From Out of the Glamour by Dale L. Sproule
In her nine years of existence, Jaynie had heard people scream, but none with such raw-throated agony as her father as he burst into flames. The merchant woman who had given her the bouquet of pretty feathers wrapped her arms around Jaynie, preventing her from running to him. All the child could do was cry out as the woman pulled her back between the stacks of poultry cages into the shelter of her wagon.
“Papa!” Jaynie squirmed and struggled to get free, but the woman held her even tighter.
“You shouldn’t see this,” she murmured, covering Jaynie’s eyes with a filthy hand. Even through the cacophony of clucks and quacks and the woman’s weeping and muttering, Jaynie could still hear him screaming. A chill ran through her when it suddenly stopped. The well-meaning woman tipped Jaynie’s head, looked into her eyes and said, “You poor, poor child.” But instead of drawing her into an embrace, she shrieked and pushed Jaynie away.
“You’re… you’re not human,” she gibbered, getting up from her knees and pointing a shaking finger at Jaynie. She shouted, loudly enough to be heard over the commotion, “It’s a monster… a goblin!”
A monster! Whatever had killed her father must have come in here after her. Jaynie looked to either side, then turned around, certain there must be a creature behind her, about to bite her head off. But she saw nothing. Many from the crowd that had drawn back when the magical battle erupted in the marketplace were now staring in her direction, raising hands to mouths in shock as they gaped at something Jaynie couldn’t even see.
“Where is it?” she asked, but her question went unanswered as the woman who had pulled her to safety now stumbled back, wiping her hands on her apron as though they were covered in slime.
When bony fingers clamped around her wrist, Jaynie opened her hand and the now crushed and sweaty feathers rolled into the dust like a dead bird. Her grip tightened on the walnut shell filled with healing balm that Papa had given her before turning to face the giant and the silver man.
“I’ve got the goblin!” crowed an elderly man, his eyes glittering.
Her voice a strangled whisper, Jaynie asked, “What do you mean? Why can’t I see it?”
She rubbed her eyes, wondering if she was dreaming, and right away knew something was wrong because her eyes bulged out wetly like a frog’s. She ran her free hand over the contours of her face, aghast at the fungus-like nose, the huge, sharp teeth and the heavy brows, and realized what everyone was screaming about. The whimper deep in her throat came out a rough croak. As they dragged her out into the fairway, she looked for her father, and found him lying in a smoldering heap, then looked at the sorcerer who had killed him. She was sure he used his evil magic to turn her into a monster, but when he saw her, he looked as surprised as everyone else.
Someone shouted, “It’s the wizard’s familiar. Kill it!”
People closed in around Jaynie with clubs and fists raised. She did the only thing she could do. She bit down hard on the old man’s thumb and managed to pull herself out of his grasp. Then she ducked between the legs of her attackers and ran for the shadows.
It seemed as if everyone Jaynie had ever known or seen was in the crowd that chased her into the black, hungry forest. There were merchants from the market, all the farmers and herdsmen from around the village of Tooks, and all their wives. Even the children ran after her, throwing stones and calling her names.
She hardly noticed the branches scratching her face and tearing at her hair and clothes. As Jaynie ran and crawled through the bushes, brambles and prickles penetrating her hands and her knees, she looked over her shoulder to see a boy much bigger than she was—at least ten winters by her inexperienced reckoning. He was going to catch her.
When she tried to run faster, she tripped over a root and fell, nose first, onto the mossy ground. She rolled over, holding her hand up to fend off the boy. He came to a stop several arm-lengths from Jaynie, stared at her and muttered, “It really is a goblin.”
The mixture of fear and loathing on his face was a look that Jaynie had never seen before. “Over here! Someone catch it!”
“I’m a girl, not a goblin!” she snapped, surprised at how strange and creaky her voice sounded. She realized with dismay that she probably wouldn’t believe herself. “I’ve been bewitched.”
“And she knows a witch!” The boy danced and shrieked with excitement, waving the townsfolk closer. Then he pulled a knife from its hasp on his belt and started toward her. She picked up a rock and kissed it, willing her aim to be true. She caught him just above his eyebrow and he fell to the ground, wailing in dismay and clutching his bloodied forehead.
