CURRENTLY GOING THROUGH REVAMP
Disclaimer: Full story available on KU.
Content warning: this book contains scenes depicting sexual assault, murder, & cannibalism.
Strange dreams would come to me at night. They were so vivid, filled with colors that I couldn’t find in the mundane world around me. They felt almost like memories, but ones from a completely different reality. It’s difficult to put into words, but those dreams felt tangible and alive. Like a comforting blanket I could wrap around myself on the tough nights—which often were the norm.
In these dreams, I was much younger and not quite human. My sharp, pointed ears and iridescent skin were evidence of that, as were my delicate and gossamer wings. They were so thin you could practically see right through them, and yet despite their delicate appearance, they seemed to glow with a sort of strength I couldn’t describe. I didn’t seem to appreciate them in my dreams nearly as much as I did once I woke up. People tend to disregard what we have until we no longer have it…
In these dreams, I was never alone. Most often, I was encircled by children my own age—delicate little beings with wings as exquisite as mine and eyes that sparkled just as much. Together we would frolic, sprint and soar. Our giggles echoing through the treetops high above, we danced on the rays of sunshine that trickled down to the forest floor.
I remember that there were adults, too, from time to time. They seemed to appear when I got into mischief with my friends, like when we stole a pie and ran off to hide and enjoy our spoils. Somehow, we always managed to get away undetected, and I can only remember seeing happy faces from the adults as they watched us scamper away like mischievous little fairies. If I had tried something like that during the day, my mother would have been furious, but the fairy folk didn’t scold us too harshly. In fact, their reprimands sounded more like playful teasing than actual anger. As a result, my tiny pointed ears never heard anything harsh from them.
And the castle... There’s one thing, right there, that makes it feel so real: how on earth could I possibly have known what a castle should look like? Every intricate detail of that magnificent stone fortress is etched in my mind — as if I’d known it my entire life. Standing high and strong with a sort of mystique that couldn’t be replicated in the waking world. Powerful. Enchanting.
A home I held onto for far too long, though I wouldn’t know it until it was too late.
In my youth, I would eagerly share my dreams with others, weaving elaborate stories of adventure and fantasy. At first, it was innocent and just a product of my childhood imagination. My peers in the village would listen with fascination as I recounted tales of fairy children dressed in luxurious silks, sneaking bites of stolen pies, and galloping on horseback. Together, we would pretend to relive these cherished “not-memories.”
It was a refreshing change, in my opinion. The adults spent their days living monotonous lives, toiling away in the mud and extracting lethal minerals from beneath the surface of the earth. Hearing their children’s laughter in a world filled with gray must have been like music to their ears.
But children grow up — often at a pace too slow for their parents’ liking. And, being children, wanting only to be loved, they conform to the rigidity of their elders, hoping it will win them their approval. An approval much needed as the shackles of the real world cracked down on the village like an iron whip.
In a short amount of time, my innocent fairy tales became forbidden. A risky pastime for children who were almost adults. It was deemed unacceptable and if the games continued, they would be condemned and possibly even shamed.
The problem was no one told me.
While the other village children gradually lost interest in my games, I continued to play them alone. Whenever I had some free time from my chores, I would venture outside the village limits to explore tree hollows and search for fairy circles. I also spent time practicing archery with a bow I had made myself, mimicking the way I imagined fairies would do it. Soon enough, the other children were forbidden from playing with me altogether. And as for the adults in the neighboring villages, their friendly smiles turned into disapproving scowls, and the rumors started.
Rumors that led to my current predicament.
“Aye, her father sold her to me in fear she be a changeling. Couldn’t bear the thought of killing her himself, nor letting the village have a go at her.”
These were the first words I heard after the deal was made and I was loaded into the wagon. When I say loaded, I mean shoved and dragged—and when I say wagon, I mean a horse-drawn cage on wheels. To be honest, there were probably more words exchanged before this moment, but I was too preoccupied with my hysterical outbursts to notice. Now, with my voice hoarse and my tears dried up, all was left was to listen. Listen, and remember.
That night had been a dark one. With no moon to light the sky it casted an endless sea of black over the lands. It happened well into the wee hours of the night — when I’d been plucked from my bed. “Da?” I said sleepily as my eyes adjusted to the blackness. “Da, what is it?”
“Never ye mind. Grab your cloak and boots. Go, now.” When I tried to press for answers, he only hissed at me to be quiet. I saw him glance anxiously toward where my mother slept, but at the time I only thought he didn’t want to disturb her sleep.
I didn’t get another word out of him until we were out of earshot of our little old cabin. When he did speak, it was in a series of half-sentences that only partly made sense to me. “Couldn’t just keep to yerself, no.” “Got te do it, ye understand? There’s no other way.” “Gah! Caitlin, why’d ye have te…” I pleaded with him, in between gasping breaths as I tried to match his pace, to tell me what I’d done wrong, where we were going, but he only tightened his already-pursed lips and urged me along.
And so, I did. Cold, confused, and a little scared, I followed. I was mixed up about many things. What had I done wrong? Had one of the girls said something to them? Of the many friends I’d had in earlier years, they all seemed to view me with some sort of anger, or resentment in recent days. More than once one or another had told some tall tale about me saying or doing something, just to see me in trouble. Ma said it was because I was prettier than they were.
