The Ugly Curse

Once upon a time, there was a kingdom, by the name of Alyra. The king and queen was a kind couple and ruled over their people wisely. Their only grievance was their lack of children. The king wanted an heir and the Queen wanted someone to shower love upon. But it seemed as if their wish was never going to come true.

One day, while the queen was taking her morning walk in the palace gardens, she was visited by someone strange. The queen had just sat down for a few minutes' rest, when suddenly, there was a poof and an explosion of pink smoke. When the smoke finally cleared away, the queen's eyes lit upon the visitor.

It was a fairie! The queen was exceedingly surprised. For generations, fairies had been hunted, thought as a source of evil with their powerful magic. But two generations back, that had stopped. King Charming had issued a proclamation, banning the killing of fairies. He had realized that they were honest and helpful after that whole escapade with Cinderella, his wife. Still, even though people no longer hunted fairies, it was strange to see one out in the open like this. They rarely did so as they had lost all trust in humans.

She was quite beautiful, the queen realized. Her golden hair flowed to her waist in waves, and her eyes were the color of an azure sky. She was tremendously tall, easily seven feet. She was wearing a pink dress that glittered all over with invisible jewels and that fitted her perfectly, as if it had been sewed together while she was wearing it. It was a spectacular sight.

"Are you going to sit there all day with your mouth open, or are you going to ask me for my name?" asked the fairie. Her voice had a melodic tone to it, making her ordinary words sound as if they were sung.

The question startled the queen back into reality and she shook herself. "Yes, of course. Please, dear Lady, what is your name?" she questioned with a little bit of apprehension. Although fairies were generally good, they all had short tempers and could easily be angered.

"I am Arythena, fairie of the Seven Stones. There is a sadness that is plaguing this kingdom, and it has begun to haunt me. Thus, I am forced to seek out its cause; the spell I cast has led me to you. Now I ask you, Amara, Queen of Alyra, what is it that troubles you?" the fairie said all this simply, probably thinking that the queen wouldn't understand her otherwise.

"Lady, by all accounts I should be content. I am Queen of a fair and prosperous land with clever and able subjects. My husband is a wise man; he's kind, protective, and generous almost to a fault. My palace is beautiful but also strong and can withstand any tempest of seize. And my friends and family are caring and often advice me intelligently on matters of the state. I enjoy all this and yet I am still unhappy. It is because even though I am Queen, wife, daughter, sister, and friend, I am not mother," the queen began to cry now. "I long for a child of my own, but am unable to bear one. My husband and I have tried many things, herbal remedies, potions, spells cast by kind witches, but none! not one of them worked. And so, dear Lady, that is the cause for my unhappiness." The queen sighed quietly as she did not believe anything would come out of this meeting.

There was another pink poof, albeit a smaller one, and the fairie was holding a handkerchief made of the finest linen. She offered it to the teary queen, who took it hesitantly. While the queen wiped her face clean, the fairie thought.

"I can grant you your wish," Arythena said finally. "But there is a condition. A daughter will be born to you a year from this date. But I will not make this child perfect, as other fairies are wont to do, for no one, not even a princess is perfect. Instead, you will have to choose. Your daughter may possess only two of three qualities. They are the following: beauty, wits, and a kind disposition. You now have to choose. Will your daughter be born comely and intelligent but selfish and cruel? Or will she be ugly yet kind and wise? Or she could be attractive and sweet but with no brains to speak of. It is your choice."

Immediately the queen replied, "Beauty. Without intellect, she will be a terrible ruler. And without a sweet personality, she will be selfish and unfair to the citizens. Beauty is the only one not necessary."

Arythena clapped. "Correct! Many think that if they possess beauty, they do not need anything else, and in a way, they are correct. If you are willing to depend on others your entire life. Anyway, you have passed my test! Your daughter will possess all of those traits."

Amara was joyous. She knew that her daughter would have been judged harshly because of her ugliness yet she had been willing to sacrifice her daughter's happiness for that of the people of her kingdom; except now, thankfully, she wouldn't have to.

