by Matsuoka Haruka (松岡春香)
Once upon a time, there was a boy in a little town with pale white skin and bright blue eyes. He had pale pink lips that were always turned in a smile, even as the girls of his small town crowed and flirted with him.
He knew he was different from the other boys. He didn’t like the big-breasted girls with their wide hips and broad smiles. He found flaws in their rough hands and their rough hair, held back in sensible braids. They were too sensible when they spoke and too blunt. Sometimes they called him dreamer, for he would take books from his adopted father’s library. During the height of the day, while the cows lazed around pools of water, he would sit in the shade and read tales about kings and queens, princesses and knights. From them he learned to crave princesses with soft skin and soft voices, and slim bodies that weren’t shaped by childbirth and necessity. Still, he would make bouquets as gifts for the maidens and mothers and they would laugh and flirt in response.
He spent many days of his youth leading the cows to pasture then back home again, where his adoptive father, the farmer, waited to put them to bed. His pale skin was protected by a wide-brimmed straw hat, and thick leather gloves covered the lovely, delicate skin of his hands. He preened like a woman when he got home at night, soaking his hands in scented water until they were lily-white and soft. He brushed his hair until it glowed in the dim light of his lanterns.
One afternoon, when he was the tender age of sixteen, he had a dream, sleeping under an oak while the cows were in the pastures. In it, a tall, slim fairy with pale white skin and glowing blond hair told him, “Go to the King’s castle, and there you shall marry a princess.” The next night, he returned to that oak and had the same dream.
Without telling anyone, he returned the cattle to the farm and packed his bag. He left that day at the sun’s highest point. When the moon was at her lowest, he arrived tired and dirty at the door of the castle.
It was known, all across the country, that the king had twelve daughters, proud and beautiful, regal and sensitive to the touch. Should they have felt a pea in their bed, even under a dozen mattresses, the servant to blame would have not lived the day out. They were as cruel as queens.
They lived the life of royalty, often not rising from bed until the sun was past its midway point. They shared a room with twelve large beds that overlooked the countryside. It was known all across the country that despite the multitudes of locks on their doors and windows, every morning, there would be twelve sets of satin slippers that had been worn to holes. The king had offered one of his daughters as a bride to any who could find how they would leave their rooms at night and do such damage to their shoes. Many a prince and many a knight had disappeared into the night without warning, as they tried to determine the cause of the holes in the slippers. One had tried to follow, and one had tried to analyze the substances on the soles of the slippers. One had done this, and another had done that. Not a one had found the secret of the princess’s nighttime excursions. Not a knight or prince had been found after the third night. The king tempted more with promises of a portion of his kingdom, so they would be kings of their own.
Now, the little farm boy with his lily-soft skin and soft golden hair knew flowers, and he was employed by the gardener after a certain incident. He had plucked a flower here, and a blossom there, and he made twelve little bouquets that he laid at the foot of each bed shortly before each princess rose from her bed to start her day. They demanded with their soft voices that he should be their flower boy.
The youngest, one sweet year younger than the new flower boy, said to her sisters, “Oh, such a pretty boy.” She had eyes the color of chestnuts and hair a similar shade. Her sisters teased her and said that a princess should never allow herself to look at a mere garden boy. She must save her virgin eyes for a prince and a knight. Her soft declaration had given the flower boy a want and a need to have her as his bride, but how to escape the fate earned by the others.
He had learned to trust the words of the oak trees and he napped under one in a lazy afternoon where the sun shined softly and white clouds made their way across the sky. The same fairy as before held a small golden rake, worth much money, a little golden bucket, and a silken towel in his hand, and in the other, two young trees that had begun to grow intertwined. His instructions were simple, to plant them together in a large pot, and when it had grown to the height of his chosen bride, he was to address the laurels: “My beautiful laurel, with this golden rake, I have raked you, and with this golden bucket I have watered you, and with this silken towel I have dried you, would you do as I ask?” And so, he would get three wishes from the laurel tree.
The trees grew faster than any natural tree in their secret part of the gardens, hidden by a gate that no one came through. When they were as tall as the pretty, brown haired princess, he addressed it, “My beautiful laurel, with this golden rake, I have raked you, and with this golden bucket I have watered you, and with this silken towel I have dried you, would you do as I ask?”
From between the laurels, the very same fairy from his dreams came! “Yes, my carekeeper, I will do as you wish,” the fairy said, bowing.
“I wish to find a way to be invisible,” the flower boy told his fairy. With a slight shock, he realized that the figure that was taller than he wasn’t that of a woman, but of a man. He was beautiful in an ethereal manner.
