“Mama,” I begin, but she just tells me that she isn’t and walks away.
Papa explains to me that I’m a changeling. Once upon a time a faerie came and replaced their beautiful baby girl with an ugly faerie child.
“Oh,” I nod to show I understand, but he lays out the evidence anyways. My right leg which is a whole six inches shorter than my other and my crossed eyes are the tell-tale signs.
“Oh,” I nod again, “like the stars?”
“No, like a changeling.”
“We’re only keeping you because if we don’t take care of you, the faeries will hurt our real baby girl and we’ll never see her again.”
Mama won’t talk to me now. Papa says it’s because she misses their real baby so much. I feel like having some noise so I grab my fiddle and play out on the porch, a sweet jumbled tune, all the notes that have been knocking together in my head. Papa told me I play like an angel. Mama said, no, I play like a changeling. Everybody knows that faeries are handy with a tune. Papa said, well yes, that too.
He comes up to the porch now from the wheat fields. He’s got his scythe in one hand and a fistful of wheat in the other. There’s something wrong with the wheat. It’s blackened and gray in patches, and sags weakly instead of standing up tall. I think it’s sick and I can tell by the look on Papa’s face that he thinks so too. He calls Mama out from the kitchen. She looks at the contents of his hand and the fattest tears I’ve ever seen start to ooze from her eyes.
“The whole crop is like this,” says Papa. Mama’s tears get even fatter. She takes a rattling breath and glares at me like it’s all my fault.
“Stop your smiling,” she says, “it’s grotesque.”
“I’m not smiling,” I say.
“Of course you are. You’re a changeling.”
She stomps back inside. Papa pats me on the head and follows her. I run a hand over my lips to reassure myself that my mouth is pinned down in a frown. I wouldn’t want to be grotesque. What a word. I don’t know what it means.
I walk along the dirt path leading from our porch to the wheat fields. The wood block nailed to my right shoe so that I don’t walk all tilted thuds lightly against stones hiding in the dirt. I try to hang on to those dull notes. Once I’m in the centre of the fields, I scratch out a soft melody on my fiddle and concentrate real hard on healing the wheat. Papa says that music can do anything. He’s always going on about this king named Dagda who had a harp that was so powerful it could make men laugh, and cry, and sleep like babies. My fiddle must not be working because the wheat looks as sad and grey and sagging as it did before.
When I get back to the house, I can see through the window that Mama is still gushing those fat tears, except now she’s howling too, right into Papa’s left ear. He’s holding her close and telling her everything’s going to be alright, but I can tell from the look on his face that he doesn’t believe it.
I get to thinking that Mama needs some cheering up, and I think that what would make her really happy is to see her real baby again. So instead of going inside, I walk myself right back down the steps of the porch and through the wheat fields that are really sick, and across the rolling hills of grass that look just like the sea, even though Mama says that they don’t, and all the way to the edge of the forest.
I love the forest. It’s got oak trees as tall as giants, and bright flowers I don’t know the name of, that are taller than me. Maman says that that’s just because I’m short, but they’re taller than her too. The forest is my favorite place on earth, even though Mama never lets me wander very far inside. Papa says that if you reach the centre of the forest there’s a faerie mound, and that’s probably where my real parents live. I start skipping down the dirt path leading inside the forest. There’s a lot of rocks stuck in the earth, big and small, gray and black. My shoe with its wood block is making a racket. I get to thinking how nothing’s ever smooth, or quiet, and maybe that’s okay.
After a while, a flock of butterflies comes and keeps my company. They perch all over my arms and shoulders and head. I think they’re tired of flying and beating their tiny purple wings up and down, and just want someone else to do the work. I don’t mind. We all need someone to carry us once in awhile. I’d like for someone to carry me, but no one else is about, just me and the butterflies. I decide to sit down and rest for a bit on a nice flat rock, in the shade of a bright orange flower that looks just like the sun.
The forest is very quiet. The only sound around is me and the wind breathing softly together. I feel like having some noise so I pluck out a jolly jig on my fiddle, mellow and sharp at the same time. I don’t think that the butterflies like it. They fly away all at once in a great big swarm. So then it’s just me sitting by myself in the shade of a bright orange flower that looks just like the sun.
I get back to walking and come across a fork in the road. A sign politely tells me that to my right is some place called the Hill of Mullaghmast and to my left is my faerie mound. Signs. Where would we be without them?
I’ve been walking for a very long time and I’m worrying that maybe the sign had it all wrong, when the path takes a great big curve and round the bend I see a great big hill covered from head to toe in those tall flowers. When I get to the foot of the hill, two women emerge from behind a purple flower. They both have snowy skin, icey blue eyes, and hair the colour of wheat. They look pretty much the same, except that one is rounder than the other. From the way their bodies shimmer, I gather that they are faeries.
“Greetings,” they say together.
“Hello,” I say, I think I’m staring a little. I try to stop because Mama says it’s impolite.
