Note: I tried IMDb, Google, and Wikipedia, and couldn't find a name for the Other Bride at the movie's ending--so she's christened Berthild of Lisveria in this fic. I apologize to my recipient if I've got it wrong; it's always terribly disorienting to read fic where the character names aren't right.
The strange old woman with the long nose had just...walked in. Or something. It was strange. How could none of the household have noticed her?
"Hello?" she tried. The wrinkled old lady couldn't be a burglar, or something.
"Good evening. I shall rest here for a little while. The night is...warm, and I have been traveling."
Before Hannah could reply, the old woman had settled herself in the most comfortable chair, gripping a silver-headed walking-stick between her wrinkled hands.
"I suppose you can," she said, though the stranger hadn't even knocked on the door, let alone asked permission.
"You suppose I may," the old woman corrected.
She was old, Hannah reminded herself. Maybe she was one of Mother's friends. She stood up and offered her a clumsy courtesy. "You may rest here, if you don't mind me working. Do you want me to send for a cup of tea or anything?"
"No, thank you," she said, but she settled into the seat as though she had accepted some further invitation Hannah had not intended to give. "What do they have you doing, child?"
"Writing about Shakespeare. It's not fair, Miss Snip told Mother I needed to finish this, and so she wouldn't take me with them."
She should not be saying this to a virtual stranger, but...it was only to a harmless old woman. She seemed grandmotherly, despite the sharp curve of her spine and her autocratic air; grandmotherly in spite of herself. It was rather an odd sensation.
The old woman had pulled a large book from somewhere in the depths of her large purse, and was thumbing through it. "Hannah--Lady Hannah Posnoby, to give you your title...ah, yes, stepmother, pair of stepsisters, the date--the date. Tell me, where are your family?"
She knew who she was; she must be a friend of the family. Not-so-reluctantly, Hannah put down her pen. "Mother--" her stepmother had been that to her since she was four--"took Elise and Kitty to the Schmidts' dinner-party. I suppose I have to finish this, but I would have liked to go nonetheless." She liked writing--it had only been her penchant for dramatic readings and blotting her handwriting that had led to tonight's penalty--but someone needed to wink at Kitty across the table or tease Elise about the young men who looked at her.
"A bluestocking," the old woman said, looking rather pointedly at the inkstain on Hannah's nose; but she spoke kindly enough. "Hmph! Then it's not until several years' time, I see. I shall have to return. I am getting old. I'm older than I look."
"I'm sure you look younger than you are," Hannah said, trying for flattery.
The old woman smiled, then; sharp-toothed, gaunt--but still with that indefinable air of benevolence about her. "I am most certainly not."
Long years ago...
"I'm an old woman now," another woman said to herself, looking with slight disapproval at the mirror. "But it's to be expected, I suppose; and I've certainly had a decent run of it."
It had been forty--was it forty? Yes--forty years since she had granted Queen Cinderella her wish. And yet: "You don't look a day over seventy, and you at least have all of your teeth," she said to herself. And stood straighter, tidied her lace collar, and set off on a leisurely walk.
Cinderella and Edward had had twelve beautiful children, as the story would demand, each good-tempered, kind, and blessed with a fairy gift or three; today's wedding was...Hepzibah's, that was her name. The youngest princess, as though it wasn't obvious her parents had run severely short of choices by the time it came to her naming. Cinderella and Edward's youngest, apparently now old enough to wed a true love of her own--with no help required; common sense had been one of the girl's christening-gifts.
She was half-tempted to do something truly stunning at the wedding, but there seemed no need for it. (No need! For the seventh daughter and the youngest of twelve royal siblings! Strange matters, indeed.) Cinderella had embraced her, and shown her to a comfortable seat with a cushion (was she getting old at last?); the groom's happiness was almost palpable (born a commoner, apparently, though he looked the part of a young Emperor--slight echo of his parents-in-law); and the bride was radiant.
Always the bridesmaid, she found herself humming to herself over the reception's fine feast; and was at a loss as to where it had come from.
She had been what she was all her life.
"Fabulous do, isn't it, my darling?" Monty was saying, placing a cream puff in his mouth. "Little Hepzibah, grown up at last--oh, I always cry at weddings! Pass me a handkerchief, my love."
Berthild liked to be well-prepared; she handed him one of several spare ones she had brought.
"And so they've all left the nest. Felicity eloping with that dreadful Prince from Karelsvaut, the twins still on their travels across the sea--such a pity they weren't able to be present--young John safely wed to the Countess despite all that trouble over her relations; much more troublesome than Julia's marriage--don't you recall all the trouble I went to in that diplomatic mission? Cousin Edward would have been utterly lost without my advice..."
"I remember, Monty," she said, before he could recount each one of his nieces' and nephews' marriages.
