The Orphan Changeling
All Changelings are orphans in this world. I remember my desertion when I was only a few days old. My Changeling parents carried me to this mortal realm when I was only an infant. Yes, I remember this. I cannot articulate it, but the memory is vivid. I was aware because I was fairy born. Even as a baby, I sensed the absence of magic in this world. My parents placed me in a wooden cradle next to a crying human baby. My hand touched the child and her wailing ceased. This was my first spark of magic. It bound me to this strange tiny being no larger than myself. This touch changed me as well. I was like her now, though I did not understand how or why. My parents took her away and left me behind. Abandoned, I cried alone in the dark, a fairy-born child abandoned in a grim world.
My true parents are not solid in my memory, for I recall only vague images of mysterious ethereal beings with dark eyes in hooded grey cloaks. My human parents never suspected their baby was replaced with a fairy child. They fed me, clothed me, and comforted me when I was sick. I never revealed I was Changeling, for something inside told me to keep it secret. I accepted their name for me, Lily. My human parents were simple folk, but kind and loving. I slept in a wooden cradle stuffed with old blankets for warmth. As I grew older, my father constructed a narrow bed topped with a mattress stuffed with hay and a quilt made by my mother.
I wanted to run away and find the fairy country denied me, but I had no idea how to find home. I still needed my human parents to survive. Even a fairy child cannot live on its own. I did not know where I would even go. I only knew I longed to return to my home where magic lived. It made me bitter. Something else frightened me in this strange place. Shadows would appear—a sliver of black on the bough of a tree, along the houses, on the edge of the river. It frightened me. No one saw these elusive shades but me. I learned to keep that to myself too.
I was only seven years old by human reckoning the first time I saw the shadows. It emerged out of nowhere on a summer’s day, creeping along the ground like a snake in bright sunlight. I chased after it, both curious and afraid. I watched it slither up an old oak tree. I touched it and recoiled, falling to the ground. The shadow touch hurt and singed my fingers though it left no burn mark. This black thing did not belong here, but my fairy memory did not reveal anything to me. I only knew it was sinister.
One of the local older boys, Rylan, ran up to me when I was lying on the ground, stunned by the effect of the shadow’s touch. “Lily, what’s wrong? Are you hurt?”
Inside I quivered with fear, but refused to show it. “No,” I replied tersely. He took my hand and pulled me to me feet. “I just fell,” I muttered, looking down. Then I fled the scene in terror to the comforting arms of my human mother.
Still, despite this darkness haunting me, our simple life was full of warmth. I cannot fault my human parents. They cherished me. From the hearth fire an iron pot always bubbled with stew or porridge under my mother’s watchful eye. We lived in a humble cottage and my father farmed a patch of land. My mother looked after me, except at harvest or planting season when she would take me to the field to help. Changelings do not name their offspring, probably because they give them up so young I suppose. Even if they did name me, they did not tell me. As I grew older, I realized my race memory and senses were not like a human. On the forest path in certain lights, I glimpsed toadstools shimmering with fairy dust around giant oaks, water nymphs swimming in the river, or in the moonlight blue mists rising. I could see the fairy folk dance at dawn. Then they would fade like old dreams. It made me cry because I could not join them.
Though I grew up among human folk, I never felt like one of them. The other children in the village were not interesting to me. My lack of friends caused my parents some worry. I kept close to home, learning to spin, sew, cook, and other tasks common to my caste in this world.
The truth is I did not care about making friends with the simple chattering girls because I longed for my true home. I favored the quiet paths deep in the forest. It was my sanctuary. I found the green wood brimming with natural magic I relished. For years my life was quiet, but the darkness would sometimes return to the village. It frightened me.
One afternoon in my seventeenth year, my mother gave me a basket stuffed with bread, cheese, some pieces of cold chicken, and a crock of butter. “Take this to old Bess,” she told me. “She made us some blackberry jam for trade. Make sure the old dear is all right. I’ve got supper to make. Do not stray from the forest path and do not linger too long with Bess. She’ll talk your ear off and I need you to help me with supper. Wear your cloak, Lily dear. It’s chilly today.”
