They watched as the woman open the backdoor and a few windows of the fieldstone cottage. It wasn’t quite spring, yet, but humans hated to be cooped up almost as much as they did.
“Did you see, sister?” Ivy hissed. “Humans are so stupid. It left the door open for us.”
Tansy stared at the tiny dwelling. The sharp pointed roof meant to keep the humans dry and warm, leaked. The mortar around the stones crumbled in places. And the bitter wind whistled through the cracked windows and the warped, wooden door.
Creeping closer, they could hear the human talking to its young. The noise of the small creature cooing and laughing drifted to them on the breeze. Tansy frowned. They sounded so happy together. It seemed cruel to take the young one from its mother—even if they were just dumb animals.
The child began to fuss and Ivy screwed up her face at the din. The haunting strains of a lullaby and the creak of wood against wood were carried out to where Tansy and Ivy hid among the spindly trunks of the trees. The young one eventually quieted and so, too, did its mother.
“Maybe we should leave this one be,” Tansy suggested.
Ivy whirled on her, her pale green hair flying like ribbons through the skeletal branches of a tree. Her eyes narrowed. “The queen wants a baby. There is a baby in there.”
“But the woman—she’s kind—she leaves us milk and honey.”
Ivy glared, and Tansy took a step back, cowed by the ferocity in her sister’s eyes. “They are little better than beasts. Besides, milk and honey matter not when we can give the queen the one thing she desires most.”
Tansy sighed as her sister crept closer to the cottage. “Bring the changling,” Ivy threw over her shoulder. Her attention was snared by a shadow passing in front of one of the upper windows. “There,” she pointed. “The young one is alone. Hurry.”
Gathering the bundle of sticks and rocks and stardust tighter in her arms, Tansy did as she was told. As she always did.
Creeping across the hewn, wooden floor, Tansy made her way to an ornately carved cradle near the fireplace where a pink cheeked infant lay sleeping. The child’s bed was the only thing of any worth or beauty in the room. Four delicately turned acorns sat atop a post on each of the four corners.
Ivy plucked disdainfully at the rough, homespun blanket. “At least, under the queen’s care, it’ll will have dresses of gossamer and bedding of silk.”
But the child wouldn’t have its mother’s love. Even the dumbest of the creatures had love for their offspring.
Noticing a pulled thread in the woven coverlet, Tansy shoved the changling at her sister. “You set the glamour—you’ve always been better at it.” Ivy preened, and Tansy fought not to roll her eyes as she turned to lift the small human from the cradle. “I’ll carry it back to the Boarderland.”
Ivy gestured to the blanket. “Leave that. It’s disgusting.”
“It’s too cold out there, and humans are far too fragile. The queen will be upset if it dies before we cross into Faery.”
Her sister agreed immediately, and Tansy knew she’d been right to appeal on behalf of the queen’s ire. The child snuggled closer to her in its sleep.
The floor creaked above, and the sisters froze. Ivy recovered first and quickly whispered the charm that would render the pile of sticks and rock into the likeness of the human child.
Tansy looked at the changling. Its cheeks were too pink. It looked ill. Even if she’d wanted to point it out to Ivy, she couldn’t. There were footsteps on the stairs.
Ivy darted toward the door, and Tansy followed, pausing to make sure the loose thread from the blanket had snagged on one of the carved cradle posts and was slowly pulling free.
As Tansy passed by the first of the trees crowding the house, she heard the unmistakable sounds of rocks thunking hollowly against wood followed by an anguished cry of a wounded animal.
Slowing her pace slightly, she hoped the human had the presence of mind to notice the thread while there was anything left to unravel.
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