Manic Motherhood at it's FINEST!!

Why "I am NOT a VOLCANO!"

Why "I am NOT a VOLCANO!"
click the volcano for the due explanation
"In all of living, have much fun and laughter. Life is to be enjoyed, not just endured." — Gordon B. Hinckley
Exaggeration is the spice of life

Book I am Currently Reading: Peter and The Shadow Thief

Chapter 1

The Witching Hour

They say that at night, the Bansidhe makes her bed in the moss and heather, and wails herself to sleep. They say, when they tuck their children into bed, that if they listen carefully, they might hear the soft laughter of the Sidhe- the Faerie kind-  in their Witching Hour revels. 

"See those mushrooms," they will whisper the next day, baskets in hand to gather elderberries, or steal eggs from wild hens "The Sidhe have been dancing here." 

In the safe light of day, children older and young stand with their toes on the invisible edge of the vast, purple expanse of the moor rolling ahead of them, sweeping with wind and brambles- the unknown, and they dare each other to skip into it's reaches to see if the Sidhe will snatch them away. Sometimes, a chorus of birds will giggle from the trees, and the children will giggle too, nervously, denying any truth in the stories.

But at night, they huddle beneath their blankets, listening to the shrieks and chatters that roll off the Moor. If they are quick, they may see the Will-o-th'-Wisps -strange greenish lights that bounce around the horizon- and  they believe every word.

Forests are only a little safer, for mistletoe thrives as it's guardian, cradled high in the branches of trees who try to reach the moon and it's cheshire smile. On the ground, though, tufts of grass must be heeded, lest you step on them and become the brunt end of their tricky retribution. St. John's Wort and bluebells  infest every nook like a soft, fresh quilt. Bluebells pose the most danger, though, as anyone who hears their sweet chime is hearing their death toll, but one may skip away safely down the path that bears the Wort. Beware the glistening pools, and the falls like mist, for Ginny Green Tooth lives there. She loves little children- for breakfast. 

On one witching hour, when an eerie mist rolled out of the tender green dewiness of the forest from the East, and the rolling hills of the Moor in the West yielded lighting and thunder like a giant, snoring in his sleep, a girl tripped out of the woods. Her red tresses, though adorned with a black ribbon, hanging heavily with a      wide spiral of green gems at her forehead, were slick with cold sweat, and she wore a green dress of a  gossamer make that was iridescent even in the moonlight. The collar,which dipped into a v,was gilded in golden lace and beads of green and brown and white, and the short, wide sleeves were edged in it as well, though the right shoulder was soaked through with blood. Through clenched teeth, she groaned as she shuffled, hunched over, one arm stretched before her as though she were blind, feeling her way along, and the other wrapped around the underside of her very swollen and pregnant belly.

A dry tongue licked at chapped lips as puffs of breath visibly drifted from her mouth and with effort, the girl straightened, taking in the little, but sprawling village that rose ahead of her, smoke emitting from chimneys from the night time hearths, though all the shutters were closed tightly against the chill. The giants above her snored again, and she sobbed, jerkily running forward as best she could. The sob became a scream as she sank to her knees inside a low, moss strewn stone wall just at the edge of the woods, and she began to cry. The girl slid her legs in front of her, whimpering as her hot tears streaked over dirt stained cheeks, and drummed her heels on the ground.

"Who's out there?" a woman's husky voice called over the thunder, and the pat-at, pat-at of the rain beginning to fall as the storm caught up to the little village. The younger girl wiped her nose with her wrist, her body shaking with her sobs, and she turned soft brown eyes to see an orange light bobbing in the distance. It was a lantern, held high by a woman who clutched a gray shawl close around her shoulders. Her hair fell to her waist, hanging free with the night's rest, and her eyes glinted darkly in the orange light of the little dancing flame.

The girl's hoarse voice strained through sobs as she struggled up to her knees, further dirtying the gossamer fabric of her gown. "Oo-Oona...My name is Oona..." she managed, using the stone wall to pull herself to her feet. A cough racked her whole form, shoulders shaking with the effort. The woman with the lantern stepped closer to notice Oona wiping blood from her mouth. She noticed, too, the blood soaking the gown. he richness of the fabric, a kind she had never seen before, didn't escape her either.

"I am Maeryn. Come, come. They call me "Wise One." I have delivered many babes. I will help you." Maeryn  stretched her arm around Oona's shoulders and gestured to her cottage across the way- white washed stone walls and thatched roof,  just like most of the other cottages in the village.

Oona shut her eyes tight in pain, and through locked teeth, groaned. Slowly, so slowly, Maeryn helped her inside, where the windows brightened to a soft yellow, and the warm air smelled of spices and herbs.

Maeryn, a lovely, yet handsome woman, had  hair the color of a rich sunset. Not a florescent kind of orange, but a deep auburn red, like a smooth river over her shoulders and down her back.. She was a tall woman, and gracefully thin, though some of the girls she knew in her younger days had called her bony. She had a pale complexion that never seemed marred, except by the roses that bloomed continually on her high cheekbones, if one could say they marred. Now, though, she was nearing fifty years of age, and her skin had developed lines, like a map of her life that radiated like sunbeams from the corners of narrow, slightly tilted, gray blue eyes. Her mouth, which was wide across her sharply defined face, had a slightly fuller upper lip than the lower, which made dimples at the corners so that she nearly always had a pleased little smile, even if it was discrete. She was warm and motherly, though she hadn't born any children.