“Yes, Mother,” I nodded. I was eager for any chance to escape to the woods.
“Be careful, dear.”
My mother’s tenderness made me burn with guilt for my eagerness to be away. I bowed my head. “Yes Mother, I promise.”
Along the path, I enjoyed my solitude in the greenwood, until in my oblivion I tripped over an exposed tree root and tumbled facedown into the muddy loam. I cursed at my human clumsiness.
“You should be more careful,” a male voice laughed.
I looked up to see Rylan walking toward me, grinning like a fool. He seemed to have grown overnight into a strapping young man.
“I’m glad I amuse you.” I wiped my filthy hands on my ruined skirt.
“Don’t be silly,” Rylan said. “Are you hurt?”
“No, just muddied my dress.”
He picked up my basket and helped me up. “Your face is smudged.”
I wiped my cheeks with my sleeve until he laughed. I glared up at him. “I’m glad you find this funny.”
He took a clean kerchief from his pocket and wiped the damp loam from my face. I found myself still as a mouse. He had nice eyes. Grey as storms clouds but kind. “There now, nice and clean. Let’s go. Old Bess will be needing your mother’s fine bread.”
“I don’t need you to carry that,” I objected, running after him, shaking the moldy leaves from my skirt. He was tall, about six feet and two years older than me. His legs easily took long strides. My legs were much shorter as I stopped growing after my twelfth year.
“The forest is a dangerous place.” He looked down at me. “You should be more careful, Lily.”
I looked away, shyness overwhelming me. “I like the forest.”
“Damn girl, aren’t you scared of wolves or bears?”
“No, they don’t bother me.” In truth, they did not. Maybe the animals sensed my true fairy essence, for whenever I saw a woodland creature; they were quite friendly to me. More than once, I patted a wolf’s head and scratched the chin of a black bear. I always warned them to stay away from other humans though.
“Doesn’t anything scare you, Lily?” he asked, curious. “You’re always alone.”
“I like being alone.”
“You never played with the other girls much when you were little, not that you’re much bigger now. You always were an odd girl,” he remarked.
You have no idea.
We reached old Bessie’s cottage in the heart of the wood. It was still midday but felt like sun fall beneath the canopy of tall trees. I knocked on the door, weathered and cracked with age, my self-appointed protector by my side.
Bess opened it with a broad smile. Half her teeth were missing, which for her great age was a feat. Her face seamed with wrinkles and her hair wispy and white as snow. “Come in Lily,” she invited, “You too, Rylan. My, but you have grown.” She accepted the basket and smelled the bread. “Your ma is the best bread maker in the village. You two sit down and take a cup with me. I made gingerbread.”
I must admit gingerbread was a favorite. “Thank you, Bess.”
She served us large slices, dusted with cinnamon and nutmeg. I ate with my eyes down, but I sensed Rylan watching me.
After that afternoon, Rylan always found an excuse to be near our cottage. He would offer to help my father out, whether it be to chop wood or mend the chicken coop. His family was known and respected in the village. Village girls cast jealous glances at me because Rylan cast his heart to me.
I was startled by his attention. I always shied away from people, but I felt different with Rylan. He often found a reason to walk me home from the church on Sunday. I did not understand my new feelings, but I grew fond of his attentions and fell into a bleak despair when he was not near. Before long, we were “courting” as my father put it. I did not protest. I began to take unusual pains with my wild black hair and wondered why I was acting like a human fool.
When I visited Bess with a food basket, the old woman beamed like the sun. “Goodness child, you be in love,” she laughed.
I blushed apple red as she pulled me inside. I never understood how she knew. Love is so strange. Is it contagious? Does it mark me somehow? She poured tea and served me little honey cakes, grinning as she asked for details of my courtship. I always liked old Bess. I felt a bond with the old woman I never had with anyone else, even my foster human parents. Only Rylan’s recent claim on my heart could compare.