“Then come here shortly before the sun sets and you will have your way to be invisible,” he said softly, his voice a soft lilting sound, almost as if he sang everything like a bard.
The flower boy waited for the sun to fade and the colors of sunset to take over before he stood in the garden again, before the two laurel trees. The fairy stood before them with a vibrantly colored flower in his hands, “Tuck this into your hair, and you will be invisible until it the color fades.” The fairy tucked it into his hair, leaning in too close as he anchored it behind his ear.
He snuck, barefoot, into the princess’s room that night and waited from behind their wardrobe. He turned his head away modestly when they dressed in their loveliest gowns with jewels and satin shoes, holding the bouquets he had brought them that morning. That story, I’m sure, is well known, about how he followed them from a trap door in room and to the center of the earth and how he held the youngest princess’s sleeve so he wouldn’t get lost in the darkness. She turned.
“Oh, there is someone following us, they have caught my dress!” When she turned, it was free and her sisters laughed.
“It was just a nail, you silly girl,” her eldest sister told her.
He saw princes waiting, and he knelt in the back of the youngest princess’s gondola. He did not recognize them from when he was asked to serve at Court, but their pale, dream like appearance made him believe that they were fairies, like those from stories. Pale stones glowed from the edges of the underground river to lead their way.
“Why are we going so slow?” she demanded as they lagged behind the others. “We have never gone so slow before!”
“I am rowing as quickly as I can,” the prince protested.
However, that isn’t the tale I wish to tell. Likely, you know the tale of the dancing princesses. He followed them for three nights. On the third night, the color of his flower faded. He had followed them to the depths of the world and he had waited in the youngest princess’s boat. He had watched them dance amongst jeweled trees with silvery dew that fell upon their heads and formed crowns of gold and gems. He watched them, entirely entranced, as the color faded yet further from the vibrant pink to the softest shade, like the blush of his dear princess’s cheeks.
“You!” The eldest sister turned when the flower’s color finally faded. From the depths of the shadows in the trees the gardener’s boy rose and he bowed.
“Your Highness,” he whispered.
“You have spied on us for three long nights, have you not?” she demanded while her eleven sisters gathered behind her.
“I would not tell your secret,” he promised. He was an honest boy. Truly, he would not. “I simply wished to watch the dance.”
She didn’t respond for a moment. She was the cruelest of them all.
“I would allow you to cut out my tongue to ensure that I did not speak.” He knelt before her.
“Perhaps we should.” She wore a knife at her belt and gestured him to rise. Before she could unsheath the blade, the youngest sister rose.
“Oh, please don’t, may we test him? All of the others have gotten that chance. And he has made it so long unseen.”
The eldest smiled. “We may.”
He knew what it meant, he had heard the tales and the day after he was revealed, he returned to the laurel trees. “My beautiful laurel, with this golden rake, I have raked you, and with this golden bucket I have watered you, and with this silken towel I have dried you, would you do as I ask?” he summoned the fairy of the laurel trees.
“I have come.” The fairy lowered his head. “What do you ask of me tonight?”
“Tonight I ask for the best you can dress me in. The Princess has one final test for me,” he instructed. For those of you who don’t know this part of the story, the knights who made it this far into the fairy world of the twelve dancing princesses had one test that none should pass. They drank from a vial of poison that only the most honorable could pass.
“You intend to die, then,” the fairy said softly. “Your heart is innocent, but it is not pure.”
“I intend to go to my death as it is my duty,” he told the fairy of the laurel trees. “I will prove to the Princess that I am truly loyal to her.”
The fairy set his hand on the boy’s cheek. “I will give you this gift as one of love, not one of duty. Come back tomorrow at dawn and give me one day with you.”
“Thank you.” He smiled and bowed, politely kissing the fairy’s hand before he hurried to his duties as the gardener’s boy.
At dawn he came, dressed for the day as though nothing were different from any. He raked away the leaves with the golden rake, watered it with the golden bucket and dried it with the silken cloth.
The fairy of the laurel sat between the branches and as he finished, the vibrant green eyes opened, “Come here, with me,” he told the gardener’s boy. He never wore much, however even the loin cloth was gone and the boy attempted to drop his eyes. He was painfully curious, but he felt uncomfortable knowing that he had the same parts and was still so… overwhelmingly beautiful.
“You have taken care of my beyond my dreams,” the fairy told him, “and for that I thank you, and for that I love you.”
He lowered his head, blushing faintly to the tips of his ears. “Thank you for serving me.”
“Come and I’ll show you love before your cold-hearted princess allows you to go to your death,” the fairy whispered, setting his hands on the garden boy’s face. He was laid onto his back and his fairy pressed gentle kisses across his skin.