Maeryn lived alone. She had for nearly thirty years now, and she was used to it. She was used  to a silent house, to the voice of the fire as it sang and crackled in the fireplace, to the way her seashells clinked and tapped against one another with the breeze that floated in through her window when the shutters were opened. She'd collected those shells as a girl when she once traveled to the coast to see her mother's family. Later in life, she'd strung them up on cords, and hung them from the beams in front of the window. All these were a comfort to her when she was alone, though, whenever the villagers brought their children to  her and she made them well again, or whenever she caught a slick, new baby and heard it's cry, she thought the walls must store it all, and she was never alone.

Outside, a scraggly dog barked as Oona and Maeryn crossed the threshold of the little stone house, it's thatched roof sunken slightly in the middle. Maeryn hastily dropped a gray woolen blanket onto her own bed . "It's clean." she said, and hurried to a large cabinet at the back of the little cottage. Oona breathed out another sob as she sank onto the bed. Her hands and nose were red with cold, her lips a sort of blue, and the back of her hand wiped away more blood from her lips when she, again, coughed.

Lying down was a relief. Oona couldn't remember how long she had been walking, or what path she'd followed, exactly- if she'd followed any at all. She only remembered agony and exhaustion. Maeryn busied herself gathering bandages, oils, and boiling water in the fireplace across from the whimpering woman. Soothingly, she said to the girl, "Child, your baby will be here soon, but I need to have a look at that wound before we do anything else. Let me take this off..." She pulled the gasping girl up to a sitting position, and pulled the strange dress gently out from under her, and then over her head. Oona made a choking sound with the pain of it, tears flowing freely down her cheeks now. "I know, I know..." cooed Maeryn, tucking another woolen blanket over her now naked body.

The wound was found to be deep as the Wise One cleaned it, applying pressure and white linen bandages that soaked through almost immediately. Maeryn couldn't conceal her displeasure quickly enough, for Oona gripped her arm. "I'm going to die, aren't I?" she drew in a long shuddering breath the way one does when the tears are nearly gone, but the cry is far from over. Both their heads turned sharply to the cottage door as it swung open to allow the entry of a woman and a girl of about nine years.

"Now Maeryn, what is all this racket going on? Is someone ill? Ye know, half the village is up and talkin'-" the voice cut off abruptly as gray eyes rested upon the gasping girl. The woman hurried the younger girl into the cottage, and shut the door tightly behind her. She looked eager, and, not harshly, shoved the girl forward again. "What joyous news, ye know, a new baby to be birthed. Cait, the water's boilin'. Fetch it."

The girl, called Cait, was a slim little thing, with sharp elbows and knees whose hair was yellow and hung limply just below her shoulders. She slowly turned her head toward her mother, her eyes, just the color of gray as the older woman's widening to twice their size. She paled and swallowed sickly. Maeryn just pursed her lips and fetched the boiling water herself before the girl could even try.

"Now, Molly, I told ye once, I'll tell ye a dozen times. That girl goes green whenever someone sneezes. She can't treat a chill let alone deliver babies or sew up wounds, both of which I've got to do right now. Best to give her to the weaver. Or give her yer cows and goats for milkin'."

Molly's eyes finally found Oona's shoulder wound, which had begun to ooze white puss with it's infection, and her delighted look failed her, changing, instead, to genuine worry. "Ye know I've got two boys before this one who want those cows..." but her heart wasn't in the argument, and she moved herself across the room to kneel next to the shivering Oona.

Molly had Seven children. Maeryn had delivered all of them. She had married young, the only son of the town's dairy farmer, and they had thrived together. She was solid and sturdy, still feminine, tall for a woman, and blunt with her tongue, though not unkind. Even now, mussed with sleep, her hair was golden, and it made her lovely.

Molly pressed the back of her hand to Oona's forehead. "Devil take me, this girl's got a fever the size of Finn MacCumhail."

Maeryn paused a moment before lowering her gaze. "Cait, run your legs as fast as ye can to Friar Jackie."

The girl didn't need the Wise One to finish the sentence before she was out the door and into the storm, yellow hair whipping  behind her.

Oona moaned. "It's coming- I feel it..."She bared her teeth, every muscle in her body straining with the pain. She grasped Molly's hand with both of hers and sat up sharply. "Help! Help me- I can't....I can't do it!" Maeryn positioned herself on a stool at the end of the bed, in front of Oona, a string hanging about her neck, a richly dyed green woolen blanket across her lap, and a bowl of the boiled water, now cooling, on a small table beside her.

Molly climbed behind the girl so that Oona could lean against her for support. She shushed her soothingly. "Ah, yes ye can. I've done it seven times, myself. By the intensity of yer tears, I'd say ye're nearly done."

