Excerpt: The Fairy Gift
On my eighteenth birthday, I was to be blessed by a fairy. Every three generations, on the eve of the eldest child’s eighteenth birthday, a fairy would appear and grant the child a wondrous magical gift. No one knew why, but it was said that my great ancestors had helped the fairies in some way, and that as a reward the king of the fairies had decreed that every third generation, the family should be given a gift by a powerful fairy.
I had never met my great-grandfather, but he had possessed the ability to control the weather, and he used that ability to great success, purchasing a small serfdom with his inheritance and using his magic to make the crops rich and abundant, and my family wealthy.
That was many years ago, of course, and we were not so rich now. I grew up frequently reminded of the day when I would receive my blessing and use it to restore the family’s wealth. I couldn’t say that I was terribly excited about the prospect, but I was, shall we say, resigned. After having been told the story all my life, it was hard to imagine any other future. Sometimes I would lie awake at night, wondering what gift the fairies would bestow upon me. Perhaps I, too, would be able to control nature, or perhaps I would be a great warrior, or be able to turn lead into gold. These prospects excited me, and in the months leading up to my eighteenth birthday, I grew a little eager for the day. That all changed when I learned the news.
“Things aren’t like they used to be, Marcus, son,” my mother had said, twisting the fabric of her apron between her hands, as she did when she was anxious or upset. “All the money and power are in the capital with the king. There’s nothing for you here, and you have such prospects.”
“Your mother is right, son,” my father had agreed readily. “With what you will be able to do, you’ll do a great service to the king.”
“But you don’t know what I’ll be able to do, ” I pleaded. “This is ridiculous. What if the king doesn’t wish to employ me?”
“Then you’ll skip right back here, and we’ll decide what to do from there,” my father said, seeing nothing wrong with the prospect of carting me around like a pile of sheepskins that wouldn’t sell at market.
“Marcus, the man we’ve hired does this all the time,” my mother cut in. “He says there are many boys with magical powers who live in the country, and who become very wealthy after he takes them to the palace and introduces them to the king. And he’s offered to do so with you for a very reasonable price.”
“So you’re selling me,” I said crossly, knowing that I was behaving immaturely, but not caring.
“Marcus, don’t be childish,” my father chided. “You’ll be eighteen soon, and then…”
“And then you can cash in on my birthright and sell me to the highest bidder,” I finished. “Brilliant.”
I ran off before we could continue the conversation.
I didn’t want to leave Rell. I was in love with the rolling fields, the forests dappled with sunlight, and the slowly lumbering cattle and sheep. The serfs who tended the animals were like family to me. I had spent my childhood wandering the streets of the village and helping the various serfs. The small, dirty village and the cold, crumbling castle at the end of the road were my home, and I had thought they always would be.
The day before my eighteenth birthday, I woke early and dressed in a daze, hastily tying back my long brown hair and pulling on the rough homespun clothes I always wore. At seventeen, I was full-grown. Tall, with a strong, masculine face—attractive enough to eventually acquire a well-bred wife.
The thought hung heavily over me while I made my way down to the village bakery, as I did every Tuesday, to help Mrs Miller with making bread. I was expected to marry and produce an heir to whom the gift would be passed down. I hoped to marry a rich socialite with whom I would have very little interaction, which would suit me just fine—but the thought that I might never be able to produce an heir, even with a willing wife, was what bothered me.
Well, that and the real reason I always went to help with the bread baking on Tuesday mornings: a woodsman named Adam. I couldn’t help it; some strange force had been propelling me to ask Mrs Miller if she needed help on Tuesday mornings, after I discovered that Tuesdays were when Adam delivered the lumber to the bakery. I was always skittish, glancing around and waiting for Adam’s arrival, and I was able to use the excess energy to knead a lot of dough, which was why Mrs Miller welcomed my help.