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The Princess Unseen


malign

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The Princess Unseen

A Fairy Godfather Story

A Brief Natural History of Fairies

Fairies, on the whole, are just like you and me, except where they're different. For one thing, there's the flying: they're better at it than we are. They're better at it than most things, actually, even other things that fly. They can hover at will; they can do complex aerobatics; and they can speed off faster than you can see. And well, that's another thing: they can choose whether to be visible to people or not. All other animals can see them (watch a cat for a while, some time; what do you think they're looking at?), but we usually can't, unless they want us to. We think too much, maybe, or about the wrong things.

Fairies are small creatures, bird-sized at most, with long pointed noses. They tend to dress garishly in clashing colors, since no one with any fashion sense, at least as we humans define it, can see them. They insist on clothing that fits them, though, because with wings as well as hands and feet, it's even easier to get tangled and trip yourself up. They don't wear hats at all, either: the only way to keep one on in flight would be to use a chin strap, and they hate that ... because they have very small chins, and it would end up as a nose strap.

Then there's the thing that's really difficult for humans to think about: fairies are magical beings. This means not only that they can do magic; it means that they are magic. They carry a wand, usually; not so much because they need one as that it makes it easier to direct the magic where they want it. Their mothers, like yours, think it's rude to point.

They are the Universe's designated helpers, so there are good fairies and bad fairies, but there are no idle fairies. They like their work, and they're no better at sitting still than small children full of chocolates; something about metabolic rate, I've heard.

Like hummingbirds, they eat nectar and little else; like bees, they find it intoxicating and get covered in pollen if they indulge too much. Many a fairy husband has returned home to his wife unable to hide the telltale signs of where he has been. This, of course, limits how many times he gets to repeat his indulgence. You see, like us, fairies live only once, though normally for a very long time, which makes them particularly reluctant to have their time cut short by an unfortunate encounter with a rolling pin. As a result, most are able to control themselves, and make do with a faint buzz (sometimes you can hear it too, when one passes by.)

The good fairies are generally better organized; the bad ones tend to be grouchy enough not to get along even with each other. Now, truly skilled fairies, of either kind, rarely make it into stories. That's because they take considerable pride in doing their jobs without leaving any traces.

But a few, as one would expect of any fallible creature, sometimes make a mistake that people notice, even if only indirectly. Who hasn't found their keys in a place where they are absolutely sure they didn't leave them, or seen something out of the corner of their eye that wasn't there when they looked directly? Such breaches are fairly common, and fairies just naturally pull together to minimize their effects. In fact, a large part of the duties of good fairies consists in smoothing over the more egregious incidents, like when fairies get caught flying in front of TV cameras, for instance. Luckily, the human mind cooperates, because we would prefer any alternative explanation to the truth. We just think wrong, as I said.

In extraordinary cases, though, there is an accident of such significant proportions that a story gets made from it, partly because the result changes the course of history, and partly because that's what human minds do with facts they need to ignore.

An Unusual Princess

The story I would like to tell you involves, as many do, a princess. I'm not sure why princesses feature so often in stories, but maybe it's because it's exactly those stories which catch our imagination. Or, it's exactly those stories that hide things one strives to ignore. Maybe it's easier to imagine oneself as a princess than as a prince, whose life is limited from birth to his training to rule. On the other hand, maybe it's because we often feel ourselves to be as helpless and tragic as someone whose only role in life is to marry a king.

But the unique thing about this particular princess was that she was invisible. Now, I'm not going to be able to prove to you that no one could see her. After all, they didn't bump into her any more often than they did other, more visible, people. Yet somehow, wherever she went, no one seemed to notice her.

They did notice her older brother, the Crown Prince Plenheim, and her beautiful sister, Princess Pintafora. People threw lavish parties in the hopes that one of them would show up. They put themselves forward, or presented their eligible sons and daughters, in the hopes that one of them would choose them to marry. They noticed, but pretended not to, when one of them committed some indiscretion, hoping one day to use it against them.

The King and Queen, of course, were busy people. No one expected them to raise their children personally; that's what servants are for. And, to be fair, our heroine, Princess Pamela, was given every advantage you would expect for a princess. She always had food to eat and her clothes were the proper ones for a princess. She sometimes wished they weren't, in fact: perhaps then she might have been noticed.

