written by Cheyenne Maier
Marie was born in Hülles. But Marie was not Marie of Hülles, she didn’t stay long enough.
When she was laid in her crib for the first time, a fairy looked in the window and thought, “So ugly, so wrinkly, she looks just like Great Aunt Mauve!” And while the midwife was cleaning up, the mother was resting, and the father was in the next room toasting the family for the health of his seventh child, the fairy switched Marie with dear, old, dying Great Aunt Mauve. Great Aunt Mauve was fed and coddled for two weeks before passing away in her sleep in the human house—a preferred way to go among the fairy folk—and the family mourned her death without even realizing it wasn’t Marie.
And the fairies took care of Marie.
Until they grew bored of her.
“A convent? But why?” Marie demanded of her Aunt Beeswax, who had done the swap years ago.
“Because you can learn to read and write there,” Aunt Beeswax smiled with all her pointed teeth.
“But why do I have to go at all?” Marie knew she was whining and that the fairies hated it, but she felt vindicated to whine in this instance.
Aunt Beeswax floated down with a chest full of Marie’s clothes, “We love human children, you know that right?”—Marie nodded. —“But you have just had your first blood and that means, we don’t want you here anymore. You’re a woman.”
Marie was used to their bluntness and, swallowing the lump of hurt in her throat, she asked, “But can’t I learn to be a fairy? I can learn your magic. I could stay and be a fairy.”
Aunt Beeswax laughed. The other fairies laughed. It went on and on. Marie could still hear it even after had left her in front of the convent door.
The convent welcomed her. She shared a room with a girl called Agnes. She learned to read and write. Sister Rebecca arrived two years after Marie and made it her mission to mentor her. Sister Rebecca taught Marie horticulture, which she loved, and the ways of life, which she didn’t love so much.
“Not made for marriage or convent life, gotta tell you, girlie: life’s not going to be easy,” Sister Rebecca told her one day in the garden. Marie was inclined to agree.
It was three days before her solemn vows were to be taken. Agnes talked about the celebratory banquet to be had once she took her vows, pointedly never mentioning Marie as being among the other converts. When Sister Rebecca asked her to weed around the sage bush, where Marie found the pouch of coins buried shallowly in the dirt, she decided she was ready to leave that night.
Marie planned to look for work with an apothecary. She had the knowledge and she could read and write. The first town had an apothecary with two apprentices already; the second turned her away, scowling; the third was kind (“Your family must be missing you. I can ask my neighbor to give you a lift home in his cart. Where are you from? Here, have some tea.”) but ultimately turned her away.
Which left her walking through the woods before dusk to the next town over. Clouds began to gather, then it rained. The rain stopped and Marie exited the woods dry.
A coach drawn by four horses black as tar came along the trail that skirted the woods. It stopped in front of Marie, blocking her path to town. The door opened and out leaned a man dressed as finely as a prince.
“Marie of Nowhere, tell me how you remained dry through the rain.” It was true, not even a drop of water was on her clothes.
“No,” she answered.
“Marie of Nowhere, tell me what magic was used for this trick.”
“How ‘bout a deal?” she smiled as charmingly as she could. Amusement lit his gaze, like a child promised a game to play.
“Teach me all your magic and I will tell you the answer to your question that even you, Prince of Darkness, cannot resolve.” She extended her hand, “Limited time offer.”
“It is a deal,” he grasped her hand and shook. He lit a fire for them to sit by and so the Great Adversary taught Marie all the magic he had learnt and stolen in his life. When the East horizon began to glow with the anticipation of dawn, he finished and pointed at Marie. “Now, tell me your magic.”
“Your majesty, it was no magic. I saw the clouds gathering, so I disrobed and hid my clothes and my bag in the knot of a tree. I sheltered myself in a hollow log and waited for the rain to pass.”
His mouth gaped open, his eyes wide in incredulity. She shushed the fire, which dwindled down to coals as she asked. Marie walked over to the Adversary, who was still as a fallen tree, and lifted him by his arm.
She led him slowly to the coach, “You are a good teacher, but you have much to learn yourself. This has already happened to the old god Veles, I know you are young but you should listen to the old tales, they still have much to teach.”