But the fairie wasn't done. She continued, "However, the moment she turns twenty-one, she will be rid of all the gifts I gave her. She will be ugly and if you do not teach her well, her sharp mind and pleasant disposition will disappear as well. Therefore, you must teach her to be kind and noble; hire numerous tutors on numerous subjects so that she will learn what she needs and more. I will come to her on her twenty-first birthday. If she is kind to me and engages me in a witty conversation, despite her transformation, I will grant her a reprieve. If she should fail my test however, I will place upon her an even more terrible curse. And if I find that you told your daughter of my visit, there will be a curse for you and your kingdom as well."

Amara thanked her sincerely, despite the conditions placed on her yet-to-be-born daughter's life, and the fairie knew it. The queen went back to the palace in high spirits and was avid to tell her husband of the day's miraculous events.

The king and queen were awarded with a daughter exactly nine months later and anyone would have been hard pressed to find a happier couple. The kingdom celebrated the arrival of an heir with great pomp and ceremony. There were festivals and concerts. Parties and carnivals. But none like the naming ball the king and queen had for their daughter. It was custom that all girls born into the royal household have names beginning with an "A" and Amara found the perfect one: Aremera, a name that meant, 'one loved by all.'

As Aremera grew older, she lived up to her name, for with her naturally sweet face and disposition, she won over the hearts of many immediately upon meeting them. And when they later came to know her acute and brilliant mind, she also gained their admiration.

She wasn't always sweet though. Her grey eyes would flash in annoyance whenever someone thought her just a dumb blonde. Proving them wrong took mere seconds and a certain few words on her part. Most were left with their mouths hanging open in astonishment. And because she was beautiful, wherever Aremera went, people would stop what they were doing to look at her; as she grew older, this became more and more frequent. She would ignore it usually but if she was in a bad mood, beware, for it took a lot to put Aremera in a bad mood in the first place.

Her parents had hired the kingdom's brightest tutors to teach her. She enjoyed her History and Political Science classes, because she and the teachers would always manage to have some sort of good discussion. Her Science and Math teachers weren't interesting, but they taught their subject well. Her favorite subjects were Music and Speaking. As a future ruler of the Alyra, she had to speak well, in all sorts of manners. She absolutely hated Deportment. The teacher was a "stuffy, old nincompoop" according to Aremera at the age of seven. The sentiments still applied when Aremera was seventeen.

She had been with the Deportment teacher, Miss Hawkes, when the lesson was fortunately interrupted by a page. Aremera had been asked to go see her parents in their joint study, upon receiving the message. Wondering what her parents could possibly want to tell her, Aremera hastened her pace, her long legs striding across the stone floor of the castle. When she arrived, she found her mother and father seated in comfortable armchairs, talking quietly. They stopped when they realized she had entered the room.

"Ah, darling. Come sit down. We have something rather important to tell you," her father said to her, waving his arm toward a chair. Aremera took it, a bit apprehensive now of what news her parents had for her. Her father looked at her mother, who stared back at him. It seemed each wanted the other to start. She was definitely uneasy now. Finally her mother sighed.

"Aremera, darling, you know we love you with all our hearts and will never stop, right?" Aremera nodded mutely, afraid to say anything. "Well, we have something rather…well, it's not exactly terrible, but it's not the best news in the world either. You see dear, before you were born, your father and I had been unable to have children. But, one day, I met a fairie." Amara stopped to look at her husband. Meles took her hand and gave it a slight squeeze, reassuring her.

"This fairie, Arythena of the Seven Stones, promised me that you would be born in nine months time. And you were. The thing is she also placed this…sort-of curse upon you."

"WHAT?! What kind of curse? Why did you never tell me? It is like Cousin Aurora's? Am I going to fall asleep for a hundred years? I can't do that! I'll miss everything! Oh no! She's some sort of witch, isn't she? And she wants to lock me up in a tower to keep everyone away! But I can't be locked up! My hair isn't long enough to help me escape! And I'd miss everybody too much! No, please, don't let her take me! Please, I'll do anything! Anything!" Aremera fell to her knees in front of her mother's chair, begging.

