- I. -

In the days when King Llewelyn ruled the land, the world was changing. Commerce was flourishing and borders were expanding. Due to excessive hunting, the unicorn population was in decline. People lusted after the creature’s mane, tail, blood, and horn, for their healing powers exceeded those of the greatest sorcerer. In spite of occasional intermarriage, relations between the Sidhe and humans were strained. Of course, this was due to the former’s inherent impishness, and the latter’s inherent pride. One too many changeling transactions had gone awry, and it so happened to affect a particular necromantic couple.

Anyon was the greatest blacksmith in all of Dree. He wrought weapons and armor for the king’s army, as well as gates and chandeliers for the royal palace. Anyon could make fire shoot out of his fingertips, maintaining control of its size and temperature. Hence, his work was the most intricate and the sturdiest. Anyon the Sorcerer-Smith brought victory upon the Kingdom of Dree with his indestructible swords and shields. He often utilized his ability for deforestation and cremation as well. Anyon used his connections with the Sidhe to delve into alchemy, but his progress was slow. His wife, Brietta, often helped him in this endeavor. Together, they concocted several elixirs for common human ailments, and a few that could nullify fairy magic. Brietta was a sorceress in her own right. Her clairvoyance, albeit imperfect, earned her immense respect throughout Dree.

Due to their fey abilities, King Llewelyn entrusted Anyon the Sorcerer-Smith and Brietta the Soothsayer with monitoring the Sidhe’s activity. The latter’s clairvoyance enabled her to predict instances of fairy mischief. The former’s fire-wielding power enabled him to rapidly protect people and property against the Sidhe’s magic, for anyone and anything within a ring of fire is immune to it. While Anyon and Brietta were most often successful in preventing exploding teapots and the transformation of people into frogs, they rarely prevented changeling transactions. Brietta compensated for this shortcoming by teaching people how to reverse them. In spite of their constant interference in the Sidhe’s affairs, the couple’s opinion of fairies was not entirely negative. Anyon the Sorcerer-Smith and Brietta the Soothsayer had formed a peace treaty of sorts with them, establishing mutual respect and cooperation. The couple often collaborated with a few benign fairies to create their elixirs, thus benefiting humankind.

“Fairies are really not so different from humans,” Brietta mused after returning from brunch with a boisterous fairy clan. “Some are kind, some are malicious, and some are everywhere in between.”

Anyon nodded, shielding his eyes from the sun as they descended the hillcrest. “It’s merely their magic that makes ‘em troublesome. Take that away, and they’d be perfectly decent, I tell ya.”

Brietta frowned. “I reckon they would say the same of us,” she retorted. “In the big scheme of things, their powers only illuminate their character. They’d be no better or worse without them, for their intentions would remain the same, you see. Most humans do evil left and right, and they succeed without the slightest drop of magic. Same goes fer good. Look at us. We use our powers to serve our king (let’s call that ‘good’ for simplicity’s sake). Now suppose we had none. Would we do any differently?”

Anyon chuckled. “I dare say I’d earn a great deal less!”

“Well, then. Would we be any different?” Brietta sighed.

The Sorcerer-Smith’s countenance softened. “Ah, mo shearc. There would always be love. Love for each other, love for our brood. We’d trouble ourselves with neither the Sidhe nor Ol’ King Llewully himself. Perhaps…perhaps things would be a bit simpler, ya know?”

His wife locked her gaze to his. “And we’d be consequently less troublesome ourselves,” she said.

Anyon averted his eyes and began muttering to himself about the blessing and curse of a wise wife.

 Alas! Wisdom is not immune to wrath. Brietta the Soothsayer’s deficient clairvoyance rendered her aghast and bitter. On occasion, the Sidhe would use its magic to weaken her perception. When Brietta’s brother, Vaughn, announced that his wife, Eveline, was with child, Brietta was overcome with foreboding. She tore out her hair in frustration, for her fey signals were hazier than ever before. The sorceress knew that the fairies were hiding something substantial. Her rage intertwined with her fear.

