We had just finished setting up the party in the backyard Saturday morning when Bastina arrived with Marisol. After a quick thank-you to all of us and a reminder to her daughter to mind her manners, our neighbor drove off.
As soon as her mother was out of sight, Marisol dashed to the backyard. The disappointment in her face was obvious. As she turned to Dray, her lower lip quivered, and her eyes grew moist. “Dray? I . . . I thought I was going to see the horses.”
“The day is young, child. Be patient.” Dray pointed to the gazebo, festooned with bunting and banners. Refreshments were set out on tables, and a pile of presents awaited the birthday girl.
Marisol’s jaw dropped and her eyes grew round. She slowly walked over to the gazebo, noting the Happy Birthday sign and the tables laden with cakes and beverages. She stopped and pointed to the boxes adorned with festive paper and bows. “Are . . . are these for me?”
Dray nodded. “There is a small something from me among those gifts, but my special present will come later, after refreshments.”
Marisol’s grin stretched ear to ear, and she nodded her understanding to Dray.
“Happy birthday, Marisol!” I placed my hand on the child’s shoulder. “Why don’t you start by opening these presents, and then we can all have some refreshments before Dray gives you her special present.”
Marisol nodded. The child carefully unwrapped each gift, taking care not to rip the paper. Her eyes lit up when she opened the first gift, a collection of story books and jigsaw puzzles, all featuring horses or dragons.
“We know that horses and dragons are your favorites, and your mom told us you are quite the reader, reading well above your age level, and you love putting jigsaw puzzles together. So, this is from the four of us.” My Young Hero pointed to himself, then gestured to the group around him – my Foreman, my Gypsy, and my Bounty Hunter.
“Oh, thank you! These are wonderful!” Marisol couldn’t stop smiling as she looked through the collection.
The next gift was a children’s book about herbs and wildflowers. “This is from Clara and me,” Sorceress told Marisol. “Your mother told us you have recently shown an increased interest in this subject. I think you will find the illustrations and anecdotes in this book quite extraordinary.”
“Oh, it is beautiful!” Marisol leafed through the book. “I’ll enjoy it very much! Thank you!”
Next, Marisol opened the gift from me and Miles. “Oh! Binoculars! A book on birdwatching, and a journal to keep a list of the birds I see! Thank you!”
“I remember you saying you enjoy observing the birds. Miles and I thought this might assist you in that activity.”
Marisol tried out the binoculars. “Oh, these are great! I can see a Goldfinch on that feeder pole!” She immediately opened her new journal and laboriously wrote the day, date, and location, along with the name of the bird, twice asking for help with spelling. When she finished, she grinned at me. “I will make great use of this gift!”
Next, Marisol opened a leather-bound notebook, with her name and a picture of a dragon and a horse on the front. “Oh, this is exquisite!” The child ran her hand over the cover before opening it.
“You can paste pictures in there, or draw images, or write your ideas, your desires, your hopes . . . whatever pleases you.” Dray smiled at Marisol, and the child nodded.
“Thank you! I will treasure this, Dray!”
Marisol reached for the last present on the table, a gift bag. In it were several hand-crafted figurines and a small charm bracelet.
My Old Dwarf stepped up. “I been makin’ tha wristlet fer ye, lass. I be knowin’ ye be right partial ta horsies an’ dragons, but I been includin’ a bunny, too, causin thet be how ye been meetin’ alla usins, when ye been followin’ me when I been chasin’ a bunny rabbit. But I dinna be knowin’ iffins ye be o an age where ye be likin’ gew-gaws like thet, so’s I be carvin’ a few little figures fer ye, too. Ye kin be keepin’ ’em on a shelf in yer room, or inna box wit yer udder trinkets.”
“Oh, these are marvelous!” Marisol smiled at my Old Dwarf. “I do like jewelry, and I will wear this always!” She put it on her wrist. “It’s a perfect fit! And I know just where I can put the figures, where I can see them every night before I go to sleep!”
Marisol spent a few more minutes looking at all her gifts while Cleric served the cake and ice cream. “I made individual cakes so everyone could have their favorite. I made you the orange chiffon you liked last time.” Cleric handed Marisol her cake and the little girl made a silent wish and blew out the candles.
While we were all eating, Miles nudged me. “Your Arrogant One felt the party was beneath him?”
I shrugged. “I’ve been wondering that same thing. I noticed he was missing but didn’t want to make a big deal of it.”
