By: Stephanie Brown ’12 **** Aggie was gently bouncing Tom on her knee as the stew broiled over the hearth. Tom cooed happily and waved his tiny hands, grabbing a loose strand of her hair. “Careful, careful,” Aggie said, smiling. She tickled his stomach, and […]
Tag: Stephanie Brown
By: Stephanie Brown ’12
Aggie Breen longed for a child above all else. In twenty years of marriage to her Giles, she had not once conceived. She observed the other married women of Ballygowan as their bellies swelled over that nine-month period she had never known until the majority of the tiny town was gathered in the church for the newest baptism. She seethed and sobbed and prayed as the desire gnawed away at her heart. Finally, Aggie could take it no more. She waited until late at night when her husband was sleeping, wrapped herself in a shawl, grabbed a lantern, and crept out of the house into the empty streets.
Her house being at the end of the lane, it did not take long for Aggie to reach the bridge over the brook. The shepherds and their flocks would pass over it each morning and evening to and from town, but now, in the gleam of her lantern, it all seemed foreboding. Aggie trembled, yet pushed on. Once over the bridge, Aggie strayed from the path and stepped into the cool, dew-laced grass. A light breeze scurried across the heath, tugging her hair from her neatly woven bun. She picked her way through the heather and gorse as the grass began to grow longer. The sheep didn’t graze in this part of the heath.
After a few tense moments, Aggie could discern the sound of laughter above the breeze. It grew louder with each step she took. She crept toward a grassy knoll and cautiously peeked around it. Only then did she catch sight of them.
They were tall and slender, dancing around in the circle of weathered stones, swaying like willow branches in the wind. The light from the torches reflected off their pale skin, and every now and then would sparkle in the jewels woven through the women’s hair. Aggie was certain that she had never seen anyone in the town dance with such grace.
One of the women paused mid-step. Her head tilted ever so slightly before making a dismissive motion with her hand. The others stopped dancing, a hushed murmur bubbling around them. Some turned away from the woman, and Aggie saw some of the lights begin to wink out, though no one was touching them.
A sudden fear gripped her heart, and Aggie leapt forward from her place behind the knoll. “Wait, please!” She called unthinkingly.
The slender figures all froze and turned their heads as one, their bright eyes cutting through the darkness. Aggie stopped dead in her tracks, her lantern slipping from her now trembling fingers. For a long moment the group just stared at the intruder, not a single word passing their lips. Then, the woman who had stopped them lifted one hand and crooked her finger, beckoning Aggie closer. Shivering, Aggie stooped to retrieve her lantern. Each step brought her closer and closer to the ring of stones, until she was right at the edge. She stopped there, knowing better than to enter this type of circle alone.
The woman regarded her carefully with those piercing eyes. When she spoke, her voice carried a certain musical quality in it.
“Your kind knows better than to come here.” She smiled, almost pityingly. “You are not very bright.”
Aggie drew her shoulders back, hoping to look intimidating. “I just… I wanted to ask a favor.”
The woman arched her dark brow. “A favor? From us?” A sound shivered in her throat, and Aggie realized that the woman was chuckling. “Definitely not a wise one. You should have listened to your elders. But, I am curious. What is it you would like?”
Aggie swallowed over the lump in her throat. “I want a human child. My husband and I can’t have any, you see. So, I was wondering if you’d give me one of yours.”
That lovely mouth twisted the slightest bit. “Impossible. No humans dwell among us, therefore we have no human children.”
“Then could you give me one of yours?”
The woman inhaled sharply, her eyes flashing dangerously like fire. Aggie tried to take a step back, but the woman’s arm snaked out, her fingers coiling tightly around Aggie’s wrist.
“How dare you! You have the gall to come to our land, the very boundaries of our realm, to ask for one of our kind, all for your own personal desire. You stupid, stupid woman.” Her lips curled into a feral snarl. “I should turn you into a slug for a year just for those words.”
Aggie shook her head vigorously and attempted to pull her arm away. But the woman merely tightened her hold, dragging Aggie back to the border of the ring. Her fingers began to burn Aggie’s skin.
“Tell me, woman, where should I pluck the child from, hm? A mother who has just given birth? Or did you wish for something older?”
“I didn’t mean to offend you!” Aggie cried. “I want a baby more than anything. Surely there must be one you could give up, one that won’t be missed.”
Those gleaming eyes narrowed to slits. “Do you think we are prone to relinquishing our offspring to your kind? Did it ever cross your simple little mind that we, too, love our children?” He voice dropped low as she all but hissed, “Feel shame.”
With one hard thrust, the woman shoved Aggie to the ground and made to leave. But Aggie had come so far for this. She reached out and caught the woman by the edge of her flowing dress.
“Please, you must know what it is like to desire a child, or anything, but to be unable to attain it for some petty reason. I just want a baby boy, that’s all. Any boy, be he human, your kind, or something else! I’ll leave you alone, I’ll give you whatever of mine that you desire! Just please, grant me this one request.”
