Fairies have one job.
They help other people practice virtue. You’ve probably heard stories about fairies taking the form of vagrants, going to castles for aid, and blessing or cursing the occupants depending on their response. This is a typical strategy, though they have dozens more.
While most fairies are content with this vocation, some deeply resent it. Two in particular come to mind: a mischievous pair of twins by the names of Jace and Acacia. When they were young, they begrudgingly accepted their job. However, after about a hundred years, they deemed humans predictable and frustrating, never learning anything despite their best efforts.
At last, they started questioning why beings as powerful as themselves should spend their lives in the service of such stupid creatures. They started amusing themselves by manipulating humans. It was much easier to get humans to practice vice than virtue, so they entertained themselves endlessly by tricking people into ruining each other. Jace and Acacia got the same pleasure from toying with the lives of humans as children do from crushing fireflies to watch their flattened innards glow.
Now fortunately, there is a magical rule that prevents fairies from directly killing humans. Any fairy that kills a human dies instantly. (I’ve never seen it happen, but I like to think they explode into dust.) So it is highly unlikely that you will ever be shanked by a fairy (even in Para Sympan). There is one small caveat: a fairy can kill a human, if the human attacks first.
This rule was not much of a hindrance to Jace and Acacia because they were exceptionally good at getting humans to kill each other. Their intelligence was far superior, they had magic beyond measure, and a complete disregard for the lives of others.
After causing three wars, the fairy counsel sentenced them to two millennia in prison. The only way to contain a fairy, is to seal it in a magic bottle. These are the same magic bottles used to contain genies. (You can actually use them to contain anything; they are very handy that way.)
So they were imprisoned, and their bottles hidden away in a desert cave. The fairy counsel filled the cavern with snakes and scorpions and left feeling confident that the bottles would remain undisturbed by curious mortals.
Princess Fausta was a curious mortal who happened to be in desperate need of a genie. She was having some family problems. They were the type of family problems she figured only magic could resolve. While finding a genie was no easy task, Fausta was relentless in her search and persisted for many months seeking clues and following rumors.
You can imagine her delight when at last she found the two bottles nestled in that dreadful desert pit. Could she really be lucky enough to find two genies?
She took the first bottle, pulled a corkscrew from her pocket, and removed the seal. It flew off with a loud POP and a blinding flash. Smoke filled the cavern and there stood Acacia blinking and fanning the air with her hand.
She was a beautiful, imposing, figure—the type of person it was hard to look directly in the eye.
“Has it been two thousand years already?” Acacia asked groggily. Then she noticed the princess. “Who are you?”
“I am Princess Fausta of Kalathea,” She replied, pulling the cork from the second bottle. It came loose immediately without a pop but smoke still filled the room. When it cleared, Jace was standing beside his sister.
“Jace,” Acacia smiled. “How long were we imprisoned?” The grogginess had left Acacia almost instantly and she looked fresh and bright, the way irritating morning people do the moment they roll out of bed.
Jace, however, still needed a moment to recover himself. “I don’t know, maybe a thousand years?” He looked around the cave taking everything in. “Not that I’m complaining, but why’d they let us out?”
“They didn’t,” Acacia answered cheerily. “This sweet lady saved us. Isn’t that nice, Jace?”
“Oh,” Jace replied, looking at the princess. “Yes, how very kind of her.”
“Perhaps we should do something to thank her for setting us free?” Acacia suggested.
A smirk flickered across Jace’s face. “Absolutely!”
Acacia addressed the princess: “Tell me, what reward can we give you? What would make the fleeting decades of your life more pleasant?”
“I was hoping for three wishes,” the princess answered.
“Three?” Laughed Jace. “She’s a bold one isn’t she? She only rescued us once.”
“Now Jace,” his sister reasoned. “There are two of us, so that’s two wishes at least.”
Fausta knelt before them. “I do not wish to try your patience,” she answered. “A single wish is all I require.”
“Then why did you ask for three?” Jace grumbled.
“Well, just because, I thought three was standard for genies.”
“GENIES!” Jace cried. “You think we—”
But Acacia held up her hand to silence him.
“Only in legends, my dear,” she answered. “We can give you as many, or as few as we deem appropriate. Tell us what it is you desire.”
Jace glared at his sister and mouthed: I hate genies!
She mouthed back: I know. Shut up.
Fausta’s face was bent toward the ground in reverence, so she did not notice the exchange.
“My father, King Basil the Fourteenth, recently expired.”
“Just like old cheese,” Jace mumbled. Acacia shot him a glare.
