Raise Both Children

Written By: Stellaria Stratavaria

Raise Both Children

by Dycefic

This story was written using a prompt created by a blog on the ancient World Wide Web. The website it originated was a one "". This is that prompt:

Two identical infants lay in the cradle. “One you bore, the other is a Changeling. Choose wisely,” the Fae’s voice echoed from the shadows. “I’m taking both my children,” the mother said defiantly.

Once upon a time there was a peasant woman who was unhappy because she had no children. She was happy in all other things – her husband was kind and loving, and they owned their farm and had food and money enough. But she longed for children.

She went to church and prayed for a child every Sunday, but no child came. She went to every midwife and wise woman for miles around, and followed all their advice, but no child came.

So at last, though she knew of the dangers, she drew her brown woolen shawl over her head and on Midsummer’s Eve she went out to the forest, to a certain clearing, and dropped a copper penny and a lock of her hair into the old well there, and she wished for a child.

“You know,” a voice said behind her, a low and cunning voice, a voice that had a coax and a wheedle and a sly laugh all mixed up in it together, “that there will be a price to pay later.”

She did not turn to look at the creature. She knew better. “I know it,” she said, still staring into the well. “And I also know that I may set conditions.”

“That is true,” the creature said, after a moment, and there was less laugh in its voice now. It wasn’t pleased that she knew that. “What condition do you set? A boy child? A lucky one?”

“That the child will come to no harm,” she said, lifting her head to stare into the woods. “Whether I succeed in paying your price, or passing your test, or not, the child will not suffer. It will not die, or be hurt, or cursed with ill luck or any other thing. No harm of any kind.”

“Ahhhhh.” The sound was long and low, between a sigh and a hum. “Yes. That is a fair condition. Whatever price there is, whatever test there is, it will be for you and you alone.” A long, slender hand extended into her sight, almost human save for the skin, as pale a green as a new leaf. The hand held a pear, ripe and sweet, though the pears were nowhere ripe yet. “Eat this,” the voice said, and she trembled with the effort of keeping her eyes straight ahead. “All of it, on your way home. Before you enter your own gate, plant the core of it beside the gate, where the ground is soft and rich. You will have what you ask for.”

The woman took the pear, and drew her shawl further over her head before she turned, so that all she saw was a pair of fine leather shoes with long pointed toes. She ate the pear as she walked home, and it was the finest she had ever tasted. When she reached her own gate, she wiped the juice from her chin with the edge of her shawl, and knelt to bury the pear’s core in the soft ground near the gate. It was not the right time for planting… but she did not think that would matter this time.

And in the spring, she bore a child. A girl, with curling leaf-brown hair like her mother’s and merry dark eyes like her father’s, who was not fretful or difficult, but always a joy to her mother. That spring was the happiest of the woman’s life, and she tended the tiny sapling that had sprung up where she had buried the magical pear almost as carefully as she tended her daughter.  Whatever price would be asked of her, it would be worth it.

She expected the price to come at Midsummer, but it did not. Still all was well, her daughter was sweet and healthy, and they were happy all through the summer and the autumn. But when winter began, the child fell ill. She cried day and night, and grew thin and pale, staring up at her mother with sad dark eyes as if she begged Mother to make her well again. For a whole month, her mother nursed her tenderly, never laying her down but tying the babe to her back or her breast with her brown woolen shawl, for warmth. In time she grew better, though she was still thin and fretful, and her parents doted on her as much as ever. “It is the cold, no doubt,” her father said comfortingly. “Come spring, she will grow stronger.”

She did grow stronger, and in spring she was less fretful, stumbling about on her baby legs and reaching for things like any child.  But her mother noticed that the dark eyes did not often look into hers now, and sometimes she laughed or cried for no reason that the mother could see. And
if unwatched, she would always creep or totter out to the sapling pear tree and sit by it.

When the woman woke on that next Midsummer’s Day, the child’s small bed was empty, with a pear leaf on the pillow, and the woman knew it was time. She drew her brown woolen shawl over her head, and went in the cool light before dawn to that clearing and that well. She did not cast anything into the water this time, but stood and waited.

