This is a story I wrote for a friend’s birthday. It’s nearly six months late, but I hope you like it, AyBenelli!
By Gabrielle Rogers
Once upon a time, in a magical faraway land, there lived a decidedly unusual princess.
Alvena couldn’t understand why people couldn’t see past her appearance. Sure, her ears were pointy, but she kept them covered ninety per cent of her day anyway – the only time one could see her ears was when she was bathing. Perhaps it was her oddly luminous skin? Or could it be her eyes, which were the colour of the full moon? She was the only one of her family who looked like this – her brothers and sisters and parents looked completely human. They didn’t think anything of her appearance; she was their sister and daughter, and nothing would change that.
Alvena was almost a legend among the castle servants, and many citizens of the country of Alomira didn’t actually know for sure whether or not she existed. This was due to her parents’ decision to keep her in the castle until she decided herself to venture outdoors. That day came when she was fourteen. She decided to tour the kingdom and remove any doubt of her existence, but the reaction she got from the castle inhabitants put her off that notion very quickly.
“There’s nothing wrong with being a legend,” she said, trying to justify herself to her family.
She rarely emerged from her quarters after that. One day she dreamt of travelling the kingdom, but she had to find some way to hide her skin. She dedicated herself to researching her condition, and carried out experiments on herself, much to the consternation of her mother and father. On one occasion she nearly burned a hole in her palm by using the incorrect amount of a certain chemical, turning the substance into acid.
Her parents continued to let her experiment only under the supervision of a professional.
Seven years passed, and she made very little progress, other than to become very knowledgeable in the area of dermatology. She was coming of age that year and to celebrate her parents insisted on hosting a ball. As if this wasn’t bad enough they had decided to invite all the eligible young bachelors from their kingdom and the ones surrounding. Alvena knew that the party would just end in whispering and pointing, so she began to work harder at finding a way to conceal her glowing skin.
“I don’t know what they were thinking,” Alvena complained to her mentor, a frog humanoid named Felicity, three months before her birthday. “I mean, throwing me a ball? There is nothing more likely to scare people off than my arrival.”
“I don’t know, Princess,” Felicity replied, absentmindedly catching a fly and eating it. “Perhaps the citizens will be more willing to accept you if you show them that you are just as human as they. And there will be foreign dignitaries there, will there not?”
“Yes,” Alvena said, “what’s your point?”
“Perhaps one of them has seen someone like you before,” the frog replied. “The Realm is a very big place.”
“The thought did cross my mind,” Alvena admitted. “It’s why I want to travel.” She was silent for a moment as she mixed one chemical into another. There was a small bang and lavender wafted up from the glass jar.
“Oh, very good!” Felicity clapped her webbed hands in delight. “I had no doubt you could do it.”
Alvena lifted the beaker to her nose and breathed in.
“But this only masks odour, not glow,” she said, tipping the liquid into her perfume jar.
“Yes, I know.” Felicity indicated the chair opposite to her and Alvena sat down. Folding her hands in front of her, the frog said, “Why don’t you try magic again, Alvena?”
“Because last time, if you recall, I was invisible for a week!” Alvena said indignantly. “That wasn’t pleasant, and I was almost pushed down the grand stairs twice!”
“You were fifteen and unsupervised, Alvena, and we would get a trained witch in to help with your research. That would make this process much quicker.”
Alvena stood abruptly and paced, thinking.
“I thought you didn’t like magic,” she said, just shy of accusing. Felicity inclined her frog-like head.
“I will admit to disliking it,” she said, “but it taught me to never take things for granted.”
“It turned you into a frog!”
“Not completely, and it was an untrained and stupid witch who did that, Alvena, not magic. Magic is quite controllable when in the hands of a properly trained magician.”
Alvena looked at her for a long moment, then, picking up her bottle of perfume, strode into her room. She fell on her bed with a sigh.
“Magic enables us to have light at night without using so many candles, do not forget that,” said Felicity, hopping after Alvena.