He straightened, casting a glance in the direction of a young, handsome matron. Young only in relative terms; the Duchess of Cottslow was a widow of forty-three to Princess Berthild's sixty-one. "Oh, there's Gertrude! I must say hello to her, darling. I shall return in an instant."
"Of course, darling." It would most certainly not be an instant, though Berthild had nothing to reproach her husband for as yet. And it was true there had been an instance of her own just five years ago, the recently-widowed Count of Crecy; Monty had never known. Whatever else, it was true she loved Monty, and Monty her, since the first time they had laid eyes on each other at her aborted wedding to his cousin...
...Since they had first laid eyes on each other. She glimpsed the woman across the room, and made her way to her in the most imposing royal manner she possessed, her bristling skirts almost a weapon as she cleared the floor in front of her.
"Godmother. You were at my christening and the first time I attempted to get married."
Princess Berthild curtsied before her, and she tried to remember just who she was. The woman must have been born in that time when her and the others' presence at christenings had been in demand by all the crowned houses of Europe, though she had also made it her practice to visit all the other deserving she could. Which she could not say about Glinda, for instance, who made a practice of dressing in diamonds and finery she was given by her clientele, almost as though she sold her services; though lately she'd lost touch with the woman over that tower business out in the desert with young Rapunzel's prince... That being said. Yes. Berthild of Lisveria. There had been a slight fuss over Maleficient being excluded from her christening ceremony; but Baba Yaga's Handy Goatfoot Ointment in combination with folk psychology had solved the matter. And later, Berthild had been the wrong bride at Cinderella's wedding.
"I recall you, dear," she said. "How is your husband?" She wasn't completely sure he was still alive, but he hadn't been so much older than her.
"Monty is well," Berthild said. "He is a dear man--but all the same you owe me something. We fell in love at first sight, and your gift made me realize why that was."
What had she given the girl for a christening-gift? An excellent memory, that was it; at the time she'd thought it much more practical than the more typical Beauty or Music. (Glinda and Maria, take that!) Practical indeed, to gift the ability to piece together events so long ago. The Fairy Godmothers did so try to make sure their presence was fuzzily remembered..
"My dear, you and Montague were..."
"Yes, I know we would have fallen in love on our own given just a little more time," she said. "All the same, after forty years it has begun to wear."
Girls--women--never did as they were told.
"Well. My dear," she said, slightly flustered. You didn't often get people complaining about the service; usually the only exceptions were those who hadn't been sensible. "Surely you don't still want the King--" the Prince, as he'd been--"after all these years."
"Of course not," she said. "Cindy loves him so, as much as he her--and besides, he's kept the irritating habit of bursting into song every now and then. I'm glad Monty and I couldn't have children of our own. The nieces and nephews are quite enough to concentrate on, and it frees me for this." She paused.
"Then what do you want?"
A Fairy Godmother saw and heard many things in her life, but this she did not often hear.
"I want a change," Berthild said. "I want to be one of you."
On the Life and History of Fairy-Godmothers; T. Buforensis, Esq., a Brownie of Standing, unpublished m.s.:
The common Fairy Godmother habitates a pumpkin magically enlarged into a house, which is referred to as a Bibbety. They will have a certain percentage of mortal blood, and are born through parthenogenesis; either a Fairy, or a Fairy Godmother, chooses to generate the offspring in a carefully-nurtured plant-pot; given fourteen months (believed by many to be analogous to the average life-span of the common Fairy Godmother, F. Patrina scintillata. When grown, they emerge from the pot their full selves, and proceed to grant the wishes of those who would ask of them...
"Oh, don't tell me you laid hands on Buforensis. It's really quite inaccurate," the Fairy Godmother explained, slightly tipsy in Berthild's private salon. The woman had a gift for choosing wines--ah, yes, Rosy had given her a discriminating sense of smell (she came from a line of Flower Fairies). The third gift--that was Hulda (who had been a Valkyrie in her youth, scurrilous gossip claimed, though she certainly didn't show signs of it), a well-shaped nose (still resting majestically on Berthild's face). Hulda had retired now, to the Americas, settling down with some native spirit or other; she might write to her one of these days. If she ever had time to call her own, with the calls on her that never seemed to stop and herself not as young as she had been, so to speak. "Buforensis, that's where I was." It was entirely the alcohol affecting her, of course, she told herself, and continued. "We are born the normal way--though naturally we don't need men; we're a strictly female profession." Berthild's father had been quite the spoiled child, she could remember from his younger brother's christening, and her later meetings with him hadn't altered the impression. Really, it was a wonder his daughter had turned out reasonably well, her occasional fainting-fits aside. "And we can never use magic for ourselves...in fact, that is how I started off in the profession."
