“Your HIGHNESS!” the queen shrieked, striding in and seizing one of the ceremonial swords which hung over the fireplace. The flurry of activity on the reclining sofa bed ceased as Hespa held the sword to the king’s throat. He crouched, pants around his ankles and robe pulled behind him, eyes watering with terror as his chin quivered.
“P-please, dearest,” he stammered, “Don’t do anything you’ll regret. Remember, I am the king of–”
“King?” Hespa cackled, throwing her head back. “When was the last time you made a decision, my liege? This has been my kingdom for years.” A movement beside the king caught her eye and she swung the blade to the right, the edge coming to rest against the fairy’s trembling neck.
“Esemli,” hissed the queen. “Don’t even think of doing anything foolish, girl. This sword may be a decoration but its blade is still kept sharp.”
The fairy looked defiant. “You would not dare. You need me for your daughter.”
“That’s the only reason you still draw breath, you little whore,” Hespa said and swung the blade back to her husband. “After the ceremony, we shall see.” She dropped the sword with a clatter before them and stormed out of the room, slamming the door behind her so hard the door frame splintered.
One of her handmaidens came scurrying up to her, about to speak. Hespa backhanded the girl with all the force she could muster, sending the maid crashing into the wall and crumpling senseless to the ground. “Guards,” barked Hespa, gesturing over her shoulder at the prone figure as she made her way to the courtyard. “Clean her up, we can’t have unconscious servants laying around during the princess’s christening, it looks untidy.”
Wendell continued kneeling for a moment in the wake of Hespa’s disappearance, closing his eyes briefly. Esemli busied herself restoring her own clothing. Her fair skin was flushed and her eyes flashed.
“How dare she,” Esemli muttered, straightening her bodice. “To raise a hand against one of my kind? It is not done!”
“Hespa has always been most strong-willed,” Wendell said, and sighed, pushing himself to his feet and pulling his trousers up. “But she knows the power of the christening and she wouldn’t dare prevent that.”
Esemli finished adjusting her top and spun to face him, hands on her hips, long blonde hair flying out behind her. She looked magnificent, Wendell noted with a sad twinge.
“Maybe I am no longer willing! Perhaps another fairy would be more suited to the job you wish me to perform.”
“I beg you, fair one,” the king said, taking her hand. “Do not deny the princess that which is hers by right, on account of what has happened here.”
The fairy looked at his hand holding hers for a moment and took it back. “I will do this, only if you finally tell the queen what you have promised me.”
Hespa swept up to the tower chamber which served as the nursery for the princess. “Prepare the main chamber for the princess,” she barked. The startled handmaidens immediately leapt to their feet and rushed out the door.
The queen stood for a moment, looking at the crib and at the sleeping child laying therein. A frown creased Hespa’s face as she approached and stood, looking down at her daughter. She sighed.
“My lady,” came Wendell’s hesitant voice from the door.
She whirled to face him. “Speak, dog.” She spoke around gritted teeth.
“About the fairy…”
“What, exactly, about her?”
Wendell opened his mouth to tell her. That he and Esemli had met when she had come to wish him well after the birth of the princess. That Esemli’s warmth and kindness had seemed so welcoming in the face of his wife’s increasing indifference, and the gracious attention he lavished upon the fairy had so taken her that before either of them knew it, a love affair had sprung up. That she had whispered that she loved him, and in the throes of passion he had promised her a life together.
But he could not bring himself to utter the words and suffer her wrath.
“She is just that, a fairy.” The king dropped to his knee before Hespa and bent his head. “You, though, are my life.”
Outside the room, Esemli’s eyes flashed red in their green depths as she retreated with the king’s words ringing in her ears. Her love for Wendell had been a beautiful feeling she had embraced with every fiber of her being, so unlike anything she had experienced in her existence. She had wanted to hear Wendell say these things to the queen, things that he had professed to her to be feeling as well. She had followed him, hoping to hear these words. Now, the path before her had gone dark and she walked willingly into it, her life illuminating before her only a few steps at a time. A dark roaring had filled the fairy, but on the outside, the only hint was the ghost of a smile.
Hespa sneered at his bent head. “Get up, fool. Don’t let your subjects see you groveling to me.” She pushed past him, knocking him off balance. “Get the girl ready to go. The ceremony begins soon. After that…”A swirl of dark fabric at the door and she was gone.
King Wendell pushed himself to his feet and crossed to the crib, hoping his daughter had not been disturbed. Her eyes were open, and when she saw her father’s face, she smiled. He reached a finger out and she grabbed it with a grin.
“You are my life,” he said softly.
A half hour later, the princess had been removed to the grand hall by her team of nursemaids. She lay in the center of a soft white pillow in a golden receptacle that resembled a clam more than anything else. The princess’s eyes traveled around the strange surroundings and she smiled, melting more than one heart as those assembled smiled back, their hearts jelly. Her nursemaids busied themselves tidying the dais for the imminent ceremony, doing their best to avert their eyes from the fairy Esemli.