“Well?” They ask.
“Well what?” I’m having trouble keeping up with the conversation.
“What are you doing here?”
“Oh, right. Mama says I’m a changeling and she’s really sad right now because the wheat is all sick so I came to get her real baby to make her happy again…” I trail off. I realize just then that Mama’s real baby probably isn’t a baby anymore. It’s probably my age. Probably, it’s ten.
The faeries are staring at me kind of funny now. I don’t mind though because I don’t think they’re trying to be rude.
“Honey,” the rounder one finally says, “you’re not a changeling.”
“But Mama says I have to be.”
“Your Mama is wrong.”
“But my right leg is six inches too short and my eyes are crossed, but not like the stars, and Mama says that faeries take pretty babies and leave ugly ones in their place.”
They blink a little and start staring again, like they’re not sure what to do with me. My fiddle is starting to slip out of my hands because my palms are all sweaty, then it falls from my grasp all together. The less round faerie bends down to pick it up for me.
“I’m sorry my dear, but you’re not a changeling,” she says as she hands me the instrument.
“Oh,” I say.
“Is there anything else you needed?”
“Can you make me pretty so that Mama doesn’t think that I’m a changeling anymore?”
“Have a safe journey home, honey.”
“Okay,” I say and then they both disappear back into the flowers.
I don’t feel like going home quite yet and trying to explain to Mama that I’m her real baby. I don’t think that she’s going to believe me. I think that she’s going to think I’m lying. Mama says that changelings lie all the time. I drag my feet all the way back to the flat rock with the flower that looks just like the sun. I want to lie down on the rock, but when I get there, there’s a little grey wolf already curled up on it, whimpering. It growls at me when I step closer and I see that it’’s right leg is skewered by an arrow.
I’m afraid I’ll get bit if I try to move any closer, so I stay where I am. I put my fiddle to my chin and draw out a nice soothing melody with the smoothest notes you’ve ever heard. The little wolf stops growling and closes its eyes. I start to move forward with carefully placed steps, still gently moving my bow across the strings. I don’t lower my fiddle until I’m so close I can reach out and touch its fur. But instead of petting it, I just say, hush little wolf, and real quickly I snap the arrow head off and pull out the shaft.
The little wolf starts to whimper and shake. Suddenly, I’m not looking at a wolf anymore, but a boy about my age. He has dark hair and mossy green eyes and his right leg is oozing droplets of blood that remind me of Mama’s fat tears. I rip off a piece of my shirt and wrap up his cut real good.
“Thanks,” he says.
“No problem,” I say, “why did you have an arrow in your leg?”
“I got shot by hunters,” he says.
“That must have hurt.”
“Yes,” he says. He considers me a moment and then asks, “Who are you?”
“A girl,” I say, “Mama thought I was a changeling but she was wrong.”
“My name is Mary.”
“That’s a nice name. I’m Finn. Sometimes I change into a wolf but most of the time I’m just a boy.”
“My father is a king.”
“That must be nice.”
“I suppose. My kingdom is being attacked by giants though. I’m on a journey to wake Gearraidh of Iarla so he and his warriors will come save us. They’re sleeping under a hill right now.”
“Yes,” he agrees, “do you want to come help me?”
“Okay,” I say.
We end up back at the crossroads, but instead of turning left towards the faerie mound, we take a left towards the Hill of Mullaghmast. I have to help Finn walk because his leg hurts him so bad. He wants me to sing a song to distract him but I say, “No. I don’t sing. I just play the fiddle and I can’t very well do that while I’m helping you walk.”
“Okay,” he says, wincing. So we walk in silence for some time. I feel like having some noise, so I start asking him questions about his kingdom. He doesn’t answer any of them because his leg is hurting him so bad and he’s concentrating really hard on not crying. I don’t mind. You only really need one person to have a conversation.
We reach the hill just as I’m running out of questions. There’s a little wood door with a gold knob leading under the hill. I help Finn over to it. He tells me to wait outside. I don’t object because I don’t much like dark places. He’s not gone long. I don’t even have time to tune my fiddle.
“How did it go?” I ask, “will they help?”
“No,” he shakes his head, “they said they were tired and to just slay the giants ourselves.”
“Want to come?”
“Sure,” I say, mostly because I don’t want to go back home just yet, and I’m pretty sure he isn’t going to be able to get very far by himself.
We start walking towards where Finn says his kingdom is.
“Can I ask you something?” He says. I feel like it would be rude to say no because that’s pretty much all I’ve done since I’ve met him.
“Sure,” I say.
“If we survive killing the giants, will you marry me?”
“Mama says princes only marry pretty girls.”
“I think you’re pretty. You’re eyes are crossed like the stars.”
“Okay then,” I say.
Haley Brett enjoys writing fiction and poetry. She studies creative writing in Montreal, Canada.
Artwork: Rob Woodcox