Nori knew that she was different; she had known this for a long time. When she was very young, Nori asked her Nurse to tell her about everyone who lived in the palace. Nurse told her about the cooks, gardeners, and all the important people from the other kingdoms, but Nori wanted to know more. Nori wanted to know about the strange winged people who lived on the tree that grew golden apples. She wanted to know about the dragons that floated above the palace; their colorful tails drifting in the breeze. She wanted Nurse to tell her about the white dog that jumped through her window on bright nights and nestled at the edge of her bed.
Nori looked different than most of the people who lived in the palace. They all had long black hair, but Nori’s was white like Great Grandmama’s.
“Why is my hair white?” she would often ask Nurse.
“One day when you were still a baby, you got very ill. All of your hair fell out and you almost died. Your Mama and Papa prayed very hard for you to get better, and when you recovered, your hair grew back white.”
Nurse told this story often. Nori still wished she had beautiful black hair like her sisters, but liked to think about Mama and Papa caring for her.
Nori did not know how she knew this, but she was certain that the dog was called “Moon Dog”. He only visited when moonlight glowed in the sky.
On the night of Nori’s seventh birthday, the moon was full and hung low in the sky. Moon Dog jumped through her window. Nori opened her arms; asking him to sleep at the edge of her bed. Moon Dog shook his head; his nose pointing to the city outside Nori’s window. Nori crawled out of bed and stared at the blinking lights of the city below. She had never visited the city before.
“Tonight is different, Nori. Tonight we must find something that has been lost for a very long time.”
“What must we find?”
But Moon Dog shook his head. Nori climbed on his back and clung tightly to his snowy fur. In one great bound, Moon Dog leaped from Nori’s window. They sailed past the gardens, over the palace walls, and high into the night sky. The wind rushed through Nori’s hair, but she did not feel cold.
Moon Dog flew higher and higher. They flew so high that Nori felt weightless; her legs drifted from Moon’s back, but her arms clung tightly to his neck. Nori saw stars wave at her as they passed, and she waved back; her long white hair drifting behind her.
As they came close to a bright blue star, Moon Dog stopped his flight.
A long time passed before the North Star said anything. The star opened one eye, coughed, and spat, “It’s where all the old ones are buried.”
Moon Dog nodded.
Moon Dog was silent as they glided around the moon and headed downwards. Down past the stars, down through the clouds, and down into the sleepy lights of the city. Nori sank her face into Moon Dog’s fur.
He landed in the old cemetery. In the middle was an old Tree with limbs that seemed to curl inward rather than towards the sun. They were surrounded by city lights, but the cemetery was silent; as if in another land entirely.
Moon Dog gave a deep howl that sounded like a giant bell ringing. Slowly, all sorts of strange beings floated towards them. Even the winged creatures and dragons from the palace drifted in. Nori had never seen this many creatures of so many different sizes and colors before. It made her smile.
Nori almost lost her breath when she saw a giant creature with the body of a lion, the wings of an eagle, and the head of a woman. When the last being floated in, all of the creatures began to hum. It was a slow and deep song. It made Nori think of long summer nights and the smell of honeysuckle.
The Tree began walking towards her. “Ah, my lost child,” the Tree wheezed, “it is good to see you again.”
The spirits quieted as the Tree waved his leaves wildly, “Let the test begin. Tell me, little girl, what force is great enough to make mountains weep, to calm the thunderstorms, and move the sun and other stars?”
The whole cemetery was silent. Moon Dog walked up to Nori and nuzzled his head on her back. She looked up at the Tree and smiled.
“Love.” Nori replied, simply.
The Tree began to stand, revealing a diadem in his roots. He extended the diadem towards her. Nori had seen more lavish pieces of jewelry before, but never something so mesmerizing. It was was made of untarnished silver and covered with opals. In the center was an almond-sized blue stone.
“Use it well, child.” Nori gave the Tree a deep bow.
All of the spirits let out loud cheer. Nori remembered Moon Dog carrying her on his back and bounding through her bedroom window. When Nori woke up, she was clutching the diadem in her hand.
Nori did not bother changing out of her nightgown; she rushed down the stairs, through the hallway, and into the courtyard where she knew her family would be eating breakfast.
“Mama,” Nori cried, “I’ve had the strangest dream. In my dream, I met the North Star and visited the old cemetery where a Tree gave me a diadem. When I woke up this morning, I was holding this.”
Nori raised up the diadem for her family to see. Her sisters gasped while her mother and father looked at each other with questions in their eyes. Only Great Grandmama smiled.
Great Grandmama said, “So, they have finally found a new Speaker.”
“What do you mean?”
“I remember my own Grandmama used to wear that diadem. She told me that there were spirits who lived among us; spirits that most people cannot see. I have never seen one, but Nori, you can see them, can’t you child?”
Great Grandmama continued, “Well, the spirits have seen you too, and they want you to speak for them. They have chosen you to be the liaison between their world and this world; two worlds that cross paths but never exactly meet.”
That night, Nori waited by the window for Moon Dog. Nori sunk to her knees and began crying. Moon Dog leaped through the window and put his head next to hers.
“You can speak to any spirit now,” he said, “not just me.”
“Why could you talk when the others remained silent?”
Moon Dog laughed, “Prayer is a deeper magic than even that diadem you wear. You parents begged for my help, and my help connected us. Now you must speak for all of us, not just me.”
“Why me? I’m not strong or very brave.”
Moon Dog looked up at the sky and back at Nori, “Because you love us, and love is the deepest magic of all.”