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Cordelia Naismith Vorkosigan ([personal profile] greatcomposure) wrote2014-12-07 08:31 pm

the non-princess of raxwell

As is customary, Duke Ainar and Duchess Celyta of Raxwell hold a large party to announce the birth and naming of their first child. The guest list is carefully assembled, with much checking and re-checking, because it wouldn't do to leave someone off who might object and make a fuss, but neither do they want to invite more people than their medium-sized castle can actually hold. They send off their messengers a few days before the ceremony: to the elderly Duke of Ferdinandia and his young grandson, to all other applicable neighbouring princes, to all their own nobles and the most prominent or easily offended of Ferdinandia's, and to Raxwell's four fairies, three in the east and one in the north. The fairies almost never show up to anything, but it would be the height of rudeness to exclude them.

The day arrives, and with it the guests. The Duke of Ferdinandia sends a nicely worded apology note with his gift, as expected; he is very old and doesn't travel well. Nearly everyone else shows up, though.

Including the fairies.

The youngest fairy has hair as gold as sunlight and wings as green as grass, and wears a crown of braided daisies. Her name is Summerleaf and she has a tendency to giggle. She flutters into the banquet hall just as everyone is settling into place with their gifts, and hovers excitedly near the front of the room. A harried herald pokes his head in belatedly, clears his throat several times, and announces, "The - um - the fairy Summerleaf, your graces."

"Thank you for coming," Celyta says politely.

"I've never been to a real baby-naming before!" says Summerleaf, doing a little twirl in the air. "I'm so excited, I can't wait!"

Celyta looks at Ainar. Ainar shrugs. Celyta conceals a sigh. The first few barons come up to present their gifts to the baby, who blinks huge grey eyes at them and makes vaguely approving meeping sounds.

The next oldest fairy in Raxwell has hair as white as snow and wings as blue as sapphires, and wears a crown of lilacs. Her name is Winterheart, and she is sweet-natured and a bit of a daydreamer. She arrives after several of the barons have gone past, her wings buzzing like a hummingbird's; the herald manages to get ahead of her this time, and squeaks, "The fairy Winterheart, your graces!" as Winterheart drifts over to take her place beside Summerleaf.

Celyta frowns slightly, but produces a welcoming smile. "Thank you for coming," she says to the second fairy.

"It's the proper thing," murmurs Winterheart. "For a baby's naming."

The duke and duchess are beginning to feel a little apprehensive about this, but there's nothing to be done about it now. The procession proceeds, nobles of higher and higher rank coming up to offer the baby their gifts.

By now it's hardly a surprise when the third fairy shows up. Her name is Nightfire, and she has hair the colour of amber and wings the colour of sunset and a crown made of rose petals and silk ribbons, and she is both unusually shy and unusually sensible for a fairy. She waits politely for the herald to step into the hall and announce, "The fairy Nightfire, your graces," and then she wafts up to where Summerleaf and Winterheart are hovering, and edges in between Summerleaf and the wall.

"Thank you for coming," says Celyta.

"It was no trouble," Nightfire says anxiously, peeking over Summerleaf's shoulder.

The nobles finish their orderly presentation of gifts; last of all, Ainar holds up the child-sized golden circlet sent by the Duke of Ferdinandia, to appreciative oohing from the crowd and a tiny sneeze from the baby. Celyta discreetly leans over with a handkerchief and pulls down a corner of quilted blanket to wipe the baby's mouth.

Ainar sets the circlet on top of the stack of gifts and turns to offer the three fairies a small bow. "You may now present your gifts," he says.

Summerleaf claps her hands and zooms in a circle around the cozy cradle. "Oh, oh!" she says. "I give the princess—"

Celyta sits bolt upright. Ainar's eyes widen slightly. But it would be the height of rudeness to interrupt a fairy.

"—the gift of charm!" continues Summerleaf obliviously. "So that she will be beloved by all who meet her." She touches the baby's tiny nose with the tip of one finger, producing a brief flare of green light, and zips back up to the fairies' corner.

"Um," says Celyta. But Winterheart is already making a stately descent.

"I give the princess the gift of wit," the second fairy says dreamily, hovering over the cradle with her hand extended. "Her clever mind and clever tongue will never fail her."

"Um," says Celyta, as Winterheart dusts a drift of snowy sparkles over the cradle and returns to her place with the other fairies. Nightfire peers down timidly at duke, duchess, and cradle.

The doors at the end of the hall are already open, but they rattle and bang against the walls in a gust of icy wind as Raxwell's fourth fairy makes her entrance. Her hair is as black as ink, her wings are made of spider-silk, and she wears a crown of raven feathers. On her way in, she turns the herald into a frog.

"Ribbit ribbit ribbit, ribbit ribbit," he croaks, and hops shamefacedly over to hide under a chair.

"What is the meaning of this?" demands the fairy.

Ainar bows politely to her. "Good afternoon, Fairy Stormberry," he says.

"Impertinent boy. Why was I not invited?"

"My humblest apologies," he says, "for failing to deliver your invitation. It was sent, you have my word on that."

"Was it?" she says, narrowing her eyes. "Or are you only making excuses? You know what happens to little princesses whose parents aren't polite to fairies."

"Ah... about that..." says Celyta.

Stormberry glares at her. "What?"

"I'm afraid someone has gotten very confused about something somehow," says the duchess. "Our baby isn't a princess."

"What is she then, a toad?" sneers Stormberry.

"A prince," says Celyta, "actually."

Stormberry gasps. Summerleaf squeaks. Nightfire covers her mouth with both hands. Winterheart blinks and looks around confusedly.

"How dare you," cries Stormberry. "Not a princess? Then what's the point? I can hardly curse a prince to fall into an enchanted sleep only to be woken by true love's kiss! I'd be a laughingstock! You - you set me up!"

"I assure you we did nothing of the kind," Ainar says hastily. "There must be some miscommunication—"

But Stormberry is approaching the cradle, black sparks of magic gathering in her hands. "A prince, is it? Then let him be a prince as fragile as glass, who shatters at the lightest touch!" Dark clouds bloom in her open palms, covering the cradle completely. "True love's kiss will not save him, nor any power in this world break my curse, until—until the crown of Raxwell is made whole! Ha!"

"Oh noooo," moans Nightfire behind her hands.

Stormberry vanishes in a crack of thunder.

Nightfire darts away from the wall and down to the cradle, where the clouds are just beginning to clear. "Then I—I give the prince the gift of perfect health," she says desperately. "So that however he is injured, he will always heal as good as new, a-and never will he fall ill!" She alights beside the cradle and kisses the baby's forehead; a radiant orange glow chases away the last few scraps of cloud.

"...Thank you, Fairy Nightfire," says Celyta. "That was - well thought of."

The amber-haired fairy ducks her head modestly.

"So," says Duke Ainar. He clears his throat. "Ladies, gentlemen, honoured guests, I present our son, Prince Milo of Raxwell."

A halfhearted ripple of polite applause arises from the stunned guests. Summerleaf flits out of the banquet hall immediately, looking embarrassed. Winterheart follows, looking apologetic. Nightfire pauses by the door to haul the frog-herald out from under his chair and kiss the top of his little green head, restoring his humanity, but flies away before he can thank her. The nobles disperse in a haphazard stream.

Prince Milo shifts in his nest of blankets, and starts crying very loudly. When his mother unwraps him as gently as possible, she finds he has managed to break his arm.