She’d been told once by her mother, upon her fathers death, “I cursed him, I cursed him, he would be a good man. And now as all good men seem to do he’s died young.”
This was only the first curse of her life.
As her mother once widowed refused to curse the second man she married.
Cruel as anything, she took to her chores the worst of which was his ego.
On cleverer days she would call his own children the real curse, but they were truly a unit, as far as she was concerned.
The third curse was found in the least of them.
To the chickens of all things, in the morning she said,“what a fool the master is.” only for the chickens to respond.
“of course he is,” chirped one Pullet.
“Quite.”, clucked its mother.
“it won’t do much good for the man to hear.” another went.
“It ain’t much good now without Marques!”went another Pullet, “we aren't all spring chickens!”
“Beaks of youth, what do you think you are?”
As young as she was at the time, she had decided that this was normal.
It wasn’t only domestic creatures that understood her words, there wasn’t one field Mouse that didn’t know better than to bother her, or dirty her house.
Though this had the Cats living only in the barn. Even Bees understood her, which made her quite an oddity, having never been stung.
But for everything the creatures could know the less her family understood.
Her step-siblings were often confused by her disinterest in them, how they felt about her, how quiet she was against their teasing.
Her stepfather would be much the same.
Her mother, her dear mother, was blessed with the last tithing of her marriage, a child.
A boy, a healthy boy, or so praised the midwife.
Even with her family's suspicion she was the one who ended up holding the child most.
Beautiful as he was, she knew that her use was wearing thin.
It was only sheer luck in the first place that her mother found a man willing to take her, even with his ego.
So far the keeping of the child was her favorite chore, even with the blight he represented.
Dear as he was her mother bore need of attention also, as however lucky a child was to be born, such things were a burden no matter a woman’s age.
Her dear mother did well, in that holy price.
In attendance to her mother they, and the boy would near share a room, her stepfather would need go unattended by her mother for at least a month.
They would receive visitors as was common of the time, only ever women, who would lavish upon them the duly needed wisdom of fine ladies, and honey-cake.
Though some ladies brought more gripping offerings, a woman she had known as a friend of her mother, most her life.
One would think that she could make all the earth's pleasures appear in her hand, all to please.
Though it might’ve been her preference for custard.
“Aunty, you’ve come for me! I would like a sturdy hand, would you like tea?”, she said in greed of delicious things.
“Of course dear, since I’m out here. How has your Dear mother been?”, Aunty asked.
“Not bad, not near sick, just true wedded tiredness.”
“Was that some fine ladies wisdom?”
“It’s quite alright to take what’s given dear. Even if it ain’t much use.”
She might’ve served a laugh also, though it wasn’t as if Aunty wouldn’t take it.
While she loved the older woman’s treats, she was pleased with her manners, as she would take up with her mother after her first cup of tea. Never glancing away.
Some of the younger ladies found the hustle and bustle distressing, which served to pull her three ways in an attempt to please them.
Now in their entrance of each other she could attend to the boy, they would laugh uproariously over jokes that would’ve gone unnoticed through the window if she hadn’t understood them. But they would switch to hushed tones as she was let loose from entertaining.
She paid them no mind, too ready to sneak off and speak to the creatures on the property.
There were tenants, Passeri with new and certain songs to sing, she’d wanted to tell them about the new child, “This one will grow and I will need as many eyes as I can get, you understand?”
Being as her step father was away on business she was able to go without the embarrassment of his attention, he knew how to convince other men, not skittish and sometimes judgmental Songbirds.
It hadn’t been the first visit she took with her brother, greeting the animals was simply the thing to do, once her chores were done.
First being the Bees some weeks before, and the Chickens quite accidentally.
At that moment the Passeri were the ones to tell.
They stopped their conversation, looking beyond her - She hadn't expected her stepsister, out and about rather than inside sewing.
They watched each other, ever calm as she was the child didn’t stir.
Her stepsister walked away at that.
Likely having seen everything, the Birds started talking again, “my, you’re strong.”
She said, thank you, and good day, before going the long way back home.
There was at least time. Hopefully.
As time wore on and the child was weaned, he was apt to follow her in the morning as she worked.
Learning everything from his favorite color to how barn cats felt when he pulled their tails.
His favorite sister never left him ignorant of how best to treat anything or anyone.
Don’t pull, take care, listen dear.
The way she’d thought was missing in her family.
Her dearest little brother shaped up to be very polite by the time he learned to speak.
