PAWN'S GAMBIT


1

Malei watched the images in her mirror as the guests began to arrive at the palace. The King had invited everyone
of any position from within the kingdom and the neighboring lands, as well as the fairy council to attend the
christening of his first-born child. That is; everyone but her. True, she had been exiled to this remote castle in the
high mountains after she had argued against the King's coronation in favor of herself as the older sibling and had
failed. But, she was still his sister and she held the same power as the members of the fairy council and should
have been included. However, that did not matter. She had planned for this day for several years.

She concentrated for a moment on the Queen's image, frowning at the paleness of the woman's skin and the lines
still etched in her face. The princess had been born six months ago, yet the Queen looked as if she had only risen
from the birthing bed a few hours prior. Malei doubted she would ever have another child.

She continued to watch as the princess was presented to the court and they re-affirmed their loyalty to the royal
family. Before the feast was brought in, the members of the fairy council appeared. This was what she had been
waiting for. She leaned closer to the mirror then passed her hand over it. The images sharpened and she could
hear each of the fairies as they approached the baby.

"My gift to the child will be the gift of beauty. Even the dawn, for which she is named, will pale by comparison,"
the first said.

"And my gift is that of music," the second said. "The birds will fall silent at the sound of her voice."

Malei shook her head as the rest continued in the same vein. Beauty, music, grace? What do these have to do with
the ruling of a kingdom? They should be gifting her with things like strength, wisdom and compassion. She
waited until the next to last of the council approached, then dropped a handful of blue powder on the floor in
front of her.

#

She bowed her head slightly as she appeared in the hall amid a cloud of billowing blue smoke. "Your Majesties, it
appears I must apologize for the lateness of my arrival," she said stepping forward.

"I do not believe you were actually invited," the King said.

"So, now, you refuse to acknowledge the blood kinship I share with the princess and would not allow me to offer
her a christening gift."

The Queen placed a shaking hand on the King's arm. "We are the ones who should apologize for the insult. And,
we will not stand in the way of your sister bestowing a gift on your daughter."

Malei raised an eyebrow as she bowed to the Queen. The woman had more strength than she had given her credit
for. She stepped forward and looked down at the sleeping child.
So small and innocent, she thought. For just a
heartbeat, she hesitated before raising the staff she carried with her.

"The princess has been blessed by the members of the fairy council with gifts of beauty, grace, and music. These
gifts will be indeed blossom as she grows. However, before the final setting of the sun of her sixteenth year, the
princess shall prick her finger on the spindle of a spinning wheel and die." She dropped another handful of the
powder on the floor and left the hall.

#

Back in her office, she watched the last of the fairy council approach the child, her head held high as she smiled
at the King and Queen. "Fear not your Majesties," she said. "While I cannot undo the curse, perhaps it can be
modified."

Malei smiled. This was why her arrival had had to be timed properly. She knew the others would think to
interfere and if several them had yet to bestow their gifts on the princess they could have combined their power
and undone her spell. If she had waited till they were all done, they would have been able to use their magic to
shield the princess until the last day the curse would be in effect and prevent it from happening. Now, the laws of
magic bound them; they could interfere at this time or wait to see if they could prevent the final outcome of the
curse. She had judged them correctly; they would interfere now, attempting to modify the curse, and she would
have sixteen years to complete her plan.

"This is my gift to the princess," the last of the council said. "When she pricks her finger, she will not die. Instead
she will fall into a deep sleep, one that will last until she is awakened by a brave and true prince."

"A brave and true prince?" Malei shook her head again. Another complication and one she would have to be
prepared for as well. There were too many fools who thought of themselves as brave and true princes, and who
would be eager to be the one to awaken the sleeping princess and thereby break the curse.
Artwork by Kelley Hensing - Baen's Universe 2007