By Hannah Robinson
When the baker and his wife abandoned their infant son in the forest, they doubtlessly hoped a benevolent Faerie clan would find and raise him to be wise and good. Their hope was not foolish. Merciful Faeries often adopted Foundlings and raised them in health, joy, and safety, creating the beginning to a faerie tale in which everyone would live happily ever after.
But this child … I reached him first.
I still remember the night I heard his cry amid the thunder and wind. It stirred my heart as nothing had for years. When I laid eyes on that skinny baby in a bundle of rags, I swore I’d never give him up.
And so my own faerie tale began.
I named him Ensel and brought him back to my hut. I fed him the best fruits of my garden, and he grew strong and healthy. I put a fence around my yard so he could never run away or be abducted. And I cast a spell that would bind him to me forever, so he could never love another.
For how else could anyone love a villain?
Early one morning when Ensel was still young, a knock sounded at my door. I placed Ensel in the cradle I’d made for him. He gazed up at me with wide, trusting eyes, and I kissed the top of his head. “Stay here, love.”
The visitor rapped louder on the door.
“I’m coming, I’m coming.” I grabbed my cane, then drew my cloak tighter around my shoulders to cover my old, gnarled wings. “You’d think living in the center of an enchanted forest would provide some privacy.”
The moment I unbolted my six locks, the door opened and light flooded my hut. I drew back, shielding my eyes.
“Here you are, Shadowmend!” The visitor’s tone carried a touch of anger. “We’ve long been searching for you.”
As my eyes adjusted to the light, I looked the visitor up and down. Her white dress shimmered, and her wings glistened in the sunlight.
“Meralda.” I clenched my teeth, my blood becoming hot. “Why should you be searching for me?”
“The Faeries haven’t forgotten the harm you’ve done our people.” Meralda stroked the top of her silver scepter.
My heart burned. “And I haven’t forgotten the harm the Faeries have done me.”
“I’m glad we’ve finally located you.”
I started to shut my door, but Meralda lodged her scepter in it. I scowled. “You’re not welcome here.”
“What do you have inside that cradle?” The Faerie queen pushed me aside and stepped into my home.
“None of your business.” I thrust my cane in Meralda’s path, but she touched it with her scepter, and the wood smoked.
“Move aside, Shadowmend. Let me see.”
My heart pounded fast. I spread the edge of my cloak over the cradle. “There is nothing of importance here.” Conceal the child.
Meralda brushed my cloak aside and looked down into the cradle. Her eyes narrowed. “Empty? You deceive me, Shadowmend. I know your magic.” She groped around the cradle, and my heart stopped as her white fingers brushed my child.
“Ah!” She touched him with her scepter, breaking the invisibility I’d placed on him. “A child!”
“He is mine. He is my right.” I picked him up and held him close.
Meralda’s laugh was like a knife. “Your right? I don’t recall giving you permission for a child.”
“I don’t need permission. I found him. I raised him. He’s mine.”
Ensel hid his face in my shoulder, and I leaned my chin against his soft head.
Meralda stared down her nose at us and extended her perfect hand. “Give him to me. The Faeries will look after him better than a witch like you ever could.”
“He’s my son!”
“He’s not your son! He’s a Foundling. He belongs to the Faeries.”
My blood boiled, and I clutched Ensel so firmly that he whimpered. “Have you forgotten my lineage? I was born a Faerie.”
Meralda’s lips curled away from her teeth. “You rejected your lineage.” She tried to turn her sneer into a gentle smile. “Come now, Shadowmend. You don’t want him to become like you.”
Hatred throbbed through my head, and my vision darkened. “Leave my house, thief! You stole my lover. You will not steal my son!” I banged my cane on the floor. A wave of light shot from it, and Meralda shrank back, quivering.
“Get out, thief!” The light flowed from my cane, pushing her further away.
She stumbled toward the door, her face a mask of agony. “Stop. Stop!” She held up her hands.
I growled, but I lifted my cane, and her body relaxed. Panting heavily, she looked at me, her face pale and weak. “You’ll pay for this, Shadowmend!”
I turned my back to her, pressing my lips against Ensel’s head. “Get away.”
I felt her burning glare as she stepped out and slammed the door behind her. I released my breath. Ensel began to cry, and I loosened my grip on him.
“Mama.” It was the only word he’d learned how to say, but it was all I needed. He rested his cheek on my shoulder, his tears soaking through my thin cloak to my skin.
“It’s all right, love. No one will take you from me.”
Times like these rubbed old scars raw. As I clung to Ensel in the years that followed, wounds from the past resurfaced and festered until the poison of terror ran through my blood.
