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The three girls were happy to see that their male friends had returned during the night. Their excitement was evident and it did not stop until Marc mentioned that they were going to continue the quest. They packed and ate quietly.

When Lily closed the door, after everyone had left, the two buildings disappeared. “I guess it was ours as long as the quest was ended.”

“It was all too easy, anyway.” Meribah carried Petal in her tote, and she tapped Petal’s head, smiled, and said, “We would appreciate it much more if we built it ourselves.”

“You’re right,” said Lily turning from where the door had been.

They walked the whole morning without stopping. Very little was spoken amongst the travellers. Their steps were slow and drawn.

At midday, they came to a tall apple tree. It stood twice as high as all of its neighbours. More strange, was the fact that an apple tree grew in an evergreen forest at all. Though the tree was large, it did not look healthy. Its branches were mostly bare, and its only blossom seemed wilted.

From inside the tree, they could hear someone crying. The wails were so sorrowful and true, that the listeners were caught in the anguish.

Lily went to the tree and knocked on its trunk. “Hello, are you okay? Can we help?”

A small lady, two-hundred centimetres in height, leaned out of a knothole. She had two pairs of clear wings, and grey hair done up in a bun. “Hi. I don’t think so. You see, my house is dying.”

“Then this is your house?” Lily asked. “Has it been in this condition for long?”

“Uh, huh.” The fairy wiped thick tears from her eyes. “Oh goodness. Where are my manners? I’m Lina, a fairy godmother.”

“Oh so you’re an imaginary creature, that God let come to heaven?” asked Joel.

“Yes, how did you know that?”

“We’ve already met an imaginary creature.” Joel stepped closer to the tree. “Perhaps you know him? Verdant the dragon.”

“Oh that dear boy! Our paths have cross many times. He’s a very good friend of mine.”

Lily smiled and looked at the tree again. “Well if you’re a friend of Verdant’s, I just might be able to help you fix your tree.”

“Oh dear, don’t waste your time.” Lina caressed the sickly bark with the back of her hand. “I’ve been using fairy magic on it for six months, and it hasn’t so much as sprouted a new leaf.”

“I think you should let her try, Lina,” Marc said over Joel’s shoulder. “She’s got a green thumb, and she’s been successful in this kind of thing before.”

“Okay, sweat it deary,” Lina cheered.

Lily took the Father Tree necklace from around her neck. Then pointing to the knothole, she asked, “May I?” Lina flew out of the way for an answer, allowing Lily to place the necklace in the hole. The tree shivered like a wind blew upon it, but there was not one. The branches greened, leaves sprouted, and blossoms sprung and turned into ripe apples. Lily stepped back and looked at the healthy tree. “I don’t really do it, the necklace does. You can keep the necklace, so that the tree will keep its health.”

Lina flew down and kissed Lily’s cheek. “Thank you. You are too kind. But I’ll not deny my tree your gift. And I’ve nothing to give in return. You can take as many apples as you want.”

“You’re welcome, but we’ll need your help to pick the apples. They’re too high for us to reach.”

“A scratch for a scratch.” Lina flew up and picked an apple, and gave it to Petal. “A good trade. Here you go, young one.”

They continued a little less grudgingly. Lily carried a smile and a burlap bag of apples. Petal stood in her tote so that she could see behind them.

“One more day will make forty days that we’ve been travelling,” noted Joel.

“You don’t think that Mirash was right. Do you?” asked Meribah.

“Who can say? Stranger things have happened.”

“Uhm, guys,” Petal said only loud enough to be heard. Than lower in tone, “I think we’re being followed by a deer.”

Everyone stopped and looked behind them. A deer, wearing majestic antlers, walked behind them. He walked gracefully, and stopped a few feet in front of them. He waited a second and stepped closer. Touching his nose gently against Petal’s, he stepped around the group and continued down the road.

“He wants us to follow him,” said Petal.

“Who is he?” asked Meribah.

“He didn’t say, but,” Petal looked over to Lily, “he does seem to be very important. I don’t think we should disobey him.”

“Well,” Joel started down the road, “he’s going our way, anyhow.”

“Did you notice anything odd about that deer?” Marc asked Lily.

“You mean, besides the fact that it walked right up to our daughter and talked to her?”

“Yes, it had antlers. Meaning, unless it’s a caribou it has to be a male. But it had no sexual organs. It isn’t female and it isn’t male.”

They followed the deer until dusk. At dusk, it stopped, waited for them to catch up, and lay in some long straw. The company did the same, and bedded down for the night.

Sometime during the night, Petal left her mother’s arms and lay down beside the deer.