Daniel from Merrida
My mother used to always tell me that everything was going to be fine. Sometimes, even with no prior context given. She would look at me, as I dropped my head and stared at my bare feet, feeling unsure of myself, grab me by my chin and say, “it’s going to be fine”. I never really understood what she meant until now.
I’m from Merrida, Meridell. I was born on the North of Meridell, far away from the Darigan Citadel but yet not too far to say I’m a Brightvale citizen: so you can tell our location favoured our village (my family and all the villages) during the wars. I think it is something I should be thankful for. Sometimes I am, but some other times I feel it might have made no difference at all.
These suburbs have always been as quiet as they can get, and as calmly as you can feel the winds. surrounded by forests and rivers in which you can enjoy a lovely twilight evening in.
Huge trees lined the road, telling a different story each season: fresh green buds bursting open to reveal delicate blossoms that eventually fell to give rule to the warm earthy leaves that crumbled and shattered when stepped on and eventually left the tree as bare as a skeleton. The long pathway had small trails marked by the old wooden carriages from the civilians that would happen upon Merrida, but now they were used only to discover new berries and fauna species. I think we never thought of making Merrida any bigger. My favourite part of the day has always been when the sun would set around six-ish, and the sky would turn into a sweet tangerine color canvas, contrasting the leaves of the tallest trees. A marvellous moment, in which you wouldn’t want to blink - not even once. You could see Ukalis and Wibreths hang on to the branches of the trees and say goodbye to the last glimpse of the sun.
I sometimes try to interact with these creatures, and try my best to reach the highest branch of the tree, but I’ve never been a good climber.
Given the fact that Merrida was barely affected by the Meridell vs. Darigan war, there is not much happening in our village. Our newspaper is fed by the stories of our oldest citizens and Merridans who venture to other cities and tell us how things are going there.
The economy here is based on harvesting and planting by old family farms, which are passed down to future generations, and there are a few local restaurants and coffee places where people can gather and have a little talk. I have a neighbour who goes by the name of “the López”, a baggy Korbat in his sixties who likes to tell the same old tall tale.
“I stood up in front of the one and only Lord Darigan! He stared right at these two old tired eyes!”
He seems to forget sometimes that I’ve heard of that one at least five times. He is the village’s “crazy old man”, but don’t let those old town names fool you, we do care a lot about him. His little tales go around the coffee places as the talk of the day, and I like watching him when he’s laughing all by himself, and taking a bite from a piece of bread that he carries around in an old paper bag when he thinks nobody is looking.
I was never the kind to have friends, to be frank. We don’t have schools in Merrida so we’re self-taught by our experiences and appreciation of our surroundings, such as the elders’ lessons and books we read. I liked staying inside and traveling back in time with all those Brightvale books my mom would bring me from her work. Colourful covers and endless pages, my favourite one has always been “Preserving Berries,” as I enjoy picking berries and discovering new ones.
Thornberries are my all-time favourites, not only because of their texture and their flavour, but also because of their distinctive colour; they weren’t likely to harvest here in Meridell, but in-between some Blue Bomberry bushes, there is a hidden spot where the sweetest Thornberries could be found sometimes. I think that’s what makes them the most special. I sometimes stop by Illusen’s glade to show her all of the berries that I’m carrying home.
“How is it going, dearest Earthling?” ─ she’d ask. Opening up the doors of her glade, making every little sunflower bloom as she steps by it. “How many are you carrying today?”
“Twelve!” ─ I’d answer, sitting down next to some Unguberry bushes, grabbing one of the sweets by the leaf and putting it on my bag. “I’ve got some Purple Felberries, Orfaberries and Dorkleberries!”
She called me Earthling. By noon, I would be finished picking berries, and I would go to visit Illusen and ask her if she needed my help with anything. She’d tell me that I had a good eye for berries (I guess I owe it all to the books I read!) and she’d always give me a challenge where I had to collect berries, usually to be used in her healing potions.
I loved receiving Illusen’s challenges. I’d feel adventurous. I would put on my finest knotted gloves to avoid getting hurt by poisonous berries, sling my best bag on my back, and my good old loupe to pick the best berries out there. Serious-faced and determined, I would search the deepest corners of the woods to find the most rare berries that existed. Transparaberries, Squibble berries, and Meriberries; there were tons of rare berries and I knew exactly what each one of them looked like. In time, I would have memorized all of Meridell’s corners, pathways, villages and cities, and the citizens of them. I was perfect for it. And so one would begin each one of my quests, but my mom would always want me to be back by sunset.
