s get in!’, said Tina, stepping inside the basket and closely followed by Ella and the Great Counselor.
As the balloon lifted, Ella and Tina could feel the gazes of the inhabitants of the White Kingdom following them. All eyes were filled with hope. The terrible responsibility of saving the toys in the Human World weighed on their shoulders. The sisters looked at each other with the shadow of a worry. But they could not, and would not, allow that the ruthless spell do more harm than it had already done.
With brave thoughts whirling in their minds, the girls turned their attention to the horizon of the White Kigndom and waited for the balloon to rise above the palace.
‘Balloon, head for the realm of the Witch-with-Water!’, ordered Smiling Teddy.
Tina seemed somewhat absent and utterly uninterested in the landscape that flowed beneath them. Ella, on the other hand, watched every hill, forest or bird that they encountered and assaulted her guide with all sorts of questions about the life of the White Kingdom.
‘So, do the toys only live inside the palace? Or can they be found in other places too?’
‘Only some of them live in the palace. Everyone may come or go as they please. But there are settlements with pretty, little houses all over the kingdom.’
‘How do the toys get here?’ asked again the girl before the stuffed bear could finish talking.
‘Through the curtain that you saw when you first came. Ani and Carmen hear the signal and help cross everyone who wants to.’
‘I’ve got it!’, shouted Tina, bursting out of her day dreaming and interrupting the question that her sister had begun to ask, making Ella watch her in amazement.
‘You’ve got it? What?’
‘I know how we can get to the witch faster. Keep in mind that we only have one day.’
‘So how?’ Ella asked, more with her eyes than her lips.
‘We cast a spell with our charmed powder: we ask it to take us to the witch’s castle. Will five seconds be enough for that, Great Counselor?’
‘Hmm… no, not for that. But it could take us somewhere near the boundary of her realm.’
Ella and Tina took out their cubes, lifted them above their heads and said the incantation that they had learnt in great secret from Ani and Carmen, the night before.
In the blink of an eye, the scenery changed completely, from the shining marvel of the White Kingdom, to cold, unwelcoming darkness.
‘We’re in the right place’, said Smiling Teddy, ‘somewhere near the border.’
‘This place is so quiet’, said Ella in awe. ‘So this is what it looks like!’
‘The night is eternal in the realm of the witch, there is never any daylight. In fact the only light that unveils this place comes from the full moon. Forever night and forever a full moon.’
Frozen silence reigned over the forbidding emptiness. All around them, there was nothing to be seen but narrow paths, lined with barren rocks and sharp mountain tops.
‘My, this is a cheerful place!’, noticed Tina, trying uselessly to look in all directions at the same time.
The stillness seemed deepened by the army of shadows cast by the moon, making it hard to tell what was path and what was rock, what was a spot of light and what was pure fancy.
The balloon advanced slowly, melting into the night.
‘We will soon arrive at the Stone Forest!’, announced Smiling Teddy. ‘If we can get through it, we’ll find ourselves at the castle.’
‘If?’, asked the girls in a single voice.
‘All I know is that there is a dreadful trap in the forest, but I cannot tell what it is or how to keep clear of it.’
‘But we have the magic balloon! Why can’t we just fly over the forest and be safe?’
‘Unfortunately, Tina, the forest is so tall that it would take years to fly over it. Besides, the branches of the trees are so thick and tangled, that there would be no room for the balloon to pass. The only way to take it with us is if it keeps floating along the path. Not to mention that this trail is the only lit one. If you stray from it, deep among the trees, you will find yourself sunk in pitch blackness, so profound that you won’t even know if your eyes are open or shut.’
Soon after, the forest came into sight. A sea of gray stretched forever on either side of the trail that they all stepped onto.
The moon poured golden glitters all around. The girls’ feet thumped on the stone beneath, sending echoes far into the thickness of tree trunks and shrubberies. The only ones who made no noise were Smiling Teddy and the balloon. The former because the fuzz that covered him from head to toes was soft and thick enough to muffle any sound and the latter because it floated calmly a few inches above the path.