“I know. But, you know, there are countries who use something called ‘electricity’ instead.”
“And how many problems do they have with that?” Felicity said, folding her arms and leaning against a bedpost.
“Lots,” Alvena admitted.
“Magic doesn’t rely on a constant fuel source other than nature, and anything it takes out it returns, sevenfold, with the energy it collects from burning as it does.”
“But countries that run purely on magic have issues too,” Alvena said desperately.
“Yes, because too much magic causes it to go wild, which is why Alomira maintains a balance of magic and science. But you know all this, Alvena. If you don’t want to use magic, just say so. Don’t argue to avoid the issue.”
“I don’t know,” Alvena said, chewing a lip. “Are you sure it won’t turn out like last time?”
“We can even hire a faerie if you like, instead of just a witch.”
“A master? Would they really want to spend time on me?”
Felicity stared at Alvena in astonishment.
“You are Crown Princess Alvena of Alomira. Do you not think that anyone would jump at the chance to work with you? I did – literally,” she said, and hopped. Alvena chuckled.
“I suppose. Ok,” she said, and sighed. “I had such high hopes for science.”
“I know you did,” Felicity stood and offered her hand to the princess. “Come. It’s time you ate something.”
A notice was put out the next day in all the reputable and respected schools of ragic throughout the Realm. In the two weeks that followed hundreds of masters descended upon Alomira Castle. Alvena and Felicity created challenges combining both theory and practical components to test each one’s aptitude; only the best could assist the princess. Alvena herself did not participate much in the proceedings, as she was afraid that her appearance would repulse the masters. Instead she watched from a small balcony that was hidden from view.
Finally only ten masters remained. Alvena surveyed them as they assembled before her parents.
“They all look rather weak,” she said.
“Don’t be vindictive, Alvena,” Felicity said. “They’ve done very well to progress this far.”
“We’ll see how they cope when presented with the problem,” she said, and walked into the throne room. There was a collective gasp as she came into sight, but no one actually ran as Alvena had expected. She was mildly disappointed.
“You have all demonstrated an aptitude for unusual and complex magic. Well, here is the subject you will be working with: you will be required to help me to find a way to hide my skin.”
“There is a simple solution to that, which I can teach you here and now,” said a soft, accented voice. One of the masters stepped forward. Alvena assumed from the master’s figure that she was female; she was clothed completely in black, and wore a scarf to cover her head. Alvena could only see her eyes, which were not unlike her own. Her heart began to race.
“My name is Kerryn, Spell-Bringer in your language.” she said. “I am what is known in human legends as an elf.”
In one smooth motion she untied the scarf covering her head and stepped out of her black robes, revealing a wiry body clad in what looked to be giant leaves. Her eyes, now that she could see them fully, were identical to Alvena’s own, and her pointy ears were clearly visible beneath the elf’s long white hair. It was Kerryn’s skin, however, which made Alvena exclaim and hug the other woman, for it was dark green and luminous and matched Alvena’s complexion completely.
The situation degenerated from there. The other masters were all clamouring to speak to Kerryn and Alvena was crying and clinging to the elf’s neck and Felicity was exclaiming and the king and queen were sitting in their thrones, stunned, and it grew louder and louder until Kerryn waved her hand and the room was silent. She detangled herself from Alvena’s arms, waited for the masters and Felicity to realise that they had been silenced, and then spoke.
“My name is Kerryn, and I am the mara, the head, of the Dwinattear. Magic is the main concern for our guild, and we practice is as both an art and a trade. My role here is as an ambassador of the Race of Elves. The guild heads have decided that it is time we began to interact with the rest of the realm, and your request for a tutor for your daughter seemed like an opportunity to begin the process.
“That is the official reason for my visit. However, I am here on a more personal note.”
Kerryn began to pace.
“Let me tell you a story.
