There are three things every fairy needs to remember when trying to help a human:
- Stepmothers are always evil.
- Marriage to a prince or princess is the best way to reward a virtuous soul.
- Any time a family has three children, the elder two are evil and the youngest is good.
At least, this is what the fairy Dara taught Eda, her young apprentice. Eda was somewhat skeptical of these rules. When she mentioned her skepticism to anyone, they told her not to question Dara. After all, Dara had at least a millennia of experience showing humans the error of their ways and probably knew what she was talking about.
Eda spent many years watching Dara work and was surprised to see that these rules held true. They met many evil stepmothers, many virtuous but abused third children, and usually they could solve a person’s problems by marrying them off to a prince or princess.
Eda did wonder if it was the marriage that was rewarding, or if it was the wealth that came with it. She found that most princes and princesses were shallow, dull, and unmotivated. She often wondered if there was a way to reward the virtuous with wealth alone, thereby leaving them free to marry someone more interesting later.
When Eda was finally ready to undergo the final trial that would deem her worthy of being an independant fairy, she decided to diverge from Dara’s advice and test her theory. She did not mention her plan to Dara, as she did not think she would approve of such an unorthodox approach until she saw how effective it could be.
When the time for the trial came, Dara took Eda to a cottage in the countryside and explained the plight of its most vulnerable occupant.
“A girl by the name of Rose lives here, a maiden whose physical beauty reflects the purity of her soul,” Dara explained. “With her father, stepmother, and two elder stepsisters.”
“Well, that’s not good,” Eda commented. “Let me guess, her stepmother and elder stepsisters are vain, self-centered, and abusive?”
“Correct,” Dara answered. “While Rose’s father is away at the mill, they dress Rose in rags, call her vile names, and force her to do all the chores.”
“And her father is completely oblivious?” Eda interjected.
“Completely,” Dara confirmed.
“Typical,” Eda nodded. “So you want me to save the long suffering Rose, while showing her cruel mother and sisters the error of their ways?”
“Indeed,” Dara confirmed. “I will be observing you but if at any point I have to intervene, you will fail and remain under my tutelage until I deem you ready to be tested again.”
“Understood,” Eda answered. She wasn’t worried, not even slightly.
She spent the next several days observing the family, taking in their relationships and interactions. The elder daughters spent most of their days in the village squandering the miller’s money on vanities. When they came home, they would mock poor Rose. When Eda heard their awful words, she knew exactly how to curse them.
Eda took the form of an old beggar woman and sat by the village gate where she knew the elder sisters would pass. When she saw them approaching, she called out:
“Could you spare a crust of moldy bread for Grandmother?”
The sisters responded by mocking her ugliness, and swearing at her, and kicking her in the shins.
So Eda took her true form, looking like a goddess in the eyes of the cruel sisters. Having immense respect for attractive people, the sisters fell on their knees and begged for mercy.
“Your hearts are cruel, and only vile words pass your lips,” Eda reprimanded. “Because of this, whenever you speak a slimy creature will drop from your mouth.”
“Please!” One of the daughters began, but as she spoke a toad hopped out of her mouth and dropped onto the ground. The sisters looked in horror at the creature and tried again to beg for mercy, but with every word they spoke, a frog, or lizard, or insect would fall from their lips and scurry away.
It was awful. It was horrifying. Dara loved it. After the evil stepsisters ran home to their mother, she materialized behind Eda and praised her for coming up with such a fitting curse.
Now, when the stepmother saw how her daughters had been cursed, she sent Rose to the village at once, expecting her to be punished in the same way. Eda saw her approaching and again took the form of the old beggar woman, calling out:
“Could you spare a crust of moldy bread for Grandmother?”
Rose took pity on the old lady and replied. “Allas, I have only a single coin, but here you take it and get yourself something in the village.”
At once, Eda took her true form and Rose having equal respect for both attractive and unattractive people was unphased.
“You are kind in both your actions and your words, and so from this day forward you will want for nothing. With every word you speak, something precious will drop from your lips.”
“What do—” the girl started, she paused abruptly and spit a diamond into her hand. She tried again to question Eda, but everytime she tried to speak another jewel passed through her lips. Eda was puzzled when the girl started to cry.
“I can’t—” she started and then spit two more jewels into her hand. This continued until her lips were cut and bloody and she ran home crying.
Dara appeared beside Eda with her hands on her hips. “What was that?”
“A fitting reward for someone who speaks kindly?” Eda answered.
“I thought you were going to give her a nice dress and an invitation to the ball,” Dara scolded.
Eda was turning red with indignation. Dara was going to have to set things right now, meaning Eda had failed her test, meaning that there wasn’t any harm in her expressing her true feelings.
“Why? So she can marry the prince?” Eda argued. “I’d sooner marry a fence post than that prince, why should I inflict him on anyone else?”
Eda was fully expecting further retribution, but Dara just paused thoughtfully. “You make a fair point,” she replied. “I wish you’d told me you felt that way, there are other ways of rewarding good behavior you know.”
Eda stared at her blankly for a moment. “I have never seen you reward anyone in any other way!”
“Royal marriage is usually sufficient,” Dara explained. “Besides, you never asked.”
Dara proceeded to find the girl and remove the curse that Eda accidentally inflicted. She got to keep all the jewels she’d coughed up to that point and additionally Dara gave her a magic cooking pot that would perpetually refill itself with porridge.
Rose used these items to become independent. She moved to the city, opened a restaurant, and made a very good life for herself.
When Dara had finally set things right, she said to Eda: “I hope you’ve learned a valuable lesson—”
Eda sighed and rolled her eyes. Being the recipient of a moral is about the most humiliating thing that can happen to a fairy. However, she begrudgingly took the lesson to heart. When she was finally ready to be tried again, she discussed her plan openly with Dara. No mortals were harmed (except those who brought misfortune upon themselves by their own careless actions).