As they moved along, the eerie silence seemed to deepen ever more, disturbed only by the echoes of their footsteps, that sounded more like the roar of thunderbolts than the stride of little girls. By then, they could no longer see the point where they had entered the forest.
‘The echo is so loud!’, complained Tina.
Nobody answered, for there was something in the air that reminded them of a cathedral where it is forbidden to disturb the ritual of the silence. They walked on without speaking, tight against each other, lost in their own thoughts. Step by step, they ate away at the road’s length, hurriedly, anxiously.
But the forest proved difficult to cross, as they had been walking for hours withought getting anywhere. And they couldn’t even estimate the distance they had covered, because the scenery was always the same! The same moonlit path, the tree trunks that sank in the dark, shrubs here and there turned by their imagination into fantastic creatures of the night.
‘Hey!’, shouted Ella, making everyone jump, ‘we’ve been through here before! It is the exact same place! I know because I remember that bush, which looks just like a giant bear ready to attack!’
The mist from the morning was all gone now, and the light was bright and strong, reflected back from the shiny, immaculate snow. Tina, Ella and the Invisible Man managed to search all the rooms from the West wing and were now outside, in the watch tower.
It was freezing. Except them, no other visitors dared to be amazed by the city sightseeing in the icy frost. As such, they could talk and lift objects in peace, without worrying about how they could sound.
‘Not much work to be done here!’ said Tina while carefully analyzing the walls. ‘The clock, the bell, and the old chests. Then, we can move to the East side wing.’
The Invisible Man was gently shaking all the chests disposed in a circle all around the watch tower.
‘Don’t forget to admire the view. You might not get another chance to visit this tower. Visible or invisible.’ said Ella while looking to the last shaken chest.
‘Behind you!’ said the Invisible Man.
‘Oh, sorry! Didn’t ‘see’ you move.” joked Ella.
‘Hey, were’s the bell?’ Tina suddenly asked. Ella followed her glance to a higher point of the tower, where, normally, an old iron bell was hanged. Its place was now empty. Only the cord remained and was leaning back and forth as if the wind was blowing.
‘Invisible Man! Again with the shenanigans? There’s no need now to move objects around. Seriously! Put it back! The museum’s keepers will notice its absence.’ Ella said with a faint trace of a smile.
‘What bell?’ asked the Invisible Man.
Tina turned to him and started to feel the air to get a hold of the Invisible Man exact position.
‘Ok. Where is it? If you had it on you, I would see it somewhere mid-air, just like our script book. What did you do with it?’
‘I don’t know what you’re talking about! I haven’t seen it. I don’t even know how it looks.’ said the Invisible Man.
‘Why are you laughing now?’ Tina asked with a trace of exasperation in her voice. ‘Seriously, we’re the only ones here!. If it disappears we’ll take the fault for it. Everybody saw us getting in the tower.’
‘I didn’t laugh!’ made the Invisible Man. ‘And I know of no bell!!! You have to believe me!’
‘Maybe the wind blew it over…!?!’ said Ella with an incredulous voice.
“Yes! The wind! Let’s look for it!’ said the Invisible Man and moved away from Tina’s hand.
‘You don’t sound suspicious at all. How can the wind untie the cord? It’s not like there aren’t winds in this tower all year round…’ Tina said with a shrug. Then she started to, meticulously, look around. Maybe the Invisible Man was panicking again and was under the pranking influence once more.
‘Found it!’ she shouted to Ella from the side of the tower. ‘It’s here, on a chest!’
Ella and the Invisible Man came running.
‘Oh, good thing it’s here! Can you put it back, Invisible Man? I assume you’re taller than us. The proper adult-size?’ Tina asked while handing over the bell to the air where she heard the Invisible’s Man steps running.
When she sensed a faint breeze close to her hand she, quickly, pulled back her palm and squeezed the bell to her chest.
‘You’re not going to move it away again? Are you?’
‘I didn’t move it the first time either!’ he made with a discouraged voice.