The satisfying walk back home after one of Illusen’s quests was the favourite part of my day: heart full of pride from a job successfully completed, lips stained purple, and mouth full of delicious berry juice. I would walk along a worn dirt path as the sun set with a warm and passive wind gently blowing around my shoulder. The skies would shift from a strawberry colour as the sun sunk below the horizon to a deep indigo, complete with twinkling stars. The stars would guide my steps and follow me until I returned safely home.
I would know I was approaching home when I began seeing the lampposts lighting up the streets near my house, and Draphlies flying around the houses’ gardens. I would hear the Mortogs croak and the villagers making their way to their houses, talking about the daily hassles.
I was born on the year 11 on the month of Eating. My name is Daniel.
I’m seven years now, and I grew a little too fast, my mom says. I think it’s because I’m taller than her. My mom works at a library in Brightvale, while my dad works at the village’s Bakery. I’m his height, but he’s a little chubbier than I am. I don’t get to spend too much time with them, but when we all get home and we gather and enjoy dinner and each other’s company. They always make sure I’m entertained and well fed, and I’m always getting goodies from their jobs, which I love. Mom and dad are up and out of the house early in order to get to work, so we see would usually see each other for the first time that day at around eight.
“I’m so glad you made it home! How was my little adventurer’s day?” ─ she’d say as soon as I would get home. She was as welcoming as a big hug and a sweet kiss on the cheek could be. The smell of food in the oven and the warmth of the house was finally there, and my dad already sat on the living room watching TV.
“How is my champion doing?” ─ he would get up and sit at the dinning table, since that’s where we were all heading. ─ “Big quest today?”
“I’m doing ok. Illusen asked me for 6 different berries today, and I managed to find all of them!” ─ I would reply, sitting down next to him while my mom would take the finished food out of the oven. “I’m hoping to get more challenging tasks, though.”
“Everything in it’s own time, baby.” ─ my mom would say, making her way to the table.
“I just think I’m ready for bigger things, you know?” ─ I replied.
“I think you can do bigger and better things too, baby.” ─ she said, taking a sip of her Terry Berry tea. “You just have to wait until those things come by themselves.”
I’m not that tall, but I’m not that short. I’m a really fast runner and I think I’m getting smarter with all these books I’m reading. I like smiling at the random passer-by.
Oh, and another thing.
I can’t fly.
The windows of my room were closed and locked up with the curtains barely showing me what was outside, hanging from the left top of a shelf where I could still get enough lightning for my reading. A gloomy silver-lightened cloudy day had taken over the walking villagers on the streets making their way back to their homes to warm themselves up with a good mug of Borovan, as so was I, swiftly turning pages from the book “Brightvales Brightest,” slipping through the very ending of it.
The steam coming out of my mug was turning the reading session into a warmish time, covered up by a blue shaded blanket of mine, barely midday as I decided to stand up and walk up to my window and look out to what was there. Staring at the loveliest contrast between the spring bud-colored trees and the smooth light gray skies pressing my chest on the window shelf, glancing at the few Ukalies I could spot between the bushes at the bottom of the trees. Everything was so calmly looking I could scarcely have chosen a better time to, out of care, just hang in there.
It was a cool, windy Wednesday afternoon.
I picked my bag up out of the dirty clothes spread on my bedroom floor and put on some winter leather boots to keep my feet dry from the watered bushes. Grabbed my oldie but favourite jacket and made my way out of the doorstep to the Gruis forest, where the wild Gruisberries grow. Brown Broadberries and Breenutberries are the easiest to trace the path to the forest with, and same on the old roads, unworked retail apple handcarts located on the widest corridors of them for the wandering ones, stopping by you for that nice welcoming glance.
Walking hesitantly past many villagers on my way out of Merrida, the flying ones carelessly dazzling through the highest trees of the village, searching their landing spot with Borovan Thermos and paperwork carried on their hands, while the walking kind look up at them carrying both feet on the ground. I’d be up there too, I sometimes think to myself, unconsciously, of everything I couldn’t do, and how worry-free would being part of the skies feel.
Sought my mind back to my journey.
Spiraberries, Plumberries, Conkerberries…
I kept walking.
“Hey there, Daniel! Back on your berry hunting?” ─ said Jorge, the apple seller, wiggling his handcart as he saw me from distance walking towards his way. “Ain’t this not the best weather to go out in? If I were you, I’d be sipping on some hot Borovan!”
