Although some of you may not know, I’m working on a third series based heavily around Irish legends of the Fae. The series is called “The Faerie Midwife”. From now until publication, I’ll be publishing very short stories with snippets of the world I’m building. You’ll get a sneak peek at characters, scenes that won’t be in the books, and start to get to know the world before the books are out. I can’t wait to delve into this world with you. For now, enjoy your introduction to Sorcha, the Faerie Midwife.
Her tiny feet pounded upon the ground. She leaped over fallen logs and dashed through tangled bushes. Banners of red curls flowed behind her as she raced towards home. She was missing the most important part of the day.
It wasn’t surprising that such a small child found herself delayed by the wondrous sea. Crashing waves mesmerized her. Sea shells told her secret stories no one else knew. Seagulls sang her songs of other lands while seals watched her with wide eyes.
“Selkies,” she had whispered when she saw them. “Please don’t drag me into the water.”
Because they heard her plea, they stayed where they were. Content, or so she hoped, to linger and watch the flame haired lass play with seaweed.
She had lingered too long at the shore. Her mind had wandered — as little minds were wont to do — and the sun had set upon the land. Eyes the color of ivy widened with fear before she sped away into the forest.
Her clan was never far from the sea. Perhaps because her father had told them all they would be safe. Perhaps because they were part selkies themselves. Their clan was made of dark eyed men and black haired women, which were rare in these parts.
But more likely because her father had been a Viking who promised they were safe by the sea. Vikings did not break promises.
Light dappled the leaves as the moon rose at the edge of her vision. Heart in her throat and lungs heaving, she tumbled from the undergrowth into the homestead of her clan.
They had yet to build the walls around their village. Only a few years had passed since they settled in this place, and her mother cautioned against rushing the process. They had many roundhouses to build. Many trees to be cut, huts erected, and thatch to be gathered. She was wise. The clan listened to her words.
Tartans slapped in the breeze, left out to dry. Starlight sparkled on blue, green, and purple. The colors always eased Sorcha’s troubled mind. They made her feel safe.
Firelight at the center of the village glowed bright. Long strands of twine hung with drying fish over small fires in front of each family’s roundhouse. Stones piled in sections kept sheep from wandering from their owner’s sides. The hawk of their leader, whom she had lovingly named Tapa, watched her with solemn eyes. But it was the communal fire which drew the little girl.
“Sorcha!” her mother called. “You are late!”
Sorcha blushed as red as her hair. As only child of the village healer and wise woman, she was expected to be better behaved.
Head tucked down, she shuffled towards her mother.
“I am sorry Máthair. I was by the water,” she whispered.
Her mother stroked her hair. Sorcha knew every callous and every scar upon that hand as though it were her own. Máthair worked hard, and her skin showed the signs of labor with pride.
“You cannot become a selkie like the other children, mo leanbh, my child.” Her mother chided. “You are mine and are not touched by Fae.”
One of the smaller children, Brigid of dark hair and even darker temper, shouted at her mother. “Bridei! Tell us the story!”
Her mother gestured towards an empty spot far from her knee. That was to be Sorcha’s punishment. Far from her mother’s side, she would be subjected to the pinching of the other children. They picked on her mercilessly. She was not one of them. The daughter of a Viking and a Pict could never be a true Irish lass.
No matter how strongly she felt the land sing in her heart.
“What story would you have me tell?” her mother asked. She folded her worn hands into her lap, the picture of a patient storyteller.
“Tell us of the Fae!” Brigid said, spite making her words sound hateful. “Tell us of the selkies, and how beautiful they are.”
Sorcha glared at her, red brows drawn down. “The selkies aren’t any more beautiful than the others of the Fae.”
“That’s not true. The selkies lure men to them, they’re obviously the prettiest.”
“The korrigan are the most beautiful!”
The two girls were known to get into arguments, mostly over the mythic creatures who walked their lands. Both believed in the stories, as most did, but they were more dedicated than the average believer.
“Children,” Bridei raised her hand for silence. “I shall tell you the story of the Faerie Midwife. Of how a mortal woman walked into the land of the Fae, and returned unscathed.”
Sorcha watched with pride as her mother drew herself up to her great height. She was no small woman, having descended from a tribe of warring people who were bloodthirsty in battle and valued their women like gold.
“It is well known that the Fae have children. And when they do, it is a difficult birth. You have all seen your mothers struggle through the long nine moons that await a birth, but for a Fae the time feels much longer.
“They are creatures of comfort, and do not easily bear pain. It came to be that an ancient midwife was called upon in the middle of the night. The moon’s silver beams touched her door and with the beams, came the sound of knocking.
“Now the midwife was not expecting visitors, but she was used to desperate people seeking her assistance in the wee hours of morning. She wrapped a shawl around her shoulders and answered the door. Before her stood an ugly, pale, shriveled old man who bade her assistance with his wife’s birth.
