Disclaimer: I'm just playing in the sandbox. If you recognize it from elsewhere, I don't own it.
Timeline: Historical fantasy, Ancient Scotland
Rating: M for nudity, sex, homophobia, violence, character death/afterlife, and thematic darkness
Author's Note: Hello, my name is Heather. I would like to say just a few words before you begin reading.
This story is based on the poem "The Stolen Child" by W.B. Yeats. I encourage you to read it before reading this story, because what you think happens here depends on how you interpret that poem. You can find a copy of the poem here (remove spaces): www. online-literature yeats/816/
If it fits your reading style/schedule better, there is a PDF download of this story available on my website. You can find a link from my author profile page.
Thank you for clicking into this story. I hope you read and enjoy. Please review if you are so compelled and come find me on Tumblr: arainymonday.
Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand.
"The Stolen Child" by W.B. Yeats
COME AWAY, O HUMAN CHILD
The screams of childbirth drew the faery to the farmhouse outside the village in the Lowlands of Alba. He tiptoed through the misty barrier between faery and mortal realms to the edge of a dense wood over a hilly, green land and watched through the window with full moon above and flickering candle within as the midwife delivered a baby boy, bloody and shrieking, from his mother's womb. The midwife brought the child to a basin beneath the window to clean him off, and the faery snuck forward through a garden coming to life in the early summer and climbed onto a woodpile to peer through the glass at the infant human.
A more beautiful child the faery had never seen. A tuft of wet, black hair stuck to his head, and his face contorted in a protesting wail at the cruelty of bringing him from his warm, safe womb into this cold, cruel world. The faery tapped the glass with his fingertip, and the newborn ceased his crying at once. He opened wide his eyes, as blue as all baby's were, and blinked through the window at the faery. Fuzzy though his vision was, and would remain for some months still, the boy child blinked and cooed at the faery as if he recognized the whispered blessing on the faery's lips.
"Have you decided what you'll call him, Isla?" the midwife asked.
"After many heated fights, Callum has given in to my superior collection of names," the mother replied.
Isla lifted her head from the pillow as the midwife brought the clean infant wrapped in a fluffy red wool blanket to her. The mother teased her son's cheeks and nose with the tip of her forefinger, and tears of joy spilled from her eyes as she laughed and cooed over her son. Not even the pain of childbirth and the after works of the midwife cleaning her up could dull Isla's happiness.
"Hello, there, my dear little boy. Welcome to the world, Blaine."
The faery smiled one final time at the infant and slipped away from the window back into the woody landscape and across the secret divide between faery and mortal realms.
Over the next six years, the faery returned to the farmhouse on the edge of the village many times to watch from afar as Blaine grew into a perfect human child. He supervised Blaine's first steps in the backyard and taught him his first words and fed him wild cherries from the forest. But always he disappeared into the mist before Blaine's parents saw him. The people of this country had no love of faeries, whom they blamed for all manner of ills beyond their control: poor crops, foul weather, bad luck.
And over those six years, the faery began to change himself, as all changelings have the ability to do. But rather than imitating Blaine's chubby cheeks and curling hair, the faery plucked from Blaine's mind the human notion of faery looks: silky hair the color of tree bark, blue eyes shining like starlight on the faery pond, skin glowing as if in moonlight, ears shaped like delicate leaves. The day the faery arrived in the form of a faery child the same age as Blaine, the boy laughed and clapped his hands excitedly.
"Now we can be best friends!" Blaine cried happily.
He took the faery by the hand, and they ran through the trees, jumping over fallen logs and splashing through streams. Every day, they met by the same yew tree in the afternoon and played fantastical games in the forest. When Blaine could not come out and play because of bad weather, he sat by the window with heartbreak on his innocent face, and the faery sat by the yew tree smiling back sadly.
Six years the faery observed the humans in the village and realized many disturbing things about the nature of humans, though never in the sweet, innocent children.