Jorge was a good man. A gray-haired old Scorchio who worked in his own apples handcart. He was one of the kindest Merridans I’ve ever met, and he never ceases to give me a good chat while I’m around his whereabouts. His parents were from Brightvale, but they moved to Merrida a few years before he was born, since they wanted a quieter place for him to grow. I thought of it as a good choice.
“Oh, hi there Jorge!” ─ I replied as I approached to him. “I’m carrying my favourite jacket up on my bag and I’ve got my leather boots on. I think I’ll be fine. How is the business going?”
“Well, as you can tell, it’s going pretty slow. I think I picked out the wrong day to sell my shiniest apples.” ─ he leaned over his handcart and picked one up and cleaned it for me, as if I asked for one.
“Oh why thank you, but I’m fine. I Just had some─”
“Take it. I’m pretty sure you’ll need energy for this one. It’s getting colder out here.”
“Well thank you Jorge. How much is it?”
“For an adventurer like you, it is of my courtesy. Hope you remember me when you turn into the bigger ones everyone talks about on the newspapers, though!
“I surely will.”
We stayed there and talked for a little more. It had been a while since I last saw him on one of my berry journeys, and his stories about all of the foreign Neopets he has met throughout his job somewhat sounded interesting for me. He even said he has never gotten the chance to meet a Faerie Neopet, and I could understand that.
As the conversation finished in me needing to make my way to the forest before the sun started to go down, I jogged my way through the road taking small bites from the apple he gave me. Hydrangeas, lantanas and verbena flowers on the right side of the road, and cymbidiums, orchids and marigold flowers on the left side, I sneaked through a couple of hydrangeas bushes and saw a Gallion hide himself behind a tree a few meters away from me. Enormous willow trees with hanging moss looked like the perfect decoration of the biggest secret garden you’d ever see, laying down enclosed by the tender touch of the delicate flowers’ petals and the sound of the touching leaves drifted by the wind as it is passing you by so smoothly, you could barely feel yourself being heavyweight anymore.
I leaned down hunting for the Gruisberries that I predisposed myself to find. As I was getting forest depth closer, I could only encounter with Brightvale berries hanging around trees and some rusty old rotten berries that I’ve step on unnoticed. Had wandered for a while when I decided to lay myself down for a moment, resting my back up against a light-brown tree I could see was showered under a silver lightning that sneaked it’s way to the ground through the spaces left from leave to leave of the tallest trees. I wasn’t feeling hungry and I thanked Jorge for that, for I have been running around the hills and trees of the Gruis forest for about two hours by then.
“I think it’s just not my lucky day.”
The day was still clear, and I was still warm. I had my jacket on and my boots were warming my feet for the grass was wet as I could tell by touching it with my bare hands. My bag had only a few berries I managed to find on my search, some Brogle berries, Blue Bomberries and Aquaberries. I didn’t feel disappointed after all, looking at my old bag stuffed with these sweets made me feel that at least I wasn’t coming back home with an empty bag. I laid on the ground, and that was when…
“What’s that?” I said to myself, forcing my eyes so I could see better what I thought I was looking at.
“Could that be?”
And it was. Three Gruiseberries were hanging at the very middle of the tree I was laying upon all of this time along. Their circle shape shaded both of my arms and the third one was only visible by it’s stem, so I stood up, and suddenly everything started to get darker.
Side-eyed my wings, incapable of any movement. I tried the hardest to feel them being a part of my body but I couldn’t. I stopped for a moment and breathed in and out, looked down at my leather boots and I couldn’t stop despising the fact that I was looking at the ground and not the moving clouds. I carefully dropped my bag next to the tree I was laying on and made a few steps back right under the branch the berries were hanging from. I tried touching my wings, but the biggest effortful attempt of knowing what I was touching was mine, was never enough to understand my own body. Why couldn’t I fly, and why could the others look so graceful upon the skies, seeming eternal dancers of the draughts?
“It’s ok. My mom says it’s ok. It should be ok.”
Rolled up my jacket’s sleeves, serious-faced I faced the tree. Took some steps closer and held on to my claws as I hugged with my whole body’s width the huge trunk before me, wholeheartedly lifting myself higher with my fists clinched, gulled I was and clipped the branches I climbed were, until I’m met with a bold branch dividing my face in two different highlights by it’s strong shadowing over my face. Challenging as it could get, uncalled of me to repeat to myself «I’m not a climber», but I took the chance.
“I’m not a climber.”
Felt the numbness on my arms, as my weaken hands couldn’t hold any longer to the wood their claws were grasping to. I heard the scratching sound my claws did as I slowly started descending from the huge tree. I let myself go and landed safely with my both feet on the ground unbroken of thought.
