The first time I heard about Lion’s Tooth, I was convinced that one day I would make a wish and it would come true. I would meet my prince charming and we’d go on all these fantastic adventures together; we’d slay giants, fight beasts, fly on purple dragons, and even stumble across a hidden dwelling of dancing fairies.
I was six.
It was the same year that I told Pop I was going to learn how to play the harp.
He had laughed, his deep bellowing chuckle and mussed the top of my strawberry blonde curled head.
“So I’ll have a Harper who plays the harp?” he chortled, his blue eyes twinkling like the stars over our heads.
Like any determined six year old, I crossed my arms seriously, cocked my chin towards the pale moon, and said, “I will Pop. You’ll see.”
Funnily enough, I did learn to play harp. The next year, when I was seven, I met a traveling band of street musicians on my way home from the fields where the other kids and I used to play. That’s when I met Gladys.
Everything about Gladys was magical. That is to say, everything about Gladys was musical–her silvery laugh, the sweet soprano of her voice, the rhythmic way she walked.
She played harp and flashed mystical smiles in my direction, winking those glittering black eyes as she swayed like an ocean wave, fingers strumming fluidly over the strings.
Gladys and her fellow musicians stayed in our village for only three days.
I never spoke to her, but I watched.
I watched everything she did with her magical harp as if my life depended on it.
After she had disappeared one foggy night, I told Pop that if I ever found Lion’s Tooth, I’d wish for a harp like Gladys.
“What about Prince Charming?” Pop had prodded with feigned seriousness.
I told him that I had changed my mind.
On my eighth birthday, I woke up to a strange man standing in the corner of my bedroom, a gold harp to his left glowing as the warm sunshine glinted off its glossy surface.
His face was dirty with dust and a scraggly brown beard that knotted and tangled around his sharp chin gave him the rugged look of a wild man. He wore rough clothing that hung like rags around his thin build and a round straw hat atop his head.
But his eyes. So dark that they appeared black instead of brown, his eyes were filled with magic.
I sat up in my bed, suddenly wide awake.
He held a finger to his lips and gestured to the harp.
I recognized it immediately. It was Gladys’s.
There was no mistaking the carved swirls and intricate designs.
I frowned, knowing that it was impossible.
The strange man stared at me, never speaking, but we didn’t need words to communicate.
Gladys had chosen me.
Gladys was dead, and she had chosen me.
Suddenly, the musician’s face broke into a grin. I grinned back.
A second later, he had crossed the room and jumped gracefully out the open window, and I never saw him again, but I thought of him often.
I didn’t think about Lion’s Tooth again for years. By the time I was twelve, music was the only magic I needed. I no longer believed that Lion’s Tooth was anything more than a figment of somebody’s imagination.
My best friend Mathis, on the other hand, couldn’t seem to forget about it.
“When I find Lion’s Tooth, I’m going to wish to be king,” Mathis exclaimed, his green eyes glazed with the stupor of a distant dream. He glanced sideways at me and smiled wryly. “Don’t worry Harper, I’ll save you half. Then you can wish to be the court’s musician.”
I rolled my eyes. “And where do you plan to find this Lion’s Tooth?”
“In a realm of fairies guarded by a fearsome black dragon that only one can slay,” Mathis announced, grabbing a large stick off the ground and wielding it like a sword. He winked at me and his resolute expression cracked into a grin. “Perchance in the land of giants, protected by sorcery.”
I shook my head at him. “Why do you want to be king anyways?”
Mathis didn’t answer me and ran a hand through his blond hair, ruffling it until it was sufficiently messy.
“If I ever found Lion’s Tooth,” I murmured, “I’d wish for a hundred more wishes.”
Mathis turned and pushed my shoulder playfully. “It doesn’t work like that, Harper!”
I pushed him back, laughing. “Then how come you can save me half a wish?”
“Because I’ll be a king,” he insisted, wrestling me to the ground. “And kings can do whatever they want.”
When I turned fifteen, Pop got sick.
The twinkle began to fade from his starry eyes.
There was no time to play harp what with taking care of Pop and working with the other young women in the village.
Mathis stopped talking about Lion’s Tooth. I guess he never really believed in it anyways.
Pop was dying and there was nothing I could to do to stop it.
One night Pop asked me to play my harp for him.
He lay shrunken in his bed, too young to look as old as he did. He had lost weight and his hair had gone white and tufty.
I let my fingers have a mind of their own as I strummed the harp and I watched as Pop smiled gently, blinking his eyes languidly.
“My Harper who plays a harp,” he murmured softly when I had finished. “I have a confession, my darling Harper.”
I clasped his hands in mine and smiled sadly at him. “What is it Pop?”
Pop shut his eyes and sighed heavily. “It’s about Lion’s Tooth Harper. Lion’s Tooth and your harp.”
I gave his hand a small squeeze. “Let’s not talk about Lion’s Tooth,” I whispered.
Pop ignored me, his eyes still shut. “I met a French man a few days before your eighth birthday.”