"Aremera, darling, no. Please stop. It's nothing like that. It's a… different sort of curse." Her father said, pacifying her for a while.

"Different? Different how?" Aremera asked, wary.

"The fairie gave you beauty, charm, and brains. She told me that on your twenty-first birthday, all that would be taken away," her mother said quickly, wanting to get it all out before she was interrupted again.

"You mean I'll be stupid?! And mean and ugly too?! How could you do this to me? What kind of parents are you?!"

"Aremera Katrina Maryn! You will stop all of this blubbering and listen to us right NOW!"

Aremera was shocked into silence. Her father almost never yelled, at her, at anybody. She must have really made him angry.

"Aremera. Listen to me. You will stay smart and nice because that is what we taught you. We taught you to be a kind person but one who wasn't easily fooled by flattery. You are observant, intuitive, and noble. All that does not come from the fairie, but from you. That is you." A sort of calmness descended on Aremera now. She would keep her brains and her friends. Her mother continued, "It is true, however, that your appearance will change. You will become homely," Aremera was about to say something but her mother bulldozed right over her, "But you will deal with it. Because you are of the Maryn family and we deal with things. Now, go. Think on what we have said to you. You need not go back to Miss Hawkes."

Aremera nodded and left the room. She left the castle and headed for the stables. She always went for a ride with her horse, Penny, when she needed to clear her head. Aremera saddled Penny and mounted him. A couple of miles away from the stable, Aremera urged Penny into a trot, heading toward her favorite meadow. Entering it, she pushed Penny into a gallop. Together they rode for hours; Penny's flank was covered in sweat when they finally headed home.

Aremera decided that she would deal with her ugliness on her twenty-first birthday. Until then, she would not speak of it nor think of it. When she returned to the castle, she was in much better spirits and went to find her parents; she wanted to inform them of her decision.

She found them still in their study. Knocking on the door, she entered. Her parents looked up from their desks. Before they could say a word, Aremera raised her hand, silencing them. "I've decided that I will not dwell on this curse until my twenty-first birthday. I will deal with my hideous face and body on that day, and not before. I also want you both to never speak of it in front of me either. You can talk about it all you want in your spare time as long as I am not around. I don't care. Just don't talk about it with me. Not until I turn twenty-one."

Her parents looked at each other and then Aremera. Both nodded.

"A wise decision. We will speak of it no more. Now go clean yourself up for supper, you're absolutely filthy," her father said. Aremera left the room.

Over the next three years, Aremera enjoyed her life. She was eager to learn, more so than before. She found everything interesting now, including Deportment (although she still detested the teacher) and paid attention in each of her classes. She rode whenever she could now, spending a great deal of time at the stables every day. As a result, she made friends with many of the grooms working at the stable and if she wasn't too busy with Penny, she'd help them with their chores, shoveling manure or helping to wash and groom the horses. Her parents didn't object; in fact they supported her time in the barn—she was learning what hard work meant.

Aremera's twenty-first birthday was tomorrow. She had spent the entire day in the stables, trying to forget her birthday was tomorrow. She had been successful in expelling thoughts of the curse from her mind before, but now that the day was finally here, she had been unable to think of anything else. She was afraid to go to bed, not knowing what would happen to her while she slept.

She pulled her favorite book from a shelf, figuring she'd read all night. Nothing could happen to her if she was awake, right? She sat down in her least favorite armchair, one with a high back that would never let her be comfortable. She stayed there, reading, late into the night.

