The Changeling

“Hush, Mam!” gulped Tessa. “Finn is not a changeling.”  Long held in tears welled over and Tessa sank into the fireside chair.  With concern, Tessa’s mother, turned her attention to her beloved daughter.  Her skin had a ghostly pallor and she was exhausted from the long journey from Inverselkie to her home village of Auchnagatt. “Let’s get you to bed,” said Mam “and I will look after the wee cratur.” Silently, Mam thought that she wasn’t ready to call the baby Finn or even accept him.

Tessa’s mother took her out of the damp clothes and gently helped her into the spare bed with a warming pan in it.  Tessa sighed with pleasure at the warm bed with the well-remembered eiderdown quilts.  The sheets were soft from many years washing and smelled of fresh northern air.  Within minutes she had fallen into a deep sleep.  Finn had begun fussing on the table and Mam could tell he was about to let out a wail of distress.  She rushed to comfort him so as not to wake Tessa.

“Let me give you a bosie,” and snuggled Finn into her ample bosom.  As she inhaled the precious smell of the beautiful baby, her heart began to grow tender.  Finn raised his big brown eyes to look at this new person and grasped onto her breast with fat little fingers. “Look at those eyes, ma wee bairnie!” she softly gasped, falling under his spell.  Finn gently smiled, at peace after such a stressful time.  Just then, the latch on the door turned and Tessa’s father walked in, covered in freshly fallen snow.

He cast an eye to his daughter asleep in the bed and then looked quizzically at his wife holding a strange baby. “Sit down Dad, and I will tell you everything,” entreated Mam.  Meanwhile she emptied her sewing box and filled it with her softest blankets.  Mam gently placed Finn in the box who settled down like a cat.  Over supper, Mam filled in the gaps with Dad.  His eyes widened when she told him that Finn was left in a basket outside Tessa and Thom’s door. “I think he might be a changeling,” whispered Mam.

“Ach, Mam!” exclaimed Dad with exasperation, “That’s nonsense.”  Dad persuaded Mam that it was much more likely that some unmarried woman left him at the door.  Perhaps flaxen haired Finn did have ancestor from the Viking lands? “Thom and Tessa came up with a plausible tale and we should support them,” said Dad with a note of finality.  Mam knew better to argue with Dad who was a village elder. “How is Tessa?” he asked.  Mam confided that she looked terrible and that as soon as she recovered from the arduous carriage journey, they should take her to cousin Elspeth who was a healer in the next valley.  As soon as they had received the note from Thom about Tessa contracting the White Plague again, they had sent a messenger to Elspeth to make ready.

The next morning, Tessa woke up with a start.  It took her a moment to figure out where she was.  She looked through the door and saw her father polishing up her old crib for Finn.  It had been sitting in the barn for so many years – Tessa’s eyes filled with happy tears.  Rather unsteadily, she walked into the living room and fell into her father’s welcoming open arms.  Tessa heard a gurgling and turned around to see her mother feeding a bottle of warm goats’ milk to Finn.  He was holding onto Mam’s curly hair and gazing up at her as though she was an Earth Mother.  A fleeting jab of jealousy touched Tessa but she smiled openly at the love between them.

“Granny’s wee bairnie is so hungry,” laughed Mam, spellbound by an unexpected grandchild.  Over the next few days, Tessa’s parents fed her and Finn so much food that they were visibly putting on much needed weight.  Mam was a plain but excellent cook.  Dad was a hunter so their house was filled with plenty.  Tessa eagerly ate the food of her childhood.  Jugged hare, fresh strawberry jam, porridge made with thick cream.  Finn, too, was eagerly eating everything he could lay his fat little hands on.  His new Granny’s knitting fingers flew and in no time, he had a winter layette.  Knitted breeches in all the colors of the countryside – moss green, yellow gorse and rowan red.  Tessa’s needlework skills were matched by her Mam’s knitting expertise.

Tessa had perked up with the comforts of home but she was still coughing up blood into her handkerchief.  Mam and Dad starting packing the horse and wagon and all too soon, they were ready to leave for Cousin Elspeth’s house.  Dad would accompany Tessa but Mam would stay at home with baby Finn.  As Tessa stood at the door, ready to leave, she hugged Finn a little too tightly.  He cried at the ferocity of the hug and the tension in his mother’s body.

“Come awa to Granny,” beseeched Mam, reaching out for Finn.  Somewhat reluctantly, Tessa gently handed him over, knowing that she wouldn’t see him for some months.  The White Plague treatment required months of convalescence.  Finn was oblivious to her as he happily grasped onto his Granny’s bosom.  Dad helped her into the wagon and Mam waved Finn’s little hand to say farewell to his mother.  Tessa blew kisses to him until she couldn’t see them anymore.  Her heart ached with love for Finn but she knew that he could not be in better hands.  Dad gently patted her shoulder in comfort and the next stage of Tessa’s journey began.

Postscript

This is the third chapter of a series The Fairy Gift and The Malady

My husband’s adoptive granny was ambivalent about his arrival because, after they took him home and he was unswaddled, they noticed he had an opening at the bottom of his spine – most commonly seen in spina bifida patients.  They immediately took him to the doctor who diagnosed a small abnormality of the coccyx and said it would heal if he was left unswaddled.  It completely healed but he had to have some padding on his tailbone during certain sports. Granny had beautiful brown eyes and felt a kinship to her only brown eyed grandson.  Their love was enhanced by Granny looking after him while his Mum was in the TB ward.

There is a real village of Auchnagatt in north east Scotland. We lived there in an old house in the late 1980s. The name of the village is derived from Gaelic meaning Field of the Cat/Witch. We had our first three cats – one was definitely a witch…

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.

