Fenella had been so busy over the weeks that she’d lost time for socializing. Maesie confronted her one morning saying, “I refuse for you to practice again today. Fenella, we haven’t swum together in such a long while. Let’s go with our friends today, what do you say?” Fenella agreed, happy for the distraction, but also worried about becoming too distracted.
The other young, female selkies they swam with seemed happy and worry-free. Fenella felt more freedom just swimming around with them. They said they’d found their own sunny outcropping where the clan elders couldn’t see them. “That way,” Maesie explained, “We can speak about whatever we want without them knowing!” The selkies giggled about the young males that caught their attention, who they might court when the time came. They also complained about elders’ restrictions and how beautiful the ocean was as the sun reflected off of it that day. Fenella stayed quiet, just enjoying different company. It had been so long since she’d spent time with her old friends.
“You know, I really think Finlay has been eyeing me of late,” Maesie gloated. “I might court him for sometime. He is always willing to bring back an extra fish for me.” She giggled.
“Oooh he would make the perfect mate for you, Maesie!” one of the selkies swooned.
“Much too soon for that!” Maesie retorted, hot with embarrassment.
“You don’t love him, Maesie, do you?” another added in shock.
Love? Fenella thought. She felt her stomach turn anxiously. “Are you, Maesie?” Fenella asked curiously.
Maesie looked terrified at first, but then thought about it for a moment while the other girls prodded her for an answer. “I–I suppose I might. Would you explain ‘love’ as your stomach twisting around?”
“And being our happiest only when you are with him!” another chimed in.
“And feeling terribly lonely and incomplete when you haven’t seen him?” Fenella asked.
“Yes–I supposed I do love him, then!” Maesie chirped. All the girls cooed in excitement around her.
Fenella could hardly express her happiness as her fear and confusion swept over again. Did she love Oliver? Could that be that warm feeling in her belly that perplexed her so?
That night, she returned to the beach. Nothing would stop her from seeing him tonight. Once again, she breathed deeply before channeling her emotions. It appeared again to her, that warm feeling that twisted and churned in her stomach; the one that made her happy and sad; the one that pulled at her heart until she would see him again.
Closing her eyes, Fenella bowed her head, feeling the low tide wash the beach beneath her. Somehow, she captured that wild emotion ‘love’ and reigned in its power. She felt the warmth flood her veins and lift her from the eroding sand. Her flippers stretched and jerked in all directions and she breathed heavily, wanting it to be over already.
Suddenly she felt each grain of the soft sand in her palm. When Fenella opened her eyes, she saw her own human fingers dusted with sand. Tears of joy coursed down her cheeks. She stood, much more confidently than the last time, and saw ivory-colored legs in the moonlight. “Oliver, Oliver I’m here! I’m coming,” she called in her mind. Still, there was no answer. Pushing back the worry of him being angry with her for not returning sooner, Fenella bravely made her way up the beach and onto the path traveling toward Gillespie.
She pulled her seal cloak about her more appropriately, and slipped the seaweed from her wavy locks. She knew she must smell of fish and not of humans, but there was no time to clean up.
When she finally crested the last hill before the village, Fenella’s breath caught in her throat. The first thing she saw was smoke. It billowed off of every house in the village. Leftover flames licked the last of the wooden walls and thatched rooftops. Gillespie was left for ruins.
Fenella’s hands cupped over her mouth as more tears fell. “Oliver!” she cried, running into the destruction. “Oliver, Bridget! Where are you?” She ran about, seeing no one at first. Then she tripped. When she sat up again, she saw a bloody, burned corpse beside her. She sobbed, standing again and running desperately through the ashes. “Oliver…”
“Fen?” Just behind her and down the hill, she saw a group of people huddled together on the tree line. One figure approached her and she stood still in the moonlight. “Fenella?” Oliver asked in disbelief.
“Oh Oliver!” Fenella ran into his arms and wrapped hers around his neck. “I’m so sorry it’s been so long. Your village–I thought you–I thought–” Her sentence was interrupted by sobs. Her hands gripped his shirt, and he held her against his chest, shushing her.
“It’s alright, Fen. I’m alright.” His warmth calmed her, and she was finally able to calm down.
“Thank heavens,” Fenella whispered. Oliver leaned a sweaty forehead against hers.
“You came back,” he stated, holding her cold hands in his.
“I was able to transform myself without anyone noticing,” she whispered excitedly. Then her excitement faded. “Oliver, what happened to Gillespie?”
He sighed and took one her her hands in his, leading her around the village as he spoke. “I suppose those bandits we thwarted were a part of a larger crew of pirates. They came inland and threatened us to hand over the goods we stole from them and prisoners in return for their lost members.” Fenella watched his face closely, studying his emotions. She watched his jaw flex in anger. “We weren’t prepared for their attack in the middle of the night. They threw torches on our homes and stole our livestock. Few who fought against them survived, and the rest of us fled with the women and children.” He turned away from the rubble. “We have to flee. We are too small a people to handle these pirates on our own.”