I remembered the day I stood on the outskirts of a marriage celebration that should’ve been mine but wasn’t. Meralda glowed as she kissed the man who should’ve been mine forever but didn’t belong to me anymore. I could never forget the triumph in her eyes when she looked up and saw me withering beneath the rubble of my shattered faerie tale.
“Of course, Meralda. You can win anyone’s heart with an enchantment.” I often said it aloud, even years after the wedding. “But I didn’t use an enchantment, because he loved me for who I am.”
Evidently I wasn’t enough.
Nurtured by stolen love, Meralda grew stronger, younger, and more beautiful while I languished. And when I was banished from the Faeries, my own vitality faded. I became what they called me—a witch. Ugly, old, and alone.
That is, until I discovered the baby.
Every day I caressed Ensel’s rosy cheeks with my gnarled fingers. “It’s all right, love. No one will take you from me.”
He grew, and we moved from place to place in the forest. My abilities with magic proved advantageous, for transposing a home was much easier than building a new one. We seemed to keep the Faeries off our trail.
My son passed his eighth birthday … then his ninth … then his tenth. Before I knew it, I stood on tiptoe to kiss the fair head of a handsome and intelligent young man. He never doubted my love. But he asked many other questions.
“Mama, why did the Faeries banish you?”
Because I destroyed so many of them, my love, when they robbed me of my heart and my life. But I didn’t tell him that. “Because they don’t understand me, love. Few people do.”
“Mama, where did you learn magic?”
From the most powerful dark sorcerer I could find, love. “From a great and powerful ruler, dearest.”
“Mama, why did you learn magic?”
So I could ruin my enemy, love. “It is a useful skill, my precious.”
My answers satisfied him. He never thought to mistrust me. And I never gave him reason to. He only loved me with all his young heart. The enchantment prevented him from doing otherwise.
When Ensel was fifteen, he asked a new question. “Mama, may I venture into the forest alone?”
I patted his curly, golden head. This, at least, was a question I could answer honestly. “We’ve discussed this before, love. The wicked Faeries would rejoice in stealing you from me.”
His forehead wrinkled. “They probably couldn’t capture me.”
“I don’t think you realize how powerful they are.”
He pulled away from my touch to gaze out the window. “I want to explore, Mama.”
I followed him. “The forest is a dark and dangerous place. You must never go out alone. You know that. If you wish to explore, I’ll explore with you.”
Ensel sighed. “Yes, Mama.”
I watched him carefully. After a few weeks, he seemed to lose his yearning for freedom, and I rested more easily.
On his sixteenth birthday, I rose early to pick wild raspberries. I charmed a beehive into relinquishing some honey, gathered a myriad of wild roots and leaves, and hastened home to make my beloved his favorite breakfast. My steps were light, because I knew my boy loved me and always would.
When I opened the door to our hut, I sang out, “Happy birthday, love!”
Silence greeted me, and I set down my armload of food to go to Ensel’s bed. The blankets were drawn up over his head.
“Ah, the darling! He’s still asleep. Well, he deserves it.” I touched his shoulder, and it felt soft. Puzzled, I pushed back the covers.
The blankets concealed a pile of clothes rolled up to resemble a human figure. My breath caught in my throat.
“Ensel?” I threw a panicked glance around the room, my heart beginning to race. “Ensel? Where are you?”
Shouting his name, I ran out to the garden. It was empty. My breath came fast and shallow as I hurried inside, where I threw on my cloak and seized my cane. When I gripped my doorknob to go back out, my skin tingled. Someone hovered outside the door. With a deep breath, I opened it.
Familiar light flooded my face, but I refused to recoil. “Meralda! What have you done to my son?”
She smiled. “You mean the Foundling you took from the Faeries? He’s safe now, where he belongs.”
Black clouds of hatred swirled through my vision. “You thief! You liar! How can you accuse me of being evil when you’ve stolen your own kinswoman’s lover and child?”
“You are not my kinswoman, Shadowmend.”
I yelled and raised my cane to strike her, but she touched it. It flew out of my hands and thumped against the far side of my hut. I lunged at her, but she reached toward me, and my body slammed into an invisible wall, knocking me flat on my back.
“I’ve grown stronger, Shadowmend.” Meralda towered over me, her beautiful, wicked face calm. “You’ll never reclaim the Foundling.”
A sob ripped my chest. “Witch!”
She stared down her nose at me. “The correct term is Mighty Enchantress.”
“Why should you covet my child? Why should you gain such pleasure from breaking my heart?”
“I confiscated the Foundling for the balance of the entire kingdom. A witch can’t possibly raise a good and kind child. You’ve reared him in darkness. Unless we act now and teach him the light, he’ll become exactly what you are. An outcast and a villain.”
