by Meg Grimm, the Story Spinner
They stopped when the baby was taken.
Nathaniel Moore Esquire wanted to move his family west, but they had gone only as far as Ohio before Mrs. Nathaniel Moore started screaming.
Upon investigation, it was discovered that their infant son Oliver was missing, and not only that, but another sort of child had been left in his place. The strange creature was dressed in clothing made of leaves and moss. When it awoke to Mrs. Moore’s screams, it wailed itself.
Frantic searches were made through the thorn wood and thickets, but they produced no Oliver and no clues. The distraught couple had no choice but to settle there along the trail near the river. They untied their few belongings from the pack horses and mules and built a cabin at the very spot in the hope of one day discovering what had happened to Oliver.
In the meantime, despite her husband’s pleas to abandon the apparent changeling, Mrs. Moore was too terrified of the consequences of such an action. She had heard about this sort of thing. Under special circumstances, rightful babes were sometimes returned. Therefore, Mrs. Moore cared for the strange creature with all the motherly compassion left in her broken heart.
One day, many months later, as Mrs. Moore sat rocking the grotesque babe and lamenting how her own poor babe must be missing his mother’s milk, the tiny sprite in her arms was making a contented cooing sound. She looked down at it. Even with its misshapen head and large, pointed ears, it appeared sweet when not engaged in its usual crying fits. Mrs. Moore realized that if this faery boy was able to adapt to new surroundings and a new mother, perhaps her own babe would survive until she could find and rescue him.
That was the moment she caught sight of the faery mother.
Lurking behind the wood pile near the hearth, a crooked woman watched, her leathery skin blending in with the roughhewn wall behind. She was no larger than a soup pot with bones and fingers long and twisted like thorns.
When Mrs. Moore gasped, the old brownie, for that is what Mrs. Moore guessed the faery must be, vanished in the blink of an eye.
From then on, Mrs. Moore kept a keen eye on the shadows of the cabin. Often, she would catch a glimpse of the faerie mother pinching the ugly babe to make it wail just after Mrs. Moore had calmed it. But every time, Mrs. Moore was able to quickly soothe the babe again.
At last, one afternoon, when she knew the brownie was watching, she said to the babe: “I know why she gave you to me. It is because I am a better mother than she.”
Enraged, the crooked sprite came out from her hiding place and challenged Mrs. Moore.
“If you are better than I, you would not have lost your own child to me before he was baptized,” she said. “Would you not rather he lives among the faeries? Still, it is as you say. If you wish to see your boy again, come with me. You will be nursemaid to our children. You will never be able to enter your realm again, but you and your son will be together.”
At the news that her son lived, Mrs. Moore followed with the old brownie at once, taking nothing with her but the clothes she wore and carrying the faery babe, whom she had named Credence.
The journey to Faeryland was brief and mysterious. Mrs. Moore remembered nothing of it once she arrived. The brownies locked her in a stone room with high windows that she would never be able to reach, and they delivered Oliver to her there. She was so overjoyed to see him alive and well that for many days, she did not think of their peril.
As time passed, try as she may, Mrs. Moore could not find a way to escape. Though brownies are not very bright, their magic is strong. Mrs. Moore made a plan, but it would take time.
Each morning, the tribe of brownie captors brought their children to Mrs. Moore. Sometimes, they even left them for many nights. She raised the ugly children alongside Oliver, teaching them the Christian virtues for which she had named them. Prudence, Patience, Charity, Justice, and so forth.
In time, Mrs. Moore also became the brownie community medic. Her few skills in the healing arts proved most helpful to the adult brownies as well as their clumsy children.
From time to time, the brownies also brought to Mrs. Moore additional human children. These also lived with Mrs. Moss and Oliver in their little room, whereas the brownie children were able to come and go as they pleased. But even when the brownie children grew, they visited Mrs. Moore often because she was more of a mother to them than their own mothers.
One evening, when the human children settled in for their bedtime story, Oliver said to his mother: “All of our lives you have told us of a place far better than this one, and you say we will go there one day, but still we have not gone. Will we ever escape?”