I stiffened, but didn’t speak. He knew I would always remember my eighth birthday.
Pop continued. “He called it dent-de-lion. I bought it from him and I wished for a harp for you. It worked Harper.”
For some reason, I felt tears in my eyes and I blinked them away angrily.
“Pop, you know that I don’t believe in Lion’s Tooth,” I replied, my voice uneven.
“I’m not finished yet Harper,” he interrupted. “The French man–he didn’t want my money.”
“Father please,” I implored, but he would not stop.
“He wanted you,” Pop explained. “I didn’t understand him. I thought perhaps he was drunk.”
“Pop,” I mumbled softly. “Why?”
Pop’s eyes opened abruptly. “He said he would need you for something, but only when you were ready.”
Pop took a deep breath and continued. “I told him no. Of course he could never have you, my dear little Harper.”
I smiled suddenly, but an immense sadness was beginning to consume me like a fog.
“He said I could not stop him. He said that when the time came, if I tried to stop him, I would pay for it with my life.”
The silence felt heavy. A weight upon our fragile life.
And suddenly I understood.
I released my father’s hand and stood to my feet.
“Pop, if I go he will let you live,” I said determinedly.
Pop shook his head. “Harper, no.”
“I’m ready Pop,” I insisted. “He wants me to play my harp, doesn’t he?”
“Harper,” Pop croaked.
“I’m not afraid,” I told him. “I’ll be back, I promise.”
I kissed his cheek. “I love you Pop.”
I didn’t believe in Lion’s Tooth. But I believed in myself. And I believed in music.
It’s been two years since I kissed Pop goodbye. I hope he is still alive.
The French man is not evil, but he is not quite human either. He’s older than I can say–as old as any legend.
I am not alone. In fact, I am quite happy.
I was chosen.
I was chosen to grow Lion’s Tooth.
Here’s the truth. Lion’s Tooth, dent-de-lion, or dandelion, as some of my fellow musicians call it, is nothing but a weed.
There is nothing special about it.
That’s where we come in.
The others and I, we sit around a patch of the seedlings and we play.
It’s peaceful out here in the mountains, with nothing but the sky and our instruments, and of course, the fluffy flower heads sprouting out of the ground, drawn out of the soil by the power of our music.
It is a lonely kind of eternity up here. Of course we have each other, but more often than not it feels as if all we have is the music.
Sometimes I pick a Lion’s Tooth when nobody is looking and I make a wish. I always save half for Mathis because I know he’d do the same for me.
It doesn’t work anyways.
We are a secret. The French man wants it that way.
Yesterday, the French man brought us a new flutist. She is a little thing with sharp knees and elbows and big ears.
She is every bit as determined as I was, but her face is streaked with tears that haven’t dried yet.
I don’t know how old she is.
I am almost eighteen and I want to go home.
I take a Lion’s Tooth in the moonlight and make a wish. It doesn’t work.
I don’t know why I keep trying.
I decide that the only way I can escape is by leaving my harp behind. I put a Lion’s Tooth in my pocket and that night, when everybody else is asleep, I walk away and I never look back.
It takes me about a month to get home.
I haven’t seen other people beside my fellow musicians in so long, I know that I am staring.
I wind my way through the village until I come to a familiar wood house.
I am running into his arms and kissing his cheek, unsure whether it is my tears or his that I feel on my face.
“Harper?” he gasps.
He is healthy and well. He even has a bit of a belly, I notice with a smile.
“I promised I’d come home,” I say.
He hugs me again, and we cannot stop laughing or crying.
There is a knock on the door and Pop opens it.
“I’ve got your firewood,” the young man begins. His voice breaks off and he gapes at me.
I do not recognize him at first. His blond hair is trimmed short, he’s tall and lean, and he looks so much older. But his green eyes, those are the same.
“Harper,” he exhales quickly.
I step up to Mathis and pull out the crumpled half of a Lion’s Tooth. “This is for you. I saved you half a wish.”
Mathis takes it numbly and closes his eyes.When he is done, he tosses the empty stem behind him and pulls me into a fierce embrace.
I can tell immediately that both Mathis and Pop thought that I was dead, that I was never coming home again.
“So, shall I start addressing you as your majesty?” I joke.
Mathis laughs and shakes his head. “I didn’t wish to be king.”
“Well what’d you wish for then?” I demand, my tone light even though both Mathis and Pop look more serious than I’ve ever seen them before.
“If I tell you what I wished for, it won’t come true,” Mathis insists.
I don’t ask him again, but I smile and kiss him on the cheek.
I expect to wake up back in the mountains with my harp, but somehow, I don’t.
Sunshine fills up the room in bright gold. No, something else is casting a gilded glow over the walls.
I grin. I know what Mathis has done with his half of a wish. He has wished me free.
I don’t believe in Lion’s Tooth, but Mathis does. He always has.
I don’t believe in Lion’s Tooth, I believe in the magic of music.
But I’ll tell you a secret.
You don’t have to believe in both.
You only have to believe in one.
Not even that.
Mischief Managed – Moony