Changelings, by technicality, are not their own species, but an amalgamation of different species of fae living as humans. While rarely directly dangerous, they are known for kidnapping their human relatives.
There are a number of reasons a faerie family may steal a human child, leaving the changeling in its’ place. Traditionally, the kidnapping is often to introduce fresh blood into faerie communities, or occasionally to leave a sickly faerie in the baby’s place for medical care from unknowing humans. Less often, they may be attempting to hide a faerie child in plain sight, taking the human as a decoy. Occasionally the switch is motivated by revenge against the human parents, though in those cases it is more common for no changeling to be left, so the parents will be aware of their missing child instead of blissfully oblivious.
In the cases of the changeling being an adult faerie in disguise, usually to be coddled in their own age or infirmity, the parents can force the changeling to reveal themselves by performing strange tasks, such as brewing tea in eggshells. The faerie will feel compelled to comment, and therefore be forced to leave. Changelings that are themselves young or infants when they are left in the humans’ care are more likely to reveal themselves with their own unusual behavior. These tales often end with the parents finding who had taken their child and forcing them to switch back.
Very rarely, a human family chooses to keep the changeling, and either the changeling child remains, becoming more human over time, or they convince their family to follow them to the faerie realms.
The story of Rumpleskilton is believed to be an attempted changeling swap, wherein the faerie Rumpleskilton would have left a changeling in the prince’s place had the queen not guessed his name. This is a more elaborate trickery than most changeling switches.
Traits and Behavior
Changelings can be any species of fae or even occasionally enchanted animals or tree branches. While it is possible for a changeling to be an adult fae in disguise to steal food and warmth from a human home, they are most often newborns or newly created themselves. To be considered a changeling, they are enchanted to appear human, including ageing at a normal rate and removing more noticeable characteristics. The enchantment can only be removed by another fae; even a changeling that has been revealed to not be human will physically stay the same. Each varying type has different behaviors associated with them, but they do share some characteristics.
Changeling babies are often more moody and needy than the human child they replaced (likely caused by the stress of the new environment/magical transformation), and will cry long into the night. The abrupt change in behavior is the most obvious sign of a child being stolen, but there may be small changes as well, such as freckles, moles or birthmarks not being in the correct places, or the infant not recognizing their parents or guardians. After a few months, though, the baby will be quiet, reclusive, and will seem to develop faster than an average infant, learning to speak in complete sentences far faster than is typical, and walking soon after crawling.
Changelings will appear human, resembling the human child they were switched for, but often will have one or two unusual factors in their appearance. Most often, this is unusually vivid eyes that develop over time, or slightly pointed ears. They may have strangely long fingers and toes, or skin tones that appear green-tinted. They will live a human life-span unless they go back to the faerie realm or eat a consistent diet of fruits from the faerie realm.
Changelings often speak in rhyme, or oddly formally for their age, and cannot directly lie (though they can avoid answering or speak in a round-about way to avoid a blunt truth instead). They will feel more comfortable in the outdoors or in nature than inside homes. Often they will be vegetarians, and artificial flavors or foods are likely to make them ill, though they can develop tolerance over time. They will have a complete intolerance to iron that will not fade, and even the briefest touch will cause pain and burns.
Changelings may, depending on their species, develop some magical abilities, most often abilities involving plants or animals. They are often somewhat clairvoyant, and can at times seem to read minds or intentions. Despite this, changelings are often at odds with humans, especially other children. They will often prefer their own company or the company of animals and pets, and may develop complex games and activities for themselves.
Unless the changeling was an adult at the time of the switch, they are often unaware they are not in fact human. Changelings’ faerie relatives may visit to clue them in to their heritage, especially if the goal was to draw them back to the faerie realm at some point. At the time the faerie family comes to take their child back, the changeling child is given the choice to stay or go, or to bring their human family with them. Changelings that choose to remain with their human family tend to lose some of their more unusual characteristics over time, becoming more human over time. Human families that go back to the faerie realms with their child will never return if they leave, even if they are unaware they have made the choice. Changeling children often leave faerie fruits for their families, and if eaten the human families cannot stay in the human realm.
The stolen human children are raised by the faerie that stole them, and will live longer than average lives in the faerie realm. The children may develop some powers over time due to magical exposure. They are treated as the child of the faerie that raised them, as the cultural belief is that it is the one that raised you, not the one that birthed you, that counts. As such, they expect the children they leave as changelings will be well treated and grow up strong. Families that reach out to their changeling children often do so to ensure they are being treated well, and may leave blessings on the human household should their changeling child stay there. If a human family decides to go with their child to the faerie realm, they are treated as family.
Changelings are often exchanged to increase diversity in an immortal faerie community, or to provide the changeling child care that the faerie family may not be capable of (as many fae are part human, occasionally medical conditions come through that they have no resources to handle). In the cases where an enchanted object or animal is left instead of a faerie child, the goal is to either punish the human family or to claim a child for themselves. What children a faerie may be interested in can vary, though they are particularly fond of redheads, freckles, seventh sons/daughters, or children with any artistic talents. Changelings made from enchanted objects are more delicate than faerie children, and often the magic breaks apart over time. Occasionally these changelings survive to age 13, at which point they are no longer in danger of breaking and are effectively human children.
Changelings cannot lie, and if forced to confirm they are not human they will usually head to the faerie realms themselves. However, they only cannot say what they know to be a lie, so a changeling that is unaware they aren’t human will be able to call themselves human without issue.
Changeling are unable to touch iron, and will develop immediate burns from contact with the metal. If they are forced in contact long enough, the magic glamour (or disguise) will fall apart. This will also cause severe pain and can kill the changeling, who is a child and not nearly as resilient to harm as an adult. Any changeling over the age of 13 will have absorbed the glamour and cannot be forced into another shape, as their previous appearance is no longer their own.
To avoid having your child stolen/switched in the first place, placing cold iron in their cradle or over the threshold of their room is an effective deterrent. Keys and horseshoes are traditional choices, but any iron will be effective. Offerings placed outside the home at the birth of the new child may curb any grudges previously held, or can endear you and your child to more friendly fae that will protect the home and family within.