(A Scottish Tale)
It was a long time ago, in the deep, dark months of winter, when one day a blacksmith known as MacPherson discovered his young son was ill. It was just after Christmas when the boy fell ill, and every day he grew more pale and thin. No one could understand what was wrong, and the boy could not describe his symptoms. The father was afraid he would lose his beloved child.
And then one day as MacPherson stood at his forge, worrying about what to do, an old man who was known for his wisdom walked into the shop. He looked very earnest.
“I know what’s wrong with your son,” he said. “He is not your son. The boy has been taken away by the Daoine Sidhe, the people of the fairy mounds, and they have left a changeling in his place.
MacPherson was horrified to hear this, and he asked what to do. The old man explained that first he had to make sure this was indeed a changeling. He whispered instructions to the blacksmith.
And so MacPherson began to follow the old man’s instructions. He broke open as many eggs as he had, and he spread the empty eggshells out before him. Then he began to draw water into each shell, and two-by-two he carried these toward his hearth. He carried them as if they weighed a great deal, and he groaned as he carried them. Two-by-two, he set them before the fire.
He had not been long at work when suddenly he heard a shout of laughter coming from the bed in his son’s room, down the hallway.
A strange voice howled, “I am 800 years old, and I’ve never seen anyone do such a foolish thing!”
MacPherson hurried to find the old man and tell him the news. As he did, the sage nodded. “I know where your son is,” he said, “and I know what you must do.”
Once again, he recited the strictest of instructions to MacPherson.
MacPherson walked back to his home, and he built an enormous fire in the hearth before his son’s bed. As he began to light it, the creature in the bed that looked like his son said, “Why are you doing that?”
“You’ll see presently!” MacPherson said, just as the old man had instructed him.
The changeling moved closer to peer at the fire, and as he did, MacPherson reached to grab him. If this was his son, the old man said, he would utter, “Father, save me.”
But he didn’t cry out. Instead, he shrieked and leaped out through the roof, and he left behind a hole to let out the smoke from the fire.
This was New Year’s Eve, which was the very night MacPherson had to walk to the fairy mound. It would be open that night. Following the old man’s instructions, MacPherson took a rooster and a shovel to confront the fairies with, and a Bible for courage, and he walked toward the mound.
As he neared the mound, he heard the fairies piping and dancing and joyously laughing and singing. As he listened to the whistle of the cold night wind, he shivered a moment. This experience was frightening. But he summoned his courage out of love for his son, and he kept going.
When he reached the mound, he stuck a shovel in the earth to keep it open. The fairies turned and cried, “What are you doing?”
“I want my son,” MacPherson said, looking down into the hole, where he saw the boy. “I won’t go home without him.”
The whole band of fairies began to laugh so hard that they woke MacPherson’s sleeping rooster.
The rooster leaped onto his shoulders and began to flap its wings and crow. This made the fairies angry.
They hurried to reach MacPherson’s son, and they threw him out. They threw the shovel after him. In the next moment, the mound closed and all was pitch dark.
Clutching his Bible, MacPherson grabbed his son and hurried home, leaving the fairies and the darkness and the old year far behind.
For one whole year the boy did not lift a finger to work. He seldom spoke. No matter how hard MacPherson tried to rouse him, nothing helped. But he looked healthy and strong, and he grew.
The next year, on New Year’s Eve, MacPherson was at his forge, finishing a sword, when his son suddenly walked to his side.
“Father,” he said, “that’s not how to do it.” He took the tools from his father’s hands, and he went to work. By the next morning, he had made the most beautiful sword anyone had ever seen.
From that day on, he worked with his father. He became a famous inventor, and his fame spread far and wide. And always, forever after that, New Year’s was a day for much celebration.