Maeryn locked eyes with Oona, spreading her knees apart. "Alright, love, I need ye to push."

Oona gulped a breath and shut her eyes tightly, gritting teeth and bared down, a low growl escaping her throat. Molly ignored Oona's fingernails, which dug into her arms. She simply held her, resting her chin atop her sweat soaked red tresses. "That's fine," she muttered softly. "Just fine."

Maeryn looked up encouragingly. "This babe's got a lot of hair," she said smiling gently. "I can't see the face yet. Give me another good one, and I think we'll see the eyes."

Oona dropped her head back and opened her mouth  in  a howl. Her shoulder throbbed, along with the pain of labor. Coughing violently, Oona's body tried to roll over, but Molly propped her up, wiping Oona's lips with a cloth. More blood. She met Maeryn's eyes worriedly.

"Come on, darlin', just one more." Maeryn held the baby's head now, slipping her hand around the neck so she'd have a decent grip for catching.

Molly whispered, "She's losin' a lot of blood." Oona's eyes rolled, and she slackened in Molly's arms and Molly began to slap her cheeks. "C'mon girl!" she shrieked, "He's almost here!"

Oona whispered, "I'm so....tired..." her eyes watered and dripped tears to slide down already damp cheeks, but she took a breath and lurched her body into yet another scream, and the baby rolled the left shoulder first, then the right, and slipped out, blue and purple with hair of brown and white all slicked wet and bloody to his round head and the nape of his neck.

Maeryn stared at the new boy for only a second before clearing his mouth with a finger and tying the string tightly around the umbilical cord.

Molly slipped out from behind Oona and gently laid her flat. "I...I don't think she's breathing, she whispered, pressing her ear against the young girl's chest.

Behind her came the sound of the boy's bottom being smacked and a small gurgling cough before a shrill cry gushed from his throat.

The door, again, smashed open to emit Cait, and the Friar Jackie, both sopping wet and Jackie was out of breath. The rain beat down outside now, like the giants above were washing their clothes and wringing them out on the earth.

"What...." the Friar wheezed heavily, "what..." he doubled over, his hands on his knees, and he breathed as though he had been running for ages, though it had been just down the road a ways, and Cait had already caught her breath, though she swallowed hard as her eyes settled on the limp mother Oona, and then on the wailing baby.

Jackie finally regained his composure, bringing his stature to attention. "The girl said I was needed. Well, here I am. What in the Devil's name is goin' on at this wee hour in th' morn?"

Maeryn and Molly looked so still in the silence of the room, the baby flailing naked and wailing  in Maeryn's hands. She moved first, and slipped the baby to Cait, who surprised herself by not dropping the whimpering, writhing little wretch. At Oona's side, Maeryn touched her forehead, her throat, her wrist. "She's still warm. She is still here," she breathed with relief. "Jackie, this girl won't last long."

The Friar had blue eyes. Like ice. He had been a handsome man in his younger days, and still had a strong stature and frame, with broad shoulders, though his years, and the way that this beloved village coddled him with their offerings so that the man never actually had to beg, or even live in poverty the way his vows dictated, had given him some extra weight. It suited him, though, and he seemed robust and healthy. He had a grandfatherly way, with a round, crinkled face, and was bald on top, with a fringe of snowy white hair around the back.

Jackie's blue eyes were warm, though, and ever so compassionate. His  lips dropped into a frown at the limp form, and he inched toward the table, his sandals slapping the hard packed earthen floor, his brown robe dripping from the rain, and he gently took Oona's thin, pale hand in his own and held it up to his cheek. "Oh, ye dear girl."

Oona's eyes fluttered open when Jackie touched her. "My baby...." her eyes rolled tiredly, but they did not close as she searched the room. Pale Cait  took that as her cue, and shuffled forward, tipping her cradled arms up to display him to the woman. He was still bloody, and covered in something white and waxy, but his cry had calmed, and his eyes were open. Oona's mouth twitched into  a small smile, but her lips were chapped, and they cracked and began to bleed. She suppressed a cough, and, to Jackie's surprise, she gripped his robe with both hands and yanked him down near her face. Her eyes filled with  fear, her whole body quivering with the strain of the force she was employing, and she whispered fiercely, "She's coming. She'll claim him!" she coughed so horrifically that she rolled onto her side to bury her face mercifully in the pillow while she hacked. When she rolled back over, sticky black and crimson blood strung across her face and pooled on the pillow. Eyes searched until they rested on Maeryn. Oona reached out a pale hand toward her. "Please..." her voice was a hoarse whipser. "Keep him. Safe." She emphasized the word in a way that made Maeryn wince as though she might be struck. Oona's body spasmed with the effort to breathe, and  she shuddered violently before going limp.

Molly sobbed loudly while her daughter dropped into a ladder backed chair, lest she fall on the floor instead, and Jackie shook his head, crossing himself, and flattened the wool blanket over her eternally sleeping body.

The silence in the room was broken when the baby in Cait's arms wailed suddenly his tiny fists balled and pressed against his round cheeks. Maeryn shook herself as though out of a dream, and hurried to test the water that had been cooling, and nodded her head, pouring a small amount into a tin tub. She took the baby gently as Cait sighed finally with relief, and the old Friar allowed himself a solemn grin. "Ah well, what a bittersweet morn this is! What are we to do with the wee thing?!"

