Only the three Elder Brights were allowed out of the garden, and only ever two at any one time. There was a door at the base of the Dawn Tree and, while two Elders went to collect supplies, one Elder was responsible for guarding the door. The Brights were told this was to protect them in case a creature attempted to use the entrance as a way to break into Paradise Gardens. Astrid, however, saw it was a way to make sure that none of The Brights could escape. Astrid was a patient Bright and took her time to find patterns for when The Elders would leave to get their supplies and who would guard the Dawn Tree at particular times. Her main focus was uncovering weaknesses in the way the different Elders guarded the tree when it was their turn for the responsibility. After several months of observing, Astrid settled on Elder Shamus being the weakest guard of the three Elders. He was the oldest of The Elders and, as no one had ever tried to escape, and no creature had ever attempted to enter, he was starting to find comfort in sitting on the tree roots, rather than standing alert and on guard as the other two Elders did.
On the day of her planned escape, Astrid waited patiently for Elder Shamus to make himself comfortable in the roots of the Dawn Tree and convinced two younger Brights to take Elder Shamus a warm cup of Fig Tea and offer him a blanket. He accepted these with humbleness and, within minutes, was fast asleep. When Astrid was confident every other Bright was busy and not focusing on the Dawn Tree, she made her way to the base of the tree, took the key from around Elder Shamus’s neck, opened the exit slowly and walked timidly into the darkness on the other side of the doorway. Inside the hollow trunk of the Dawn Tree, Astrid was surprised to find that the only way to travel was down. Naively thinking that there was only a single tunnel, Astrid slowly made her way into the darkness, lighting up her wings when she was confident that she was a decent distance from the door. As soon as her wings lit up, she realised there was not a single tunnel, but hundreds of tunnels, winding their way underneath the Dawn Tree and Paradise Gardens. It was then that she heard the voices.
“She’s down there!” an angry Bright yelled from above. “I can see her light! Go. Now!”
Astrid could hear the sound of angry Bright’s wings flapping towards her. She flew as fast as she could, fluttering her way deeper and deeper into the maze of tunnels while the voices gained on her. Panicking, her wings caught a hint the slightest breeze coming from a distance tunnel so she made her way towards what she hoped would be an exit of some kind. As the breeze got stronger, Astrid realised that the tunnel she was in was getting brighter. She knew there had to be light coming from somewhere, so she used the last of her energy to make her way to towards the exit and fly out to freedom. As she eagerly flew out of the tunnel and into the bright sunlight, she felt a momentary sense of relief before becoming trapped in the vines and weeds from the overgrown garden she had found herself in.
One by one, the Brights that had been sent to chase her eventually came out of the tunnel themselves. They watched with smiles as Astrid struggled to try and set herself free. To her surprise, the three elders made their way out of the tunnel and hovered over Astrid who had now stopped struggling and was awaiting her fate.
“You wanted answers, Astrid? You wanted freedom? Well, look at where it got you,” Elder Chalmers said spitefully.
Though breathing heavily, Astrid remained silent.
Elder Harridan spoke slowly and deeply. “You have broken our trust and brought shame to Brights everywhere. For that, you must be punished.”
Elder Shamus then flew close enough to Astrid so that he could see the anger in her eyes. He spoke in a croaky, whispered tone. “You wanted to see so badly what’s on the other side of Paradise Garden? Then you can stay here and find out.”
With a signal from Elder Chalmers, the Brights made their way back down the tunnel from where they had come, leaving Astrid alone and tangled in the vines and weeds. Astrid stopped struggling, trying to calm herself while she figured out how to get out of this mess. She didn’t have to think for long. Just as she was about to try her first spell to escape, a human hand reached into the garden and set her free.
This tale has links to #61 – The Tale of Lucas and the Fairy. Cick here to go deeper and continue the story…
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