Late summer, it must have been. The sun was warm, but the sea began to chill with the coming of autumn. Scotland always had a chill about it, with the great winds rounding the cliffs and whipping off of the waves that crashed ashore. Seals dove deep between boulders and kelp, in which unassuming fish scuttled.
It was customary during the summer that female seals, known as selkies, at the age of sixteen would be allowed to shed their skins for the first time to experience the world as a human. Each teenage selkie with the bravery (or curiosity) to shed their skin would stay on land for no longer than a day at a time without returning to the sea again. They knew from stories told by their elders that if a young selkie is without her seal skin for too long, she would be cursed to remain human forever. Not often would the selkie folk stay in human form very long, because their behavior was far from human. Humans were selfish, sloppy beings that overindulged in food and drink, and they were also very wasteful of anything provided by the earth. All selkies were aware of glass bottles and shipwreck tragedies that made their waters dangerous.
Because the rain was kept at bay and the sun shone brightly that afternoon, Chieftess Moire conceded to her youngest daughter’s wishes to transform for the first time. Fenella was the only one of her age, so she was destined to go out on her own. Her older sister had been out only three years previous, and she had only one other person go with her!
“Mum, I know I will be just fine. Maesie went out not long ago and returned with not a scratch! I might be by myself, but I always have gotten along just fine, don’t you think? I feed on my own, I rely on my own fins to keep me fast from the sharks, and I’ve heard many tales of men and their cruelty. I can speak to the animals around me to keep alert of any danger. Mum, please, it’s such a beautiful day out!” Fenella pleaded. They swam all the way back to a sunning rock after their afternoon hunt before her mother responded.
“Okay, Fenella, but we must travel to a spot with many trees to hide you.”
Fenella breached from the top of the water with pure glee and landed with a splash. “Oh, thank you, Mummy!” she cried.
Just a short while later, for it was getting too close to evening, the clan members followed their chieftess to the place on the shore where most selkies find their feet. The forest was quiet, save for the sea breeze through the leaves and low tide washing on the rocky shore.
“Be careful, lass. Many hunters and bandits roam in the night,” her uncle warned.
“And do come back if you get frightened,” Maesie pleaded.
“Watch your sense of direction, young one. If you must mark the trees as you walk, do so. Pray, do not get lost,” Moire said.
“Yes, yes, of course! I will be very careful and promise to remember my way back. Now how do I become human?” Fenella followed her mother to shore while the rest of her family’s heads bobbed upon the waves.