The baby's eyes closed, and he whined crankily as Maeryn washed away the blood and waxy white substance from his little body, dried him with a soft cloth, and swaddled him in linens. "Someone will have to take him. Friar Jackie, I have heard of the church taking in orphaned children, giving them an education. Ye could- "

Friar Jackie interrupted her, holding his hands up in front of him for emphasis. "Oh, no ye don't! I am but an old man, with all that big ol' church ta care for on me own, an' I have ta teach the sermons every Sabbath day. Surely I haven't any room in my daily regimen for a baby. Bring 'im to me when he's old enough to be an alter boy."

Maeryn  chewed her bottom lip, and turned her gray eyed gaze to Molly, who sniffed loudly, wiping away the last of the tears she'd shed for Oona and sharply shook her head. "No. No! I can't! That man of mine, Kelly, would pitch a fit, he would! I've got seven of my own already, and the youngest is just above his first year."

Now that the baby was clean instead of slick, the young Cait found him fascinating. Maeryn had a cradle, despite having never had her own children. Regularly, she delivered babies in their mother's own home, but it did happen every so often that Maeryn's home was more convenient. She kept one prepared for those situations. Of course, it wasn't a proper cradle, it was a woven Moses basket that could easily be moved or stored if needed.  Maeryn slipped the little bundle into the basket near the fire, and Cait dropped herself cross legged on the floor beside him, stroking his cheeks with the tips of her fingers. He reacted to her touch by turning his head, opening his soft little mouth, whining when he found nothing to latch on to.

"But, Molly," Maeryn protested, gesturing to the baby, "Ye'd be able to feed him."

Molly threw her head back and laughed, her golden locks falling messily out of place. "Is that what ye're worried about, Maeryn? Why d'ye think we keep goats along with the cows? I mean other than for the cheese and the soap. Their milk isn't near as sweet as the cows. Every morn, Kelly delivers fresh goats milk to Pig Quigley down th' other end of the village fer his twins, born six months past. They're right fat little things too, now-a-days. Feeds 'em with cows horns. Got some o' them too. Cait, run oft' th' house and tell yer Da we've got a starvin' babe here, and to send along Tulie's milk and a horn. I'm no wetnurse, but I'll be happy to give ye our goat's milk."

Maeryn's mouth drew down, concerned. They called the man "Pig" Quigley, because he had two other cousins all named Quigley, after their grandfather, and he was the one who raised pigs. Maeryn knew the twins. And she remembered their mother. Adeen was lost birthing the two boys when Maeryn couldn't stop her bleeding. The father was young, heartbroken, and his younger sister had moved into his cottage to help care for the boys. She swallowed the lump in her throat, and panicked a little inside. " one will take him?" Her heart welled with sadness at the thought.

"What about the "she"?" Jackie replied, lowering himself carefully onto a chair, leaning his elbows on his knees. "The girl said that "SHE" would claim him..."

Maeryn furrowed her brow. "She also said to keep him safe." She paused for a moment, swaying her body as the baby in the basket fussed. It was a natural reaction. "I don't know who she could  have been running from, but that girl came a long way and endured a lot of pain to get her baby away from someone."

Molly chewed her bottom lip in thought, while Jackie said ponderously, "D'ye think she could have been a surrogate?"

Molly gasped, her gray eyes widening in scandal and she put her hand to her throat for emphasis.

"Molly, the baby could officially belong to another woman! Maybe the mother decided she wanted to keep the baby herself?" the Friar protested, and laughed lowly. Molly slapped him up side the head, but he just laughed again, wincing only slightly.

Cait pulled at her mother's skirt,  eyes squinted in unease. "Mama, look at this baby. He doesn't look like Brennen did when he was born."

Molly and the Friar both grew closer to the basket, finally resting eyes on the boy, who  stared with wide eyes around the room, opening and closing his mouth with soft, slow motion. Jackie spoke first. "Nah, I don't know a fig about babies, but I don't believe I've ever laid eyes on a head o' hair like that one's got."

Molly peered at him, and finally reached in to pick him up. "Would ye look at that," she breathed. Maeryn, who had already seen the child from head to toe, folded her arms across her middle and posed her body in an impatient figure. Molly ignored her, and ran a hand over the top the child's round head. His eyes closed in reaction to the touch, and his mouth opened again, expectant, as though he were a little bird.

The boy's hair was, indeed, strange. Maeryn had seen babies born with quite a lot of hair before. And she had seen them born without a stitch of it. Of course, most babies were born with something in between. This child had a lot of hair. Now that it had dried, in the warmth of the fire, it stuck up in all directions on the top, and on the sides it curled around his ears  and around the nape of his neck. The amount of it, though, wasn't the strangest part. It was dappled. This child's hair grew in several shades. Parts of it was snowy white, though those strands might be intercepted with a reddish brown color, what a dog breeder would call "liver". Other parts were more predominantly the liver color, and still others were more blond or brown with a few discrete black and gray streaks.  "It..." Molly paused, turning her head to the side a little, uncertainly looking over the child. "It know, if I were blindfolded, I'd swear I was strokin' Tulie. Feels like goat's hair, that does."

