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Summer fairy tale

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Конкурс фантрассказа Блэк-Джек-21
Поиск утраченного смысла. Загадка Лукоморья
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  • Аннотация:
    История из серии "Времена года", на английском. Перевод пока в работе.

  There once was a farm run by a tall woman with sun-straw hair and grey eyes. She loved her farm: the rolling pasture and a small watering hole, the white-washed house with red shutters and a door carved like a book, the tall oak near the well and the line of not-firs along the fence, the snug stable where her shaggy goats spent the winter and the small shed with chickens where a proud rooster greeted mornings with a loud call. But most of all she loved her new baby boy, just born last summer. He had his mommy's straw hair, but his eyes were green like lily-pads, and his hands soft like dadnelion fuss. His mommy carried him with her in a shawl while she was about her chores, or he toddled after her on his chubby legs and helped her by petting the goats and banging on the milking buckets. In the evenings, when she made goat cheese and cruds for sale, he sat on the floor and opened his mouth like a bird chick, and his mommy would laugh and put a ball of cheese in. They were very happy on a farm together.
   One morning, when the sun was just beginning to stick its rays out to check if the weather was any good, the woman got up, washed her face and brushed her hair. The baby still slept in a crib, arms and legs sticking out every which way. Mommy tucked a blancket over him and went to milk the goats. The door of the stable and the window of the bedroom were right across each other, so she knew that if the child cried or called for her she would hear him right away. But he didn't cry.
   The farmwoman milked the goats, let them out to pasture through a rickety gate, took the milk pails into the
  kitchen and covered them with cloth. She and the baby would have a cup of fresh milk with breakfast, and then she would think whether to turn the rest into yogurt, cheese, butter, ice-cream or lots of breads and pancakes. She wiped her hands on a towel and went to see how her son was doing. He was awake in a crib and looked at her when he woke up. But he didn't smile. She called: "Good morning, sleepyhead!" - and still he didn't smile. That was strange. This baby always smiled, he was such a very happy child. The farmwoman took him up in her arms and kissed his forehead. The baby wasn't hot, his tummy didn't seem too gurgly.
   "Did you have a bad dream, sweetling?" - she asked. But the child didn't coo at her and didn't call her "mamma". She put him down on her bed, turned to get his day-clothes out of the chest, and saw something green and toothy out of the corner of her eye. She looked back and there sat a serious baby on the pillow. Turned again, and again there was that green toothy thing. She went into the kitchen, dipped her finger into milk, returned to the bed and gave the finger to the child to lick. The baby lunged at the finger and bit and sucked on it. She yanked the finger back and there were the round dots of toothmarks, not the stick-like marks of the baby-teeth, but deep dots with little blood-spot, like a dog-bite. She gasped and felt the tears well in her eyes. She knew then that the baby was not her beautiful sun-haired baby boy, but a fairy changeling. She wanted to throw the fairy out the window, sit on the bed and cry, but she couldn't. She needed to think how to get her son back.
   So she picked up the changeling, dressed him in a red suit, took him into the kitchen, and gave him a bowl of milk with a roll of bread to eat. The changeling dropped to all four paws to lap the milk out of the bowl. His skin still looked pink, and his hair fair, but the lapping tongue forked every now and again. The farmwoman didn't feel hungry. She sat and thought. Fairies lived in hidden places and liked to keep what they got, that everyone knew. There were not cruel to children, and treated them well. Still, she wanted her son back. Maybe she should bribe them... but she didn't have much silver and gold, surely not as much as the fairies, who traded with gnomes and goblins. She had earth-food, and fairies liked that. But the more she though the more she felt that the fairies will not give up her child without some trick, and could not figure out what that trick might have to be. So she cried a little. Then the changeling finished his breakfast, and it was time to get going, trick or no trick. So the farmwoman packed several rolls of her best cheese, some bread loaves, the pot of honeycombs her baby boy liked to suck on, a packet of salt, a packet of pepper, a flask of new milk, and her favorite china plate with a sun and a moon in the sky together. That made a good size bundle. Then she put on her golden ring and a silver necklace with a flower, wrapped the changeling in a shawl, tied it to her back, and set off.
   She went by the Long Lake and a Small Pond, through a birch grove and an ash grove, by the big oak and around the blackberry hedge. As she was walking with a changeling and a bundle on her back she picked some burdock leaves and grass and made cups out of them. Near a blackberry hedge the changeling starter wailing, so she
  took him off her back, dandled him on her knee and fed him ripe blackberries until he was so full her went to sleep. Then she packed him into a shawl again and went off the road and into the granite-and-quartz hills where fairies lived. She went around big rocks and across tiny creeks, up hillsides and down into ravines until she reached a dolmen ring by a big flat rockface. There she poured milk with a piece of honeycomb into one of her burdock cups and put it into the middle of the ring for an offering. And then she waited, munched on a loaf of bread and a handful of berries that the changeling didn't eat, and thought about the fairies, because thinking about her stolen baby made her cry.