When the clock struck twelve, she jumped. It had never been this loud before. But then something dawned on her. She looked down at her hand; it was still a pale creamy color, with long fingers and well-shaped nails. She ran to her bathroom, not daring to believe that she had outwitted her curse so easily. Staring at her reflection, she saw only herself. There she was, same grey eyes, long blonde hair, high cheekbones, and full lips, dimples and all. Had she really defeated it? It seemed so. She was still here after all. Maybe she had defeated it. Maybe, just maybe, this had all been a test of some sort. There probably wasn't a curse at all. Her parents must have tricked her, to see if she'd cake under the pressure, to see if she'd be a capable ruler. What a despicable trick! 'Agh! I'm going to give them a good piece of my mind in the morning, just wait! I can't believe they'd do such a thing! To their own daughter!" Aremera went to bed now, her mind set. Tomorrow, she would kill her parents. With that comforting thought, Aremera gratefully went to sleep, tired from her three-year ordeal.

The next morning, when Aremera woke up, she felt fear for a moment. What did she look like? But then she remembered. It had all been a trick on her parent's part. She sat up suddenly. As she was getting out of bed, she felt some pain in her lower back. Ignoring it, Aremera ran out of her room, toward her parents'. But then she had to stop and rest; she was breathing really hard. What was wrong with her? Yesterday she had ran a mile without stopping and now, she had only run less than an eighth of that distance and was sweating. Once she had caught her breath, she walked the rest of the way.

Her parents were already awake. When she entered, she saw her mother's face pale. Her father turned toward her too now, wondering what had made this wife look as if she had seen a ghost. He face too, took on a sallow color. 'They're taking this a bit far, aren't they?' Aremera thought.

"I can't believe you guys. You made up a curse to see if I would be a good ruler?! That's nuts! Do you know how terrible I felt yesterday, knowing it would be the last day I would be me? It was awful. I can't believe it was all a lie! How could you do this to me? How?" Aremera shouted at them. She didn't care if all the servants heard, if the whole kingdom heard. She was mad and her parents absolutely deserved what they were getting. She would not hold back. "I stayed up half the night because of you! Thinking that if I didn't sleep, everything would be okay. But nothing was wrong in the first place! I realized that at midnight! MIDNIGHT! I run to the mirror, and what do you think I see? I see me! ME! Three years of worrying! THREE FULL years of worrying over NOTHING!"

Aremera paused for breath, but before she could continue, her mother spoke, quietly and precisely to get her daughter's attention. "Have you looked in the mirror, darling? If you do, you'll see we didn't lie to you."

"Weren't you listening to me at all?! I just told you, I already did that last night! And nothing was wrong!"

"Look again. For me. Just go look."

"I really don't see the point, but I'll do it to prove to you that I am not stupid and gullible." Aremera walked over to her mother's full-length mirror and gasped when she saw herself. She looked absolutely hideous. Her silky hair was now greasy and looked as if a child had cut it. Her fingers were short and stubby and her nose was large and crooked and her lips were tiny. And her skin…it had been clear only yesterday and today it was as if she had the Plague: pockmarks covered her face, and every other part of her body that was visible at the moment. She had bushy eyebrows that met above the bridge of her nose and her ears were huge. The only thing that hadn't changed was her eyes.

"No, no, no, no, no, no. This is not happening. This can't be happening! But…just last night…it was me. And now it isn't. What happened?" Her voice had changed too. It was now gravelly, whereas before it had been a soft soprano. How come she hadn't noticed before?

"Oh, darling," her mother said, coming up behind her and hugging her, "it's all right. Everything will be all right. And what are you talking about? Just because the outside's changed, doesn't mean the inside has. You're still clever, kind and noble. You ride well, you're polite, and funny. You're brave when you have to be and you're a strong leader. You're you, Aremera. Still you. And your father and I love you because of that. Not because you were pretty."

Everything her mother said made sense, but it still hurt to hear "were pretty". She was upset and wanted to cry still. But she wouldn't. Because her mother was right. She would keep her chin up and be herself. Everybody would still love her. And besides, now she won't be stared at all the time. Instead people will look away from her.