When we reached the driver and cage-cart I didn’t piece it together. Part of me probably blocked the mental connection from happening, otherwise I was sure I’d of ran then and there.
“Ho, there,” the man with the cart had said. “She ready?”
“As she’ll ever be,” my father replied grimly. “Just give us a moment.” It was then that he turned to me.
“I’ve got to do it, Caitlin. It’s the only way.” He’d said that before, but hearing him say it again now, and seeing the cart with the cage, it made my heart pound harder than it already was.
“Do what, Da?” I pleaded. My voice shook, and I saw something that seemed like pain in his eyes.
“Don’—” he paused. “Yer better off. The villagers, ye see… All yer stories, ’bout the fairy folk… They think— and there’s no tellin’ ’em otherwise, mind— but they think yer one of ’em. They think yer—.”
Suddenly confusion gave way to clarity. “A changeling?!” I finished, shocked. His blank stare was all the confirmation I needed. “But Da, that’s- you know I’m not!” I was starting to feel fresh panic, though I wasn’t sure why exactly. Something was wrong, though. Very, very wrong.
“I know,” was his pained reply. He ran his hand through his hair the way I’d seen so many times whenever things back home got hard — a horse’s broken leg, or the time the field had caught fire just before the harvest. “O’ course yer not. Look at ye. No horns or deformities, and yer healthier than any o’ the others. O’ course yer not, but Caitlin,” — there was that pained look again — “they think ye are. They think ye are and there’s talk, see. They want te— Ye just— Oh,” he finally growled, obviously unable to bring himself to say it, “Ye just gotta trust me, lass. This is the only way.”
I narrowed my eyes. “What’s the only way?” I watched his deliberate gaze as it shifted towards the man standing a few feet away. My eyes followed and I suddenly realized what he was thinking. “No. Da, no! You cannae!” I grabbed his sleeve as though I was drowning, and it was the only lifeline. “No, Da, no! Please!”
“Now, lass,” He let out a low, rough growl as he used one hand of his to grab both of mine and forcefully pulled them away. “Behave yourself. I’ve got ye all sorted for a better life. You’ll find purpose, and a better life than ye’d have had here anyway.”
“No! Ye don’t mean it, Da! Please.”
“Enough!” He shouted, the sound so sudden and piercing that it froze me for a moment. He used this opportunity to gesture to the man, who quickly approached and forcibly pried my hands from my father’s grasp. Then, he handed my father a bag full of clinking coins, and my initial shock turned to rage.
“Yer selling me?” I screamed shrilly. Both men flinched at the pitch in my voice, but neither said a word about it. “Yer selling me, ye right bastard?” Once again, I let out a piercing scream. I noticed my father flinch in response, but I believed it was more from the content of my words than the sound. He stayed quiet, only giving me a final pained glance before acknowledging the man with a nod...and then walking away.
My throat burned as I let out a blood-curdling scream, thrashing and clawing at the man who was dragging me towards the cage. My eyes never left my father’s retreating figure, his back a symbol of betrayal and abandonment. Every fiber of my being screamed for him to turn around and save me, but he continued to walk away without a second glance. Despair and rage consumed me as I was thrown into the cold, dark confines of the cage, knowing that my father had sold me.
My screams were a primal wail, tearing out of me with every ounce of fear and desperation. I thrashed and flailed, trying to break free from the man’s merciless grip. My eyes never left my father’s retreating figure, his back turned on my plight as he abandoned me to this nightmare.
He never looked back.
“Poor girl. Small villages house the most ignorant fools. She’ll be better off at the palace.” The words jolted me back to reality, finding myself crouched in a cage-cart, with my arms tightly wrapped around my knees. I turned my gaze towards the man who had purchased me and the soldier he had halted to converse with. It was the soldier’s voice that had spoken, if I recalled correctly. I squeezed my eyes shut, not wanting to see the pity in his expression.
“D’ye think they’ll take her?” The man driving the cart asked. “I’d like to make my coin back, and a little to make the trip worthwhile, ye know.”
“Oh, yeah. The palace is taking as many hands as they can, right now. The King’s yet to declare it, but the rumors of war to the south are barely rumors anymore; refugees been pourin’ in by the droves. Entire villages are fleein’ from the fight, and there’s much to be wanted in way of hands helpin’ out. She, bein’ healthy and young, but old enough to be of service? Aye, she’ll be a welcome sight. Ye’ll get yer coin, o’ that I’m sure.”
“Thank ye, sir,” the man said, nodding, before urging the cow pulling our little cart ahead.
“Ye hear that, lass?” He called back as the distance grew between us and the soldier’s post. “Ye’ll be a welcome sight. There’re worse fates, ye know, than life in a palace. Ye might even learn a profession. Medicine, or tailorin’, or the like. Those are fine skills to have, if ye don’t mind me sayin’ so.”
I turned my head toward him long enough to snap, “why don’t ye have yer own father sell you behind her mother’s back, then have a stranger tell ye such things, yea?” I huddled in on myself, tucking my chin down and wrapping my arms even tighter around my knees. I could see him glance back at me from the corner of my eye, but I chose to ignore it.
“Suit yerself, then. I only wanted to cheer ye up a little, is all.”
Well don’t, I thought bitterly, then closed my eyes tightly and did my best to recall my dream life — anything, to get away from here.