No one knows who first started to call them "Nightlings". Perhaps it was the priests, determined to stamp them down as enemies of their God. Perhaps it was the whisperers, the loud mouthed children that crept from eave to eave, listening in on things that shouldn't be overheard. Perhaps it was even the Wiccans themselves, poking fun at the kingdom. It does not matter where the name came from, only that it was whispered throughout every hall in the kingdom's seven castles.
"The ones without God," many would whisper, their voices lowered as if a Nightling might hear. "The ones who would bring tragedy upon us all." Royalty hears these things every day, echoed in royal meetings and court sessions. There are supporters, just as there are supporters for any cause in the kingdom. But the church ruled with an iron fist, and many thought the Wiccans to be touched by the devil.
A young princess sits, her hair being slowly combed by a slightly older boy, his own hair bone-straight. They sit in a room underneath her own bedroom, hidden from anyone who does not have a keen eye. Hundreds of magical items surround them, from pentacles to spellbooks to crystals and herbs. The princess's beliefs are a secret well kept by the royal community.
"Namito," she asks, turning her head to face the boy behind her. He lifts the comb and gazes back, confused. The princess does not often interrupt him when he is brushing her hair.
"Nat?" He answers back. Only Namito could get away with calling Natalia by her nickname, or even anything other than "Princess". He had been her best friend for years, even before he knew he was Namito.
"Tell me the story about how you chose your name again." When his family first came into the kingdom, Namito was fifteen years old. Everyone was fully certain that he was a girl. He went by Koyuki and was assigned to be thirteen-year-old Natalia's handmaid. It was a few days later that he confessed to the princess in secrecy that he had never been a girl, his mother had just decided he was when he was born. He said, where he comes from, people look between a person's legs and uses that to decide their gender.
When Natalia explained everything to Namito's mother, she got angry. It took the repeated words of the king and queen to assure his mother that Namito was indeed, Namito. Eventually, the entire kingdom caught on, and while there were still people who would dare scream "Koyuki!" when the princess rode by with her friend, Namito was as at home as he could ever be.
"You were there, Nat! And I always tell you this story."
"Tell it again, it's my favorite!" Namito rolled his eyes and set down the comb, moving to begin braiding the princess's hair in her traditional style.
"Sometimes you are such a child," he laughed, moving fingers over the other deftly. He had been doing this for years, for the princess never wore her hair down in public.
"Namiiiiiiiii!" For a sixteen year old girl, Natalia could whine something fierce.
"Alright, alright," Namito began. "It was on the first day I told you I was a boy. We were playing upstairs, in your bedroom, and I started crying. You asked me, 'what's wrong, Ko?'. I told you I hated wearing my dress because it made me feel wrong inside. So you dragged me to the seamstress and she dressed me up like a prince."
"Skip to the good part!"
"I'm getting to it! So you brought me back to your room and you said "Ko, I have to show you something". Then you dragged me downstairs and lo, what was there but a magic sanctum! To be honest, I thought you were going to kill me right then and there.
"But of course, you didn't, instead you told me you were going to set up a spell for me. As I sat, crosslegged on the floor, you moved mixed up oils and herbs and finally you handed me a flask and said 'drink this'. Now at that point, I was completely certain that you were planning to kill me. But what choice did I have? The princess had given me instructions! So I gulped down the drink and nothing happened."
"Magic is subtle, Nami."
"I know that now! I was just glad that you hadn't killed me for what I told you. I thought everything was done and over with, but then, that night, I had a dream about the sea. You were standing on a rock in the middle of an ocean storm, screaming something at me. I couldn't make it out, and it was raining too hard for me to swim over to you. I dreamt this way for what must have been hours, but when I woke up, I knew what I should be called."
"Sea!" Natalia repeated gleefully, doing a little jump in her chair. Namito had to laugh, and Natalia joined in.
"Namito, or "sea" in my language. Now sit back down, little one, I need to put flowers in your hair." Natalia's braid was lush and messy, as always. Her hair was hard to tame even with the deftest of fingers, and Namito was no surprised that his work had amounted to little. The braids were practically indistinguishable as braids. Still, all that mattered was the Nat loved her braids.
The laughter of the two friends echoed through the room, seeping through the thin walls of the princess's true bedroom. Anyone sitting in her room would have heard Namito's story, and indeed there was a little boy, no older than seven, with his ear pressed against the wall. Little birds travel fast in kingdoms by the sea, and there was little to stop the tide that would soon rise.