I hid my face in my hands, weeping. “He wouldn’t be an outcast, because I love him, and he loves me. We’d have each other.”
“And what is that? Ha!” Meralda tossed her head. “You can win anyone’s heart with an enchantment.”
I glared at her, and her narrow eyes glittered.
“It’s false love, Shadowmend. The boy can’t truly love you. You forced his love.”
“And you forced—”
“I know what I forced. And the emptiness it has brought me.”
“Emptiness?” My mind whirled with sorrow and rage and confusion. I attempted to stand, but she shoved me back to the floor with her magic.
“Bitterness! Brokenness!” She leaned over me. “Tell me, haven’t you ever felt shame that the Foundling’s love for you is false?”
My heart twisted. “His love for me is real!”
“You gave him no choice but to love you. How can that be genuine?”
I buried my face in the ground. I couldn’t speak.
“My husband is devoted to me. And it brings me no joy, because I have forced it.”
“Then why don’t you reverse your enchantment?” I jerked my head up. “Why don’t you let him love for himself?”
Her face was like ice. “Because if I release him, he’ll abandon me.”
I could only stare at her, my soul wrenched by the awful truth in her words. With her jaw taut and her eyebrows drawn together, she tapped her silver staff against the ground and disappeared.
If I release him, he’ll abandon me. My body ached. My throat tightened, and I had to gasp for air. Ensel, my love, you’ve already left me! But you will never cease to love me.
And I will find you.
My heart beating faster in resolve, I picked myself up and dried my face. I wrapped a loaf of bread in a napkin and tucked it into my cloak. Then I set off.
No magic could trace my baby. I tried spell after spell, but a light too brilliant for me to pierce shrouded him from my view. So I roamed the forest for weeks.
Every few days, I transposed my house so I could search a different sector of the woods. But
I always returned empty and exhausted. Most nights I cried myself to sleep.
This isn’t the end of our faerie tale together, my love. I will find you. When I do, I will never let you out of my sight. I will never give you up. And I will have my vengeance.
One day, in my desperate wandering, I stumbled into a Faerie settlement, and my hopes rose. My heart beat faster as I approached one of the Faerie houses and knocked. The settlement was utterly still, and no one answered, so I pounded again, harder.
Finally, a young Faerie cracked the door and peeped out. “Who is it?”
“A mother looking for her lost son.”
She opened the door all the way and studied me, her eyes wide and fearful. “You’re a witch.”
“Do you have a boy named Ensel here?”
“But why do you have wings?”
I yanked my cloak down, but I knew the lumps still protruded from my back. “Never mind. Do you have a boy here?”
“A Foundling?” She scrunched up her brow, her eyes still fixed on my wings.
“Yes. A Foundling. Sixteen years old. Named Ensel.”
“Speak!” I tapped my cane against the ground.
She flinched and shrank back. “We had one, but Meralda took him yesterday.”
My stomach lurched. “Yesterday! Where did she take him?”
“We don’t ask Meralda what she means to do.”
My blood boiled. “She’ll pay for this! I’ll make her pay!”
The little Faerie stepped away. “She’s the queen. You can’t—”
“Silence!” The world around me seemed dark, and my head throbbed. “You’re all helping her! You’re stealing my child from me, hiding him, passing him around like he’s nothing but a toy! He’s my son!”
The Faerie dropped her gaze. “Meralda said—”
“Silence!” I jabbed my cane into the ground, and a ring of light exploded from it. The Faerie crumpled to the floor and lay still.
I gritted my teeth. “Meralda will pay.”
I hit the ground with my cane once more, and a bigger ring of light spanned out. It collided with the Faerie houses, and they trembled. I struck again. Faeries rushed out in terror and collapsed as the rings of power enveloped them. I pounded, pounded, pounded to the rhythm of my aching heart, my throbbing temples, and my shaking hands. I pounded until nothing remained except rubble and bodies. Even then I kept pounding until my strength drained from me and I sank to my knees.
“My baby! My Ensel! They’ve taken you from me! But I’ll find you!”
Night descended. As though in a trance, I stumbled back to my house and fell into bed, where I slept soundly until morning.
A sharp knock awakened me. My heart leapt. Ensel? I slipped out of bed, threw my cloak over my shoulders, and opened the door.
Meralda stood before me, her face pale and her eyes wide. “What have you done?”
Yesterday’s pain washed over me. “I did what I had to. You brought it upon them.”
“Not to them. To the boy.”
My breath caught in my throat. “What?”
“Shadowmend, he loves you with his whole heart. He always has. And that dark love is embedded in him so deeply he cannot let go of it. The light of the Faeries clashes with the love in his heart.”
“Then return him to me.”
She averted her eyes. “I can’t.”
