Changeling’s Island – Snippet 13
The week was one long drift of confusion, every waking hour. Tim was as careful as he could be at school not to draw any attention to himself. They were the living dead, but he was stuck here. And at least they had computers and a school library. He didn’t want to do the stuff he had to on the farm. He resented it. Why should he? Only…it was so difficult not to. His grandmother worked at everything next to him. He’d gotten used to looking to see what she was doing, so he could learn how to do it, as most of it he had no idea just how to manage. And, well, she must have eyes in the back of her head. Or the little people she talked to must be telling on him, which was just as crazy.
About the only good thing he could say was walking eight kilometers a day, four there and four back, having to get up far too early, mostly because he wasn’t going to be embarrassed by a lift again — he didn’t want them seeing that he had to walk — and then digging, or sawing, or hauling poles around, well, he was so tired he nearly fell asleep into his food every night.
He was locked down into “survive” mode. He could handle it for a few weeks until his mum sorted things out.
* * *
Áed, now with the little fenodree helping, steered the master past disasters. He would have cut his foot half off, and been kicked by the cow, otherwise, as well as gotten lost. They’d had their hands full that week.
Áed realized he’d better brave finding out what the selkie was after. When the master was safe asleep, and the fenodree was out cutting hay for the beasts, Áed went down to the wide and wasteful ocean. It was, as the sea always was, hungry. It frightened him, but unlike the great ones in the hollow hills, for Áed the sea itself was not accursed and deadly. He could cross it by boat or plane, or even fly above it himself, quite cheerfully.
The selkie must have been watching, because she came. But the fenodree was right: when Áed backed off she would not follow him onto the dune. Well, he’d seen the powers of the land here. “What do you want?” he asked in his own tongue, as she crooned. He felt her drawing spell, but it had little effect on him. That, too, was good to know. This place must protect him too.
“I want the key, little one.”
“What key?” Áed asked, warily, knowing a little, but fishing to find out as much as he could.
“The key to the door into the hollow hill, where King Finvarra feasts with his host,” she answered.
“And what would that be doing here?” asked Áed, doing his best at innocence. Such a precious thing would not be given to mortals, but only those of the blood.
The selkie looked at him and put on the appearance of a teacher. Such things amused the seal-people. “It was given, as such always are, to the royal halfling child which was put out as a changeling to live among humans, so he can return to the hollow hills when he is grown. Only this child did not return. Neither did the key. It was taken away, beyond the reach of the king. He wants it back.”
Áed knew that the blood of the Aos Sí kings ran in his master. That was why Áed himself had been drawn from the hollow hill, to the boy. The master had been a boy then, and not a man, as the people of the hollow hills and old country called being of age. Humans and indeed the Aos Sí were of age when they could father children, not before. It had only been when the master had begun to change from a boy to a man that he had become Áed’s master.
The Aos Sí lords and kings got bored sometimes, and mixed with mortal men…or rather, with the women, with inevitable results: children.
The hollow hills were not good for those children of mixed blood though. They seemed to need sunlight. Áed liked sunlight himself. The half-bloods were exchanged for human babes, and fostered in human homes. When they came of age…they came home. The human children stayed among the Aos Sí, and did not return to the sunlight. They died in the hollow hills.
Humans lived such short lives, in exchange for souls.
Áed had never heard of a changeling who had not gone back. Sometimes they left children of their own behind, under the sun. The green land of Ireland was full of such traces of Aos Sí. Áed knew that others of his kind were sometimes drawn to such, until they were banished again.
The selkie spoke again. “King Finvarra wants his key. He wants it back with or without the one whose birthright it is. It has passed through too many generations unclaimed. It should never have left the old country. I have searched for a long time to find it again.”
“Then why don’t you collect it and be on your way?” asked Áed, knowing the answer was important, and suspecting that he knew the answer already, but wanting it confirmed.
The selkie smiled, a nasty smile, all teeth and no humor. “This place. The land. It binds, little one. It will bind you too. If I leave the ocean, it would bind me. I don’t want to age and die, trapped here. So bring it to me. Bring me the key, and I will free you too. I do not wish to do you, or your master, ill. I just want the key. But if I don’t get it, I will hurt him. Kill him, if need be.”
She was lying. Only the master could send Áed away, and that would be in disgrace and back to the hollow hills, rather than freedom. “You will have to fetch it yourself. Or ask my master. It is his birthright.”
The selkie had tried to splash him. That was pure spite, Áed knew. So were the names she called him as he left her sitting in the salt water.
* * *
For Tim the week came to a final low on Friday night. He was tired. Well, he had been tired every night, but he’d been coping pretty well, he thought. But then the phone rang.
His grandmother answered it. “Yes,” she said. “Yer can talk to him.”
Hearing his mother’s voice on the phone tore Tim up inside. In the background he could hear the sound of traffic. The sounds of Melbourne. “When can I come home? Please?”
There was a long silence down the phone. A sigh. “I shouldn’t have called. My friend Melanie said to let you have a month just to settle. Look, you’re not coming back to Melbourne for now, Tim. I…I just called to let you know the police were here today. They’re investigating a case of arson at that store. I had to tell them where you were. Someone may want to talk to you.”
“I didn’t do anything. I want to come home!”
“You can’t. Look, it’s for your own good, Tim. You’re there to keep you away from…from that stuff.”
“I told you I didn’t. I didn’t, I didn’t! I need to come home. I hate it here!”