The little boy sat on the bare wood floor of the farmhouse playing with woodblock animals going to war with one another. Currently, the bears were beating the sheep and cow alliance. When the father came in from a long day working, he kissed his wife where she sat by the cooking fire slicing a meager selection of wilted vegetables into broth, and scooped his son into his arms.
"How is my son today?" he asked loudly, and tickled the boy's fleshy tummy.
Blaine squealed and shifted around in his father's strong arms. "I'm well, daddy. I helped mommy pull up the vegetables from the garden, and then she let me go play with my friend in the woods."
"Good! Children should be children, no matter what."
Isla and Callum exchanged a dark glance over the top of Blaine's curly hair. The vegetables going into the stew, he realized, were fewer in number and smaller than even a day before. For going on a year now, the faeries had cursed this village and turned the weather against them. The soil would not produce, and everywhere families accustomed to comfort and full bellies learned to live without or hung for theft.
Callum sat Blaine on the floor again to return to his toys and crossed the modest dining room to speak lowly to his wife. His shoulders slumped as he shared the news that there were no jobs in the village except ones that did not pay. He would try again tomorrow. He did not mention that he had taken those jobs without a wage to keep himself occupied and help his neighbors. It would only upset Isla that their neighbors did not come to their house to help when they could. Callum believed the best of people. Their neighbors would repay them with kindness someday. Isla would call him a fool for thinking so.
The routine went on for weeks. Callum looked for work in the village and found none, Isla kept up the house and garden as well as she could, and Blaine played with the wooden toys his father carved for him at night. The boy now had a fox and rabbit too, and that was the only betterment for the family.
But even little boys who have new toys lose their sweetness if their bellies are empty.
"How is my son today?" Callum cried, scooping Blaine up from the floor.
"Put me down!"
Callum's joy deflated and he deposited his son on the ground again. "You're very curt today."
"He's very hungry today," Isla said pointedly.
"What does that word mean?" Blaine asked, scowling at his father.
His parents did not hear him. Isla jerked her head in the direction of the cutting board. The three potatoes there looked limp and translucent, almost as if they did not exist at all, and the chickens had provided a meager four eggs that day.
"I want to go play!" Blaine shouted.
"Have you helped your mother –"
"Let him," Isla interrupted. Callum nodded at his son, who raced to the door with his wooden animals abandoned on the floor. "I don't want him to see me cry. Callum, we can't feed the one son we have. How are we going to feed another mouth in half a year?"
Blaine heard none of his parents' discussion about the little brother or sister he would have in five months. Nor the one that followed about whether the little brother or sister would even arrive if Isla continued to skip noon meals so Blaine could have a slice of bread. All over the country, parents held the same conversation while their children played to forget their grumbling bellies.
"Hello? Are you there?" Blaine called.
The faery popped out from behind the yew tree with a tight-lipped frown on his face. He crossed his arms and refused to look at Blaine, even when the little boy ran around him in circles to try and make eye contact.
"You're mad at me."
"You haven't come out to play with me all day, and it's a perfectly nice day," the little faery snapped.
The boy scuffed his shoe on a patch of exposed dirt. The lack of rain had turned the usual dark, rich earth sandy and dusty and worthless.
"I'm sorry," Blaine said, in a small voice. He sniffed and wiped at his eyes.
The faery extended his arms and gathered Blaine into a hug. "Don't cry, Blaine. We'll play now and everything is always better after we play together."
The boy nodded and allowed the faery to take his hand and lead him deep into the forest where they had built a secret fort between two fallen trees. They scrambled over the mossy, rotting logs of ancient maple trees and dropped down into their grassy fort. The faery plucked wildflowers and began weaving a daisy chain.
"What's your name?" Blaine asked suddenly. "We've played together our whole lives, but you won't tell me your name."
"I don't have one," the faery said simply. "My people choose our own names when we come of age, and I haven't yet, so I don't have a name."
Blaine cocked his head to the side. "You should pick one anyway, just for now so I can call you by a name."
"I can't! I would get into trouble!"
"Then you should let me pick one to call you," the boy said.
The faery scrunched up his face and considered. "Fine. But you have to promise to call me by my real name when I pick one."
