Prologue

"Once upon a time," Lady Zephyr crooned, voice smooth as velvet as she rocked her young son to sleep, "There was a great and powerful queen. She was so beautiful that she could strike men blind upon sight, and so wealthy that even the lowest of her servants wore clothing spun with gold. She could hear the news of distant lands whispered on the winds, and bubbled in the streams, she could stop the sun in its path across the sky, she could turn the earth to barren stone, and she could fly on the back of the wind. When she smiled, the sun came out from behind the clouds, the wind whispered sweetly through the trees, flowers burst from the ground in a splash of color, and water laughed merrily as it bubbled through the streams and brooks. The crops grew, and the earth smiled upon all its inhabitants. But when she was angry, the seas boiled, and the sun bore down on the earth, lighting it afire. The ground shook and trembled and cracked open in huge fissures, and the wind stripped the earth bare and barren. Her name was Morgaine."

Kenton murmured in his crib, sleepily, and Lady Zephyr stroked his head of white-blonde hair tenderly before continuing. "She had four sons, and each of them as unlike the others as could be. Her eldest son was born in summer, and loved the sun and the warmth of its rays. He was dark of complexion and of eye, for the sun had baked his skin a deep brown. And he was of a sunny, smiling, constant disposition, loving and carefree and warm to new acquaintances, and everyone loved him and remarked on how warm his heart was, and how kind his demeanor. His name was Albion. To him, she gave the power over the sun, and he made it rise each morning and warm the lands, and he blessed the earth with its light and its radiance, and he went to live in the desert, where he would always have the sun for warmth, light, and company.

"Her second son was born in fall, and was spry and nimble as the breeze. His hair was the bright golden color of autumn leaves, flecked with red and chestnut brown, and it fell in waves to his shoulders, and his eyes were the clear crisp blue of the autumn sky. He could be flighty and unreliable, but he was joyous and playful and adventurous, and so everyone rejoiced in his company. He longed to travel the world, and see great cities and mountains, to know all there was to know and see all there was to see, to hear every story worth repeating and quite a few more that were not. His name was Zephyr. To him, the great queen gave the power over the winds, and he blew at times fair and at times foul, and he travelled on their backs across the whole world, and finally returned and settled in a deep forest, where he could hear the voices of even the tiniest breeze in the leaves of the trees.

"Her third son was born in winter, and was silent and stolid of temper. His hair was dark as anthracite, and his face as pale as chalk, and once he made a decision, he was as stubborn and unmoving as the mountains. His temper flared up, at times, and in unpredictable bursts, and he would erupt with anger and rage. But he loved the earth, and the things that grew from it, and he alone of all her sons took any interest in the fields and farms that surrounded their palace, and so he was respected, feared, and generally admired by the peasants. His name was Corundum. To him she gave power over the lands, and he made them fertile and bountiful, and went up into the mountains to make his home.

"Her last son was born in the spring, and had a temper as changing, and yet as constant, as the sea. His hair was so dark that it appeared tinged with blue, and his eyes were the green color of the tropics. His face was a tableau of ever-changing emotions, which could change from calm to furious in the blink of an eye, but his true feelings he kept locked away in the depths of his being and told no-one, or very few. He was fluid, and refused to meet any problem head on, but slowly worked his way around it through wiles and subtleties. His name was Naid. To him she gave the power over the sea, and the rains, and he brought water from the heavens to feed the streams that he loved, and he made his home on the side of the ocean, where he could always be within its sight. And that was the beginning of the four Estates, the four houses of the fairies."

Kenton wriggled in his crib; he was not yet asleep. He could always tell when a story was about to get exciting; he wouldn't sleep until the end. His mother smiled warmly as she continued.

"Among her many magical treasures, the great queen had a mirror, which she would sit in front of each morning and each evening as her handmaids combed her long, lustrous hair. Her power and her image seeped into the mirror and poisoned it, so that after so many days of seeing so great and beautiful a portrait everything else looked puny, small, and ugly in comparison. Her handmaids, forced to see their paltry reflections next to hers in the mirror, were turned into shambling, hopeless wrecks, and the Queen, her pride reinforced by the mirror every morning and evening, grew eventually to disdain anyone and anything other than herself. Her heart grew cold and her temper ran hot, and though her sons tried, they were not as powerful as she and could not do anything to control her temper as it wrecked havock across the land.

