My child was not frail at birth. Oh no! He was strong, fit and robust. I named him Gideon the Tanner’s Son. My husband, you see, worked in the trade of leather. Gideon was my first child. The first to survive, anyway. Before that I had borne three.
My first baby died in my arms, umbilical cord wrapped round her neck. Poor thing never cried, never gasped a first breath, never even had a chance at life. My second, a girl as well, became riddled with the sweating sickness and passed before her first year. And my third, a boy, was born with no hands. He had only tiny withered stumps that protruded from his wrists like small quivering worms.
“Mathilde!” my husband shrieked at me, as if this malformation were somehow my fault. “What have you wrought? What have you brought forth? A demon child! Lack of hands, lack to make a living!” My husband then snatched the baby from me and threw him in the fire.
Flames leaped and ash sizzled as the baby’s flesh burnt like a crust of over-baked bread. My heart wrenched. I could not bear to watch it. I fled from the cottage, even in my feeble condition. I carried the afterbirth in my arms, for I knew it should be buried in the forest as a gift to the fair folk. I did not want my husband to destroy that as well! It was then I came upon the blue fairy.
This was not so strange a meeting as one might assume. Fairies were a-plenty in our forest, if one only had Sight to see. The blue fairy was tall with skin the color of turquoise and blue tangled hair that matted like seaweed across her face.
She did not ask what vexed me, for she already knew. “Fret not Mathilde,” she told me. “Soon you are to deliver another boy child. He shall be hale and healthy, and live to full adulthood. He shall wed and bear many children of his own.”
I was overjoyed at this news, so much so that tears poured down my cheeks. The blue fairy smiled and dried my eyes with her long hair. “Be aware, though, my lady,” she cautioned. “The survival of your son depends upon one condition.”
Oh, the fairies! They were sneaky, evil things! Although they promised much they always asked much in return.
“Be not suspicious, my lady,” she told me.
The blue fairy had read my mind, knew my thoughts before I uttered them. This was a bothersome problem when dealing with the fair folk! One must monitor one’s thoughts, keep them secret. This, of course, was quite impossible.
“Alright,” I sighed. “What then is the condition?”
“You must let this son do as he pleases. He shall be free to take any occupation, wed any lass he so chooses, live his life in a manner he himself sees fit. Do not impose restrictions upon him, for if you do, the consequences will be vile.”
Exactly nine months after the blue fairy’s promise, I delivered Gideon into the world.
My son grew sturdy and tall, a child of the earth and sun. He loved animals and all things in nature. He also loved to draw. With chalks and inks he drew the likeness of everything he saw; the forest and trees, the flowers, the cows, my own countenance and even, upon occasion, that of my husband.
When Gideon reached his seventh name day, my husband attempted to teach him the trade of tanning hides.
Gideon, however, could not abide this. He wept at the very thought of skinning an animal for profit. The cows, he claimed, were his family as much as my husband and myself. He immediately ran to the garden with his chalks and began drawing the flowers.
“That is pish and nonsense!” my husband scowled. “Doodles and scribbles! What profit could possibly come of it?” With this he took all Gideon’s creations, his paints, his inks, and threw them in the river.
My poor son cried all night. I tried to comfort him, but it was for naught.
“There will be no artistry in this family,” my husband insisted. “Gideon, come the morrow you will go with me to the barnyard. There I will teach you the trade of tanning. You will use chemicals and treat leather hides which we shall sell at the market.”
The next morning I went to awaken my son. Upon drawing the curtains from his bed, I was astonished at what I saw. Gideon was pale and frail, a tiny wraith of a thing! He was no longer the picture of health that I had raised for the past seven years. He looked at me with wide, placid eyes. In a stuttering gasp he coughed and spewed, blood and mucous spouting from his mouth.
“Gideon!” I exclaimed. “What has happened?”
But I knew only too well. The blue fairy’s warning came back to me, her voice a ringing bell in my head. “He shall be FREE to take any occupation… live his life in a manner he HIMSELF sees fit. Do not impose restrictions upon him, for if you do, the consequences will be vile.”
Of course. The blue fairy had taken Gideon and left in his place a changeling! The creature that now sat before me could barely lift his own head. Upon rousing the bed sheets I looked closer. Oh no! This was worse than I thought! The changeling flung his legs across the mattress, rolled wearily on the bed and I saw that he had no penis. This was no boy child but a female! I tried to speak to her, but she only stared, vacant faced. The changeling did not even have a command of the human language.
Just then my husband pounded upon the door. “Gideon!” he yelled. “Get up lad, for there is work to be done!”
I panicked. What to do? If my husband saw our ‘son’ in this condition he would surely be outraged. He had already thrown one child in the fire. I put no act of violence past him! I crept to the door, cracking it open to see my husband’s ruddy face, knife and ax clutched in his hands. I peered through the slivered doorway.
“The child is – ill, my dear. I fear he may have the plague.”
My husband arched his eyebrows in horror. “The plague? The deadly plague?”
“Yes, yes,” I continued, for once I began to spin a lie, I could be quite good at it. “Get you gone from this room my dear,” I pleaded. “For I have already been exposed, but you have not. Go to your duties. I will tend to the child.”
“God’s blood!” My husband backed away in terror, quickly leaving our cottage.
I then led the changeling back to the woods where the blue fairy again appeared to me. She crossed her arms, eyed me sideways as though I were some disobedient child. “You are a foolish woman Mathilde,” she said. “I had warned you of Gideon’s upbringing, had I not?”
“Yes, but it was not my doing! It is my husband who imposes the trade upon the boy.”
“And you stand by and watch? What kind of mother are you?”
“What am I to do?” I rung my hands. The changeling coughed, spewed more blood that trickled down her chin. She was but a whey faced imp, yet I felt a kindness, a tenderness for her, as much as I did for the three babes I had lost. If only there were some way to nurse this changeling back to health…
“Very well then,” they blue fairy said. “You shall have them both. The changeling and your son. But on one condition.”
I sighed. Here it came again! The fairy’s impossible ‘condition’!
“Oh, Mathilde.” The blue fairy crouched her tall, towering frame close to mine. “It will not be as bad as you think! Now listen. You must leave your husband, never to return again.”
I cringed. Leave my husband? How would I survive? A woman alone in this world, no trade of my own, with a frail changeling in my care?
The blue fairy shook her head. “Mathilde! For a clever human you are not very resourceful. Now listen. I will give you a key to a cottage in the next village. In this cottage you will find a lavender cake. Feed it to this changeling. Then wait three days. During these three days you must have no contact with the human world at all.”
I did as she asked. In my web of lies I convinced my husband that I was to take Gideon to an apothecary, many miles away. There he would be treated with the best of care. I fed the lavender cake to the changeling and sure enough she flourished, cheeks pink with health. I named her Rose for she so reminded me of a thriving flower.
After three days Gideon returned. I raised both children in the new cottage. I started a business for myself, selling the lavender cakes that the blue fairy soon taught me how to bake. These cakes contained medicinal properties that cured many illnesses. In the village I was known as Mathilde the Cake Baker.
Gideon became an exquisite painter, commissioned to make portraits of the royal family. He soon obtained a status of gentleman and purchased a coat of arms for our family. We then moved to a large estate where we raised animals of every species.
When Rose came of age, Gideon took her as his bride, for she had now grown to a beautiful woman. Gideon and Rose gave me many grandchildren, all healthy and beautiful, and all – strangely enough – able to read my mind.
My husband? I never heard from him again. The blue fairy told me he came upon an unfortunate accident. It seems a stampede of angry cows overtook him, administering injuries so violent that he fell dead on the spot.
This post is in response to the Daily Prompt Frail