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The Changeling

Our tale this week comes from Kington. It sounds fantastical, unreal and impossible. But what if it was true?

Women were expected to have their families very early on in life and in most cases children tended to arrive one after another in quick succession. However there were on occasion women who continued to bear children long after their first born. Mary was one such woman, she lived in Kington and had already raised one child who had now left home and joined the army. The birth of her second child was not an easy affair and the townswomen of Kington muttered that no good would come of having a child so late on. But to their surprise, despite it’s difficult start in life the child flourished.

As the months passed and summer came, so did the hop picking season and Mary saw this as a great opportunity to earn some extra money. Her only problem was that she had no-one to care for her baby. So she took him along with her. Gently nestling the baby under a hedge out of the sun within earshot, Mary went about her tasks coming back to check on her son frequently. The hop picking went well. Mary enjoyed the camaraderie, joining in the gossip and fun. She hadn’t laughed so much in ages. Time passed and she realised that her son had not made any sound for quite some time. But she need not have worried, he was still where she had left him. Even so she did notice that he was strangely silent but thought no more of it.

The baby however had changed even though Mary did not want to admit it. He was constantly hungry, demanding and grizzling, greedily eating everything that Mary gave him. She could not naturally provide him with enough milk, so she started substituting his feed with other options. But this never seemed enough. Mary could not explain this change in behaviour, her son had gone from being a placid and contented baby to one that never gave her a moments peace.

Despite his appetite Mary’s son didn’t seem to grow. He didn’t try to crawl or walk but remained steadfast in his cradle. A once bonny baby, he now had hair on his cheeks and his face looked wizened, old and grumpy. If Mary was concerned she didn’t show it. However the wise townswomen were less restrained in their comments. They had seen this before, they knew that Mary’s baby was a changeling. Now to those who are not familiar with the ways of fairies. It is told that if fairies become so drawn to the beauty of a human baby they will swap it with one of their own. The townswomen knew that the only way to reverse this dreadful occurrence was to beat the creature and make its life such a misery that it will want to return to the fairies.

However, Mary was so devoted to her baby she couldn’t bear the thought of being unkind to it even if she was having doubts herself and her life was now quite miserable. A few years passed and to her absolute delight Mary’s eldest son returned home. He was a breath of fresh air, he brought a happiness into the house that had been missing for such a long time. Mary’s son noticed how much his mother had aged and was surprised to see his younger brother still in a cradle. He had also heard the gossip from the townswomen but when he confronted Mary, she dismissed it out of hand. So he took it upon himself to investigate further, he honestly didn’t believe that the baby in the cradle was his brother.

Armed with some useful advice Mary’s eldest son retrieved a warm egg from the hen house and proceeded to blow out the contents. Taking the shell back into the kitchen, he filled it with some water and barley and held it over the fire and after a short while dropped in some dried hops too. Suddenly he was startled by a cackle coming from the cradle. Mocking his actions the voice said, “I am very old and have seen many things but I have never seen a soldier stupid enough to brew beer in an eggshell before.” Mary’s eldest son rose to his feet and drew his sword saying, “I knew it, you are a fairy changeling and I’m going to make you pay for what you have done”.

On seeing the sword the creature screamed and jumped out of the cradle racing for the door with Mary’s son hot on its heels. But it moved so fast that before long Mary’s son could not keep up and lost sight of it. Breathless and angry he stood for a moment thinking what to do next when in the distance he saw a toddler walking towards him. Feeling in his heart that this was his younger brother, he scooped him up and took him home.

Mary was delighted to have her youngest son back and quizzed him about where he had been, he talked of being in a wonderful palace where he was very happy and didn’t want to leave. From that point forward as Mary’s youngest son grew he always seemed to be distracted as if he could hear things that she could not. Some say he was away with the fairies, it’s something we’ll never know but perhaps he was.

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