I grabbed my tights and kneeled down a little over the stepped-on leaves on the ground. I took my boots off and let my claws grasp themselves firmly to the ground as I was getting ready to jump, but the thoughts were infinite conversations with no present talker but myself, and I couldn’t focus anymore. I took my jacket off and suddenly everything was on the ground, and so was I.
I couldn’t stand it.
Took a few steps back and tried stopping myself from being a weakling. «I am ready» I said, and I visualized the Gruisberries, twisting and turning from the wind’s blow as it set a tingle of goosebumps up my arms, and I jumped. I felt I jumped the highest, yet halfway-through the pitch before gravity would bring me back to where I had known I was made to walk upon, I tighten up my fists and made one last effort to take off and fly with my wings, and the ephemeral seconds I was gravitating felt like hours of a slow-motion movie as the tree was looking smaller, as I was going back to ground. Smaller and smaller as the tree was getting and my eyes started tearing up, my body was pushing me closer to land, I started listening to everyone’s words as if they were right next to me.
“You’re one of a kind, big boy.”
“There he goes, the berry picker!”
“You don’t have to worry about anything boy, you’ve got yourself a fighter attitude!”
“You’re my little champion, Daniel. You’ve got your mothers eyes and your old dads strength.”
And it echoed.
“Everything is going to be ok, baby.”
But it wasn’t. I fell.
White noise was noising inside my head.
I started tearing up. Everything was out of place, and everything seemed wrong. I felt the weight on the world on my shoulders, blue shaded through my blurred vision by the tears that had me broken down. The silver lightning was raining down on me, and I had given up.
I felt like no one could hear me screaming my loudest, and that no one could see me being my strongest. I felt like no one could touch me feeling my toughest, and that one would ever see me fly my highest.
But just in that moment, down to my knees feeling sorry for my weak self, I heard footsteps from the distance. A green sparkling glimpse sought his way throughout the trees from afar, and as it was getting closer, the sunflowers and roses danced to a silent melody that made the bloom. It was Illusen.
“What happened, dearest Earthling?” ─ she said.
“I can’t fly, Illusen.” ─ I said. Tears rolling down my face as I was still on the ground, kneeled down in front of my backpack, and my jacked covering up my sore feet. “I just don’t understand why.”
“But why does it bother you, little one?” ─ she asked. She whipped the tears from my face and grabbed my jacket, covering my shoulders with it. “Haven’t you seen already how special you are?”
“I can’t seem to be as special as you see me to be. What is special of a Shoyru who cannot fly?”
She just stared at me.
“Illusen, you’re a wonderful healer. You are always helping kindred Neopians in trouble, and I’ve witnessed your miracles. Can’t you heal me? Can’t you fix me?”
“Oh, dear.” ─ she kneeled down and grabbed my face. I’ve never seen a smile prettier than hers. “There’s nothing to fix in you. You’re extraordinary.”
She picked me up from the ground and held my wings with her two hands.
“You were made for wonderful, bigger and greater things. Things you haven’t found in yourself yet. Don’t break your own heart.” ─ she continued. “Today this tree is the tallest, but tomorrow you will be bigger.”
“How can you be so sure about that?” ─ I asked.
“Because I remember when I first met you” ─ she said. I remained silent. “You were so small and weak, you couldn’t even pick berries from the bushes. Believe me when I say that you’re going to reach the highest pitch, but only─
“On it’s own time.” ─ I finished her sentence.
My sore left hand was holding my bag barely bearing with the berries it carried, and though the sun was still, it’s light made the road back home feel like the day had gotten better. Hydrangeas, lantanas and verbena flowers on the left side, and cymbidiums, orchids and marigold flowers on the right side of the road now.
The sky was settled and grey, the trees were still and fern green and the flowers were sparkling water drops and pink. Rock kicking glancing at Draphlies flying around; once I got home, I peeked through the window to see what my parents were doing.
The teapot was humming and my mom’s tea was ready, the oven was halfway open with a white cloth hanging out on the oven’s door and the food already on the kitchen counter, and all the house’s lights were left up bright, with a few red candles over the dinning table. The TV was on and my dad had his head turned over for him not to miss any news reports, both of their jackets laid down on the couch as if they were vintage blankets, and my mom was setting up the table.
I thought about how many times this has happened, and how little do they have talked to me about it. I grew up knowing what I couldn’t do, but I was born thinking that I should be able to, feeling like a flower growing on a pavement road. I finally understood what my mom used to tell me.
I walked in.
“Someone got home earlier! How is my little adventurer?”