An’ all us other children, when the supper things is done,
We set around the kitchen fire an’ has the mostest fun
A-listnin’ to the witch tales ‘at Annie tells about,
‘An the Goblins ‘at gits you
if you don’t watch out…
(poem by James Whitcomb Riley)
I often hear the fair Woman tell this tale to the Boy before he goes to sleep. I think it cruel but very accurate indeed. To impart such thoughts into the mind of a wee child…to…warn him of what lurks beyond the warm hearth of their cottage. To warn him of me.
At the present time, I clung to the edge of their eave, tilting my head closer to the window to hear the witch-tales. I cannot proceed further for the windows are barred shut with thick slabs of metal; wrought iron more like. That most damnable of elements set in place by one who knows more than she ought to know should. This is as far as I can go but I will bide my time and stake the claim for myself and the rest of the Fae in due time.
They call us many things. The goblins, the boggarts, the faeries, the tricksters and most pathetically, “The Little People”. We’ve never bothered to correct them for to pronounce our race’s true name correctly, one would have to part ways with their tongues and these Fir folk (some would call “humans”) often do not like it when you remove their tongues. The closest approximation to my own name in their language would be Lokune, but I dare not speak it aloud lest one of them acquire dominion over me. It’s a powerful thing, one’s true name. I heed you a word of advice to be cautious with whom you share your own.
I have been observing this small family ever since they set up root here some six harvests ago. They encroached on our meadow, our hills without so much as a greeting or a saucer of cream left upon a warm and inviting doorstep. They did us a disservice and thus I am tasked with retrieving the Child for our own. A parcel of land for the soul of a Boy seems a fair trade to me.
I plan my visits carefully though. I found myself emboldened as the Man left one day, musket slung over his brawny back. I continued to observe from the treeline at the edge of the meadow as the day turned to night and to day and to night and to day and to night. I watched as the Woman emerged from the home each night, wringing her fair hands in worry and clutching her belly. I watched as the Woman lost hope and finally stopped emerging each night. She still left a lantern out in the hopes that he would return. Thus far to no avail. I watched as the Boy grew and my opportunity slipped further and further away by day. Children are so much easier to snatch when they are younger. I watched as the Woman’s midsection grew larger and that was when I knew I had my best opportunity.
I know little of the Fir’s inner workings but I knew their mewling young emerged in less than a harvest’s time. Had the man only been gone for such a short while? It seemed like so much longer. I am still here on the rooftop. The family below has been asleep for some while. I feel the faintest twinge of sunlight’s poisonous grasp upon my mottled skin and know that my night has ended. As I slink back to the ring of mushrooms that leads into our realm, I begin to plot. Lokune has a plan and he shall enact on the next evening.
Another Woman has been visiting the one who carries a child. I’ve seen her in the past few days and she has returned tonight. I need to be careful. Earlier this day, I approached the Boy as he played in the meadow. Conjuration is one of my many talents and so I set upon approaching from the forest in the guise of another young boy equal to his age. I walked to the boy with a foppish grin and sat down before him, inviting him to chat. The Child must have been starved for attention, I suspected he had no interaction beyond his Mother, such was that he joined me with no hesitation or suspicion. This might be easier than I thought.
The Boy’s name was Thomas, likely named after his father. I declared myself Luke (a close approximation) and asked him about his home life. Through my delightful deceit I gleaned that the Boy did indeed live alone with his mother, as they had been exiled from the closest village due to some act from his absent Father that had driven the village elders to declare his entire family heathens. Through an act of defiance, the Father’s Sister would brave the night to visit the Mother and assist her as she was in fact ripe with child.
The Father’s Sister would help cook and take care of the Boy. It turns out that she was the one that taught the stories to the Mother and also had installed the wrought iron bars. Thomas told me that she had sensed something dark and malevolent (stop, you flatter me!) on the edge of the woods and caution would have to be had to protect the Boy and Mother. The Father’s Sister was no stranger to defiance and living her life in the shadows. Woe be to her if the village caught wind of her own conjurations in the night, dabbling and communing with the other worlds beyond the veil. She learned things and acquired The Sight upon which few Fir could use to glimpse into our world.
I would have to be careful.
