If I had to tell you the story of how Ned Theodore Ed became the Diplomat of Flowers, I would probably start the story a week or so before it happened, during a time when N.T. was feeling especially blue, and his friend Reid paid him a visit, and a conversation ensued that would somewhat fatefully put a few things in motion. And since we’ve already gotten this far, I may as well just finish it up, yeah?
For those of us who know N.T., we’re very happy about it. In case you’re not among those of us who do know him, I’ll let you know that N.T. is a real sweetheart, just a swell, swell guy. Best skeleton I know, hands down. Certainly a quiet fellow, on account that he can’t speak, but he makes do by writing everything down with pencil and paper. He would use sign language, except when he was growing up, his foster family refused to learn sign language in order to teach him, and because he was a skeleton, a lot of people who should have been looking out for him as a kid failed him because they didn’t want to waste their time and effort on someone who would probably end up working at a haunted house the rest of his life anyway, even though that’s not what N.T. ever wanted to do.
But now N.T. is all grown up, and he’s forgiven anyone who revealed to him the hateful prejudices in their hearts so that he doesn’t have to carry that poison with him anymore. Besides, he likes to write everything out because he’s an artist and a writer and a thinker and likes to do things with his hands.
So even though N.T. was an artist and a writer, he wasn’t doing much art-ing or writing during this period of time upon which we now focus because he wasn’t feeling like himself, and his change in character was noteworthy enough that his friend Reid showed up at N.T.’s cabin one morning while N.T. was in his living room, just swinging on his hammock and staring at the lines and patterns in the wood of his ceiling. N.T. invited Reid in and they sat across from each other in N.T.’s room, at his big wooden desk, the sunlight pouring in and the many papers taped to his walls rustling slightly in the breeze from the cracked window.
After they were finished with the introductory pleasantries of conversation, Reid sighed and smiled carefully. He wore a blue pullover hoodie and played with the strings from the hood as he spoke. “So, N.T., how are you?” He paused. “The reason I wanted to stop and see you today was because you’ve seemed a little differently lately. Uh, I’ve noticed you haven’t been working on any projects lately and it’s not like you to go so long without keeping busy.”
A couple things about Reid is that he was somewhat of a coworker to N.T., and had dark brown skin and a tattoo of a dragon going up his arm and a smile that always made N.T. feel better. See, N.T. was a park ranger of sorts for his neighbor Margaret, who owned a beautiful pine grove that a few years ago, they had converted part of into public nature walks, and Reid was a friend of Margaret (and later, N.T.) who volunteered to maintain the trails a couple times a week. Also, Reid was a very intuitive person and a thoughtful friend, so N.T. and Reid were fortunate to have each other as pals.
After a moment of writing down his response, N.T. slid his paper across the desk for Reid to read. It read in red, WELL, THANK YOU REID FOR NOTICING. I HAVE BEEN FEELING KIND OF BLUE LATELY, AND LIKE I’M NOT MOTIVATED TO DO ANYTHING. I KEEP HOPING THIS FEELING WILL PASS, BUT I FEEL UNCERTAIN.
Reid nodded, chewing on the inside of his cheek as he thought. He asked N.T. a few questions about his feelings and his life and N.T. explained that he didn’t even know why he felt like this, but some days were kind of bad, and other days were really bad.
“I hear you, and I’m sorry you’re going through this,” Reid said to N.T., folding his hands in his lap. “Thanks for opening up to me a little bit. I’m thinking that you need something to inspire you, like an exciting new project to keep your mind off the blueness. Is there anything you’ve been wanting to do?”
N.T. thought for a moment, and then wrote about a yellow flower—a darker yellow, almost mustard-colored—that had bloomed in front of his house. He had never seen any flower like it, and didn’t know how it arrived here, but looked at it every day with love, always thinking, “I want to draw this beautiful flower,” but alas, never drawing it because its beauty intimidated him. “What if I don’t capture it quite right?” he would doubt, and then he would think about the disgrace his butchered rendering would bring to the flower. But he felt so inspired by it, except that the inspiration was kept caged inside him, never having flowed through his pencil.
Reid almost jumped up when he read this. “N.T., man! Draw this flower! Do it for your soul!” He laughed, and N.T. nodded and drew a smiling face on the paper so Reid would know N.T. appreciated Reid’s spirit and was intrigued by his idea. They spoke a little more, and then Reid had to hit the road.
“I believe in you,” Reid said to N.T., as he was exiting the front door.
After he had gone, N.T. went back to his desk and pulled out his sketchbook and pencils. He really wanted to try drawing this yellow flower. He kind of wanted to take a nap, but N.T. knew he needed to ride the wave of motivation from his visit with Reid, otherwise he may not be up to it later.