  
   Clouds rolled by, dragging shade behind them, sun peeped through them, caressing the leaves and the stones of the fairy ring, and she waited. Rain drizzled from the darker cloud, splattering the forest with a small "pat-pat-pittery-pat" sound that is so confortable when one is inside beside a fire with a warm bowl of soup, and she waited. A red squirrel skimmered down a tree and took some sips from the burdock cup, and still the farmwoman waited. And when the noon was already spent and the shadows began to lengthen, a narrow-muzzled brown creature with small human-like hands and feet, dressed in a smart yellow vest, ran out from behind a rock and made for the milk. The farmwoman let him take a couple of sips and stood up. The fairy, for this was one of the lesser fairies, froze and looked at her pitifully.
  -Is my milk sweet, fairy? - the farmwoman asked. The creature nodded vigourously.
  -Would you like to finish the bowl?
   The creature nodded so hard it almost dove into the milk.
  -I'll take passage under the hill for that.
  -Why is that you want to go under the hill? - the creature squeeked in a rather fine high voice.
  -I have a child of yours to return, - and here she showed the bundle with the changeling, snug and asleep in ther arms.
  -Human baby, human baby... - the fairy chanted, and the farmwoman almost believed him despite everything she knew.
  -Fairy baby, - she said, - Do you want that milk or not? Fresh this morn, and with a good slab of honeycomb inside.
   That was too much for the fairy - he looked longingly at the milk. But still he tried to exclude an upside woman from his domain.
  -Indeed, fairy baby, pardon my eyes! Give him me, I can take him to his dam and spare you the trouble.
  -I need to give him into the mother's own hands, - she said firmly, - And that milk will get no warmer.
   The creature sighed, nodded and dove for the treat. The woman waited until he licked the cup dry, sucked the honey and plopped the dry comb in his cheeck to chew.
  -On this way, - he squeeked, and led her behind one rock and around another, and behold! there was a passage there that she could not find alone, not this morning when she came to the dolmen ring, not years ago when she played here asa child. It led in, and in, and in, under roots and between roots, around puddles, and between rocks, and around boulders, and over boulders, and once through a stone arch. It was all underground with faint pale light shining in between the roots and earth walls and ceiling, but really rather pretty. The changeling baby woke up, wailed a little and was quieted by a lick of honey.
   Then they went by the lake shushing quietly in its sandy shores. A mere-girl sat on a rock and played with colored pebbles.
  -Look, upside-woman! - she cried when she saw them, - Come hither, we could play together!
  -I must go, - the farmwoman said reluctantly, for a mermaid could be of help if she chose. But this one was really too young, and this was a lake, not a river where she could accompany them, - But would you like a leaf-cup to play with?
   The mere-girl took the cup, licked one of her stones and gave it to the woman in return.
  -Water-rock, - she said, - I have many, and you none.
   And on the farmwoman went again, with the small fairy running ahead a little but always returning back and sniffling with his dark nose for more treats. He did see that lick of honey the baby-changeling got. They passed a goblin-creche, where little toothy babies rumbled-and-tumbled in the nest of rocks and forest-rubbish, and a mother-gnome's cook-fire of salamanders and oil. They walked by the roots of a tree so big that it seemed to take a whole passage to itself. They stepped under another stone arch into a large chamber of roots and rocks, and there the farmwoman saw her baby playing with a chunk of crystal. He sat at the feet of a fairy with long black tresses and large green eyes. The fairy was beautiful and wore a long golden robe with tree roots and fishes stiched onto it. Rings sparkled on her fingers and in her ears, and a necklace gleamed on her chest. She looked like a queen. Maybe she was queen of that hill.
  -Ah, who is here?! - she exclaimed.
   The little boy turned and smiled at his mother, but the fairy waved one hand at him and he returned back to playing looking as if he was dreaming. The farmwoman wanted to scream and fly at the fairy hitting and biting, but instead she took her eyes off her beautiful baby and said: "I brought your child to you." And the gave the fairy the bundle with the changeling. As soon as the blanket was unrolled the changeling turned into a toothy little green thing. He screeched happily and sat in his queen's lap. Or maybe she was really his mother, who knew?
  -Indeed you did, goatswoman. I thank you for that service.
   Something in the dark fairy's eyes told the farmwoman that now is not the time to ask for her child back or, in fact, for any thing at all.
  -I also bring you a gift, - she said instead, and gave the dark fairy her golden ring. The fairy turned it in her hand and smiled, liking the yellow shine.
  -And I thank you for the ring.
  -And I bring you a memory of your child's trip, - the farmwoman said, unclapping her flower pendant and putting it into into an outstretched green hand. The changeling screeched again and clutched the present.