After everyone finished eating, Dray took Marisol’s hand and walked her to the barn. She murmured an incantation under her breath. From the look on Marisol’s face, the spell worked.
“Oh!” Marisol stared at the steeds, who looked curiously at the newcomer.
My Foreman gave a hand signal for his horse to step forward. “The black stallion is mine. His name is Centaur. Would you like to pet him?”
Marisol nodded wordlessly, and my Foreman lifted her in his arms and let her pet the big horse.
“Oh! He’s so soft!”
“This one is Gypsy, and he’s soft, too.” My Gypsy led his horse over and Marisol cooed over him, too.
“And this is my pony, Hero. He loves apples. Would you like to fee him one?” My Young Hero showed Marisol how to hold her hand flat and let the pony take the apple gently from her hand.
Marisol giggled. “His whiskers tickle!”
Suddenly, my Arrogant One stepped out of the barn, leading a three-quarter size horse. “Marisol? How would you like to ride a pony?”
Marisol gaped at the elf leading the pinto to her and squealed. “Really? You’d let me ride?”
The elf nodded. “Of course. This animal is quite gentle and will be an excellent mount for you.”
“Oh, yes! Yes, please!” Marisol seemed beside herself.
I rushed over to my Arrogant One. “No tricks.”
He gave me a look of pure innocence and continued talking to Marisol. “His name is Pegasus. Here, let me help you mount.”
Once Marisol was securely in the saddle, my Arrogant One led the pony around, first at a slow walk, then a little faster.
“Are you comfortable?” The elf brought the pony to a stop.
“Oh, yes!” Marisol’s eyes were shining as she leaned forward and patted the pony on his neck.
“If I give you the reins, do you think you could handle the pony on your own?”
I stepped forward. “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“Please? I’ll be very careful,” Marisol pleaded.
The elf scoffed. “I will not allow the child to be harmed.”
Without waiting for permission, my Arrogant One handed the reins to Marisol.
“What do I do? How do I tell the pony to walk?”
My Foreman and the lads hastened to her side. My Foreman instructed the child in the basics of walk and trot, and how to stop the pony. The lads walked beside her, one on each side, until she was comfortable with controlling her mount.
“That was a nice thing to do.” I walked up behind my Arrogant One.
“You need not sound so surprised.” He sneered.
“Actually, I do. This is not exactly in character for you.”
The elf turned to me, a wistful smile pulling at one side of his mouth. “When I was but little older than her, I wanted nothing more than to learn the art of illusion. I remember how thrilled I was when someone not only invited me to watch them perform some illusions but encouraged me to learn some of them. They spent all afternoon with me, teaching me, and then giving me space to try on my own. When something means so much to a person, even a little encouragement can mean the difference between elation and heartbreak.”
I raised an eyebrow at the elf, surprised that he would share something so profoundly personal.
Then he shrugged. “Besides, the beast ordered me to do it.” He turned from me and walked back to Marisol. “Do you know why he is named Pegasus?”
Marisol tilted her head and stroked her chin. “Pegasus was a figure in Greek mythology. Mommy and I read a book about him. He was a winged horse.” Her eyes grew large. “Does this horse have wings?”
The elf winked at her and nodded. Suddenly, the horse she was riding changed. In an instant, the saddle was gone, and the horse sprouted wings. “Hold the mane and ask him to fly.”
I screeched as the pony leaped into the air, but my Arrogant One held his hand out toward the pony, keeping it just a foot or so off the ground.
Marisol didn’t say a word, but the expression on her face spoke volumes. She looked like she had never enjoyed herself so much.
“Beast?” My Arrogant One looked at Dray questioningly.
She nodded, and shape-shifted into her true form, taking to the air with Marisol and Pegasus as my Arrogant One dropped his hand and his control over the winged horse.
My heart just about stopped, and I held my breath as I watched Dragon and Marisol fly higher, circling the treetops for several long minutes. Then they floated back to the ground. Dragon changed back into Dray, and Pegasus was once more just a saddle horse. I think that was when I remembered to breathe again.
Marisol jumped out of the saddle, radiating joy and awe. Her eyes sparkled and a huge grin spread across her face. “Oh, thank you! Thank you, everyone! Thank you, elf, thank you, Dray! I will never forget this birthday as long as I live!”
We hope you enjoyed Marisol’s birthday party. Be sure to get a piece of cake and some ice cream before you leave, and please join us again next week for more exciting adventures with my little band of displaced characters. I’ll leave the porch light on for you.