Have you ever tried to draw something? Sometimes drawing is an act of bravery. You have to use your imagination, and your feelings, and sometimes we try to make ourselves stop because what we’re drawing doesn’t look like real life. But that’s the point! When you draw something, it’s not supposed to be real life; it’s supposed to be an interpretation, even if sometimes the interpretation is really close to reality, or not even close to reality. N.T. hadn’t drawn for a few weeks, so it was hard for him to get the artistic wheels going again. He had to take a few breaks. He’d sketch the outline, then get up and pace, then come back to it and erase what he had and start over. Then he’d run outside to study the flower again, to think about how it looked. He took many breaks, but he worked on it until the sun went down and he had to turn on all the lamps and finally, around eleven at night, he finished the drawing and took a step back from it and felt… really proud of himself.
It wasn’t exactly how he imagined it turning out, and the paper had gotten wrinkled a little from all his erasing, but N.T. was happy with it for what it was. In fact, when he woke up the next day, the enjoyment from creating it was still lingering, so N.T. did something maybe a little unthinkable: he drew it again. This time, it only took half the day. And what to do with the other half of his day? While he was drawing it in the morning, he had an idea for another version of the flower, so when he was done with his second drawing, he moved on to his third rendering of that same flower.
A week later, Reid popped by N.T.’s cabin again to see how he was feeling, and when he stepped inside began laughing immediately. There were drawings of yellow flowers all over the place—taped up on the walls, lying on tables, one was on the floor, and a few on the kitchen counters. Talia, N.T.’s friend butterfly, was even perched on a drawing of the yellow flower on his bean bag.
“You’ve been busy!” Reid said, beaming, looking around. “They look great!” N.T. pulled one of the drawings from his desk drawer and brought it out for Reid.
THIS IS MY FAVORITE ONE, he wrote on a separate paper. I WANT YOU TO HAVE IT.
Of course, Reid was very thankful and told him he’d hang it up in his house. “See? You always have the power to make this world more beautiful, just by doing your thing.”
So if you think that’s the story of how N.T. came to be diplomat of flowers, then you’re wrong. I told you I’d have to back track a little to set things up; now will you please be patient with me here? The good part’s coming. I need to tell you about this walk N.T. took after all that.
It was a week or so after N.T. began drawing yellow flowers everywhere that he was taking a walk through the pines with his messenger bag over his shoulder. It was the afternoon, and the sunlight trickled down through the thick tree cover. He was headed towards one of his personal favorite spots to do some drawing among nature, and had brought with him a stack of yellow flower drawings, just because he forgot to take them out of his bag. Lately he had been giving some of them to his friends to share his love and hope with others. N.T. had started meditating again and was feeling much better and much more like himself.
For some reason that dude N.T. had an impeccable sense of navigation, and so he wandered through the pines without a path, following his own instinct as guide. Sometimes there were people on the trails, and so he went his own way, as he wanted some quiet solitude today. N.T. could tell he was near his “spot” when he noticed something on the ground, something that almost blended into the dirt and pine needles.
He stopped and squinted, bending down to get a better look. It was a token—sort of like a circular wood carving—lying by a root, and the crevices of it had dirt caked in them. N.T. picked it up and polished it a little, revealing the shape of a flower head. It looked familiar to him, almost like the yellow flower in his front yard, and so he looked around him before slipping it into his messenger bag. How neat! A little treasure for him; it was a good day.
He continued to walk for a few moments before he noticed a flare of light flit in front of him. N.T. stopped. Was he seeing spots from the sun? He blinked, and took another step, but he heard something fly past his ear. Quickly, he whipped around, but saw nothing. If he could have called, “Hello?” he would have.
Then the flap on his messenger bag began to open on its own, and he jumped backwards in fright, swatting the bag frantically and looking around him swiftly. The flap to the bag dropped back in its place and orbs of light began appearing before him. He began to pull out a piece of paper from his side pocket; would he need to reason with this supernatural entity? Could he? Should he have tried harder to learn sign language? He was afraid.
But the orbs materialized and transformed into insects—very large insects—wait, no—into sprites! N.T. put his hand to his chest and heaved a deep breath; sprites may be mischievous but he could deal with them. He had never encountered them before, but something about their size made him feel less threatened.
“Give it back!” he heard them cry, and as he looked closer, he could see that the sprites were very human-like, in a miniature, covered-in-leaves-and-pines kind of way. There were about five of them flying around him, demanding for something back. “The flower medallion! Give it back!”
OH! THAT’S YOURS? I JUST FOUND IT! I DIDN’T TAKE IT FROM YOU! N.T. wrote and held up with one hand, while rifling through his bag for the token with his other hand. The sprites murmured among themselves in high-pitched voices—“What’s that say?” “Why didn’t he just say it out loud?” “I don’t care if he stole it or not, I just want it back”—before one sprite spoke up and said, “We know you didn’t take it from us, because we know who did. Just return it and all will be well.”
