A Patchwork Fairy Tale: the one with the father, the changeling, and the faerie queen.
A man who has a great wish to be a father begs the fae for help, but the only children the faeries can bestow on anyone are changelings.
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[Gentle theme music]
Laura: Hi, you can call me Laura, I’m here to tell you a story if you like. If you want to read as well as listen you can find a transcript and mp3 download on patchworkfairytales.wordpress.com. You found one of my Patchwork Fairy Tales. This is the one with the father, the changeling, and the faerie queen.
The Hawthorn Tree
There once was a young man who lived alone in a little house near a large village. He was a passionate person who worked hard and was lucky enough to have earned a comfortable home this way. But he was also a cheerful person who did not work too hard and who had made sure he had many friends.
He walked to the village almost every day, either on business, or some errand, or to see a friend or family member. It was not a long walk and he enjoyed being outdoors.
On the way from his house to the village he always passed a hawthorn tree that stretched its branches proudly towards the sky. This tree had stood there on the little hill beside the road as long as anyone could remember. Most people stopped for a while when they passed it, and the young man was no different.
They did this for the same reason that some people tied coloured ribbons to its branches in times of hardship or when wishing for good luck. Any hawthorn tree standing all alone, was the property of the faerie folk. Such trees were like the stone circles no builder dared to move or the grass-grown mounds that no spade could ever dig into. They were sacred to the fairies and a person might court their favour or attract their wrath underneath such a tree.
One day when the young man passed the faerie tree he saw a young woman he had known ever since he was a child reaching out for the flowering branches.
In one hand she held a ribbon, with the other she carried her new-born baby.
“Can I help?” the young man asked with a smile.
“Thank you,” the young mother laughed and she handed him her child.
She carefully tied her ribbon to one of the thorny branches of the faerie tree and asked that her child might grow up safe and sound.
The young man held her baby, gently rocking it and looking into its little brown face. The child stretched out a tiny hand and grasped his finger tight. A strange feeling came over the young man as he held the warm little bundle close against him.
“I’ve never seen such a sweet child,” he said, handing the baby back to its mother.
“Nor have I,” she winked. “But we mustn’t say so where the fair folk can hear us.”
The young man walked with her to the village and said goodbye to her and her baby when they passed her house. He carried out his errands without really knowing what he did, a cloud had come over his mind and it followed him all the way home.
As he made himself dinner that night, he suddenly said to himself out loud:
“What a joy it must be to raise a child.”
He was startled as soon as the words left his mouth, but it was too late. They had been spoken and he had meant it. Now he could feel the yearning in his heart. He wanted a baby… A little creature with large eyes and soft down for hair. With little fingers and little feet and chubby little arms and legs to wriggle with.
Uncertainly he glanced around his little house. It was comfortable, warm and snug, it would be a fine place to raise a child. But he was all alone… there was no one but him.
The young man had never married, but it had not been because he preferred to live alone. Nobody in the village knew the reason for his staying single, he possibly did not know it himself. But whether it was because nobody loved him well enough or because he did not love any of them or simply because time and circumstances had been against him, the fact was that he had remained alone.
This had never made him unhappy however, and all the villagers noticed that he seemed very cast down since that one day he had come in for some errands.
Nobody understood it, because he spoke to no one of his wish. This silence made his suffering worse, because his longing only grew and he did not even have the relief of wishing out loud.
One day the young man noticed that although he was still just as strong and capable as he had ever been, his face had grown pale and sickly.
“I shall break my heart,” he sighed. “If I do not do something soon.”
The very next day he went into the village and bought everything that was needed to receive a newborn into one’s house. A bassinet, a bottle, little clothes and nice warm blankets. The storekeepers did wonder who he could be buying all this for, but they did not ask.
The young man brought his treasures home and immediately set to work. He placed the basinet beneath an opened window and made it up with fine cotton and soft wool.
He swept the floors till they were truly clean and spread a warm rug on the rough boards.
The baby clothes, diapers and other white goods he tidied away, but the bottle he placed on the kitchen table, ready to be filled.
Having done all this, he inspected every nook and cranny of his house, to see if there was no place too cold or too dark and nothing too sharp or too dangerous.
At last he was convinced that his house was worthy to receive a child and he fell asleep exhausted.
If the villagers had expected the young man to come back the next day, either to buy more things or to explain himself, they were wrong. He did not come back. He hardly left his house, but every day he walked to the faerie tree and hung a ribbon from one of its branches.
Every night the window above the little bassinet was open and the wind played with the little cotton curtains.
Every morning the first thing the young man did was to look in the little bassinet. It was always empty, but he did not give up hope.
“The fairies have taken children from us where they liked it,” he said to himself. “Why should they not give me a child if I wish for it hard enough?”
This wish he carried to the faerie tree with every ribbon he brought.
“Please give me a child,” he said, tying a blue ribbon to the branches where hardly any leaves did grow.
