Young Hannah receives an interesting letter. Is her pen pal a fairy prince or a prankster? How long will he write to her, and what will change as a result of his letters?
He offers her a wish. Can he really grant a wish? What will she wish, and what will she offer him in return?
Hannah woke with a start as the first ray of sunlight slanted across her face. It was a Saturday, and she was allowed to get up and watch cartoons if she was very quiet. It took a moment for Hannah to realize that she was staring at the very edge of an envelope some two inches from her nose.
She sat up, the worn blanket pooling softly around her slim legs. Nine years old, she was petite, with nut-brown hair that fell in soft curls down to her waist and wide gray-blue eyes. The girl was inclined to solemnness, not because she was sad, but because she was busy imagining adventures. Yet she had the resilient happiness of a loved child, undaunted by adult worries or grief.
Hannah turned the envelope over in her hands, examining it. She didn’t know anything about stationery, but this felt expensive; the paper was thick and creamy, with a velvety feel against the soft pads of her fingers. It had no name or address on the front. After a moment, she carefully pulled the flap open and read the letter.
My name is Cadeyrn. I am nine years old, and I am writing this letter to practice my English. I hope it finds you well. What is your name? Where do you live? The name of the place I live would translate something like Land of Green Hills, but I think you would call it Faerie.
My father is king here. That makes me the prince, and that means I have to study a lot. I have to know all the human languages, except for a few small ones that my father permits me to use magic to translate. I have to study swordplay and all kinds of magic. Do you have to study?
I had better go. I hear someone coming.
Please write back.
Could it be real? Faerie didn’t really exist, of course. But someone had sent her a letter. The handwriting was a messy cursive, slightly neater than her own, and there was an ink blot near one corner. Studying it again, she detected a faint scent, and raised the paper to her nose. Yes, the ink, or perhaps the paper, had a faint, sweetish scent to it, not exactly sugar, not exactly floral, but some indefinable sweetness.
A sound by the window made her look up. On the branch outside, a large, white bird stared at her, his head tilted to one side.
Cartoons could wait.
She stepped out of bed, her little arms prickling in the cool air. She pulled her flannel pajama top over her undershirt and buttoned it, checking to make sure the buttons were in the correct holes, then stuck her feet into the fluffy kitten slippers she’d gotten for her birthday the previous week. In the kitchen she found a pad of yellow legal paper, her dad’s preferred kind for making his ever-expanding list of planned home improvement projects. She found a purple pen in the junk drawer and sat at the kitchen table, her legs swinging.
My name is Hannah. I live outside a big city called Philadelphia. We have snow in winter, but it’s springtime now and all the snow has melted. My birthday was last week, and now I’m nine too. I have to study math and grammar and history at school. We’re studying the Declaration of Independence. Do you know what that is?
My mom will be home soon. She’s a nurse. She helps people. I might be a nurse when I grow up, except maybe not because seeing blood makes my stomach feel like it wants to turn inside out. I have a dog named Fuzz. Do you have a dog?
I would like to be your friend. Please write back.
She frowned. How would Cadeyrn get her letter? Hannah had only a vague understanding of the postal system, but she did know that addresses were necessary. His envelope had neither her address nor his. She folded the letter into a square and took it upstairs, where she left it on her desk. Then she went back downstairs and turned on the television, finding her favorite morning cartoon.
“Mom, how do you mail a letter to someone if you don’t have their address?”
“You don’t, honey. You need an address if the letter is going to get to them. Why?”
Hannah frowned. “But… what if it got to them anyway? Could that happen?”
“No, sweetheart. How would the mailman know where to take it?”
The logic was unassailable. She went back up to her room to reassure herself that the letter was real. It sat on her desk, one smooth sheet of paper neatly tucked back into the envelope.
With a sigh, she put her own letter into the top drawer in her nightstand.
She received another letter a week later.
I was told your name was Hannah. May I address you by your name, or is there a title I should use? I don’t wish to be impertinent. Apparently that is one of my flaws. I am endeavoring to correct it, but reining in my tongue is a challenge, especially when faced with the duplicity and stupidity of the courtiers surrounding me.
I passed my last magic exam yesterday, which means I am now allowed to study combat arts unsupervised. My father is proud; he says I shall lead his army before I ascend to the throne. I believe this is meant as praise, but it frightens me. We have not had a war in many years, and I do not wish to see one in my time. It’s good that I passed, though, because now I am allowed to enter the practice arena and won’t have to hide the evidence of my practice sessions.
Next week I’m going to pick out a grim hound pup. Do you have grim hounds in the mortal realm? I don’t think so.
Hannah folded the letter carefully and put it in her desk drawer, atop the first. What must Cadeyrn be like? Were the letters a joke? Who would play a joke on her? At school, Jimmy and Peter poked her with their pencils when they walked by her desk, and Monica sometimes made fun of her for reading too much. But this prank seemed beyond them. She couldn’t quite imagine Jimmy putting pen to paper and writing such letters, even as a joke.
Then another letter. And another. Every week for three months, she received a short letter, half a page or a page, the penmanship and wording growing rapidly more elegant.
Bran is now as heavy as I am, yet still quite clumsy, as he is yet a puppy. I have drawn you a picture of him. When he is full grown, he will be nearly the size of a horse. You have those, don’t you? Unicorns are smaller, but I think you don’t have unicorns in the mortal realm. On the same page you will find my renditions of Spat, Snicker, and Grimble. Grimble is the little imp, and Spat and Snicker are the goblins. Grimble and I played a prank on my father last week, and I was soundly whipped for it. I am rather ashamed of it now, yet I feel I should confess it to you, if we are to be friends.
