A restless fairy grew bored one day and created a restless trinket, imbuing it with all of the fairy’s magic. The magic was all bent toward one purpose, to grant the bearer of the trinket three wishes.
The form the trinket first took was as a pendant, which the fairy gave to a human acquaintance with only three instructions…or warnings.
“First, the wish itself will only have power over you. Second, whenever you make a new wish, the old wish will vanish. And third, once the final wish is made and granted, the trinket will leave your possession.”
The First Tale: The Pendant of Power
The fairy’s acquaintance, who had received the pendant, gleaming fresh from the casting of the spell upon it, was a wealthy merchant. The merchant marveled at the pendant, a glistening gray-black stone that sparkled with the colors of many stars when it was held up to the light. She already had great wealth. And there was much that could be bought with great wealth.
The merchant had always longed to be a great beauty. With her riches, she bought and wore fine dresses of deep blue satin, vivid violet velvet, and billowing black silk. She adorned herself with sparkling jewels, diamonds draped over her shoulders, golden rings flickering at her fingers, pearls perched around her neck. And for her face, she bought a great many rouges to dust upon her cheeks, and rich red paint to stain her lips, and glittering powders in charming hues to sweep across the lids of her eyes.
But even with all of this, she was unsatisfied when she gazed upon herself in a mirror.
So when the merchant received the magical pendant, the first wish she made was to be a great beauty.
And it would be the last wish she would make, she thought. For once she had wealth and beauty, a beauty that needed no adornment, she would have all that she desired in life.
But she kept the pendant, just in case she might need its remaining wishes.
For many years, she enjoyed her beauty and her wealth. It came to pass that news of her beauty had spread throughout the realm. There were those who came to covet that beauty and others who envied it. And had she not been in possession of great wealth and the knowledge and experience to use it, she might have fallen prey to some, perhaps all, of those covetous and envious characters.
She managed to escape them. But doing so was tiring. Remembering that she had made an oath to herself to share her well-earned wealth with those who shared the circumstances of her early youth, she returned to the township of her birth. There, her standing as a merchant and the advantage of her beauty earned her a seat at the town council, right beside the mayor.
She listened in earnest to the arguments and debates of the councilors. But whenever she cast forth any opinion, or idea, she would be met with a look of smiling disdain and a quick dismissal.
While her wealth and beauty swayed her fellow merchants and the heedless children of nobles at parties, it did nothing to sway the minds and votes of her fellow council-folk when they were at the work of governing their fellow townsfolk.
The merchant thought she might enlist the aid of those fellow townsfolk. After all, she had grown up with many of them. She had counted them among her friends and allies as she learned her trade.
One day, she went into a shop that sold rolls of cloth. The shopkeeper greeted her kindly, and they spoke of materials that the merchant might purchase for the making of a few new dresses. The merchant turned the conversation to the unfortunate downturn of trade in the town, and mentioned her idea of how the council might remedy the matter.
“What would you know if it, merchant?” the shopkeeper said, still smiling. She laughed a merry laugh. “You, with your endless coffer of coins and your night-glowing face?”
The shopkeeper’s words were not meant with malice, but they pierced the merchant’s heart like a needle.
The merchant knew then, what she must do. She went to her home and found the case in which she kept the pendant that contained two wishes.
She knew that she must make a wish to grant herself some quality that would help her to help her people. But she did not know what that quality should be.
“If I could only think of the right thing,” she said to herself. She gasped as her own words provided the answer she sought. And she made her second wish.
She wished to be a great thinker.
The wish did not come upon her at once, but slowly. And as her second wish manifested, her first wish faded. As her beauty shriveled away, her knowledge and wisdom bloomed.
“Time has been unkind to her once-lovely face,” her fellow council-folk would say, not realizing that she was listening, even as she spoke. “But her words carry wisdom that we should heed.”
At this, the merchant would take heart. But she would lose it once again when she heard, inevitably, the next words.
“Wisdom she may have, and strategies of worth. But strategies of worth are also strategies of great effort and great boldness and great will. I am afraid I do not have the will. I must look to myself, to my position. The mayor and other council-folk are displeased with the merchant’s strategies. I cannot risk losing their favor.”
And so it would go. Time after time, the merchant would strike upon a simple but effective idea. A road to build that would widen the thoroughfare to and through their town, encouraging more trade and travel. A revision to the apportionment of the town’s treasury so that the Legion of Healers and the Schoolteacher’s Guild would not fall short of reserves and be forced to beg their neighbors for funds to buy potions and pencils.
