Exam Papers, Ireland

2011, Paper I, Section II, Composing

Question 3

"…the waiting had been magical…"

Write a story to be included in a collection of modern fairytales.

When I was little, my mother always told me a story before I went to sleep. I suppose that wasn't exactly a rare occurrence in the world we lived in today - for mothers to tell fairytales to their children, I mean. It was different for me though. It wasn't as much in the story that I was interested, but more in the way my mother's face transformed when she read aloud to me. It was like every time she read to me, she was reborn inside the world she was describing. The words came alive when she read, pictures floating like tiny butterflies around her, sounds coming out of the storybook that she had not uttered with her mouth; the hooves of a cavalry, the fanfares of war trumpets, the zaps and slashes of magic spells striking their goal and great warriors cutting down mighty dragons of legend.

I watched her face, transfixed, as it became that of a dragon, of a fairy queen, of a princess in distress, of a charming prince come to save the kingdom. At the time, I thought it was normal, but as I grew up I realized that the things my mother could do were not normal. Other mothers couldn't do it, I found out when I went to my best friend's home for a sleepover for the first time. Lin's mother could read, but the words were not infused with life as she read them the way my mother always did it. They remained just words laid flat on paper.

Before I new it I had turned twenty-five years old, and I had a daughter, and my mother's gift had been passed on to me. From mother to daughter, I suppose. My mother had never told me anything about it, and I had never asked her, too scared that my prying would cause her gift to falter and wither before my very eyes. Her eyes were always kind, her hands always gentle, her words caring and loving. I saw no reason to ask her for answers; I had all the answers I needed in her mere presence.

Then I grew old myself, and from one day to the next my mother disappeared from the face of the earth, and I knew then that whatever questions I now felt the need to ask I would never get an answer to.

My daughter was an adult now, and I had no answers to the questions she never asked. I supposed that the reason she never asked was the same reason I had never asked my own mother when I was her age and beyond.

When she was a child I read to her every night, and sometimes I surprised myself by identifying more with one character than with the others; a good dragon protecting a princess from a knight turned evil, a Dark Queen unjustly oppressed by those characters normally depicted as good. I did not know why it was that these characters appeared to me more realistically than any others, but it seemed that my daughter Sia saw the same things I did in them, for it was always the stories with these characters that she asked for me to read to her on darker nights than usual.

One particularly dark and stormy night, I read Merlin's story to her. I had been reading for only minutes when a breeze suddenly picked up in my daughter's bedroom. Sia, kept awake by the moving images I had conjured from the book, sat up bolt upright in her bed, looking bewildered as I lowered the book into my lap and smiled gently at her.

"Sia," I said to her, and her wide eyes stared at me like a doe caught in flashlights. "You must be strong. You will come back; you need only remember your gift – remember what you can do."

But her eyes had already closed on those bright blue pupils, and I found that, as her body slowly faded out of existence before me, I had always known that this would happen, one day or the other. My mother must have known, too, that the fae would come to take her daughter's daughter. One child in every third generation of women in our family had to pay the price for our ancestor's bargained gift with the fae, those magical beings born of demons and angels, with the beauty of the latter and the deviousness of the first. I cried, that night, on my missing daughter's empty bed. I knew that she would either be returned to me on her eighteenth birthday, or remain with them for the rest of eternity. It was all up to her now; there was nothing I could that would be of any help to her.

Years passed, and every year, on my daughter's birthday, a new memory was returned to me; details of my ancestor's deal with the fae, of the world we had come from, and on her seventeenth birthday, I remembered the prophecy. In our first world, Eurasia, before the continents of the Earth split up and became those we knew today, the first kingdom of men had, following my ancestor's bargain with the fae, uttered a prophecy. The prophecy said that if one of our line ever succeeded in holding back against the fae's temptations, and was returned on her eighteenth birthday, strong enough to withhold even the fae's drugging and addictive magics, that woman would become either the saviour of our world, or its doom.

For the year that followed, I was taken by the frantic hope of a mother about to be reunited with her long-lost child. I had no doubt that my daughter would be the chosen one, the object of the prophecy; why else would I have felt such elation at the remembrance of the prophecy? I gave no thought to the possibility that my daughter could not return at all from the fae's kingdom, and my entourage marvelled and wondered at my sudden lifted spirits; I had walked and breathed and lived on auto-pilot for twelve years, and my sudden mood-change made a lot of people wonder what its cause was.

Then came the final year, my daughter's last chance. This was also our world's last chance, for I had never conceived another son or daughter, and our line would become extinct if Sia was not to return. I was forty-three, and at this point I doubted that my body could ever withstand a second child.

I was sitting in our old living room when it happened. I had not moved out after my daughter's disappearance, had clung to the few memories of her that I had from the five years we had spent together. As I watched silently, the air above the old maroon carpet began to shimmer and glow, like a light coming on slowly, growing brighter and brighter with every passing second. I stood, then fell instantly to my knees as the outline of a human form began to draw itself into the suspended glow. Gradually, my daughter appeared before me. But something was wrong. Upon her back, sparkling with the beauty of a thousand fires, were two pairs of translucent wings, like those of dragonfly.

For one breathless, hopeless moment, I was hit with the realization that my daughter had failed the fae's trials, and had joined their ranks. Then her beautiful face leaned closer to mine, her head cocked to the side, framed by those chin-long blond locks that still seemed so painfully familiar to me after all these years, and my doubts abandoned me.

"Mother," my daughter whispered, much in the same way I had fifteen years ago. "Mother, the ancient prophecy never did mention what the one who came back was to save humanity from." The ghost of her glittering hand hovered above my hair, so soothing and peaceful that I closed my eyes at her gentle touch and leaned my head into her hand. "But I have finally found the answer. I must return to the fae. I have passed all of their trials; I have stood against their temptations and turned my back on their teaching. Yet I have accepted their form, their wings, because I knew it would help me to understand the prophecy. Did you know that it was they who uttered the prophecy so long ago, after our ancestor made the bargain with one of their people?" I opened my eyes at this, and she smiled at me. "The true meaning of the prophecy – it is that one whom they have taken must return to them of her own accord, even after having completed all of their trials. The fae have been ignored for so long, have been judged for their demonic side for so long, that the world we knew has kept them at bay since, and have forgotten that the fae are only ever unkind to those who refuse their hospitality."

My daughter knelt in front of me then, and, framing my face in her gentle hands, brought it close to her own and kissed my forehead. For a moment that stretched into eternity, our roles were switched; I became the daughter, the one who needed protection, and she the mother – my stronghold, my fortress and refuge against the injustice of it all. But I understand what it was that she was sacrificing for the world. I knew that she was right, that her sacrifice, though it would become a loss I would bear until my last breath, would be what would eventually become humanity's safeguard.

"And they will be kind to me," my daughter whispered, "because I have been kind to them."

And so I let her go, and she faded like dust between my fingers, and my memories of her became as ephemeral as the prophecy that nobody but her had ever understood for what it really was.

A/N: If you enjoyed this essay, please go take a look at my other essay, posted on this account also, and at my account, KuraraOkumura, if you like Harry Potter, Naruto, Death Note, Fairy Tail, or Ao no Exorcist! :)