Will we be friends? I have not received any letters from you. I should not be disappointed by this; I knew it was impossible for you, and yet I pretend to myself that someday I will receive an answer. Cara has informed me that the prohibition on carrying items from your world to ours includes your letters, so he cannot offer this service to you. Yet I hope you will not mind if I continue to send you my own missives.
Hannah felt her heart flutter at the odd mixture of elegance and childishness in this letter. He did sound a bit like a prince, she thought. Perhaps it was not a joke after all. Who was Cara, though?
She wrote a reply to each of his letters, tucking each one dutifully into the top desk drawer with the corresponding letter from him. Roughly once a week the letters would appear, never when she was looking. Sometimes they were slipped under her bedroom door; other times she found the latest letter on her desk, propped against the ever-changing stack of books.
After three months, she received no more letters for nearly six weeks.
Hannah was consumed by curiosity, hoping against hope every morning that she would find another letter. She turned her room upside down, much to her mother’s consternation.
“What are you looking for?”
“Nothing! A letter. I should have it, but I don’t.”
“Well, what does it look like?”
“A letter, Mom. It’s fine. I’ll look for it myself.”
“Don’t you want help?”
“No. Thanks, though.”
Her mother looked anyway, bemusedly helping Hannah turn over everything in her room, looking beneath books and behind her desk. Hannah cried at night, when the lights were off. Her friend was gone. Perhaps he had never existed at all, though the letters in her desk remained as proof. Proof of a hoax, perhaps, but proof of something, anyway.
The creamy paper of the envelope caught her attention immediately as she struggled in the door, just returned from a weekend at her grandmother’s house. She barely suppressed a cry of excitement and opened it right then, her bag dropped at her feet.
I have been forbidden from writing to you; my tutor was quite angry and brought the matter to my father, who says that it is not fitting for a prince to converse with a commoner, and a mortal at that. Never mind that mortal blood flows through our veins anyway. You know that Fae and mortals have ever been connected; many of our ancient royalty were born human and became Fae only after long sojourn in our lands.
My father’s creativity in disciplining me was truly astonishing. I will not soon forget the lesson.
Yet, if you consent to receive my letters, I would like to continue. Cara will continue to deliver them, if I wish it; he is sworn to obey me, not my father, and he is a friend as well as a faithful servant. I will brave the repercussions in order to have a friend.
Please tell me you are my friend. I try, at all times, to be grateful and do my duty without complaining, because I know that in so many ways I am privileged. Yet I am surrounded by those who want something of me, and I cannot simply be. If I may simply be Cadeyrn in these letters to you, that is a gift I cherish.
She told him of her favorite books, and her imagined stories in which she was the heroine facing down dragons. She wrote to him about middle school band, her fervent desire to earn first chair flute, and her triumphant exhilaration when she succeeded. She picked up guitar her freshman year of high school and folded a copy of her first songs into the letters he would never see.
The goblins somehow managed to set fire to the lower throne room. It baffles me how they accomplished such a feat; the entire room is made of stone. Even the throne itself is inflammable. Yet flames licked the ceiling, and it took nearly an hour to put it out.
They are such inventive creatures. It is fortunate they are well-nigh indestructible.
His letters followed his life, telling of fears and joys, triumphs, failures, disappointments. He frequently enclosed a page or two of his drawings. His goblins were hideous little creatures, bulbous and leathery. Some had wings like bats and triangular mouths full of needle-like teeth. Others were lean, with long, oddly-jointed legs and cat-like whiskers sprouting from beneath elephantine ears. The imps reminded her of leprechauns, tiny little men with irritable expressions, sometimes holding a tiny scythe or a wisp of something she couldn’t identify. Fairies looked much like she’d expected, though there were apparently two kinds, those with dragonfly wings and those with butterfly wings.
The centaurs were her favorite, though he drew few of them. Comonoc was their king, and Cadeyrn’s drawing of him showed not only his exquisite beauty, but noted in a corner that Comonoc was one of the few courtiers that Cadeyrn trusted. Hannah pondered that for a while, examining the masculine face and torso atop the equine body.
I find myself disappointed once again in my father. Perhaps I am wrong to write this, because he is my king and I do not wish to convey any disrespect or disloyalty. Yet his actions cause strife with the troll king and his allies, including the king of the Unseelie, and I fear he will drive us to war.
The artless simplicity of his earliest letters faded into a kind of tentative courtliness, as if he meant to be intimate but couldn’t quite remember how. Sometimes, when she entertained the thought that he was real, that his words were truth, she wondered whether he was tentative because he was unsure of her, or whether he guarded his words because he thought his letters might be intercepted.
I went to the mortal realm for the first time last week! It was fantastic, much more exciting than I had been told. I went to a place called Beijing. Is your home like Beijing?
I have been given approval to grant mortal wishes now. They are not binding on me, yet there is some satisfaction when we do so. Is there some wish I might grant you? If so, I should like to do you some small service in gratitude for the encouragement of your friendship. For I feel, despite your lack of reply, that we are friends; the thought of recounting my actions to you has stayed my hand several times when I might have acted… differently. My kind are not prone to mercy, and the royalty least of all. I have known little of kindness, myself, and yet I feel it is something you would value.
I wish… but we only grant wishes. We do not have our wishes granted.
I remain your friend,
Over Christmas break her junior year of high school, she received a letter that made her question again whether Cadeyrn and his stories were real.
I wish I could bid you merry midwinter, for it is meant to be a festive time. Yet this year it is far from joyous. War has come. I ride out tomorrow at the head of my father’s army. Be well, my friend.
No letters came for six months.