But the mayor suggested it would be easier to rename the road that now abided, and perhaps patch up a few of the cracks. And he was loathe to anger the local constabulary by taking the share of the treasury that he had promised them to give to any other of the town’s services.
What good is a good idea if I cannot make it come to fruition? thought the merchant.
And she knew she must make another wish for a quality that would ensure that a good idea—no matter who had it—would be manifested and brought to fruition.
She was a great thinker, so it did not take her long to realize what quality she needed.
She made her final wish.
She wished to be a great leader.
I have lost my great beauty, and that might have helped me greatly in winning the hearts of the townsfolk, the merchant thought. And I have lost my great mind, and that would have helped me to devise brilliant strategies. But what I have gained through my final wish is strange indeed.
She had expected perhaps to regain both beauty and wisdom, for does a great leader not need both?
She did not regain her beauty, and yet when she spoke, people listened, for when people spoke, she listened. She peered at them with her dark and sparkling eyes. She cocked her head when she did not understand, and she nodded her head when she did. She spoke the sweet truth when they sought to hear the truth. And she spoke the bitter truth when they sought to hear kind lies. She did not have brilliant ideas herself, but she recognized when others did, among her council-folk and her townsfolk. And she pressed her will toward the manifesting of those ideas. And so it was that she came to be the mayor of her town.
And so it came to be that her final wish was fulfilled, and though she did not witness it, the sparkling pendant vanished from the case within her house.
The Second Tale: The Ring of Rule
The restless trinket then changed forms, becoming a ring of copper that found its way onto the finger of a man who admired its rich gleam.
He purchased the ring, and as he moved on to the next stall in the market, perusing a stack of books, he was startled to find a fairy standing next to him.
This was the fairy who had created the restless trinket, and who now told the man of the trinket and its power to grant wishes.
That night, the man sat beside a window, twirling the ring and letting the moonlight burnish the copper with its gentle touch.
The man too was restless. For there was much he might wish for. As his belly rumbled from a meager dinner, he thought he should wish for great riches. But he did not truly long for great riches. In two days, he would no longer be an apprentice at his bindery. He would be a full booksmith, and he would be paid a wage almost three times his current one. He would soon have a full belly for every meal, not just every night. As a drop of water fell into the bucket beside him, through a leak the roof from an early morning rainfall, he thought he should wish for a grand palace to live in. But then he envisioned what might happen if the roof of that grand palace sprung a leak, or if pigeons found their way into an attic, or if the water in the fish ponds turned stagnant. His wish would not affect others, only him. There would be no one to tend the palace but him, and if he wished to hire caretakers and servants, he did not know how he would do so without great wealth. And so he wondered again if he would wish for great wealth.
And all the while, he twitched his shoulders and he sighed. And a thought itched the back of his mind. There was a wish there. He knew it, but he did not want to give it voice. For it was a foolish wish. A wasted wish.
But he had a keen curiosity, more so a longing, a calling, that could only be fulfilled by this wish.
So he made his first wish.
He wished to know what it would be like to be a woman, so he wished to be a woman.
The man waited, wondering if he would feel pain or discomfort, or if his eyes would merely blink as a flash of light and puff of dust would leave him looking down at himself, now transformed.
But nothing happened.
The man went to bed with a restless mind trying to quiet a restless heart. The ring was on his finger.
And it was still on that same finger when the man woke to find that he was no longer a man.
A strange feeling came upon him then. He took a gasping breath, but a deep one. And then another, and another. He stretched his arms up as he always did, and the arms were not familiar, yet they were his arms.
They were her arms.
The woman lay back in her bed. As she drifted back into sleep, she found a name for the feeling she felt.
“It is as if I were wearing the proper garb for the first time,” the woman said. She sat at her table with her sister, who peered at her curiously at first.
“How long will you stay this way?” her sister asked.
And the woman could not say, for she did not want to think of how and when. She was only just beginning to enjoy her wish. And that strange feeling of relief did not leave her. She knew most women were lighter than most men, but she had not realized how much lighter. She found herself pressing her feet to the ground and grasping the table every now and then, as if afraid she would float away.
She would have to spend a wish transforming herself back. But that still left one more wish. And she wanted to speak to her sister about that wish instead.
Her sister was beaming at her.
“What is it, then?” the woman said.
Her sister sighed. “I have always wanted a sister. I miss my brother, but…are you truly my sister?”
The woman released her grip on the table and reached her hand toward her sister’s. “Truly.”