Jaynie scrambled on hands and knees deeper into the trees until she tumbled into a small ravine. Unseen for the moment, she ran as quickly and silently as she could in the direction of home. Home! She choked back sobs, fending off branches with hands that were no longer familiar. Her own soft little hands, the hands Papa had held such a short time ago, were gone. In their place were claws. She thought about what everybody had called her. A goblin. And why not? Who knew what real goblins looked like?
Maybe Mar did. Jaynie had to get home to her. Papa had said her mother would die if they didn’t bring her the medicine. Jaynie shifted the shell to her other hand and shook it to feel the shifting weight of the paste inside.
But what if Mar was already dead? What if Jaynie was all alone now? The thought paralyzed her until she heard the barking of dogs and voices of her pursuers. As she pushed onward, she told herself her mother would be fine. Surely, she wouldn’t allow herself to die now—when her only child was in such need. “Mar!” she whimpered, repeating it under her breath with each and every step, like a baby who knew but a single word, “Mar, Mar, Mar.”
Stopping finally, she crouched, panting like a dog, touching her face again and again, still unable to believe what had happened to her. But when she closed her eyes, instead of darkness she saw Papa, burning like a white torch, and her mother’s face glistening with sweat: eyes rolled back, cheeks red as a robin’s breast, as if a torch burned beneath her skin. Opening her eyes to a strange landscape, Jaynie realized how far into the woods she’d run and how hopelessly lost she’d become.
Peering into shadows and listening for growls and rustlings in the underbrush, she rose up on legs that felt shaky and weak. She wondered if wolves and bears were scared of monsters like her. What if she ran into Cuthreach, the black hound? Surely it would not run away. It would devour her in a single bite. She ran for the rocky hillside, from which she could at least see attackers and pursuers coming.
As she touched the bare rock, it occurred to her that she knew exactly which way to go, as if the rocks were telling her the way home. She laughed aloud at this idea, startling herself once again with her croak. As she walked, her confidence grew and waned with her proximity to the rocks. At the next outcropping, she brushed a layer of dry, yellow moss off the rough surface and pressed her hand to the cool stone. All doubt vanished.
With no need for the sun to guide her after dark, she walked through the night, whimpering with relief when she saw the tiny house on the cliff silhouetted against the red morning sky.
Mar was still breathing when Jaynie stumbled in the door. Sweating, emaciated, and in exactly the same position as she had been the morning before, when Jaynie and her father had left on their quest.
Jaynie almost lost her grip on the shell as she cut the threads that bound it. She smeared some paste on a fingertip and tried to feed it to her, but Mar didn’t suck at it or lick it off. Jaynie scraped it off on her teeth, then put a bit more in her mouth for good measure, soaking a cloth in water and wringing it out gently against her lips. Then there was little to do but wait. As exhausted as she was, there were so many worries running through her mind that she couldn’t sleep, so she sat beside the bed, holding her mother’s limp hand and crying. As the air in the cottage warmed with the day, the events in the marketplace replayed in her memory, details resolving each time she went back through it: the yellow bearded giant on the steps at the House of Strangers leaping to his feet, tall as a tree and glaring at Papa, who was carrying Jaynie on his shoulders, pulling her legs tighter against his prickly face, eliciting a giggle. He angled away slightly, “Did he see us?”
Janie leaned forward and whispered, “It’s okay, Papa. He went back into the house.”
Twenty steps later he swung her down onto her feet and said, so softly she could barely hear his words over the laughter of the children playing games in the streets and the fields, “I’m going to do a special magic trick that you’ve never seen before.”
He held up a little wafer of stone, with something etched on it. Although he had tried to teach her runes, she did not know the meaning of this or many others. Just then, a little boy pushed past them, squealing with excitement as he was pursued by at least ten other children. Jaynie looked back up into a strangely familiar woman’s face.
“What have you done with my Papa?”