“I have two brothers. An elder brother by the name of Justin—a warrior in the prime of life. My younger brother’s name is Alexander, a boy of sixteen. It was always assumed that Justin would inherit the throne, but upon my father’s deathbed, he named Alexander heir.”
Acacia gasped in horror. “But why?”
“I don’t know!” Fausta complained. “It was something about my older brother and I being evil. I couldn’t really understand what father was saying because he was dying at the time.”
Jace picked up his bottle and tapped the opening into his palm. A long stick slid out, far longer than the length of the actual bottle. The end of it was burned into charcoal. Jace took it and started writing notes on the cave wall.
“So what is your wish?” Jace asked.
“My elder brother, Justin, sent me to find you on his behalf,” Fausta explained. “His wish is that you restore his birthright and make him king.”
“Why didn’t he come to find us himself?” Acacia asked.
“He’s away fighting in another land,” Fausta explained.
“You must love your brother dearly to embark on such a treacherous quest on his behalf,” Acacia observed.
The princess hesitated. “Of course I do. He’s just like a brother to me.”
“I see,” Acacia replied. “It’s just… your success in finding and freeing us tells me that you are brave, capable, and intelligent. Why if I lived in Kalathea, I’d want you on the throne.”
“I was thinking the same,” Jace said. “Tell me princess, how did your father die?”
“He was ill.”
“And how long was he ill?”
“He’s been ill for years,” Fausta answered. “But several weeks ago, his condition deteriorated so that he couldn’t even rise from his bed.”
“And while your elder brother was away fighting and your father was bedridden, who was leading your people?”
Fausta bit her lip. “I was.”
“Then why not continue?” Acacia urged.
“A woman on the throne?” Fausta mumbled. “I don’t know…”
Jace and Acacia both laughed. Acacia looked to Jace and said: “Here she has our unlimited power at her disposal, yet she binds herself by the rules of men!”
“Alright,” Fausta interjected. “If you can make me queen, then that is my wish! I wish to be heir to my father’s throne in both action and title so that I may be given due honor for the service I’ve rendered my people!”
Jace and Acacia shared a smile. The dark cave suddenly became bright as day though Fausta could not find the source of the light.
“That’s better,” Acacia observed. “Blow out your lamp, my dear. Save the oil. Let’s begin planning.”
“Planning?” Fausta asked. “Can’t you just… snap your fingers or something?”
“Perhaps that’s how it works in stories,” Jace answered. “But in the real world magic is much more… complicated. We will need your complete cooperation.”
“That’s right,” Acacia added. “You’ll need to answer our every question honestly if this is to work.”
“Don’t lie to us,” Jace warned. “If you lie to us, we’ll know. We know everything!”
“But if you know everything, then why do you need to ask—”
“First,” Acacia interjected. “What does your husband think of all this?”
“I don’t have a husband.”
Jace scrutinized her. “How old are you?”
“Twenty-six, what does that have to—”
“A princess? Twenty-six and unmarried?” He questioned. “How unusual.”
“I’ve been married,” Fausta answered. “Three times.”
“Three times!” The fairies exclaimed in unison.
Fausta nodded then sighed deeply. “They all died.”
“I am so sorry,” Acacia replied softly. “How?”
“I blame myself really,” Fausta recalled. “The first was carrying me off after our wedding celebration, when he tripped and landed on my knife. The second died during our wedding feast when I accidentally spilled hemlock juice in his drink, and the third died of a heart attack after our vows. I don’t blame myself for that one, he was a very old man. It was just luck, I suppose.”
She stared wistfully into the distance, then added: “Bad luck. Very, bad, luck!”
She pulled a handkerchief from her pocket and dabbed her nose. “With three husbands dead, my father couldn’t find me another suitor. So here I am, doomed to pave my fate as I see fit.”
“How unfortunate for you,” Jace sighed. “Three dead husbands, a dead father, two dead brothers…”
“My brothers aren’t dead,” Fausta corrected.
“But they will be!” Jace answered cheerily. “When you kill them!”
“Who said anything about killing my brothers?” Fausta asked.
“It’s all part of the magic,” Acacia explained. “Do you want this kingdom or not?”
“More than anything,” Fausta insisted.
“Then you have to do what we tell you, my dear.”
Acacia took the charcoal from Jace and found a flat spot on the cave wall. First she drew Alexander. She had no idea what Alexander looked like, so she just imagined Fausta as a sixteen year old boy.
“It’s his perfect likeness,” the princess marveled.
