It was the christening of the newborn Princess Rosalinda, and her mother and father had invited all the fairies of the kingdom to attend. It was a lavish celebration, filled with music, dancing, and a banquet the likes of which had not been seen since the last royal child had been born; and then, as had been done for the noble children of this kingdom for centuries upon centuries, each fairy came forward and offered their gift to the little princess in her cradle.
“You will be as beautiful as the dawn, with eyes like the ocean and hair like the midday sun,” said one fairy.
“You will sing with the voice of an angel.”
“You will be kind.”
“You will be gentle.”
The list went on in similar fashion. The fairy Melisande watched quietly from a corner. She had sat in her place, undisturbed, for the vast majority of the celebration. This was the first such event to which she had ever been invited; Melisande tended to keep to herself, hidden away in her little hut in the mountains. She suspected the humans hadn’t realized she existed until one day, a group of children had found themselves lost on her mountaintop and she had sent them home to their families. Melisande had always been rather fond of children; perhaps one of her brethren had let this slip to the royal family, and that was why she had been invited this time. Perhaps they had hoped she, too, would bestow a gift upon the infant. But as she observed the proceedings, Melisande found herself growing ill at the thought. The more she thought about the whole practice, the more she thought that these “gifts” seemed less like presents to the young child than a list of commands she would have no choice but to obey.
And what if she didn’t want to sing? Melisande wanted to argue. What if it wasn’t in her nature to be always good and giving? They were warping the spirit of this innocent child before she even had a chance.
At last, every fairy had given a gift – all but Melisande. “Aren’t you going to give the princess a gift?” whispered her seatmate, a matronly fairy named Tansy who grew flowers with magical properties deep in one of the western forests. Melisande opened her mouth to reply that no, she would absolutely not contribute to such rubbish, when suddenly a thought occurred to her.
“Yes,” she said instead, “I believe I will.” And so she stood and made her way over to where the cradle stood, with the king and queen standing proudly and lovingly over their little girl. Melisande was not impressed. If they truly loved their child, they would allow no one to change her very nature simply to make it more pleasing to others. Melisande looked away from them, choosing instead to look down into the cradle at the little girl whom it had all been for. Her hair had not yet grown in; there was no telling what color it would be, although sunshine-yellow seemed unlikely given her mother and father’s dark brown locks. Her eyes were still the same clear blue all babies are born with; they would not turn to their natural shade until later on. Here was the perfect, unformed seed of a human being, and Melisande had only one thing she wanted to give this child. She smiled, and spoke:
“My gift to you,” said Melisande, “is that you will be none of those things.” There was a collective gasp, followed by scandalized whispers and murmurs throughout the great hall. Melisande waited for them to die down, and then continued in the deathly silence that followed: “You will not grow into a stranger’s beauty. Your face and form will be your own, and they will be beautiful in their own right, but human and imperfect, just as they should be.
“You will not sing with the voice of an angel; you will sing with your own voice, if you so choose, or not at all, if that should be your desire. Angels are all well and good, but the heavens sent us you, and we should be grateful.
“Your talents will be your own; your heart, your thoughts will be your own. At some things you will be naturally skilled; at others, you may not. In some ways, you will be the dearest little girl anyone could ever ask for; in other ways, you will be a misery. But it will all come from you, and none other, and that is as it should be. Your spirit will remain unsullied by the twisted expectations of others, though I cannot say the same for the rest of you; the world is cruel to those who defy it, even in the smallest ways. At your core, however, you will be as the rest of us are: yourself; purely, simply yourself, in a way that cannot be taken from you.
“This is my gift to you: that you will be free from the loss of self offered to you on this day, and that no one will ever take this freedom from you.” Melisande stepped back from the cradle to survey the room. For a moment, no one moved; every face she saw was a mirror of shock and horror. The sight gave her a strange sort of satisfaction, because these people should be horrified, if not for the reasons they believed.
Her satisfaction was short-lived. “Guards!” shouted the king, and the armored men standing about the room began to surge forward.
“Hah!” barked Melisande, before any of them had taken more than a step forward. “Don’t bother. I’ll find my own way out.” With a quick flick of her hand, she froze the guard in their tracks, and turned to the king and queen. “Love your daughter for who she is,” she advised. “Not for who you wanted her to be.” And then, with a swirl of her cloak, she was gone.