He held out the wooden flower and two of the sprites approached his hand and picked it up together; the token was as big as his palm and the sprites were each only about as big as one of its wooden petals. They were strong, though, sort of like how ants are freakishly strong for their size and stature.
Satisfied, their little unit of sprites began to fly away from him. “Thank you, sir,” one sprite called back. “I’m glad we didn’t have to kill you.”
This comment—which was actually stated by Carli, the prankster of the crew—though a joke, surprised N.T., and he took a step backwards in shock; however, his footing was compromised in the process, and N.T. stumbled and fell over a root, hitting the forest floor with his palms and butt, and the contents of his messenger bag scattering around him.
The sprites began to cackle at his clumsiness, still departing, until one of them cried, “Wait!”
N.T. was on his hands and knees gathering his papers and utensils as the sprites circled around him again. He was no longer paying attention to them; he was still a little shaky from the initial scare, but mostly he was ready to move on with his route.
“That’s it! That’s the same one!” one sprite shouted; another sprite expressed some doubt. Carli, the sprite with long green hair and grayish skin, picked up a drawing that was farthest away and asserted, “No, this is it. I’m certain.” She was so small, it almost looked like the drawing was floating by itself, but they all could see: the yellow flower drawing was almost impeccably the same as the one their wooden carving was modeled after.
So then there was cheering and exclamations all among the sprites, but N.T. continued to ignore them and packed up his bag again. He was going to let them keep the one drawing that Carli had pointed out and just walk away from them, but they followed him, speaking to him all at once. Eventually one voice rose above the chatter and the others fell quiet. “Sir! Our deepest apologies for mistreating your excellence! Please let us speak to you a moment!”
N.T. hesitated—should he ignore them and stick to his own business as he wanted to, or spare a little time to hear them out? Since we all know N.T., we know that he stopped and agreed to listen. He took a seat on a fallen tree trunk and the sprites began their tale, taking turns interjecting each other throughout.
So wouldn’t you know, the wooden flower carving turned out to be an ancient relic of the Pine Sprites? In their society, the sprites of the pines have somewhat of a democracy that rules their village, that thousands of years ago, they found to become quite corrupt. After much war and death, they decided that they needed to restore purity and honesty to their society, and so consulted an old and wise witch (think “good witch”) who took a rare, yellow flower and transformed it into an everlasting wooden token. She told the sprites that whoever possessed the flower should be Diplomat of Flowers and their role would be to help keep the government peaceful by providing advice and consult to both the sprites and the government. This worked for the Pine Sprites for centuries; the Diplomat of Flowers worked towards peace and cooperation, and spoke out against corruption, selfishness, greed, and other sins of society, which helped guide the sprites ethically. However, recently, the Diplomat of Flowers was murdered by a Mountain Sprite, and the token was lost among the pines. These five warrior sprites went on an expedition to recover the flower token and determine the next Diplomat of Flowers. It was hard for them to hone in on the token since it was obscured in the woods, but when N.T. picked it up and polished it, they were able to narrow in. Once they saw that N.T.’s flower drawings resembled the rare flower of the relic, they became certain that he was the one to find it for a reason.
“The flower is significant because it represents balance and peace,” one sprite with short blue hair explained. “See how each petal is slightly different, but they all bloom in an equal, balanced circle? Each petal contributes to the beauty of the overall flower; without one, it would have a gap and appear tainted. They work together to collect sunlight and feed the whole of the flower.”
N.T. was intrigued by the story, but N.T.—a diplomat? He had many questions. He wasn’t even a sprite—how could he be a member of their society? They told him that didn’t matter, nor did it matter if he had any experience or not. It was a matter of what was in his heart, and if it were pure or not; if you paid attention, the relic always indicated who it should belong to.
Still N.T. was unsure, and he shook his head and denied the position. I’M REALLY NOT YOUR GUY. EVEN IF I WERE, I COULDN’T. The sprites thought him foolish for doubting them; as a compromise, they invited him to dinner and to see their village, which they had been away from for weeks.
The sun was traveling quickly and N.T. was growing hungry and tired of denying them, so he followed them back to their village. It was deep in the pines, almost halfway up the mountain, and he worked hard to keep up with their swift, flitting pace. By the time they got there, he thought, he would really be hungry. He hoped that they had N.T.-sized portions, and not just sprite-sized portions. Maybe he had made a mistake going out of his way for all this.
Finally they came to a little creek and a giant oak tree, the only oak in the whole forest. “We’re almost there!” a sprite called, and N.T. quickened his pace. But as they rounded the oak tree, they saw that behind it lay only the remains of their village—leaves were shredded, little wooden structures collapsed, and a colony of Pine Sprites huddled near the oak trunk, crying and hugging one another.
“What happened?” Carli shrieked, and a sprite with red hair broke off from the crowd and flew up to her, hugging her eagerly.
