It was a quiet night; nearly no crickets chirping, no loud snores of a certain dwarven friend, only the moonlight and a soft breeze. Grodle and friends had made camp not far from the edge of Pip-Pip Gardens; they would be able to make it to the Candy Tree around lunch time. The journey back had been happy one, the friends closer than ever. Tiffy often had her pan-pipes out, playing elvish dance tunes as her friends hummed along. Ilya taught Tiffy a wingle song about flying over the countryside; a very simple tune the others caught on to quickly. After a few minutes of pestering, Caralen admitted she knew the song, and after several more minutes of pestering they got her to sing along. Caralen's singing voice was low and smoky, much the same as her speaking voice. Afterwards she joined in on the singing without any urging from Grodle and friends.
Though they didn't see any more naggles, they could feel the beasts watching as they walked the path back to Pip-Pip Gardens; and though overall cheerier than on the journey to the Spring of Happy Thoughts, Caralen was noticeably on alert. Sometimes Andy thought he saw glowing eyes watching him from the shadows at night. But tonight, there were no eyes observing him. He was up late, anxious for the coming days and studying his secret project again, scribbling down its condition in the moonlight. Almost the same as last night... but... I think it's glowing... He looked over towards Caralen: she was still asleep, wrapped up in her cloak. Andy sighed and put his project things back in the sack, and crawled back into his and Tiffy's tent to sleep.
In the morning, they hurriedly packed up camp and rushed off to the Candy Tree farm. It was nearby in the Southwestern part of Pip-Pip Gardens. Once inside the home of the nooknaks Ilya addressed her friends: "I know a shortcut!" Ilya said, as she started to run ahead. "Come on!" Instead of taking the main road to the farm, Ilya led them down a dusty alleyway. They raced past a tamed naggle, a nooknak mother hanging up laundry to dry, and a group of nooknak children playing a ball game; then they came to the edge of the farm closest to the Candy Tree. Out of breath, Andy passed Ilya the waterskin with the water from the Spring of Happy Thoughts, and the tireless wingle girl sped off to the tree.
Taking deep breaths, Ilya walked around the base of the tree pouring the water from the Spring of Happy Thoughts on it, desperately hoping it would restore the lost Summerfruit. "Ah! I'm sorry! I didn't see-"
"Ilya, you're back!"
"Oh, Billijack! Yes, we've just returned from the Spring of Happy Thoughts! The water should help restore the Candy Tree."
"Ah, I see. Well don't stop on account of me, keep on." Billijack glanced up and saw Grodle and the others approaching. Ah, young Grodle, and the elf siblings, and Kronwald... and who is that young woman with them? "Welcome back, friends!" Billijack walked over to stand with the group. "How was your journey, young ones?"
"We had a little trouble crossing a bridge, but otherwise it was okay." Kronwald said.
Grodle playfully jabbed Kronwald. "No, what really happened was there were two naggles, and they gnawed through the ropes as we were running across."
"And a couple days before that, we were almost attacked by a giant naggle," Tiffy added.
"Oh my! How big was it?"
"It was even taller than me, at the shoulder; and it had a very loud roar." Tiffy made a scowly thinking face, and looked at the Candy Tree. "...And it was even longer than the Candy Tree's trunk is wide."
And just then, Ilya came back around the tree. "That all the water in the bag," She said, holding up the empty waterskin. "I hope this works. Should I fly up and see if it is?"
"It wouldn't hurt to try," Said Kronwald. So Ilya jumped up and flapped her wings, flying out and up to the very top of the tree. There was a riot of different candies and fruits growing on the tree, but Ilya didn't notice them as she flew past.
I'm almost there! At last making it up to the top, Ilya carefully landed on a few thin branches and took a good look at where the Summerfruit had been. And even as she watched, Ilya saw fresh green leaves and a tiny bud growing from the stem. Yes! Ilya sprung off the Candy Tree and glided down. "It did it! It worked, everyone: the Summerfruit started growing back!" Ilya flipped forwards in the air, and spiraled down to land among her friends. "C'mon! Let's spread the news!" However, the wingle girl's enthusiasm was interrupted by a her stomach growling loudly. "Um, but after lunch."
Over the next few days, word of the Summerfruit beginning to grow back spread like a wildfire through Pip-Pip Gardens. Neighbors told neighbors, playmates told playmates, and everyone told of how Grodle and his friends had returned with water from the Spring of Happy Thoughts and restored the Candy Tree. Preparations for the Summerfruit Feast were resumed, bigger and better than ever before. More dishes were being prepared: more fruit salads, more vegetable salads; more breadsticks and pasta; more desserts filled with more fruit and candies than there were desserts.