The Fairy Gift

Many moons ago, Thom and Tessa Goodwood lived in a village in the middle of Alba.  The village was named Inverselkie, for its famous stone-built bridge across the River Selkie.  They were a lovely young couple, similar in many ways.  Both were short and bonny.  Their eyes were blue, hair dark with the rosiest red cheeks.  They resembled generations of their farmer ancestors.  When married they moved from their remote forested hamlet to Inverselkie – a place of opportunity.

Thom was gifted in the masonic trade and helped to build the current stone bridge which replaced the old rickety wooden one.  This made him one of the most admired young men in the village and Tessa was so proud of him.  Tessa had wonderful skill with a needle and made many bridal gowns for her neighbors.  They were simple affairs made of ivory flax but Tessa embroidered them, almost magically, in vivid hues of scarlet and indigo.  Recently the blacksmith’s daughter, a gentle soul, had asked for a more delicate embroidery and Tessa had fashioned the gown with exquisite pale pink and peach freesias.  Now all her customers wanted pastel colors.

Despite their success in their new home, Thom and Tessa longed for something else entirely.  A baby was all they wished for.  Despite prayers and potions from the village wise woman, nothing worked.  Every month, Tessa was so disappointed when nature revealed her infertility once more.  She sobbed and Thom held her in his loving arms, wishing for circumstances to be different.  They both tried to shake off their sadness but it wasn’t helped when village busybodies patted Tessa’s tummy and asked when they were having a baby.  Tessa usually laughed and said, “When the Gods provide…” but a little part of her soul died at each response.

Tessa longed for the comfort of her straight forward mother at times like this but they were many leagues away in the far north eastern corner of Alba.  The landscape and the poor roads made travel difficult and they hadn’t seen each other for many moons until Tessa’s Granny died.  It was an awful, grief filled journey, made worse by freezing snow and an uncomfortable carriage.  Tessa and Thom launched themselves into the loving arms of their families, neighbors and friends.  There were awkward questions from family members too, as they had been married for seven years, but Tessa’s Mam helped deflect them.  Her advice was, “Just keep praying for a miracle”.

The night they returned to Inverselkie, Tessa and Thom settled themselves into their comfortable down filled bed at around 9 pm.  They both prayed silently but were beginning to doubt their worthiness.  They gently settled into slumber until they were woken at midnight by a quiet mewling at their door.  Tessa woke up first and shook Thom awake. “It sounds like a cat, Tessa!  I need my sleep…”  Eventually, they both tentatively opened the front door of their thatched cottage and saw a basket.  They both leapt back when the thistledown blanket moved but then they saw a little hand emerge.  It was a baby!

Tessa immediately picked the basket up and Thom looked around to see who had left it, to no avail.  They brought the basket into the warmth of their living room and put it on the kitchen table.  Tessa pulled back the delicate blanket and stared into the eyes of the most beautiful baby boy.  His hair was a silvery flaxen and his big round eyes were the darkest brown.  “It’s a changeling!” gasped Thom.  Tessa shushed him and gathered the beautiful child to her chest. “The Gods have provided our miracle baby, Thom.  Please may we keep him?”  Tessa’s eyes were brimming with tears and yet as happy as they had ever been.  Thom’s heart unfroze and he reached out to cuddle the baby.  As soon as he held him, he knew this was their answer from to their prayers.

They spent all night feeding and cuddling their strange new child until exhaustion took over.  Thom woke with a start thinking, “I am late for work!”  Tessa snapped awake too, looking with disbelief at the tiny babe with the big brown eyes.  They were full of unanswerable questions for each other. ‘How do we explain the appearance of this beautiful Oddling’.  ‘What will we name him and who left him for us?’  They sensibly decided to wait until Thom returned from work and they would make a plan.  During the day, Tessa learned how to change a napkin, soothe an unsettled baby and most of all, how to love with all her heart.

When Thom came back from work at the stonemason’s yard, Tessa was full of excitement and ideas to explain the appearance of the baby left in a basket on their doorstep. “Perhaps we should check if someone has lost a baby or at least consider that the child might be a changeling?” queried Thom who, after a hard day at work, was now apprehensive. “Hush, Thom!” said Tessa – “Keep your voice down. Finn is our miracle gift from the Gods”.  A faint cry from the basket near the fire alerted both new parents to the object of their concern. Thom gently lifted the newly named Finn into his arms and melted as the big brown eyes met his. Tessa smiled indulgently at the two beloved boys in her life. “Has he eaten well?”, asked Thom.  Tessa told him with a satisfied smile, “He has had warm Goats Milk, a softly boiled egg and sucked on a rag dipped in honey”.

“Why did you call him Finn?” asked Thom.  Tessa explained that Finn was a Celtic name that means white or fair.  His halo of silky flaxen hair was certainly fairer than most Alba folks who usually had blue eyes with dark hair.  Since they had only just returned from Granny’s funeral, they decided that they would tell their neighbors that Finn was the result of a liaison between an unmarried cousin of Tessa’s and a visiting Norse trader.  That would explain the curious light hair and Finn’s sudden appearance.  Tessa and Thom would be seen as caring relatives who took in an unwanted baby.

Tessa eagerly showed Thom a small layette of baby clothes that she had stitched when Finn was napping.  She had used the finest linen from her store and knitted some items in delicate lambs wool.  Even so, nothing was quite as soft and magical as the thistledown blanket in his basket.  Silently, Thom and Tessa gave thanks for Finn and wondered how his mother, fairy or otherwise, could give him up.

Post script

This latest fairy story series is based on the true story of my husband’s loving adoptive parents.

THANK YOU to Pixabay and Wikipedia