He had one foot on the step, “I can make you a witch, sign my contract.”
“Thanks, but I didn’t leave the convent to subject myself to someone else’s power.”
The carriage continued down the road, slowly, as desolate as its lord.
Marie watched it go. She looked toward the town, she had had one plan, but now she had another. She went down the road the way the coach had come. And she had many adventures.
She told a queen’s servant where to find a goblin who had traded a pile of golden thread for her firstborn. She advised a king on how to turn his count, cursed to be a werewolf, back to a man. She gifted a magic mirror which always told the truth to a princess made to wed a king many years her senior.
She became the wise woman known to all royals and aristocrats. And through it all, she gained access to all the royal libraries. She devoured these texts like a glutton.
But very few held non-human tomes, unsurprisingly.
So, she went to the gnomes first. In exchange for a glass coffin to preserve a young girl paler than bone, who was nearly-almost-but-not-quite dead, Marie got a catalogue of magical gems. From the Northern mermaids, she got a shell that told all the stories of the sea. As thanks, she gave them a knife that could turn their sister’s human legs back to a fin.
As she sat transcribing the shell’s stories, the shell propped between her shoulder and her ear, the Prince of Darkness sat down at her table in the nearly empty pub. She eyed him, then said into the pink conch, “I’m going to have to cut you off here.” She set it down, steepling her fingers together.
“You look well, Marie.”
“As do you.” They looked at each other, the Prince smiled at her, waved over a drink.
“I hardly think you’re here by accident. Do you want something?”
“My offer still stands.”
“No, thank you. I’ve learned all the magic I need from you and the rest I’ll find from books.”
“I could give you,” he moved to the seat next to her, leaning close, “Other things.”
“No sex for me, thanks.”
He chuckled, “Your Christian learning has stuck, the Sisters would be proud.”
“I don’t abstain for God. In fact, masturbating is one of my favorite hobbies.”
The Adversary spat out his drink. He coughed, retracting the arm he was sneaking around her waist.
“But doing it with someone else,” she shrugs. “Sounds gross.”
“It is, believe me,” he groaned into his stein. He took a large swig that emptied half the stein.
“Weren’t you just propositioning me?”
“Truth. But I just use it as one of my recruitment methods. I don’t actually enjoy it myself.”
“The girls at the convent whispered that you held mass orgies.”
He pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes and groaned, “So many fluids. Do you know how many fluids ooze out during sex? A lot.”
“Right! And your pastors say ‘Sex is bad’ but people still do it anyway. Humans are worse than rabbits. Then they turn around and say ‘The Devil made me do it.’ No, I did not! Humans are the worst.”
“I cannot refute this claim. I ran into a king whose wife criticized a woman for having twins, saying a woman couldn’t have more than one child at a time unless she had more than one lover. Then proceeded to have seven sons and sent them away to die in the woods so her husband wouldn’t find out.” Marie waved over two more drinks.
“And they call me the bad guy!” The Adversary finished his first stein off in a great chug and gratefully accepted the second one Marie handed him.
They drank and conversed long into the night. By the end, he insisted she call him Jack. While it had not been a productive evening, it had been an entertaining one. She threw Jack’s cloak over him where he lay on the pub floor asleep and departed for Ogre country.
Within a fortnight, she stood before the Ogre king. Cattle carcasses hung from hooks, horses, too, their meat as red as the clay walls of the underground palace. The court stood in clusters near the mineral columns, whispering to one another, watching her stand before the king who was twice her size.
“I want the neighboring country on the coast,” said the Ogre king. It was a simple statement but a large request.
“That is ruled by a king with a strong army and I do not like to include myself in warfare.”
His lips pulled back to show his gums and all his orange teeth―a smile. “Then do it through marriage.”
Marie was glad the fairies had taught her to keep a blank face for these such situations, a normal person would recoil in disgust. She glanced to his left-hand side, where the royal children stood beside his throne. Skin with warts, an oily sheen to their dark hair, hunched posture, eyes too bulbous, and jagged teeth that peeked out over their lips. They were all so equally revolting it was hard to differentiate between the girls and the boys.