“Thank you,” he said softly, and gasped softly as the fairy’s touch brushed over his lips, soon followed by his lips. The fairy knew only one way to show his love for the one who had taken such good care of him in such a short amount of time.
The boy was uncomfortable when he saw the pale blond head make its way to his groin, but all disappeared into a wave of pleasure when the fairy wrapped his lips around him and sucked gently. It was like nothing he had ever felt before. He couldn’t compare it to anything except heaven. He didn’t even protest when one of the fairy’s hands made it towards an awkward place that he had never touched before. Something, something was inside him, and when whatever it was curled upwards he made a soft, breathless sound that was utterly incoherent.
“You are lovely, wonderful and beautiful,” was whispered against his ear repeatedly after he pulled away from between his legs, making the gardener’s boy gasp with mourning, he wanted so much more. “I wish she were capable of loving you the way you need to be loved.”
Something else joined what was inside of him, and he couldn’t concentrate long enough to break down the words being whispered against his skin. They were slowly pulled from his body and he whined in mourning of it. Then there was something else, something bigger. He gasped softly and tried not to let it hurt. Now he knew: he had heard of men doing this in the dark, grasping and lonely. It wasn’t something he thought of with love and affection, but with desperation. They waited tensely as his body adjusted to it, to being invaded. The fairy had been so careful before, but he feared that he had been too impatient. The gardener’s boy made a soft sound as it stopped hurting enough for the other to move in him slowly.
“That’s… feels good,” he whispered hoarsely and the fairy smiled so brightly, so lovingly, that he couldn’t help but feel loved. No one had ever wanted to make him feel so good, wanted to love him so much. “Thank you,” he whispered as the fairy started to move, rocking into him. He was so gentle that the gardener’s boy didn’t want to leave, even after the world exploded behind his eyes and the fairy leaned over him, panting and sweating.
They spend the day talking and whispering softly to one another like lovers of an eternity, not the voices of the soon to be parted, though their voices softened and became more morbid as the sky darkened. They lay on their sides, looking out of a cool cove of shadows that bordered the land of fairies. They moved and sometimes rocked against one another, or their hands wandered and touched intimately. The secrets of mind and skin were whispered to one another.The fairy dressed him, lovingly kissed every inch of skin before it was covered by the deepest sapphire silks that wrapped his body like a prince. “And now I give you the title of a Fairy Prince,” the fairy whispered against his ear, setting a delicately wrought silver crown upon his head, with rises like earthquakes, pyres of flame, waves and breezes, “You have the power of the earth, of the sun, of the ocean, and of the trade wind.”
“Thank you,” he whispered and embraced him, pressing their lips together, “Trust me with your name,” he whispered. The only way to bind an other world creature was to know their true name.
He breathed a name like the sounds of trees growing, the breeze blowing amongst leaves. “Thank you, dryad Aillel,” he breathed.
What happens from here is a matter of record. The princess proved herself the most dignified and the least. A great banquet had been set in their underground paradise, and they placed him at the head. “Do not drink that,” she demanded, as the newly-crowned prince was to take a deadly sip of the poison.
They were to be married three months from the day that he revealed the princesses’ activities to the king. It was only way he could marry the youngest princess, though he was now a Fairy Prince. The eldest who made fun of her youngest sister the most was married too, to a pauper with an odd beard and a secret.
It was the day before the wedding and the dryad had not seen the gardener’s boy since their day together, but he didn’t mind. The dryad believed that he was simply a means to an end, and now his duties were done. He had fond memories of knowing the boy. The newly crowned prince did not realize just how deeply he cared for the dryad. However, when his princess begged from him the secret of invisibility, he whispered of the dryad and his magic. She heard the love he had for the dryad, and thus she begged from him a name.
“Aillel, Aillel, wake up,” she demanded from the sleeping tree, for winter had fallen.
From within his home amongst the trees, he rose. “Yes, my lady, what may I do for you?”
“My husband will always have power over me as long as you are here,” she told him, “and he loves you. He cannot allow his attention to stray from his bride and his children.” She had a cruel metal axe beside her foot, and Aillel was silent as she tore the tree down.
The cow boy who became a gardener’s boy, who was blessed to be a Fairy Prince, and was finally a human king did not see his dryad’s remains for a very long time. When he was gray haired and tired, he went to die. Where the dead tree had been, a small copse of trees had grown from dropped seeds on a day many years ago, when the a gardener’s boy and a dryad had lain together. He laid in the center of the trees, where the dead trunks of two intertwined trees embraced him.