  -And that is a lovely gesture. You are a good guest to so shower me with presents. Is there something you want in return? - the fairy asked, but her eyes were still cold. And
  here, desperation clawing at her throat, the farmwoman thought of a trick. Not a very good trick, but maybe it would do. Heart hammering in her chest, she said:
  -I want you to give my child a kiss.
   The fairy queen looked surprised but waved her fingers and said:
  -I will be happy to do that.
   She gathered the straw-haired boy into her lap, dropping the changeling, and kissed his lily-pad-green eyes. The child looked up at her, and then at his mommy and smiled a small smile.
  -He will treasure this memory forever, queen-of-the-hill, - said the farmwoman, stepping closer to the boy and the fairy. She tried to avoid saying "thank you", because although the fairies cannot really demand a service for that, or not anymore, she really did not feel at all thankful to the beautiful thief of children, - And now we will go home. I appreciate your hospitality, and the wonders of your land.
  -And who told you this is your child to take? - exclaimed the fairy strengthening in her earthen seat.
  -You did, when you gave a kiss to my child. And so he is mine, and I will take him home with me. And I brought you a little something to remember him by.
   And she handed the fairy a plate with the sun, and the moon, and the stars all together on it. The dark queen-of-the-hill took it and laughed.
  -Ah, the devious one! I remember your tricks of old! Who was it that painted a door on my rocks with blackberry juice these twenty years ago? Well, well. The gifts were good, and the trick was good, and here - my child tells me you treated him kindly. You may take your boy. We shall visit you sometime.
  -We will be honored, - the farmwoman said, and took her baby into her arms, and left the fairy queen hall. She went under the arch, beside tree roots, through the passage, past the mother-gnome's cook-fire, past the goblin-creche, by the lake where the mere girl did not play anymore, over boulders, around boulders, between rocks, around puddles, between roots, under roots and through the stone arch. She remembered the route well. But when she came to the end of it, there was no exit to the upside world, just earth and rock.
  -Mamma, mamma, mamma! - cried the straw-haired baby. He kept calling her all along the way and squirmed to get free, wanting to run around and play, but she didn't dare let him out of her arms until they were safely out of the underhill.
  -Bide a minute, sweetling, - she said, and then sat down with the baby on her knee, unwrapped the cheese with thyme and carawai seeds and placed it on the ground. Then she sat well away from the treat, and fed her son some blueberry cheese and the last of the milk from her flask.
   Soon enough the fairy-creatures came along, attracted by the nice round fat cheese circles. As before, she let them take the first bite, and then asked: "Is the cheese tasty, fair ones?" The two little creatures, one brown and wrinkly in the red jacket, and another one lovely and round in a leafy cloth, nodded and kept on muching. They were not so well-behaved as the one that showed her the way in, but the farmwoman let them eat. She had a bribe left for them still.
  -I have a nice pot of honey for the one who shows me the way into the upside world, - she said, when the cheeses were almost gone, - And a currant bread for the one who would help.
  -Is the pot big, goatswoman? - the brown wrinkly one asked.
  -Quite big, - she assured, not telling that it was not entirely full, - It usually lasts me a season.
  -Follow along, then, - and the two creatures hopped around a boulder where no path has been a minute ago, then over another and around the third - and behold!, there was a familiar forest, and the dusky sky looked down on them.
  -I beg you accept the food, - said the farmwoman and handed them the honeypot and the bread. Then she hitched the child on her hip and walked quickly out of the forest. As soon as she reached the clearing, she sparkled salt and pepper on her trail to discourage the fairies from following on her heels. And once she reached home, she placed the water-stone midway between the gate and the house door. And once she got inside, she put springs of lavender and sage at the door and each window, just in case. And then her beloved baby-boy wailed for his supper and bath, and a good long cuddle with a book. When he fell asleep in her arms she did not put him in his crib as usual, but nestled him close into her own bed. And the next morning the child helped his mommy milk the goats, and then helped her put the fence around the small clear pool in the middle of the yard that the water stone made. The water there was fresh and pure, and sweet to drink, and come next year there grew beautiful water-lilies. And all was well. Eventually the farmwoman even almost forgave the fairy queen for stealing her son. After all, she did give him back again. The straw-haired baby boy grew tall and strong. The queen fairy kiss did him good, for he could see things others didn't, and hear things others didn't, and noticed beauty everywhere. The fairies did visit, and taught him to play a flute and a horn, and the mermaids visited too, and taught him to do mosaics with glass and pebbles, and once a flock of gnomes came and taught him to mix paints vivid as sunshine. And always the boy was very happy with his mommy in a small house with a door like a book. One night he brought there a fairy wife, and they had a brood of fair-haired children with eyes like midnight sky for the grandmommy to play with. But that is another story.
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