Slowly, Molly  unwrapped the tight swaddling so that the little limbs could move freely. The baby opened his mouth again at the touch of his own little fist against his cheek, his eyes slowly moving around at all the faces above him, seemingly a bit dazed, unknowing. His fingers splayed out as he opened his fist with reflexive, slow movements, showing how long they were, and when Molly ran her finger up the bottom of his little foot, and his toes splayed the same way his fingers had. They, too, were exceptionally long.

The little one's face was the most stunning. Not only was he a beautiful baby, but he was sharply pointed in several places. Instead of chubby cheeks, his seemed a bit hollow, though not unhealthily, and his chin pointed   at the tip instead of rounding with baby chubbiness like most babies. Maeryn always thought that babies had noses like knobs of bread. To her, it seemed like God above had created them out of soft dough, until they were sweet and soft and perfect, but that he always forgot the nose, and so, before they were born, he would drop a round little ball of dough right in the middle, and that would be that. But this boy's nose was sharper. It wasn't like he had a bird beak or anything, it just wasn't quite like a button. It wasn't so round. And his ears. If it weren't for his deep moss colored eyes, which were just a smidgeon too big, very round, and tilted slightly, a person's eyes would be drawn straight to his ears. His ears were longer than average, and pointed upwards, sticking through his mane of hair.

Jackie whistled low and crossed himself. "Well, I'll be." he breathed. "That baby's a right demon, he is." He winced again as Molly boxed his ear as she had earlier.

"Don't be superstitious, Jackie. When his mother said "She", what she meant was "Sidhe."" Her voice was serious and hushed.

Cait, her dress finally beginning to dry from the rain, stood, gripping her shift in both of her hands. "Mama....are ye goin' ta throw him in th' fire? Are ye gonna drown him? Are ye gonna beat him?!" Her voice became more and more shrill with every word, and tears welled up in her eyes, her face contorting with fear and tears.

Maeryn swallowed harshly, dropping her hands to her sides. How could such behaviors even be possible? "He's not one o' them." she whispered, lowering her gaze to the floor. "Oona was obviously human."

Molly slid an arm around her daughter and pulled her tight for a brief squeeze. "Now, now, ye tender thing. I'm goin' to do nothin' of th' sort." she met Maeryn's eyes as the other woman glanced up. "He IS Sidhe. But he's half. And Sidhe or not, he's nothin' but a helpless whelp of a babe." She turned a harsh gaze upon Friar Jackie, who gazed in wonder at the baby, who let out a "waaah, wahhh" wail from Molly's arms. "And anyone who says otherwise will have ME to answer to."

Maeryn shushed and rocked the little boy into the dawn hours. Friar Jackie took Oona's body to prepare her for burial, though Maeryn sent one of her own white shifts instead of the green, gossamer gown that she had been wearing. In her mind, she justified it because the dress was covered in blood. In reality, she was curious about how strange it was. She folded it, rolled it, and hid it, to be studied later.

Kelly and his oldest boy, Tristan, brought a fresh bucket of Tulie's milk, and three hollow cow horns, holes having been made in the tips of them. Kelley was as common as his wife was lovely. He had yellow hair, a bulbous nose,  and was two inches shorter than she was. He was bulky and stout, but with all of that, he had a winning smile, and he was always smiling. He adored his wife and all of his children, and they loved him right back.

Kelly himself, had insisted on feeding the baby first, to show Maeryn how to do it, he said. By the way he cooed at the little bundle, the way he stroked tiny, soft cheeks with large, rough fingers, and let the baby's little hands curl around his thumb, Maeryn was sure the man wouldn't have minded taking him at all the way Molly claimed. But in the wee hours of the morning, when the  rain began to quiet and clear, and the sky lightened from black to gray with the sun's rising,  the baby slept with  his gentle face nestled against the curve of Maeryn's neck, and she breathed him in, his sweet scent addicting her to his little existence, and she decided that he must have a name.

Names are important, because whenever one names a thing, be it animal, mineral or vegetable, that thing becomes important and it becomes a part of the soul.

She deliberated early into the lighting of the morning, her eyes drooping tiredly. Somewhere in the space between awake and asleep, she mouthed his name, Cuinn. With it, the storm broke above as though Maeryn's breath had solidified, tucking the name into an envelope and flew it up to the giants above to announce the strange little thing's arrival, and to inform them that they should shut up, lest they wake him from his slumber.

The giants weren't the only ones who were informed of the new little trespasser, and by the time the babe finished off his morning milk and had drifted to sleep, drooling a few drops of Tulie's milk from the corner of his pink mouth, Aberfa,  the smithy's wife, was at the door with a loaf of bread and a fist full of Mistletoe. "G'mornin' there, Maeryn!" Aberfa said, sticking her head in through Maeryn's window. Maeryn placed a finger against her lips to indicate quiet, and Aberfa made a mockingly embarrassed face, covering her mouth with her fingers.