"Her eldest son laughed at the mirror, saying it was a harmless toy of a great old lady who deserved all of their respect, and he said that if they simply cared for their mother as dutiful sons should, she would not fly into rages anymore. Her second son did not care for the mirror, but argued that the cruelty and pride had always been present in their mother's heart, and the mirror was the victim of the queen rather than the other way around. He claimed that the safest thing was to keep it locked up and safe with its creator, where the damage it could do would at least be minimized. Her third son hated the mirror, for he stalwartly refused to see the cruelty of his mother, and so he blamed the mirror for her transformation. He wanted it destroyed, to break its hold on her heart. Her youngest son claimed that he did not have an opinion on the mirror, but he told the two eldest sons that he agreed with them that the mirror was best left untouched, and the youngest that the mirror was evil and needed to be destroyed.

"All four sons were with her the day that she died, and the task of what to do with the mirror fell to them. Albion said he would take it to his home, and hide it carefully so that no one would find it, and being alone and not looked upon for eternity the mirror could therefore do no more harm to anyone. Zephyr said he knew of a tiny island far away, where no one lived or could live, as there was no fresh water and the winds of the typhoon savaged its shores every year. He would carry the mirror with him on the back of the winds and bury it on that island, where no one would ever find it. Corundum said he could throw it into a hot volcano, where it would melt and be destroyed. And Naid said nothing, and only listened. Albion refused to see a treasured possession of his mother's destroyed, and insisted that it needed a guardian. Zephyr, too, was loath to destroy the mirror, but believed that the temptation to look in the mirror would be too great, and that the pride of their mother would eventually infect them as well should any one of them hold the key to its hiding place. And Corundum claimed, rightly, that hiding it on a deserted island was simply allowing only Naid and Zephyr to get at it – it was not really hiding it well at all. The only way to remove all temptation for it was to truly destroy it once and for all. The three were at logger-heads, and slept that night without coming to a resolution.

"Naid had listened very carefully to all of their arguments, and he knew that Corundum was correct – the temptation to look into the mirror, if only to feel closer to their departed mother, would always be present until the mirror was destroyed. But he also knew that simply casting his lot with Corundum would likely do nothing to break the stalemate – there would still be two voices for keeping it safe and two for destroying it, and he could say little to convince his brothers that Corundum had not already argued. And so, late at night, he snuck into his mother's chamber, took the mirror off of the wall where it stood shining proudly down on all it saw, carried it with him to the top of the tallest tower in the palace, and dropped it down to the ground, many stories below. The mirror shattered into a thousand thousand pieces, all as small as a grain of sand, and the wind picked them up and carried them away to the four corners of the world, not knowing what they were.

"Naid's three brothers awoke to discover what had happened the previous night, and their reactions were as various as their natures. Corundum, who Naid had expected to be thrilled, burst into a violent rage, and left the palace to retire to his mountain abode, slamming doors and stomping his feet. He saw that, scattered thus, the mirror would have even more power than it did before. Zephyr flew into a panic, and tried to school the winds to carry the shards back together, but there were too many shards and they were too small for him to do anything. And Albion, who had been the mirror's staunchest supporter, and who had wanted to keep it close to him at all times, simply smiled sadly at his youngest brother and said, 'You have done a terrible thing.'"

Kenton yawned, finally succumbing to sleep. He had a knack for knowing when a story was about to end.

"What the three eldest brothers knew, and that Naid had forgotten, was that each shard of that mirror contained the power of the whole, and as they spread across the world they carried disdain, and ugliness, and ridicule. They tarnished the ground they landed upon with a permanent stain, and they made that which they pierced wither and lose its vigor. If one pierced your eye, you would be struck not blind but mirror-blind: you would see only the worthless, puny, ugly parts of the world. And if one pierced your heart, you would cease to feel the beauty of the world entirely. And that was where it stood, for no one could undo what Naid had done."

Lady Zephyr looked down at her son, sleeping peacefully, his blonde hair a halo upon his head. She smiled to herself, and gently shut the door.