The Malady

It had been a few weeks since Tessa and Thom Goodwood found the beautiful baby boy on their doorstep.   All of their friends and neighbors eagerly accepted their fictitious tale that Finn was the unwanted child of Tessa’s cousin in the north.  The young couple were so warmly endearing that anyone would wish this happiness for them.  Every day, Tessa woke up with a smile on her face and ran to the crib to see her baby boy.  Finn didn’t sleep very much and both parents were worn out but felt it was a small price to pay for parenthood.  Thom spent many wakeful hours crafting wooden toys for Finn and in a flash of tired genius made rockers for the crib.  That helped Finn to drift off to sleep along with his new mother singing her favorite lullaby, ‘Green grow the rashes’.

Before long, many moons had passed.  Tessa had returned to making bridal gowns.  It was autumn so the dresses were embroidered in harvest colors.  Gold, amber, crimson and darkest copper.  In her few spare minutes, she fashioned delightful new clothes for Finn.  This had led to a new demand for children’s clothes for a Saining or other blessed occasions.  Tessa was tired to her core with the demands of a new, unexpected, baby and her tailoring tasks.  She glanced over at Finn, playing on the floor, in indigo dyed breeches with pale blue stitching to match the softly knitted jumper underneath and her heart melted once more.  It was all worth it.

One evening, Thom and Tessa were eating a simple meal of rabbit and mushrooms at the cozy kitchen table.  Tessa had a coughing fit, and Thom ran around to pat her on the back. “Are you alright, my love?” asked Thom solicitously. “I think I just need some water”, gasped Tessa. “Perhaps I swallowed a small bone?”  All was well, however, and Thom made her a warm drink of whisky and honey to go to bed with.  A few days later, Tessa was on her own with Finn when she had another coughing fit.  She covered her mouth with her handkerchief so that she didn’t cough on the baby.  Finn started crying, in distress, and she rushed to hold him to her bosom, reassuring him that his Mam was fine.

After the baby settled down, Tessa retrieved her handkerchief from her seat where she had dropped it.  She looked at it in horror, as she saw a blood stain. “The White Plague” she whispered under her breath and sat in the chair in darkness until Thom returned from the Mason’s yard.  “Why are all the lights off Tessa?” shouted Thom as he arrived home from a long day at work.  She passed him the handkerchief which he took to the fire to look at.  As soon as he saw the blood, his face became ashen.  Wordlessly, he reached out for Tessa who fell crying into his arms.

Tears fell from both of Finn’s parents’ eyes and he looked at them with worry in his big brown eyes.  Thom quietly went around the house, lighting gas lamps and putting the remains of last night’s meal on the fire.  Then he sat down with Tessa and they worked out a new plan.  Tessa had earlier been infected by the White Plague when she was 14 years old, living in their hamlet in the far north east of Alba. Her mother wisely sent her to her cousin, Elspeth, who lived in an even more remote valley who had skills as a healer.  Elspeth had helped numerous patients with the White Plague and Tessa appeared to fully recover.  There was always a chance that the malady could return.

Tessa and Thom agreed that the best plan would be for Tessa to go and stay with her mother initially, and take Finn with her.  He wrote a letter to Tessa’s mam, stamped it with his red wax seal and handed it to a messenger on the next coach headed north.  They decided not to tell Mam about Finn because it was just too complicated but did tell her about Tessa’s sickness.  Their friends and neighbors were told another white lie; that Tessa’s Mam was poorly and so she was headed home to care for her.  Before Tessa left, on the next full moon, neighbors had been delivering little pots of curd or a fresh baked soda bread so she felt assured that Thom would be looked after.  She sadly packed a bag with warm winter clothes for her and Finn.  Finn didn’t really have enough warm clothes yet but she knew her mother would quickly knit layers for the boy.

Thom and Tessa hugged each other and Finn with such love that could hardly be expressed in words.  Tessa and the baby got into the carriage.  Thom tucked a wolfskin around both of them and sadly bid them farewell.  Tessa cried silently and Finn gently pulled at her hair for comfort.  It was such a long, cold and unhappy journey to the hamlet but when she arrived, Mam was waiting with a look of such concern.  Tessa stiffly came out of the carriage with Finn fussing in her arms.  She put a finger up to her mouth to warn her mother know not to say anything.

Her mother’s eyes widened with shock but wordlessly she took Tessa’s bag and they walked into the cottage.  It was so warm inside with the delicious smell of stovies warming on the fry pan. “Let’s get you both out of those cold, damp clothes,” said Mam in a soothing, pragmatic fashion.  Tessa handed Finn to her mother who was so well wrapped up that you could only see his brown eyes. “Before you ask, Mam,” stuttered Tessa anxiously, “The bairn was left on our doorstep in a basket. Finn is a gift from the Gods.”  Meanwhile, Mam was gently unwrapping Finn from all his layers, in front of the hearty fire.  When she saw his fluff of almost silver hair and his beautiful face, she gasped. “He’s a changeling…”

Postscript

Thank you to Pixabay and Wikipedia for images and links.

The Fairy Gift is the first chapter of this series.

Shortly after my husband was adopted as a 3 month old swaddled babe, his mum caught Tuberculosis again and had to go to a TB ward. His adoptive Granny from up north had to look after him.

18 thoughts on “The Malady

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