Instead, she drifted through the castle as if she were not really there. People moved around her as they passed, but not with any certainty that they had really seen her. When she spoke, no one seemed to hear; she was either too young to be taken seriously by other royals or too royal for commoners to do more than curtsey.

In other words, she was miserable.

Enn's Mistake

Now, it turns out that a typical castle has a much higher concentration of fairies per unit volume than most dwellings. Probably, this is for the same reason that so many courtiers try to get themselves within sight of a king: there's more leverage closer to the throne. Influence a shepherd and you get put in charge of fleecing sheep; influence a king and you might get put in charge of fleecing, well, everybody.

So, both the good and the bad fairies had a sizable royal staff. Included in that number, for both sides, were a fair number of apprentice fairies, who like apprentices everywhere do the bulk of the really dirty work. Under supervision, of course. The supervisor may be asleep or nectar-drunk, but still there has to be a supervisor.

Enn was just such an apprentice, doing his best to learn his good-fairy trade while earning bed and board and a shilling a month towards paying off his student loans. And his supervisor was just such a supervisor, an elderly good-natured fairy whose metabolism had slowed to such an extent that he was actually a little tubby, and needed a nap in the afternoon.

Enn just happened to be assigned to Princess Pamela's private suite. He was new and he was overwhelmed: there is a remarkable amount of fairy work to be done in the average teenage princess's bedroom. There has to be ample fairy dust on hand for whenever she sleeps; someone has to keep the bluebird of happiness ready for when she wakes; and you know it's nearly impossible to put the flounce back into a crinoline dress. As usual, his supervisor had listed out the tasks he was expected to complete and then fallen asleep in the corner of the bookshelf. It's a wonder that no one ever noticed that one place where the dust had been brushed off.

Now, under normal circumstances, staying invisible is almost instinctive to fairies. They hate to be seen, perhaps from memories of having been taunted about their clothing in the past, but it does take some small effort to maintain invisibility. In fact, this is how most of the accidental glimpses by humans occur: what with flying and whatever else they're doing, fairies have an awful lot on their admittedly quite tiny minds. Usually though, they catch themselves in the blink of an eye (literally, ours), and the human is left doubting their own senses.

Not this time, though. Enn was so distracted with flying this way and that, trying to juggle a box of fairy dust and a pooper-scooper (even happy bluebirds occasionally miss the newspaper) that he failed to hear the Princess approaching. And possibly, her feeling of invisibility made Pamela slightly more perceptive than her peers. So, when she opened the door of her bedroom, she came face to tiny pointy-nosed face with a live and unmistakable fairy.

{To Be Continued}

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An Alliance Forms

Pamela was astonished. She would have liked to deny the evidence of her own eyes, but she knew how that felt when people did it to her. Too, her eyes were giving her a lot of evidence: hovering in front of her, goggle-eyed and mouth wide open, was the ugliest hummingbird she had ever seen. Or the largest and most incredibly colored bumblebee anyone had ever seen ... or something else entirely. It was wearing a combination of orange, blue, red and yellow (with green trim) that would have blinded a peacock. It still hadn't realized that there was a dribble of fairy dust coming from the box under its arm, and it had dropped the pooper-scooper.

She looked down. It had dropped the pooper-scooper squarely on the head of a bad little fairy, who was sprawled out on the carpet at her feet. {Served it right, though: it had spent the last few days smuggling in laxative pills to mix into the bluebird's food.} Its fashion sense was no better than the flying one's. And over there on the bookshelf, beginning to snore, was another one, this one fat and propped on the spines of her books.

For his part, Enn stayed frozen far longer than one would expect. He couldn't help it: the only thought that kept bouncing around in his little head was that he would never get his fairy license now. He knew who the girl was, of course. He'd seen her come and go many times while performing his duties. She was quite visible to fairies, you see; it was just people she believed in who couldn't see her. But that was about to change.

"What are you, I mean, who are you?" Pamela finally managed to ask.