Acacia then drew Justin beside the young king, imagining how the princess would look as a man in the prime of life. She stepped back for a moment scrutinizing her work, then tapped the charcoal on his face to add stubble.
“How do you draw so well?” Fausta asked.
“Magic of course,” Acacia explained. Though in truth, it was from a thousand years of practicing on the inside of her bottle. “The plan is simple. First we must plant rumors among the Kalatheans to build hatred and distrust toward the young king Alexander. At the same time, we must spread word of Justin’s charity and kindness.”
“That is going to be difficult,” Fausta replied. “Justin is a violent drunk. When I said he was off fighting a war, what I meant was he’s off pillaging surrounding kingdoms.”
Jace rolled his eyes. “Then why did you wish for us to restore his birthright?”
“Because he’s never home and without him I am queen in all ways except title.”
“Understandable,” Jace nodded. “Sister, please continue.”
“Not to worry, brother,” Acacia smiled. “The next part is easy. When Justin returns from the war, the princess will stab him in the back.”
“Figuratively?” Fausta questioned.
“And literally!” Acacia clarified.
Fausta gave a little shrug and a nod. “Alright, then what?”
“Then find Alexander and cry: ‘brother, brother, something terrible has happened!’ When he says: ‘what is it, my dear sister?’. You say: ‘I’ll show you!’ Then you take him to Justin’s corpse and while he is still gaping in horror you—”
“STAB HIM IN THE BACK!” Jace interjected. He was too excited to contain himself.
Acacia sent Jace an annoyed glare. “Then throw yourself over Justin’s body, weeping and wailing and calling for the guards! When they enter, tell them you saw Alexander murder Justin and you were filled with a holy vengeance and killed him.”
Fausta furrowed her brow, thinking through the whole thing carefully.
“In this way, you will rule the hearts of the people.” Acacia concluded. “They will uphold you as a beloved hero for avenging their dear prince and when you lay claim to the throne, they will support you.”
Fausta was quiet for a long moment.
“Is something troubling you, princess?” Acacia asked.
“Do we really need to kill Alex?” She asked. “Why not just banish him, or throw him into prison or something?”
Jace and Acacia both regarded her for a moment, then exchanged a look.
“Is there some reason you wish to keep him alive?” Acacia asked.
“Well, I don’t know,” the princess shrugged. “He’s a child! He’s not like Justin. He’s not cruel or greedy…”
“So what is he?” Jace inquired.
“He’s, well, he’s sixteen,” Fausta continued. “Mostly he just reads and eats. Sometimes he
mumbles. He’s been so lost since he was crowned. He wanders the palace with the anxious stare of a newborn calf. He’s been coming to me for advice constantly.”
Fausta rubbed her forehead.
Acacia looked at the princess with soft eyes full of compassion. “You really are the only person keeping the kingdom together, aren’t you?”
The princess responded with a deep sigh. “If only you knew.”
“Your people need you, princess,” Jace observed. “Where would Kalathea be without you?”
“A wasteland of poverty and sickness,” Acacia finished. “You know something? I think you will be remembered as one of history’s most powerful women. Little girls for generations to come will admire you. Because of your reign, the world will come to realize that women can do anything men can. You have no idea how important it is that your wish come true.”
“But Alex hardly deserves to die,” the princess remarked.
“Your hesitation is understandable,” Acacia said. “But if you imprison Alexander the people will perceive you as soft.”
“And you cannot appear soft to anyone,” Jace asserted. “Your enemies will see your sex alone as a sign of weakness. ‘Kalathea has a woman on the throne,’ they will say. ‘She’s gentle,’ they will say. ‘Let’s sack Kalathea,’ they will say. You must prove that you are as ruthless as any man and avenging Justin is an excellent way to start.”
“I’ve never killed anyone who didn’t derserv—” Fausta started. “I mean, I am willing to be strong, but to kill Alexander would make me a tyrant. He’s not like other men. He’s very gentle. While Justin is off splitting skulls, Alexander is home asking how this edict or that law will affect the common folk. It’s very sweet but entirely impractical.”
“His gentleness is a product of naivety,” Acacia answered. “In time he’ll be like every other man: self-absorbed and cruel.”
“All men?” Jace objected, shooting his sister a look.
Acacia glared at him. “Especially you.”
“It’s true,” Jace admitted with a smirk.
“What will it be, princess?” Acacia asked. “Will you save your country?”
Fausta was silent.
“You admire Alexander’s concern for the people,” Jace added. “But you don’t seem concerned for them yourself. How will they fair under the reign of an unfit king?”