Aberfa was a short woman with a wide berth. She wore a deep blue linen dress and a dirty white apron. Her dark brown hair was braided down her back, though another white rag tied around her head hid the top of her head from sight. She had a round, fat face with deep set eyes, and a greedy seeming smile.

Maeryn yawned, slipping the sleeping child into his basket. She brushed a hand across his unusual hair as she stood, rubbing the back of her neck with her right hand. Aberfa let herself in. She made a bit of a spectacle of herself tiptoeing across the floor of the cottage to lay the bread and mistletoe on Maeryn's worn wooden table. The baby began to stir, wiggling in his tight swaddling, wrinkling his little face and whining. Maeryn knelt to place a hand across his belly. "Shh-shh..." she whispered, rocking his little body gently, until he settled once again into slumber.

"Ooooh!" Aberfa squealed. "Did I wake the wee thing?" She held her hands up near her face, looking a lot like a fat mouse.

Maeryn stood and shook her head. "No, of course not." She led the woman to a chair and motioned to her to sit. "What can I help you with this mornin', Aberfa?"

Aberfa inspected the seat of the chair before she lowered herself very carefully into it as though it might contain a venomous viper. She began chatting again before her bottom even hit the seat, though blessedly quieter this time. "I hear the girl was one of us...." she paused, her eyes studying Maeryn for a response. "Nnnn-not one of those Gypsy girls?" she made a forward swishing motion with her hands in front of her, as though brushing dirt off her dress.

The gypsies came to every summer and stayed until harvest was through because the villagers conducted much business and trade throughout the season, particularly in rare medicinal herbs that grew abundantly in the area. Most farmers sowed the demanded herbs, such as Devil's Claw, Red Clover, and Echinacea among others, specifically for trade with the gypsies, who, in turn, sold it on their travels the rest of the year.  In the summer, Maeryn treated them as often as she treated any of the villagers. They didn't have a bad reputation, really. They mended pots and shoes, and sold all kinds of musical instruments. They sold colorful clothing, and often, there was a storyteller traveling with them. They traded goods from all over, sometimes from lands very far away, including fruits and vegetables, clothing, games, and, as they took medicines from , they also brought new medicines from other places. They danced and laughed a lot too, and were tireless workers for those who wished to hire them. Most important, they brought news of the world outside. Very few people left the village they were born in, unless it was to go to a neighboring village. Girls did that often enough when they married. News was always valuable.

The problem people had with the Gypsies was that most of them still followed the Old Ways. They believed in magic, they used magic, and it was said that they cast spells and prayed to the trees and the Goddess, which was blasphemy. Many a young lad purchased love potions from them, hoping he could slip it, unnoticed into his love's tea. Much of the village was willing to overlook the impurity of their beliefs, but many still despised them for it. Aberfa was one of them.

Maeryn pursed her lips a bit, and with forced tolerance clarified, "She was not from here. Perhaps a near village. Or a far one, for that matter.  Her dress was..." Maeryn hesitated. If she wanted to share this information with anyone, it wasn't Aberfa. "....strange." she finished.

Aberfa stood, one of her pudgy hands snatching the fistful of mistletoe from the table, and began to tip toe to the cradle. The baby stirred visibly and audibly as she approached. She stopped half way and turned to eye Maeryn critically. "Are ye goin' ta put out word to the other villages in search of his rightful kin?"

Maeryn struggled inwardly. "Well...." it was more information she didn't particularly want to share with Aberfa.  "The situation surrounding his birth is....complicated."

Aberfa gasped, her hand going to her mouth again. "He is a bastard?!"

"Aberfa, I don't even know-"

Aberfa crossed herself, eyes rolling upward as though she might faint. "Maeryn, ye must have this baby christened as soon as possible. Son of sin!" Aberfa hissed, stepping toward the basket as fast as her tip toes could take her bulky form.

Maeryn rolled her eyes at Aberfa as Cuinn wailed at the top of his lungs, his little arms wriggling free of his wrapping. Aberfa bent and fastened the mistletoe above him with a bit of string. The baby's voice rang angrily throughout the cottage, and Maeryn swept toward him to snatch him up. Aberfa intersected her, though.

"D'ye....d'ye think he's cryin' for the mistletoe?" she asked, looking Maeryn over accusingly.

Maeryn sighed heavily and pushed past the heavy woman to scoop the little thing into her arms. "Nonsense, girl. He's merely hungry. Ye'd think ye'd never raised any babes yerself. Or have ye just forgotten with 'em bein' nearly grown?" She bounced softly, humming to the boy, who settled into a whimper.  Maeryn moved her eyes from  the baby to the woman, who stared in shock with her pudgy mouth open.

"Maeryn!" she hissed once more. "That's no proper baby, that's not! Just look at 'im."

The Wise One pulled the baby into her and turned her body away, her eyes flashing angrily. "I have looked at 'im! He's perfectly average." She felt like stomping her foot for emphasis, but that would not do. A child's tantrum couldn't be met with another child's tantrum.

