Gifts so Treasured

by Leah Wickman
Laughter rang through the field, echoing into the sky and twirling around with the jubilant music that was being played by an ensemble in one area. Men were as colorful as peacocks, dressed in their absolute best as they talked, danced, and flirted with the women in satins and silks of every shade. Pink and white roses were strewn around the clearing, creating a dizzy perfume that hung richly in the air. Servants were the only spots of darkness in their black uniforms, scurrying about with platters of food and drink, taking some for themselves every once in a while.

Everyone in the kingdom was there, from the richest down to the poorest. A young lord was waltzing with a milkmaid. More and more musicians were joining the hired entertainers in the corner carrying one-of-a-kind lutes made by masters or hand-carved flutes that had been carefully sanded to remove splinters. The king and queen watched it all fondly from their raised dais in the center of the field, a golden basinet resting between them. Their people were united today in celebrating the birth and Naming of an heir after more than a decade of waiting.

The announcements had been sent out the minute the child had uttered her first cry. Elegant parchment invitations that the queen herself had hand written in her fine calligraphy had been given the to the higher classes of the kingdom, while messengers had spread the word through the towns so even the lowliest of peasants would hear. Leaflets littered town squares, town-criers shouting out their contents daily. People had journeyed from the farthest reaches of the kingdom, some for months, to be there on the day their new princess was christened. Everyone was invited. Everyone, that is, but me.

I had to sneak into the public affair, casting a Glamour on myself. I had to make myself look like an old woman, wrinkled and with white hair to sneak into an event at which I rightfully belonged. My usually elegant hands were knurled around the cane I leaned upon. My usually clear violet eyes were a rheumy brown. I wore a coarse purple cloak with a hood that made my wings look like a hump. It was disgraceful.

Earlier I had watched as my fellow faeries had arrived, gliding along dressed in fine silver cobwebs, flower petals, and leaves. I had heard them chattering and greeting each other, staying apart from the mortals, smiling at them like adults humoring small children. I should have been among them. Instead I had to join the throng of mortals, being pushed by them and run into with not so much as a "pardon." Their stench was making me nauseous as I stumbled between them and I longed to stretch out my wings to rise above into the fresher air. Instead, I gritted my teeth and continued to force myself towards the dais with more strength than a woman the age I looked should have, if any of the thick-headed humans had cared to notice.

No, I was not going to let this affront to me go by. This wasn't the first Naming I hadn't been invited to, of course. Yet those had been much smaller affairs than this so it was understandable if the parents had had to leave out some of the Faeries who specialized in gifts. This was different. Every other Faery known to be gift givers or "Faery godparents" had been invited. Every single one, far beyond the standard seven used for royal births. Each had been given grand presents and asked to give small gifts to the princess in addition to the primary seven godparents' own.

I wanted to get to that dais to see who the main seven were. Children kept running in front of me, causing me to stumble. Jovial celebrators shoved wine goblets at me, saying, "Drink up, good mother, for our princess is born." They would laugh at my gruff replies. With each step my anger grew. This is what I was reduced to in order to get a glimpse of the next queen, though I should have been part of the group that would get to hold her. I knew full well that most of her first seven Faery godparents, as well as her other thirteen, would give her gifts of beauty, for it is very unfashionable to have an ugly princess and one just can't leave such things to fate. Yet even the vainest of the gentry (for it was very rare that a commoner attracted a Faery godparent—they could not afford the gifts the rich used to attract and please us) knew that a child needed more than looks. It was standard to ask three of the Faery godparents to give gifts of cleverness, justice, common sense, and the like to the child. It made them good rulers and kept the people happy. The current royal line hadn't been overthrown in the past five hundred years thanks to the use of Faery gifts.

I had given the gift of intelligence to the current king's mother, his great grandfather, and traded off generations before that. It was tradition. Every single one of my godchildren had known prosperous and peaceful reigns. One of my queens had started the public education system the country still had and it was the best known throughout all the kingdoms and queendoms. I had been angered when I had not been asked to be one of the seven. Yet I waited and gathered information from my fellow gift givers. There is not a strong enough word to express the rage I felt when I had heard that they all had been invited to the Naming; that the king and queen had come to their homes in person; that they had been given presents of jewelry, animals, and clothing in return for bestowing a small gift on the girl at her Naming. Yet still I waited, trying to set aside my anger and excuse the mortals' folly. I tried to make excuses for them, that they would come any day, that what they were giving me was so extravagant it took longer than all the other presents. Yet when the day of the Naming dawned, I had my plan of revenge fully formed. We Faeries are proud creatures and do not tolerate slights. This went beyond a simple oversight.