Then came the fun part. I told Thomas that he was my friend but that nobody else wanted him around. Why else would his Father have ventured into the woods and never returned? Why else would his Parents bring about another child unless they intended to replace the one they had? Why else would none of the village children venture across the meadow to play with him? He told me I was wrong, of course, but I assured him that I had heard things said in whispered and accusatory tones amidst the clergy of their former home.
I told him there was another place nearby that I could take him. It was a wonderful place full of warmth and mirth and fun games to play. Caves to explore for buried treasure, glowing mountains to climb to seek adventure. Bounty of bread and salted meat and delightful pastries and his family would want for naught ever again. Where is this place, he would ask me. I told him I would show him but he needs to pay the toll. See, this place, this World of Wonders, could be his and his Mother’s all for the cost of a single tooth. After all, you’re surely about to lose one of your own, right? Isn’t it hanging on by the most meager of threads?
Why a tooth?
Such an inquisitive child. Well, in this other world, teeth are coveted because they are so pearly white and pretty to look at. Even if yours is a bit on the dirtier side, it would still fetch value.
Perhaps I took this a little too far. The Boy grew wary and said he would think about it. He abruptly told me that he needed to go inside now. I bid him farewell and watched as he returned home, no doubt to tell the two Women about his new friend Luke and the funny things he said. Perhaps I had been too eager. The Father’s Sister would know what the child spoke of. I had sown my seeds yes, but I had also perhaps complicated matters further. I would have to act swiftly though. My people were demanding payment. And I wouldn’t want to incur their wrath…
I spent the rest of the night observing the family go about their own evening. I peeked through the windows as sneakily as I dare, being careful not to touch the accursed iron. The cottage was a warm one despite the heartbreak that had befallen the family. One room, décor of a few chairs, a rough hewn bed, a hearth and a flight of bisected log stairs leading to a small loft where the Boy slept. The scene inside was delightful and I felt the discomfort of a faint twinge of empathy tugging at the base of my pock marked skull. I scratched at it absentmindedly with a jagged talon, the loose and hairless flesh catching on one of my three sallow fingers. I pulled away and grimaced slightly; wiped the small swell of golden ichor oozing forth from my wound.
Inside, the Mother was telling stories to the boy as the Father’s Sister cooked a delicious smelling stew in large cast iron pot. No doubt these were stories imparted from the Father’s Sister, the Magick Woman. Indeed, young Thomas was clutching a small toy dog, woven from grey cloth, undoubtedly with a protection totem woven deftly inside. The Magick Woman was clever.
I watched as the Mother suddenly let out a cry and clutched her swollen belly. The Magick Woman rushed over and I knew that my opportunity was at hand. Not tonight though. As I leaped off the side of the cottage, I caught the fringes of an amber light from around the bend. I crawled through the grass and approached the porch warily. Alongside the ever lit lantern was a turnip, hollowed out and emblazoned with an admittedly terrifying face. A candle blazed forth and as I crept closer, the light touched my skin. My friend, if you have ever placed your hand into a roaring fireplace, I first must question why you would perform such a feat. But then I most also assure you that you assuredly know the pain that erupted from just the lightest touch of the candle light. I am quite embarrassed by the squeal that emitted between my porcine lips but you would holler too if you felt what I had felt. Just one more obstacle for me to overcome. What old trick was this?
I slunk defeated back to the mushroom ring, burning with the singe of an arcane flame and the fire of vengeance that gnawed at the marrow of my soul.
Tonight is the night. I timed it perfectly. The Magick Woman, burly as she was, was out in the yard splitting firewood as I approached. I started to form my child-guise but realized that she would see right through it. Better to confront her head on. I drew low to the ground, becoming one with the Gaia as my people so often do. I readied my claws – but then – a cry from inside the cottage. It was time. The hour was upon us. New life, a new Fir to stain this already begotten world.
The Magick Woman, the Father’s Sister rushed inside, leaving her implements behind. I passed by the hatchet and large planks of wood, they would do me no good. My plan required stealth, not brute force. No more thinking, it is time to act. In her haste, the Magick Woman left the front door open a smidge and the rush of her darting form had silenced the light within that bastard of a turnip. I rushed inside, quick as you please, wincing momentarily at the garish light within.