“His love for you battled with the light in the Faerie settlement and depleted his strength. When you struck him with your magic yesterday—”
“What?” I could hardly whisper. “What did you say?”
Her face tightened. “Ensel was hidden in one of the houses you destroyed yesterday.”
“Almost. He was severely wounded by your power. But he doesn’t have the strength to recover.”
“But—but they claimed he wasn’t there!”
“I instructed them to lie.”
I moaned, leaning my head against the door frame, my heart so broken I couldn’t cry. “What have I done!”
“It isn’t too late.”
My pulse quickened. “It’s not?”
“No. If you free him from loving you, the light magic of the Faeries can cure him.”
“If you free him from your magic, I can cure him!” I trembled.
“No. You’ve struck him. You can’t save him from your own power.”
I knew it was true. I seized my coarse gray hair in both fists. “Oh, my baby!”
“Release him from your enchantment, Shadowmend. Then he’ll live.”
“But—” I shivered. “But he won’t love me.”
“No. He won’t.”
My heart broke. “My baby!”
“You alone can save him, Shadowmend.”
“Why should you care if I save him?” I burst out, scowling. “You stole him from me! You did it all out of spite. You should be pleased for him to die!”
“No.” Meralda’s face drooped. “He is a Foundling. It was my duty to save him from the beginning, from the moment you found him.”
“But you don’t truly love him!” I stepped toward her.
She didn’t flinch. “Do you think I never feel affection for the helpless children I raise?” She shook her head. “I care for them, Shadowmend. And I promise I will look after Ensel.”
I turned away, my chest heaving. My baby! But Meralda’s eyes held an emotion I’d never seen before. Could it be sympathy?
“Listen, Shadowmend.” Her tone was soft. “I’ve realized the pain of empty love and what I robbed from you. My husband died in horrible ignorance—”
Meralda fixed her eyes on the ground and nodded. “And I regret every moment I spent with him.”
It could’ve been so different! My heart wept for my lost love.
“Do you want Ensel to die empty like my husband? Don’t you want him to live and love for himself? Do you love him enough to let him go?”
Tears streamed down my face, and I closed my eyes.
“Here.” Meralda handed me a small, clear piece of glass, and I gazed into it.
She touched it. “Show us Ensel.”
The glass clouded, then formed a picture of my child lying limp and pale. He scarcely breathed. He was gaunt and weak. Tears blurred my vision, and I shoved the glass back at her. “I love him.”
“How much?” Meralda touched my shoulder. “Jealously or sacrificially?”
I jerked away from her, but this time no hatred boiled within me. Only pain deeper than words.
My baby, my only! My love! I swore I would never give you up. But I love you!
“You will not die, Ensel,” I murmured, placing my hand over my shuddering, breaking heart. “I love you.”
“What is your decision, Shadowmend?”
I lowered myself to my knees and bowed my head. The words weighed so heavily on my tongue that I couldn’t move it. I took a deep, quivering breath. “I … recall the spell. Let him love who he chooses. He … is no longer bound to me.”
Meralda sucked in her breath. When she spoke, her voice shook. “Then you truly love him.”
I covered my face and wept.
Perhaps I knelt there for hours, perhaps only for minutes. But when I looked up, Meralda had vanished, and the only evidence left was the glass I’d seen my son in.
Now the cabin seems still and empty, and the forest dark and silent. The sun is not as bright, the birds don’t sing as sweetly, and the old cradle in the corner is like the ghost of a golden life.
But I take comfort that somewhere out there, my baby lives on. I watch him through the glass every day. Whether he remembers me or not, I don’t know. But he is happy. And he is growing up to be wise and good.
If I had freed him from his enchantment earlier, could he still have loved me?
What I wouldn’t give to know what could have been!
But now I only have what may yet come to be.
Maybe my baby will never see me again. Maybe he’ll continue to grow up without me, oblivious to me, loving another.
But maybe I haven’t yet reached the end of our story. Maybe the end of one faerie tale is the beginning of another.
Correction: We originally published a version of this story containing edits which did not reflect the author’s original intent. We have now updated the story accordingly.
Hannah Robinson wrote her first short story, the epic picture book “Parmesan Snow,” when she was two years old, and she has been writing ever since. She was born in Ohio, but moved to Narnia when she was about ten. Since that time, she hasn’t stopped traveling between the real world and fantasy lands. Her mission is to provide teens with quality fantasy novels that are not only exciting but edifying. She wants Jesus to be the center of everything she does, including her writing.
Hannah’s favorite authors include Charles Dickens and C. S. Lewis. When she’s not engaged in writing, music, dance, or Bible study, she enjoys watching Star Wars and playing games with her wonderful family.
You can find out more about Hannah at hisinstrumentblog.wordpress.com.