Wind howled outside, making the shutters shift and barren twigs scrape against the roof; noise that gave way to all sorts of dark imaginings in the head of a story-filled child. The room was still warm from the fire, even if its coals were dying and casting long, strange shadows over everything. A bean sith wailing from the nearby bog to say their neighbor was soon to die, sluagh scratching to be let in and given a place to stay, the nuckelavee extending its limbs across the room.
An older woman watched the fire die silently, the tale she was spinning finished, and fought with herself over speaking again. Her joints ached, as they always did when the wind got like that, but she was unafraid of the night and its inhabitants. She had made her offerings and she had made her deals and it had made her safe, for the time being, but it was also what she was most afraid to speak of. The children were huddled in bed and she didn’t know if they were asleep.
One stirred, realizing her grandmother’s voice had stopped mingling with the wind as she had been losing her battle with sleep. She opened her eyes and looked over to her little sister, who was sleeping soundly, unbothered by missing Grandmother’s stories of the Fae. She poked her head over the blanket to see if her grandmother had fallen asleep as well.
The grandmother hummed her disapproval at seeing the girl still awake, and chuckled. “Come, Una. I need to speak with you. Don’t wake your sister.”
Una slipped from the bed silently, careful not to jostle Alana, and came to sit beside her grandmother’s feet by the fire. “You stopped your story.”
“I finished it. You fell asleep.”
“No, I didn’t,” Una said crossly, her brows furrowed.
Grandmother didn’t bother arguing with her. “Una, I know your parents don’t like my stories and tell you they’re nonsense, but they aren’t. Do you understand? Everything I’ve told you about is real. The Fae, their creatures, their games. Do you believe me?”
“I believe you,” Una nodded. She did believe her, completely, in the way a child believes everything they’re told before they grow to understand sometimes people lie.
“Good. Now I have to tell you something and you may not tell anyone else, not your parents, not even your brother and sister. Promise me this.”
“I promise,” Una nodded eagerly. She likes secrets. She liked that her grandmother favored her and would share those secrets with her.
“When you were only a babe, you were taken from us— taken right from under our noses. Your parents didn’t believe me because you were replaced, with something that was almost you but not quite— do you remember the story about the changeling?”
Una, eyes wide, gasped. “A changeling? Me?”
“Aye.” Grandmother continued, accustomed to Una’s frequent interruptions. “But it grew sickly, just as the stories say, and I knew. The Fae had taken you and put a changeling in your place. You’ve been touched by them. Your parents wouldn’t do anything, they thought their only daughter was going to die— Alana wasn’t born yet— and shunned me for what they thought was foolishness. I couldn’t let the Fae get away with what they had done, so I took the changeling during the night and went into the bog to find the ones who had taken you. I had to bargain for you back. In the morning your parents thought your sickness was cured.”
“What did you bargain?”
“You must never, ever bargain with them, child. They have much, and take what they want. I gave them the only thing I could offer… years of my life.”
Una, still too young to fully comprehend the significance, frowned. “What does that mean?”
“It means that when I turn sixty, I will be gone. It’s approaching, child. I want you to remember this. I want you to know I would happily do it again. I want you to know that you are Faetouched and your life will be shaped by that curse, because they will notice you in a way they do not typically see us. They told me you were chosen for a purpose, and if I saved you then, you won’t be saved again.”
“Gone? Where will you go? I am cursed?” Una’s lip started to tremble as tears shone in her eyes.
Grandmother bent down and scooped her up. “Now, now, none of that.” She smoothed Una’s wild hair and placed a kiss on her forehead as she put her in bed. “It’s time for you to go to sleep. I did not mean for you to be upset, but I had to tell you. It happened years ago and you’re safe now.”
Once placed back under the covers, Una resumed her battle with sleep. She had raced chickens around the house for hours earlier in the day to amuse herself and it had worn her out. “But…”
“Go to sleep, Una.”
When it came to her grandmother, Una listened to what she was told. She believed her stories, she never told anyone what her grandmother had done, and she fell asleep.
The following day, her grandmother acted as if it never happened, and the day after that, and so forth. Una’s confusion of the event turned to childish forgetfulness, pushed into a far corner of her mind to make room for more important things like how best to tease her sister and what tricks she could play on the chickens. However, it was never completely forgotten, a dark spot in her memory clouded by confusion and how upset she had been upon hearing it.
Una grew older, and started to have her own doubts. Maybe her parents were right, she had never seen the Fae, so how could they exist? Surely, she should have seen at least one. How could she have been replaced with a Fae baby that looked exactly like her? Faetouched? Cursed? Her grandmother was getting old, her mind could be going, she didn’t know what she was talking about. The stories were just stories and fairytales meant to keep children afraid and entertained.
But on the morning beginning her grandmother’s sixtieth year, they found her body cold, saying she had gone in the night.
Then, Una believed.