In her father’s voice, the woman answered, “I am your Papa, scamp.” She giggled and knew that it was true. His smile was unmistakable. It was a good trick. He towed her through the gates of the marketplace into the jostling crowd.
“We need Mother Cai or one of her daughters,” the woman who was her father said. “It’s told the birds bring her herbs from hidden places in exchange for honey-cakes. When we find her, I’ll buy you a honey-cake.”
With all the people jostling, Jaynie hadn’t known where to look, so she allowed herself to simply be pulled through the chaos. Smelling flowers, she looked up and saw a woman with a basket of little bark pots, dark with grease, which drew so many bees and flies that shoppers circled wide to avoid her.
“Love potion?” The woman said hopefully to anyone looking her way.
“Mother Cai!” Father let go of Jaynie’s hand as he made his purchase.
She heard the children again, on the far side of a wall of cages full of clucking hens, so she walked to the end, looking for them. At the base of the rickety edifice was a woman on a low stool, who grinned and pressed several long striped-yellow feathers into Jaynie’s hand.
A man came round the back of the wagon. “Quit giving away merchandise.”
The woman shouted, “Nobody’ll buy ’em feathers. How about youse doing some work…”
The crowd parted as a mime cartwheeled through the square, then started juggling an array of little colored balls. Jaynie watched, entranced, until a sound came from behind her like the chuff of a wild boar, and she turned to see her father, his magic trick of looking like a woman dissolved, as the giant lifted him into the air by his collar.
“Papa!” she shouted as she turned and ran toward him.
When the giant turned his head, Jaynie’s father reached out and grabbed a pot of scent from the flower-seller’s basket. Lifting a glob of the stuff on his fingertips, he smeared it on the giant’s chest before the big man grabbed his arm. The giant tried to turn his head away as her father muttered some sort of spell. It was as though all the bugs for miles around suddenly saw the giant as the world’s biggest, most attractive and pollen-filled flower. A swarm darkened the air around their heads and the giant’s grip loosened. Her father emerged from the cloud of insects, grinning as the big man dropped to his knees. The cloud grew denser as it swirled down toward the source of the scent.
That was when her father pressed the painted walnut shell into her hand. As he yelled instructions to her, two other men came through the crowd. One, in a strange gold and leather helmet, held a big sword to the back of her father’s neck. The other, a smaller, slender man in a coat of gleaming silver armor, came up behind Jaynie and held a blade to her throat. Jaynie looked up at a kaleidoscope of faces.
“Disperse the swarm now, or we’ll kill her,” said the silver man to Jaynie’s father.
Papa met his gaze. After a moment, he chanted some words and Jaynie watched the buzzing maelstrom rise like a black cloud into the sky.
“What is the spell you’ve cast around this child?” The silver man ripped off the pouch of stones Jaynie always wore around her neck and she wailed. He squinted down at her. “I sense it, but can’t put my finger on it.”
“Leave her alone.”
The silver man emptied the pouch and a stream of little colored stones landed in the dirt at his feet. Then, with a quartz-eyed smile, he held a small piece of charcoal over the mouth of the bag and intoned some more words.
Half-a-dozen things happened at once.
The helmeted man fell to the ground clutching at his eyes, the silver man chanted and dropped the rune—which missed the top of the bag and fell to the ground. The giant climbed to his feet roaring and swinging a sword as big as a plowshare. The old woman at the poultry wagon grabbed Jaynie’s arm and pulled her back. Papa screamed, “Run! Home to your mother. Now!”
Then there was a blast of heat that sent the images whirling into pandemonium before the memory played through once again.
The first thing Marsail saw upon rousing from her fever was a monster looming over her. She gasped and tried to pull away but the thing restrained her gently with gnarled hands. Unable to look away, Marsail realized that the creature had only seemed large in the gloom of the cottage. It was actually quite small. Moisture leaked from its watery frog eyes and the air was filled with its sadness.
The hand against Marsail’s forearm was warm and childlike. Feeling a wet cloth at her lips, she sucked at the water it held. Some sort of savory paste had been smeared on her gums. She licked at it and the monster smiled. With the nourishment came memory—Jaynie. Jaynie? Yes, this was only little Jaynie fussing over her, nursing her—her poor, curséd child.