The day spent by the two sisters was a sweet one indeed. No one recognized the woman, and her sister said that the woman was her cousin. And the woman felt a twinge of regret that she could not simply declare herself. The merchants in the market knew her well. Only they knew her as a man. It was frustrating indeed having them explain their wares to her. But she and her sister had a laugh at the few merchants who tried to cheat them with higher prices, not knowing that the woman knew all their tactics.
But as the day was sweet, the night was bitter.
The woman’s mother and father were not curious or delighted by her transformation as her sister was. They demanded that she end her foolishness right away, and even when her sister intervened, they refused to sit down at the woman’s table until she reversed her wish.
I must do it, the woman thought, gazing down at her copper ring. They are right. This is foolish.
But she found she could not make the wish. Not yet. She asked her mother and father to sit and have dinner with her as she was. They would surely find her as charming as her sister had. She was still their child, after all.
“Think of it as my wearing different garb,” the woman said. “You do not favor red, father. But you would not refuse to sit with me if I wore red, would you?”
Her father sighed a heavy sigh and would not meet her gaze.
But her mother spat on the ground beside the table. “Wish to stay this way, or wish to go back. It matters not. You are not my child. I have only ever had one child.”
The woman’s mother pulled her father out of the kitchen, and they left, chased by the angry words of the woman’s sister.
“Then I will disown her,” the woman’s sister said, as she returned to the kitchen. “Then she will never have had any children!”
Silent tears dripped from the woman’s eyes. She wiped them away. “I must make a wish,” she told her sister.
And the woman made her wish. For as she gazed into the eyes of those who had once loved and cherished her, as she watched that love wither and shrivel and transform into hate, as she had transformed from man to woman, she asked herself who might have the power to reach her mother’s heart and transform that hate back into love.
“I wish to be king of this realm,” she said.
She felt the heavy weight of the royal robes upon her shoulders, upon his shoulders, for he was a man again, but not just a man.
He was king.
How it came to be, he did not know. And he did not seek to find out. He only knew that when he spoke, all present hung upon his words, and if his words were a command, that command was followed.
For he was king.
If his words were a question, that question was answered.
For he was king.
If his words interrupted another, the other fell silent.
For he was king.
Alas, the robes of the king were heavy and they itched. They scorched his skin like a smoldering fire.
But being king was good. Because everyone listened to the king. Everyone gave the king whatever the king wanted. Everyone feared the king. No one spoke to the king. They only listened to the king. And so he decided that it was worth bearing the burden of those heavy, blistering robes, if he could, at last, do what he had always wanted to do, what most good people want to do, help his people, save them from the many ills of life in the world. He had the royal coffers at his command, and the nobles, and the dukes, and the mayors, and the constables, and everyone.
“Perhaps I can command them to be sorry that they abandoned their own child,” he wondered aloud, thinking about his mother and father. “Perhaps they would grovel at my feet and ask for my forgiveness. Perhaps I would say, ‘It is your daughter whom you must ask for forgiveness. Your daughter who was first your son.’ Would they follow my command?”
The king was not sure. And so he did not summon his mother and father to the court.
But he did give commands that his court of nobles and advisors found strange and troubling. He emptied the royal coffers by half, sending it out to feed, clothe, and house his people, then help them with their trades, and bolster their places of learning. He commissioned the binding of many a book. He called for building of roads and bridges, taking stones from monuments built for despots from the kingdom’s past.
And still the coffers overflowed with riches.
He would have preferred that his nobles and dukes, barons and mayors, would have carried out his commands as he intended. But he received news from spies he sent out into the kingdom that in many places, his people still went hungry. They still walked about in rags with no shelter to call their own. He would visit these places to show the rulers that he was watching them.
For he was king.
But he only had two eyes. And he could not watch all of them. And he could not watch even one of them all of the time.
So he understood what he must do. Under the stifling weight of those royal robes, the king abided for a year and no longer, making rules and commands, and silencing his court. They feared him. For he was watching them. He could not watch forever, but he was cunning, their king. He knew he could not watch them forever. So he banished them. He banished those who must be watched. And he summoned those to his court who would be noble, not of blood, but of heart and mind, no matter if he watched or did not watch.
Those who waited for the king to perish would no longer find it such an easy task to wrest their power back.
The robes would not be as heavy if I were queen, the king thought. But my people will not follow a queen. Not yet.
When the year came to an end, and he was stooped with the effort of bearing the garb that was not his true garb, the king twirled his copper ring, and made his final wish.
He wished that he was once again a woman.
Not a queen. Just an ordinary woman.