“Upon her agreement, he helped her onto his coal-black horse who stared at her with eyes of fire. They rode as though the dullahan followed them. They rode until she did not know where she was or how long they had ridden. But they soon arrived to a small and simple hut in the middle of the forest where she could hear the man’s wife screaming.”
A shiver danced down Sorcha’s spine. She had heard the cries of pregnant mothers struggling to bring life into the world. She had also seen the bodies they burned upon the pyres when the mothers were unsuccessful.
“Small children stood at the door. They made the midwife shiver, as their eyes appeared wrong. Not glowing or filled with happiness, but hollow as they watched her pass. She knew her job well. She helped the mother through the difficult birth and took the small vial of oil offered immediately after the child came screaming into this world.
“‘Strike the child’s eyes with this,’ the mother told her. ‘Do it now!’
“Now, the midwife was not a foolish woman. She rubbed a healthy dose of oil upon the child’s eyes, but wiped one of her own. The room shifted beneath her feet and she saw the creatures before her as they truly were. Golden light shimmered around the mother. The creatures she thought were children were, in fact, goblins.
“And the husband standing in the corner was the most fierce of all Unseelie she had ever seen before. Horns stretched towards the ceiling, great claws tipped his fingers, but it was his eyes which frightened her most. Soulless and hungry, he watched her with eyes the color of fire.”
All the children gasped. Some grabbed hold of their siblings, but Sorcha’s eyes watched her mother was rapt attention. She was getting to the best part.
“The midwife stayed calm. She helped the mother swath her new imp baby in silver fabric shining with the moon’s light. The Fae man put her on his demon horse, and together they rode back to her home.
“She had seen the Fae in their true form. The ointment was to ensure that their children could see past their glamour. It wasn’t until she was in the market the next day when she realized her mistake. She saw the Fae man again, stealing from a vendor in the marketplace.
“‘Stop!’ she shouted at him. ‘I have caught you, thief!’
“He looked at her with surprise. ‘You can see me?’
“Then she realized her folly. As did the Fae. He snarled at her, grasping onto her skirts with strength she could not escape from. ‘The ointment. For meddling in affairs that are not yours, you shall see me no more.’
“His threat issued, the Fae snatched her eye from her head.” Bridei leaned forward, clawing at the children who shrieked and fell to the ground. “Never again did the midwife see out of that eye. As punishment for crossing the Fae.”
Clapping echoed when the story finished. The children shouted for more, but Bridei would not be convinced. “No no,” she said while laughing. “Only one story a night! Or you will all have nightmares. Just remember, never trust the Fae.”
Sorcha sat up straight, convinced she was about to best Brigid. “But we can trust the Seelie, right Máthair? They are the Fae of light and good.”
The expression upon her mother’s face darkened. “None of them are good, mo leanbh. Do not ever make the mistake of thinking any of them are good. The Fae are dangerous creatures who will make any pact to get what they want. Be it Seelie or Unseelie, they are untrustworthy and evil.”
Sinking back to the ground, Sorcha tried not to hear the other children snickering. The others stood to go back to their own fires. But her mother remained where she was.
Sorcha scooted towards her mother’s knee. Although she had misbehaved today, she hoped that her mother could forgive her. It was difficult to be a good girl when the world was calling. The sea was a mystery, the forest an adventure, and the world was altogether too big.
“I am sorry,” Sorcha whispered as she leaned her head against her mother’s knee. “I tried to be good today.”
“You are always good, a ghrá geal, bright love. I am too harsh in teaching you to be wary of the Fae.” Bridei stroked her fingers through the snarls of Sorcha’s hair. “I only want to make you understand our world and the dangers of the Fae world. You would be a treasure the Fae would not be able to resist. Flame haired child of mine. I want you to stay safe.”
In her mother’s words, Sorcha heard the hard bite of iron. Only once had she seen the warrior Bridei kept locked inside of her. She remembered all too well the memory of her healer mother walking into their roundhouse, and exiting the woad painted berserker who protected their village from wolves and men.
She didn’t ever want to see that nightmare of a woman again. But, there was always the chance that her mother would be called to battle. That the night would fall, fires would blaze, and blood would spill upon the soil.
Sorcha never doubted her mother would fight to get her back from the Fae, if she were ever stolen. The legends said sometimes it was possible. Tam Lin had done it. Her mother could too.
The lulling sweeps of her mother’s hands eased Sorcha into sleep, slumped against warm skin and comforting protection. The Fae would not come for her tonight.
Not with her mother watching over her.
- Mrs. Bray, The Borders of the Tamar and the Tavy, vol 1. p. 174.
- Artwork by Marion Kartes
- All writing copyright Emma Hamm