The fairies assembled one moonlit night in a pretty clearing of the ancient forest of Burzee. The clearing was in the form of a circle, and all around stood giant oak and fir trees, while in the center the grass grew green and soft as velvet. If any mortal had ever penetrated so far into the great forest and could have looked upon the fairy circle by daylight, he might perhaps have seen a tiny path worn in the grass by the feet of the dancing elves. For here, during the full of the moon, the famous fairy band ruled by good Queen Lulea loved to dance and make merry while the silvery rays flooded the clearing and caused their gauzy wings to sparkle with every color of the rainbow.
On this especial night, however, they were not dancing. For the queen had seated herself upon a little green mound, and while her band clustered about her, she began to address the fairies in a tone of discontent. "I am tired of dancing, my dears," said she. "Every evening since the moon grew big and round we have come here to frisk about and laugh and disport ourselves; and although those are good things to keep the heart light, one may grow weary even of merrymaking. So I ask you to suggest some new way to divert both me and yourselves during this night."
"That is a hard task," answered one pretty sprite, opening and folding her wings slowly -- as a lady toys with her fan. "We have lived through so many ages that we long ago exhausted everything that might be considered a novelty, and of all of recreations nothing gives us such continued pleasure as dancing."
"But I do not care to dance tonight," replied Lulea with a little frown.
"We might create something by virtue of our fairy powers," suggested one who reclined at the foot of the queen.
"Ah, that is just the idea!" exclaimed the dainty Lulea with brightening countenance. "Let us create something. But what?"
"I have heard," remarked another member of the band, "of a thinking-cap having been made by some fairies in America. And whatever mortal wore this thinking-cap was able to conceive the most noble and beautiful thoughts."
"That was indeed a worthy creation," cried the little queen. "What became of the cap?"
"The man who received it was so afraid someone else would get it and be able to think the same exquisite thoughts as himself that he hid it safely away -- so safely that he himself never could think afterward where he had placed it."
"How unfortunate! But we must not make another thinking-cap, lest it meet a like fate. Cannot you suggest something else?"
"I have heard," said another, "of certain fairies who created a pair of enchanted boots which would always carry their mortal wearer away from danger and never into it."
"What a great boon to those blundering mortals!" cried the queen. "And whatever became of the boots?"
"They came at last into the possession of a great general who did not know their powers. So he wore them into battle one day, and immediately ran away, followed by all his men, and the fight was won by the enemy."
"But did not the general escape danger?"
"Yes, at the expense of his reputation. So he retired to a farm and wore out the boots tramping up and down a country road and trying to decide why he had suddenly become such a coward."
"The boots were worn by the wrong man, surely," said the queen, "and that is why they proved a curse rather than a blessing. But we want no enchanted boots. Think of something else."
"Suppose we weave a magic cloak," proposed Espa, a sweet little fairy who had not before spoken.
"A cloak? Indeed, we might easily weave that," returned the queen. "But what sort of magic powers must it possess?"
"Let its wearer have any wish instantly fulfilled," said Espa brightly. But at this there arose quite a murmur of protest on all sides, which the queen immediately silenced with a wave of her royal hand.
"Our sister did not think of the probable consequences of what she suggested," declared Lulea, smiling into the downcast face of little Espa, who seemed to feel rebuked by the disapproval of the others. "An instant's reflection would enable her to see that such power would give the cloak's mortal wearer as many privileges as we ourselves possess. And I suppose you intended the magic cloak for a mortal wearer?" she inquired.
"Yes," answered Espa shyly, "that was my intention."
"But the idea is good nevertheless," continued the queen, "and I propose we devote this evening to weaving the magic cloak. Only its magic shall give to the wearer the fulfillment of but one wish; and I am quite sure that even that should prove a great boon to the helpless mortals."
"Suppose more than one person wears the cloak," one of the band said. "Which then shall have the one wish fulfilled?"
The queen devoted a moment to thought, and then replied, "Each possessor of the magic cloak may have one wish granted, provided the cloak is not stolen from its last wearer. In that case, the magic power will not be exercised on behalf of the thief."
"But should there not be a limit to the number of the cloak's wearers?" asked the fairy lying at the queen's feet.
"I think not. If used properly, our gift will prove of great value to mortals. And if we find it is misused, we can at any time take back the cloak and revoke the magic power. So now, if we are all agreed upon this novel amusement, let us set to work."
