by GAIL CARSON LEVINE
THAT FOOL of a fairy Lucinda did not intend to lay a curse on me. She meant
to bestow a gift. When I cried inconsolably through my first hour of life, my
tears were her inspiration. Shaking her head sympathetically at Mother, the
fairy touched my nose. "My gift is obedience. Ella will always be obedient. Now
stop crying, child."
Father was away on a trading expedition as usual, but our cook, Mandy, was
there. She and Mother were horrified, but no matter how they explained it to
Lucinda, they couldn't make her understand the terrible thing she'd done to
me. I could picture the argument: Mandy's freckles standing out sharper than
usual, her frizzy gray hair in disarray, and her double chin shaking with anger;
Mother still and intense, her brown curls damp from labor, the laughter gone
from her eyes.
I couldn't imagine Lucinda. I didn't know what she looked like.
She wouldn't undo the curse.
My first awareness of it came on my fifth birthday. I seem to remember that
day perfectly, perhaps because Mandy told the tale so often.
"For your birthday," she'd start, "I baked a beautiful cake. Six layers."
Bertha, our head maid, had sewn a special gown for me. "Blue as midnight with
a white sash. You were small for your age even then, and you looked like a
china doll, with a white ribbon in your black hair and your cheeks red from
In the middle of the table was a vase filled with flowers that Nathan, our
manservant, had picked.
We all sat around the table. (Father was away again.) I was thrilled. I had
watched Mandy bake the cake and Bertha sew the gown and Nathan pick the
Mandy cut the cake. When she handed me my piece, she said without thinking,
The first bite was delicious. I finished the slice happily. When it was gone,
Mandy cut another. That one was harder. When it was gone, no one gave me
more, but I knew I had to keep eating. I moved my fork into the cake itself.
"Ella, what are you doing?" Mother said.
"Little piggy." Mandy laughed. "It's her birthday, Lady. Let her have as much as
she wants." She put another slice on my plate.
I felt sick, and frightened. Why couldn't I stop eating?
Swallowing was a struggle. Each bite weighed on my tongue and felt like a
sticky mass of glue as I fought to get it down. I started crying while I ate.
Mother realized first. "Stop eating, Ella," she commanded.
Anyone could control me with an order. It had to be a direct command, such as
"Put on a shawl," or "You must go to bed now." A wish or a request had no
effect I was free to ignore "I wish you would put on a shawl," or "Why don't you
go to bed now?" But against an order I was powerless.
If someone told me to hop on one foot for a day and a half, I'd have to do it
And hopping on one foot wasn't the worst order I could be given. If you
commanded me to cut off my own head, I'd have to do it.
I was in danger at every moment.
As I grew older, I learned to delay my obedience, but each moment cost me
dear — in breathlessness, nausea, dizziness, and other complaints. I could
never hold out for long. Even a few minutes were a desperate struggle.
I had a fairy godmother, and Mother asked her to take the curse away. But my
fairy godmother said Lucinda was the only one who could remove it. However,
she also said it might be broken someday without Lucinda's help.
But I didn't know how. I didn't even know who my fairy godmother was.