Tina handed the bell the second time.
Tina dropped the bell on the floor. In front of her, in translucent shades, was the shape of a man in a Baroque, old attire. He was a fairly tall fellow, with brown hair that was coming out in curls from under a hat that, once, probably, had a determined shape, but was now resembling more to a pot with breeches. He even had a sword to his belt. Tina was not sure he was wearing one, two or three capes mashed together. From somewhere underneath his peculiar cape multiple, colorful rags where dragging out for one meter behind him. Everything was completed by a pair of silver, sparkly glows without fingers. And, as if, that wasn’t odd enough, his skin (or the part of it that was visible, anyway) was in a constantly rotating rainbow colors state.
‘Invisible Man!?!…’ she dared ask. ‘ I wouldn’t presume…’
“No!” came a determined answer that confirmed her suspicions from her right hand side. ‘I’m completely invisible! Not just by 3 thirds.”
“I am … Lowwd Gauchy! Welcome to … my domain’nd!”
“Your domain?” Ella asked. “Oh! You mean the museum? Tina, I think we just met the ghost from the museum. See that! It is real!”
“I aaam not…an it. I am… Lowwd Gauchy! A heee ’nd!” he said with an affected voice. He accentuated the importance his words by making looong, boring pauses between them.
“Why do you add a “d” to all your sentences?’ Tina asked. “It’s confusing!”
“I amm do not add anything to… my sentences’d! But I have… a talk endeawwwing… defect ‘ nd. I aamm… unable to pwwonounce ….the wwwr’s… cowwectly’ d!’
“You can’t what? He can’t what?” asked the Invisible Man.
“He can’t pronounce the “r”s correctly!” Ella translated for everybody.
“Oh! wwwight! ‘nd” imitated the Invisible Man.
Tina burst into laughter.
“Do you think … it is funny … to smash … the sacwwwed bell?”
“The bell!” Tina made and quickly bended to gather it from where she had dropped it. “I hope I didn’t break it.’
After she lifted it and checked it to see it was unspoiled, she gave it to the Invisible Man.
“Here, touch it. Finally. Maybe this time we can actually see if it’s doing anything.”
“Amateuwwwws! nobody is … touching anything… on my domain’nd!”
With that Tina and Ella saw Lord Gauchy loudly slapping the air and taking the bell back from the Invisible Man.
“Heyyy! Don’t slap my hand! I was going to put it back. It is of no use to me!”
“Wait! He can see you?” Tina asked the Invisible Man.
“Suuwwwwe …I can see him. And I can see …. he only has…6 days left…until he gets stuck… in his invisible fowwm.’d” Lord Gauchy concluded with a changed voice and a mysterious smile. ‘ Come’d! I will…help! You …and nobody else…can touch … anything in my domain’d. Without my…telling you so!” and he yanked the bell from the Invisible Man and put ii back in its cord.
Ella though the bell was somehow content to be back. It made a short, ringing tune afterwards that sent chills all over her spine.
“To the …libwaawwwy! Follow me!”
“To the library, Invisible Man! Apparently we’ve got ourselves a bit of a help!’ said Tina and followed the ghost. “Hey, in the library there are so many people. Won’t they see you?”
“No. I am do….appeaww only to….whomewwewww I want!”
‘Hold on. Why did you move the bell in the first place? Tina, Ella, you’re not still going to believe I took it.’
‘Right! If you saw us, and you saw the Invisible Man, why toying around with us?” Tina asked.
“To…test you.’ nd Come! …We do not… have much time.’nd’
“Test us? How?” Tina wanted to know.
But Lord Gauchy said nothing more. For a split second Ella saw the mysterious smile again. However the group was on the move and she followed it along to the promising warmth of the inside. Her nose was starting to turn purple and her fingers were going to be very happy with a serious temperature increase.
‘Young ladies, allow me to introduce you to Fairy Ani and Fairy Carmen’, Mr. Puppy broke the silence, gesturing towards them.