“Yes, will we?” asked the others. There were seven of them now.
Mrs. Moore gazed at the wee ones. “My children, it is time, at last."
Mrs. Moore had been right when she declared herself the better mother, for she was indeed a far better mother than any of the brownie mothers. Because of her, the brownie children were not only obedient, endearing creatures, but they also loved Mrs. Moore very much.
The next time Credence came to visit, Mrs. Moore presented him with a special drink just for his brownie mother. He did not know it, but it was a concoction of medicines dangerous enough to make the brownie ill, but it was not fatal.
The next morning, Credence returned distraught.
“Mother is very sick,” he said. “Please, Mother Moore, you must help her.”
Mrs. Moore asked Credence many questions while she pretended to diagnose the brownie's condition.
“Credence, listen to me,” she said. “Your mother will not get well unless you can bring me a very important herb from my world.”
“Of course, Mother Moore,” said the young brownie. "Tell me what to do.”
Mrs. Moore described for him the herb and where to find it. Credence set off at once. But three times, he returned with the wrong plant, or so said Mrs. Moore. Finally, the little brownie burst into tears.
“There, there.” Mrs. Moore soothed her brownie child. “Take me with you, and I will show you.”
Without a second thought, Credence did.
He showed Mrs. Moore how to knock three times on the old oak tree, and as long as she shook herself of the faerie dust before walking around the tree three times, she would return to the world un-aged and un-harmed by the effects of Faeryland.
After retrieving an herb by the river, Mrs. Moss and Credence went back.
“Now Creedence,” she said. “Give me the key to my room, and I will let myself in. I have much work to do to prepare this medicine for your mother. You run along and play now, for you were such a big help today, and now your mother will soon be well.”
Little Credence handed her the key as easily as he had agreed to take her to the mortal realm.
That night, Mrs. Moore and the seven human children escaped into the night. They crept by the dark huts of sleeping brownies and were just about to enter the mortal realm following Creedence’s instructions, when they were halted by the brownie children.
“Mother Moore, where are you going?”
Mrs. Moore turned to see the crestfallen creatures with tears spilling from their dark eyes. She hugged and kissed them all, and wiped their tears.
“The time has come for us to go back to our own world," she said. "But I will always be your mother, and you can come and see me whenever you like.”
She urged them to remember all that she had taught them. She told Credence that she had left his mother’s medicine in her little room, and the woman would recover after drinking it.
When Mrs. Moore and the seven children walked around the old oak the third time, they appeared in the mortal realm seven years after Mrs. Moore had left it. Yet, there Mrs. Moore stood with seven infants lying about her feet, for the children had become un-aged as well. She rushed to her old cabin with as many babes as she could carry and frightened her poor husband nearly to death calling for him to come and help her.
Word spread, and soon all of the babes were returned to their families, but not before Mrs. Moore gave their parents some hints about what they would be like when they grew up.
Through the years, the brownie children came to visit the Moore cabin in plain sight, or sometimes, the family would only hear them. But never did Mrs. Moore see the old brownie mother again, for she had taught all her children to treat everyone with kindness and to never let anyone cause harm to a person who does not deserve it, especially their human mother and brothers and sisters.
Mr. and Mrs. Robert Moore and their son Oliver lived long, happy lives and enjoyed their share of good fortune.
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*Thorn trees are sacred to faeries. Faery folks are said to live near "old oaks."
*According to folklore, human babies were once desired to help the dwindling, weak faery race to strengthen. Mortal mothers would take precautions to avoid their yet unbaptized baby being exchanged for a faery. Mortal midwives were also sometimes spirited away to care for a faerie baby. Additional folklore also asserts that the land of Faerie has to pay a tithe of TEIND to Hell in the form of humans. An easy and common way to take a human was to steal a baby, leaving the changeling, or even a log, in its place. The changeling sometimes appeared to be a replica of the child due to faery enchantment. Being weak, the changeling usually died. With infant mortality so high in older times, it was a comfort to grieving mothers to believe their real baby was being brought up in Faeryland rather than deceased.
Copyright by the author Meg Grimm.