2.15. Spare Changeling, Part Two
“Morrigan, Tide,” Aletheia spreads her arms and smiles widely, “I appreciate you heeding my summons so late into the evening.”
“We have business to discuss--no need for pleasantries.”
“With all due respect, Your Grace, we were told that you would be sending the girl to the mortal realm, and we would no longer be responsible for her,” Morrigan snaps, “what is she doing back in Faefall?” Morrigan’s cruel eyes focus on the changeling girl, who is happily at play with Bjorn.
“Our would-be son’s parents came to claim him, and I decided--”
“Decided to what? Renounce our oath?”
“Patience, Morrigan--we will resolve this.”
“You assured Tide and I that the brat would be sent to the mortal realm. Unless the resolution includes that, you are an oathbreaker.”
“What the fuck is going on?” Lark whispers to Dominic. He ignores her, his eyes darting between the two fairies as he watches them spar.
“The mother,” Aletheia gestures to Lark, “Lark, refused the changeling. She successfully navigated to Faefall, so it would be cruel of me to keep her child from her. She has shown no interest in accepting the changeling in his place.”
“So? Find another child to replace,” Morrigan sneers.
Aletheia’s lip quivers. “I do not think that is wise. My meeting with Lark has made me realize with certainty the cruelty of changeling births. I understand your qualms about raising another girl, Morrigan. Perhaps William and I could discuss a way to save for her dowry, so you do not find yourself faced with that expense a fourth time--”
“It does not matter if you pay her dowry,” Tide finally speaks, “who will take care of us when we are elderly? Girls leave when they marry, and boys stay. We would rather forfeit our daughter and try for a son.”
“Perhaps, then, Lark would agree to take the girl as well as her son?”
Lark’s eyes widen. “Um. I--I can’t. There’s no way,” shame washes over her, “I’m sorry. I’m really sorry. Why can’t you take her?”
“Good question,” Goaty shoots a meaningful look at Aletheia.
“We do not want her in this realm,” Morrigan snaps, “and I will not agree to abjure your oath unless I am pleased.”
Aletheia looks at William hesitantly. He nods sullenly.
"It is obvious this child's fate cannot be determined by us, so we must submit to the justice of divine intervention. Lyssa: take her the forest," Aletheia's voice is steely, "and leave her under the ancient oak. Let the gods decide what her fate shall be. If that’s agreeable to all parties, then my oath is fulfilled and Lark may leave with her son.”
Morrigan smirks and nods. “I agree.” While her pleasure is apparent, Tide’s face is unreadable.
Lyssa kneels down and scoops up the girl, who waves her arms in excitement. She’s obviously delighted by all the attention she’s received over the past few hours, as well as the company of another child. She has no idea what’s happening, which increases the crushing feeling in Lark’s chest tenfold. She looks at Dominic in horror, her mouth opening and closing as she tries to form some sort of objection. He appears equally taken aback by his sister’s command.
“Wait,” Dominic shoots forward, “I’ll take her.”
Aletheia’s eyes widen slightly, but otherwise her face is like stone. “Brother, are you wed?”
“No,” he arches an eyebrow, “and I fail to see how that’s relevant.”
“I see,” she smiles unconvincingly, “Your intentions are noble, but you are an unwed, childless man. How can you presume to care for a child?”
“Wait,” Lark wrinkles her nose, “are you saying he can’t take care of her because he’s a single guy? That’s stupid.” Dominic elbows her and glares.
“Miss Bee,” William interjects, “perhaps you would like to rephrase your objection.” He looks at her expectantly, tilting his head slightly.
“Lady--I mean, your highness. Your grace? Whatever. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I am painfully single myself, and the mother of one child with another on the way,” Lark gestures to her stomach, “and I’m also a huge fuck-up. Like--I don’t have my life together in any respect.”
“The point, Miss Bee,” William says.
“My point is that I manage. Because I have, like, no choice. I can swim or I can drown, you know? And you were just gonna force this little monster on me,” she nods to the changeling, “regardless of the fact that I’m already struggling.”
“You are a mother, Lark,” Aletheia says, “and moreover, a woman, born and bred to nurture.”
Lark rolls her eyes. “Okay, I’m not saying I’m a feminist or anything, but that’s pretty sexist. Um, with all due respect, of course. My ex--my son’s father--is probably a better parent than I am, as much as I hate to admit it.” Her heart twists as she thinks of Nikolas. Despite all his flaws, he really is an amazing dad, a natural with Bjorn. And he would probably be the same with their unborn child, should she give him the chance.
“That is heartwarming, but how does it speak to the character of my brother?”
“Don’t kill the kid. Or ‘let the gods decide,’ if that’s how you want to put it. No god has every intervened in my life, and I’m guessing it’d be the same for her. Let Dom take her. He’s the smartest person I know, and besides--any idiot can be a parent. I mean, look at me.”
William leans in and whispers something to Aletheia.
“Brother,” Aletheia turns her gaze back to Dominic, “are you sure you are willing to take this child as your ward?”