‘Are we dreaming now?’, Tina wanted to settle the matter once and for all. ‘Because only in a dream could there be so much beauty.”
Smiles bloomed on the faces of the two fairies. Their eyes, radiant with serenity, were lighting up the room. As they sat back on the emerald thrones, Ani’s suave voice broke the silence:
‘You’re not dreaming. I know you have many questions, but before we can answer them, you must be very hungry…’
Upon hearing the word ‘’hungry’’ more prosaic concerns made their presence sensed. For indeed, since their wondering through the White kingdom the little girls hadn’t eaten anything.
Carmen stood and made a delicate gesture. Just by looking at that, the girls had the impression that the fairies could dissolve into warm, scented vapors, if blown upon. Carmen’s hand pulled a small velvet tassel that hung close to the throne. Immediately, two yellow bunnies with sparkling ears brought forward two little jeweled chairs with red velvet cushions on top. The girls sat and the bunnies carried a small table, burdened with countless sweets. There was everything: beautifully adorned cubes of ginger bread, glazed apples, steamy pretzels, candy in all shapes and sizes, colorful lollypops, fruit cakes and chocolate cakes, and so many other goodies that caught the eye and tempted the White Kingdom’s visitors.
The girls started to eat the delicious treats with the determination of real people, after a real and long walk.
‘Now’, came Carmen’s calm voice, ‘it is time for you to learn why we summoned you to the White Kingdom. For it was us who brought you here.’
‘Hm, it would be very interesting to know how we got here. Especially since we’re not dreaming’, inquired Ella. Then, without waiting for any answer: ‘Are you toys too? You don’t seem to be…’
‘No. We are fairies. And we brought you here by magic. When you put the Dot-End, you let us know that someone in the Human World was ready to meet us. And so, we brought you to the White Kingdom’, followed the beautiful fairy.
‘What is… umm, that curtain, or whatever it is, on the side of the road?’, Tina caught the moment to ask, picking out small cubes of colored caramel.
‘That is the curtain that separates the White Kingdom from the Human World. The White Kingdom’, continued Carmen, ‘is the place where all the toys in the world come to, when nobody sees them. Mostly at night. And we are the fairies that make sure that they can get here whenever they want. We run the Kingdom.’
‘That means…’, Ella said slowly, as if speaking to herself, ‘it sort of means that the toys are kind of alive…!?!…’
‘Didn’t you ever surmise it?’, Ani asked smiling.
‘Well, yes, I guess. At the very least, I wished it.’
‘Let us show you’, Ani said and made a circle shape with her hand.
On that cue, a myriad of water droplets that hung in the air, without ever falling to the floor, aligned dutifully in front of the table.
‘Droplets, tell story!’, Ani commanded.
The droplets grew the size of balloons. In each of them, the image of a child with a toy emerged. Some children just hugged the toys, others spoke to them. Some slept with them. Little girls combed the hair of dolls or walked them in beautifully trimmed strollers. Many kids sat next to stuffed bears and dogs, fed imaginary food to ponies, or led brave little soldiers, in red uniforms, into battle. But they all had toys close by.
‘The life of the toys is simple. They all have souls and their souls are made entirely of kindness. Whenever a child feels lonely, or needs someone to sleep, or play with, the kindness of the toys that keep them company will make them happier.’
‘So, not only are they alive, but their duty is to make children happy with their kindness?’
‘Precisely. There are many children who talk to toys. Just as there are many, many children who have toy-friends. The kindness of their souls releases a warmth that is felt in the Human World by the children.’
‘There are children’, Carmen added, ‘who invite all of their toys to their birthday parties.’
‘That may well be’, Ella muttered. ‘I too, sometimes talk to my favorite doll. And I imagine that she answers me back.’
‘It is entirely possible that those answers aren’t only in your imagination.’
‘What? I… You mean…?’
‘There are times when the toys do talk to children. But, not even I, or Carmen, can tell which are their real answers and what is the child’s fancy. Only the toys know that. However, what is important for you to know, is that the toys are alive. And that they have a soul made of kindness. Now we can tell you why you are here.’