All this I was thinking of when I nudged the final drunken fool aside to stand at the edge of the dais. In this stooped over form I had taken, I was eye-level with the wooden edge of the platform. I craned my neck back and felt my bones creak in protest. I longed to throw off the Glamour that disguised me and reach my full height that would put my head a good foot above the five foot dais floor. Instead I stood on my tip toes, using my cane for balance. I could see the queen and king quite clearly in the center of the dais in their ornate thrones. The queen was dressed elegantly in a gown of green, her long red hair pulled back, and the golden crown perched lightly on her head. The king was all in blue, his dark hair streaked with grey under his crown. And there, between their two thrones, sat the luxurious Elvin made golden basinet that contained the princess.

The noise of the crowd slowly dimmed until silence fell over the huge field. I turned my head to see the seven primary Faery godparents alighting gently on stage and taking their seats on either side of the monarchs in beautiful multicolored wooden chairs that had magically appeared. I studied them closely. I knew them all and knew the gifts they commonly gave. I was sure some mistake had been made. Surely, those weren't all the seven that had been so carefully chosen to give the princess her most important gifts...

I was distracted by this line of thought as the thirteen other Faeries of the land landed lightly on the dais behind the thrones. They sat in equally fine chairs that again had appeared from thin air. If I had been up there, I though bitterly, it would have been two perfect rows of seven behind the thrones. Instead it looked unbalanced with a front row of six followed by seven. This thought was quickly chased by the irony of the unlucky number thirteen, which caused a slight smile to cross my face.

I was pulled from my musings as the king stood up and began to speak. He thanked everyone for coming to celebrate this momentous occasion, that it was truly a joyous day, and much more to that effect. Then after rambling on a bit more (speech making skills had not been amongst his Faery gifts) he turned back to the basinet and his queen. She stood up and together they picked up their child and held her up for the entire ensemble to see. As one they said, "Aurora Charisse Kalonice Venusta Bellusas Delcedice Izabella, your Princess!"

The crowd erupted into cheers that caused the birds in the trees to take flight. I covered my ears against the sound and only removed my protective hands when I saw the first of the Faery godparents stand up. Oculio lacked color. His skin, wings, and hair were a bleached bone ivory. His eyes astounded me every time I saw them. The only way to describe them was iridescent. You could see flecks of blue, violet, gold, green, brown, every eye color imaginable in them. He gave the gift of beautiful green eyes to the little princess that would never weaken, as could only be expected. Next came Crinis with her long auburn hair that danced like flames of fire to give the gift of lovely locks. Velion with his creamy skin followed Crinis, giving the girl the gift of a perfect complexion. He was followed by Enstara with that hourglass shape mortals so admired to give the princess a figure like her own that would not give into gravity despite age. Decorianol followed seeming to glide across the stage, giving the child grace. He was followed by the round motherly Tilitas who gave the gift of fertility, very important considering how long it took for the current royal couple to produce an heir. The seventh was Neolia in a gorgeous gown of blue that had been intricately embroidered with moons, stars, planets. She gave the girl the gift of spinning cloth.

I went over the seven gifts in my head in disbelief. Eyes, hair, complexion, figure, grace, fertility, and spinning were all the future queen had to work with. They were all wonderful gifts of course, but how important was being able to spin your own cloth to a queen? Neolia should have been among the other thirteen Faeries on stage who would give minor gifts like the ability to find lost possessions and musical talent. I was shocked that the king and queen hadn't chosen their daughter's Faery godparents better. What about an excellent memory, the ability to strategize, or negotiation skills? I felt the smoldering rage that had been with me all day spark into a roar. But something inside me whispered, "Not yet, not yet. Choose your time, Milenpha."

I waited, still amongst the mortals, running over my plan again and again in my head, not bothering to pay attention as the rest of my thirteen fellows took their turns in blessing the princess. The sun had begun to set when Xadion returned to his seat after giving the child good hearing, the last of the Faeries to give a gift. I took my moment. As the crowd was mindlessly cheering, I pulled on a loose thread of my cloak, the Glamour instantly dissolving. I spread my dark purple, black-edged wings and with a leap and a flap landed on the platform. I heard gasps as I calmly strode over to the basinet, taking in the queen and king's suddenly pale faces with delight. All twenty of the other Faeries on stage looked away. They knew this would happen, for if anyone of them had been slighted like I had been, they would be doing the same.

I leant over the basinet and picked the baby up. I cooed at her gently and she smiled at me. Her father found his voice and demanded, "What is the meaning of this, Milenpha? Why are you here?"

It was impossible to miss the accusation in his voice. My anger continued to grow but I replied coolly, "Why, your majesty, I came to give your child a gift. The twenty other Faery godparents in the land gave gifts after you entreated them to. I thought you'd be pleased I came on my own accord. After all, I give every other member of your line the gift of intelligence. Pity it hadn't been your turn or maybe you would have realized that."

His face was ashen with barely contained rage, yet even he was smart enough not to further anger the Faery that held his child. "Please, milady," came the quiet voice of the queen. I turned toward her and she continued to speak.