“Please give me a child,” he said, tying a yellow ribbon to the branches where green leaves were sprouting.
“Please give me a child,” he said, tying a red ribbon to the branches where buds were about to burst into bloom.
And yet nothing happened, the bassinet was empty and his house was quiet and still.
One warm night however, when the young man was sitting at the kitchen table playing with the baby bottle, the scent of hawthorn blossoms drifted in through the open window.
The young man got to his feet and opened his front door. He saw nothing but darkness, but the scent of the blossoms grew stronger.
Hastily he took up a candle and, guarding its flame from the wind with his hand, he walked into the night.
With every step he took the smell of hawthorn seemed to hang heavier in the air. He almost ran down the path that lead to the faerie tree and he stumbled up the little hill without watching his candle.
A gust of wind blew out the flame, but it was no longer dark.
The hawthorn blossoms shone pale in the starlight and they seemed to shake their petals in the wind.
“I am here,” the young man said breathlessly. “I have come.”
For a moment no one answered, but then a strange voice spoke:
“So have I, young mortal, so that you might explain yourself.”
It was a voice that was neither young nor old. That voice would know how to call the different gusts of wind by name and how to sing a brook to sleep or wake the slumbering stones. It was the voice of the faerie queen.
The young man was frightened, but he could not give up now.
“I want a child, Your Highness,” he said. “I want it more than anything else in the world.”
The branches of the faerie tree parted slowly and they revealed what might have been a woman sitting in their midst. Her eyes were fixed on the young man like she meant to gaze into his soul and she did not answer him.
“If you would give me a child…” the young man pleaded. “I would be the happiest father in all the land and I would raise it with nothing but love and care.”
“What reason have I to fulfil your wish,” the faerie queen spoke coldly.
“Because I would be a good father,” the young man said, looking her fearlessly in the eye.
“Should I give you one of my own to care for?” the queen answered coolly, looking down on him with violet eyes. “Could you take care of a changeling child?”
“I would be good to any child consigned to my care,” the young man said with fire in his voice.
The queen shook her head and spoke scornfully:
“Your mortal lives are fleeting and so are your affections, you will abandon the child eventually.”
“I will not,” the young man said loudly, making the branches of the hawthorn rustle nervously.
The queen glared at him, the stars reflected in her eyes despite her face not being turned to the sky. “And this you would promise to me?” she asked.
“I would make any vow you’d require of me,” he answered stoutly.
“The raising of a child calls for patience and kindness,” the elven queen spoke slowly. “Can you be depended upon to never lose your temper or raise your hand to my child?”
“I would not harm my child under any circumstances,” the young man vowed.
“A parent must put their child first,” the queen said solemnly. “You are alone and there will be times that you must suffer… could you bear it?”
“I would, for the happiness of my child,” the young man promised.
“I warn you, human,” the queen said darkly. “An elven child is not like a human babe, they grow slowly and seem forever young. Could you love a child for so long a time?”
“I would love my child till the end of time,” the young man promised faithfully.
A long silence followed, but the blossoms of the faerie tree moved expectantly and eventually the faerie queen smiled.
“Very well, mortal,” she said. “Go home, you shall have your child.”
The young man bowed, but could not speak a word. He clasped his extinguished candle and ran back home as fast as trembling legs could carry him.
The window that had been open was now closed and in the basinet beneath it lay a little baby, sleeping soundly under the covers. Silently the young man sank to his knees beside the bassinet and looked at his child. Smiles overspread his face and in a whispered voice he repeated to the little baby every promise he had made the faerie queen.
When the sun rose and the child was still there, no man could have been happier than the young man was at that time. He fed and washed the baby and wrapped it up warm.
“You’ll want for nothing, my son,” the young man said, cradling his child. “For as long as I live, I shall keep you safe.”
Cheerfulness had returned to the young man’s spirits and the colour had come back into his face. His friends were glad to see it, but they wondered about the child. He would give no explanation as to how he had gotten him and everyone agreed there was something strange about the boy.
His eyes, his skin, the sound of his cries. Everything about him seemed to have a strange quality to it.
If they had suspected something of the truth because of all this, they would soon be convinced entirely when time passed by. Because days turned to weeks and weeks to months and the child remained unaltered.
“It’s a changeling child,” the villagers whispered. “A faerie brat that will not age.”
Nobody dared to say this to the father’s face, because his son was the light of his life. But many people drew away from him and called him ‘the changeling’s father’ behind his back. All this must have hurt him, but he was a father now and he did not blame his son. His true friends did not abandon him and he did not worry.
“You shall grow when you shall grow,” he murmured, rocking him gently. “And I will love you all the same.”
Months turned to years, but still the baby boy seemed hardly to grow. Only when ten summers had come and gone the father could look at his child and perceive a change in him. He looked now like an infant that was one year old.
“Look at you,” he smiled when his son took his first wobbling steps. “It seems like only yesterday I found you in your bassinet.”