‘Somewhere, in a faraway land, there is a terribly wicked witch who can’t bear the kindness of the toys. So she cast a spell that traps their souls here, in the White Kingdom. Their souls are dying and causes them to be torn up in the Human World. They can no longer spread their wonderful warmth.’
‘Oh, this is terrible!’, said Ella, touched by the fairy’s words. ‘Just terrible!’
‘We must do something!’, Tina said in revolt. ‘We can’t let those noble toys just be torn up.’
‘We must, indeed. And only you can undo the spell that befell the toys, for we cannot leave the White Kingdom. We must always stay here. And the realm of the Witch-with-the-Water, for that is the name of the wicked one, is far from the White Kingdom.’
‘We will give you someone to help, watch over, and show you the way’, said Ani. ‘You must know, however, that the spell can only be broken by a little girl from the Human World. That is to say one of you two.’
Mr. Puppy, who had waited in silence by a column, disappeared through a side door and came back with a teddy bear. They called him „teddy” because of his unbelievable cuteness. In fact he was, at least, three times as tall and thick as the girls.
‘This is Giggle Teddy, Great Counselor of the White Kingdom’, said Ani.
‘Appropriate name’, Tina noticed. Indeed, the stuffed bear, entirely covered by yellowish fuzz, had a smile on his face so wide and honest that it made her want to smile just by looking at it. The round face, radiant with the serenity and the kindness that can only be found in toys, was completed by a pair of big, brown eyes, that seemed to behold everything around him in innocent amazement.
‘So, Great Counselor, what is our battle plan? I guess it can’t be easy to defeat the Witch-with-Water’, Tina’s practical sense prevailed again.
‘First, allow me to explain what we know so far’, came a thin voice. Every time he spoke, Giggle Teddy’s cheeks would flush, making him even more endearing. ‘Each of you will get a cube containing a charmed powder.’
The teddy bear paused, as the little girls had finished eating and the bunnies took away the table and brought a crystal tray. On it lay two crystal cubes that sparkled gorgeously in the twilight that spread over the White Kingdom.
‘This charmed powder is made from fairy tears and it will help you in your journey, as it can make happen anything that you want. But only for five seconds.’
‘Beware, the spell will last five seconds. No longer!’, Carmen insisted.
‘I will be going with you to show the way. The journey that awaits you is long. Ani and Carmen shall give you a magical balloon that will go wherever we tell it to go.’
‘A flying balloon at our disposal!’ Tina anticipated the excitement of the adventure.
‘Once we get to the witch’s castle, what you must do is break a certain potion bottle from the Chamber of Mirrors. It holds the spell and, if the bottle breaks, the spell is undone and the toys will stop being torn up.’
‘The Chamber of Mirrors?’, Ella asked.
‘Nobody knows what it looks like, as nobody has ever seen it. All we know is that it is a room in the castle of the Witch-with-Water. And it is fiercely guarded.’
‘We leave tomorrow morning’, added Giggle Teddy. ‘Until then, each of you will be given a room in the palace where you can rest.’
‘What happens with the toys that were already torn up? If we manage to break the spell?’, Ella asked.
‘It would be easy for us to bring them back to life. But our magic can’t undo that of the witch while the potion bottle is intact. Moreover, there is another condition: everything must be done by Christmas Eve.’
After that everything was cleared. Mr. Puppy explained the girls that time passes different in the White Kingdom than in their real world. So, their parents won’t notice they were gone missing, because for them, it would have just been a few hours.
Then, he led the little girls to their rooms, somewhere on an upper floor of the palace. Big, richly decorated beds, with velvet canopies that spread scented promises of a deep, dreamless sleep awaited to reward the girls hard work from over their adventurous and unusual day. Tina and Ella accepted that much needed rest on spot.
The following morning Tina and Ella were ready to leave no stone unturned to find the magic item. Literally no stone, as Ella was of the not-so-unrealistic opinion that stones are extremely old. Maybe they are magic items.
