"I feel the chill biting into my bones. Do you feel it too?"
She looked down at the oblivious snowbunny and laughed to herself, knowing that it was unable to respond to her question. And in this way, though Taelia lived in a home full of these little creatures native to the mountain, she knew that, in truth, she was alone here.
Because she lived alone, she had no one to celebrate her birthday with. She had baked herself a cupcake and was nibbling on it absentmindedly at her dining table. It was the evening now, and she had yet to receive a letter from any of the other faeries.
She didn't mind; not really. Taelia had long ago chosen to isolate herself from her sisters—she preferred it this way. But at the same time, she hated the constant letters from the other faeries that radiated ignorance, pride. This was never what Fyora had wanted Taelia and her other sisters to do.
But every other day it was a new letter from Illusen saying how proud of herself she was for having helped Meridellians tend to their gardens, how she had "worked so hard today for the greater good today, and it was so worth knowing that I just changed these lives." Or from the Healing Faerie, her words effervescing with self-importance as she droned on for paragraphs and paragraphs about how much she had just sacrificed to give away snowballs to the needy.
And Taelia knew that she was the only one of her sisters who hadn't drawn herself a façade; the only one who did her work without pretense, without the expectation of admiration or gifts in return, without aggrandizing what she did. She knew that merely thinking this was arrogant and hypocritical—but at the same time, she knew this was true. She was the only faerie who hadn't failed to do her work with humility. She lived alone here, at the climax of Terror Mountain, quietly maintaining equilibrium through the tundra, and always keeping in mind the fact that she was not any better than anyone else because of her work. She was merely fulfilling her duty by using her spells to keep the peace in this region of Neopia; no one owed her praise or gratitude. And if a wandering Neopet came into her home and offered to help get the ingredients for her spells, she did her best to give recompense. Taelia tried to be fair.
She tried to keep to herself, for the most part. As she finished off the last bits of her cupcake, she considered paying Fyora a visit; as she stood up to throw away the cupcake wrapper, she shook her head slightly. She doesn't have time for me, I'm sure. Everyone in Faerieland is preparing for the Day of Giving Festival in a few weeks.
Taelia tried not to be hurt that no one had remembered her birthday. Illusen and Jhudora made sure no one forgot their birthdays; they each threw elaborate celebrations which thousands of Neopets attended, making a show of giving out cookies and vials and other favors. Each year Illusen and Jhudora each tried to top the other's festival; it was buffoonery. Taelia had long since stopped attending the celebrations, always finding one excuse or another to miss it without appearing discourteous. She merely showed up to give her gifts and pay her respects, as was expected of her, and returned back home.
She sighed, blinking away tears which she hadn't before noticed were springing in her eyes. She found herself pulling on her parka and boots and heading out the door.
She tried to pretend she didn't know what she really wanted, distracting herself with her steps. Then she sighed, as if she had just lost an argument—with herself.
I want to see if any of them notice. I pretend I'm the righteous one, but I'm not any better than them.
She needed validation.
The moment Taelia walked into the foyer of the castle, Fyora spun around and began reciting her usual spiel.
"Hi, you are not currently on any quests—Taelia."
Taelia smiled awkwardly and continued walking to close the distance between herself and her mother.
Fyora met Taelia in the middle, silently embracing her. At first Taelia tensed up—it had been so many months since she had really spoken to any of her relatives, let alone hugged them. But then she relaxed, accepting the gesture.
"How are you?" Fyora asked, pulling away.
Taelia paused, searching Fyora's eyes—she just wanted to know that she was important enough for her own mother to have remembered her birthday.
Having found no reason to believe that Fyora realized what day today was, Taelia murmured , "Fine—good." Then, louder, she repeated, "I'm good," because that was the correct answer. "How are you, mom?"
At this Fyora beamed. "I'm great. We're working on finishing repairing the castle in time for the Day of Giving Feast." After a second, she added, "You're coming this year, right?" Taelia nodded quietly. "Will you stay the entire time this year?"
Taelia looked especially uncomfortable when she heard this, because she knew that this wasn't her mother asking a question. It was her mother ordering that Taelia stay the whole time this year; this was how things worked with Fyora.
Nonetheless, Taelia tried to dodge the question. "I just—get so uncomfortable, you know? It's so hot here compared to home, and I always have so much catching up to do when I get back t—"
Fyora exhaled in exasperation. "And why don't you bother staying at any of your sisters' birthday celebrations? It's like you're trying to avoid your family."