"Maeryn, that babe is one o' them, isn't he?" Aberfa narrowed her eyes, closing her chubby mouth tightly. "Well, then, he'll have ta be disposed of." She turned and moved to Maeryn's cabinet where she began rifling through her herbs and poultices, spices and salves. "We can start with the salt. If that doesn't work, drowning will do. Ye know, if ye beat the babe, the Sidhe will return the real baby and take their little whelp back with them. we could start with iron or fire, if ye prefer, but I think-"

Maeryn looked abashed, and bolted across the floor, holding the baby close. "You'll not touch this baby." she whispered fiercely. "I caught him myself. He wasn't changed. And he's none of your concern." Her chest rose quickly with breaths of anger. "It's quite time for ye to be on yer way, Aberfa."

Aberfa froze and then turned, menacingly. "Yer goin' ta keep him then?"

Behind her, Maeryn heard a squeal, echoed by several other breathy sighs. She turned to see a gaggle of women bursting through her door. The cottage wasn't a big place, and it began to feel crowded. "Yer keeping him!?" a young woman  with white blond curls held back by a black band, and rushed to coo at the little thing. Maeryn supported his tiny head and laid him into the cradle of the younger woman's arms.

"Mistress Maeryn, we heard the most outrageous-" Maeryn stopped the blue eyed woman with waves of gold swaying against her back by pressing both palms to her cheeks.

"Siobhan, darlin', you're a wife now. You call me Maeryn." She smiled proudly, and patted the girl's blushing cheeks.

"M-Maeryn..." Siobhan started uncertainly. "Are ye really? Are ye really keeping him? We've been hearin' the most stunning stories!"

The girl with the white blond hair, who had passed the bundle off to a girl with frizzy red hair stepped up  beside Siobhan, and allowed herself the same passage Maeryn had given her friend. "Maeryn, they're sayin' she was wearin' a dress like no one's ever seen before!"

Another young thing burst into the conversation, her own rich brown locks intricately braided thickly down her back. "They said she was lovely, and that  she wore jewels and emeralds!"

Siobhan added, "And they said her dress looked like it was made from moon beams, and that ye could see right through it!"

"Right through!" the blond girl nodded curtly, and folded her arms beneath her breasts, sticking her nose in the air as though she were offended, but no modest blush appeared in her cheeks.

"Oh, Kathleen, no one is sayin' that!" the dark haired girl addressed to the blond girl. "They're sayin' that it was gold! PURE gold!"

Each of the girls approached Maeryn on any side of her, speaking over her shoulder and from behind her so that she had to turn whenever any of them spoke to see who it was.

Kathleen stuck her tongue out at the dark haired girl. "What would ye know, anyway, Cailin? No one tells yer mama anythin' worth knowin'."

Cailin dropped her eyes, and her shoulders, and Maeryn shook her head, auburn tresses, already messy, swaying against her back. "Now, now, girls-"

There was a sharp gasp from behind them, and they all turned to see Ailsa, the woman, slightly older than the other three,  with the frizzy red hair, and a turned up nose, studying Cuinn, who began to "waa-waa" and root for his milk. The girl swallowed audibly in the silent air, and faces all around the room fell into shock as they registered the baby's pointed ears, his strange hair, his too big eyes and their strange color. Ailsa swallowed again before whispering, "Mistress Maeryn....they say...they say he's one of the-"

"The Sidhe." Aberfa's voice, low and hard, interrupted the gazing girl's proclamation. She had pressed herself into the background and was unnoticed by the girls, and forgotten by Maeryn. Kathleen's blue-green eyes widened and she took a sharp breath before choking on a hard swallow and lowering her gaze to the floor, wishing she could disappear.

Maeryn turned a stern gaze toward the heavy little woman. Her voice was hushed and serious. "Aberfa, I believe ye were on yer way out."

Aberfa's face twisted in fierce bitterness. "Ye'll bring their wrath upon the lot of us, Wise One!" her voice rose in volume as she continued, and Cuinn began to wail. "Every time a calf is dropped dead, or a crop fails, or a child is sick, you can blame him!"  She pointed at the screaming little thing, and Ailsa eyed him warily before clutching the child to her breast, as though the pointing finger was a poisoned arrow. The rest of the women glanced from the baby to Aberfa, to Maeryn, except for Kathleen who kept her eyes focused on the packed dirt floor below her bare feet, and refused to raise them.

Aberfa darted forward, grabbing Cailin by the arm. The girl winced, and lowered her own eyes as her mother jostled her past Kathleen, who swallowed hard once more, finally letting her blue eyes meet Aberfa's brown eyes. "Git yerself home, girl. For as long as that babe cries beneath this roof, we'll go to th' other villages for our brews and doses." Cailin looked at Maeryn apologetically as she was harshly pushed through the door.

Maeryn moved to her cabinet and poured milk into one of the horns, then she motioned for Ailsa to bring her the baby. She sat herself into the chair that Aberfa had been in just a little while earlier, and took the boy, patting his bottom as she whispered with a soothingly low voice, "Shhh- shhh. I've got ye now, ye hungry thing." The baby whipped his head back and forth, mouth wide open, before finally finding the tip of the horn, and began to suck deeply, his eyes rolling with the far extent of his comfort.