The fact that Marsail saw her as a goblin meant one thing for certain—her husband, Keirniall, was dead.
She realized that the keening wail she heard was coming from her own throat, as her scant remaining strength drained out of her into the bed, leaving her empty—floating again between life and death. Her man was dead and their only living daughter had been transformed back into this bent and ugly little creature that wept over her now, dripping water and snot and making the most awful snorting and sniveling sounds. Marsail’s head pulsed and whirled. Her mind fought for purchase, but consciousness was a cliff face she did not have the strength to climb and despite her fervent wish to stay awake, she fell back into the clutches of unconsciousness.
The next time Marsail opened her eyes, there was no monster at all, there was only Jaynie—half-mad with worry and loneliness, her bulgy, red-rimmed eyes filled with fear and confusion. The bairn’s black lizard tongue darted across the permanently pouting expanse of her misshapen lower lip. Jaynie had lost both her father and herself at once—such terrible losses. Such betrayal! The intensity of her trauma ignited a fierce anger deep inside Marsail—resentment at Keirnaill and herself for tricking Jaynie into believing herself a beautiful little girl, when between one heartbeat and the next it could all be snatched away. How could Keirnall die and leave them like this, with all the malevolent forces of faerie about to find and crush them.
“Are you feeling better, Mar?” Jaynie asked tremulously.
Putting her hand against Jaynie’s cheek she squeaked, “I am. Thanks to you. My beautiful baby. My poor beautiful baby.”
“I’m not beautiful anymore, Mar. I’m…”
“You are just as beautiful as ever. The seer said we would have a beautiful child and we did.”
“Mama?” The voice swelled with hope. Then she touched her face and her shoulders sagged again with disappointment.
“I’m here for you, little one.”
Jaynie threw herself upon her mother, weeping and blubbering inconsolably. “Papa is dead! Oh, Mar, what will we do?” Strings of saliva drooled from Jaynie’s peg-like teeth, over the warty neck and into the little frock that Marsail had sewn for her. It was torn and filthy. It was…
“They called me a goblin. I’m not a goblin, am I, Mar?”
Marsail knew the official answer to that question, but didn’t agree with it. What was a goblin, after all? Why were they so despised by both faerie and human? So, all she said was, “There, there.”
Before the sun was high, Marsail was sitting up by herself and moving, albeit painfully slowly, through and around the house. Before sending Jaynie out for kindling, she used some of the magic Keirnall had taught her to replace the magical glamour that concealed Jaynie’s true appearance. Partly to avoid startling passersby, but mostly so Jaynie could stop seeing herself as a monster.
Being fey, Keirniall’s glamours practically bound themselves to the essence of a person or object so that all their senses, eyes and ears and fingertips, would agree with one another. Marsail’s glamours, on the other hand, were poor tricks of the light that might alter something’s appearance or make it hard to see, but could not change its essence. In her current health, even that was hard to sustain. Going to sleep or experiencing a moment of distraction would make the illusion flicker and fade.
When Marsail went to lie down in the early afternoon, she found a rock on her pillow. She turned it over in her hands, and when Jaynie came back in from outside, Marsail asked, “What’s this then?”
Jaynie sidled toward the bed, looking at her feet as she mumbled, “A rock.”
“Why did you put it in my bed?”
Jaynie’s misshapen, goblin shoulders rose in a shrug.
“Did you just set it down and forget it? Or leave it here on purpose?”
Jaynie continued to mumble and Marsail had to ask her to speak up.
“It’s a healing stone.”
“What is a healing stone, lovey?”
Again the shrug, finally the explanation. “It will help you feel better.”
Was it something her father had shown her or just a game she had played with the neighbor kids? “Who taught you this?”
“I just figured it out.” She took it from Marsail’s still-extended hand. “Can’t you feel the magic in it?”
Instead of giving a negative response, Marsail turned the question around. “I dunno. What does magic feel like?”