The woman was still, save for the wind rippling her hair and garments. The other ladies looked on with a mixture of curiosity and indignation. Finally, the woman tilted her head slightly towards Aggie.
“Just a baby boy? Of any kind?”
“Nothing else. I swear.”
A heavy sigh pushed past her lips. “You do realize that if I grant this request, you will come to regret it. There are few who have not rued asking my kind for favors, and you are not of their ilk.”
Aggie shook her head, blinded by determination. “I won’t regret it. Just one baby boy, that’s all. I’ll love him like my own.”
The woman gave her the slightest of nods, and Aggie’s heart soared. “Wait here,” she ordered, pulling her dress free from Aggie’s grasp. She glided over to her companions, motioning to them with her pale hands. The other women moved to follow. As they passed, each torch blinked out until only the glow from the lantern remained. Aggie could not see where they had gone. They just seemed to vanish into one of the knolls. Aggie tugged her shawl tighter around her shoulders and waited.
It seemed like hours had passed before the woman returned, this time carrying a bundle in her arms. A smile spread across Aggie’s face.
The woman nodded curtly. “A baby, of any kind, just as you requested. Nothing more.”
She held out the bundle, and Aggie could see a small face with rosy cheeks and bright brown eyes. The baby gurgled happily upon seeing her and reached up with plump little hands.
Aggie did not even hesitate. She wrapped her arms around the infant and cradled him against her breast.
“Thank you, madam,” she murmured, one hand stroking the child’s soft tufts of hair. “What can I give you in return?”
“A log from your wood pile and a bit of straw,” the woman said, and that strange, almost pitying smile bloomed again. “It is only fair. Leave it here tomorrow night. Now, take your baby and go.”
Aggie nodded and hurried back over the heath with her new child. She could not help but feel a twinge of disdain for the woman as she left. After her impassioned speech about children, Aggie had not expected her to react so callously by relinquishing one, and to trade him for fire supplies! Well, her loss was Aggie’s gain.
Giles awoke at dawn to an empty bed. He rubbed the sleep out of his eyes and sat up. He opened his mouth to call for Aggie, then stopped. He had heard a noise quite unfamiliar to their small home. A child’s cry.
Giles quickly sprang out of bed and flung open the door to the main room. There sat Aggie at the kitchen table, a cup of milk in one hand and a baby in the other.
She looked up with a bright smile upon hearing him. “Giles, dear, look what someone left on our doorstep during the night. Thankfully it wasn’t too cold, or the poor boy might have frozen.”
Giles stepped closer, frowning. “No one here was due to have a child,” he said.
Aggie shrugged. “Some folks must have been passing through and saw this as an easy solution. Better than leaving him out in the wild. It’s a blessing, really.”
Giles furrowed his brow. He wanted to believe his wife, truly he did. “This doesn’t seem right, Aggie. I don’t think—”
Aggie rose from her chair, setting the cup aside, and crossed over to her husband.
“There’s no need to be worried, love. Here. Hold our son. I’ve named him Tom.” And she placed the child in his arms.
Giles stood there, his arms bent awkwardly as he did his best to hold the baby comfortably. The boy smiled up at him and giggled. His brown eyes reminded Giles of the bed of the brook under the bridge.
Aggie watched her husband with a satisfied smile on her face. “Well?”
Giles was silent. He gently laid his finger against the infant’s hand, so small and delicate in comparison. The baby’s own small fingers wound around his own and tugged.
“I suppose he can stay.”
The folk of Ballygowan were all astir over the mysterious child who Aggie claimed had been left on her doorstep. Of course, there was joy and congratulations on the couple’s good fortune in finally having a child to call their own. Yet there were a few naysayers, who claimed the child was a changeling, left by the Fair Folk for their own amusement. They refused to go anywhere near the house. But Aggie ignored them. She had what she wanted, and nothing could ruin that in her eyes.
“Aggie, something is wrong.”
“He’s just small for his age, that’s all.”
“The child is ten months old and he still looks like a newborn!”
“Hush, Giles. Damn it, man, look, you’ve woken him. It’s okay, darling, papa didn’t mean it.”
“…Where did you find the child?”
“On the doorstep. There’s no need to worry, really. Maybe he isn’t getting enough nutrition. He will grow, dear. All babies do.”
He never did.
It seemed the baby was content to remain in the shape of a newborn.
There was no sign of him ever gaining any height or weight. Giles had even taken to measuring him.
People become uncomfortable. The naysayers from before merely nodded sagely over their mugs of ale and muttered about the wiles of the Fair Folk. The priest even stopped by to bless the child, but that did nothing. The people grew nervous and avoided the house. No one spoke to Aggie when she took Tom out for air. Eventually the priest had to stop by, hat in hand, to ask her to keep the child away from everyone. But Aggie gritted her teeth and sent Giles out to do the shopping from then on, figuring that if no one wanted to see her child, then she had no need to see them. Soon, the general consensus became that the child should be abandoned on the overgrown heath near the circle of stones. But Aggie would have none of it. As much as the baby was unnatural, Aggie had grown to love him. He was her son, after all. But Giles was never able to look at the child with happiness.