Rylan’s attention wakened new sensations I never knew I had. I looked forward to seeing him, holding his hand and even talking. One afternoon he kissed me, gently on the mouth. I held him close, feeling a comfort I had never known in this world. He asked me to marry him and I said yes. I could not even believe I said it. Is this love the humans always talk of? It was beautiful. For the first time I did not think about finding the fairy realm. I experienced joy and it must have shown on my face, because even my folks guessed about Rylan right away. They were happy to see us wed soon, though my mother cried a little when she hugged me. I found myself crying a little too, which unsettled me.
I noticed the shadows appearing quite often now. The first time I noticed them again was just before the autumn harvest. I was near the river, hunting for mushrooms as an excuse to enjoy the forest. The bright blue sky and shimmering water darkened when a shadow fell across it like a long black knife. My gut knotted with a terrible sense of the familiar I could not name. I waded into the river, chasing the splinters of night in the blue water. It was repelled by me too, judging by its retreat. A burst of energy flared from my hands and it washed upon the darkness. It vanished. I stood in the water like an idiot staring at my hands. Though my touch vanquished the shadow, I sensed more around me in the woodland.
My race memory began to reveal itself now in small ways. These dark things were evil, an ancient enemy I did not understand. They were beginning to grow rampantly around us. Over the next few days as my mother altered her wedding dress for me, I saw shadows clinging to the roof, the trees, the village itself was covered in massive blackness that was growing. It made me ill to see it. What was worse, I felt these shadow creature’s evil nature. It made my head ache. I dreaded stepping outside. Unless they were destroyed or banished, I sensed we were all in danger. I noticed the village began to fall ill. I tried to use my magic when no one was around, but too many of these foul things appeared. How could I do this alone?
Then my parents fell ill with fever. The village healer, a sage old man with a pouch of herbs and common sense, called their sickness river fever. It is known to strike every twenty years or so. I knew river fever was not to blame. It was the damned shadow things. Overnight, the land became parched of life, fruit rotted on the vine, crops withered in the fields, the crows fell silent. This was not the darkness of a clean night where the moon and stars lived, but a foul spawn of wickedness sent to destroy us.
Then Rylan fell sick. In his delirium, I took him back to my house, bearing his weight on my small shoulders as I guided him. I needed to look after everyone under one roof. I bathed their hot faces with cool water and cried. The shadows crawled over the faces of parents and Rylan. My mystical light sparked them, and drove them off. It was getting far worse than I imagined. Desperate and alone, I searched the cottages for help. Every house was the same, filled with black shadowy things boldly covering human flesh like a spider’s web.
Death was a human frailty, but I could not let them die. I sensed the world darken around me.
Shadows infected my beloved woods and fields, the village. Surrounded by the dying land cloaked with darkness, images began to sprout in my mind. What good is fairy memory if it cannot help!
Guided by instinct, I left the cottage and walked to the riverbed. Shadows bloomed like a dark flowers. Death flowers…not the natural death of age or sickness. Tears wetted my eyes, for the thought of losing my parents and Rylan brought pain. I extended my arms and stared at the cruel shadows. My fairy memory fully opened and images of ancient battle lines between light and darkness appeared. Old promises made at the dawn of time and the sacrifice to preserve the
Once there was one world shared by fairy and humans. They lived in peace until a war between Light and Dark nearly destroyed the world. Together, human and fairy folk defeated the Darkness, but it was not destroyed. The ravages of war took its toll. The fairy realm retained mystical powers, but the humans lost their magic in this world, leaving them vulnerable to the evil which would rise to claim it. Fairy folk promised to protect the mortal world with their own magic.
Changelings can drive back the darkness. They took human children back to the fairy realm to endow them with magic to take back to their own world. Only fairy folk can teach them what they need. The sacrifice of this covenant was the Changeling child who can become human in face and body. In the human child’s place.
Changelings would protect the land while the human was given the ancient magic, which took many years. This pact had existed for eons to protect both worlds, for if one fell, the other would die too.
As I looked upon the shadows with hatred, I became aware of the mystical forces churning within me. My fairy light bloomed like star, vanquishing all the darkness around me. The night seemed to become day as I shimmered with fairy power. It was still a struggle, for my powers were still new and raw. As I fought the enemy, I noticed my light was strengthened by another. From the corner of my eye, I saw old Bess nearby, bent and withered by age, glowing with bright fairy light, fighting the darkness with me.