Blaine held out his little hand, but the faery did not shake it. He cocked his head at Blaine, so the boy placed the faery's hand in his own and squeezed. The faery laughed.
"What a silly way to make a deal. My people do it this way."
The faery set aside his daisy chain and shifted onto his knees. He closed his eyes, puckered his lips, and leaned forward. Blaine's eyes widened dramatically when the faery kissed him wetly and pulled away hastily with a blush on his cheeks.
"You can't do that!" he hissed. "Boys aren't supposed to kiss other boys!"
"Why not?" the faery asked innocently.
"I don't know, but they're not. We're supposed to kiss girls."
"That's a stupid answer."
The faery clamped his hands on Blaine's cheeks and pulled him into a long, hard kiss like he'd observed the teenagers in the village doing in dark alleys when they thought no one could see. Blaine struggled for a moment, and then kissed back twice as eagerly. The faery pulled away and flashed a smug expression at his best friend. He threw his arms into the air and fell backwards onto the soft grass. Blaine stretched out next to him on his side with his chin propped on his arm.
"I will always like kissing boys best," the faery declared.
"I will always like kissing you," Blaine sighed wistfully.
The faery giggled. "So what's my name, Blaine?"
"Well … you were very curt today."
The faery made it clear that that was a ridiculous name no respectable faery would choose for himself. Those weren't even letters in the faery language. But Blaine liked the way the sounds rolled on his tongue, so the faery gave in and let his best friend call him Kurt.
A week passed before Isla noticed a change in her son. On a Thursday, when gray clouds that promised rain at last rolled over the village and blotted out the sun, she looked up from the dry, dusty garden at her son and found herself staring at a strange child. Blaine sat on his heels peering up at the sunless sky, yet a light radiated around him like moonlight beneath his skin and his eyes sparkled like starlight on still water.
"No!" she cried. "No, no, no. Not my baby boy!"
Isla scrambled across the barren garden and ran her hands over her child's face. She caressed his soft skin and silky curls, examined each of his fingers and toes, and hugged him close to her while her tears turned into sobs.
"Mommy?" Blaine asked, with a wobble in his voice.
Isla checked her tears and held her son at arm's length. "The friend you play with in the woods. Is he a faery?"
The little boy nodded. "His name is Kurt, and he's been my best friend since forever. He was there the night I was born."
Isla's eyes slipped closed as dread stole over her. Her son had been touched by the faeries, marked from birth to play some part in their capricious games that always ended in humans getting hurt. She feared, most of all, a changeling stealing her son away and imitating sweet, precious Blaine, and she none the wiser, loving it like it was her own.
"Listen to me, Blaine," she said firmly. "You are never to invite your friend into our home. Is that clear? Never invite him inside!"
Blaine nodded quickly, and Isla left him in the garden while she retreated into the house to cry again in private. What a horrible turn their lives had taken: a drought in a country that drowned in rain most years, and a faery taken a shine to her son. It would all end in misery, as it always did when faeries played their wicked games. The town would starve, and her precious son would take the blame for catching the eye of a faery.
She could not bear to see the faery touch shining in his face and eyes. The light was a clock ticking backwards to the day she would lose her firstborn child. A mother should never have to know her child faced a fate worse than death.
From that day forward, Isla never looked at Blaine again.
The villagers spoke longingly of autumn, when surely this unnatural drought would break, and yet they feared autumn too for they would surely have a meager crop to last through the winter. The riverbed beneath the bridge into town ran dry in August, and the villagers began whispering of faery sightings in the wood.
Callum shook his head in disapproval. To blame others for misfortune, he supposed, was natural enough, but he would not let hard times break his spirit. Every day, he went into the village to look for work, and when he found none, came home to chop more wood and think up repairs around the house. Optimistic as Callum tried to remain, his hopefulness did not cloud his pragmatism.
