Forest Born (part 2)

The human mother awoke to the high-pitched wail of the abandoned baby, when the rays of the sun had just begun to stretch above the horizon. She pulled him from his cradle and rocked him, but still he cried and screamed. When she’d tried to feed him, he had bitten her, and when her husband entered to offer aid, he knew what had become of their child. Reading his expression, she laid the still-sobbing infant back in his bed, and began to sing.

She sang an old song, in an old language, that told of the wind and the forest and the spirits that dance under the light of the moon. The wailing ceased, and the child sniffled, and still she sang, until the only sound from the cradle was that of a light snore.

“What will we do?” her husband had asked. “We do not have anything to offer the Folk to make the trade.” he paced the small room, all the while the mother kept her gaze on the child.

Softly, she said, “We do nothing.”

He stopped to look at her, and saw the love for the child written plainly on her face. Placing a gentle hand on her shoulder, he let his gaze fall on the child. “This is not the child you bore.” he warned.

“Of course not. But the Folk have made their trade, and whatever they do with their price, they have left him in our care.”

He knelt beside her and sighed. “It will not be easy, my love.” was all he could say.

“I know that,” she said, “But he is ours now, as the other child is no longer.”

“As the town learned of the couple’s decision, the mother was shunned as callous and foolish, and the father was dubbed lacking in spine. But Mother knew more than she let on, and Father was determined to fill their son’s needs.

It was no simple task. Raising a child never is, and raising a child whose needs you do not fully understand does not lift the burden. Still, the couple took it in stride.

Mother sang almost nonstop, song after song in the Old Tongue, of forests and plains and mighty beasts. Every song of nature she could pull from memory was used to soothe the child. Father foraged almost too close to the FolkWood to gather food that might sate his endless appetite. And while the town scoffed at their efforts, many were secretly impressed by their success.

By the time the boy could walk and speak, the town had come to an uneasy acceptance of him. After all, his kind were charming without effort, and none in the town could resist the combined charm of a child and a faerie.

When Mother taught him to sing in the Old Tongue, the boy’s words drew the wind and leaves into his small bedroom, whirling and skipping across the shelves. He tried to apologize, but Mother stopped him.

“You need not apologize for what you did not intentionally cause. Just help me clean it up, and we’ll start again outside.”

Such was his childhood. The changeling was raised by patient and loving parents, and soon grew to be little more than a well-known local oddity.

When Mother deemed him old enough, she took him to the Market to help sell the textiles he’d helped her weave. Like many young boys, he ran up and down the square, shouting advertisement for his family’s stall. With his otherworldly charm, the boy drew a sizeable crowd to his mother’s table.

“What a charming young lad!” remarked an elder woman with an armful of yarn. “You are blessed to have him.”

The boy, sheltered by nature, interjected. “No blessing, grandmother. I am a changeling, kept and loved by my Mother and Father.”

Silence fell at the statement, the weight of it hanging in the air. Several patrons left, murmuring prayers and superstitions. Some insisted on buying items that he had crafted. Mother kept close watch on those that stayed among the sidelines, eyeing the boy with poorly concealed hatred.

When the sun grew low in the sky, the pair packed their remaining merchandise and readied to make the journey home. Mother hadn’t seen the suspicious patrons in over an hour, and had laxed in her vigilance. It was as her back was turned to her son that they leapt from the shadows, aiming to overpower the boy and tear him apart.

They did not reach him. He screamed at their approach, a primal, feral, musical sound that dropped them where they stood. Mother rushed to him, pulling him away from the slumped men and towards the cart.

“Mother, what was that?” he asked, eyes wide.

Her face was a blank mask, but he felt her fear and anger regardless. “Cowardly, hateful men who choose to believe that anything that cannot be explained is evil.” she said, ushering him into the cart. “We must go, my love. We can talk on the road.”

They sat in silence until they had left the market behind, then the town, and entered the forest. He waited patiently for his mother to speak.

“I am sorry, dearest. I should have prepared you.” she began.

“You needn’t apologize for what you did not intentionally cause.” he reminded her softly.

A small smile flashed across her face. “You are right. Still, I should have prepared you for such things. I had thought the market was close enough to the FolkWood to be safe…” she trailed off.

“They hate me.” he interpreted.

Tears filled her eyes as she clasped his hand in hers. “For no fault of your own, but yes. They hate the Folk, hate the magic they cannot possess or wield. They hate them for their cursed mothers, their ensorcelled girls, the tricks and carelessness some of the Folk represent.”

“For the stolen and replaced children.” he said, eyes lowered.

“It is not your fault.” she insisted harshly. “Men like that forget that humans are just as cruel to each other. They forget that changelings had no say in their fates.”

Mother grew silent, and as the moon rose, invisible above the canopy, he raised his voice in song. It was in the Old Tongue, but it was not one of the songs she had taught him. the night air stilled, and the forest fell silent in respect of his performance. From somewhere within the woods, clouds of fireflies stirred and danced along the road, lighting their way as the moon and stars could not. Mother gasped, and still he sang. He sang until the trees parted, and the light was no longer needed.

“When did you learn this?” Mother whispered in awe.

“I’ve been practicing in the garden at night.” he admitted. “I wanted to learn to control it.”

She clasped her son tightly in her embrace, warm tears on his shoulders. “You truly are a blessing, my son.” she whispered.

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