“Like a furry caterpillar? Maybe? I just know, it’s there and it works.” She shared the story of how the rocks had helped her find her way home.
Marsail nodded. “You say this rock will make me feel better? And the other ones helped you get home. Have you found other rocks with different powers?”
“Maybe. Some are really good to throw. Always hit what I’m aiming at.”
“You always were good at that. That’s what you can do while I nap. Look for other stones, outside. When I wake up, you can show me what you’ve found.”
The wee goblin nodded enthusiastically as she replaced the pillow stone in her mother’s hand. Whether it was just radiating residual warmth from Jaynie’s touch or generating its own, Marsail imagined she could feel it coursing up her arm. And despite the maelstrom of both panicky and hopeful thoughts firing and swirling through her brain, she drifted back to sleep. Her final thought before unconsciousness was a vague memory—something one of the spriggans had said when they had come to steal their newborn baby, “We can’t permit the goblin to live. They’re too powerful. Too strong…”
Kiernall had cast a spell that had scattered the malevolent creatures like autumn leaves, giving the lovers time to bundle up their babe and disappear into the night. After eight summers, they thought they had truly gotten away. But it seemed the Seelie Council had sent more assassins—who were no doubt closing in on them this very moment.
Starting awake from her fitful sleep, Marsail leaned back against the cold stone wall. It appeared that their daughter was exactly the sort of creature that legends warned were spawned from such interspecies unions—her power already manifesting. But she wouldn’t have time to learn how to use it. The hunters will track her here. Maybe they already have! She stumbled out of bed and pulled herself to the window.
But Jaynie wasn’t outside, she was bursting through the door behind her. “Mar, Mar, come see!”
Marsail wanted to explain that she didn’t have the strength to go outside, but when Jaynie took her hand, she found that strength welling up inside her. She took one step and then another, gaining momentum and enthusiasm until she was out the door and walking down the path toward the ocean.
Twenty minutes later, when they still hadn’t reached their destination, she slumped down on a rock, totally exhausted, gasping for breath, every joint and muscle aching as the fever reawakened inside her. “I can’t go any further.”
A sense of hopelessness washed through her like the waves in the ocean far below as she realized that she would never make it back up the gentle slope to the house. The clifftop wasn’t even visible from here.
Jaynie let go of her hand. “It’s okay, Mar. I’ll bring it to you.”
Marsail closed her eyes again, the sharp, salty tang of the air warning of a coming storm. Her entire life force seemed to bleed into the rock upon which she was sprawled, and darkness enveloped everything.
She was sure she was dreaming that a huge boulder was floating like a cloud, like a thunderhead, through the air toward her, streaked with moss and seaweed, glinting with hidden metals. After a while, someone lifted her arm. Yes, little Jaynie was trying to lift her. It was raining. Reality was slippery as a fish. She should help, she supposed, clutching at the child’s shoulder, trying to pull herself up, amazed when she succeeded; but the ensuing euphoria came to a jarring stop when she stumbled and fell face first onto the path. The dirt felt slimy, the pebbles sharp, the rain beat down on her shoulders. She rolled over, opening her mouth and letting it fill; one cup, two cups, three cups, four. Get up, stand up, rise up, more! Jaynie was pulling on her arm, dragging her through the muck. Unable to stand, she crawled right into a wall. Not a metaphorical wall. In fact, not a wall at all. A boulder, covered in seaweed and barnacles; the vision from her dream made real. She reached up, placing her hand against the surface which should have been cold and slimy, but which instead emanated warmth. Comparing it to the power of the pillow stone was like equating a hearthfire with the sun. The briny scent was like mentholated salve, warming her inside, carving passages to her lungs. Reaching up with the other hand, she pulled herself up onto her feet. She was vaguely aware of the process playing out over hours rather than minutes. It seemed like Jaynie herself was inside the rock, shouting wordless encouragement.
The strength that coursed through her was like nothing she had felt since getting sick in the first place. Her lungs were clear, her mind sharp. Though her eyes were open, she couldn’t see her daughter anywhere. The rain had almost stopped. It was almost dark.