“When I was much younger I was bonded with an elf of another guild. While this is rare it is not unheard of, and I am lucky enough to be in an open minded guild where bondings with outsiders is very common. As it happened my theln, my husband, decided to join my guild, and we lived happily for a while.
“Then one guild attacked another over a supposed stolen sacred artefact. The guilds divided into two factions, the Trade-centred guilds and the Art-centred guilds, and a full scale war was declared. The Race of Elves began to implode.
“The Dwinattear was the last guild to join the war. As we had members who supported both sides it was difficult to know which was right. The guild was split in two and looked as if it might itself implode. Many elves left and joined other guilds until we were reduced to just half our original one thousand. The Council of Elders became increasingly concerned. They decided, as the only guild not participating in the war, that we had to be the ones who resolved it. The mara of the time called the other guild maras together. A collective hadn’t been called for many ages so this act itself was enough to cause a truce for a short while.”
“I was not party to the proceedings of the meeting, but our mara was assassinated by a Trades supporter and most of our Council of Elders was killed. The remainder of the Dwinattear Council decided to support the Arts, adding its formidable war mages to the force.
“It was about this time that I fell pregnant with my first child. I had been elected onto the Council as one of the senior masters of healing and anatomical magic, and so I was always at risk of attack. My pregnancy was a concern to the rest of the Council, and so it was decided that I must find a women in the wider Realm to transfer my child to.
“I set out at once. I had not gone far when I came across this castle, and lo, the queen here was pregnant! I concealed myself nearby and examined her. I found that she was unaware that her own child had died inside her. It was a simple process, after this, to switch the unborn children. I cast spells on my child to make her look human, spells which apparently failed after long. I was exceedingly emotional at this point, and so must have miscast. The queen’s child I carried back to my own land and suffered the pain of a miscarriage in place of the birth of my own child.”
Kerryn turned away from her audience, and Alvena saw her wipe her eyes before turning back. Her heart was fluttering as Kerryn took a step toward her.
“Princess Alvena, it was just over twenty years ago that I lost you. Know that for every one of those years I have never forgotten you. Were it not for the war I would have returned much sooner, but it is only in the last five years that peace has come and as a mara I had a large role in re-establishing the success of our nation. Now, though, I have come, and you may return to your homeland.” She held out her arms as if she expected Alvena to run to her, but the princess was backing away. Kerryn removed the silencing spell and Alvena ran and embraced the queen, who was crying.
“I will need to consider it,” she said, turning to Kerryn. “Give me a week, and then you will know. Felicity?”
Alvena beckoned to her mentor and walked back through the veil, leaving the room silent except for the sobbing of the queen.
A week later, Alvena still hadn’t reached a decision. Returning to the elf world with Kerryn meant that she wouldn’t be the unusual and strange one, always stared at by others, but she didn’t want to leave her human family, who she knew and loved. Her parents had told her amid many tears that they would support her in any decision she made, which was a relief. To leave her family under bad circumstances would be possibly the worse thing that could happen.
There was a knock on the door of her bedroom. Kerryn entered and sat on the edge of her bed, as she had done many times that week. Alvena had come to enjoy her talks with the older elf and had learnt quite a lot about the race to which she belonged, as well as a number of spells. As a member of the Dwinattear she had a natural affinity for magic. Kerryn was unsurprised to discover that she had been able to turn herself invisible as young as fifteen; she had done the same thing when she was just a little younger.
“How are you feeling?” Kerryn asked.
“Well.” Alvena replied, then added, “I haven’t decided what to do yet.”
“I know. It is a big decision to make.”
“What is your main concern?” Kerryn said.
“That I’ll never see my family again,” Alvena said, wrapping her arms around her luminous knees.
“That won’t happen,” Kerryn said. “You are able to visit them whenever you like. I will teach you the spell for fast travel.”
“Yes, I suppose,” Alvena said.
“But seeing them occasionally would not be the same as seeing them every day?”
Alvena nodded and wiped tears from her eyes.
“I understand that also,” Kerryn said tenderly. “It was a concern of mine when I was married.”