“I am in the proper garb,” she thought, rolling her shoulders as if rolling off a weight.
Had she remained king, she would have perished, suffocated under the weight of those robes, that crown, that itching, burning skin. And so she would have if she remained an ordinary man.
I have much to fear from the world as I am, she thought, watching the copper ring vanish from her finger.
But I am me now.
The Third Tale: The Coin of Courage
A goblin, poor and wretched, was paid a meager coin for his week of labor, a coin that was so worn, it had holes within it.
The goblin had never before seen a coin with holes in it.
He could not even identify what kind of coin it was. He already knew that no one would accept it.
He trudged along the main road of the town, his thin boots growing wetter each time they squelched through the mud that was made the night before from a terrible downpour.
As he walked, he noted that someone was walking beside him.
“What’s your business with me, fairy?” the goblin asked, without looking up.
The fairy laughed and pointed to the coin in the goblin’s hand. The goblin clutched the coin tighter and held it to his chest.
“It’s not much, but I’ve earned it. If you want it, you must give me something in return.”
The fairy explained. “The coin is yours, indeed, good goblin. I am merely here to tell you it is not what it seems.”
And so the fairy explained about the coin, for the coin was not a coin, but the restless trinket, having changed its form once again.
The goblin did not hesitate.
For his first wish, he wished for great riches.
He was unsurprised when nothing came of it, and he went about his day trying to find a place that might accept the corroded coin as payment for a night’s shelter.
Later that same day, the clear sky darkened. A terrible storm began to brew, and everyone in town took shelter. Shops closed. Windows were shuttered. Even animals were taken in. But the goblin, among other wretched folk, were driven outside the gates of the town. After one gargantuan bolt of lightning struck the center of town and crackled over it, the goblin fled into the forest. Though blinded by the rain, he found a shallow cave to hide in for the night. He pulled some fallen tree branches to the cave mouth to form a weak barrier. Drenched and shivering, he heard the howling, whipping wind all night. And the pelting of hail. Some of the hail got through the branches and struck him, but he was able to curl up, and position the tree branches so that if any more hail got through, it would only strike his feet.
Thus, he was able to bear the night.
The next morning, the goblin, whose limbs were stiff from being half-asleep, was woken by a brilliant glint of light piercing the quiet calm of that cave. And the goblin followed the course of the light and gaped. For there, just under the leaf litter and the mud, was a piece of gold.
The goblin reached for it, with hesitation, as if he were reaching for a scorpion.
He found that the gold piece was in fact a gold coin. And there were more scattered within the cave and outside the cave. He began to gathered them and place them in his little cave.
All that morning, he searched and gathered until he found no more coins.
He hid all of his coins well in that little cave. And then he hid the cave itself, burying it in leaf and twig and mud. He filled his pockets with a few coins, and then put a few in his boots, and tucked a few into the slits within his broken belt.
And he returned to town.
The goblin first spent a few copper coins to replace his mud-encrusted shirt, trousers, and coat, and his worn boots. The clothes he purchased were modest, but clean and comfortable. Next, he purchased a few nights’ stay at a small inn with a few silver coins. He was generous to the young boy who carried his coat up to his room and announced the meals that would be served for dinner that evening. He gave the boy a silver coin and asked if he might retain the boy’s services for the rest of his stay. The boy’s grinning and incredulous face were answer enough.
After soaking in a bath of lavender soap and lemon oil, the goblin was much soothed. He washed his corroded coin as well, and thought that it gleamed just a bit.
He looked down at the corroded coin. “Thank you, coin,” he said.
He found a secret pocket in his new coat, and slipped the coin inside.
The goblin soon bought a small cottage inside the town for his home. And he soon bought a small shop, where he practiced the trade he had learned long ago and never put to use, for none would let him. Works of clay and works of wood. Works of metal and works stone. The goblin was an artisan. He fashioned bowls of glazed clay for the kitchens of the factory-workers. He crafted fine metal automatons as toys for children. He would carve wooden spoons with fancy patterns on the handles, and build wooden chairs that never wobbled. So well was his work regarded that the goblin, who had relied for a while on his horde of cave coins, soon made his own riches.
Though he no longer needed the corroded coin, for he would need make no more wishes, he continued to keep the coin in the secret pocket of his coat.
When he walked between his cottage and his shop, the goblin would pass by those who were as poor as he once was, some begging for coin, and some selling their labor for a day’s work here and there. He would give a coin now and then, and sometimes he would buy a day of labor and instruct the laborer to clean his shop, even though he soon had workers and fellow artisans helping him.
