Illio carried a basket of pastries flavored with honeysuckle dew. “And what do you propose to give our Mother?” he asked.
“The pastries aren’t from both of us?”
The tiny, wrinkled elf scowled fiercely. “I made these while you were playing around.”
“I wasn’t playing, I was painting!”
“So, why didn’t you bring her a painting?”
Iliaran had been unsatisfied with his efforts, but wasn’t about to admit it. “Because we were bringing pastries!”
Illio just rolled his eyes, then stepped sideways three times, and vanished.
“That’s right, rush off to see her by yourself. We were supposed to go together!” Iliaran cried, stomping his foot.
As usual, that did no good at all. Iliaran started to look around, hoping for Inspiration. Just outside the wood were some very nice flowers—human-planted, of course, but that made them exotic. They were, of course, quite large, but that could be fixed. He set off toward them, walking to and fro, looking at them from different angles.
Finally, he settled on one. The petals were a deep pink, with shadows verging on majenta, and each one was perfectly shaped, with no flaws. He walked over and shook the stem, hard, and smiled, pleased that the petals all remained perfectly placed, and the scent was heavenly.
But then something green appeared in the center of the flower. “What do you think you’re doing?” said the frog.
“What are you doing in my flower?” asked Iliaran.
“Your flower?” The green frog’s face twisted with astonishment.
“Well, my mother’s flower. At least, it will be when I give it to her. This flower is perfect. There’s not a single insect nibble—“
“Well, I should think not,” said the frog. “This is my flower, and insects who venture close become my dinner.”
“Oh, thank you!”
“For keeping this flower perfect, so I could give it to my mother!”
“You don’t understand. This is my home. I keep it perfect for me.”
A fly came buzzing near Iliaran’s head, and the frog effortlessly grabbed it with a very long tongue. He swallowed, and smiled.
“Well, you could move!”
“OK, then I’ll shrink you along with the flower!”
“Oh, no, that wouldn’t do at all. I’d be smaller than my prey. How would I eat?”
“Well, could I buy the flower from you?”
“Um, gold?” Iliaran reached into his pocket and pulled out a handful of shiny coins.
“Gold is no use to me, even if it were real, and wouldn’t vanish with the sunrise.” The frog’s tongue snapped out again, and again he swallowed happily. “I was thinking about something really worthwhile. Eternal life, good health, true love.”
“Oh, my talents don’t run to anything like that!” Iliaran drooped, rather spectacularly. His lips tended downward, and his shoulders dropped, his hands hung past his knees, and even the tips of his ears hung low.
“Then what are your talents?”
Iliaran brightened. “I paint!” He reached into the between and pulled out an easel, a fresh canvass, and paints. “I could trade you a portrait of yourself in your home. Then you could remember this flower long after it wilts.”
The frog made another skeptical face, but Iliaran ignored it, setting to work with the paints. And as he watched his home bloom on the canvas, the frog started to smile. In a remarkably short time, a perfectly-rendered flower with a smiling frog reclining on one of the petals was done. Iliaran waved his hand over it, muttering a bit of magic to dry it.
“It’s quite good!” The frog admired himself in the painting. “Quite good indeed.”
“Then it’s a deal?”
“No, I didn’t say that. I really have no use for a painting, you know. Besides, you made me too pretty. My girlfriend might be jealous.”
“I can fix that!” Iliaran whipped out the palette and a paintbrush.
“No!” The frog’s tongue was suddenly holding the paintbrush away from the canvas. “It would not improve the painting!” The frog’s speech was quite clear, even with his tongue out, though he let go of the paintbrush once Iliaran’s attention returned to him.
“That’s true. But then, how am I to buy your home?”
“You don’t need to.”
“That painting is a very worthy gift indeed, and was made with your own hands.”
“Yes, it’s the best painting I’ve done all day. Maybe all week!” Iliaran started to dance and whistle.
“So, go on with you then. You’re scaring away my dinner.”
“Huh?” Iliaran stopped.
“Pack up your paints, pick up yon gift, and get thee hence to your mother!”
“Oh, yeah!” Iliaran tucked the art supplies between again, and picked up the painting, started to walk, but stopped and turned. “Thank you! You’ve been a most gracious host, and a wonderful model!” He bowed and left, still whistling.
This story, like the first Iliaran and Illio story, The Big Blue Tent, was inspired by a photo posted by Jay Lake. This one was taken by S. Lake.
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