Isla went without morning and noon meals, and in the fifth month, lost the baby in her womb. Blaine would have no brother or sister. Blaine stopped playing with his wooden toys before meals. He sat lethargically beside the hearth, staring with sad eyes at the small meals his parents could provide him: broth or eggs, and perhaps stale bread, if the baker had any left. The boy's once chubby cheeks had hollowed until Blaine look frail and sickly.
"Stop staring at him," Isla ordered.
"I wouldn't have to stare if you looked at him at all," Callum returned hotly.
"If you're so concerned for his well-being, then do something. There is a whole forest outside our front door."
"Are you mad, woman?" he demanded. "That land belongs to the Laird. To take anything from his land is certain death."
"To not take anything is the same."
Callum leaned back in his chair with the block of half-carved wood hanging from his limp arm. His eyes fixed on the back of Blaine's head while his mind swirled with terrible thoughts. If their fortunes did not improve, it would not be long now before his son joined the row of tiny markers already beginning to appear in plots.
He couldn't bear to think about laying his only child's small body in the ground, yet every day that passed brought them closer to that eventuality. A father should never have to know his child faced a slow, agonizing death at such a young age.
From that day forward, Callum never stopped looking at Blaine.
Some days, when Blaine came out to the woods to play with Kurt, they did nothing but lay in the grass in their secret fort while Blaine clutched his stomach and sobbed. Then Kurt took Blaine's head into his lap and stroked his curls gently while he sang a song. Blaine never quite caught the words, but they soothed him and the ache in his belly.
Nighttime was the hardest for Blaine. With the house quiet around him and without Kurt to sing gently to him, the only thing he had to think about was how little he'd had for supper and how much more he wanted.
A tapping on his window late one night brought Blaine from the edge between sleep and nightmares. He rose from his bed to find Kurt standing by his window with the bright smile that meant he had something important to tell Blaine. The little boy padded over to his window and eased open the latch.
"Give me your hand, and I'll help you inside."
Kurt climbed through the window more awkwardly than he climbed trees because he could use only one hand. The other cupped hand held a palm full of bright, shiny red berries. Blaine's mouth watered at the sight of the plump fruit. Even in the pale moonlight through the window, he could see the juice staining Kurt's skin.
"I know you were really hungry today, so I picked these for you."
The boy and faery sat on the end of Blaine's lumpy goose feather mattress. The boy greedily plucked the berries from Kurt's hand and gobbled them down. The faery watched quietly as his best friend gorged himself on fruit. Too soon, the berries were gone. Blaine's lips were stained red from the juice, and try as he might to lick the flavor into his mouth, it was not the same as eating the fruit.
"I want to take you away from here to someplace better where we can play together all the time and no one says you have to want to kiss girls and you'll never be hungry again. Blaine, will you come away with me?" Kurt asked.
The boy paused and considered his friend. He thought of his mommy who never looked at him anymore, and his daddy who never looked away from him anymore, and they seemed to him like very different people than the happy parents who used to love him. He nodded.
"I'll go anywhere with you, Kurt."
The faery grinned so widely his teeth showed. Blaine had never seen him happier in his life, and he liked making Kurt that happy. The faery pulled the daisy chain from a pouch at his hip and began winding it around Blaine's head, shoulders, neck, and arms like it was ivy and Blaine was its trellis.
"I hoped you would say that," Kurt confessed. "I've been growing this for a while to use. There's something special faeries have to do to take humans to the faery realm. Listen carefully, Blaine."
The boy listened attentively to the song Kurt had sung to him so many times in the past, clear back to the day he was born and blessed through the window. This time, he heard the words, and though he didn't understand what they meant, he thought they were very beautiful.
"Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery, hand in hand,
For the world's more full of weeping than you can understand."
Two shadows moved through the forest hand in hand that night towards the misty divide between human and faery realms.
In the morning, a fierce rainstorm ripped through the Lowlands. The baked earth could not compensate for the sudden downfall, and the river and loch flooded their banks. Water stood stagnant in the fields, and the crops were utterly decimated that year.
But more tragic yet was what Callum and Isla found in the morning. Their precious little Blaine lay dead in his bed, peaceful as if in sleep, but with rosy fingerprints around his neck.