Originally published January 2, 2003
Context: This was done as part of a challenge to write one’s story as a personal myth. In ruminating upon it I decided that a märchen format suited me better than mythos. Inspired by my love of folklore, my appreciation for the reimagined fairy tales in the story collections edited by Ellen Datlow & Terri Windling, and my fandom for a certain
evil misunderstood fairy, I created this to tell my tale.
The child was born in the misty-green lands between mountains and sea, a girl-child, born to a golden doted-on princess who gave up her claims to aristocracy for love (oh so foolishly) and a dark artisan who would lose himself somewhere in the midst of searching for his muses.
Shortly after her birth, there were visitors. They were seen to come in, but no one could quite remember what they looked like, or when they left. Maybe they hadn’t visited at all, actually. Maybe everyone misremembered.
But they were there. They clustered ’round the cradle, looking thoughtfully on the sleeping chubby girl-child, her face still blank and waiting for life to begin etching upon it.
Finally, one of the visitors looked up. She was beautiful, but not in a way one could describe; one moment she seemed fair and red-haired, the next raven-locked and smoldering, the next something else entirely. Her tasteful sheath dress was white and cut simple, without adornment, so as not to distract from her beauty. She waited until she had gathered the gaze of all her companions, and then she spoke, silver sweetness all through her voice.
“I will give her a smile that lights the air around her, and a laugh that rings with joy like a hundred glorious bells.”
The others nodded and murmured, and a soft sound of rustling filled the room.
Another of the visitors looked down at the child again, pushing her heavy black spectacles back up her nose. Her dress was rather old-fashioned, narrow in the waist and full in the long skirt, as if she hadn’t left the previous decade yet, and was the color of old cordovan and gilt; across her back lay a coat–was it a coat?–of thin, crackling material that called parchment to mind. After pushing her spectacles up once more, she too spoke, in a soft voice with the sound of pages turning in it.
“I will give her words. They will be her sturdiest tool and her sharpest weapon, her window to the world and her connection to others.”
More nodding, more murmuring, more rustling.
A third visitor stretched on her toes and spread her arms; her multicolored caftan rippled around her, as did the iridescent veil that fell down her back, and the myriad of bracelets and rings she wore jingled. “My turn now!” she said brightly, with notes of laughter and song in her tone. She brushed the child’s face with her fingertips, and spoke again: “I will give her skill with adornment–of herself, with clothing…and of other things as well, things for bringing beauty and comfort into one’s surroundings and making others lovely. I think this one can handle more than one iteration of it.”
The murmuring was louder this time, and the visitor in the old-fashioned dress said, “You’re feeling feisty today, eh?” The visitor in the caftan smiled.
One of the visitors had been pacing behind the cradle, hands in the pockets of her trenchcoat and the back “cape” flaring, stylish yet comfortable boots making soft tap-tap-tap sounds on the cement floor. Now she stopped, and looked down at the child, and spoke in a voice toned with dust and distance. “I’ll give this one a restless spirit. She’ll want to travel, and search, and see as much as she can, in whatever way she can manage.” She reached down and gently patted the child’s head.
“Are you sure that’s a gift?” the one in white asked, her sweet silvery voice hesitant.
The one in the trenchcoat grinned. “It will be for her.”
Suddenly the room filled with the crackle of beating bird wings and the harsh notes of raven calls and an abrupt, sickly-green light. The child stirred, and made small fitful noises, but didn’t wake. When the sickly light cleared, there was a new visitor, tall and thin like an autumn-bare tree, and dressed all in leathery black, with the shortest of short skirts and the trendiest go-go boots and a coat with a strange, sharp hem to it. Cold yellow eyes glittered out of layers of black eyeshadow, and the white-lipsticked mouth was in a sneer.
“HOLD ON!” The voice was like the sound of glass breaking. She raised her arms, and the coat looked like wings. She tossed her shag-cut black hair. “I will not be denied my gift-giving! Even though my invitation was withheld and my presence shunned–“
The one in the spectacles interrupted her. “Oh, stop it, Mal. You’re never invited because everyone knows you’ll just show up with the sturm und drang and make a big fuss anyway. Besides, there’s no one here to see it, just us and the baby.”