“Yes,” he nods, “that seems to be the only acceptable solution for all parties, and so I’m happy to do it.”
“You swear to raise her as if she were your own flesh and blood?”
Aletheia turns to Morrigan and Tide. “Is this acceptable to you?”
“Yes, whatever it takes to rid us of her.”
Lark glares at them. She knows she isn’t the best mom, but standing next to these two, she feels like Mother of the Year.
“William,” Aletheia stiffens her back, “rewrite my oath to make my brother the responsible party.”
“Yes, Your Grace.”
But Lark is already bounding over to her son. She sweeps him up in her arms and presses his head against her chest, nuzzling the top of his head.
“Mama,” he giggles, “s’op! Too much!”
“Sorry, baby,” she murmurs, “I missed you. Let’s go home.”
He giggles again, wrapping his arms around his mother. This has all been a fun game to him, but he is quite ready to go home.
“Lark,” Aletheia calls after her, “it will take some time for my brother to complete the oath. Perhaps we could speak? And Bjorn could get some rest.”
Lark holds her son tight against her as she considers the offer. “Sure,” she finally answers.
It doesn’t take long for Bjorn to fall asleep. Lark perches on the bed next to him, watching carefully as his chest rises and falls. She loves to watch him sleep, moreso after their short separation. It seems impossible that she could care for another person this much, and she couldn’t imagine life without him, nor could she fathom subjecting someone to the same heartache.
“If your son is asleep,” Aletheia’s voice is soft, “I have something I would like to show to you.”
“Um...okay,” Lark rises from the bed and waddles over to the table where Aletheia and Goaty are standing. Her back is killing her, and she can’t wait to go home and take a warm bath.
“Ashur--one of my mother’s servants--used to bring books for me from the mortal realm, including these.” Aletheia places a set of slim books on the table in front of her and spreads them out. Lark recognizes the covers as Supernova, a series of comic books her mother had written later in her career. Academic critics lauded Luna’s decision to write comics as “brave,” and “a post-modern examination as just what constitutes art.” Luna was happy for the paychecks.
“Supernova,” Lark smiles as she looks at the covers, “I think this was the only thing my mom wrote I read all the way through.”
“It is quite a charming story. I was fascinated as a child. It seemed like eons between each issue Ashur was able to bring to me. Your mother is a talented woman.”
“Thanks,” Lark shifts uncomfortably, “I hear that a lot, actually.”
“Your world seems frightening,” Aletheia says, “or at least is seems so from what I have read.”
“Oh. Um, you know comics aren’t real, right?”
“Of course,” she laughs, “but I read other texts as well. Whatever Ashur could bring me, truthfully. And it made your world seem so...chaotic. I know my mother was an evil woman, but she at least enacted order.”
Lark doesn’t answer immediately, prompting Aletheia to lean forward a little, indicating her interest in Lark’s response. “I don’t want to say anything that would upset you,” Lark speaks slowly.
“How diplomatic,” Aletheia smiles coyly.
“So, not to be rude or anything but what did you want to talk to me about?”
“The girl,” Aletheia hesitates, “I know my original decree seemed heartless. But it is acceptable Faefall to leave unwanted children in the forest, particularly when attempts to rehome the child are unsuccessful. Those who are blessed by the gods will be rescued. Those who die have met what the gods intended for them. I understand from my reading that it is not the case in your world to believe that, at least not now.”
“Not at all, no.”
“And my decision upset you and my brother,” Aletheia looks her directly in the eyes, “but I am in a difficult position as queen.”
“You mean it isn’t just eating bonbons and ordering people’s executions?”
Aletheia looks horrified. “I do not take the execution of my subjects lightly.”
“Um, it was a joke. Why are you telling me about this?” Lark is so incredibly uncomfortable right now. Based on everything that has happened in the past twenty-four hours, Aletheia is a villain and should be treated as such. But the young woman standing in front of Lark is obviously overwhelmed despite her poise, a woman who is facing struggles Lark can’t imagine.
“I have to make the choices that seem most consistent with the values of my people. That is the primary concern of all my decisions, because that is what my advisor--William--thinks is wisest. I was installed as queen after my mother’s death by William and his supporters. They wanted to return Faefall to the thriving civilization it once was, but they also wanted to maintain some semblance of order.”
“How did you being queen mean order?”
“Although my mother was first in her line--she installed herself as leader,” Aletheia chooses her words carefully, “she had ruled for such a long time that most of the fae still in Faefall had only known her reign. They were--are--familiar with me as her favorite daughter.”
“And she had killed all descendants from the other royal lines,” Goaty adds bluntly. Aletheia shoots him an angry look.
“I see,” Lark nods, though she is still having trouble grasping the intricacies of what Aletheia is saying, “so it’s not really, like, your idea to be queen. And it has to suck, right?”
Aletheia tilts her head. “It would not be my choice if the alternative was not so dismal.”
“Hey,” Lark perks up, “there’s always an alternative. Like, you could come back to Simnation with us. We have like, none of this political shit. Well, I mean we have elections and stuff but it’s not this complicated.” Simnation politics are incredibly complicated, of course, but Lark isn’t exactly an active participant.
