Changelings. A child kidnapped, replaced by a fairy child. This is a common story, indeed, and while many who claim their child to be a changeling are simply delusional, the legends are not without merit.
There are only a few types of fae that make the switch, generally the most humanoid types; the Tuatha dé Danaan and trolls are the most common, and shydes, oni, basajauns, and leannan sí have also occasionally been known to create changelings. However, the procedure is generally the same.
A changeling is not the result of a simple kidnapping and switch; it’s a bit more than that. Merely switching children would not result in any unusual phenomena, other than perhaps the human child gaining a greater sensitivity to magic. It would also make the switch laughably easy to discover, as fae species normally age at different rates than humans. While such simple switches do occasionally occur, they are not true changelings. A true changeling means the pair of children have undergone a soul transplant. The human child is given the faerie soul, and vice versa.
The term “changeling” is ambiguous, referring both to the kidnapped human child and the faerie child that was left in their place. To distinguish, the kidnapped child is called the “human changeling”, while the child left in their place is the “faerie changeling”.
The exact appearance of a changeling depends on the type of fae that participated in the switch, but changelings are always mistakable for a human.
Sometimes, the faerie changeling may retain a slight point to their ears, but this is not universal. The faerie changeling also tends to have fair features by the standards of most humans.
The human changeling generally also gains lighter hair than their genetics would have suggested – a black-haired child becomes brown-haired, or a blonde becomes white-haired, for example.
The faerie changeling tends to have features that might be seen as ugly – a big nose, large ears, or similar. The ears are usually visibly pointed, as well, though this doesn’t become apparent until they are around ten years old.
The human changeling looks just as they would have had they not been kidnapped, except for a decided green or blue tinge to their skin from the influence of the trollish soul.
The faerie changeling has two horns, like an oni, which start to grow in around the age of twelve. Apart from that, they are indistinguishable from a human. The horns are shorter than those of a real oni and are easily concealed by the changeling’s hair.
The human changeling looks just as they would have had they not been kidnapped, except for a decided red or orange tinge to their skin from the influence of the oni soul.
The faerie changeling grows insect-like wings by about age twelve. They cannot use them to fly, however, and they aren’t even very useful for gliding; shyde wings were not designed to bear their owner’s weight aloft, after all. The human changeling is indistinguishable from a normal human.
Other changelings follow a similar pattern – the human changeling takes on the shade of the base fae but is otherwise totally human, while the faerie changeling maintains a regular skin colour and also keeps one or two distinguishing physical features from the base fae. Of course, in some cases, such as the leannan sí, there are no distinguishing features, and thus both changelings look entirely human.
Changelings undergo a soul transplant (or soul swap) very early, usually around nine months, though in rare cases the exchange may take place as late as two years of age. The faerie child is somewhat older when the exchange takes place (fuelling theories that they can be identified by unchildlike behaviour), as most fae species age more slowly than humans, but they always appear to be about the same age as the kidnapped child when judged by human standards.
If the swap is discovered within about five years, there is a chance for it to be reversed, including reversal of the soul swap. If this happens, then the human retains the ability to see through the veil, but it’s otherwise as if the swap never occurred. Whether it actually gets reversed depends on circumstances. For example, if the faerie changeling is being mistreated, this may cause the faerie parents to regret their choice and take their child back.
Unless they accidentally kill themselves with their powers, the human changeling enjoys a heightened life span, often living well past a hundred years, though rarely nearing two hundred. They also age a little more slowly, and stop aging altogether after about fifty years.
The faerie changeling’s fortunes can vary a lot more. Sometimes, they are exceptionally healthy and can live out the natural lifespan of their base fae race. However, fae bodies are much more dependent on their soul than human bodies, and with the larger fae soul swapped out for a smaller human one, sometimes this can take a terrible toll on their body. Such changelings become sickly and rarely live past the age of fifty.
The faerie changeling doesn’t retain any of the supernatural powers of the base fae, but they do typically retain the strong magic sense that all fae possess. Some faerie changelings also retain the ability to see through the veil. Since their soul is that of a human, they do not register as a fae to other people’s magic sense.
The human changeling gains all the supernatural powers of the base fae, including the strong magic sense and the ability to see through the veil, but without the instinctive understanding of how to use and control those powers. Since their soul is that of a faerie, they are immune to the gift curse that drains the will to leave from humans who accept a gift from a fae in the Shadow Realm.
A pair of swapped changelings can instinctively recognize one another on sight, and when together, they can temporarily link their souls. Doing so allows both to access the faerie powers while also greatly increasing the energy those powers draw from. The link is similar to a soulmeld and as such also causes the pair to share sensations.
Society and Culture
Changelings do not have a society or culture of their own – they merely blend in with that of their foster parents, for the most part. Since some changelings are never even discovered as such, it’s unknown just how common the swap is. The Ministry of Magic keeps statistics for known changelings, estimating about thirty per century in Europe plus an additional twelve per century outside. However, it’s likely that many more simply go unnoticed. Many changelings never even realize what they are themselves.