“Are you Changeling too?” I cried, amazed I did not know she was like me.
“No, Lily,” old Bess shook her head. She hobbled toward me and took my hand. “I’m just a mortal like the rest. I was taken by the fairy folk as a baby and raised there. I remember those days when I was young and happy in the mystic realm. I cried when they sent me home, but I knew it was my fate and my duty. When I was grown up with magic, they sent me back to keep our world safe. I sensed you were like them, but it was best not to say anything. Changeling children become aware when it’s time. You were not ready then. For years, I used the fairy light to keep the shadows at bay, but lately they’ve grown too wild and mean. Darkness always tries to break the magical wall the old ones left to protect us. I’ve been waiting for my replacement and was getting worried.
Don’t know how much longer my old heart can keep going. You know what to do now?”
“Yes, Bess,” I nodded.
“Good. We’ll destroy this malignant threat together. We’ll force back this creeping threat.”
Together our fairy powers vanquished the darkness. The shadows shriveled and vanished with each burst of light. Glowing beacons of fairy light, we walked through the village, the forest, and field purifying the land. We found ourselves back by the river after we cleansed the shadows with fairy magic.
“We did it,” I laughed, exhausted but sensing somehow they were truly gone now. My body tingled with the use of magic and my senses burned with each sound, smell, and touch.
“I know, dear.” She took my hand, her eyes sad. “My old fairy touch was weak and I’m glad you were here to help, dear. We don’t hold on to magic forever. I will miss you when you go back, though I know she will be just like you.”
My stomach knotted with panic. “Go back? What do you mean? They left me here.”
“They will call you back home. They always do. Only the ones who were taken there know the truth but they will scarcely remember the fairy world. They know to fight the shadows when they come, as I did. I wish I could go back, but I am bound to my world as you are to yours, child.
They will come now. It’s time. I sense them calling. It’s almost dawn, child. Hurry and say your goodbyes before they call you.”
Panic welled inside me. “No! I won’t go. They can call me until the moon is blue but I won’t go!”
Returning to the fairy world was my dream since my first memory. Now I rejected it. I loved
Rylan. I could not leave now. I ran to the cottage, seeing my parents stirring from their fever, rescued by magic they did not know or understand. Rylan opened his eyes and grinned in his silly way. I fell to his side, crying as I kissed him. I held him close, feeling his heartbeat and warmth, committing the memory to my heart.
Then time stopped. No one moved and even the night moths were suspended on the air when they summoned me. The night air shimmered with fairy magic. Unwilling, I obeyed their call and left the cottage. I found myself beneath the silver moon in the forest. The fairy realm opened before me, its power shimmering like heaven. My old dream was a curse now. I cried in despair. There was no love for waiting for me there.
From the veil stepped a girl who looked just like me. The human Lily. She walked toward me. I touched my hand to hers, as I had as an infant and in that instant we exchanged our memories of all things since the day I came to this world. We parted and she passed me, walking to the small house where Rylan and my parents waited, miraculously recovering from their sickness.
Their enchantment pulled me through the veil against my will, taking me away from my parents. From old Bess. From my beloved Rylan. I wept with sorrow as the mist carried me to the Fairy Realm.
All Changelings are orphans. We are taken from our fairy home to a mortal world without magic. We are left in the place of the human children they take. We teach the humans who return how to defend it. There is a price for magic in the human world. Changelings pay the price.
I still wear her face, though it haunts me when I see my reflection. My changeling parents welcomed me home, but they are strangers and I have no love for them. I cling to my mortal memory. Love altered my changeling heart. I despair in this land of magic. I find no solace here. Sometimes, I glimpse Rylan through the mist. We live in the same world but divided, so he cannot see me. I wonder if he senses I watch him. Does he know she is not me? How can he love her? She is the changeling now.
I wait by the misty veil that separates our worlds. I wish my magic could reach him, so he could find me again.