Here is my short story about The Changeling which was shortlisted in the Fantastic Books Publishing International competition ~ as was another short story Dust to Dust ~ I was delighted to learn both stories will appear in their forthcoming anthology and am looking forward to seeing the winning entries.
“What are these things?” Sarah asks, picking up a pinch of pointy green stick-like things the size of hundreds and thousands.
John stares, his eyes wide in amazement. “They’re tiny! How on earth did you spot them?”
He’s right; mortals rarely see faerie teeth.
The collective gasp from the fae sounds like a breath of wind; Alemin flies, his wings on fire, to the faerie court.
“Mortals! Mortals!” he wheezes, “Found the teeth.”
The faerie queen grins, her mouth glittering greenly, “Mark her! We’ll take the child.”
The fae pack their string pockets. They have nectar to feed the mortal babe and keep it quiet when they put the changeling in its place. The faerie court, the tannafae, wants a blue-eyed, blonde-haired boy child to pet, cosset and tease … to keep for the solstice. The fae hunters head for the land of mortals.
“This way.” Alemin leads as they leave the magical meadow-scented realm. They pass through the hawthorn to the world of mortals. Alemin hates the green stained teeth; he rubs a tooth-cleansing twig over his own to freshen his mouth. He hears the fae now, chattering and jittering behind him; he sees squirrels leap up trees, rabbits disappear down holes, there are snuffles and scuffles, twigs snap. He wonders once more why he does not feel part of them, he was born into fae, so why is he different? Alemin glances up through the dappled canopy, mottled sunshine picks out bright spikily waxed hair, disproportionately large knuckled hands, thin fingers, tapered nails. He is aware of them scraping the unmistakeable fae marks in moss and on tree bark. Coal black faerie eyes glitter, the fae sneer at the creatures scattering before them.
At Alemin’s raised hand the fae hunters quieten and move swiftly now silently in shoes of scuffed moleskin. Alemin carries a poor sickly little mite, blue-eyed and blonde-haired, a faerie baby, the one his family call the good-for-nothing, the changeling. He does not like it, what he is about to do, but it must be done. He, Alemin, must be elevated to the position of tannafae and from there to faepeer. He has little choice until he can win enough favour to become tannafae. They reach the archaic ridgeway and work along it. There, in front of them, appears the isolated cottage. Alemin makes a wide sweep with his arm and the fae blend into the gorse and bracken on the hillside. Not a sound is made.
Alemin sees Sarah pegging out washing. She is their target mother the mortal who picked up the faerie teeth … Alemin and the others enter the farmworker’s cottage. They snatch Sarah’s child from the cradle and Alemin deposits the faerie changeling without a backward glance. The fae leave, Alemin stops outside the window to see what Sarah will do. She peels potatoes for dinner, cries over onions, then she moves to the cradle. Alemin sees her tilt her head to the side as if puzzled. He stiffens. Will she realise? No. Trick of the light. She tucks the blankets around the tiny child. She smiles fondly at the child who grizzles in its sleep.
The tannafae coo over the tiny new mortal, delighted with the blue eyes and blonde hair. They pinch it to make it cry then pick it up and fuss it. Alemin sees they love the novelty. He feels sick. They chuck it under its chin to receive a gummy smile. They feed it on nectar, giggling as it becomes drunk and starts to hiccup. Alemin looks away.
The faerie queen smiles and nods her head graciously. She is pleased with Alemin.
He shivers as he thinks about the solstice, the blood-tithe. Before the last solstice he talked with his father.
“Why do we need mortal blood?”
“Because otherwise it would have to be fae blood.”
“But it is fae blood if we give away our weak and feeble to get mortals”
“That’s not how she sees it. The fae hunters search for the mortals who find faerie teeth. It has been so for centuries.”
“They are away from their families for months. What’s the good of that? There has to be a better way.”
“You are a great hunter, Alemin, you have the knack of spotting teeth finders and marking them for the blood-tithe.”
“But there must be a better way.”
“Find it, my son. Get into court. Become a tannafae. With good fortune you could be nominated a faeseer, then you’ll make your mark.”
Alemin knows he has pleased the faerie queen. He will soon join the tannafae.
At the faerie court, the tannafae fun lasts until the babe is so hungry it won’t stop crying and doesn’t smile any more. They tire of sticking it with pins to make it scream louder. Now the sacrifice is made, the blood-tithe gathered. They put the limp bloodless body on the bones of others in the Northern cave; the babe will die of cold, blood poisoning and anaemia.
Another half dozen and the fae will be safe until winter solstice.