Though never to the animals. It seemed he wouldn’t be sharing that curse.
He respected them, which was better than could be said for some children in respectable families.
She might've been too quiet, for too long, as while she did her chores, her step-siblings were meddling.
“But father, she speaks to beasts, she conspires with them!”
It was rather shocking, their cander, in demeaning her as a witch to their father, without even the due diligence to distract their ‘sister the witch’.
She listened of course, never fully trusting the brash gossip of the Fowl or the Passeri.
And in repose, their father said, “Oh, of course she is. As tempting as barley grain, as wicked as churned milk.”
“But father little-”
“I won’t have you questioning my judgment,” he said, more annoyed than anything at his children, “not regarding your brother. I won’t have such a disgrace upon our family.”
“And what grace could we keep if he’s half raised by a witch?”
“Much more than an impish schoolboy.”
She’d never been praised so much by the man her mother married.
She was saved, if only due to their standing.
Or so she thought, so small a hope she’d been given.
She’d been convinced.
She was wrong.
She should have known something was up, when a glittering carriage in the shape of a Calabash rolled up, pulled by seven white Hinds.
She’d been out and about at the time, and could only just hear the beats of cloven hooves.
It was her stepbrother who came out to pull her inside.
The carriage and the Hind were in front of the house, and the apparent owner of the ensemble had been invited in.
She was shocked to see that the person in question was Aunty, who had been offered a place of respect, in fear of her power. Her stepbrother avoided Aunty’s gaze, and She asked instinctively, “would you like some tea?”
Rather shocking everyone, though she couldn’t imagine why, the response was of course, “finally, a half polite member in this house!”
She laughed it off, before taking to the kitchen for the tea. Aunty didn’t talk again until everyone had their first sip, “As you well know it’s time for her to be with me.”
“Of course”, went her mother, gently sipping her tea.
Her stepfather objects, “You're going to send our child away?”
“Well, she’ll hardly learn anything here,” her mother said plainly,“cleaning your shoes and emptying milk troughs.”
“But she has no power to speak of.”
“And when’s the last time you saw either poison or mice in your house?”, Aunty said, knowingly, “Even your children know how the girl speaks.”
“I’ve had enough Fairy, you won’t be taking the girl,”
“I never imagined you would make such a fuss over a gift, but it is a foolish man who puts himself between a Fairy and their promises.”
And with that her stepfather relented, the Fairy had won.
She went about packing her things for her trip to the Fairy’s keep, she was startled by how little she had. Two petticoats, one quilted, one not. One over dress, one winter shift, two pairs of stockings.
She’d only really been skating by on her mother’s hand me downs.
She knew it when her brother was born, why was she surprised?
It wasn’t cold in the Calabash, but the Hinds did not speak to her. The Fairy, who she’d known as Aunty for most of her life was now her only benefactor.
Then in the cramped space of the carriage, “Now dear, for every spell of fairies cast there is a promise, and in your mother’s case for kindness was her first born. You might not understand what people will pay for the simplest things. But to her the price was fair.”
It wasn’t cold at all in the Calabash, but she could scarcely feel her fingers.
It was light again by the time they arrived, in front of the romantic property that was apparently the fairy’s abode. They dined in a room of foreign opulence, before she was left to her own devices in a room that was apparently hers.
She was allowed near free reign of the place, and was in no way barred from it’s amenities.
The Fairy was unreadable, the Fairy had always been a bit too clever for her, half way a riddle, whatever she said.
So in lieu of alternatives she asked, during tea, “why do you need me here?”
“Well, they don’t generally want Fairies in human courts. Wrong kind of power, you know.”
“What makes you think I’d be of use?”
“That’s quite obvious dear, you know how to deal in animal politics. Which is of more use to me than something as easy as finery.”
Such thoughts held true, as the Fairy taught her what the Fairy already knew. How she’d trained the Hinds to their tasks, as they could in fact speak, but so willing they’d become in their work they were as soldiers. Though they swore as sailors do.
There were other beasts around the forest-bound Keep, there was a larger herd of White Hinds that wandered through, and several kinds of Mouse, Marmot and Mole, that made the property home.
It wasn’t rare to see Birds on the property either, though one could expect messages from the few that ever came in to perch.
Even Birds that one wouldn’t suspect were used by the Fairy, if their legs were too thin, they would simply tell her what they knew. She was often told to fetch them a treat either way.
