Like everybody else, she had seen them before. But she had never really seen them. She wondered, now that they had anointed her as their queen, if her gaze used to try and follow their mischievous path from flower to flower, flitting randomly. They were her flitters. Sometimes she thought she could see the patterns of flight, but when she tried to anticipate the path they'd take they would turn unexpectedly, or worse, they'd fall dangerously close to the ground, as if to frighten her purposefully. Fickle creatures, her butterflies.
They had always been outside her reach. She would spot them traversing the garden, or meandering lost in the city streets. And her interest grew. When she found one, she would lock her eyes on their distant minuscule wings as if they were on automatic, moving her head robotically. She began to go out of her way to follow them- the little ones were the hardest to track. One day, as she trailed behind an unusually large swallowtail, she realised she had simply lost the track of time, and had followed the flying creature into the forest. It became harder to follow as the trees grew thicker and the light dimmer. But she did not stop - she could not lose it. Being a daytime butterfly, the swallowtail, which she had affectionately named Cher during her chase, eventually decided on a good spot to rest its tired little body. She did not know the intricacies and the properties of the flitters’ feeding plants then, but she guessed now Cher must have found a thistle brush to perch on.
She realized, as she stood breathless a few feet away from the little sleeper, that she had become quite mad, to follow a flitter all the way into the forest. But she also thought then that she was as happy as she had ever been, and so she decided to stay.
She honestly didn't know precisely how long it had been since that day - her clothes had torn a few months back and she had fashioned herself a dress out of leaves, strings of flowers and butterfly wings. She also wore a flower crown made of the brightest specimens she could find - so that her flitters could rest on her head and take a sip. She developed a very healthy appetite for fresh petals and fruit, and would aimlessly wander around the deepest parts of the thicket, butterfly train flying around and behind her. She loved looking for pupae- underneath leaves or burrowed in the dirt, and she always knew to come back when they emerged, blowing softly on their crumpled wings as they hardened. She would keep the ones that had fallen of their perches; carefully, she would glue them with resin to her earlobes. When they darkened and jiggled, she would sit patiently until they broke out. After, she would name them then - Willow, Spark, Chaser, Star - and they would join her party. She would sing and dance with them and they would circle her like a unified being, a cloud of iridescent hues.
She tried very hard to keep up with the caterpillars - but there were so many she couldn't help them all. Some would fall victims to birds and other insects, but the predators knew not to mess with her when she was present.
The only times she was sad was when they came to die in her hands. She would lay them on their favourite feeding plant and let the forest have them. If they were exceptionally beautiful, or a special friend, she would clip their wings and wear them, so that they could be with her in death.
The Lord and Lady of the forest were very much delighted with this peaceful presence, although it did take them a couple of seasons to become aware of her work. Only when she made her way into the heart of the wood one spring did her footsteps alert the Lord and Lady in their slumber, who later that night followed the trail and found her sleeping by the riverbank, covered in a blanket of butterflies. It was quite the extraordinary sight. They followed her sometimes, seeing what she would do, as a cool breeze might seem to follow one on a warm night. And as they became enamoured with her, they decided to help. The Lady coaxed the feeding plants bloom harder as the caterpillar population grew and devoured leaves in their wake. The Lord always listened when she sang, humming cheerful tunes to make the butterflies dance and sweet undertones to make them rest, and would teach her tunes to his favourite birds. Although she never saw them, they watched her from time to time and came to think of her as a daughter.
One night, as she slept, they wove a sheet of silk and enveloped her- they sealed it tight and hung her up from the tallest tree in the whole forest. They would take turns each night to weave their spells into the chrysalis, and during the day the butterflies would swarm around the tree, feeling her presence. The Lord would sing in birdsong, and his song made the silk strands shimmer and glow. The Lady would rest her hand on the chrysalis, and letting her warmth flow through inside. The cocoon darkened as the nights passed and she slept, blissfully and peacefully.
The first day of spring the cocoon opened. The first thing she saw was a nervous flutter of wings, so naturally to her, she hummed in soothing tones to calm the anxious butterflies. There were new faces among the crowd, curious to see what the fuss was about. She widened the slit in the hardened silk, and became worried as she saw the drop to the treetops below. Nevertheless, she climbed out, clinging to the overhead branch, and as she did, a set of crumpled wings followed her outside the hole. She felt as they hardened, blood flowing through the many, many tiny vessels. She wondered what they would look like, what colours they'd sport. It took hours, but when she finally unfurled them, she glanced back to see. Oh, the colours took her breath away. She could see colours she couldn't even describe because no words had names for them in the human tongues. The veins were a navy blue that surrounded the rainbow scales that made symmetric circles and shapes. She thought of moving them, and they did, wafting the air and the excited little flitters with them. She picked up the pace of her flapping and felt an upwards pull - and as she let go, she was suspended in the air.
"I need a name", she said to her friends as she surveyed the forest underneath her. The Lord and Lady of the forest, who had been paying close attention to the metamorphosis despite the sunlight, whispered each into her ears: "Alifae".
"What about Alifae?" she asked a blue and brown flitter that was perched on the tip of her nose. It moved its puffy antennae in agreement. Having decided on a name, she resolved herself to let go of the branch. She flew then, train close behind, and was the happiest she had ever been. She forgot her human past completely. She was then the first of the Fae.