“Mira,” her mother fastened her gaze on the table cloth, still pristine and white, “I’m going to tell you a story. I need you not to interrupt me until I’m finished. All right?”
Not liking the sound of that, Mira nodded. How was she supposed to figure things out if she couldn’t ask questions?
“Once upon a time—”
“I thought you said this was a real story.” Mira folded her arms and raised a brow.
“Then why did you—”
“All the very best stories start with ‘Once upon a time,’” her mother said in her usual no-nonsense voice. “This one is no exception. May I continue?”
Her mother took a deep breath. “Once upon a time, there was a young girl who lived in a village near the edge of a great kingdom. The day began with the smell of her mother baking bread, and it ended near the fire where her father would tell her stories.
“Stories of castles and magic and fantastic creatures. More than anything, this little girl wanted to believe in magic.
“Time passed, and the family grew. Her mother still baked bread, but there was never enough to go around. The day was filled with chores and weaving—for that was how her family managed to stay afloat—and floors that never stayed clean and dishes that never stayed washed. The night still ended with stories, but more and more, her father fell into deep, thinking silences.
“It was time, the girl decided, to find some magic. Magic that would bring laughter and sunshine back into her home. Magic that could help with the weaving and take care of the chores. Magic that would bring back her father’s stories. So, one morning, the girl packed a bag and went off in search of magic.”
Now that, Mira thought, was a very sensible thing to do. She wondered why she hadn’t thought of doing the same thing. Math problems and grammar lessons were every bit as boring and desirable as cooking and cleaning.
“The girl traveled to the edge of a forest that had been rumored to be enchanted. She was frightened, at first, to enter, but thoughts of her family gave her the courage to put one foot in front of the other.
“She wandered until the sun began to sink into the purple hills. And then, just as the sun had nearly bled out, when light and shadow changed hands, the girl found what she was looking for.”
“Magic,” Mira breathed.
“Magic,” her mother agreed. “A ring of toadstools and a wandering pixie, to be exact.”
“A pixie?” Mira clapped her hands, picturing the scene in her mind. “They really exist?”
Her mother nodded.
Oh! If only she could have been lucky enough to meet one. Still, being related to someone who’d seen a real, live pixie was better than nothing.
The girl would have stepped into the ring, her heart beating every bit as hard as Mira’s. Her stomach would have fluttered between fear and anticipation, and then she would have closed her eyes.
“I wish for magic,” Mira and her mother said at the exact same time.
Mira opened her eyes, wonder overcoming her anxiety for the very first time that day. What were bloodthirsty creatures and shadows to a faerie queen?
The smile was gone from her mother’s face, and the worry line was back. “The pixie, being the closest to the ring, had to answer her call.
“‘But what will you give me for it?’ the pixie demanded. ‘No magic comes without a price.’”
Mira furrowed her brow. She didn’t like the sound of that. What kind of price would she have to pay to be a queen? Dealing with the Pink Lemonade Brigade for years should count toward something.
“The girl was a child, but wise as most children are. ‘Give me a bit of magic, and I’ll help you in your time of need,’ she said.
“The pixie, anxious to be on its way, agreed. A drop of blood to bind the promises together, to give the one power over the other. And so it has been that magical knacks have continued down through the first girl’s line.”
“So my knack is being a queen?” Mira asked, impressed with herself.
Her mother frowned a little. “Not quite. Your knack has two parts: belief, and speaking that belief into being. It’s part of why you love the old stories so much. I can’t imagine how that will aid the Folk, and I’m not sure I like the idea of you being a queen.”
Mira gripped the scroll until the vellum crinkled. Why couldn’t her mother be happy for her? This was a dream come true!
“But it’s all I’ve ever wanted.” True, she’d never raised her eyes beyond being a princess in the fairy tales she’d read, but that was before all this had happened. Before she’d learned that dreams that were too big to say out loud could come true.
“Be careful what you wish for.” Her mother’s voice was dire, underscoring the thing that had crept between them during the story. It was an invisible feeling, full of shadows and prickles when what Mira wanted was sunshine and sparkles.
She shook her head at the tea table, the empty teacups, and her mother. “Didn’t you want your knack? Even a little?” It was hard to imagine not wanting one. She’d only known about hers for a short time, but already it had become an irreplaceable part of her center.
Her mother sighed, long and drawn out and full of adult cares. “Yes. But if I’d had the choice, I might well have chosen differently. So much in our lives might have been different—better—if I’d been allowed to speak for myself.”
“What do you mean? Aren’t our knacks passed down the family line? Like you said, it’s in our blood.”
“Not quite. The possibility is passed down, but a magical knack isn’t like hair or eye color. It’s a choice, and one that’s been taken far too lightly in the past.” Her mother snapped her lips shut over the angry words trying to burst out past her lips.
Mira shrank down a little. How could something so wonderful upset her mother so much? “Who makes the choice?”
“The matriarch of the family, in honor of the first girl. It is she who makes the deal with the Folk. It is she who nicks the knack for each child right after the child is born. No one asks the child what she would like. They’re all too caught up in the magic for that.”
Mira felt like an empty balloon—one that had flown with the stars, but had then run out of helium until it was a wrinkled bag of rubber. A seed of a dream. And right now, it looked like all her mother had left were seeds. Why couldn’t she remember what it felt like to touch the sky?
“Is it really that bad,” she asked, her voice mostly a whisper, “to have a gift from the Folk?”
Her mother laughed, a sound like a bird trapped in her throat. “All magic comes with a price, and sometimes that price costs more than you could ever bargain for.”
. . . TO BE CONTINUED . . .
© 2014 by Danyelle Leafty. All rights reserved. Originally published in Curiosities of the Moon.
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