Marsail looked numbly around. What had happened here? It was like the path had been blocked by a rockslide. But there was only a single rock.
Then she heard the sounds that had awakened her: shouts, male voices from the clifftop near the house. In the pre-dawn stillness, she could even make out some of what they said.
“There’s no one inside, but they can’t have gone far. The house still smells of smoke and the coals in the hearth yet hold some heat.”
If it weren’t for Jaynie, they’d have found her lying there. Marsail let out a long breath.
“There’s food, let’s eat,” grumbled a voice like thunder.
“Every moment we waste, they get further away!”
“But I’m hungry!” moaned the deep voice.
A third distinct voice cut in. “Let’s fill some bowls and take them with us. How about that?”
Marsail’s lips curled up at the corners as she imagined them tasting the slop that Jaynie had cooked. The child had harvested a whole patch of mint and added it to the burnt mulch in the pot, hoping it would make everything taste better. For a starving woman it was barely edible. But for a hungry giant? She almost laughed out loud.
Cold sweat trickled down her spine and she turned her head to look the other way down the path.
She thought she saw a small nimble figure far below, descending through the shadows of twilight. The only way to follow was to climb over the huge rock, which turned out to be much easier than she thought, with the stone itself lending her the energy to climb it. She scraped her knees on the barnacles and twisted her ankle when she slid down too fast on the far side, but she didn’t cry out or groan. As she lay in the silence she heard one of the voices, more distant than before, asking. “Do you see the lights over there?”
“Another house? Do you think that’s where they went?”
“Why don’t you two stay here while I go check it out.”
As the voices faded into the distance, she could swear she heard the giant retching, which somehow helped give her the strength to continue down the path.
Whereas she could ordinarily take this path to the beach and back more than once in a morning, this simple descent took all night.
As the bright dawn dispersed the shadows, she heard the sounds of seabirds. “Mar! Mar!” But she could see no birds anywhere in the pale blue sky. And the sound wasn’t coming from the ocean or the beach. It was loudest in the other ear. She turned and stared dumbly at the rockface, from which a tiny voice shouted, muffled but audible, “I’m in here, Mar!”
About fifty paces further down the path, the voice grew clearer and Marsail turned to see a fissure in the rock—almost invisible in the deep shadows and far too narrow for anyone to get through. As she was about to turn away, a hand reached out, long, green, large-knuckled fingers grasping the empty air. Marsail reached out to clasp it, feeling helpless as the grip tightened. Then Jaynie pulled her through. Looking out the crack from the other side and then down at her body, she thought, it’s like pulling a tree through the eye of a needle.
Yet here she was. Standing beside a creature she had so recently mistaken for a monster. Jaynie’s usually sad, bulgy eyes were now practically aglow. “You’re right, Mar. There are stones that do almost everything. And they’re all around us.”
She led Marsail around the perimeter of a narrow cavern that opened into a vast chamber which was lit by an indeterminable source. As Jaynie led her mother down, she said, “You never told me about all the things I could do.”
“We didn’t know. We never dreamed.”
As her daughter dragged her ever deeper, to where the ocean swept in beneath them and oysters and mussels blossomed from the walls, Marsail explained, “We just wanted to protect you.”
Marsail had to think hard about her answer. She almost said, “From the truth.” But what came out of her mouth was just as true: “From the hunters we knew would be coming for you, the ones who killed your father.”
“They won’t find us here. And even if they did, they can’t get in. The rocks won’t let them.”
Marsail didn’t understand, but she was sure that Jaynie did.
“We tried so hard to shield you from the world,” Marsail’s explanation struck her as more of an apology. “It never occurred to either of us that the truth might set you free to become whatever you were destined to be.” She looked around in awe at the rock walls and finished her thought, “That it might take you home.”
As they continued down, she heard the faint sounds of seabirds outside. “Mar! Mar!”
Dale L. Sproule has over 50 published stories, as well as two published collections and one novel. His work has received over a dozen award nominations (mostly Aurora Award and Pushcart Prize). He also co-published and edited TransVersions: Literature of the Fantastic in the 90s.