Chapter 1

Laughter. Some deem it a sign of advanced intelligence, a higher order of rationality. Lesser animals do not laugh or gather in groups to tell humorous stories about one-eyed giants with appalling depth perception. The guffaw was a sure way to set people apart from other creatures. Yet there were some kinds of laughter among the mightiness of human intellect that could only be construed as mindless. The nervous titter of a cornered victim, the insane chuckling of a broken spirit or the cruel laughter of evil personified. Examples of which might all be found sat together on public transport on any given day in a crowded metropolis.

So, when a fairy laughs, how might one interpret that? To Petal Mara it meant everything good and right in a cynical world for there was a proof within it of profound significance. A tangible piece of pleasing evidence which could change history. Or at least the little part of history that encompassed her modest life.

The Mara family was a big one. A bustling community contained within itself with branches extending this way and that across the pleasant land of Greenvale, and roots embedded in that very land that went deep down into a distant past. Hence the term family tree.

One particular branch had sprouted a modest twig upon which the softest of leaves fluttered in gentle breezes, clustering around a flower that would blush at the slightest thought. So they named her Petal and she grew and blossomed into a sweet girl, so sweet it was a puzzle why she craved sugar at breakfast, in a big bowl of white cubes glittering in early morning sunshine.

A mild summer day brought this little twiglet of the Mara family tree out upon a wide veranda where tables were set beneath the shading roof and seats positioned so that the early risers could gaze out upon lush fields bordered by dark swaying trees in full leaf. Wayward breezes chased themselves across the grass and rustled the greenery with pleasant sounds.

Some members of the family, busy with the day's toils ahead of them, rushed through this important meal as if it were an inconvenient pause in their busy lives. The elder generation were more leisurely in consuming the various delicacies on offer. Granny Moldor even took a second helping of plum jam upon her toast with the telling observation her teeth were long past saving as Mama Mara shook her head in smiling disapproval.

Petal Mara soon found herself the only youngster present at the table for boy cousins and girl cousins had raced off to games and early chores depending on the attitude of their parents and her young brother Joshie was not up yet. Petal was not schooling, the holidays being in full swing, so she was as much at leisure as Granny Moldor. She too took a second helping of plum jam, but also sneaked a sugar cube to crunch and suck upon like a boiled sweet.

"Petal, my dear," her mother said softly, "I wonder how you can enjoy such a bland little thing as a sugar cube. It has no taste at all to my mind."

"It's okay mama, I dipped it in the jam first," came the innocent reply. Her father chuckled, folded his paper and placed it upon the breakfast table before departing on his own overseeing business, for there was plenty to do among the north fields of the main homestead several miles beyond the Pretty Falls ridge. He gave the two ladies most dear to his heart a brief kiss each and then disappeared.

"Mind those flower banks," came a shout from Mama Mara as a couple of boy cousins, already in the swing of a happy summer day were racing each other on bouncy buggies across the extensive lawn that circled half the main house. Then she too left, dragging Granny Molder from the large jar of plum jam as she did so. Thus Petal Mara, sipping fruit juice and eyeing the sugar bowl with interest, found herself alone on the warm and sunny veranda. She was not the only one interested in the mound of glowing white cubes.

There was a buzz as of insect wings, that ceased when Petal looked round for the source of the noise. It was a drowsy, pleasing sound and she smiled, feeling relaxed, musing upon the day ahead. The buzz sounded closer suddenly, then there was a tug upon Petal's short brown hair, and she stiffened in surprise. Moving just her eyes, eyes that sparkled with delight, the girl remained perfectly still. The buzzing that filled her ears lessened, the tugging sensation ceased, and she felt sad. Until that which had been briefly exploring her hair glided forward and landed softly upon the breakfast table inches from her forearm.

It was a fairy.

She had wings of pale orange and green that every now and then disappeared in a blur of activity as the little creature examined the table top. Tiny pink hands reached out to the ceramic curve of the sugar bowl, touching it tentatively and drawing back as if the hard coolness of it was a little unpleasant. A chirp as of curiosity sounded from the small mouth and huge watchful eyes explored the strange assemblage of cubes that rose up like a mountain of lumpy snow.

Petal watched in delighted awe as the fairy's wings blurred again, buzzing at a higher pitch as she was lifted up towards the sugar. This time her hands gripped upon the snowy whiteness with evident pleasure for a series of chirping chuckles emanated from the creature. She tugged ineffectually upon a cube that would not budge, being weighted by others and seeing her difficulty Petal felt an urge to help. However, to make the slightest move would have chased the timid creature away, so she watched breathless at the attempts by the fairy to solve a puzzle.

Clambering on bare feet that seemed framed in tiny petals, the fairy explored the various shapes within the bowl, trying this one and that, until a cube moved. A squeak of delight, a buzz of wings and the chosen item was tumbled carefully down the mound, over the edge of the bowl and onto the table cloth where it glinted in the sun.

The fairy clapped and danced and gurgled happily at this success, and then she shifted the cube into a more open space between cups and plates where she could examine it with greater ease. The shape seemed to fascinate her as fingers explored edges and surfaces, corners and vertices. The cube was rolled this way and that as if the tiny creature was trying to figure why it seemed the same on all sides. Then with a sudden burst of fluttering wings the fairy landed upon the sugar bowl again and without hesitation plucked a second cube. She had learnt the trick of how to retrieve the glowing white things and Petal trembled in silent admiration at the cleverness of the little creature.

The second cube was carried straight to where the first had been placed and laid carefully alongside it. The two cubes were compared and found to be matching. The pink hands were busy again, making measurements, aligning edges and gauging sizes. It was like watching a tiny surveyor checking on the quality and properties of building blocks. Again the wings buzzed pleasantly and chirping sounds greeted whatever exciting discoveries the fairy was apparently making in this lesson upon three dimensional geometry. There was a craving for knowledge and the delight of significant discoveries. Petal Mara felt she was witnessing the expansion of a mind limited previously by the simplest of ideas as new thoughts filled the empty spaces of innocence.

It was as if new life was being born before her very eyes. The fairy laughed and Petal wanted so much to laugh with her for joy.

Then a great roll of newspaper descended rapidly upon the scene with a sharp clatter and that which had been found was lost forever.