The girls met with the Invisible Man at the Christmas Market. Or, more accurately, Tina saw what appeared to be a small lantern form an alley entry, floating around. She calmly yanked it from the stubborn air and put it back as if nothing happened.
Luckily, besides her, nobody noticed. Christmas Market on a cold, foggy, winter day is a busy place, where people crossing left and right don’t have time to observe floating objects.
“What were you doing with the lantern?” she asked while still keeping her smile and composure.
“It looked old. I thought maybe it’s the magic item. So, there are 4 really old buildings in your town.” continued the Invisible Man
‘Good morning to you, too,’ Tina followed.
‘Oh, hello! I only have 6 days until I vanish completely. I really don’t have time…”
“So, what did you find out?”
‘Ughh…the lantern is not the magic item. Nothing happens when I hold it.”
“And stones don’t work either. Because we’re not actually searching old items, but magical items in old buildings.” Tina interrupted. “So, we can leave lanterns and other outside objects alone. Ok, people?”
‘Then, we should start with the museum!” Ella proposed.
“Ohhhhhhhhh! Riiiight! You are so right!” Tina went on enthused. “Why didn’t I think about it?”
“Wh…? What? Why? Why not the City Hall? It’s old too?…wha…?
“The museum is actually an old castle.” Ella explained. “Once upon a time a very rich family lived there. During their lives they gathered paintings, old chairs and chests, statues, lamps and old books. So many, in so many chambers that after they passed away, the building was turned into a museum. A lot of people from other places come to visit regularly.”
“Especially for the missing objects.” Tina went on. “It is said to happen occasionally. Paintings or mirrors moving from one chamber to another. It happens very rarely, though. Probably the reason so many people come to visit it daily. They hope to see these small mysteries. But, I think it’s something people taking care of the museum stage. To keep it interesting. I’ve never seen anything missing or misplaced.”
“Me neither. Although I visit it many times over. Maybe it was the Invisible Man…Hmmm? What do you think, Invisible Man?” Ella joked.
“It wasn’t me this time!”
“We’re wasting time. Let’s go the museum. We have plenty work to do.’ Tina, energetically, set them in motion. “And, we’re not allowed to touch anything inside, so we need to figure out how to search without touching. Lucky us to have and Invisible Man.”
The museum was, probably, declared castle due the thickness of the walls and the respectable age of the construction. Otherwise, it resembled more a two floors constructions, surrounded by a semicircle outside wall. A tower watch was the highest peak of the whole ensemble.
“There is a platform in that tower for visitors. It’s a circular, open space and you can see the city from there.” Ella explained to the Invisible Man while leading the way.
“How many rooms did you say it has?”
“42 in total. 21 rooms at each floor, plus the entry room before the tower platform. Plus the saloon. So… I guess, 44.” Tina answered.
“43 rooms…and only 6 days? We’ll never get it done!”
“Don’t worry Invisible Man, a better part of those rooms are small and serve as anti-chambers for the bigger, more important ones. We’ll get it done.” said Tina. Then she, forcefully, pushed the gate entrance open and let everybody pass.
The first chamber was stretching over the 2 floors height. It was extremely spacious and very well-lit. The ceiling was made of yellow glass, covering the whole room and the entrances to 4 set of stairs. 2 smaller ones, only with a few steps leading to the right and left ground floor wing. And, 2 bigger ones with a lot more steps leading to the right and left wing from the first floor. The chamber’s floor was covered in black and white mosaic. The walls were filled with paintings and statues. Vases, armchairs and coffee tables with manuscripts were, strategically, positioned amongst them.
And, in between, hiding from the icing cold of the December day, dozens of people were loudly chatting, pointing hands and deciding which point of attraction to start from.
“I don’t think anything secret should be hidden precisely in the first room of any building, but we need to make sure.” said Ella and stepped to the right of the door, along the wall. Tina and the Invisible Man followed. First thing on the order. An old papyrus with a beautiful quill and ink bottle sealed inside a glass box, over a cupboard.