Siobhan, Kathleen and Ailsa stood like statues, silence filling the space between them.

"Maeryn..." Siobhan whispered. "Are you really going to keep him?"

Maeryn looked up from the little creature in her arms, smiling. "Yes. It's that simple. This child, whatever he is,  has no ill intent. At least no more than any other baby. He wants to be held, and patted and kissed and cood at. How does one, with good conscience, give him anything else?" she rocked a little and pulled the horn from his mouth a bit because he had stopped sucking in his slumber. The movement roused him, though he didn't open his eyes, and he began to suck again, milk dripping across his little cheeks.

The girls looked around at each other, and Maeryn laughed softly. She rose, and moved to pressed the baby and his horn into Siobhan's arms. Siobhan sat staring at him, her lovely mouth open a little with awe, her eyes wide, looking him over.  Kathleen smiled a smug smile, haughty with the pleasure of defying Aberfa, even if it was another who did so. Ailsa looked uncertain, though, and pulled her gray shawl tighter around her shoulders. She was uneasy, even though she'd shielded the child herself.

Maeryn placed her arm about Kathleen's shoulder, and made a short attempt to smooth Ailsa's billowy hair. "G'on girls. Go an' do yer mornin' chores." She pressed them out her door, and called after them, laughingly, "And get yerselves a couple o' husbands!" She cackled good naturedly as they hurried off into the heart of the town to be about their business.

Siobhan put the empty horn aside, and held the baby boy in front of her. Cuinn slept easily, his little fists above his head, mouth parted slightly, hair sticking every which way. Siobhan's golden waves fell over her shoulders as she leaned forward and breathed the baby's scent in. She giggled slightly under her breath, and bit her bottom lip shyly. A slow blush crept from her throat, up into her rounded cheeks. "One day, maybe soon, I'll be the one with a new baby."

Maeryn crooked a smile at her and patted her shoulder. "Ye're young. Ye have plenty of time." She laughed at the blush in the young girl's complexion, but it didn't seem unkind. Maeryn, though never married, had never been prudish. "First, I need some help making poultices and soaps today. Would ye like to stay?" She paused, "Or is that new husband of yers waitin'  for ye at home?"

Siobhan shook her head. "Nah. He's workin' the fields today."

The eves of the house were hung thickly with herbs tied upside down so that they would dry. Siobhan rose, and took him to his little basket, and began to ease him into it. "Which ones do you want first?"

Maeryn smiled, gathering her mortar and pestle. "The chamomile. Mistress Bria's been havin' trouble sleepin'."

Sharply, Cuinn began to scream as though he were in pain, pitiful wails of terror escaping his little throat. Siobhan snatched him back out of his cradle immediately, drawing in a breath of surprise. "Oh, now, now!" she whispered, bouncing softly. "What's-a-matter?"

The Wise One bolted across the floor to check him.

"It seems ye might have a spoiled babe already, Mistre- uh- Maryn." Siobhan smiled over the baby's fuzzy head as he began to hush, mossy green eyes wide open now, head lolling against Siobhan's protective hand, none of his control.

Maeryn's face wore a look of confusion, and she shook her head slightly. Siobhan could almost see the wheels in her head turning, and her smile fell. "What?" Maeryn's gray eyes looked over the little basket and rested on the mistletoe hung above it. She snatched it off, hissing through her teeth as she flung it across the room to the wooden table.

"It's not that. He's not's the mistletoe." Her eyes rose to look at the beams above her, and she pursed her lips at the St. John's wort drying along with the other herbs in the eaves. "And likely the St. John's Wort and the Belladonna as well." She motioned to a potted plant near her back window, viney and covered in shiny black berries. "Faerie Bane."  She sighed to herself as Cuinn tried to shove his little fist into his mouth. Siobhan chewed her bottom lip again, but this time, she was pale instead of flushed.

"Well, he's only  half." Maeryn shrugged. "I don't see a way around it. Likely, it won't kill him the way it's supposed to do to the Sidhe...he doesn't like it...maybe it'd hurt him...but I think, if he doesn't touch it, it won't hurt him." she touched her fingers to her forehead. "He'll...he'll have to get used to it. I'm the Wise One." she whispered.

Siobhan tried to offer  a comforting smile, but she still looked uncertain. "I'm sure he's just fine....we'll just keep him away from it. That's all." she nodded curtly, and began to coo at the boy, who stared back with his wide eyes, blinking occasionally.  "And...and the Sidhe won't come for him anyway because...." she struggled for words, but could find none, so she swallowed hard instead.

"I just don't know if they will or if they won't." Maeryn whispered. "I'll hang Rowan berries above the doors and salt the windows. But his crib must be kept free of Faerie Bane of any kind." she turned to the younger woman, her eyes becoming quite desperate. "Please don't tell anyone?" It was a question.

Siobhan nodded. "Of course."  She pursed her rosebud lips in concern and eyed the child, who had calmed completely, and stared at her with those giant, deep, mossy eyes, and she felt as though he was prodding her soul with them.
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