She couldn’t imagine dooming someone to a marriage with one them. But the Ogres had the books of conquered realms which existed nowhere else in the world. This required fairy wording.
“Fine. Give me the books and I will help the matchmaking of the princess of the country on the coast to one of your family.”
“It is a deal. Give her the books.” The hall rejoiced. Mary strategized.
The Coastal King had only sons and with the right spells, he and his sons would never have daughters. No daughters, no princess; simple. But it was best to keep an eye on the situation. She began to look into real estate.
Marie found a nice, cozy tower between the two kingdoms, hardly stumbled upon by travelers and never bothered by the local villagers, or anyone else for that matter. Except a stupid raven.
By the fifth visit she’d had enough and on his sixth visit he was caught in her trap.
And so, Marie got a raven for a messenger. Word spread to the coast about the Good Fairy of the Black Tower. Marie never bothered to correct people when they called her a fairy, a witch, and so forth. And so, she read.
And read. And read for decades.
Until her Raven, her only companion in the tower she never left, told her of a princess born to the King and Queen of the Coast. There was to be a christening party, making all the fairies in the realm her godmothers, gifting them with golden plates, as thanks for helping the King and Queen conceive a child. Marie grabbed her cloak and thousand-league boots, “Come along, Raven, we’re going to a christening.”
The major domo paled upon her arrival, which did not surprise her, she was an old woman now, wrinkled with a hunched posture from reading. What did surprise her was him saying the whole kingdom had thought her dead. While she had kept contact with outside kingdoms, she realized she had never directly contacted the Coastal kingdom. It didn’t matter.
The major domo announced her, “The Great Fairy of the Black Tower!”
The revelry in the hall fell silent. She walked in, Raven upon her shoulder, with the help of a wooden staff. The table to the right sat the fairy godmothers. Aunt Beeswax was there. The humans looked fearful. The fairies looked livid.
“It appears,” Marie said, approaching the bassinet, where the king, queen, and another fairy stood, “I did not receive an invitation.”
She returned to her tower late in the night. She let out a long breath. Death would have been merciful. But Beeswax had altered her spell. It was a stroke of luck that one of the ogre royalty had conceived a child with a human. If her Glamour spell worked, the ogre Halfling would marry a human and so forth for the following generations. Then, the princess would not have to marry such an ugly beast like the ogre children she had seen years before. The prince she would meet in after a hundred years of sleep would be handsome. And she would complete her bargain.
Her chest hurt. She had not moved and done so much in years. She made her way to her bed to lay down. She stared at the ceiling, breathing heavily.
Raven stood on her nightstand. “You’ve done a lot today for someone who has always had her nose in a book.”
“Yes.” She swallowed and rasped out, “I think it was too much for me.”
Raven was silent for some time, just watching her struggle for breath. “I think so, too,” he said in deeper voice. He jumped to the floor and stood and stretched up until he was the shape of a man. But he was no man.
“Ha,” Marie exhaled the laugh, “I should have known.”
Jack kneeled next to the bed, he moved a lock of grey hair from her face. He looked contemplative.
“You’ve lived a long life, Marie. Read so much. Learned more than any other.”
“Yes. But…” She wet her lips, Jack listened intently. “I never got to write anything. I have so much to tell. And now there’s no time.”
Jack leaned close, he lightly placed an arm over her waist, and gently rested his head on her shoulder. Marie hiccupped a sob, Aunt Beeswax had been the last person to hug her, back when she had been a child.
“I can take you somewhere. A world to start over again. But it will be a world with no magic. Which might be best since I don’t think you’re on any fairy’s good side right now”—she exhaled a laugh—“I can’t promise a happy ending, though.
“Don’t imagine your deals ever end well for people.”
“This isn’t a deal,” he murmured. “It’s a gift. To a friend.”
Whoever has good material for a story is grieved if the tale is not well told. Hear, my lords, the words of Marie, who, when she has the opportunity, does not squander her talents.―Marie of France from The Lais of Marie de France
Cheyenne Maier is an undergraduate student at San Francisco State University majoring in Creative Writing and has just returned back to the states after studying abroad in England. Her long terms goals include writing novels about asexual characters fitting in to sex-rampant societies.