The thought made her want to cry again, but she didn't. Instead, she pulled away from her mother and went to her own room. She started to get ready for the day, knowing that everywhere she'd go that day, people would look at her, turn away, and then try to sneak another peek. She'd ignore it, just like she did before. She'd build a shell around herself, not letting anyone close enough to tear it down.

Aremera went down to breakfast. It had started happening already. The day seemed to go by slowly today, whereas yesterday had been all too short. She saw all of her tutors today, and ate lunch by herself. She would have gone riding, but she wasn't ready to face her friends yet. She still needed more time to adjust. After lessons, she went to the library, reading until it was time for dinner.

That night, the cook had made an extra special dinner, in honor of Aremera's birthday. All of her favorite dishes were there, cooked goose, lamb curry, banana bread, vegetable soup with lots of carrots, and, for dessert, rice pudding. Aremera decided to enjoy herself, to forget her appearance for a while in favor of something far more appetizing both to the body and to the mind.

Before she could take a bite of the lamb curry though, there was a knock on the front doors of the castle. Her father told his manservant to go answer it. The man returned soon after, saying that a woman was here, looking for shelter from the rain.

"Well, why didn't you invite her in? The poor woman must be soaked to the bone. Here, you stay here. I'll go and get her," Aremera announced. She went to the doors of the castle and opened them. There stood a tall and beautiful woman with black hair and blue eyes. She was slender and her face was unmarked. Even drenched in water she was gorgeous. Aremera felt a pang of jealousy and hatred but quickly doused it. She invited the woman in and sent her maid for towels so that she could dry off.

"Thank you, madam. I appreciate your taking me in like this," the woman said to her. Taking the towels from the maid, Aremera handed them to the lady so she could dry off.

"No, it's no trouble at all. If you are dry, would you like to join us for dinner? We were about to eat," Aremera said, unable to look the woman in the eye. They appeared to be of the same age.

"Oh, dear. I've interrupted your meal. Please don't bother about me and go enjoy your dinner. I'll just go over to that fire and warm myself up," she said pointing to the fire in the hall.

"Nonsense. There is a fireplace in the dining room. Come. You shall eat with us." The woman followed as Aremera led the way.

"What is your name, madam?" Aremera asked.

"Nithubii."

"I am Aremera Maryn." The pair entered the dining room. "And this is my father, Meles, and my mother, Amara. Mother, Father, this is Nithubii. I hope you do not mind, but I have invited her to share in our meal," Aremera said.

"Not at all. It is a pleasure to meet you, Nithubii. Please, do sit down," her father said.

"My, what a kind family you are. Thank you so very much. I truly appreciate it," Nithubii said, taking the chair closest to the fire and next to Aremera.

Aremera served Nithubii, giving her a portion of everything. Only then, did she help herself; Miss Hawkes had taught her well. Aremera engaged Nithubii in conversation, asking about her and how she came to be in Alyra, for her accent was definitely not of the kingdom.

"You are right. I am not of Alyra. I am from Turvir. I came here to visit some relatives but I got lost along the way. I'm afraid I rather don't know where I am."

"You are in Selth, the capital of Alyra. Where is it you wish to go?" Aremera's father asked.

"Hurtiv."

"Ah. That is a two-day ride from here. If you wish to leave tomorrow, we can provide you with a horse and guard but know that you are welcome to stay as long as you please, Nithubii," Aremera said.

"Thank you. That is very kind of you." The subject changed to that of music then and the two girls had a spirited discussion of their favorite music and composers. Aremera forgot all about Nithubii's beauty and her own misfortunes, and enjoyed herself.

When dinner was over, Meles and Amara retired to bed early, claiming they had an early meeting in the morning with their advisors. So Aremera invited Nithubii to a game of chess in the library. She accepted and the two began to play. At first they were silent, contemplating their choices. But conversation soon arose again.

"I wouldn't advise that, madam. If you were to move your knight there, my queen would be hard put not going after it," Nithubii advised.

"Ah, but you see, if you were to take my knight, my bishop would be ready to take your queen," Aremera answered.