“But you weren’t moving to a different country,” Alvena said, and burst into tears.
“I would have been moving to a different territory. Guild relations have never been stable, which makes it even more difficult to travel between them. It’s even more difficult now.” She embraced the younger elf and stroked her white hair.
“If I come, may I stay for my birthday ball next month?” Alvena said after a while.
“Of course,” Kerryn replied, sitting back. “I must leave today or tomorrow, but I will return for your birthday, if you wish.”
“Yes,” Alvena said. “And can you bring your husband?”
“I will see what I can do.”
Alvena took a breath and let it out slowly.
“Then I will come with you after my party,” she said. Kerryn’s face didn’t change, but Alvena thought she saw a flash of happiness in her pale eyes. She stood.
“I need to tell my parents,” she said.
“I will come with you,” Kerryn replied, and they walked out of the room together.
It was decided that Alvena’s ball would also serve as the introduction of the elves to the rest of the realm, so Kerryn was returning with not only her husband but also an envoy of elves from the eleven guilds. Once this news was out, even those who had said that they weren’t coming changed their answer. Alvena didn’t know whether or not to feel offended, but she supposed that it was to be expected.
The night of the ball was clear and crisp. Alvena paced in front of her mirror, adjusting locks of hair and the folds of her traditional elven robe, which Kerryn had brought back from the elven country. She was very nervous. Her older brother had offered to escort her to the ball, which she was grateful for – she thought she might fall if she didn’t have anyone to lean on.
“Are you ready?” Felicity said from the door. “Your brother is waiting.”
“I can’t help but feel that my life is about to change,” Alvena said, taking one last critical look in the mirror before following her out the door.
“It is,” her brother said. “You’re leaving your country and family. Everything’s going to be different now.”
“Thanks for the vote of confidence,” Alvena said, taking his arm.
Her arrival in the ballroom had every bit as much of an impact as she expected. She heard a collective gasp as she came into view; the elven representatives entering after her did not help. There was absolute silence as she descended the stairs and went to stand at the podium that had been set up before her human parent’s thrones.
“People of the Realm,” she began. “I am Alvena, Crown Princess of Alomira. Many of you were unaware of my existence; my decision to hid myself from the world was not, in hindsight, my wisest decision, but the past cannot be changed. I come before you today to prove my existence and also to announce the existence of a race that has long been a figure in our fairytales and folk lore, and of which I am a part. May I introduce to you, ladies and gentlemen, to the Elves of the Darkened Forest, and to the ambassador of the Dwinattear guild, my mother, Kerryn.”
There was a smattering of applause as Kerryn stepped onto the platform. As she spoke, telling the assemble noblemen and women of the war and of her role in it and how it was that a princess of the Realm was the child of an elf, Alvena saw her audience begin to relax. Following Kerryn were short speeches given by members of the other ten guilds, some translated by Kerryn, others spoken in the common language of the Realm. After they had finished, Alvena stepped forward once more.
“Tonight is the night of my twenty-first birthday. I have hidden myself away for all these years attempting to find some way to hide my appearance before I could travel the Realm. From this night forward I will no longer be ashamed of how I look. Instead I will embrace my heritage and look to the future. To begin with, tomorrow I will be returning with my mother and father to the Darkened Forest to begin training in the magical arts. I will return often to visit my human family, however the Dwinattear territory will become my new home, and the Dwinattear my new people.
“Tonight, however, is a celebration of this new connection. I trust that you will all enjoy yourselves, and make our new friends welcome. Thank you all for coming, and I wish you a good evening.”
The hall burst into applause, and Alvena stepped down. She looked at her human parents, who had come to stand with her elven parents behind her. As she looked at them hope swelled in her chest and she embraced both of her mothers, the one who conceived her and the one who birthed her. She knew that the coming months would be hard, but also that she would have the support of many people to get through. That itself enough to calm her fears. The future looked bright and scary and exciting, and she could hardly wait to get started.