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The Midwife by Deborah Sheldon

A village on Lord Ralf’s estate was hemmed by woodlands dark
That were known to harbour wolves and bears and more.
If you ventured too far in, entranced by branches, leaves and bark
You’d be lost to lurking creatures, said folklore.

In the meadow by this wood, a new wife foraged for her pot,
To bulk her husband’s meal with herbs and shoots.
Again, Joan was with child, her others sloughed, and left to rot
In the ground, just cast aside, and trod by boots.

Peeping through the oaks arose a soft and pallid light,
Which was small, as round as cheese, a sight so pure.
And as she turned towards it, sad heart lifting, gay and bright,
Many more swooped down to join the dancing lure.

Joan forgot about her basket, spellbound, wandered in a daze,
And prepared to slip by trunks and lose her way,
When the cramping hit her, made her fall, the pain set mind ablaze.
God, her waters broke – her babe would birth this day.

She cried for husband, “Gilbert!”, who was chocking roof with thatch,
And he flung aside his tools, raced to her side.
He carried her to home and fastened tight the safety catch
On the door, but let the midwife come inside.

The labour long and hard, the couple feared another death
Yet the midwife said good harvest was a sign.
And when Adam lay on straw – their son! – and took first vital breath,
His little life was proof of God’s design.

“We’ll baptise him on Sunday,” Gilbert said, “as it’s the way.”
But the midwife, old and wizened, shook her head.
“Your blue-eyed son is blonde, and will attract the monsters fey,
If you don’t protect him now, he’s good as dead.

“For the faeries will replace him with a spell of sticks and dirt
To repay their tithe to Hell of someone’s child,
And they won’t give up their own, which is why yours will be hurt,
You should hold him close to chest.” But Gilbert smiled.

“We spurn your superstition, God is watching overall,”
He scolded, as he packed a bag to go.
“I’m off with dozen men to buy some oxen with our haul
The village harvest means we have some cash to throw.”

Joan begged him please to stay, recounted tale of woodland lights
Yet her husband shrugged it off with careless frown,
Now she was left alone with Adam, freshly-born – yet what of sprites
That were watching from the woodlands, close around?

Each light a twist of straw, the midwife told, and set ablaze,
A fire like torches marching in the night.
The candles lit which pull the unaware through deadly maze
Forced to drown in boggy marsh or die from fright.

Without her husband, Joan did try to do her daily chores,
Tend the vegetables, and goats and chickens too,
Yet her son refused the breast, and seemed to hate the world outdoors
And would lie there boneless, sickly, tinged with blue.

The midwife felt his limbs and gave her verdict: “Not a child!”
In fact, he was a changeling, made of sticks.
“If you throw him in the fire,” she said, “the changeling so beguiled
Will be forced to cede its evil bag of tricks.

“Girl, trust me,” urged the midwife, as she moved towards the hearth
“If you burn your changeling, faeries will return,
And bring your child to you, but he’ll be foul, just give him bath.
Believe me, put aside naive concern.”

Joan held her baby fast, placed kiss upon his little brow
And he opened up his eyes to meet her gaze.
“He’s my child,” she said, and wept as midwife gave a subtle bow,
And answered, “If you want a fake! With malaise!

“But if you want your Adam, put this mannequin of lies
In the flames; and make the faeries give your boy.”
So, Joan in tears, without a choice, she had to exorcise
This wily changeling, which she let the flames destroy.

About the author
Deborah Sheldon is a multi-award-winning author, anthology editor, script editor and medical writer. She writes poetry, short stories, novellas and novels across the darker spectrum of horror, crime and noir. Visit her at deborahsheldon.wordpress.com.