The Fairy and the Gnome

              Hazel stood on a jutted rock staring down, down, down into the canyon below.  Her hands were on her hips and she was frowning.

              There was something down there making a cacophony of sound.  Down in the depths of the basin.  In only a few minutes, the dawn would hit the rocks, and fill it with a warm rust-colored light.  The glinting navy of the winding river would light up like gold.  And hanging bows of rich green foliage would suddenly appear, decorating the canyon walls in long drips as though they were emeralds hung from chains.  It was Hazel's job to take care of all of it, including finding out who or what was making such a terrible racket.

              Hazel was growing impatient.

              Whatever was down there was making so much noise that in a few seconds she would have little choice.  Her foot began to tap.

             Then she dove.

             Hazel plummeted toward the sounds until she thought she had it about right.  She let her wings catch her and peered intently, trying to see in the dim light.
            But even down in the depths of the canyon, right atop the noise, she could see nothing in the gray shadows from which the sounds of metal against metal clanged, echoing and ringing.  She hovered, beating her wings until sweat broke out on her brow, her ears aching, waiting.  And when the light came, Hazel drew back.  For nobody was trapped.  Nor was anyone doing any harm to her domain.  In fact, she could have just left well-enough alone, and gone about her daily duties, clearing rocks and watering drooping plants with dew.
            Instead, she was holding herself steady and observing the fact that someone had built a home—a rather lovely home—in the rocks at the canyon’s base; and she had known nothing about it.  Through the cracks Hazel could see a charming den, with wooden furniture, and cozy blankets.  A fire flickered on the hearth, and a tea kettle had just begun to steam.  Two cups were waiting to be filled on a lovely table.  She didn’t know if she were more annoyed or impressed.  She decided on annoyed, for someone who she could not completely make out was standing in the middle of it banging to metal pipes against each other.
            That was all she could make out from the small slit through which she peered.  When she pulled away, realizing it was quite rude to stare into someone’s home between cracks without an express invitation, she noted that the noise had stopped.
            ‘Ah, you came.  Excellent.,’ came a male voice.
            Hazel turned suddenly, and saw someone who looked very much like her, if not slightly more rugged.  But he was wing-less and had a scrunchy nose.  She knew what he was: standing before her on a colorful mat that marked his entryway was a gnome.
            Hazel knew all about gnomes, though she had never met one—fairies did not associate with gnomes.  They were messy, grubby little creatures, who couldn’t stand the sun, and made a mess of the earth below that fairies had to clean up.  She knew it was a gnome, and yet, she thought, he didn’t look that grubby.  And certainly his lovely little home didn’t look like a mess.  Curiosity flew her closer, and she could smell the scent of tea and cinnamon wafting about the entryway.
            ‘Come in,’ said the gnome, and Hazel had every intention of hesitating.  To fly away and report this suspicious activity.  But the smell was too inviting.
            Without a word to the stranger, Hazel stepped up to the opening and went inside.  It was as lovely as her brief glimpse had led her to believe. 
            ‘I hoped you might hear the noise and come down,’ the gnome said.
            ‘You made that racket on purpose?’ were her first words to him.  At that he laughed a warm, hardy chuckle that was so rich and delightful, Hazel couldn’t help but crack a smile.
            ‘I thought,’ said the gnome, ‘that since you were caretaking above, and I below, that we should meet.’  He gestured for her to sit, as he poured water from the kettle into the tea cups and pulled out a plate of warm cinnamon scones from the hearth.
            Hazel tipped her head.  It was an interesting thought.  ‘I’ve never met a gnome before,’ she said bluntly.  ‘Do all gnomes bake delicious smelling pastries?’
            ‘Only those who want to impress their fellow fairies,’ the gnome said with a smile.
            And then it dawned on her.  She knew what he wanted.
            ‘You want dust.’  She said it bristling, knowing now this invitation for what it was—a ploy and a lure.
            The gnome blinked at her.
            ‘No, I don’t,’ said the gnome.
            ‘Of course you do,’ said Hazel, nodding stiffly.  It all made sense.  He was, after all a gnome.  ‘And so you’ve lured me here to beg for it.  Well, if that’s all…’ she rose, horribly disappointed that she would not be able to try a scone, for fairies did not simply give away dust, especially not to gnomes.
            ‘I don’t want dust,’ the gnome said slightly put out.  ‘There’d be no point to it anyway; I’m afraid of heights.  I simply invited you here to meet you, and have a, perhaps, friendly discussion about canyon care.’  He sat down with a slump, crossing his arms.
            Hazel sat back down.  ‘So, you don’t want dust at all?’
            The gnome looked at her for a moment, assessing, and said, ‘Nope, I’m good.’
            ‘Huh,’ said Hazel.  She could feel some heat rise in her cheeks.  It was, she felt, rather embarrassing to accuse someone of ambitions they did not have.  She reached for a scone and took a bite.  It was incredibly delicious.  ‘I’m Hazel,’ she said, reaching for the tea.
            The gnome grinned.  ‘Fred.’  They clinked their cups in an introductory toast.
            And that was the start of a very good conversation about irrigation and canyon care. 
            It was only natural for Hazel to return the next day.  And the day after that.  Until it was no longer returning.  But, of course, it could all have turned out differently…

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