“They attacked! The Mountain Sprites! They destroyed all our buildings!” the redheaded sprite explained, and Carli began weeping, looking around the devastation.
N.T. watched gravely, and sat at the edge of the destruction by the tree, feeling awkward for intruding on this horrific event. He folded his hands together and bowed his head, troubled by the grief this sprite community faced.
After several moments, Carli returned to N.T. “This is exactly what happens without a Diplomat of Flowers. I leave to recover it and immediately destruction happens!” She sat down on a twig near N.T. “The Mountain Sprites have hated the Pine Sprites for hundreds of years. They ravage our communities and steal all our resources. They say that every sprite should look out for himself. They’re savage. They think that we’re less intelligent, that we’re stupid for having a Diplomat of Flowers. This is the second time in my life that they’ve completely destroyed my home.” Carli put her head in her little sprite hands and fell silent.
A spark of anger lit inside N.T. He was mad at the Mountain Sprites because he couldn’t understand why they had to commit atrocities upon the Pine Sprites. It seemed so senseless to N.T. They were so small, it would be so easy for them to get along and share all the resources. He wandered away from the village to take a walk and process it all.
He walked for a while, and thought about many things, and then walked and thought some more. He decided that although he was not necessarily involved with the affairs of sprites, he was actually somewhat involved now, and so he pulled out one of his flower drawings and began writing on the back of it. He wrote a letter and addressed it to the Mountain Sprites.
When he returned to the remains of the Pine Sprite village, the sprites were scattered about in little groups working to rebuild their homes. Carli broke off and approached N.T.
“Hey big guy, we could use some extra power! There’s a pretty hefty branch over there!” She pointed behind her, and N.T. lifted it where she instructed.
I HAVE A MESSAGE FOR THE MOUNTAIN SPRITES, N.T. announced (in his silent, N.T. way). He presented to them the letter, and a small group clustered around it.
Peace—peace. The folly of dreamers, huh? I know I am a dreamer, but it is because I know what potential we have for goodness. There is goodness everywhere. It is evil that infects the goodness, but without goodness, there would not be evil. Evil is unnecessary—greed, power, hatred, war: none of this is necessary. Evil is so childish. Selfishness is so unproductive. It is for the short-sighted, for the immature. So yes, I dream of peace, because without peace, we destroy our own world and ourselves with it, but with peace, we find happiness and posterity with whom to share happiness. What is to be gained for the soul, by hating your neighbor? What is to be gained in eternity by killing for and hoarding material possessions? Hear me, Mountain Sprites: I am the Diplomat of Flowers and you will reconsider your evils. There is more to be enjoyed with peace than ever with evil.
Some sprites began weeping as they read it, reflecting on the horrors they had witnessed and the future they desired. Carli smiled at N.T. and said, “You really fell into this role after all, yeah?” N.T. wrote back to her, IT’S MY NATURE TO HELP PEOPLE, I GUESS. THANK YOU FOR YOUR HOSPITALITY, BUT I’M NOT ABLE TO STAY. IF YOU EVER NEED ME AGAIN, YOU WILL HAVE TO SUMMON ME, AND I’LL HELP HOW I CAN. I must go home; I have drawing to do, he thought to himself.
By then, the community had all gathered around the letter and read the message. The beauty his words affected them all greatly, and they vowed to keep this message in mind as they rebuilt their village. N.T. explained where he lived should they ever need to visit him, and then a messenger sprite bravely volunteered to deliver his message to the Mountain Sprites.
So after helping them rebuild their village a little more, N.T. headed back to his cabin with his messenger bag and his earned flower carving. By sundown, he began to recognize his surroundings, and saw a puff of smoking above the treetops, indicating his neighbor Margaret’s house. When he finally arrived home and flopped down in his hammock, dropping his messenger bag to the floor, he heaved a great sigh and fell asleep immediately, not waking until the sun poked through the window and Talia landed on his nose cavity to wake him for breakfast.
A few weeks later, N.T. received a letter from the Pine Sprites—a very tiny letter—that informed him the Mountain Sprites had offered to make peace with the Pine Sprites and work out a trade system for sharing resources. So far, they were getting along quite nicely without a Diplomat of Flowers present because every day they reminded themselves the importance of peace and cooperation, but they were glad N.T. was close by if needed. He was happy to hear of their progress and reflecting on his experience, drew another yellow flower inspired by the sprites.
So that’s why, should you ever review N.T.’s resume, “Diplomat of Flowers” is listed as part of his qualifications; it was a crazy coincidence and not at all how he expected his day to turn out, but he learned something important about himself and the power of his words and ideas.
What else has this little mild-mannered skeleton gotten into, in his life? Well, that’s to be uncovered in time, so for now, we pan away from N.T.’s world, and focus back to ours.