"Ah! You are right! I did not see that bishop. When was he moved there? Did you cheat, Aremera?" Nithubii asked jokingly.

"You hurt me madam. I would never do such a thing. Now, please, make your move, for I tire waiting for you."

"Patience, child, is the key to winning this game," Nithubii said. And then she winked. "That and planning ahead. You must always stay two steps ahead of your opponent."

"I don't mean to be rude, Nithubii, but I already know that. And I am two steps ahead. I'm just waiting for you to make move a piece."

"All right, all right," she said and moved her queen out of harm's way.

"Tsk tsk. I knew you were going to do that. That's why I had placed my pawn in the perfect position before this turn." Aremera took the black queen, reveling for a moment in its power. Whatever she said, she was enjoying herself immensely. She hadn't played against such a well-matched opponent for a long time. It was nice to have to think for her favorite game again.

The two continued to play that one game, late into the night. Both would take risks, moving their pieces into certain places and then just as suddenly, changing their location again, to that of safety. Neither side giving in, tokens were taken and given rarely. Nithubii played well, even without her queen. Finally, Aremera managed to corner Nithubii's king, "Checkmate."

Nithubii sighed. "That was a good game. It was a pleasure playing with you. Next time, however, I won't be so easy."

Aremera laughed. "I'm sure of it."

"Well, I guess I'd better be going now." Nithubii said.

"What? Now? You can't mean that. It's still raining, for heavens' sake!" Aremera said.

Nithubii laughed. "Oh, Aremera dear, it's nice of you to worry about me but you need not. I am not Nithubii at all. In fact, I am Arythena, fairie of the Seven Stones." And before Aremera's very eyes, the fairie appeared in a poof of pink smoke. Sighing she said, "Oh, it's nice to be in my own skin again. I always hate wearing a costume. They're so itchy. Still, you learn more as a stranger than as yourself. Anyway, I am the one your mother met all those years ago. I came to see you today, to see how you'd dealt with your curse. Especially when faced with my extreme beauty. And I am very happy to say that you have done a perfect job, and I am extremely proud of you. You overcame the jealousy and bit of hatred that arose when you saw me well." Aremera gasped. How did this fairie know of that? Could she read her mind? Arythena winked. "No, I can't read your mind. Your response to me was natural and anyone in your place would have felt the same. Not all, however, would have invited me in; most would have just turned me away. You were kind and gracious though and your conversation was extremely interesting. Many times you made me laugh and let me tell you, that is not an easy feat."

"Thank you, Lady." Aremera couldn't think of anything else to say. What could she say? Should she ask her to remove the curse? Or would that be an ungracious thing to do? Before she could make up her mind, Arythena spoke again.

"I had been planning on visiting you on this day, since the day I met Amara. And I decided then too, that if your personality and actions pleased me, I'd give you a reward. And here it is: you will retain this form for only a year more. Do not argue with me. I want you to keep it for that long because you will learn greatly from the experience. And because it will open you to the deceptions of some people."

"Thank you so much, Lady. You have no idea how much I appreciate this. And I believe you are right. I will learn greatly from this and I look forward to all that this form can teach me," Aremera said.

Arythena laughed. "I knew you'd see it my way. And I promise you, I will visit you on the day this spell finally wears off and we will celebrate together! Now, I'm truly sorry but I really do have to go. I have another appointment. If you ever need my help though, or advice in anything, please do not hesitate to call upon my name. I will assist you in whatever way I can," she said. "You are a good woman Aremera, and will be a fine ruler one day. Take care and goodnight!"

"Goodbye!" With another pink poof, Arythena was gone. Aremera shook herself slightly, overwhelmed with all the changes the day had brought. But she went to bed happy. Because finally, there was a new light at the end of the tunnel.


Well, that's it! I hope you enjoyed reading my story. Please REVIEW and tell me what you think. All criticism (and compliments :P) accepted.

Have a nice day,

basicME