The Changeling

by Charlotte Dovey
George Romney [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons
“Lady Hamilton as Titania with Puck and Changeling”

On a crisp autumn night in a Northern wilderness, a couple lived in a cottage nestled amongst the craggy hillside, surrounded by expanses of heather, bracken, and gorse.  It was an unusually chilly night and the days grew considerably shorter.  The couple had two nearly grown children already, but the middle-aged woman, somewhat unexpectedly, found herself pregnant once more and had just that evening given birth to her third son.  In their little cottage, the woman slept in her bed, her new baby asleep in its little crib.  Her husband and nearly grown elder sons sat in the other room in front of the warm fire and drank whisky from a pewter quaich.

A spirit happened to be passing the cottage on her way back to her tree-home from the cold burn, where she had been fishing for frogs, toads, and newts.  She found the cottage so inviting in the cold darkness that she crept in, past the men in the main room sitting before the fire, and into the seclusion of the back bedroom.  There she spied the little human baby lying asleep.  It was not a particularly pretty thing, but she fancied that she would like it nonetheless.  To avoid complications of humans searching for the missing child, she thought it best to find a substitute faery baby that could take its place.  This child, then, would never be missed.  She crept back out into the night to seek one.  It did not take her long to find a faery baby, as there are many about, and take it back to the cottage.  She thought that this human family should consider itself lucky, as the faery baby was far more beautiful than the child she took off of their hands.  It turned out to have a much better personality, too, though the family would not think so in the years to come.

This spirit was quite right – the humans never suspected that their own baby was missing.  Human babies change their appearance so considerably in the short time after birth that it would seem that nothing was amiss.    

While the name Aluin is uncommon, even unheard of, in that part of the world, when the woman came to have the baby baptised she took it into her mind that he should have that name.  She did not know anyone with that name, nor could she recall when she had heard it, but it seemed to suit the boy.  Her husband thought that this was a very bad idea indeed, and wanted the child to be named something like John or Thomas or Gordon, but he assumed that his wife was suffering from one of her little fancies.  This time, he thought, she was getting above herself, but he nevertheless indulged her as she was the baby’s mother and he thought it was properly her choice.  The local vicar also thought it very odd that she should choose this name, but let the mother have her way without complaint.

It did not take long for the human family to discover that something was different about this child.  He was very intent, for one thing, and could stare for hours at raindrops on a pane of glass, or at the flames of a fire.  While Aluin’s elder brothers were willing to poke him and make him laugh with funny faces as a small baby, as the child grew older they became more interested in making him cry.

The child was very keen on music, and while this is common, they thought that his taste of music was very odd.  He was captivated by Bach for one thing, and they could not understand this and thought it music for very old people.  Aluin retreated into his room whenever they played their own music – he found the sounds painful.  This gave the family glee so they often turned on the radio just to watch him being driven away. 

Aluin was also shy and interested in books, and specifically in astronomy and chemistry.  His elder brothers thought that only conceited or effeminate boys would behave such, that all children, but especially male boys, should be interested in kicking balls or each other.  The parents also did not approve.  The child, they thought, was destined for no good at all; he would end up odd, or worse, haughty.  The father blamed it on his name, but had enough practical sense never to mention this to the mother.

It was not much better when Aluin got to school, but in the short hours away from home he adapted in that he imitated at least some of their simple-minded prattle, and pretended to like things that he did not.  He was able to make a couple of friends doing so, though they tended to be the more sensitive, less popular children in school. 

As he grew, he learned that it was best if he avoided his family.  This was easier now that his brothers were old enough to move out on their own.  He spent his time retreating to his bedroom to read his books and watch the fire in his little woodstove.  Because of this, he received very high marks from his teachers, who sent him to a school for the more academically-minded children.  He liked the students at his new school better but they still didn’t understand each other all that well.  He thought that many of them were mean-spirited, though he was able to find some friends.

Aluin was the first person in his family to go to college.  He studied mathematics and the sciences.  When parents learned of this, thought that his mathematics would be used for accountancy.  They were pleased but surprised that he turned out to be so practical.  Aluin did not disabuse them of this notion, as he was wise enough to know that they would not understand if he tried to explain what he was doing.  Aluin also discovered that he had a natural talent for music, art, and literature, and was gifted at languages, but he kept all of this quiet, too.  He was also exceptionally beautiful.  While he was naturally modest, he was also clear-sighted and failed to understand why the girls were more interested in other boys, the ones who were coarse, insensitive, and less intelligent.

Now clearly it is less common for humans to become smitten with a faery changeling as for the reverse, but it does sometimes seem to happen.  It merely seems because it is not clear, all things considered, that humans who fall in love with faeries are human at all.  They, too, could be substituted changelings who merely think that they are human.  They also may be the human babies that were raised by faeries.

Aluin fell in love with a girl named Elise who looked suspiciously like a little pixie.  She was small, dark, and had big, intense, penetrating eyes and an artistic, sensitive nature, though a lot of people found her slow, even backwards.  Aluin knew better.  To his delight, he discovered that she loved him just as much.  Against his better judgement, but because he was polite and proper, he took her home to meet his parents.  They did not like her at all.  They sneered at her when she said things and told Aluin that she gave herself airs, just like he did.  Neither Aluin nor Elise were terribly surprised. 

Charles Perrault, Harry Clarke (ill.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
“Illustration in The Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault”

Elise, for similar reasons, then took Aluin to meet her parents and the same thing happened.  Aluin and Elise decided to marry anyway, ignoring their families’ opinions, and lived happily ever after, well away from human neighbors and a good distance from both of their families.

To assuage any concerns about the human boy who was whisked away by the faery spirit, we can confirm that he was well looked after and very happy indeed.  But that is a different story.

© Copyright 2019, Metamorphorica

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