The Invisible Man jumped the rope barrier and suddenly started to jiggle that furniture. Tina shouted “No!” and rushed to stop the Invisible Man. She hastily jumped the cord. But, she tripped and ended up hugging the whole furniture with both hands. Face down, pressed against the glass, she shouted through her teeth:
“What are you doing? People are watching!”
Ella noticed that people were indeed watching. Well, actually staring. Ella saw what they saw: a piece of furniture shaken down by a little girl, who, angrily, talked to a cabinet to stop.
“Who is she talking to? Little girl, who are you talking to?”
“Is she ok?” they were asking Ella.
“She’s fine.” Ella said with a forced smile, trying to hide the worry of other people becoming aware of the Invisible Man under a mask of embarrassment. “She really, really like papyruses. Any old writings, actually. She talks to them. Asks them how they are and how are they doing! She says she’s getting inspired to become a writer in doing so!” Ella hoped they were going to believe the far-fetched explanation. She herself was under the impression that she was listening to a stranger uttering words with her own mouth. Oh! the preposterous of the explanation. But, really good timing. People were starting to smile and look at Tina with a protective and amused understanding for the “kids plays” into becoming adults. Hiuh!
Tina was holding the cabinet with the back of her hands, fighting the Invisible Man’s jiggle. She wished she could yell at the Invisible Man to leave it alone, until it’s safe, but she did not want to see Ella inventing another “darling” reasoning for her erratic behavior. When the Invisible man let go, she set herself straight and stepped back over the cord, while keeping a sharp eye to the stillness of the glass.
“You really need to learn that you are invisible! And people panic if they see objects moving by themselves in closed spaces!” she whispered the Invisible Man after the crowd scattered.
“Listen! We’ll find it. And allow you to touch everything, but you need to do it without getting us thrown outside for bad bahaviour!” said Ella.
“Or the reputation of half-sanity, objects-talking-to, girls!” Tina concluded with a pout.
“Igh. Sorry! Agaaaain! I was overly-excited. Or overly-panicked. Or, maybe, both. Not sure.” Ella sensed the worry from his voice and changed the topic to a less-panicky endeavor.
“Let’s move to the paintings.”
The happening was, ultimately, useful, as it allowed the girls to devise a plan to cover the pieces that required moving or opening of stuff having no business moving. Ella was spotting the visitors. When she was sure none was watching (which, after the glass-cabinet episode was no small thing!) she made a little whistle. Tina, then, jumped in front of the object and stayed there until the Invisible Man announced, in a soft voice, that he was done. This little plan worked for the whole room without other incidents and they could safely move to other rooms.
The rest of the searching process was efficient and uneventful. Until they reached the watch tower.
Tina hastily pulled her hand and stood back.
‘Hello!??!’, made Ella from behind her sister. ‘Hello is no good for floating books. Why hello?’
‘Hey!’ the nothingness answered back.
The little girls stared at the door. Or at the book. They took another step back.
‘Hello!’, Ella tried, unconvinced.
‘Hey!’, the nothingness answered again.
‘Tina! The Book floats. And talks. Books don’t talk and float.”
‘I don’t think it’s the book talking. I felt….a sort of… person, when I touched before.’
‘You felt a person?’
‘Yes Ella. Tina felt a person.’, said the nothingness again.
‘Who are you?’, Tina took control.
‘How do you know our names?’
‘How did you get in?’, Tina went on.
‘How long have you been standing there?’
‘Why can’t we see anything? And why is our Book floating?’, Ella demanded.
‘Ookeey! One at the time. I can’t answer anything if you keep asking.’ said the voice.
‘Ok. Explain!’, Tina allowed condescendingly.
‘Ummm… I am the Invisible Man.’
‘No kidding!’, said Ella.
‘However funny, that is my name. I came from the Invisible Land. A few of us can live in both worlds. Yours’ and the Invisible Land. However, when we are in your world, we look like yourselves. We are completely opaque, and resemble normal people. Except me.’