“That is a kind offer, Lark, but I am afraid that’s impossible,” Aletheia’s gaze turns to Goaty.
Goaty’s response, however, is darker: “I cannot live outside of Faefall.”
“Well that’s dramatic,” Lark snorts.
“Fauns require sustenance from a fruit that grows only in Faefall,” Aletheia explains, “Aristeus--and all of his people--are thus bound to this realm in a way fae are not.”
“Oh,” Lark’s face falls, “you couldn’t, like, transplant the fruit?”
Aletheia smiles sadly. “You are sweet, Lark.”
“I have always felt kindred to you, ever since I was a girl and my mother told me of her failed attempts to procure another sister--you--for me. For companionship.”
“That’s, um, nice. I guess.”
“I know it is a strange concept to you, but I really do feel as if we were meant to be sisters,” Aletheia’s eyes flicker to the door, where Dominic is standing, “And perhaps we still are.”
“Sorry to interrupt,” Dominic says, “but I think it’s time to leave, Lark. The sun’s coming up.”
“Right,” Lark says absently, “wait.” She pauses for a moment, then throws her arms around the fairy. Her hands rest on the middle of Aletheia’s back, right where her wings sprout. It’s warm, almost hot, but pleasantly so. Aletheia happily returns the embrace. “I forgive you.”
“I am truly sorry for the pain I caused. I am--I am not human, Lark, and understanding what is wrong and what is right by your standards is hard for me.”
“It’s okay. We’re cool now,” Lark responds lamely.
“You ready?” Dominic asks. Lark nods and carefully scoops up Bjorn from the bed, slowly resting him against her chest. He stirs, but doesn’t wake. The walk back is silent, no guard, no worry.
“Aurora Skies,” Dominic says once in the ring of mushrooms. Another crackle, and Lark finds herself back in the snowy field. The jolt awakens Bjorn, who babbles happily when he sees the snow. Dominic begins to trek through the now deeper snow, and Lark chases after him.
“Hey,” she calls after him, “I have a question.”
“Why is your sister a fairy? In the picture your dad showed me, she looked like a human.”
“Umm, as far as I’ve gathered, the magic of Faefall can change--for a lack of a better word--humans and mages. It turns them into fairies or other magical creatures. Like Lyssa. She’s not a fairy, but she’s not quite human either.”
“Oh. So if I stayed here for awhile, I’d change, too?”
“Maybe. But do you really want to test that?”
Lark considers it. “A few years ago--even a few months ago, really--I would’ve said yes. But no, not anymore.”
The rest of the trip home is uneventful. It’s well past dawn when they arrive, and the snow glistens beautifully in the rising sun.
Lark pulls a portable crib out from the basement--a loan to Dominic, at least until he finds a home for the girl.
“Thanks again,” she says softly, “for everything. I would’ve understood if you didn’t come over since I was...so awful to you, I guess.”
“Don’t even mention it,” Dominic flashes a tired smile, “I think I helped Ali as much I helped you.”
“And look at you--volunteering to be a single father. You’re full of surprises, Dom.”
“Well,” he hesitates, “it wasn’t entirely altruistic. I know several mage families. I think I might be able to find a home for her with a family of mages. Or maybe some fairies, if I’m lucky.”
“Oh,” Lark frowns, “that was kind of a trick, then.”
“My sister was a little correct. I don’t know anything about raising a child, although I do appreciate your impassioned defense.”
“You’re welcome, I guess,” Lark tilts her head, “She needs a name, though. We can’t keep calling her ‘the girl,’ especially if you’re going to be trying to place her in a home.”
“I had a thought about that.”
“What do you think about Raven?”
“Raven?” Lark scoffs, “You’re naming her after a bird?”
“Yeah, I guess it’s a real dumb name, Lark.”
The two stand awkwardly for a moment before Lark speaks again. “Hey--call me if you need anything, okay? I’m here to help with this. With Raven, I mean.”
She wordlessly holds her arms out and he hugs her. It’s perfunctory, uncomfortable, a gesture meant to mildly reassure, but not to invite any further contact.
The door slams shut behind him as he leaves, then silence. She considers the next action briefly, tells herself that she should weigh all the options before making her choice. But after the previous 48 hours, she knows there’s only one choice.
She pulls out her phone and opens her last conversation with Nikolas.
“Hey,” she texts, “wanna come over tomorrow? I have something to tell you.”
Author’s Notes: Okay, a few things. I have planned this storyline for almost a year, though of course it became more specific as characters came and went. I’m never planning this far ahead again, because I think it made me dawdle on some storylines.
Shameless self promotion: I am actually creating a version the comic Aletheia mentions on Tumblr. You can read Supernova there. Funny story: I wrote that scene BEFORE I decided to make the comic. XD
Last thoughts, last thoughts….hm. I’m probably going to get back to mundane stuff. I’ve played up to the next offspring’s birth, but that might not show up for another two chapters. Then I might fast-forward a bit, because I don’t have any big story stuff planned this generation. We’ll see. :)