The scheme, she was sure, had definitely been her older sister's idea. West had already made up her mind to become a Witch--she had circled it in all the career prospectuses, and was already apprenticed to a Potions-mistress as well as doing a sideline in Warts, Boils and Disfiguration. Her younger sister wasn't sure, though she had failed a Glitter Application class and never wanted to see another sparkle as long as she lived--but she was as sure as the elder a Fairy Godmother was not what she intended to become.
"You used magic on that silly donkey-skin girl, and that brainless youngest son, and that ugly dwarven knight!" she would say to her mother, using her many accomplishments as a Godmother to go on the attack. "And you never use it on us, for the least little thing!" No new dresses, no schoolbooks that didn't come second-hand, not even the pretty little handkerchiefs and ornaments that melted in a day which the Conjurors' children liked to flaunt. "I wish...I wish I could use your magic to make things!"
"My magic doesn't work that way, my dearest," was all she received in reply. "We can't use it on ourselves, or on each other. It makes our professional disagreements terribly convoluted--but there you are."
The loophole, she eventually realized with great delight.
"I shall grant you your wish, West!" were her words, bursting into her sister's study. She could feel the magic, simply feel it bubbling up in her; and West counted as a witch, didn't she? An eldest, unfortunately, but only of two, and if it worked they could certainly practice on each other and wish for things they could both enjoy.
"I wish my sister would go away and not bother me when I'm trying to mix eye of newt and toe of frog," West began tetchily, and then--
Soot was scattered all over the floor, and the table was a mess, books, candles and stale bread and cheese littered all across it. A princess was not accustomed to looking after herself.
"How are you getting along?" said the Fairy Godmother, breezing into the house; the room's state wasn't that much worse than it had been before her absence, Berthild told herself. "Hansel! Gretel." She put a finger into the birdcage. "You've been fed a treat. Thank you for looking after them, Berthild."
"It was the chicken who gave me the most trouble," the Princess said, pointing down to Scheherazade squawking about her feet. Her father had been inordinately proud of his hunting dogs, and she knew a little how to look after animals; more recently she'd kept her pug until his death of old age. Not so much, looking after an actual house.
"And how are you coming along? Persevering with Koschei? He's really the old misanthrope, but all the same without him I would never have known some of my best magic. Would you like something to eat? I can do this at least; I used to be your godmother too. That's better--and smells much better, too." The bread and cheese had been promptly replaced by tender beef covered in gravy, ripe peas, and toasted asparagus.
"Not very well," Berthild admitted. "I am too old for so many new things. The Principle of Inanimate Locomotion confounds me, the Anthropic Wishing Rule is baffling, and I don't even understand the Elementary Slipper-Conjuration task."
The Godmother sat down facing her. "It was the lifespan that called you, wasn't it?" she said.
Berthild's mouth twisted slightly at the corner, but then she nodded. "Everyone wants that," she said. "Shorn of my royal title--I know well from Cinderella that blood does not always tell--I may be a silly old woman married to a silly old man. However, I want to live as much as anyone. Perhaps more so, considering I took this step." There was imperial blood running through the veins of Berthild of Lisveria; she sat proudly.
"Well," said the Fairy Godmother, "we do stay old for an inordinate amount of time compared to common humans--but certainly we pay for it, it's not at all as you imagine. No, please don't interrupt me," she said. "I looked thirty when I was just-woken, forty when I was ten years old, sixty by the time I was eighteen due to reasons we won't get into just now--" she paused. "It made my early professional life quite troubling. People assumed I knew exactly what to do, though I can say I rose to the occasion. And ever since then I have been stuck somewhere between sixty and seventy. Most recently on the very latterly side of seventy-something."
Hannah yawned; the room seemed a lot warmer than it had been, and lighter as well.
"How did I get here? Well, my child, I am your godmother."
"But I don't have a godmother," Hannah said. She looked around; surely one of the servants might have heard the old woman by now? How strange this was.
"Don't contradict your elders," the woman said severely. "It's a bad habit. Now this is a bother, I must admit, but now you've passed the test--perhaps it should be a harder test--I must do something for you; those are the rules. Not that," she added, looking across at the half-finished work. "That's entirely your responsibility. Now, what would you like?"
"I don't know," Hannah said, bewildered.
"Please, think of something; I have a Prince I should be turning back from a Beast. I'm afraid I rather lost my temper with him." The words might have been a hint to immediately do as the old woman suggested, but yet there was no such impression in anything else about her. Hannah supposed the entire situation reminded her of one of her father's ghost-story books she snuck from his bookshelf because she wasn't permitted to read them; or would, if not for the...calm and benevolence nested around the woman as she sat.
"Please tell me how you got here," Hannah said, taken by impulse. Mother always did say she was the curious one out of the three girls. "How are you my godmother? Did you know my mother, my first mother?"