‘What happened to you?’, Tina asked.
‘I got stuck in your world in invisible form. I cannot go back to Invisible Land, without my visibility. You have to help me!’
‘Why us?’ Ella wanted to know.
‘You have the magical touch. You visited the White Kingdom last year. You can pass magical portals to other worlds. In fact, I came to you because Ani and Carmen said you could help me.’
‘The fairies from the White Kingdom!’ Ella made.
‘How did you lose your visibility?’ Tina got back.
‘I visited the Magic Music Realm. Music has no shapes. One cannot go in with their visible form. So I entered. When I got back, it was gone.’
‘Did someone take it?’ Ella asked.
‘I don’t know. I don’t think so. Only I can use my visibility. Now, the only other places I can exist, is the White Kingdom, because of the fairies magic, your land and the Music Realm.’
‘How do you get it back, then?’ Tina pushed on to see what exactly she and her sister could do.
‘I need you to find the magic item. It will regain my visibility and I can go back.’
‘And what exactly is the magic item?’ Tina wanted to know.
‘Well, that’s the thing. I don’t know. I only know it’s in the Secret Chamber in a very old building in your realm.’
‘Huh..that’s not much to go….’ said Ella pensive.
‘And I’ve just arrived today, and tried to get your attention ever since.’ the Invisible Man went on.
‘Ooooh….so you messed up the cards?’ Tina asked.
‘Yep. And the scissors. And the mask.’
‘Aha! So, I did bring the scissors. I knew it’, Ella made with satisfaction. ‘So, why not come and ask nicely? Present yourself first and whatnot.”
‘Well, first off, I would have really scared you.’
‘Duh!’ Tina snorted.
‘Well, I would have scared you even more than I already did. And, I am forbidden to address the first word. I was to expect to first be addressed to. Magical restriction Ani and Carmen warned me about in the Real Realm. I had to make sure, you can really pass magical portals. And sense magical beings.’
‘How do you know that if we get the item, you will get your visibility back? You said you don’t know what happened to it?’ Ella asked.
‘Well, Tina, Ani and Carmen said that the magic item can summon my visibility back from wherever it is.’
‘Trust worthy. If you got it from them. So, how does it look?”
“The magical item? Is it small? Big? is it at least visible?” overcame the practicality in Tina, again.
“ I told you, I don’t know. We have to find an old building in your town.”
“Hey, Tina, do you think the old building is the City Hall? That’s pretty old.”
“I would say…I’m pretty tired.” she made with a big smile and an even bigger yawn. “Let’s revisit this tomorrow. Can you sleep down stairs on the sofa? Wait! Do invisible men sleep?”
“You don’t sleep?” asked Ella. “ Of course, he sleeps. I would be exhausted of so much trying to get the attention of people who can’t see me.”
“Emmm…actually, when I’m invisible I don’t need sleep. Nor food or water.”
“So, what, you’re just going to walk around the house all night? We still have our visible bodies, and we do need to sleep. In fact, by the yawning stretching around left and right, I would say, we need it very much!” said Tina.
“I’m going to take a walk into the city, check all the old buildings until you wake up. Don’t worry, tomorrow morning, you’ll find me sitting tight on your sofa.”
“Like we could tell if you’re sitting or standing.” Tina chuckled. “Come on, Ella. Let’s sleep. Tomorrow we need to find something indefinable in a unknown place for an invisible man.”
“Good night, Invisible Man”
“Good night, Ella. Nighty, night, Tina.”
“Hey, what happens if we can’t help you?” asked Tina while glancing towards the fluffiness of the pillows from the bed.
“I get stuck in your realm in invisible form.”
“Is that so bad? We can be friends!” Ella mumbled with sleepy eyes.
“If I stay for more than 7 days in your realm, my visibility will be lost forever. Then, I will vanish forever too.”
“All right! So we have until Christmas Day.” Tina said in a calm voice. Then she gently took her sister by the hand and slowly walked her to the bed.