Author's Note-Written for the Fairy Tale Challenge on everlarkrecs on tumblr. This story is dedicated to the lovely Ashley—thank you for all that you do to foster and support the many authors that devote their time and energy to Everlark.
This story is inspired by the fairy tale Cinderella, as well as the book Ella Enchanted by Gail Carson Levine, although as with my story A Favorable Wind, I'm leery of stating that too frequently given the eventual mature content in the story.
I hope to have the next chapter of this story ready within a few weeks. Many thanks to my usual cheerleaders, ILoveRynMar and jeeno2, and special thanks to streetlightlove and IzzySamson, who toiled through their own tales with me and convinced me this didn't suck. And of course, thank you to the incomparable Ro Nordmann for her lovely art work for this story.
Once upon a time…
The day Prince Peeta of Mellark was born was the happiest day the kingdom of Panem had ever known. The king and queen, having suffered year after year of miscarriages and stillborn births and heartbreak and anguish, sobbed with joy when the midwife, herself heavily pregnant, coaxed the newborn from his mother's womb and his lusty cries broke the hushed, tense silence. They were the first such cries his mother had the privilege of hearing, and she wept and wept as she cradled the tiny living, breathing bundle against her breast.
The midwife, a woman by the name of Lilith, was married to one of the kingdom's nobles, Sir Willem, the Earl of Everdeen. There had been rumors she came from a line of wise women—white witches—and when she began tending to the queen after her fourth failed pregnancy and Lilith's suggested regiment of potions and herbs and teas finally resulted in a viable gestation and the eventual birth of Prince Peeta, there was little evidence to dispute her healing powers. The king and queen were ecstatic, of course, but they were also humbly grateful, and when Lilith went into labor five days later, they insisted her newborn baby daughter be christened privately after the ostentatious ceremony that would be held for Peeta, the future king.
Indeed, it was the queen who named little Katniss Everdeen. The edible tubers had been a key ingredient in the concoction that had helped Queen Alida conceive the prince, and she thought naming the beautiful infant after them would be a nice tribute. And Willem and Lilith, who had been anticipating a son given the fetus's boisterous kicks, eagerly agreed—having never once discussed female names.
So it was that the queen threw a celebration like no one in the kingdom had ever seen in honor of her baby boy. A massive feast and ball was planned for later in the evening, but the morning started with the solemn baptism of the little prince. Peeta was, by all accounts, a perfect infant: peaceable and quiet and completely content to observe the world around him with his wide blue eyes. He did not make a peep as the priest sprinkled his downy crown with water from the baptismal font and blessed him as his parents looked on proudly.
And then Effie made her entrance.
Panem shared its borders with the kingdoms of other humans as well as a myriad of mythical creatures. The naiads and dryads occupied the vast, crystalline lakes to the north, the ogres and giants defended the dense forests to the west, and to the south were the mystical glens and ponds of the fairies and elves.
Effie was a fairy—and not a good one at that. She was misguided, irrational and impulsive. She had a tendency to show up at special occasions throughout the land, eager to bestow her gifts upon newborns, newlyweds and unsuspecting royal revelers alike. She never gave pause to consider the consequences of her often-foolish spells, and this was exactly the case when she appeared in a cloud of purple fog and glittering lavender mist at the christening of Prince Peeta.
'Twas not the prince's gift that was troublesome. In fact, the blessing Effie laid upon the future sovereign would prove to be more prophecy than anything else. When she trilled that Peeta would be a fair and just ruler, beloved by his people, and reign for many years with his true love by his side, the assembled nobles sighed with relief.
Baby Katniss, who had been sleeping in her mother's arms, was the unfortunate one. She woke just as Effie was beginning her speech to the king and the queen, and she immediately began to fuss. As docile and serene an infant as Peeta was, Katniss was loud and irritable. Her wails grew more insistent, and before her mother could excuse herself and find a suitable place to feed her daughter—Lilith did not use a wet nurse like most upper class women, Queen Alida among them—Effie spun around and waved her wand in the crying baby's direction. Her wings flitted furiously as she marched towards Lilith.
"Be quiet!" she ordered Katniss. The infant's face twisted in another keening wail, and Effie stomped her foot. "What is this child's name?" she demanded.
"Katniss. Her name is Katniss," whispered Lilith, beyond mortified that her baby was causing such a disruption. But the queen, who was generally not a forgiving woman, had a soft spot for Lilith. She cleared her throat.
"Lady Lilith delivered the prince, Effie. She means no harm, and I'm sure the baby will quiet soon enough," the queen announced.