“Alright,” Fausta agreed, though her tone seemed uncertain. “I’ll do whatever it takes.”
“Excellent!” Acacia replied. “I have a simple formula that will serve us well.” She started writing on the wall.
“Formula?” Fausta puzzled.
“Yes, my dear, there’s a science to tainting a person’s reputation. Now tell me, where do people talk?”
“I don’t understand,” The princess answered. “People talk everywhere.”
“Of course,” answered Acacia. “But people talk more some places than others. For example, do you have a marketplace? Pubs? Churches?”
“Oh!” Jace was giddy with excitement. “Gossip flourishes in church congregations!”
“I really don’t under—” Fausta began.
“Hush!” Acacia interjected. “Just listen, my dear! You will begin in your home. I am sure Alexander is the topic of much conversation at the palace. Jace and I will begin with the common folk. Start a conversation with anyone you can, and begin by mentioning one of Alexander’s good qualities.”
“Good qualities?” Fausta questioned. “Aren’t we trying to destroy him?”
“Yes,” Acacia replied. “But you don’t want people thinking you’re a gossip!”
“Wait, but… aren’t we?” Fausta asked.
Acacia continued ignoring Fausta’s question. “It also makes them more likely to believe you when you say less than complimentary things. That brings me to my first equation.”
She started writing on the wall with her charcoal, then stepped back to reveal the following:
(Good quality) + “But, I’m concerned” + (Legitimate concern) = doubt.
“For example,” Acacia explained. “You could say: ‘Our king seems like a kind person, doesn’t he? But I’m concerned because he’s so young! Do you really think he’ll be a capable ruler?’”
“I don’t see how that helps us,” the princess commented. “There is nothing false in that and it seems like something that should be discussed.”
Acacia smiled. “It’s not the sentence itself that’s damaging, but rather who discusses it and how they discuss it. You see, if the young king’s advisors discussed this concern, they would be able to provide him help and guidance that would make him a stronger king. We don’t want him to be a stronger king, we want him to be a dead king. So we need to be sure that the people who discuss these concerns are the people who can’t do anything to address them. Then we can move on to the next portion of the plan.”
She wrote a second equation below the first:
Doubt + potential consequences of legitimate concern x the human imagination = fear.
“There are many potential consequences of the king’s inexperience, why don’t you name a few?”
“I’ve got one!” Jace interjected. “He may not fully understand the grave responsibilities he has to his people! He might neglect his duties and use his wealth and position for his own amusement.”
“Yes!” Acacia answered. “And once that fear is planted, we draw attention to everything young Alexander does that isn’t directly related to his kingly duties. What else? Surely our princess has some ideas?”
Fausta thought. “Well, I suppose our enemies could see his age as a sign of weakness and launch an attack.”
“Marvelous!” Acacia said. “Speak of these potential consequences to anyone and everyone, and if you have any evidence at all that they might come to be, draw attention to it, exaggerate it! Then we can begin the final part of the plan.”
Acacia began writing again and as she wrote she explained:
“Anger is a natural reaction to perceived injustice. Once the people are afraid, they will be watching for injustices in everything Alexander does. You should watch the young king too. Every time he misspeaks, make it known to as many as possible. Read meaning into everything he says and does and spread your conclusions to every waiting ear.”
She stepped away from the wall, now it read:
Fear + the perception of injustice = hatred
Once the people are sufficiently angry, you can say anything about the king, true or false, and people will believe you without question. Only when the people hate him can you kill him. You see, he’ll already be dead in their hearts. Killing him will be a formality.”
The princess was looking at the stone floor, lost in thought.
“How long will all this take?” She asked.
“Has the internet been invented yet?” asked Jace.
“I take it from the princess’s perplexed expression that the answer is no.” Acacia cracked her knuckles. “We’ll just have to go about this the usual way. When is Justin coming back?”
“When war season ends,” Fausta answered.
“That will be plenty of time,” Acacia replied.
They went on to discuss ways of building up Justin’s reputation. According to Acacia, it could be done by crediting him with acts of charity, distributing goods to the people in his name, and dismissing any of the servants who actually knew him personally.
Fausta suggested that it might be easier to paint Alexander as the beloved victim and Justin as the cruel killer, but Acacia was intent keeping the original plan.
In the weeks leading up to Alexander’s fall, the princess spent more time in the company of the fairies who manipulated her desire for power and her resentment toward Justin. As the time to execute their plan approached, Fausta did not have second thoughts about killing him.
