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Eldest

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She was not the thirteenth, but the first.

Eldest of the fairy sisters -- not that anyone will admit to being related anymore. Most of the rest are gone anyway, scattered to the four corners of the world and beyond. Only Flora lingers, and Fauna, and Merryweather. None of the three will tell this tale, that Maleficent was their sister once, and she was everything they dreamed of becoming.

She was tall from the start, towering over her younger siblings, and slender as a willow. Hair raven-dark, and that hasn't changed -- none of them have, really. They are as fate made them, so that Flora and Fauna have always had grey hair, though they are sixth and seventh in the set, neither the eldest nor the youngest. Her eyes used to be different, though. They had color: a deep emerald green, that bleached away to bone when she lost her name.

Oh yes: she wasn't always Maleficent. In name, or in soul.

First-born of the fairies, guardian and tutor of those who came after. She taught Titania how to rule, crafted the chariot in which Mab rode. She defended Flora and Fauna from Nicneven, who was senior to them and used it -- not that Nicneven was evil, no; all of them were good fairies. But she was proud, and demanded deference from those beneath her. There were enough of them by then for squabbles; even good fairies sometimes squabble. And Flora had distinct opinions about how things ought to be done.

Merryweather remembers none of this. She was thirteenth, as Maleficent was first: by the time she came of age, the sister her siblings adored was gone. She does not even know the name the eldest once bore. That, like the harmony of their family, is lost beyond recall.

But Maleficent remembers.



She rejoiced at her first sister, because she was not alone; she rejoiced at her second, because then they were three. An auspicious number -- but she did not mourn to see it grow, to see their family become four, five, half a dozen, more.

At ten she began to wonder.

At eleven, to worry.

At twelve, to plan.



They once had a castle in an enchanted forest, not far from the borders where Aurora would someday rule. Men and women came to them for blessings, for luck; children came to them for excitement and dreams. A fairy king and a fairy queen, and their growing set of daughters. Where are that king and queen now?

Dead. The castle, burned. The forest, laid waste.

All at Maleficent's hand. Merryweather never knew their home of old, because it fell to ruin on the day she was born. Flora and Fauna carried her to safety, the infant fairy who would soon be full-grown, with the human midwife who had delivered her stumbling at their heels. They had to go back for the woman, hunting for her in the smoke, while all around them the creatures of the wood fled for their lives. No one knows how many died that day, but two they know for sure: their mother and their father, dead on their thrones, their blood on Maleficent's hands.

Afterward she went to the mountain -- it was not called Forbidden until then. She gathered the storms around her like a cloak, blasting the land until it was barren and cold. The goblins came later, cowering beneath her shadow: faithful minions, if not the most reliable. No one's sure where the crow came from. It was just there one day, and every day thereafter, living far beyond the span of any ordinary bird. If Maleficent still had a heart, you might call it her only friend.

Nicneven sought revenge. She failed, and nearly died for it. Titania led the exodus, guiding her sisters to other lands. Flora and Fauna returned many years later, with Merryweather following them, against their protest. "Three is lucky," Merryweather said. "Three will do better than two."

They would certainly do better than thirteen.



It came from something Mab said, when they still numbered but three. "You are the eldest," she said teasingly to her sister, "and I, the youngest. 'Tis I who will find fortune and luck in the world."

"That only works for humans," Titania said, and Mab pouted in disappointment.

But thirteen, oh yes -- that works for fairies, all too well. Three is lucky, and so is twelve. Thirteen spells disaster.

It is the thirteenth fairy who turns, the thirteenth who becomes the black sheep of the family. The youngest of thirteen is wicked, curses babies, blights crops. But fairies propagate by fate, not choice, and so the queen wept when she found she was bearing again, for she knew what must inevitably follow.



The eldest did not weep. Even then, she was made of stuff too stern for that. But she had spent many a long age considering what might come, and making her plans. She was the guardian of her sisters; she sheltered them, taught them, bound their family together into a loyal whole. This last, this thirteenth, youngest and most vulnerable of all -- that one needed her elder sister's protection the most.

Someone died before the king and queen did. It was her, the eldest sister, the firstborn: she killed herself, not with a knife, but with a choice. She slew the self she had been, the guardian, the beloved, and she became the wicked fairy. Her parents died, first the mother, then the father, and the castle burned; she destroyed everything she had once loved, because the alternative was this: to let that burden fall upon her youngest sister, who did not deserve that fate in the least.

Because there is Maleficent, there is also Merryweather.

Who knows nothing of this, because her sisters do not know. Flora and Fauna think only that the eldest betrayed them -- the sister they no longer acknowledge as their own. They are right; she did betray them. But she did it out of loyalty.

Not that it matters. The fairy she was is gone, leaving only Maleficent behind. She hides no heart of gold behind that icy and malicious exterior. Fairies cannot be other than as they are: when she became wicked, the good sister died. Twelve good fairies, and one who was not. What difference does it make, which one went bad?

It made a difference to her.



Once upon a time, there was a fairy who was the eldest of thirteen sisters. She was the first, and became the thirteenth; and now she is alone.