But in time, the goblin was less and less generous with his coin to the destitute, for when he gave to some, others gathered around. He told them that he would give his coin to the houses of haven around the town that served those who had no coin and no shelter. And so he did, for a time.
But soon the goblin had taken on so many apprentices and artisans that he bought another shop and he bought tools for the new shop. And so, much of his coin was diverted from the houses of haven. He vowed he would return to giving.
So one day, when a worker from one of the houses of haven came by to ask the goblin for a few coins to fix the walls and replace the lanterns, the goblin told her that he could not spare any coins, but would give them the next time she came.
She bowed her head and left.
A week passed, and the worker returned. She asked him for a few coins, reminding him of his words. The goblin sighed and said that still he could not give. And he sent her away. He remembered then that he still had his horde in the hidden cave. He wondered if he should go and fetch some coins for the house of haven. But he was tired by the end of the day and went home.
And so it went the next day.
And the next.
Then one day, as he walked from his cottage to his shop, the goblin heard a great commotion. The sky was clogged with dark smoke. He rushed forth as people fled past him. He stopped one of them and asked what was happening.
“The house of haven,” the man said, struggling to break free of the goblin’s grasp. “It’s burning!”
The goblin ran toward the house of haven, to which he had given no coin when he was asked. None had given much coin. And the house was burning, for the lanterns had not been fixed and the walls had not been fixed. Someone had filled them with straw against the chill winds at night.
Some had fled in time, and some were already rescued. But the goblin overheard that the back of the house would soon collapse. Many had fled to the back of the house, for it was not yet burning.
The goblin went to the back of the house and watched. He understood where the beams would soon begin to buckle. He should have given of his riches when he had the chance. It was too late now. His riches would not hold the roof up while the helpless fled.
He clapped his hands against his ears, against the screams of those trapped within. Those outside were frozen, for if they opened the door, the roof would give way. A few might live. The rest…
“Alas, I should have given my riches. All of them, even my horde—“
The goblin’s eyes widened, for he remembered his cave of coins. And so he remembered his corroded coin. He fumbled in his secret pocket and pulled out the coin.
He could not wish that the fire would be quenched for that would not help those would soon be crushed.
“I wish to be a giant,” he said. “Strong enough to hold up that roof, so all the people inside can flee to safety.”
The goblin began to grow at once. He clutched the tiny coin in his curled fist, but he tore through his clothes and his boots. And he heard fresh screams now, not from those trapped within the house of healing, but from those outside, as they saw a giant suddenly appear.
The goblin-now-giant tramped toward the house, leaned a shoulder on the wall, and reached through a window to support the roof with his other hand.
A few brave people outside realized that the giant must be trying to help. They forced open the door and broke the windows so that those inside could pour out.
When all were safe, the giant fled to the town gates. So big was he that he could climb over them and into the forest beyond.
He went to check upon his horde of coins.
It was gone. He had only one coin left where he was, the corroded coin.
He need only make another wish, and he would no longer be a giant. The goblin wondered if he should wish for his riches to return. For he feared that even the riches he had earned himself would vanish because those riches were built from the riches he gained from the wish.
“Let it be so,” he thought. For even if he lost his shop and his cottage, he believed he could regain them. He believed the people of town would not soon forget his skill. They would not soon forget their delight in what he built.
He wondered if he should wish to be strong of body, perhaps not as a giant, for people feared giants, but he could be a man, a strong man. But the goblin did not savor the thought of being a man, for he was proud to be a goblin. He thought back upon what he saw at the disaster he left. He wondered if he should be a healer. He wondered if he should be a teacher. But he did not wish to be either, for he was proud to be an artisan.
“Then why did I not give my services to the house of haven?” he asked himself. “I could have fixed their walls and lanterns.”
In all that time, the thought had not occurred to him. Nor had any else around him suggested it to him, not even the worker who came to ask for his coins, instead of his service.
The goblin understood then what his final wish should be.
He looked down at the coin in his giant palm, and he said, “Thank you, coin.”
He took a breath and made his final wish.
He wished for the courage to see with his heart and his mind what his eyes could see.
The giant began to shrink, and a surge of feeling overwhelmed his heart. He gasped as if he had been struck with a bucket of his cold water. And he began to weep.
The corroded coin trembled. Its thin edges thickened until they were restored. Its holes filled in. And its faded pocked grey face turned silver-blue, etched with the image of an open eye.
All wishes spent, no longer restless, the trinket rested in the goblin’s hand.
Copyright © 2020 Nila L. Patel