A mischievous gleam sparked in Effie's eyes. "Does this little girl have any noble blood of her own?"
"Her father is Earl Willem of Everdeen, yes," Queen Alida replied.
"Then it is only right I grant her a gift as well!" Effie cried. No one could utter a protest quickly enough, and Effie aimed her wand directly at Katniss. "I grant you, Katniss Everdeen, the gift of obedience. Now be quiet!"
Immediately, the baby's cries ceased. Her face gradually returned to its pretty olive complexion, and her wide and curious silver eyes gazed up at her mother, glistening with unshed tears that clung to her long lashes like jewels.
"There!" Effie cried triumphantly. "Be a good baby, Katniss."
And for the first year of her life, she was. Katniss was an exceptional baby.
But within hours of her first birthday, things changed. And day after day, month after month, and year after year, it became blatantly clear that Effie's gift to Katniss Everdeen had been anything but a gift.
Indeed, it was more like a curse.
It took Sir Willem and Lilith awhile to figure out the ramifications of the spell and just how dangerous it was to their daughter. Both became fully apparent around the time Katniss was three, on an evening when the stubborn toddler was refusing to eat her supper. Haymitch, their cook, had prepared a lovely meal of game hen and roasted parsnips. Katniss had steadfastly pouted and whined and threw her vegetables to the ground, and she was trying both her parents' patience—an accomplishment in itself given the extents to which Sir Willem doted on her and looked the other way where discipline was concerned.
"Katniss, that is enough!" her mother had reprimanded sharply. "Eat those parsnips. Now."
The little girl narrowed her stony eyes and shook her head.
"Katniss! Eat your vegetables," Lilith repeated, her voice firmer this time.
She shook her head, mahogany plaits swinging violently.
"I will not ask you again, young lady. Eat your supper."
Katniss pressed her lips together so tightly that the pink bow of her mouth turned white. But as her lips paled, her face flushed red and those pretty silver eyes had rolled back in her head as her tiny body slumped down in her chair.
Lilith screamed and Sir Willem had leapt from his chair, gathering the girl's limp body in his arms. Lilith's shrieks drew the attention of Haymitch, who rushed in from the kitchen and shoved Sir Willem out of the way.
"Get me her plate!" he yelled, lifting Katniss's eyelids and peering into her glassy grey orbs.
"What?" Sir Willem stammered. "Her plate? What about her breathing? Her heart? Lilith, you should do something! You are a healer."
"I don't know what is the matter with her!" Lilith cried.
"Her plate!" Haymitch raged, his ruddy face contorted in frustration. Sir Willem nodded dumbly and passed the man Katniss's full dinner plate. Haymitch grabbed a parsnip, ground it between his fingers and pried Katniss's mouth open. He shoved the mashed vegetable onto her tongue and seizing her jaw, he managed to work it up and down. "Swallow, Katniss." Her rubbed at the column of her throat, coaxing her to cooperate. The three of them watched expectantly as the slightest ripple vibrated beneath her jaw and her eyes flew open. "That's a girl. Again." Haymitch shoveled more of the parsnips into her mouth, and she chewed obediently, the olive tone returning to her complexion.
Sir Willem and Lilith gaped at Haymitch as Katniss finished every last bite on her plate. When she had swallowed the last bite, he sent her into the kitchen for her dessert—broiled peaches with cream—and Haymitch proceeded to tell Sir Willem and Lilith just what poor Katniss's gift entailed. The little girl would be powerless to defy any order given to her. When her mother had ordered her to eat her vegetables and Katniss had refused, her body began its own rebellion. A few more minutes and she would have died.
Obey or succumb to death: that was the simple part. Getting a headstrong, willful little girl to understand the seriousness of her condition was harder. And keeping Katniss's 'gift' a secret was to be the biggest challenge of all—because for others to learn of Katniss's obedience, it automatically made her vulnerable to them. Requests and wishes she could ignore at will. But should she be commanded to do anything—anything—she would have to yield to the order. If someone told her to cut off her own head, she would have to do it since to resist would result in her death anyway.
Lilith feared her daughter could be used and manipulated for the same purposes. With Haymitch's help, they summoned Effie and begged the capricious fairy to recant the curse, but she steadfastly refused, asserting it would just take getting used to and Katniss would thank her years down the road. When Lilith tearfully described her fears for the harm that could befall Katniss, Effie issued one last firm 'no' and disappeared in a purple haze.