Grodle's mother was busy baking treats for the Feast, as well. She made fruitcake, and made her famous chocolate chip cookies- many times. Ilya and Kronwald and Tiffy and Andy came over often, and between them and her children it was as if the cookies disappeared as soon as she baked them. And, as Grodle expected, he had to tell his younger brothers and sisters about the wild naggles they encountered over and over; about the giant naggle that almost attacked Andy, and the ones who gnawed through the bridge, and their narrow escape from the bridge's collapse. Tiffy had already made up a short song about the Spring of Happy Thoughts, before she could be asked too many times.
As the time for the Summerfruit Feast neared, Andy and Kronwald were given time off from the candy mines and the Candy Bank, and the three old nooknak women Ilya stayed with insisted the wingle girl rest easy, and only pick candy to share with her friends. And so she did, plucking chocolate drops from the tree as she flew to the top to check on the Summerfruit. It grew rapidly, soon approaching the time when it would be ripe for harvesting.
They weren't sure of where Caralen stayed, but she seemed to visit Grodle and his friends every day. She had taken to wearing her cloak pulled back over her shoulders so it was more like a cape, and wore her hair in a ponytail, with locks of hair hanging down in front of her ears. On a few occasions she had tried to help Grodle's mother baking cookies, but they never turned out well. Kronwald and Andy felt like teasing her about it, but couldn't gather up the courage to do so. She seemed to notice this and made sure to offer them any cookies she baked first.
THE AFTERNOON OF THE SUMMERFRUIT FEAST
"-Hold still, we're still waiting for Ilya and Andy-" Oh, there they are.. Misses Gribblekins cleared her throat. "Oh look- they're here!"
"Ilya! Andy!" Grodle's youger siblings danced around the two.
"Ready now? Let's go to the Feast!"
"The Candy Tree! Yaaaaay!" Rushing to keep up with her younger children, Misses Gribblekins walked off to the Summerfruit Feast, followed by Ilya, and Kronwald, and Andy.
Tiffy smiled and looked at Grodle. "We did it!" She leaned down and they hugged; she meant to give Grodle a big kiss on the cheek, but she missed.
"Tiffy?" She blushed a little bit and giggled, and kissed Grodle again, this time not even pretending to miss his cheek.
"Come on, let's not be late for the Feast!" Hand in hand the two skipped off to catch up to their friends. As they walked along the streets to the Summerfruit Feast, they were greeted by many nooknaks also on the way. They saw Mister Po-Po and waved; he waved back and wove through the crowd to join them, offering a knowing wink, and a pat on the shoulder for Grodle and Kronwald. They had returned to his house to return his map earlier in the day, but he insisted they keep it. "I haven't left Pip-Pip Gardens in years, it would be of more use to you," He'd said.
Nearing the border of the Candy Tree farm, they could see all the tables heavily laden with food and drinks. Under the low-hanging branches there were a few tables, and colorful paper lanterns swayed gently in the breeze. "I've your family and friends a table reserved under the branches," Mister Po-Po explained, "and there's a guest already waiting for you at the table. Goes by the name of Caralen? Yes. Had lovely gold wings." Mister Po-Po gestured towards the Candy Tree. "She should be at one of the tables on the other side of the trunk."
"Let's go sit wit' Misses Caralen!" Said Grinty. She raced over to the base of the tree, soon followed by her other brothers and sisters, Grodle and his friends, and Misses Gribblekins. Grinty peeked around the trunk, and spied Caralen taking a sip of fruit juice. The youngest Gribblekins daughter signaled for her brothers and sisters to move into position to surprise Caralen. An impossible task, though in their enthusiasm they could not know this; they leapt out yelling "Surprise!" and "Hello, Misses Caralen!" before scrambling to their seats.
"Glad to see you've arrived, Misses Gribblekins." Caralen said. She acknowledged Grodle and friends with a smile and a nod, and they smiled back: this was the happiest they'd seen her since the Spring of Happy Thoughts. She raised her cup: "Here's to new beginnings..."
"To new beginnigs!" Grodle and friends clinked! their cups together and drank deep, the cool fruit juice swishing around in their mouths. They dug in to the feast with gusto, trying little bits of everything. Some of Grodle's younger brothers and sisters took some of the fruit salad and bread to make a sanwich. Caralen did this with the vegetable salad, and served herself another healthy portion of it on the side. Predictably, the youngest Gribblekins all went for dessert first, filling their plates high with pies, cakes, and pudding, making a delightful mess of themselves as they cleared their plates.
