They call him evil for demanding children, for holding newborn babies as both his price and his commodity. They fear him and revile him, and even a few of the most desperate souls have refused to make a deal upon hearing his price. Those who give whisper vicious lies of what he must do with the children once he takes them, say that he devours them or keeps him as his slaves, his pets, or worse. Those who receive scowl at him as he leaves, speculating what terrible things he must have offered to get the children, or what hopeless peasants he must exploit to get them.
Throughout the lands, far and wide, they call him heartless and merciless, think that the beast who trades in children must be without soul, and loathe the children, the parents, the very nature of parenthood itself.
They think him cruel. And he is. But not so much as they all believe.
He only demands children from those who can stand to lose them.
The Miller’s daughter was still young – young enough, anyway. And she was soon to have a bright and fair step-daughter to love and welcome into her heart.
The maid in rags and her prince were barely more than children themselves. They would have many years more to fill their castle with as many children as they desired.
The farmer and his wife had twins, one to keep and love and cherish.
He never demands a price of children from those who cannot afford to pay it. He never demands a child more than a few days old.
The world thinks he does not understand the worth, the joy, the love of children.
The world does not know of Bae, so young and strong and brave. They do not know the agony he felt when he lost his son, almost fully grown. He understands the pain of losing a child, and the much greater pain of losing one he has spent years loving.
The world does not know, the parents do not bother to see, the way he lingers and watches after he places a baby into its new mother’s arms. They do not notice the way he watches as the parents coo and touch and fall in love in the span of a heartbeat. The world does not know how desperately he works to convince himself, every single time, that he does not care for their new love, that he is not jealous, that every time he wants to take the babe for himself, run away and never look back.
The world does not know of his desperate, hopeless, impossible dreams when the halls of his castle were not empty, when they were filled by a warm and loving and kind woman. The world does not know how he longed to make her happy, to make himself happy, to have something he could call family.
But none in the world know these things. And so, they call him evil, vile, cruel, and he lets them. Because, in the end, it makes no difference. Because, when the world reminds him every day that his heart is empty, it is easier to pretend he likes it that way.