There was a meadow where the fairies used to live where people went to pray to the gods for help. If your intentions were pure, the fairies would guide you through the forest to the meadow. If not… you would wander for days and might not return.
Maeve prayed the fairies would guide her. As she approached the forest, the cool moist air calmed her. She brought with her only the clothes on her back and a determined spirit to find a solution to help her mother without having to marry the village pig farmer.
Diarmuid was a kind man, although he was old enough to be her grandfather. His portly belly and short stature was almost as repulsive to Maeve as the odor that preceeded him. He was rich and Maeve was young and her mother was getting older and needed the security of a home. Maeve’s father died the winter past from an illness leaving her family destitute and her mother desperate to find any solution to feed the family.
Maeve, at sixteen years of age and beautiful was the only treasure her mother had of value. She would be Diarmuid’s wife come the next month. His third wife… the previous two had died in childbirth.
Maeve shuddered at the thought of marrying the man and laying with him. She would do as her mother asked, but she was terrified and prayed there could be another solution. Any solution…
A soft breeze tickled against her cheek and she turned and saw a fairy light to her right. Racing through the trees, Maeve picked up her skirts and followed the light. She ignored the branches that whipped against her legs and body, intent on catching up with the light. She didn’t hear the burbling of the creek until her foot slid on a moist moss-covered rock.
Falling on her bottom, the creek seemed to pick her up and carry her away. She slid, calling out in alarm, her arms and legs flailing as she tried to grasp on to something. Her balance lost, her head bumped hard on a rock; her last thought before she lost consciousness was that she failed her mother and her family.
She awoke by a crystal pool, her head cradled in the lap of a beautiful woman. Her damp dress was like a cage, weighing on her and making it hard to move.
“Shh, child…” the woman said calmly, “all is well.”
Maeve recognized the goddess Caireen. She moved to sit up and Caireen offered her a drink of water.
Maeve was so thirsty she drank the entire bottle of the sweet water. She looked at the beautiful goddess and begged for her help. “Dear Goddess, please help me. I don’t want to marry Diarmuid but I must help my family. What should I do?”
Caireen called to the water and a dark form rose from its depths. “My child, are you willing to give your life for your family?”
Maeve quelled the fear inside her gut, “Do you promise they will be safe… and happy?”
Caireen smiled warmly, “I do. They shall prosper and live their lives in joy.”
Maeve considered Caireen’s offer, knowing that a life with Diarmuid would be no life at all. With this one sacrifice she could ensure her family’s future. Maeve nodded solemnly, “Then yes, I will give my life for them.”
Caireen stood, “Good lass.” The dark form shifted and formed into Maeve’s exact image. Caireen explained, “You will remain here as my servant and you will marry Diarmuid. Upon the wedding night, Diarmuid will die of pleasure leaving his land and property to you. You will bring your family to live with you, your brothers will run the farm, marry well, and your mother will be cared for.”
Maeve looked at her image, now dressed exactly as she. “What will happen to…” She pointed to her double.
“Ah, the villagers will say you are a witch and cursed your husband to death. You will burn at the stake.”
“No!” Maeve stepped forward shielding her double, “I cannot allow another to suffer in my place.”
Caireen smiled again, “Ah lass, you are a good woman with a pure heart. The shifter will feel no pain and will be reborn right here in this water. Ease yourself. All will be well.”
Caireen’s words did ease her fear and Maeve felt a sudden lightness in her heart as she agreed. She allowed her double to return to the village and wondered how many others had come to this place and been offered a solution.
Caireen spoke, “You shall be my servant, Maeve. You will bring me those who deserve my help, and you will guard this place with your life.”
“I don’t understand.”
Caireen pointed to the pond, “Look upon your reflection.”
Maeve looked over the pond but could not see herself, instead there was only a ball of light.