so maleficent is the good fairy here, right, and the three
fairies are the bad ones, so like fae do they each appear to be what they’re
not. and aurora, given fae gifts and raised by fae, is nearly fae herself.
maleficent knows that only an elf could hope to sway a fae heart, because elves
are impervious to their glamour. maleficent kidnaps the young prince philip,
and brings him to the elven realm. she tries to bargain a prince for a prince,
but the king is unswayed. a human prince, he declared, is only worth an elvish
servant, so that’s what she gets.
maleficent takes the servant and puts him in philip’s place,
gives him that name, and watches as the servant elf is made a prince among
mortals, watches as he eventually captures aurora’s heart, and saves her from
her living death. watches as the elf servant turned prince becomes a king, as
the almost-fae princess aurora becomes queen, and their two kingdoms become one
and they rule the land of men together.
this, of course, begs the question – what happens to our
dear human philip?
he is not the first child that has been bargained away to
the elves, and elf queen thalia settles the young boy on her hip and raises an
eyebrow at her husband, waiting. the child awakens by degrees, until he’s
clutching her neck and blinking at the gathered elves. thalia is only grateful
that he hasn’t started screaming, like so many of his kind do.
normally the children that are bargained to them are put to
work in the castle, where they’re safe, where their clumsiness and their
ignorance and their mistakes will be glossed over, where she and the king will
ensure they will be politely ignored rather than harassed. they’ve lost a
servant boy, and so she’s sure a servant boy is what this young human is meant
except a woman of the court steps forward, and she’s old,
old enough that it shows, that her curly hair has gone silver and wrinkles are
etched deep in her face. lady ember is older than the forests they reside in,
is older than her grandmother, than her great grandmother. everyone’s lost track
of her exact age, but she’s the oldest elf in village. thalia likes her – she and
lady ember have skin of the same dark shade. thalia hopes that if she is to
live long enough, she and lady ember would look alike.
“i would like the child,” she says, eyes like amber, and for
the moment she appears younger than she ever has. there’s something eager in
her, and it brings a life to her that thalia hasn’t seen in a long time.
thalia looks to her husband, and king celedor gives a
minuscule twitch to his lip which is an equivalent to a shrug. she sets the
young human on the ground, and ember holds out a single hand. the child looks
behind him, then in front him, and takes cautious steps forward. he steps until
he can take her hand, his own looking small and pale in hers. “it’s been a long
time since i was able raise a child,” ember says, “i would like to do so again.
will you come home with me?”
and thalia understands. elf children take many hundreds of
year to mature, and ember would not risk dying on a child before it could take
care of itself. but humans are candles that burn at both ends – hot, and fast.
within a decade or two the child in front of them will be able to survive on
his own, will not need lady ember to coddle him for centuries.
he nods, and finally opens his mouth to say, “i am philip.”
“hello philip,” lady ember smiles, “i am lady ember of the mother
tree. now you are lord philip of the ember tree.”
they are elves. they don’t do something as gauche as gasp,
but the sentiment comes out just the same. celedor’s mouth drops open a millimeter
and thalia’s right index finger twitches. raise a human child like a beloved
pet they could all understand – but to adopt one, to truly adopt one that she’d
just met and didn’t know and bequeath to him the estate and title the noble name
of the mother tree?
lady ember leads her new son away, and the gathered elves
can do nothing but stare.
prince elion – eli, to everyone who doesn’t want the prince
of the elves nursing a personal grudge against them – comes home in the dead of
night, when he can slip past the guards and the fawning people on the street
and sneak into the royal quarters.
“mother,” he greets as he enters the library. his father
sleeps early, but his mother doesn’t go to bed until nearly dawn. he kneels by
her side, and she runs a hand through his hair, tugging the leather tie off
when it gets in her way. his mass of dark curly hair tumbles around his head,
and as he shakes it out leaves other debris fall out. thalia sighs, but doesn’t
remark on it.
“your hunt went well?” she asks, although she knows the
answer. eli is one of the best hunters in the kingdom, and his hunting parties –
comprised of the strongest and best among the noble families – are notoriously
he grins, teeth extra white against his skin, “of course,
mother. did anything interesting happen while i was away?”
“the faerie maleficent came and bargained away a human
prince,” she says, “she wanted you in return. your father gave her a servant
eli laughs, too loud and boisterous, in a way he would never
allow himself to laugh around his father or his subjects.
philip thinks perhaps he should be screaming, or crying, or
causing some sort of fuss about this new life and this old woman who insists
she’s his mother now. but he’s never had a mother before, and this new place is
beautiful. they live in palace carved out of an enormous tree – the mother tree
that their name comes from – and philip is given a lot more freedom as an elf
lordling than he was as a prince.
he hopes the boy who took his place is nice to his father,
and doesn’t mind long evenings with only the servants for company. being a
prince can be very lonely. he knows from experience.
ember gives him rooms and toys, but warns him that he has a
lot of work ahead of him. as a human, he’s at a severe disadvantage here at the
elf court. elves are faster than humans, stronger and smarter and wiser. “it
sounds to me,” philip says, “that maybe they’re just older. if i had hundreds
of years, I could be all those things too.”
ember’s eyes crinkle at the corners when she smiles, and he returns it.
philip knows hard work. he was set to rule a whole nation,
was set to lead whole armies. he knows training and learning and patience.
learning to become an elf lord seems like it will be a lot easier than being a
lady ember and her servants are harsh, but fair. in their
home, in the mother tree, he is a pampered lord. out of it, however – he acquires
many scars from training, from falling and failing. ember and her staff run him
ragged into the ground, because he must be able to keep up with elves.
they have hundreds and hundreds of years to practice, to
become strong and smart and fast. philip doesn’t have that long, so his mother
forces him to do more, train harder, learn faster than would be expected of any
so he learns. the first time he beats his trainer at an
archery competition, he feels a swell of pride like nothing he’s felt before.
as he inches his way to the level of his teachers, and then surpasses them, the
they’ve always been kind to him. but as his skill grows,
they come to respect him, and that’s far more valuable.
eli hears of the human that lady ember of the mother tree
took as her own – of course he does, it’s all anyone can talk about. but he
doesn’t actually get a chance to see the boy, because lady ember keeps him safe
on her lands, in her tree that none of them dare trespass on. so he assumes,
like many, that she keeps him coddled and safe, away from those who would seek
him harm, away from a world that would seek him harm.
then, two decades from when she gave young philip her name,
lady ember finds him at court. she tilts her head, and he bows. he may be
higher in rank, but he was raised to respect his elders, and lady ember is
certainly that. “prince eli,” she says, “your next hunt is coming up, isn’t it?”
“yes, my lady,” he answers, wondering if she has a request.
he doesn’t mind tracking down a certain type of meat or pelt for her – he likes
the challenge, and likes lady ember.
she smiles at him, and for some reason he feels as if he’s staring
into the jaws of a dragon. “excellent. might my son join you? he grows bored of
hunting on his own.”
the last thing in the world eli wants to do is keep an eye
on a bumbling, spoiled human. but this human is also the lord of the mother
tree, and he can think of no response that wouldn’t bring his mother’s wrath
down on his head. “of course, lady ember.”