In desperation, Brietta gave Eveline a potion made from the herbal essence of the hawthorn tree, mixed with yarrow, rue, and St. John’s wort. When Eveline drank it down, she felt as if fire was scorching her insides. She emitted a bloodcurdling scream, and the snapping of bones could be heard. Eveline felt her child leap frantically in her womb, desperate to escape. She continued to writhe and scream in agony, managing to chant a few Sidhe spells under her breath.

“How dare you try to take away my most precious joy? What justifies your malice? Cailleach! Bitseach! Plá ar do theach! Imeacht gan teacht ort! I should not like to dwell in a world where my own kin brings about my demise!” Eveline shrieked at Brietta.

            Brietta tried to explain the goodwill behind her action, but her mouth could not form the words. Vaughn took a few steps back, as dumbfounded as his sister. He merely stood in the dim light of the parlor, making no effort to help his wife. Following this incident, Brietta the Soothsayer’s hazy premonition gradually crystallized.

When the child was born, Brietta, Anyon, and Vaughn learned the reason behind the Sidhe’s stealth. As Vaughn gazed into her large iridescent eyes, he knew that this child was not his own, or even another human’s. She was far too small, able to fit into the palms of his hands. She was not nearly as chubby as a human baby. However, she was not a changeling. The tiny child had indeed been birthed by Eveline, and she bore her mother’s features. Vaughn paled as the realization dawned upon him. He clenched his fists and shouted to the heavens.

A moment later, the truth finally came to light in Brietta’s mind. She became lucid in her resolve, but shadowy in her rage. The Soothsayer and the Sorcerer-Smith arrived at Vaughn’s dwelling with inhuman speed. The couple found him pacing to and fro, his limbs shaking, for he was laden with the shock of his wife’s debauchery. Vaughn swiftly turned around when he heard them enter the room. He greeted Anyon and Brietta warmly, for he had never been so grateful for their presence.

“I have been bled of all my pride, and all my mercy along with it. No words can convey my hatred for the shameless temptress I once called my wife. To be rendered a cuckold by one of the wee folk!” Vaughn spat the name as if it were the vilest poison. “The unspeakable shame! Striapach!Cac ar oineach! I shall sever all ties to her!” he yelled, striking his breast in passion.

“And how do you seek to go about that, bràthair?” Brietta asked calmly.

“By severing her ties to this life!” he thundered.

Anyon nodded. “Very well. I’ve brought just the instrument.” He pulled a medium-sized sword out of his scabbard. It was ornamented with intricate ivy carvings, as well as the birthstone of the illegitimate half-fairy child. The blade glistened in the sunlight that poured through the window. “You must be quick, my man, or the Sidhe’ll stop you. Wife and I’ll use our magic to disorient them, but that won’t work for long. Go on now. Best of luck; have courage!” Anyon the Sorcerer-Smith patted his brother-in-law on the shoulder and gave him the powerful sword.

Vaughn thanked him before he bounded up the staircase to avenge his minx of a wife. The child could only watch helplessly as he swiftly slayed her mother. She summoned the Sidhe with all of her will, but they came too late. Eveline’s body fell to the floor like a leaf, and blood spurted out of her breast. Once it was brought outside, Anyon cremated her corpse with a jolt of his fingers. He, Brietta, and Vaughn watched the flames embrace the heavens. Part of the garden was scorched in the process, but the trio paid no heed.

“My revenge is incomplete,” Vaughn said firmly. “I would be forever obliged if you, my dearest kin, helped me slay her fairy-man, and finally the wretched creature they formed!”

Anyon the Sorcerer-Smith and Brietta the Soothsayer agreed, and they soon tracked down Eveline’s lover. He was a handsome wee man called Sativola, found gathering pinecones in a patch of woods. Every now and then, he would stop to inhale the aroma of wildflowers and splash the frogs in the little stream. Sativola’s death was not as swift as Eveline’s, for fairies are nearly impossible to kill. Anyon the Sorcerer-Smith wielded a wide, high ring of fire around them. He then shot forth tiny sparks, just hot enough to leave open wounds all over Sativola’s body. Brietta poured into them the same potion she had given Eveline, for it had proven to be harmful to the Sidhe. Sativola’s body was seized by spasms until he became paralyzed. Anyon took this opportunity to tear off his wings. The iridescent appendages fluttered to the ground, becoming brown and crisp as autumn leaves. Finally, Anyon the Sorcerer-Smith simmered the poor fairy until he was nothing more than a pile of ashes.