For Andy, the food was as fine as any he'd ever eaten, but a touch of anxiety and remained inside him beside all the excitement. He glanced at Caralen often as he ate, and she seemed to be genuinely ejoying herself, the paper lanterns casting a rosy glow on her cheeks. She laughed a few times, a wonderful sound like a warm Summer breeze- even at the old "why did the naggle cross the road" joke, which was a favorite of Kronwald and Grinty. So, Andy decided he would simply relax for the moment. But first: "Caralen, and Tiffy and Kronwald and Ilya and Grodle, could I show you all something after the feast?"
"Certainly, Andy." Answered Caralen, looking at Andy over the top of her cup as she took a sip. The others nodded, their mouths full.
"It's over at the Candy Bank, though, so we'll have to walk a for a little while."
"The weather is wonderful today, so that would be fine with me." Tiffy said. She now took a slice of mint chocolate pie, and Andy looked through the lower branches. Already, it was in the late afternoon, the time having quickly melted away when he wasn't paying attention. And soon, they were waiting only for Tiffy to finish her slice of pie, one dainty bite at a time. Then with a few dabs of a napkin, Tiffy declared, "I'm finished now."
Grodle glanced around at his friends, and they stood to leave. "Oh, hold on- I just want you all to know you're welcome to stay at our house tonight," Said Misses Gribblekins.
"We'll be sure to come by," Ilya said to Misses Gribblekins. "It's already been a great day. That would just make it better!" Ilya saluted Grodle's mother, and Tiffy waved goodbye to his brothers and sisters, and they turned to leave for the Candy Bank. It was right in the middle of Pip-Pip Gardens, not too far away, a walk of only a handful of minutes. In such high spirits, the walk only seemed to be a handful of moments, and the friends soon found themselves at the tall doors of the Candy Bank. Andy pushed open the great door, and they followed him inside down a hallway of polished stone, to a counter where a sleepy looking elf man was flipping through the pages of an immensely thick book and quickly writing down numbers.
Andy quietly coughed, and the man looked up. "Ah, young Andy- I thought you'd be taking some time off."
"I am, Persivalfrissian, but I wanted to show my friends the deposit I made the day before yesterday, if that's possible."
"Hmm..." Persivalfrissian tapped his chin with his pencil. "I suppose I could allow for a visit. Do you still have your vault key on your person?"
"No, I put it back on the ring."
"Alright..." Persivalfrissian opened a drawer and took out a large ring with a multitude of keys on it. He scanned them for a particular one, and found it; then slowly worked it around and off the ring. "There you are! Guests of Andy, enjoy your visit here."
Andy nodded and took his vault key, and led his friends to a door on the counter's right, going through and holding it open for them. They were now in a long, high-ceilinged room, packed full of locked drawers- some small, some larger- lining the walls. Andy took them to one of the larger drawers, across from a counting table in the middle of the hall. He knelt down and unlocked it and took out the carry sack he'd brought with them on the journey to the Spring of Happy Thoughts. "Now, what I have in here is only known to grow in one place, once a year. I- I've been studying it for the last couple weeks, noting its qualities and condition. I'm... the first person to study it."
Caralen could sense Andy was getting nervous. "That sounds very impressive, Andy. Could you show us?"
Andy took a breath, then nodded. He opened the bag, and carefully placed the contents onto the counting table. It was... the stolen Summerfruit! All except Caralen gasped at its appearance, after being thought to have been taken by wild naggles.
"Brother...? How could you?" Tiffy looked as if she was about to cry.
"To study it," Said Andy. "It was the most fascinating fruit in all of Pip-Pip Gardens, but no one really knew anything about it. I was just going to return it later, but we left for the Spring of Happy Thoughts so soon..." Andy gulped and continued, "And it really is amazing. Here, feel it." Cautiously, one by one, Grodle, Ilya, Tiffy and Kronwald touched a hand to the Summerfruit. Its translucent-orange peel was warm on their palms and fingertips, a very soft heat.
"Oh..." And it's cool in this room... Thought Tiffy.
"It stays around that temperature no matter how hot or cool it is outside." Andy looked up at the windows. "It's too light in here, but I also discovered that at night it glows- not too brightly, but it does."
"Here," Said Caralen. "I'll block the light coming in from the windows with my wings for a moment, that should make it dark enough." Caralen walked around nearer to the windows, and stretched out one lustrous golden wing in front of a shaft of light, darkening a space on the table. Andy rolled the Summerfruit over into the shade, and indeed, it glowed faintly: a pale orange light that seemed to shine from within the fruit.
Caralen raised an eyebrow. Wait- "Andy, did you see that?"
"See what? It doesn't look any-" But as Andy spoke, the Summerfruit began to rock back and forth...