The situation was so surreal to Enn that he simply answered the question. "I'm Enn. I'm a fairy."

In turn, the answer was so surreal to Pamela that she found herself following entirely the wrong thread. "Of course you are. But ... what kind of name is 'Enn'?"

Here she hit on one of Enn's greatest embarrassments. He looked, well, even more uncomfortable, but he couldn't seem to stop himself from giving his rote response. "My parents had a lot of children and little imagination for names. I was the fourteenth."

"Oh you poor thing," Pamela pronounced. "My parents had a penchant for 'P's ..."

"Ew, gross," said Enn involuntarily, who like all fairies didn't eat vegetables. They believe that vegetables have souls too, and so drink only nectar.

"They would say, 'Give 'P's a chance', and giggle maniacally," she continued. "It was before I was born, but they locked up a man named Lemon in the dungeons for saying that, I'm told. Then when they had children, they thought it would be a perfect pattern to persist in prefixing our proper names with 'P'," she prattled on, as she pursued a different thought.

"A fairy, you said? Why ever would there be, well, a whole bunch of fairies in my bedroom?"

Enn had begun to appreciate the magnitude of the problem he had created for himself. Clearly he would have to tell the girl something about the fairy world. He could only hope that she could be trusted with the information. "Can you keep a secret?" he asked.

Pamela sniffed. "I practically am a secret!" she said with a trace of bitterness.

"Well then, sit down," Enn said, "it's rather a long story." And he proceeded to change the future, by telling her.

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What the Universe Needs

It wasn't easy. "Well, you know, the Universe? It's a very big place. I mean, obviously it's big; what I mean is that it flows. And it doesn't flow easily."

Seeing the confused look on Pamela's face, he started over. "We fairies, we're the Universe's helpers. It's a big place, and lots of stuff has to get done, and it doesn't do itself, so someone has to do it. Some of the someones are us."

"Humans too, sometimes," he went on, warming to his subject. "And other things. But fairies have a special place. Some of us work for the good, and some for the bad. Well, those are just words, anyway. Seen from the point of view of the whole Universe, it's all just work that has to get done. When you're doing it, it's often hard to tell how things will turn out, and besides, our perspective can't possibly be the same as the Universe's."

"So the difficulty, really, is organization," he continued, hitting his stride. This had been his favorite subject in fairy school. "All these tasks needing to be coordinated, instructions needing to be given, quality control, efficient utilization of fairy resources. Leadership, in a word," he concluded.

"It sounds like you need a chief fairy, in a way," Pamela put in tentatively. She, of course, had been trained in leadership, or at least had sat in on her older siblings' classes. In fact, it was possible that she had been the only one really paying attention.

Enn looked startled. "Oh, I'm not sure the fairies would agree to that," he replied thoughtfully. "Most of us have a hard time agreeing to form small teams, much less setting up a chief fairy. Then there's the split between the good ones and the bad ones ..."

"But it's all one Universe!" Pamela exclaimed. "It only makes sense that there be one organization."

"Maybe, Your Highness, maybe. Or one could argue that it's many Universes all occupying the same space; it's not as if anyone's going to be able to prove it, one way or the other, are they? Oh, I agree with you that it needs to be better organized; I'm just doubtful that anyone could make it work."

"I bet I could," said the newly determined princess. "Besides, that's the price of my silence."

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Don't worry; I haven't stopped.

Just temporarily overdrawn at the Idea Bank.

I had to get them to extend my credit, so I offered them my third kidney.

I just hope that bank fairies don't know much about human anatomy.

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Okay. Now I'm curious. When you write, do you have the entire story all mapped out in your head first? When I wrote stories, I would only have an idea about the message I wanted to send. Then I'd put the characters together and just let it go...see where it went. Fun. We used to write a continuing story with different authors (forgot what that is called now) and I'd always write the romantic scene, lol. Anyway, I was wondering how your stories play out.

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It varies. With Seamus ("It's Tough, Being Super"), I had most of the plot set up. In fact, that one's on hold because I feel I've written myself into a bit of a corner. Or maybe a dungeon.

