A Story From: Scotland
Read Time: ["16 to 20mins"]
For Ages: 8 to 10yrs.
The Stolen Bairn (Baby) ~ Fairy Tale Stories for Kids
It was an odd sight that greeted two tall, dark, sharp-eared fairies. There under the bushes by the cliffs, was a baby wrapped in its blankets mewing and cooing. Only his wee little face poked through, and not a soul nearby to claim him.
"I would like such a bairn," said one fairy, arching her eyebrow.
"Aye," said the other, looking around. "No one is around to stop us."
In an instant, the two fairies snatched up the bundle in their claw-like arms and vanished.
Just a few minutes later, sailing by the cliffs, two fishermen noticed the figure of a woman fallen on the rocks, her golden locks hanging low.
"'Tis a lass!" said one.
"Don't even think of stopping," said the other, turning the tiller away from the sharp, rocky cliffs near the shore. "Our boat will break to pieces!"
"But look - she must be injured, or worse," said the first. "We can't go home & have our dinner knowing we left her behind!"
So the two fishermen carefully anchored their boat on the high, rocky waters by the cliffs and climbed up the rocks to the lass, lying still on the rocks.
"Think she's still with us?"
"Aye," said the other, "but we'd best get her back to the village, right quick."
The women of the village nursed the stranger with teas of fern root and violets steeped in whey. At last, the lass opened her eyes.
"My bairn," she murmured. "Where's my bairn?"
"Lass," said an older woman, worriedly glancing at the other womenfolk. "You were found quite alone."
The lass sat up straight, surprising them all.
"Nay! I bundled my bairn good and safe by the bushes when I went for just a moment to fetch him water. I must have fallen on the rocks. My bairn must still be there!"
The villagers quickly formed a search team and returned to the cliffs. They searched the whole live long day, tramping up and down the path and all around the area, asking everyone they could find. But no one knew of a baby that had been found by the cliffs.
One of the fishermen had to give the mother the sorry news. "Stay here in our village with us," said he. "This can be your new home. We have many a fine lad for you to marry. You'll have another bairn before long, no doubt."
She drew in her breath. "Thank you, just the same. I know you mean well. But now I must go to find my bairn."
So the lass traveled from farm to village, searching and asking everyone she met about her lost baby. With her hair blown about and a wild expression in her eyes, many thought her crazed, and perhaps she was, a bit.
One day the lass wandered into a camp of gypsies. "Where is my bairn? Can anyone help me?" The girl looked so forlorn and weary, a mother with three young children took pity on her. She bid the lass to come inside her tent. She washed the feet of the visitor and fed her from her own pot. "Where is my bairn?" was all the girl could say.
"Alas, I know not," said the young mother. "But my grandmother is the wisest woman I know. If anyone can help you find your little one, it is she."
She led the lass to another tent. Inside sat a very wrinkled ancient woman dressed in black from head to toe and sitting at a table. The grandmother heard the sad story. Saying nothing, clasped her hands upon the hands of the lass. And there they sat, hour after hour, hand in hand, till darkness fell. At midnight, the grandmother selected herbs from a basket and scattered them over the fire. The fire leaped up and the smoke that rose from the burning herbs swirled round the old gypsy woman's head. She closed her eyes and listened as the fire burned hot. When it died down, she took the lass's hand again.
"Give up thy search, poor lass," said the grandmother sorrowfully. "For thy baby has been stolen away by the fairies. Taken to live with them, he was. It's best that you accept it, lass. The fairies are far more powerful than we mortals."
The lass was silent. Then she said, darkly, "If I cannot get back my bairn, I might as well lay down and die."
"No, child!" urged the old grandmother, tears welling in her eyes. "Perhaps there is a way..."
"What?" whispered the lass. "A spell?"
"Ah, if only it were that easy!" said the ancient gypsy grandmother. "The fairies are a vain people who enjoy rare and beautiful things, but they have no art. If they see something exquisite, something very rare and extraordinary, they will want it. And if you have such an unusual item, you might be able to bargain with them. But it would have to be something without equal anywhere in the world. And I'm afraid you would need two such treasures - one to gain entrance inside the fairy mound, where they live. And another to bargain with for your babe."