She stood behind the baby, her hands clasped behind her as she stood before the king’s guests, lost in her dark thoughts. Many in the audience whispered to each other as she stood before them, having never seen a fairy before. There were many crudities being thought loudly enough for her to hear but she scarcely noticed amid her own hatred. She burned with a rage, a fire so hot and black she would never have guessed such a thing existed. She burned as well with shame, for she remembered being told, many long ages ago, that the hearts of men were fickle and not to be trusted. Yet she had.
A hush and the multitudes stood as the king and queen appeared at the door. Esemli’s eyes flashed at the sight of them. Regally they moved forward down the aisle, her arm through his, both their eyes fixed on Esemli. She met their gazes and could feel the loathing coming from the queen. King Wendell smiled nervously at her and Esemli twisted her lips in the direction of a smile in return, feeling the thousands of eyes upon her. The queen’s lips pursed even more tightly as they mounted the stairs. The fairy moved to greet them, standing beside their child.
“We are gathered,” boomed the king, “to celebrate the christening of the Princess Alasin, heir to the throne and daughter to the kingdom.” He nodded at Esemli, and stepped back.
With all the eyes of the kingdom focused squarely on her, Esemli smiled and curtsied to the king, going lower than she normally would until she was practically to the floor.
“My king,” she said, her voice dripping sarcasm so opaque that the king, for all his poise, frowned. The queen’s eye twitched.
“I am come from afar to christen this princess, that she be favored among the gods,” Esemli said, rising from her curtsy and addressing the crowd. “That she go forward and prosper amid life’s graces. That fortune and fate smile upon her and all her kin.” She gestured toward the king and queen.
“But instead,” Esemli said, her voice hard. Wendell and Hespa, who had been smiling blithely, froze at the tone of her voice. “Hear me now.”
A darkness fell upon the hall as though a black curtain had been dropped on it. The torches all went out and the fire was extinguished as though by a giant candle snuffer. The screams started but dropped abruptly as a light swelled at the dais, illuminating the infant wailing from where she lay in the clam.
The fairy stood with her arms stretched wide, looking skyward. As her hands came together before her, a light appeared between them, at first a dim spark and as her hands grew closer, the light grew brighter. Her voice sounded far away and deeper, as though it came from the back of her throat.
“I am of the fae, and I have seen thousands of men, women, and children perish in my time on this world.” Her voice continued to rise until she was screaming. “Do you all think that we are nothing but ceremonial figureheads for your mankind’s rituals?” she shrieked, the ball of light swelling between her hands. “When you think of a fairy in the future, you will think of today, upon my oath.”
She began speaking to the ball of light as it continued to grow brighter still. Esemli’s face was contorted in savage fury, the light between her hands growing brighter until the king shouted, an inarticulate cry of protest and took a step forward. But faster than the eye could follow, the fairy howled a final sentence, the orb of light exploded into a blinding white flash that filled the entire room.
Hespa picked herself up from the floor where she had been thrown. The air smelled of brimstone and white smoke was hanging in the air. The fairy was gone. The princess was screaming. Dragging herself to her feet, she nearly tripped over the body of King Wendell. He was laying on his back, mouth wide in mute protest, hands partially raised. He was dead.
The princess was screaming. People in the crowd were getting to their feet, others were laying immobile. Hespa staggered to the clam crib and looked in. The princess’s face was a red mask of rage as she howled at the top of her lungs. Her eyebrows, such as they were, had been singed off. Apart from that, she appeared untouched. Hespa reached for her, intending to comfort her, then paused. The fairy’s final words loomed in her mind.
“Henceforth, she will always know the pain of losing those for whom she cares the most. This begins today and concludes on her dying day!”
Then the king had shouted, the world had blown up, now he was dead and anybody the princess loved would die.
The queen withdrew her hand, willing it to stop shaking, and looked around her for one of the child’s handmaidens. She spied one at the back of the dais, getting unsteadily to her feet, looking shell-shocked.
“You, maiden,” Hespa said crisply, gesturing her forward. “Attend the princess. Remove her from here and return her to her bed, and send the captain of the guards in here at once.” Turning, she raised her voice, shouting over the hubbub of the audience, most of whom had revived and now were talking amongst themselves. “All of you! Disperse! Back to your homes, there is to be no further activity at the castle today.”
Looking dazed, they began moving for the doors, reminding the queen of cattle. A fat peasant near the front dared to venture, “Yer ‘ighness, weren’t there s’posed ter be a feast after–”
“Get out of my sight, you mindless fool!” shrieked Hespa, a vein standing out in her forehead with a look on her face that would that night awaken the peasant in a cold sweat. “You bore witness to what has happened here, do you not think that I have other priorities than you feeding your fat face?”
The exodus hastened with the peasant man in the lead. Hespa was left in the empty room, staring at the dais.
“Highness?” said the captain of the guards, entering the room and standing to attention.
“The king is dead,” she said, her voice lifeless, “and the princess is cursed.”