Queen Heather stared down as the baby nestled in the crook of her arm and felt her heart torn by love and fear. The little princess was the most perfect being she had even seen. Her dark red hair would mark her out among her subjects like fire on snow.
“My darling daughter, how can I bear this pain,” the queen whispered.
A single tear fell on the baby’s face and she made a soft mewing sound at its touch.
The wise women were back and had come to give their blessing to the child. The queen told them what she intended to do.
“Let us take her, majesty,” Mistress Doogood offered.
“No, I must do it,” the queen said.
“But, majesty,” the women protested.
“I have decided, and I will need your help to dress,” the queen handed Mistress Gamp the baby.
When she was ready, she took a small box from beside the bed. Inside on a cushion of gossamer paper sat a pendant; pressed from the finest silver and in the symbol of her people, a phoenix. It had a small tag attached and a note written in the queen’s own hand.
“A gift for your precious child.”
Lady Blackthorn’s son would receive an identical pendant. Both were filled with fairy magic and would keep them safe in the mortal world.
The castle hallways lay silent as the queen and her entourage crept along. Lady Blackthorn stood waiting at the top of the basement steps.
“He is so beautiful,” the queen looked down at her friend’s child.
“As is the princess,” Iris stroked the princess’s hair.
“We must go, majesty, while the world is still in darkness,” Galten urged.
The air was cold when they walked out of the castle, and the streets of the kingdom silent under the cloak of darkness. They moved with lightning speed up through the cave leading to the mortal world. Here the night sky seemed a vast amphitheatre of stars, as all the astral bodies had come out to see the new-borns. Above their heads the ruins of Culdoplin Castle stood like a dark sentinel. The castle marked the spot leading to the hidden world, and its kings were protectors of those beneath them. Their line had died out and the castle, like its rulers, was now lifeless. Now it was time to separate.
“Go with Lady Blackthorn, she will need your strength,” the queen whispered to Galten.
“Be brave, my queen,” Iris kissed her and walked away.
“Come, majesty,” Mistress Doogood put her arm around the queen’s waist.
The miles passed in moments and stars flew above them, as they moved towards their destinations.
The hospital was sleeping. Casting a spell of invisibility, the elfin women moved across its polished floors towards the nursery. The room pulsed with the wonder of new life, and its touch was a balm of the queen’s aching heart. The baby they chose was an exact copy of her own child, with the same pale skin and red hair. But she was not her child, and never would be,
“I cannot do this dreadful thing,” the queen handed her baby to Mistress Gamp.
“Go and see the child’s mother,” she said as she took the baby. “See for yourself the goodness in her.”
Large tears ran down the queen’s cheeks and caused dark stains to form on her gold gown. Alice lay in a deep, exhausted sleep. The queen looked down at her and sensed waves of kindness flowing from the mortal woman. Placing the box with the pendant beside the bed, she whispered.
“Take care of my child, and I in turn, will do the same for you.”
She glided over to the window and looked out at the world of men. It made her shiver to watch the mortals, who had so little time to live, waste it on things that had no meaning. Her child would lose its elfin powers, as its new parents taught it about nothing other than material things.
“We must go, majesty,” Mistress Gamp held the changeling.
No one wanted to stay for long in the mortal world. Its atmosphere was draining on those who were many hundreds of years old. Now, because of her decision, her daughter would age and die. While she would be forced to look into the eyes of a stranger for hundreds of years to come, a stranger she would call daughter.