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The Changeling

It’s dark tonight, with the only light belonging to that of the candle that I bear. It glints off the walls of the Keep reminding me of my boundaries, reminding me of where I’m not to go. The maid scampers along behind me; I can feel her presence and hear her footsteps on the rushes. She’s watching me, making sure that I don’t harm myself or others. I’m not as far gone as everyone seems to think, just empty. The ache that I feel in my arms and my breast is near unbearable, but at least I can still feel it. I can still suffer from that loss and remember her. Sometimes I can barely feel anything beyond that emptiness that consumes me during my waking hours, other times there’s nothing.

The feel of the cold stones beneath my feet are welcome.

I pass the Great Hall, images and imaginings pass in front of me; those of my ancestors: happy and smiling, babies bouncing on their knee and children scampering. Other visions, of the future that will not come to pass, are harder to endure. Generations of my family have lived and thrived in these halls, why can I not? Why? Why not I? The question builds and builds inside me until the words are rolling over themselves in a cacophony of sound banging and hammering at my skull. Suddenly they erupt in a ragged scream from my mouth.

“WHY?”

The sound that comes back to my ears doesn’t sound like my own voice. Instead it reminds me of a ravaged and dying animal; suffering and hurt. Through it I can hear the banging of footsteps. The guards are running. I hear Malcolm, my Lord and husband, shouting orders from the tower as he descends. I know that he is going to fetch me back to the bedroom.

I can’t go there, not back there, not while I’m yet awake!

My feet are moving, running, before I even realize it. All I can think of is the cold and barren expanse of the moors just outside these walls, just outside my prison. I can hear them coming, chasing after me in a sleepy clamor. The idea of running free among the moors is too much to ignore. Someone shouts at someone else and I pick up my skirts to move faster.


“Mad, that’s what she is? Bloody daft!” The sound of a fist meeting skin and the low growl of Malcolm’s command meets my ears.

“Keep silent!” It’s closer that I realized before. I mustn’t stop!

The doors at the end of the Great Hall are just before me. If I could just reach them before- They slowly open and the guard steps into the space. It’s obvious, even to me, that he’s unaware of the happenings within these walls. It’s so very easy to push past him and out into the night.

It’s not as dark out here as it is inside the Keep and I’m able to run easily and quickly out into the night. I push myself until there is no more breath inside me, until my feet hurt and a terrible pain in my side forces me to stop. After I fall I can feel pebbles pressing against my knees and palms, I can feel the rocks alongside me; a rise to a high peek on the left and a low pile of debris on the right. The pain in my side and chest fades as my breathing slows and my head spins. But the emotions I have misgivings about come back with a vengeance and suddenly I miss the blank emptiness.

The pain wells up inside me, the guilt overwhelms me, the sadness, the frustration, the anger, the fear all of it combining into some mindless violent hand gripping at my heart and pulling it from my chest. Again, I scream. The sound doesn’t seem to bounce back to me, it’s like the land swallows it up.


With every sob and every breath, the dirt against my face puffs up to block my vision. Surely Hot tears are leaving tracks on my cheeks and the sound of my baby’s cries float to my ears. It’s too much, all of it, and with another shriek I cover them to shut out the soft mewls.

“No,” the sound is little more than a whisper of my own as my body reacts to the noise. Already full and aching, they begin to leak. I can’t bear it. She’s crying so loud, and I can’t reach her! I can’t find her! No, I can’t tell you what happened, I know not! She was just sleeping, only sleeping!

Suddenly the ground is beneath me once more and I’m running down the pile of rubble on my right. My feet are slipping and I’m screaming and shouting as I careen down the hill. I’m just as mad as the soldier’s believe, I’m sure of it. The Lady of Earlfast Keep, dirty and sobbing, running about the moors chasing ghosts. The sobs turn to laughter.

Still, under all the mad noise and all the internal rage, I can hear the crying. I make no noise and beg everything to be motionless; even the breath in my chest makes no noise as I strain and listen with my eyes and ears for the root of the cries. In some corner of my mind, a place untouched by madness, it occurs to me that this cry is different than the one that came before.

My beloved Mary, with her upturned nose and soft pink lips, even her cries were delicate and sweet. This cry; it’s a howl, a weak one but a howl nonetheless. My body responds and I’m drawn in the direction.

After a moment, I see it. What looks like a tiny fist is reaching up into the air and waving furiously. One step, two, three steps toward the little pale creature before a pair of arms snatches me up off the ground. He presses me into his chest, holding my arms against my sides. Even as I’m kicking and screaming to be let go, my husband speaks very close to my ear.

“Hush now, my darling, hush now. Come my sweet Finola, let me take you home to your Keep. Let me take care of you. I just want to help you.”

“Malcolm, please. Let me go, please, I have to get the baby!” Why won’t he listen? All he needs to do is put me down! “Let me go! Please, Malcolm, please!”

I’m not prepared for him to release me, and when he does I tumble nearly to my hands and knees before he catches me. He stays close as I make my way toward the child and I can feel him watching me as I lift the child out of the nest of sticks and grass and pull it toward my breast. The baby eagerly searches, smelling the milk that is so readily available. My husband stands motionless beside me, his eyes wide and almost smiling when I look up into them.