When the couple returned to Vaughn’s home, the Sidhe had long since arrived. To Anyon’s shock, his fire-wielding ability had vanished. Instead, he felt a painful sensation of burning and freezing that began in his fingertips and coursed through his veins. Though he was in agony, the Sorcerer-Smith used every drop of his willpower to maintain his composure. The Sidhe’s rage was so great that it had nullified his powers, rendering him as helpless as any other human. However, the fairies had a more intricate solution than outright killing Anyon, Brietta, and Vaughn.

“We hereby sever all ties to you, Anyon the Sorcerer-Smith and Brietta the Soothsayer. You have abused your human magic to meddle into petty affairs, needlessly killing one of our own. Shame on Vaughn for accepting your help, for he is a coward incapable of wooing a woman. From now onwards, we are enemies! Our race shall make your lives difficult, but incomparable to the trouble you have brought upon us!” proclaimed a stout fairy in a blue frock.

The fairies spirited the half-blooded babe away to their land, where she was treated with the utmost kindness. They laid her in a cradle made from the wood of the hawthorn tree, intertwined with heather and foxgloves. The Sidhe nurtured the child with its magic and music, and she grew more beautiful with every passing day. She was among the rare children that the Sidhe stole out of love, perhaps because half its blood coursed through her veins.

            Nevertheless, the Sidhe was not soft in its revenge. The changeling left in the half-fairy’s place hailed from hell, where many of the Sidhe had fallen upon its exile from heaven. This sickly demonic creature tormented Vaughn mercilessly until it sucked out every drop of his blood. After it had done so, it scorched what remained of the house. The demon-fairy dropped dead in the flames, content with its work.

            Years later, Brietta gave birth to a child, which the Sidhe promptly took. It slaved away in fairyland until it died of exhaustion. Never had the couple felt so helpless. As the Sidhe continued to undermine their powers, it took tremendous effort for Anyon to maintain his reputation as Dree’s premier blacksmith. The couple was tempted to fight back many times, but Brietta knew that they were destined to suffer. Inside their package of suffering, they would find abundant joy. Though this joy would complicate their lives and consequently lead to more suffering, it would uplift their descendants and bring upon them an unusual glory.

            The Sidhe had left the couple with another frail, sickly creature, but she was far from demonic. This fairy-child possessed wisdom beyond her years, and often beyond human comprehension. She was almost as beautiful as Eveline’s daughter, albeit tinier. Though the circumstances surrounding her existence were quite lamentable and enraging, Brietta and Anyon could not hate her. They had met other parents who had left their sickly changelings in woods to die from exposure or be eaten by wolves. The couple had sympathized with them, for the grief of losing one’s own child combined with the burden of caring for another people’s defective one seemed impossible to bear. However, Brietta and Anyon were overcome by a profound love for their fairy-daughter, whom they called Aithne. Love, as humans know, has an annoying tendency to obscure logic. Brietta the Soothsayer became even more outraged by the Sidhe’s practice of exchanging its own sickly fairies for healthy human children. How could they discard someone as precious as Aithne? Though Brietta was thankful for the gift the Sidhe had bestowed upon her, she regarded it as an irresponsible and heartless race. Alas, not even the greatest love could nullify her bitterness!

            Aithne’s health did not improve in the nine years that passed. Though she was often bedridden, she used her ancient Sidhe wisdom to aid the couple’s alchemistic endeavors. In spite of their utmost efforts, they could not formulate an elixir to cure her. Every once in a while, Brietta would break down and sob fervently, cursing the Sidhe for its cruelty. As is often the case with humans, Brietta the Soothsayer’s rationality declined with age. She sacrificed the keen liberalism of her youth for the physical security of compliance and the emotional ease of prejudice. Indeed, Brietta had allowed duty to harden her mind, and experience to harden her heart.

The End

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