Forest Born (part 1)

In the wild corners of the world, home to strange magic and ancient creatures, lie great forests and fields seldom seen by human eyes. And ruling over these lands are those few are brave enough to name. Called the Folk, the Fair Ones, the Good Neighbors, the Fey could almost be mistaken for humans until one is too close for safety. They are known tricksters and troublemakers, prone to flights of fancy and fits of rage in equal measure.

Villages living on the edge of these lands are common prey to these Strangers. Enticing men and women into their territory to enspell them, gifting young children and expectant mothers with curses disguised as blessings. But by far the most complex of their games, and among their favorite, is that of replacing a child. Particularly bored Fey will hide themselves from human eyes and ride the wind into open windows, searching for an unguarded nursery. When one is found they will free the sleeping infant from their cradle, and leave in its place one of their own kind, made to look as exactly like the stolen babe as a reflection in a pond. The forest-born child, now removed from their mother and the magic that cradled them tighter than any parent, will cry an endless sea of tears, and the unfortunate humans will empty their larders in an effort to sate the changeling’s ceaseless appetite.

There are a handful of tricks to preventing such a kidnapping, and many more to convince the fairy thief to return the traded child, but to say which are effective would be as useless as determining how best to convince the wind to change direction. Should the wind even deign to listen is a question itself, and the argument that sways its path one day may be stubbornly ignored the next. The simplest solution, and the one most chose to take, was to stay away from such areas that attracted the attention of the troublesome folk.

Still there sat a village, hidden away and remembered by few, who stubbornly maintained their homes at the borders of the wildlands. When a child was taken, the parents would bundle up the offending replacement, roll up their sleeves and trudge their way into the forest to make the trade themselves. This was their way with their dangerous neighbors, to the amusement or annoyance of the forest people, one could not know.

So it happened that on one such occasion, when a child that was human was replaced by one that was distinctly not, the parents simply lifted the child from its bed and sang a lullaby to soothe him. It was with this wisdom that the parents handled every challenge they faced. When he ate his fill and still complained of hunger, his father went as deep into the forest as he dared to find the copper-colored berries none in the village dared pick. When he woke in the night, inconsolable, his mother sang to him of falling leaves and twisting vines.

They were, of course, asked by their human neighbors why they had not made the journey to retrieve their human offspring, but the pair provided no satisfactory answer. Once, his father said that a fair trade was made, and it was all the elder women spoke about for weeks. Later, his mother simply said that the child was hers, regardless of how he came to sleep in her crib, and would say no more when pressed.

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