"I am your first cousin by marriage several times removed," she said. "I never met your mother, I'm afraid; there was an enterprising Norwegian girl travelling out east of the moon whom I had to assist, and...well, I stayed in the country for quite a while. The fjords are lovely."
There was only one possible next question, for a young girl who enjoyed reading and exercising her information in ways old women like the one before her would have called excessively fanciful, and Hannah wished she had had the sense to ask it before.
"I would like to know...what are you?"
Five years, it took her, to remember who she was, and three more to return home. If it hadn't been for at least eight highly improbable coincidences on twelve different questing narratives, fourteen chance-met acquaintances and a particular loaf of rye bread, she would never have achieved even that.
Marian and Robin Locksley were the first two people she helped as a Godmother; she helped see off that nasty-minded sheriff, create something reasonably spectacular to welcome home the king (who, all things considered, gallivanted rather too much for his own good), and make a few suggestions to Allen-a-Dale about his ballads, so her name would not get bandied about. (So much the sort of thing to haunt you when you were of a more mature age.) And granting the wish broke the spell of that disastrous first wish...and she was free to return.
"I did miss you," said her sister, who'd moved to Far-Off Lands and visited home especially to see her again. "I even named a boil-creating mixture after you."
"That's very flattering."
"I'm glad you're home, dearest," her mother said. "You have learned your lesson, haven't you? Your magic doesn't work that way?"
"I do wish for some lovely flowers in that vase there," she said, pointing at a particularly ugly heirloom from a great-grandmother Godmother; and laughed as it filled full of rotting stems and almost spilled over. It was for the best if she could feel good humour over her old mistake, and live life ever onwards.
"Oh, I was starting to think you might want to return to your life after all," said the first old woman. "It's a hard life; never enough time to settle in one place, hardly a thing to keep you company, always pulling just enough magic out of the bottom of your purse when people simply will not be sensible..."
The second vociferously agreed with the last part of the statement, citing an experience of her own with a certain dancer in red shoes. "I pulled them off eventually, and introduced her to nice solider who'd had a few adventures of his own. What a foolish lot they can be! Still..."
"Still?" prompted the first.
"Still it's a worthy job, for the sake of worthy people--who are no less foolish than we may have been in our younger days."
"You may speak for yourself," said the first, and they laughed companionably.
"Your previous life...?" she asked, after more friendly conversation, and just a touch of alcohol.
"Well-organized. I shall be godmother to Hepzibah's youngest, and watch the royal family from a distance. Don't console me; I made my decision at just about the last moment it was possible for me to make, and should I meet Gertrude again I shall be very gracious to her. And as for Monty...there are always dreams."
"And thus I suppose it's time for my retirement. Believe me, I quite look forward to growing vegetable marrows..."
"You don't," the second said. They laughed again.
"I shall visit Hulda, perhaps, or even my sister; but for a while I'll stay on. It's rather better with two to share the work...and we must finish le Fay's Principia Desideratica."
"I shall comply, then," said the other. And above them in the rafters Hansel-and-Gretel-lookalikes chattered merrily.
The True History of Fairy Godmothers, by an Unknown Lady of Noble Birth
They live out their old lives, traveling across the earth to quietly help the needy. In particular the needy fortunate enough to belong to some story or another. However, we all tell our stories. Some may choose the profession for other reasons, or struggle with it for many years--but in the end the stories we choose to tell ourselves are often kind ones, and for most Fairy Godmothers that is the truth.
"And yes, that is what I am. Your great-great-great grandmother's cousin by marriage--and your Fairy Godmother through your great-grandmother," she said, and Hannah sighed delightedly. A thousand times better than Elise's cheap novels she hid in the bottom of her dresser.
"Could you teach me how to do magic?" she asked. "Mother and Elise and Kitty aren't anything like Great-great-great grandmother's family before she married the King, but if I could still learn..."
"Come to one of us when you are older, my child--very much older." The old woman stood, and shook out her dark cloak. "You have fates ahead of you, and balls to attend, in the meantime, and if you need me I shall aid you. No thank you; I shall see myself out."
Hannah rushed to stand, reaching out a hand to her; but the black cloak pooled out behind the old woman like the wings of a great bird, and when Hannah reached the schoolroom door and looked out into the passage there was nobody there.
There were voices, now, around her; the sound of Mother's carriage coming in, Elise and Kitty chattering, ready to give her a full account of the party. Dorothy, who had been told to watch her, calling out for her. She remembered the details of her life, what Miss Snip would say to her tomorrow when she found the work was still undone, how beautiful Mother looked in her gown, that Father would be home in three days' time and take the whole family to Lohengrin. Suddenly she was grateful magic had not needed to touch her as it had done Great-great-great-grandmother; but in times to come...
There would always be times to come, and always fairy godmothers.