There were twelve fairies at the feast. Never
Thirteen. The day the queen gave birth, the king
Sent out twelve messengers on horses,
One to each of us, begging us
To bless her, name her, crown her with our favor.
So we came.
There was a banquet — well, there'd have to be,
With jewelled plates and cups, the usual fee
For fairy-godmothering. My sisters returned
The usual gifts: Beauty. Wit. A lovely voice.
Goodness (of course). Good taste (that was Martha,
Wincing at the jewelled cups, the queen's gown).
Grace. Patience. An ear for music. Dexterity
(To help her learn Princessly skills, as sewing
Dancing, playing the lute). Amiability.
I meant to give her a long life.
I raised my wand and caught her eyes. They were
Gray and awake. Her cheeks were flushed with pink,
Her hair transparent down. She batted at
My wand and laughed. The court transfixed me
With expectant eyes — the king and queen,
My sisters, ladies, nobles, serving men,
Waiting for my gift. I considered
Her life, her marriage to a prince raised
Blind to the world behind the jewelled cups,
And said, "Sweet child, I give your life to you
To lead as you will, to go or stay, to use
My sisters' gifts, or let them be. Rule
In your own right, consortless and free.
If you choose."
The king raged; the queen wept; my sisters
Stood aghast. Not marry? The kiss of death,
A harsher curse than marriage to a frog,
Or kissing a hedgehog, or serving a witch, or even
Herding geese, since all these led to mating.
As a good fairy, I did what I could; I gave her
A hundred years' sleep, a hedge of briars, a spell
That would sort her suitors, test them for grace,
For patience, for wit and intelligence and good taste,
For amiability and a lovely voice.
A man who would be her mate,
Not her master.
About the Author:
Delia Sherman is the author of The Porcelain Dove, Through the Brazen Mirror, The Fall of the Kings, and numerous short stories. This poem was inspired by the fairy tale Sleeping Beauty.
Copyright © 1999 by Delia Sherman. The poem first appeared in Silver Birch, Blood Moon, published by Avon Books. It may not be reproduced in any form without the author’s express written permission.