“You are timely,” said the voice, with a triumphant purr in it now. “Now walk around the well, and look behind it.”

When the woman did so, she found a small bed spread upon the moss, and in the bed two little ones side by side. Each had leaf-brown curls, and merry dark eyes, and lifted baby arms towards her.

“One is the child you bore,” the voice said from the shadows, smug and satisfied with itself. “One is the changeling that made all your winter days a burden. The child in your arms when you leave here will be yours always, and the one you leave you will never see again. Choose wisely.”

It was a cruel, cruel test, and the mother wept as she looked down at the two little girls. It was not long before she saw that one pair of dark eyes slid away from hers when she gazed into the small face, while the others gazed straight at her, and yet she wept. Then she wiped her eyes on the brown woolen shawl, and straightened up, staring straight ahead. “You said,” she said carefully, “that the child I carry away will be mine forever, and a child left behind I will never see again. Is that your only condition?”

“Yes,” the creature purred. “The choice is yours entire, as are the consequences.”

“I understand.” She pulled the brown woolen shawl from her head and shoulders, and spread it out beside the small bed, and wrapped her choice tenderly in its soft folds.

And when she stood, both arms cradling her burden, the voice sounded different. There was no coaxing or wheedling, no laughing or purring, only shock and disbelief. “You cannot take them both!”

“Why not? You did not say I must take only one.” And now she turned and faced it, the fairy creature, and though it stood more than a foot taller than she, and was fearsome to look upon with its goat’s eyes and sharp teeth, it stepped back from her glare. “Perhaps I only bore one, but both I have held in my arms, and nursed at my breast. Both have I sung to sleep, and kissed on waking. They are both mine.”

The creature stared at her as if it had never seen anything like her. “But one is sickly and fretful. It is strange, and eats insects and cries without reason.”

“She is not sickly and fretful now, not after nursing and care. And if you think eating insects and crying without reason makes a babe strange, you know little of them.” She hitched up the heavy bundle, the two girls cuddling happily against their mother. “She did not make my winter a misery. A labour, perhaps, but a joyful one, for she is my child. And I will go now, for I have made my choice.”

She turned and walked away, and the creature did not stop her, and when the woman reached her home again, she set down both children on the soft sheepskin before the fire. “Well,” she told her puzzled husband, “they took our child at the beginning of winter, and left a changeling in her place, and then bade me take one and leave the other this morn as if I would ever turn my back on either one of the babes I’ve nursed and loved. If the Fair Folk think it is a punishment to give me two children instead of one, why, the more fools they.”

“Foolish indeed,” her husband said, and he reached down to ruffle two heads of leaf-brown curls. “Do you know which is which?”

“Of course,” the mother said, affronted. “What mother could not tell her children apart? This one is our Wulfwynn.” She pointed to the child she had borne, and named ‘Wolf joy’, for any child born of a bargain with the fae brought danger as well as happiness. “And this is our winter child.” She pointed to the other. “I thought about it on the way home, and I think we should name her Wulfrun, for she was a secret meant to bring us harm, though she will be our joy hereafter.”

Ever after, Wulfwynn and Wulfrun were spoken of as twins, and if one girl was a little shy and strange, a wild fawn to her sister’s sturdy calf, well, that was the nature of twins. Certainly both girls were pretty and kind, taking after the mother who’d refused to give either one of them up, and dearly loved by their parents. They tended the pear tree all their days, and often called it their third sister, and its fruit was the sweetest to be found anywhere.

Now and then in secret, the women whispered of the trick the fairy creature from the well had tried to play, and laughed over its downfall, being fool enough to think that a woman so desperate for one child would hesitate to take two, given half a chance. And more than one barren woman followed her example, in the years after, hoping to trick the fairy creature into giving them two children instead of one.

The people of that village have a reputation for being sometimes strange, these days. There are many whose eyes slip away from one who stares into them too long, who are a little wild and a little shy, whose voices are too soft or too loud. But they are merry, and kind, and their families love them dearly.

What the creature of the well thinks of it, no-one knows. But it never stops a mother from taking both babes, and never stopped offering them, so perhaps it is content with the bargain.

The End

All credit goes to the original author Dycefic

Published by:
Stellaria Stratavaria