Mark Ethridge’s Picture Choice: Both
Title: Fairies : White Chocolate Roses
“Relax, dude. Just relax,” Sword thought to himself. “And breathe.” Of course, it didn’t help. He’d planned the day for nearly two years. Waiting. Watching. Trying to get every detail right. He’d walked through the forest with her hundreds of times, watching her, trying to find her favorite place without asking.
He collected gemstones. Every type he could find. He explored the ocean looking for them. He shared his collection with her. Watching every reaction she had to each stone, trying to find the stones she loved more than the others.
He put together everything himself. The table and place settings, the chairs, the flower arrangements. Everything.
It took him weeks to find the wood for the table. It had to come from a dead tree. He couldn’t cut down a tree. He didn’t like that idea himself, and he knew Rose would never forgive him if he did. He’d searched through hundreds of square miles of the Northern Forest to find the right tree stump. He’d carefully sliced out the table top. He left it natural. No paint. No varnish. No sanding. The bark of the tree wrapped all the way around it. The rings showing the trees age when it died.
He'd carved the table legs from branches on the ground. Again, their bark was intact. Untouched. He cut the seat of each stool from the same stump the table top was from. The stool legs were branches, like the table legs. The toughest part was getting the smaller branches between the legs to act as supports, holding the legs steady.
He’d carved everything himself. He’d had to focus his magic in a whole new way. A delicate, careful way. Cutting away only the parts that he'd needed to. Fitting things together one step at a time.
He understood how it worked. The way the nanomachines in every cell of his body, in the air, in the wood, in the dirt, in the trees, in everything, worked. He knew his name came from the wild magic power the machines gave him. He also knew it was his power, and his alone. The machines wouldn’t work the same way, wouldn’t perform the same magic, for anyone else. And he couldn’t perform the same magic as Rose, or any of her sisters.
He held Rose’s hand as he led her through the forest. “Where are you taking me?” “It’s a surprise. And it’s not too far.”
He loved her. He loved the music of her voice. The song of her laughter. The magic in her eyes. The warmth of her smile. He’d held her hand more times than he could ever count. Each time was as magical as the first. The feel of her hand in his. The softness of her skin, the delicate grace of her fingers. Even the texture of her fingertips. He loved to hold her hand. When he did, everything in the world went away. And everything was perfect.
He could have asked any of her sisters for help. Especially Fauna. Dream could have found her favorite place for him. The place she always visited in her dreams. Musica could have told him the music he needed to touch her heart. If it was silence, or the sound of the breeze gently rustling the leaves of the trees. Or the sound of a nearby brook, washing over rocks. Or perhaps birds singing as they flitted from one tree to another, looking for berries, playing games with each other.
He could have asked his mother, Oceana, Queen of the fairy kingdom beneath the sea, for help. She’d have provided everything. It would have been a moment deserved by the prince of the kingdom, the kingdom’s greatest warrior, and one of the heroes of the Great War.
He could have asked the dragons. He was one of them. The only fairy or human ever accepted as a true dragon warrior. He bore the mark of a true warrior on his chest, in the twenty parallel scars the dragon counsil had given him. The council, Merlin and Scream would have put together a dragon gathering, with all the trimmings. Stone chairs, stone tables. Dragons guarding the setting, protecting him, and Rose.
Eyela, Queen of the Fairy Kingdom in the Southern Plain, would've let him have this dinner in her castle. In a private room, or a banquet hall. Whatever he wanted, she would have arranged.
He could have even asked Mystica, the White Witch, for help. She would have used her white magic, and the trees themselves would have formed the place settings, the table, the stools. The ground would have flattened itself perfectly, grass covering it, and providing a perfect, soft carpet for the setting. He had no doubt the trees would have parted, so the moon would have been visible the entire night, as it moved through the sky.
He hadn’t asked anyone for help.
This was something he wanted to do himself. He didn’t want help. He wanted to show Rose how he felt. How much she meant to him. So he’d done everything by himself.
He closed his eyes, as he led her through the trees, and took a deep breath. It was time.
Sword led Rose into a small glade. He knew it was a place she loved to visit. He’d sat on the ground with her, in the glade, for hours on end. She’d fallen asleep there, her head on his lap. They’d spent the night in the glade more than once, waking to the sound of the birds, and the light of the dawn filtering through the leaves. It was different that night. “We’re here.”
She smiled, and Sword’s heart melted. He wanted to wrap his arms around her, kiss her, and never let her go. But, it wasn’t time. He walked her to the table. “It’s beautiful, my love.” He seated her on her stool.
“My love, tonight is for you.” He’d rehearsed those words a thousand times. Standing in the forest. Talking to the wolves, and eagles. Talking to the trees. And still, he whispered them, barely able to speak.
He pulled the picnic basket from beneath the table, carefully serving the salad and fruit. Placing everything on wooden plates carved from the same tree stump as the table top. He poured water into the wooden cups he’d made.
“Sword. This is perfect.” She smiled at him, and reached across the table taking both his hands. “Thank you.”
They ate, quietly. Sword never spoke. He watched her. He loved how she closed her eyes, and listened to the sounds of life. The sounds of the forest. The voice of the breeze. The music of the crickets, the grasshoppers, and the birds. He knew he could sit on his stool, watching her, and almost forget to breathe.
He’d picked the greens for the salad, the tomatoes, the carrots, the peppers and cucumbers, himself. From gardens and farms in various villages in the forest. The villagers always welcomed him. When he’d asked to pick his own, they’d been honored to let him. He’d insisted on paying for everything he’d picked. Giving the farmers what they truly deserved.
He’d picked the fruit from all over the forest. Blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, strawberries, oranges. Every fruit that grew in the forest. It took him nearly two days to pick it all. He’d raced from place to place, pushing his wings as hard as he dared, to collect everything, and keep it fresh as he could.
He almost forgot to eat as he watched Rose. She even reminded him, “You eat too, silly.” They’d laughed, and he’d tried his best to eat everything, and not get lost staring at her again.
When the salad and fruit were gone, Rose held both his hands, “Thank you for the dinner. It was perfect.”
“I have dessert too.” He smile and gently squeezed her hands. He didn’t want to let go, but he tore himself away, and reached into the picnic basket one last time. He pulled out dessert. His masterpiece. He’d slaved over desert for days.
A bouquet of white chocolate roses. Rose buds along the edge, roses in full bloom in the middle, all surrounding one large rose at the center. A pair of white gold rings rested on the petals of that big white chocolate rose.
Rose’s jaw dropped, and her eyes grew big, as Sword place that white chocolate bouquet on the center of the table. He picked up one of the two rings, and held it before Rose. “I love you. I always have.”
Rose held out her hand, and Sword place the ring on her finger. “I thought you’d never ask.”
She stood up, practically leaping around the table, as she wrapped her arms around his neck, and kissed him. Sword wanted that kiss to last forever. He knew it couldn’t.
“You didn’t let me ask.”
“You didn’t have to ask.”
“Should we let Mystica know?”
They spent the night in that small glade, in the forest.
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Mark woke up in 2010, and has been exploring life since then. All his doctors agree. He needs to write.