It was the turning into her fifth year, when Anushka would enter the next epoch of her childhood, the first learning years. Being a child whose family was of modest wealth, there were a few minor enchantments that were gifted to her. One was a book that could summon any one of a hundred different fairy tales within its pages with a simple chant. Another was a pair of boots that could lace themselves. And still another was a mysterious card placed within a vivid green envelope embossed with the golden letters of the giver’s initials.
She did nothing to earn her beauty. It was given to her. And as with many such gifts, beauty was both a boon and a burden to the girl whose name was Imelda.
She was doted on by some, guarded by others, coveted by still others.
Imelda’s mother, who both loved and feared for her girl, spent many sleepless nights wondering when her child would grow old enough to be passed into the protection of another. For she and her husband were humble folk, as their child too would have been. But Imelda’s beauty—while it may not have impressed in a city or even a large town—was quite surpassing in their little village. Surpassing enough to catch the eye of those with greater means. The girl wished to be learned. She wished to explore.
Perhaps her beauty could make it so could do what she dreamed of doing.
Four unlikely friends were frolicking in the ocean one day. They were the Ghost Crab, the Blue Marlin, the Jellyfish, and the Nautilus. The crab and the marlin splashed about on the surface, and dove back down, while the jelly and the mollusk bobbed gently under the surface.
Overhead, there passed the shadow of the Seagull, who watched the friends with great interest, a great interest born of a keen hunger. Here she saw a variety of sweet and juicy treats for her to feast on. She could easily carry off the crab, the snail, and the mollusk. But that marlin was another matter. He was a giant next to her, and he would surely swipe and skewer with that bill of his. And being how fast he could swim, if he knocked the Seagull into the water, she would surely become his lunch.