The old woman sighed. "What's more, the time for you to obtain two treasures is short. If only you had 10 years! But the truth is, in 10 days the fairy people will gather together from all corners of the earth to choose a new ruler for the next 100 years. Your baby is sure to be among them for the event. After that, who knows where your babe might go? And now," she said, "there is only more thing I can do for you."
The old gypsy grandmother laid one hand on the girl's head and cast a spell to protect her from fire and earth, wind and water. Unable to do anything more, they bid goodbye.
Uplifted by the notion that she might, after all, find her baby, the lass went on her way. Then suddenly, she felt as if she had struck her head on the cliffs once again. How could she, penniless as she was, ever obtain a rare and exotic treasure, much less two?
Her head spinning, she lay a hand on a tree to steady herself. What items do people speak of in wonder? All she could think of were two legendary items from kings of yesteryear - the famous white cloak of King Nechtan and the golden stringed harp of King Wrad. Suddenly she knew what she must do.
The lass headed straight to the shore, where large seabirds called eider ducks nested. On the beach were the fur sheddings from the ducks. Soft down duck fur that had shed from their breasts, and delicate white feathers that had rolled off their wings. She clambered up and down the rocks gathering the cottony down and the clusters of white feathers. Sharp rocks scraped her feet but did not pierce her skin, the hot sun burnt in the sky but that did not redden her face. The wind splashed the waves on the rocks but her dress and legs stayed dry. Ah, she thought with warm gratitude, the spell of the gypsy grandmother was shielding her from the ill effect of earth and fire, wind and water.
The lass gathered all the down and feathers she needed. Then she set to weaving the down into a large cloak. The cloak was so soft and thick that it looked as if a tuft of cloud had been plucked from the sky. Then to decorate border around the cloak, she wove the delicate white feathers around the edges. In three quick strokes, she cut off her long golden hair that had fallen to her waist. Setting aside one strand of her locks for later, she took the rest and wove the strands into the feathered border, making golden flowers and leaves, all glimmering and resplendent.
Day and night she worked for there was not a moment to lose. After she had stitched the final stitch, she carefully folded the soft white cloak, laid it under a shrub and returned to the seashore.
Searching the sandy beach, the lass looked for the right shape of bones to make a frame for a harp. Luckily she discovered an arc of bone that had been washed by the waves to such a smooth perfection that it resembled ivory. Taking the bone back to the shrub, she tied it together to make a frame for a harp. From the lock of hair she had set aside before, she braided each of her tiny hairs into thin strands, then twisted several thin strands together to form strong, elegant strings for the harp. She stretched the strings tight and set them in tune. When she plucked a note, it was so full of longing and grief that even the birds winging their way to the sea stopped in mid-air for a moment and cocked their heads to hear.
The lass wrapped her cloak around her shoulders, held the harp to her chest and set out to the mound where the fairies were known to live. As she traveled, villagers stepped aside for her to pass, according her the respect due a princess. But of this she noticed nothing, and continued along the high road and the byroad, her eyes fixed straight ahead. At last, as the moon rose full, she reached the entrance of the fairy mound. She spread her billowing cloak upon the path and stepped aside.
Before long a fairy strode toward her.
The fairy pointed at her. "You! No humans are allowed here. Leave at once!"
The fairy noticed the white cloak. "Hmm," she said. "Finders keepers." And she stooped for it.
"Nay!" said the lass. "It's mine. You cannot have it!" She quickly snatched the cloak from the ground, cleverly wrapping it round her shoulders so it swirled around her body, its folds glimmering in the sun and its golden threads shining.
"Mortal, don't be a fool! I'll give you a handful of gold for it."
"This cloak is not for sale. 'Tis embroidered with my own golden hair, and there's none like it in the world!"
"No amount of gold?" scoffed the fairy. "You make me laugh - all you humans crumble at the first glint of gold. Very well, I'll fill your pockets with gold and all you can hold in your arms. There! Are you satisfied now?"
"The cloak is not for sale for ANY amount of gold," she repeated, "nor for any regular price."