"We were wrong in overlooking you. We thought it would be for the best. We thought—"

"Thought?" I cut in incredulously. "Thought what exactly? That it would be neat for your daughter to be able to make her own clothes but not be able to add more than a few figures at a time? My dear queen, your apology is too little too late. You and your husband took the risk of my wrath when you chose not to invite me to the Naming along with the others. Any one of them could have told you this would happen. But let me guess, you never thought to ask," I could tell my words cut her and she shrank into the recesses of her throne.

The king spoke once more, his gift of chivalry showing as he came to defense of his queen.

"Yes, we thought, my dear Faery, that intelligence wouldn't be the best for our daughter or our country. We need allies to continue the peace we've enjoyed for so long. The most powerful alliances are made through marriage. A foreign prince wants a beautiful and talented wife. He won't care if she can or cannot multiply if she can sing like a nightingale and has the face of an angel. Frankly, intelligence would have done more harm than good in the interest of a royal match."

He said all this calmly as if remarking on why the sun rose and set each day, but I could see him trembling slightly as he watched my impassive face.

"Well, well," I said coldly, breaking the silence that had fallen. "You have thought this through indeed. The poor child, still an infant and already her fate is being decided by people who see her as little more than a bargaining tool."

The king's face was indignant while the queen looked away as if shamed.

I looked down at the bundle in my arms and spoke softly, though my words carried nonetheless, "Perhaps I am doing you a favor, little one."

I registered the shocked faces of the monarchs at this last pronouncement with a thrill of glee before I turned to face the crowd—all with mouths agape and eyes wide.

"I, the Faery godmother Milenpha, give the Princess Aurora Charisse Kalonice Venusta Bellusas Delcedice Izabella, the gift of intelligence. She will not come into this gift until the dawning of her sixteenth Name day. Until that day she will not be able to read, write, do mathematics, or have any willingness to learn anything. She will concern herself with her looks, musical ability, and spinning." I spat this last word. "She will not be able to learn the complexities of running a country but instead ramble on about nonsense. On that day sixteen years from now she will be putting into practice one of her seven gifts that her parents so thoughtfully chose for her—spinning." Again it came out like a foul word. "She shall prick herself on the spindle's end, too ignorant to know its sharpness. When her first drop of blood falls all the knowledge denied to her over the years will be revealed to her in a rush so intense she will be knocked into a state of unconsciousness. She will wake only when intelligence triumphs over beauty," I paused looking happily at the shocked faces of the mortals below. I heard a low moan come from the king behind me and it took all my control not to let a smirk cross my face.

Once more I raised my voice, this time in a mocking tone, "I have been so touched by your rulers' thoughtfulness for their daughter that I have decided to give the entire kingdom a gift. When Aurora gains her knowledge and falls into a... slumber you could say, the rest of you will too—from the king down to the village idiot, though in my opinion there isn't much of a difference. You will awaken when she does. So for all your sakes, I hope times change quickly."

By now a full moon hung in the sky. It cast the only light for the ones in charge of torch lighting had been too enthralled by my speech to do their job. I turned and placed the princess back in her basinet between her white knuckled parents, tucking her snugly in against the chill night air. I nodded at my fellow Faeries and gave scornful bows to the king and queen. I said to them so all could hear, "Too bad that the seven Faery godparents each of you had didn't give either of you the gift of foresight. Then all of this may have been avoided. Yet I suppose everyone suffers from their parents' poor choices." And with that I rose to the sky, disappearing from the dark and silent field.

It would be interesting to see how they would deal with that, I mused as I hovered above the field, looking down.

*

Voices raised in anger rang through the field, echoing into the sky and twirling around with the harsh sounds of chords being struck in rage on a hodgepodge of instruments. Men in their flamboyantly colorful clothing shouted, argued, and fought with the women in clashing satins and silks of every shade. Pink and white roses were wilting, creating a dizzying smell of decay to hang in the air. Servants were the only spots of light, scurrying about with torches, candles, and lanterns.

Everyone in the kingdom was there, from the richest down to the poorest. A young lord was cursing a milkmaid's ignorance and beautiful blue eyes. More and more musicians picked up their one-of-a-kind lutes made by masters or hand-carved flutes that had been carefully sanded to remove splinters to join the hired entertainers in their angry cacophony of noise. The king and queen watched it all in fear from their raised dais in the center of the field, a golden basinet resting between them. Their people were united today in their curse.
Leah Wickman is better known as Queen Leah (to her friends) and Know-It-All-Over-Achieving-Mumble-Grumble (to her even closer friends). She enjoys making elaborate plans for simple things; participating as an attorney in her county's Teen Court (Juvenile Justice) program; taking over the world; playing various instruments; writing (en español) about top-hatted opera-going fish named Cinderpez; driving The Silver Arrow; and getting in odd positions to read. Leah will be ecstatic if she is accepted into Brown University for the freshman class of 2007. She is currently attempting to write a novel, but occasionally finds it difficult without her muse (who ran off with her invisible friend, Fred, to Atlantic City, in the summer of 2005).

© 2005, Leah Wickman