The changeling boy laughed at his father’s smiles and nothing in the world could have made the father wish to change that moment.
Another decade passed away and the changeling boy could almost talk. Whenever the weather was fine and they had a moment to spare, the father took his son to the faerie tree and held him up so he could play with the ribbons. “You must never touch another’s ribbons,” he told his little boy. “But these I tied there when I was wishing for you, so you may play with them all you like.”
The changeling was really a lovely child and so healthy he never gave his father a day’s anxiety.
Slowly the years continued to crawl by, but to the father they seemed to fly. His loving eye saw new signs of change in his child every day and the son loved his father like his father loved him. There was happiness in their little house and they wanted for nothing.
Nearly sixty years had passed since the young man had stood pleading beneath the faerie tree and his boy now looked like he was six years old. Nobody would have suspected the long time he had already lived in this world.
His father was proud of everything he was and did and his efforts as a parent had certainly been rewarded. The changeling boy was kind, friendly and confident and rarely bad-tempered or cross.
He was watching his father however, one warm night in spring, and saw a tear roll down the old man’s face.
“Why are you crying, Father?” he asked, immediately coming to his side.
His father tried to smile, but the thoughts that had caused that tear had been plaguing him more and more and he could no longer drive them away.
“I cry because I feel myself weaken every day,” his father answered. “And the thought of leaving you breaks my heart.”
The boy looked at his father with a fearless, open face.
“Don’t cry, Father,” he said. “I know you will not leave me.”
“Never would I leave you,” the father said, hugging his child. “Because I promised to take care of you and you are still so young… but I fear I might be taken away and I have not the power to change that.”
His son shook his head and wiped the tears off his father’s cheeks.
“You made a promise, father,” he said. “And you must be able to keep it.”
Something in his son’s young voice reminded the father of the hawthorn blossoms and he looked at him in surprise. He had never heard him speak in such a way.
“Come with me, father,” the little boy said and he took his father by the hand. “Let’s go walking.”
They went into the dark spring night, without taking a lantern or even a candle. Together they walked down the winding path, the changeling boy holding tight to his father’s hand.
It wasn’t long before they arrived at the little hill and the boy helped his father climb it. There they stood beneath the faerie tree, whose blossoms glowed pale in the starlight.
The little boy stooped and knocked three times on the wood at the base of the tree.
The hawthorn shook its branches and with a muffled sound the earth between its roots opened up, revealing a path into the earth.
“Follow me, father,” the changeling boy laughed and he slid down the hole.
Slowly and with uncertain feelings, his father followed him. His son took his hand again and walked with him down the faerie path.
Behind them was darkness, but in front of them light seemed to grow stronger and stronger. Suddenly a light burst forth so brightly that for a moment the father could not see at all. But he felt his son’s hand in his and was not afraid.
He heard his son laugh and when he could see again he looked into a pair of violet eyes that were very familiar to him.
“Mortal,” the faerie queen said with a smile that made her teeth shine like pearls. “You have kept your word.”
The father saw that he was surrounded by green leaves and sunshine. He was standing before the throne of the faerie queen and her many subjects were smiling at him and his son from every corner.
The queen rose from her throne and walked towards him.
“You have taken care of my changeling and loved him with a love I had not expected from your kind,” she said, with a warmth in her voice that was hardly ever heard.
She looked at the little boy, who still held his father’s hand.
“He is truly your child and you shall live to see him grow.”
She placed her slender hand on his shoulder and the father felt his strength return to him. All his fatigue fell away and he stood upright, like a young man again.
“Thank you,” the father stammered. “Thank you.”
But the queen merely smiled and turned away from him, walking back to her throne.
“See, father,” his son laughed. “Nothing will take you away from this place and we can stay here forever.”
His father sank to his knees and hugged him tight.
“And so we shall,” he said. “I shall make us a new home, just like made us a home long ago.”
The fairies drew near to greet them and to the father, somehow, all their faces seemed familiar and their voices comforting. His son looked at home among them and already the thought of what little he had left behind began to fade.
Father and son went off into the faerie world and if all is well they are there still, the happiest little family that ever crossed the divide between worlds.
Laura: And with that last word stitching up the very last sentence, this story has its proper end.
Thank you so much for listening, lovely of you to stop by. You can follow this podcast on podcatchers like Spotify, iTunes, or Stitcher, but for an mp3 download, transcripts, themed tags and summaries, you can check out patchworkfairytales.wordpress.com, where you can also contact me and find out about my other projects. Like my book Coffee and Faerie Cakes and my webcomic The Fisherman’s Favour. You can also find me at laurasimonsdaughter.tumblr.com which is full of folklore and urban fantasy, or you can follow @patchworktale on twitter.
Always close the garden gate, don’t spy on selkies, and be safe.
Copyright Laura Simons, please do not copy my stories without my permission, lest you insult the fae.