"WHAT then?" said the fairy, sensing a bargain could be struck.
"Take me with you inside the fairy mound. Then the cloak will be yours and you're welcome to it."
"What a fool," mumbled the fairy, but she took the lass by the hand and together, they entered the fairy mound. Once inside, the fairy snatched the soft white cloak from the lass's shoulders, and the girl let it go with a smile. Glancing back, she saw the fairy showing off the cloak and a crowd of other tall, dark fairies surrounding her, touching it, begging to be allowed to try it on, please, just once. But the lass headed straight forward, harp in hand, until she spied at the edge of the mound a high throne. Sitting on the throne was a tall, forbidding, sharp-eared creature, with his eyebrows deep cast into a frown, who she realized must be the new king of the fairies.
Fearlessly she approached the throne.
"You dare to approach the throne!" hissed the king. "How did you - a human! - get inside the fairy mound?"
The lass pointed to the fairy who had admitted her. The white-cloaked fairy turned and said, "Your Highness, she entered with me." The king frowned.
"And what have you there?" said he, nodding to the harp she clutched to her breast.
"'Tis my harp," said she.
"I have harps a'plenty," shrugged the king.
"Not like this," said the lass, and she plucked a few chords, ringing notes so pure and transcendent that the king stared in wonder.
"You offer this as a gift for me, the new king of the fairies?"
"The harp might be a gift under the right circumstance," the lass said quickly. "It's not for sale for any usual price."
"It's naught but a common harp and you know it," shrugged the king. "You think too much of your little toy." Then he cunningly added, "but I could take it off your hands. What do you want for it?"
"The harp is beyond price," said the lass. "'Tis woven from my own golden hair.There's none like it in the world. There's only one trade of interest to me." The king arched one eyebrow. "My bairn!" she said. "Give me my bairn that was taken by the fairies after I left him in his blankets by the black cliffs. My bairn back, and the harp is yours!"
"Nonsense!" He was not anxious to let go of the chubby-cheeked infant, held deep in the woods. He ordered a few of the fairies to bring gold, and they piled armfuls of the precious nuggets around the youn woman's ankles. "Surely," he sneered, "that's more than enough payment for a common harp."
"Ooch, I do not want your gold!" she cried. "My bairn! I want my bairn and naught else!"
He clicked his fingers, and more fairies brought more armfuls of precious stones, this time of emeralds and rubies that heaped over the gold until a great pile of jewels rose to her waist.
Without looking once at the jewels she stared at the king. Said she with steely eyes: "My bairn! Give me my bairn and naught else!"
When he saw that she could not be moved, the king barked, "So take the brat - what do I care?"
"Give me the bairn first, then the harp," said she, knowing full well that if she let go of the harp first, she'd never see her baby again.
The king clicked his fingers. Before long, the baby was brought to his side. At once the infant recognized its mother and reached out. The lass gripped the harp tightly, her chin up. She repeated, "Give me the bairn first."
So the baby was returned to its mother, and the lass gave the harp to the king. He struck a few chords and the purest and sweetest melody every heard in the fairy kingdom rang out. All the fairies gathered round, delighting in the talents of their new king and vigorously nodding their heads with admiration.
Clutching her baby, the lass turned from the king, quickened out of the fairy mound, and headed to the fisherfolk who had cared for her so tenderly. Overjoyed were they that she had returned to their village - and with her bairn, no less! And that is where the lass and her little one stayed for many happy years.
WE WANT TO HEAR FROM YOU!
Retold by Elaine L. Lindy. ©2007. All rights reserved.
Sidh (pronounced "Shee"). A Gaelic word referring to earthen mounds that were thought to be home to a supernatural race and the fairies who lived there. The kingdom, Sidhean, is pronounced "She-an."
King Nechtan was an historical king of the Picts who lived from 597 to 620. He was somewhat enlightened and credited for taking his people out of the Dark Ages. The Picts were a confederation of tribes in what later was to become central and northern Scotland from Roman times until the 10th century.
King Wrad was a warlord who became king of the Picts during a troubled time of raids and battles with the Vikings. He died in 842.