The two women were near the bed, one within and moaning like a nearly slewn foal and the other tending to her frantically. The Boy had been set to bed already and he peeked over the edge of the loft at the scene unfolding below. I ignored it all and scuttled up the stairs, bending into the shadows as I approached the bed. The Boy saw me coming, ol’ Lokune the mean ol’ Boggart, and ducked under his covers.
Such a sweet child. His flesh would taste so sweet.
I scurried to the foot of his bed and crept under the cover, relishing my slow approach. I felt the weight and warmth of his body below me and heard his whimpers. And then: a shadow in the darkness. Fangs flashed, silent but rending. I was unprepared and took a blow to the haunch. But this was not my first battle with a Guardian and likely would not be my last. I recoiled momentarily and pulled down a swath of blanket upon the tiny grey form. It looked like a dog, a toy, but I knew this was naught but a small and fierce Golem sent to protect the boy. The toy imbued with fangs was caught off guard by the entanglement of material and I took advantage to maneuver onto its cloth back, plunge my talons into its soft throat and wrench the head back.
The Boy squealed as stuffing and moss flew forth. I dug deeply into the Guardian’s neck and found a small bead, the size of a walnut. I could feel the carvings on it and recognized the magick imbued within. I crushed it deftly and all fell silent as the small toy dog became exactly that. No more tricks.
I crept upon the boy and pressed my forehead against his. He was sobbing and so, merciful individual I am, decided to comfort him. I told him to give me a tooth and I’d go on my way. I used my boy-guise voice and he recognized his new friend Luke instantly. The boy shook his head and pressed a chubby fist to his mouth. I wasn’t asking.
I’ll spare you the details. Know that the tooth story is pure fallacy. I’ve heard more witch-tales told of this before, but I suspect they are simply exaggerations to those that caught the briefest glimpse of a goblin enacting what I imparted on dear Thomas. I did reach into his mouth but it was to begin the process of imparting my entire essence into the Child, to absorb what might have been him and replace it with what was unmistakably me, your deal old friend Lokune. His cries were indistinguishable from those of the newborn in the room below. It was over swiftly and the soul of the Boy would soon emerge from limbo and enter the Fae world while I remained behind within this husk. Here, I will dwell and destroy the rest of these interlopers from the inside out. They did seem like a sweet family but the laws of the old world must be obeyed and if you should happen to encroach and not pay due respects, you must be prepared to pay the price.
I flexed my new fingers, ran them through the fine blond hair coursing over my smooth head. With the slightest of hesitation, I reached out and grasped the iron bars. The metal felt smooth and cold. Cold iron, such an unbelievable sensation. No burning, no pain. I nearly wept at the revelation. I crawled to the edge of the bed, brushing aside the destroyed Guardian and peeked over the edge of the loft. My new Mother and Nanny looked back up, smiling warmly. My Mother held my new baby sibling in her arms, swaddled gently. My Magick Nanny stared back at me and, for the faintest of moments, her smile flickered into a creased line of concern. I smiled back, beamed as joyful as you would please. She frowned again and turned back to the new child. Time would tell if I would have to deal with her. But for now, I was tired. It had been an exhausting day and I had earned my rest.
This is how I, Lokune, trickster and goblin extraordinaire began my new life within the skin of the Child. My next step would be to slowly drive my new Mother insane until she begged for death. One step at a time, my friends. One step at a time. She’s outside right now, lighting the turnip again. But I don’t fear, for the candle within casts a warm glow on my fair skin. No more pain. Not for me.
I approach the new baby, a female if I am not mistaken. A new baby Sister, unaware of the troubles of the world, of the persecution taking place beyond the forest, blissful and ignorant. To live such an existence. I lean in closer and feel the Baby’s breath exhaling softly. I breathe it deep and sample the tiniest morsel of its essence. The child stirs in discomfort and I restrain myself from inhaling the rest of it.
Soon we will have our land back. But for now, I have warmth, comfort and a loving family. One that I will break down to the loosest strands of sanity and then slice the taut cord until all that remains is a gibbering mess. I am happy and satisfied and have done my people proud.
What else could anyone want for? Could one think of anything more satisfying?
It simply boggles the mind.