At these words the fairies sprang up eagerly; and their queen, smiling upon them, waved her wand toward the center of the clearing. At once a beautiful fairy loom appeared in the space. It was not such a loom as mortals use. It consisted of a large and a small ring of gold supported by a tall pole of jasper. The entire band danced around it thrice, the fairies carrying in each hand a silver shuttle wound with glossy filaments finer than the finest silk. And the threads on each shuttle appeared a different hue from those of all the other shuttles.
At a sign from the queen, they one and all approached the golden loom and fastened an end of thread in its warp. Next moment they were gleefully dancing hither and thither, while the silver shuttles flew swiftly from hand to hand and the gossamer-like web began to grow upon the loom. Presently the queen herself took part in the sport, and the thread she wove into the fabric was the magical one which was destined to give the cloak its wondrous power.
Long and swiftly the fairy band worked beneath the old moon's rays, while their feet tripped gracefully over the grass and their joyous laughter tinkled like silver bells and awoke the echoes of the grim forest surrounding them. And at last they paused and threw themselves upon the green with little sighs of content. For the shuttles and loom had vanished; the work was complete, and Queen Lulea stood upon the mound holding in her hand the magic cloak.
The garment was as beautiful as it was marvelous -- each and every hue of the rainbow glinted and sparkled from the soft folds; and while it was light in weight as swan's down, its strength was so great that the fabric was well-nigh indestructible.
The fairy band regarded it with great satisfaction, for everyone had assisted in its manufacture and could admire with pardonable pride its glossy folds. "It is very lovely indeed!" cried little Espa. "But to whom shall we present it?"
The question aroused a dozen suggestions, each fairy seeming to favor a different mortal. Every member of this band, as you doubtless know, was the unseen guardian of some man or woman or child in the great world beyond the forest, and it was but natural that each should wish her own ward to have the magic cloak.
While they thus disputed, another fairy joined them and pressed to the side of the queen. "Welcome, Ereol," said Lulea. "You are late."
The newcomer was very lovely in appearance, and with her fluffy golden hair and clear blue eyes was marvelously fair to look upon. In a low, grave voice she answered the queen: "Yes, your Majesty, I am late. But I could not help it. The old King of Noland whose guardian I have been since his birth has passed away this evening, and I could not bear to leave him until the end came."
"So the old king is dead at last!" said the queen thoughtfully. "He was a good man, but woefully uninteresting, and he must have wearied you greatly at times, my sweet Ereol."
"All mortals are, I think, wearisome," returned the fairy with a sigh.
"And who is the new King of Noland?" asked Lulea.
"There is none," answered Ereol. "The old king died without a single relative to succeed to his throne, and his five high counselors were in great dilemma when I came away."
"Well, my dear, you may rest and enjoy yourself for a period in order to regain your old lightsome spirits. By and by I will appoint you guardian to some newly born babe, that your duties may be less arduous. But I am sorry you were not with us tonight, for we have had rare sport. See! We have woven a magic cloak."
Ereol examined the garment with pleasure. "And who is to wear it?" she asked.
There again arose the good-natured dispute as to which mortal in all the world should possess the magic cloak. Finally the queen, laughing at the arguments of her band, said to them, "Come! Let us leave the decision to the Man in the Moon. He has been watching us with a great deal of amusement, and once, I am sure, I caught him winking at us in quite a roguish way."
At this every head was turned toward the moon, and then a man's face, full-bearded and wrinkled, but with a jolly look upon the rough features, appeared sharply defined upon the moon's broad surface.
"So I'm to decide another dispute, eh?" said he in a clear voice. "Well, my dears, what is it this time?"
"We wish you to say what mortal shall wear the magic cloak which I and the ladies of my court have woven," replied Queen Lulea.
"Give it to the first unhappy person you meet," said the Man in the Moon. "The happy mortals have no need of magic cloaks." And with this advice the friendly face of the Man in the Moon faded away until only the outlines remained visible against the silver disk.
The queen clapped her hands delightedly. "Our Man in the Moon is very wise," she declared, "and we shall follow his suggestion. Go, Ereol, since you are free for a time, and carry the magic cloak to Noland. And the first person you meet who is really unhappy, be it man, woman or child, shall receive from you the cloak as a gift from our fairy band."
Ereol bowed and folded the cloak over her arm. "Come, my children," continued Lulea, "the moon is hiding behind the treetops, and it is time for us to depart."
A moment later the fairies had disappeared, and the clearing wherein they had danced and woven the magic cloak lay shrouded in deepest gloom.