Knock knock! Midwife Amanda Goody’s eyes popped open. What was that? She moved her blurry gaze to the small window. Was the tree branch hitting the glass again? No, just the rain trickled down the smooth surface. Knock knock! Someone was rapping on her door. She rose from her warm bed, donned her wrapper and walked downstairs. Who might this be? The hour neared midnight.
Amanda opened the door and a cold breeze blew across her bare feet. “Yes?”
“I’m sorry to bother you at this hour, but my wife suddenly fell ill and can’t tend our baby.”
“Who are you?”
“I’m Kalen McGriff. My friends told me to come here. Please help me.”
Amanda perused the man from head to toe. He had bright blue eyes and a mop of blond hair. He wore a black greatcoat that sparkled with rain drops. She had never seen the man before, and she knew just about everyone in the village. A strange, wary feeling descended over her, but he needed her help.
“Come in and warm yourself by the fire while I dress and get my bag.”
Kalen walked to the fireplace and stopped in front of the glowing embers.
When Amanda returned, she found Kalen out in her cottage’s front yard. He was stroking the neck of a large, coal-black stallion with fiery eyes and tangled ringlets in his mane. “This is Night Wing.” The horse whinnied as if to say hello. “Ready?”
Amanda nodded yes.
Kalen clasped Amanda’s waist and lifted her up onto the saddle. He vaulted on behind her and spurred the steed’s flanks. Soon they arrived at a cave door, camouflaged with the rock’s color and texture.
When Kalen and Amanda entered, two small girls with curly auburn hair sat on cots next to a fire in the middle of the floor. Amanda felt a cozy and comfortable feeling as she saw the firelight bouncing off the walls.
“My daughters, Rayne and Skye,” Kalen said and smiled at them. They stood in their gauzy nightgowns, bobbed a curtsey and giggled.
“Come.” Kalen walked through another door on the far end of the cave and into a bedchamber. In an ornately carved bed lay a beautiful, fine-boned lady with thick brown hair. Beside the bed sat a cradle.
“Meet my wife Rhea and my son Drake,” Kalen said as he bent and kissed Rhea’s forehead.
“Hello,” Rhea said and smiled.
Amanda gazed down at the hale and hardy baby and rocked the cradle. “It’s nice to meet you both.”
Rhea clasped a jar on the nightstand at the opposite side of the bed. “Take this,” she said as she gave it to Amanda. “Rub his eyelids with it as soon as he wakes.”
“But take care,” Kalen said, “not to touch your own eyes with it or bad luck will befall you.”
Right, Amanda thought. These village people believe such nonsense!
When Drake began to fuss and open his eyes, Amanda noticed that his eyes appeared puffy and tired. She opened the ointment and sniffed. It smelled like mugwort. Many healers used mugwort for these maladies. She rubbed the ointment on the baby’s eyelids as his mother requested.
For several days as Amanda nursed Rhea, she also applied the ointment to Drake’s eyelids. After Rhea fell asleep on the fifth day, as Amanda placed the lid back on the jar, she hesitated. Why not try it? She thought. I spent many long nights with laboring mothers and afterward, my eyes had looked puffy and tired. She dipped her index finger into the pomade and rubbed her eyelids with it. When she opened her eyes again, her vision had changed.
The cave felt colder, damper and turned much darker with only a little fire in one corner. Drake, Kalen, Rayne and Skye possessed pointed ears. Their eyes pointed upward at the temple ends; their bodies extremely slender and pliable; skin translucent; like a condensed cloud. Rhea’s appearance remained human.
Oh no! I have entered a den of pixies, Amanda thought. But she remained quiet about it, for she could say nothing against them.
“Kalen, I wish to go home. Rhea’s health has returned,” Amanda said the next morning. I need to leave quickly. I don’t want the pixies to uncover my secret and imprison me in their realm, she thought.
That night, Kalen brought Night Wing to his cave door. Soon, they arrived at Amanda’s cottage. He helped her down from the horse and pressed a bag of coins into her hand.
“Kalen, I cannot accept all this coin,” Amanda said as she felt the bag’s weight.
“Take it, but speak of this to no one.”
Kalen leapt onto Night Wing’s back again and they disappeared into the night
The next day, Market Day, Marie, a fellow midwife, saw Amanda at the vegetable stall and approached her. “Hello Amanda. How have you been? I haven’t seen you around the village.”
“Oh. I was nursing a mother and her baby some distance from here.”
“I think the faerie must have come today; the noise is swelling and the prices are rising.” She laughed. She and Amanda spoke for a minute more and then Marie continued to the next stall.
Several minutes later, Amanda did indeed see Kalen. She watched him as he moved from stall to stall, taking something from each; an apple here, a tart there; a spool of thread and so on. No one seemed to notice.
Amanda didn’t want to interfere, but she didn’t want Kalen to pass without a greeting. After all, he had treated her well. She approached him.
“Good morning Kalen! I hope your good lady and little ones are well. I...”
“What! You see me today?”
“Of course I do. As plain as the sun in the sky.” Amanda nodded toward the vendors. “And I see you busy with the bargain.” As soon as words escaped Amanda’s mouth, she realized her mistake.
“Ah...you see too much. You stole our ointment and discovered our glamour.”
“Oh no Kalen! I didn’t steal the ointment. I merely wanted...tried it for the medicinal purpose.”
Kalen reached into his pocket.
Amanda stepped back, fearing Kalen’s wrath, for she had heard the villager’s faerie stories.
Kalen pulled out his fist and opened his fingers. He blew some dust into Amanda’s eyes. She blinked and saw only darkness. Her blindness lasted a week and she remembered nothing of the pixies.
Based on “Fairy Ointment”, a folk tale found in :
Foster, James R., ed., The World’s Great Folktales, 1953, Harper & Brothers, 1953.