Katniss did not enjoy her 'gift' one bit. Once she was old enough to fully understand the perils that accompanied it, she grumbled that stupid fairies should know ponies are a better gift for a little girl. That is not to say she fully cooperated with the commands she received from others. Haymitch was particularly good at raising her ire, and she often found ways to resist his orders and complete tasks in a roundabout manner in spite of the fondness the cook and the girl had for each other. For example, if Haymitch told her to fetch herbs from the garden, Katniss would purposefully take as long as possible to gather the mint leaves for lamb stew or the mustard seeds for Beef Wellington, finally stumbling in many minutes later with a crimson face, setting the basket as far out of Haymitch's reach as possible.
Lilith also encouraged her to stay away from other children after an incident when Katniss was six. Katniss had been playing in the courtyard at the castle with the prince and a few other young boys when they decided to race. After the third time Katniss won handily, one of the boys—the son of a lord named Cato—protested that she shouldn't be allowed to race anymore. Katniss insisted that she had won each race fair and square and Cato was just being a sore loser because he was cross that a girl had beaten him. When the arrogant little boy told Katniss to go home, she had no choice but to sulk back to Everdeen Manor, where she sat on the doorstep until Haymitch returned from the village market and found her alone.
The next day when she arrived at the castle to play with the boys and Cato once more commanded her to leave, the prince tried to stop her from going.
"Why do you listen to him?" Peeta asked. "He's mean to everyone."
"Because I have to," Katniss replied sullenly.
The little prince was perplexed. "Stay. You don't have to listen to him. He's not your elder. My mother says I only need listen to my elders, and even then, one day, everyone in this kingdom will have to listen to me."
"I have to listen to you now," she answered. "If you told me to do something, I'd have do it."
"Will you kiss me?"
Katniss considered Peeta's request. It wasn't an order so she did not have to comply with it. But she had always been fond of the prince; he was so kind to her and made her feel like a princess, even if she wasn't of as high nobility as he was. He was never boastful or bossy like the other boys—and truly, if anyone had a right to be like that, it was the future king.
"Kiss me, Katniss," Peeta persisted, pursing his full lips at her, his blond curls tumbling into his bright blue eyes.
That was an order. Katniss closed her eyes and leaned towards Peeta when she sensed a shadow being cast over them both.
"Katniss Everdeen, let's go," her mother ordered.
Katniss was conflicted. She hadn't kissed Peeta yet, and now her mother had issued a command of her own. Her vision started to swim and her head began to feel fuzzy. "But Mother, I have to kiss the prince!"
"I am sorry for my daughter's behavior, your royal highness," Lilith apologized to the little boy.
"Lady Lilith, I asked Katniss to kiss me," Peeta protested. "Katniss meant no harm, I promise you."
"I have to kiss him, Mother!" Katniss screeched. "Because of the curse!"
"What curse?" Peeta asked, curiosity blooming in his eyes.
Lilith's own blue eyes widened in shock and she shoved her daughter towards the prince. "Do it quickly, Katniss and let's go."
Katniss lunged forward and smashed her lips against Peeta's then gave him a sweet, sad smile. "Goodbye, Peeta. I'll see you tomorrow."
She left the little prince standing in the castle garden, his small hand covering his mouth. Little did Katniss know that with that one brief kiss, she had ignited a spark—she had fully and completely captured the future king's heart.
When they arrived back home, Lilith ordered Katniss never to speak of the enchantment to anyone—ever—and that was an order Katniss had little trouble obeying the older she got.
Katniss did not see him the next day. Or the day after that. Peeta was sent to boarding school several weeks later. It would be many years before Katniss laid eyes on him again, much to her dismay.
Three days shy of Katniss's twelfth birthday, Sir Willem returned from a hunting exposition with a pallid expression and a fever raging throughout his body. Katniss kept watch by his bedside, holding his hand and singing to him—her father always told her that she had a voice lovelier than all the birds in the enchanted forest. Lilith concocted broths, teas and herbal soaks, but nothing worked. Within twenty-four hours, Sir Willem succumbed to the illness that had so quickly afflicted him.
Lilith sank into a deep depression upon the death of her husband, and it was only thanks to Haymitch that Katniss was fed properly. At his insistence, he suggested Katniss begin attending finishing school like other young noble ladies her age. Getting out of the house and away from her mother's prolonged melancholy would do Katniss good, he reasoned.
It was to be an unfortunate decision, for that would be where, on visitation that spring, Lilith met the man whom she would remarry, the man who became Katniss's stepfather, the man who would bring his two spoiled daughters to live in Everdeen Manor and make Katniss's teenage years a living hell.
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