The visitor in black lowered her arms, her expression petulant. “You have absolutely NO appreciation for showmanship,” she said, the screech of nails on a chalkboard underscoring the words. “At least I am still making an effort.” She looked at the baby and sneered again. “All right, sprog, a gift for you. I give you…” She paused for dramatic effect, and swept her arm in a grandiose arc. “I give you as your gift…DESPAIR! Blackness in mind and psyche, like a leech at the back of the brain–“
The others in the room groaned. The one in the caftan stamped her foot impatiently. “Mal, PLEASE! You give that to every second child these days. You are so horridly trendy. Can’t you be just a little original sometimes?”
The one in black sniffed haughtily. “Bah. You all want them each to just be a little bit different, and it makes so much work for us. It’s much simpler to just have a couple of choices for all of ’em.” She sighed dramatically. “But, fine, I’ve got a new coat and I feel like humoring you all today. This one can keep the despair…in fact,” and she peered into the cradle, looking closely at the child for a moment, “in fact, this looks like one of those who’ll actually enjoy it and use it productively, so it’s not as nasty as it could be. But I’ll find something else for her as well.” She turned to the one in the trenchcoat. “What’d you give this one?”
“Hm.” She turned back to the child, tapping her black-lacquered fingernail against her teeth, looking thoughtful (if a sneer can ever look thoughtful). “Ah, got it!” She smiled, but it wasn’t a pleasant smile. “Doubt. I give her doubt. Everything she does will be shadowed by doubt; she’ll question everything. That’ll slot nicely with the restlessness, and feed nicely off the despair.” She grinned, self-satisfied, and it was the expression of a wolf that has cornered its prey.
A soft sigh ran through the other visitors. The one in the spectacles shook her head. “I must admit, Mal, you are a genius at this when you set your mind to it. It’s a pity that you use it for such unhappy things.”
The one in black waved her hand dismissively. “Without me, the rest of you wouldn’t have anything to play off of. You know we all need each other.” She lit a cigarette, despite the disapproving looks of the others. “All right, we’re done. Let’s get out of here. We’ve got to do some year-hopping for this date in this nasty damp little burg.”
The beautiful one in white raised her hand to her mouth. “But…we aren’t done! There’s still–“
One more visitor stepped out of the corner of the room. Her dress was like a ballgown, long and flowing, and yet oddly formless, and it shimmered and shifted, from pale shining silver to darkest gray and all the colors between, but all the colors were visible only when looked at from many angles. Her face was mild and unremarkable, and yet compelling, like her outfit. She moved as if she had all the time in the world to spare.
The one in black gaped at her. “What the hell. You haven’t done yours yet?” The gray one shook her head. “Bloody hell, woman! You know I’m supposed to come last! What are you doing dawdling around? Damn it! Now mine’s ruined, because you’ll give her something all wonderful to counteract it! Haven’t any of you learned how to do this properly, damned amateurs…”
The one in gray paid no mind to the ranting and grumbling. She gazed down on the child in the cradle, her expression kind and yet somehow forbidding at the same time. When she spoke, it was with a whisper of water over rocks.
“I give her…empathy.”
The room fell silent, except for a gasp from the one in white. Slowly, the others turned to look at the one in gray, their faces crossed with awe and wonder.
“Oh my word,” said the one in the spectacles, softly.
The one in black shook her head, her eyes wide in admiration. “Damn. You’re meaner than I am!”
The one in the trenchcoat took the one in gray by the arm. “You know…you know how big that one is, and how it’ll react with the despair and the doubt. You know how hard it will be for her to use it.”
“Yes,” said the one in gray, her voice and face still mild. “I know.” She laid her hand on the child’s cheek.
The one in the caftan moved forward, everything jingling and clattering in contrast to the quietness of the gray one. “We aren’t supposed to overload them! You know the rules. She’s already gotten Mal’s two, how can you give her something so hard?”
The one in gray smiled. “Because she needs it. And because the world will need her to have it.” She stroked the baby’s wisp of hair. “It is not too much. It will take her a long time to grasp and to use well. It will make her strong. And that is what’s needed.” She stepped back from the cradle. “All right, we’re done now. Shall we go?”
The room was quiet again, and the girl-child slept on, the gifts of the visitors clutched invisibly in her chubby baby hands.