It was actually a tiny Bluebird, just large enough to attach a message that started their first fight, The Fairy becoming ecstatic upon reading the note, “We’ve been invited, well you have mostly, but I’m your chaperone so it counts!”
“I don’t know about this.” she said feeding the Bird.
“About the party?”
“About the ‘spring-market’,”
“Well, I could always build you an impossible husband. I might even let you help.”
“I’d rather not, you Wishing Cow.”
“Which I'd much rather be. Can’t you just leave me?”, She said, trying to push back, she’d wanted that to still be a joke.
“Nope!”, went the Fairy, “It might be a trick that handed you your power, but it will benefit my designs!”
“And why’s that? you were ever so useful for your mother, and her husband, I mean you basically raised their son.”
“And look where it got me. I’m never gonna see them again and it’s not cause I’m better off.”
“Is that really how you feel?”
“But isn’t it silly?”, went the fairy, she continued, “what you’ve already paid? For them to throw you away on foolish suspicion.”
“But that curse, it’s mine. I own it.”
The Fairy had paused, and for a moment she thought. “But you didn’t ask anyone for it,” the Fairy said finally, “it was set upon you my dear. There are better things for you, than to be a spinster and a maid.”
“What, to bear one first?”, she said, angry at the thought, “was my mothers imposition.”
“Well, Kings have no need of princess maids, what I need you for, you’ll only ever do lacework!”
“You think yourself the Dove, but you’re a Hawk, and a shoe thief!”
“And what other work can there be?”, the Fairy said, thoroughly dismissing her, “the best place to accrue power is the King’s court, and you my dear are quite powerless.”
And the fairy left the girl with that.
The thought wiggling through her head, until she couldn’t think, a peaceless thing given quarter in her heart.
She could bend, but there wasn’t much to bend to, she was stuck.
The Fairy wanted an in, and she needed a pawn.
The girl never played chess, always more concerned with what people wanted to do, rather than what they could. She had no way to be that for her, even if she wanted those kinds of things.
She sunk to pick up what she’d dropped, cleaning up the aviary. She hadn’t even noticed at the time.
It would be a while before the Fairy would bother her again, almost the whole day.
When she did she’d sent one of the small, whisper message Birds.
She wanted her to go to one of the Fairy’s rooms, she had the Bird lead her.
She wore nothing of the high crepe gowns with which she was familiar, instead she wore robes of silk and linen, the Fairy was getting ready for bed.
She looked up from her vanity, “oh, dear, you’ve come for me.”
“Of course Aunty, since I’m here,” she responded, she asked, “what do you need?”
“I would like a sturdy hand actually.”
“Okay,” She followed Aunty.
Aunty took a hand held mirror, out from beneath her pillow, and beconded her to sit. She was ever careful with it, as she showed what reflected in the glass. First it would show only what was in front of it, then once she touched the glass it distorted until something new appeared. She of course pulled it away from view before speaking, “this is a magic mirror, as you can see. It can show you things that have happened, or will happen. And things that are happening far, far away.”
The girl looked down at her hands before asking, “why are you sharing now?”
“Because I kept looking at it, every time I worried or wanted, I’d look into the glass and I’d see what I wanted. And mostly it was the truth,” the Fairy said, “I remember seeing once in this hand mirror, that man, ‘as tempting as barley grain, as wicked as churned milk.’ was how he described you,”
“He wanted to dismiss your refinements, but who wants to be in a world without barley & butter?” she asked. “Humans are nothing without it, Kings don’t happen without it. You my dear, are tempting and wicked, you could make Kings, if you wanted.”
Aunty rearranged herself.
“So, how about some tea?”
“Finally, a half polite member in this house!”, she said, which earned her a soft pinch.
Time moved forward and the invite was now an expectation.
Aunty had bought many new pieces for her over her time living there already, mostly those layers that were missing from her suitcase. A shift for every day of the week was especially luxurious for her, but Aunty insisted on commissioning something new for her, a gown in the newest fashion.
It nearly matched the Calabash in gaudy expense, or the Hind’s in ridgid grace, though she was in terrible disagreement with the apparently modern silhouette.
She had never been much for court fashions, but it might’ve been worth it to be dressed to the nines.
Getting ready for some else's party was as it turns out, much easier than setting up for even one meager acquaintance.
She didn’t know what her Aunty expected to happen at the party, or through the season, she couldn’t hold out much hope. But she was riding in a glittering Calabash pulled by White Hinds, she was the Cursed ward of a Fairy, and she mattered.