This is my entry this week for the Exhibit A competition of therealljidol. I invite you to read the many fine entries, and I'll post the voting link when it goes live. This week we're all writing about different topics. My topic is "Changeling."
Me as a baby, sporting a red "V" on my forehead, with my mother
Somewhere in the Land of Faerie lives a 42-year-old human woman who looks exactly like me. By now, she is so familiar with the mushroom-laden forests and fanciful, turreted buildings that she considers them home. She rarely questions her true origins: why her parents had to work so hard with her to develop her magical talents, or why her face was so roundly plump, instead of wizened and peanut-like. Her mother jokes that she found her next to a hole in a tree stump and that perhaps she was cast out by the brownies for being too lovely. But really, my double knows that, different though she may be, she belongs here.
These are very PC days in the Land of Faerie, and today's rulers look down upon the imprudent actions of their ancestors, who drew unnecessary attention to the Fae by playing senseless games with what the humans held dear. Today's ruling council forbids talk about such fatuous pranks, for fear that the humans will somehow sense it and take revenge. But it was from an incautious Old One named Esmiralda that Ailie (for that is my doppleganger's name) first learned the Legend of the Stolen Children.
Esmiralda had been Ailie's nurse because for a reason no healer could discern, Ailie would not drink her mother's milk. The two had retained a close bond, and Ailie regarded Esmiralda as a second mother, so they allowed each other to speak of things they would share with no one else. Deep in a meadow one morning -- as they gathered bags full of flower petals to decorate for the Spring Equinox celebration -- Esmiralda spoke as if picking up a conversation they'd long ago dropped. "And so I had to nurse you, because I was the only one who had human milk."
Startled, Ailie dropped the star-like white Windflower she was holding. It fluttered to the ground in loose circles. "Did you say human?"
Now silver-haired, unlike the chestnut bob she wore in younger years, Esmiralda had begun to acquire the fearlessness that comes from living a long life. Matter-of-factly -- and without checking behind her shoulder, as was usually the custom when such matters were discussed -- she said, "Yes. You were one of the Miracle Children, the children who disappeared and then reappeared days later. No one knew where you had been or why you were found in such strange places. But I knew." She paused for effect, gazing with her own gray-blue eyes into Ailie's gray-blue eyes. "I knew who you were."
Not able to help herself, Ailie crept forward and dropped her voice to a hush. She was not yet old enough to abandon all caution. "Who -- who am I?"
Matter-of-factly, Esmiralda said, "A human, of course." And with that, she bent to gather an armful of pink, spiky Belladonna Lillies, as if nothing had happened.
For a while, Ailie worked in silence, plucking Bluebells and Bloodroot and Cosmos. Then, as she feebly worked to put her question into words, Esmiralda spoke again, as if she had never paused.
"Of course, your mother wept fiery tears when she realized you were not the same as the child who disappeared from her wee crib days before. She could not even bear to look at you, changed as you were, so she wrapped you in a quilt and handed you to me. A sweeter bundle I never accepted." Here, Esmiralda patted Ailie on the shoulder tenderly. "I was not surprised. We had never spoken of it, but I had always suspected that I, like you, was born of humans."
Ailie's knees gave out, and she plunked her bottom onto a tree stump as she listened, her mouth moving but making no sound.
With a shrug that minimized her tale, Esmiralda continued: "I had always known I was different. And I, like you, had disappeared for three days when but a wee infant. My mother had raised me on a special elixir brewed by the healer, since I had no stomach for her milk."
The story sounded so surprisingly familiar that Ailie could only nod.
"While my brother met all the usual development milestones, I struggled to learn casting and flying. In time, I could only achieve the latter with special prosthetic wings built by a master craftsman. But it is tiring to fly that way, and so in my latter years, I prefer to walk."
Ailie, too, wore prosthetic wings, a source of shame that had prevented her from pairing up with any of her many suitors. She had contented herself with making herself useful: assisting with the preparation of all major celebrations, and helping to care for the wee ones in the orphanage, several of whom looked plump-faced and pink like her. She had always felt a bond with those children but had assumed it came from a shared sense of incongruousness. Now, she wondered if her bond with them meant something more. Twirling a Dahlia in her fingers, Ailie watched the multiple petals blur into a rosy kaleidoscope. When she finally spoke, it was one word: "Why?"
Esmiralda sighed under the weight of her bag of blooms. "Who knows?" she said. "From the dawn of time, interbreeding has been a tool of conquerors. Perhaps the ancient Fae believed that, by intermixing our peoples, they could gain untold power." She paused to snip the waxy stem of a bulbous Grape Hyacinth. "Perhaps they did it just for sport."
Unaccountably, this made Ailie irate. "Why should they tamper with other people's lives for their own pleasure? How dare they!" She tossed the Dahlia to the ground.
Gently retrieving the Dahlia and blowing on it, as if to repair the insult born by being tossed, Esmiralda said, "Indeed, my child. Indeed."
Though it might have been a perfect time to embrace, the two women simply turned their attentions towards the task at hand. Silently, throughout the rest of the afternoon, they gathered flowers, placing the multicolored blooms in their delicately-woven bags, so that later they, with others, could weave them into the ornate garlands which would decorate the Grand Hall for Solstice. This was the way things were, and the way things had always been. Unspoken though their compact was, they both agreed that staying silent was their only hope to keep living the only life they had ever known.
I was born with a red "V" on my forehead. According to my mother, who was brought up to believe in a world of pixies and faeries, this meant that I was a changeling. Or so she told me. In an earlier age, I might have been executed simply because of my birthmark, as being born with a "V" on your forehead in certain Eastern European locations indicated you were a vampire. My mother, however, loved me without measure. She raised me as a human, though I sometimes scarcely fit in.
Thirty-nine years later, my son was born with the same red "V," and I reveled at our special bond. Dear son, I swear I will teach you how to be the best version of you. Together, we will bring to this gray world the twin wonders of magic and belief.
KFP as a baby, with his red "V" showing