“A changeling,” someone mutters from behind me, but I paid them no heed and turn my attention back to the child. A changeling indeed! This is a child who needs me! A gift from God after I’ve so recently lost my own.

Only when my husband covers me with his cloak do I feel the cold of the night. The baby nuzzling against my near fevered flesh is almost frozen. I wonder that it had the strength to cry and flail, let alone suckle. I pull the cloak tighter around us as my husband climbs onto the back of a horse. Tavish, the Captain of the Guard, lifts me into Malcolm’s arms. The moors pass by and it’s ages before we reach the castle, but I barely notice any of it. The baby is all that matters now.


“A changeling! I dinna believe it!” Rebeccah isn’t the only one who keeps repeating the phrase, but she is the one who has repeated it most often. The woman makes my blood boil, but I turn my attention to Morgana instead of chastising the wet nurse. The woman is poison and likely the reason my Mary has died in her sleep. She won’t be allowed anywhere near Morgana, my new baby will nurse only from my breast.

My nights are much the sweeter since Morgana has come into them. She’s gained so much weight in the past few days and her skin, though still pale, is often blushed with her movements and her excitement. Her hair is black as a raven’s wing and its little tufts curl around your fingers if you run them through it. Her eyes are dark, odd in a child so young, and her expressions are always so calm and so clear. It’s as if she knows what was going on around her. A special baby, my Morgana.

“Will ya be needin’ anything more, mi’lady?” She’s come upon me in silence her eyes searching the baby, searching me. I’m not mad, how dare she think so. She wants to do something wicked with my Morgana, I heard her say just earlier that someone ought to take her back out into the moors. In my rage and fear my hands tremble and my breath leaves my breast, so I send her away with a quick shake of my head.

It doesn’t surprise me when Rebeccah is found the next morning, dead from a fall down the tower steps.

***

“Finola, dearest, leave the child with Elspeth. She will be fine, I promise.” It’s with great reluctance that I leave my Morgana with Elspeth, though I assuage my fear with the fact that the girl was a foundling as well. She’d been left on the church steps as a baby and had been raised among the castle servants her entire life. Indeed, I’d played with her as a small girl, entertaining her with my dolls and toys when she was but a wee thing.

“Take care of her.” It’s the only words I speak to Elspeth, but there is heavy meaning behind them.

Malcolm allows me to post a guard on the door when we leave. We are awoken in the night with the news that the man was found impaled on his own dirk. I bade Elspeth tell me everything of the happenings of the evening, but nothing stands out. Yet, surely he’d done something to upset Morgana during the evening.


Whispers can be heard more often around the castle now. Talk of a changeling baby increases as the number of deaths increase. As if my little Morgana could have anything to do with it. “Five people have died,” they say “surely you must agree that it is because of the Changeling!” Always I respond with anger and fear, all of the servants except Elspeth stay away from us.

“Don’t let them take my baby Malcolm! I would die if I didn’t have her any longer.” He kisses my brow in reply, but I can’t help and notice him met someone’s eye over my head.

“Come my dear Finola, I wouldn’t allow anyone to do such a thing. Your little Morgana is safe.”

I don’t know if I trust my dear husband. He’s so very relieved that I’m not in the grip of madness any longer, but he’s worried. I’ve heard him speaking in hushed whispers to others. More than once I’ve had to beg Morgana to spare him her wrath. He loves us; do you hear my little darling? He loves us so.

***

It is heartbreaking to find learn that Tavish has died in the night. Malcolm says someone has slit his throat while he was sleeping. I cannot help but to pull little Morgana closer to me. She’s nothing to do with this! I swear it upon the soul of my little Mary, my child has done nothing!

“Finola, don’t you think that maybe we should find her mother? Surely the woman must be missing her?” Malcolm is persuading with his words, and usually they can coax me into doing anything that he desires, but now I know better.

“I AM HER MOTHER! This will not stand!” My heart is shuddering in my chest and my grip tightens on Morgana as she suckles at my breast. She is MINE and no one will take her from me.

Malcolm and the rest of the household had better heed my warning, I will not lose another child.


The world has rewound time and I’m again mourning the loss of my soul. Someone has snatched Morgana from her crib in the night, and I blame my dear Malcolm for this treachery. See there, he lies bathed in his own blood upon our marriage bed.

“Do you hear? My blade is sharp and my rage is hot and all who dare to stop me shall suffer the same fate as my husband. Where is my daughter?”

***

Elspeth is weary, her feet are tired and her arms are sore. She’s been traveling for hours; most of the night and all of the morning. The sun has risen and peaked when she finally feels she’s reached a distance far enough from Earlfast Keep to keep the Changeling’s power from drawing her Lady back into its grip. She crouches among an outcropping of rock, hoping that she’s finally found a place where the child is unlikely to be seen.

It hurts to leave it behind, it still looks like a human child, but no baby weilds the power of life and death, madness and sanity so well. Still, she hides among the rocks to wait and see if the human child is returned and is startled when it starts to cry. Seconds later she hears the sound of horses and the tinkling of laughter and draws in a sharp breath. She says nothing, though, when a woman calls to her husband in the distance. She just watches as the woman lifts the Changeling from her hiding place. It quiets as the woman sings quietly.

Elspeth never even considers warning the woman off as she walks into the setting sun.

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