Taelia opened her mouth to say something, but didn't know the right way to phrase what she was feeling without offending her mother. So she left her mouth in a slight gape. Fyora was shaking her head.
"I just—I..." Taelia gave up the game. "I get so uncomfortable. It's like they're too good to pay any more attention to me than they do their other 'fans' who show up to their birthday celebrations." Fyora was wide eyed at Taelia's words. "And I think it's wrong of them to use the fact that they're faeries to make such a big deal out of their birthdays. It's egotistical; it's frivolous. I don't do any of that."
"I see." A moment later, Fyora added, "I think this is something we all need to talk about, then. I know your work forces you to live alone, but—it's not okay for you to feel alienated by your own sisters.... So, will you stay this year? For the Festival of Giving?" Taelia nodded slowly. "And then we can all have dinner—just you, your sisters and I, and we can talk about it." They stood there in a slightly uncomfortable silence before Fyora went on. "They love you, you know. They don't mean to exclude you, not at all. They're always wondering what you're up to, if you no longer want to be close to them."
They embraced again before Taelia said, "Can you tell them I'm sorry? I promise I'll come this year." She began to exit. "I'll try to see if I can catch any of my sisters on my way out," she lied.
Taelia left, feeling slightly more at peace, but still not having accomplished what she wanted to do. So now it was definite—not even her mother had remembered that today was Taelia's birthday. Worse, Taelia had been alienating her sisters; not the other way around. There was still a sense of loneliness, and now, of guilt, stirring inside her. Her shoulders slumped—and it was quite the sight, indeed, to see the snow faerie compromise her posture—and decided not to do anything to make matters worse. So, rather than going out of her way to greet any of her sisters—which she knew would just make her more upset--she began the long way home.
Meanwhile, Fyora had busied herself arranging some papers on a small table as she waited to greet any new visitors that might enter. Suddenly, her head snapped up in realization.
"How could I possibly forget?" She slumped against the table, frustrated with herself. "I knew something was off." She sprinted to the door and peered out in the hope that Taelia had not yet gone home, or that maybe Taelia was waiting here for her mother to remember. But Taelia was long gone, and Fyora knew it was too late to fully make up for her mistake.
The next morning, Taelia woke bright and early, as per usual. The first thing that sprung into her mind was the memory of what had happened yesterday in the castle. She groggily picked herself up and trudged downstairs, trying and failing to forget.
As she entered the kitchen, she noticed an incessant, rhythmic tapping at the window. She frowned, taking a detour to see what it was. She pulled back her frosty blue curtains to see that it was not one, but a dozen or more weewoos who were all carrying a sizeable parcel in their beaks. Feeling a pang of guilt, she wondered how long they had been waiting there for her. She scampered to the door to receive the package. They eagerly plopped the package into Taelia's awaiting arms and flitted away, chattering with new invigoration and relief.
She sat down right there, on her freezing cold porch, to undo the twine that bound the brown wrapping of the cube. She was curious to see what it was; the occasions were far and few between on which someone bothered to send the snow faerie a gift. The cube was maybe as wide as her torso and half as long. She gazed into the horizon, at the retreating lavender weewoos, as she unwrapped the box.
A color exclusive to Fyora's personal carrier weewoos.
Taelia grinned; her mother did care. Her mother had remembered, even this gesture was a bit tardy. Inside the box lay a sheet of cream colored cardstock with gold insignias embossed in each corner. The words were written in purple fountain pen, in Fyora's graceful script:
I know this is not nearly enough for us to make up the guilt we feel for not having remembered your birthday. We hope from the bottom of our hearts that you will find it in you to forgive us; we all want you to know that we are the sorry ones. We never want to make our little sister feel excluded or uncomfortable, and we would love to have you over for a (belated) birthday dinner in the castle tonight, where we may apologize in person.
Fyora (and your sisters)
Under the elegant note were two new silk dresses, and under that, three books and a plain sheet of picture paper. Taelia frowned, puzzled, and picked up the paper. As soon as the paper met her hand, it transformed into a glossy picture of Fyora, Taelia and Taelia's nine sisters, each of them holding their petpets.
On the back of the picture was written, "We will never forget our little sister, and we hope that with this token of affection, she will in return remember us always."
This excerpt is a well known vignette from Faerie Tales by Taelia the Snow Faerie, Volume 2. This is often read to young faeries as a bedtime story; the lesson in this story is important enough that Taelia hopes for everyone—faeries, pets and owners alike—to glean some knowledge from it.
Happy holiday season, everyone! :)