The farmer’s eldest son paused from his work to wipe the sweat from his brow and appreciate the rising hum of crickets in the mid-spring dusk. Another song was brought to his ears, however, carried on the wind from the woods across his family’s fields. It drew him to a golden-haired maiden, clad in white, who, against all better judgement, was entering that dangerous wilderness. And so, the young man pursued with the purest of intentions.
As the maiden glided across the forest floor, her gown and hair fluttered behind her on a nonexistent breeze. The young man struggled to keep pace with her and pleaded with her to return to the safety of the hamlet, but the maiden only smiled and beckoned wordlessly to follow.
A glowing bonfire invited them to a space filled with laughter and music. The young man only had eyes for the entrancing maiden and was oblivious to the strange beings celebrating around them. The maiden offered him a silvered chalice and without hesitation, he imbibed of the ambrosic wine she offered. Suddenly, the maiden was in his arms. They laughed and danced together and the night faded into a delirium of pleasure.
* * *
“It is a boy, I am certain,” the wife confided in her husband.
“A son,” her young husband breathed softly.
She wore a gentle smile on her lips. “What shall we name him?”
He laid his hand on the rounded rise of her belly. The child within stirred, pressing against his palm. “Ewen. For my brother.”
“The one who disappeared?” the wife asked. Her husband nodded solemnly. “Very well, he shall be Ewen.”
* * *
As the child was brought forth into the arms of the midwife, the exchange of baby boy to otherworldly girl was unseen to human eyes.
The midwife laid the baby in the farm wife’s arms. “A healthy girl,” she declared.
The mother put the baby to her breast and it quickly found the teat with practiced skill. “A… girl? I was certain it would be a boy,” she breathed. As she looked down at the child, the suckling baby’s eyes opened and looked into hers. The golden down on the baby’s head darkened to match the mother’s brown hair, her facial features changed ever so slightly, pointed ears became round, but the shimmer on her skin remained. The mother, though she watched, was oblivious to the shift. “A girl,” she cooed, now in love with her new child.
* * *
“The child is strange,” the elder woman argued in a harsh whisper.
“Mother!” gasped the younger woman. “She is my daughter and I will not hear this.”
“This is the work of the fair-folk. Her skin—”
“Enough!” the younger woman hissed.
The child overheard this exchange and looked at her arm, shifting it so that her skin shimmered in the sunlight that came in through the window.
* * *
“Cambria, use the poker to break up the logs, like I showed you,” the farm wife told her daughter as they hovered over the hearth. The mother’s belly was round with child again.
The girl reached for the cast iron rod beside the fire. As she wrapped her hand around the metal, she shrieked in pain. The rod clattered to the floor. “Mama, it burns!” she cried, clutching her hand to her chest with tears rolling down her shimmery cheeks. Her flesh was as red and blistered as if the rod had been red-hot where she grasped it.
The mother squatted on the floor to test the rod with her finger tips. It was cold.
* * *
The other children would not play with the eldest daughter of the farmer. Whispers of the meddling of fairies passed between neighbors and filtered down to their children. Eventually, not even the girl’s siblings would play with her. At the edge of the family’s fields she found new playmates. When the girl’s family heard her speaking to her new friends, which they could not see, she was punished severely. She stopped speaking to her friends in the forest afterward.
* * *
At the age of fifteen, the girl ceased to grow. The family did not notice, at first, but as the years passed her younger sisters grew taller and their comely figures took shape. When suitors came to call, the eldest daughter was passed over.
* * *
At the age of twenty-five, the eldest daughter finally grew a single inch in height. Her hips rounded, her bosom began to blossom. Then, her growth ceased again. The girl’s once-adoring parents instead grew suspicious.
* * *
The girl abandoned her home in the dead of night. Knowing she would find no peace with other people, she wandered. A disused hunter’s cabin in the foothills outside of the hamlet became her home. Her old friends returned and taught her many of their secrets. The girl learned to cultivate plants with special properties and brew potions from her friends. They taught her tricks and charms and illusions. With this knowledge, the girl survived. Time did not touch her, though decades passed.
* * *
The young man awoke on the forest floor. There was no sign of the bonfire or the maiden or her strange companions. He began his shameful walk home but he found his surroundings both familiar and unfamiliar. Trees seemed larger than he recalled. As he came to the edge of the forest, the sloping farmland was familiar as the land he had worked his whole life. Yet, the fields had expanded and a stone wall now divided the farmland from the wilderness. He saw the barn his father built, but the house beside it was larger, as though rooms had been added overnight. The backdoor was the same as he remembered. It was home. It had to be.
He startled the family within as he entered. Several unfamiliar women were working in his family’s kitchen. One was old, the others were adults and maidens. Some of the women looked as though they could have been his sisters or cousins, but he knew none of them. Children played about their feet. When the women spotted the interloper, they shouted at him to leave, which led to an elderly man charging into the kitchen, wielding a broom like a club, intent on defending his family.
“Father?” the young man spoke.
The broom clattered to the floor. Silence fell over those gathered in the kitchen.
“Ewen?” the elder man finally spoke.
“Yes, father, it’s me! Who are these women? Where is mother?” the young man answered.
“Ewen, you look the same as I remember. It’s been… what, forty years?” the old man responded. “How is this possible?”
The young man fell to his knees as the truth became clear. This old man was his brother, who had been a mere sixteen years old the night before. The women were his wife, his daughters, and daughters-in-law, and their children. The young man’s father and mother were long dead and three generations had come up overnight.
* * *
The young man found no peace in the only home he had ever known. He left his family home and his wanderings brought him to a cabin in the foothills where a brown-haired maiden with shimmering skin tended a garden. She welcomed him graciously, as she rarely had visitors.
“My name is Cambria. You are welcome to share my roof for I live alone.”
“I am Ewen. I am grateful for your hospitality, as the world has become strange and unknown to me.”
“The world has always been strange and unknown to me.”
What was to be a place of momentary respite for the young man became a place of peace. Who was to be a simple visitor to her life became a companion to the maiden. The spring passed, then summer, and as autumn came the maiden of nearly forty who appeared no younger than twenty and the man of twenty who lost forty years had fallen in love, unaware of the sins their shared misfortune had led them to commit.
This short story was an idea based around the changeling mythology. I thought of basing it in Aserra, but I never specified. Just a little experiment, and getting an idea down.