With this one, it was more that I was completely out of ideas for a while. Here I've basically just been writing, with the only up-front ideas being an invisible princess and the references to Her Majesty's Secret Fairy Service from some of the older stories. This one, so far, sounds too much like my workplace ... ;-)

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Something Takes Shape

Later in life, Enn often looked back on the following months as the hardest ones of his long and distinguished career.

The princess insisted on keeping Enn as her liaison to the fairy world, despite the embarrassment this caused him in the face of much more senior (and some said, more intelligent) veteran fairies (at least, they said it). Many of these put themselves forward as being superior candidates, but each of them was thwarted by the inherent fragmentation of the fairy hierarchy. None of them could gather sufficient support, or rather eliminate enough fierce resistance, to prevail over the others. In fact, it is possible that only a relative unknown like Enn could ever have built the organization envisioned by Princess Pamela.

She too changed during this period. Though the work often kept her secluded in her own suite of rooms, the effect on her self-confidence could not be denied. She chaired innumerable conferences of fairy clan chiefs, heads of departments, and assorted fairy potentates. Though they balked and argued and pleaded, she would not back down: she was to be the head of an enormous organization of fairies, not for the sake of any kind of power, but simply because she was the best one for the job.

"People tell lots of stories about fairy princesses," she would say, "and whether you or I like it or not, it looks like that's exactly what I'm going to be." And gradually, she began to win them over, at least to the point where they were willing to try her ideas.

Much to his discomfort, she appointed Enn to be the actual chief fairy. "I know my limits," Pamela told the assembled chiefs. "I can't possibly handle the day to day business of an organization as big as the Universe; I'm only human. But I can set it up, and I can guide it, and I can see that it runs smoothly. After all, I'm a princess, and that's what I'm trained to do." Too, given the general lack of organizational skills among fairies, who are basically designed to fly around doing magic instead of thinking, she really had no competition.

She was, however, smart enough not to try to over-organize. The various fairy clans and departments were left more or less intact. Besides the resistance they would have offered to being broken up, these smaller groups had worked well for the fairies in the past. What Pamela improved most was the coordination between these groups, reducing overlap in their duties and increasing communication between them. She carefully chose her leaders from among those who showed enthusiasm for the new system. She arranged for checks and balances to be put in place so that the system never depended on a single fairy. Her teachers had always cautioned against single points of fairylure, I mean, failure.

As the organization began to function and positive status reports began to stream to his desk, Enn was tempted to conclude that they had succeeded. Pamela cautioned him, though: "It's good that the system is beginning to work. But keep in mind, we haven't really been tested yet."

This would not be the last time that she correctly foresaw the future.

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The Expected Opposition

The Universe, containing as the name implies pretty much everything, also contains a force that opposed Pamela's attempt to organize. Just as there are human attitudes, and even mathematical quantities, that are described as "rational", and ones that are called "irrational", there are things out there that can only be described as "just plain whacked".

Now, forces like these are not simply unorganized. That would describe a lack of organization; what these forces have is the opposite of organization, a quality that would destroy organization the way anti-matter would destroy matter, if only it could.

So, you can imagine this force to be made up of any number of smaller members, which in no way form an organization, yet which tend to act, in the aggregate, in a definite direction. For lack of a better way to refer to this aggregate, and because people have a need to organize even the unorganized, this force is called Kayoss, and its constituents are called "kays".

In some ways, kays resemble fairies. However, they're smaller, closer to bee size; like bees they fly on multiple lacy wings that move rapidly fore and aft rather than wings that flap like a fairy's; and unlike fairies, they are never visible to humans except by their effects. They make up for their smaller size and anti-organization by being considerably more vicious than fairies. Fairies, even the bad ones, tend to be mischievous rather than vicious, but a kay, even a small one, is a tough customer. A bad fairy on assignment might trip you up; a kay would do it for sheer fun, and at the top of a stair. When people say things like "sh-t happens", they're usually referring, unknowingly of course, to the work of a kay.

It should be no surprise, then, that kays can sense an increase in organization in the same sort of extrasensory way that toddlers can detect that you have something in your pocket for them, and they are attracted in much the same way. In fact, if we didn't know where small children came from, we might suspect that they were kays, only slightly more destructive.

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