It was Alexander she had second thoughts about killing. Second thoughts and third thoughts and finally when the moment came and Alexander stood with his back to her, gaping at the site of Justin’s corpse, she couldn’t bring herself to do it.
Acacia had concealed herself from human view by magic and stood in the room watching the princess to see if she would follow through. When she saw her hesitation, she immediately revealed herself and started screaming for the palace guards.
They poured in to see Acacia, Fausta, and Alexander standing by the body of the prince. Acacia’s expression was anguished, tears streamed down her cheeks. Fausta was white-faced and trembling head to foot. Alexander had been frozen since the moment he noticed his lifeless elder brother.
After the guard, came everyone else who was within the sound of Acacia’s cries: servants, nobles, and palace guests. Most looked in sorrow upon their beloved prince. Some (the few remaining who knew him in life) thanked God silently and excused themselves.
Jace entered with the crowd and was the first of them to speak.
“What happened, princess?” He asked. “Who is responsible for this heinous crime?”
Fausta had a choice to make.
The people hated their king so much, that a word from her would condemn him. No one would question her. However, when she looked on the confusion in her little brother’s face, she found herself unable to speak. Her lust for power battled with her affection for him.
As a princess, Fausta was used to getting her way (except in a few small things like marriage and career choice). Most of the time, if she wanted something, she got it. At the moment she wanted to take over the kingdom without killing her little brother.
She had an idea.
“When I heard that the prince had returned, I came down to greet him,” she recalled. “But when I entered… I saw…” She looked at Alexander with a betrayed expression. Alexander looked back, eagerly awaiting her testimony.
“I saw the king driving a knife into his back.”
There are so many holes in this story that you could use it as a colander, but the people didn’t care. They’d been waiting for an excuse to kill Alexander for so long they swallowed it without question.
Alexander would have been torn apart right then and there, had the guard not intervened. As they held the rabble back, they looked to Fausta for instructions. She ordered them to arrest Alexander which they did immediately. Any loyalty they had to the young king was dissolved by the toxic murmurs of the people long ago.
It was clear to every person present that true power resided with the princess. The Kalathean counsel was quick to confirm that no law existed prohibiting a woman from ruling. They went on to attribute the late king’s choice of heir to madness brought about by his illness. So it was, that Fausta was named queen within a few hours of Justin’s death.
Her first act as queen was to sentence Alexander to death. Though her enthusiastic subjects wanted to carry out the sentence immediately, she insisted it be done at dawn.
“Dawn is standard for executions. What kind of a queen would I be if I violated Kalathean traditions on a whim?”
The next morning, when the guards came to fetch Alexander, they found his cell empty. The city and all surrounding villages were searched to no avail. When the guards brought the queen the news of the futile hunt, she ordered the matter dropped.
With her wish granted, she decided to inform her genie companions that their debt had been fulfilled and they were free to go. She’d been eager to get rid of them because the more time she spent in their company, the more they frightened her. Without a coup to plan, she couldn’t distract herself from the unpleasant feeling she got when she was around them.
She met with them in a secluded corner of the garden where she was confident they wouldn’t be overheard. She thanked them for their assistance and tried to dismiss them.
“Go free?” Acacia asked. “You don’t understand, my queen. Us genies are only happy when we are living in the service of a mortal.”
Jace snorted and brought his fist to his mouth in an attempt to conceal the involuntary curl of his lips.
“Why without a master we wander without purpose,” Acacia continued. “It’s a torturous existence.”
“But I do not need anything from you,” Fausta replied. “You’ll find no purpose in serving me.”
“A satisfied human?” Jace questioned. “How unusual.”
“I think she’s trying to get rid of us, Jace,” Acacia asserted
Fausta’s eyes widened in horror and she knelt before them.
“Do not be offended!” She begged. “I only want to make it clear that you are no longer indebted to me. With your magic you could do anything, go anywhere! Why would you want to stay in Kalathea?”
“It’s alright, my queen,” Acacia sighed. “I am sure we can find another master to serve. Jace, can you think of anyone who might need our services?”
“Hmm…” Jace thought. “We should find someone hopeless, friendless, someone with problems so great only magic can resolve them.”
“I just thought of someone!” Acacia exclaimed. “How about Alexander?”
Fausta felt a knot in her stomach. “Then again,” she answered slowly. “Running a kingdom is no easy task, I am sure I can find something for you to do.”
The twins shared a smile.
Author’s Note: You were hoping I’d drop all three of them in a wood chipper, weren’t you? Not to worry, we’ll return to Kalathea again. Maybe we’ll pay young Alexander a visit next time. I feel like he could use some company.