a selkie tale – part 30

The ships arrived hours after Oliver had warned Fenella of the invasion. Dressed in a white gown provided by the town’s finest seamstress Fenella marched to her battlefield, below the cliffs of Gillespie. Rocks shot upward from the sea floor, creating ragged, pointed walls off of which the waves could crash thunderously. Oliver rowed her in a small dingy to the rocks, where she was able to climb the largest one right in the middle. It was relatively close to shore, and appeared to be an excellent anchoring place.

“Fare well, Fen. I’ll see you at the end,” Oliver said. She noticed the reluctance in his eyes and shined a smile.

“Don’t fret, Oliver. I will return soon!” This made Oliver return her smile with more confidence than before. They both knew being near the rocks and thrashing waves was one of the most dangerous places on the coast,  but if Fenella’s plan prevailed, it would all be worth the trouble–at least that’s what she believed.

Back in the selkie clan, Moire’s position on the matter of helping the humans was tossed about, but soon denied. If Fenella wished to risk her life for these men, they must be trustworthy. Over the past few weeks, her family had noticed her maturity and great strive for power, and they respected her for that. They would not allow her to fight on her own. Others joined her family when they spotted the ships arriving.

Soon the seal scouts that were sent to inspect the ships discreetly swam to Oliver–per Fenella’s request–telling him, “They’re laughing, aboard! Sharpening knives and axes, loading cannons and stuffing the barrels of their guns with powder. There are skins of our kin being hung from their ropes. We are in the fight as much as you, human boy. Are ye prepared?”

“Aye, we’re ahead of them. Gather your female selkies to join Fenella among the rocks!” he ordered, like a true Chieftain.

Fenella ordered those of the selkie women who could to transform into their human counterparts. After Bridget helped to clothe the women of the sea, they joined Fenella on the rocks. The sea began to fight against them, crashing higher and becoming angrier by the minute. Fenella bit her lip nervously, but watched closely as the ship of villains approached.

“Selkie clan–we will begin to sing our clan anthem as the ship approaches,” Fenella shouted. “Once we get their attention, coax them toward us; make them believe they can reach us before hitting the rocks. We can pull them closer with our combined power. Their ships will crumble beneath their boots!”

The human clan hid quietly on the edge of the beaches with guns and axes, and the tops of the cliffs were lined with archers and a single cannon, roughly disguised as rocks themselves.

In moments, the rough tide rolled the ship close enough for the pod of selkies to become visible to them. Their long hair whipped around their faces as their dresses did about their ankles.

And then, their song began. The sailors had no idea where the beautiful sound arose. It was as though a heavenly choir was welcoming them into the land beyond. When they spotted the women draped across the rock bed, they were intrigued and turned that way. The selkies pretended to just notice them and jumped up, waving with excitement. Some blew kisses, raising up the skirts of their dresses to show off porcelain legs. Together, they gathered each other’s energy through a shared anger toward the evil men and encouraged the ship in their direction. Because the ship was of such volume, the selkies struggled to keep their song together as well as move the ship with all their might.

The pirates seemed to be very interested, though, and didn’t mind the ship being tilted toward that side of the beach. The selkies continued their coquettish acts reaching in the direction of the ship and putting their hands on their hearts with such desire, it was difficult to turn away.

But then, the captain of their ship emerged–tall, leather cap and all–and shouted, “Wake up, men! Heed not their precious songs and flirtation! They are sirens that pull any unsuspecting man into the sea!” His voice boomed so loudly that even the rocks on the cliffs trembled.

Fenella panicked. What now…they’ve caught us!

Suddenly, before the selkies rose a glowing figure in a white dress of sea foam that grew and grew and grew until it was as tall as the rocks that reached up from the sea. A beautiful woman with hair like fire and lips like summer poppies revealed herself, joining her sisters in song.

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a selkie tale – part 29

After meeting with who was left of the villagers, Fenella decided it was time to take action.

“Friends, you say these pirates come on ships to invade your land?” They answered affirmatively. “You may not believe me now, but my family and I might be able to help you. Prepare yourselves for battle, and I will call on my family to protect you from further destruction. You were so hospitable to me, and I feel the need to repay you.”

“You owe us nothing, child,” Bridget said. She shook her head. “We only did what we thought was morally sound.”

“Gillespie has become my home-away-from-home. It breaks my heart to see it reduced to rubble. We will ward off these attacks, and rebuild together!” The town cried with enthusiasm and hurried to begin preparations.

Oliver grabbed Fenella’s arm. “What will you do? I thought your clan hated humans?” He was panicking.

“You needn’t worry, Oliver. If I have to do it by myself, your village will face no more peril.” She looked worriedly into Oliver’s eyes, which studied her closely.

“Be careful, Fen. Come back to me, aye?” Fenella smiled and put her hand on his.

As soon as her toes tapped the water, she began her transformation. In seconds, she was spiraling between rock formations and through schools of fish that swam past her. When she reached her family’s outcropping, she lunged to the surface and hurried to where they all were gathered. “Mum, Aunt Annag–I have a request,” she announced, breathlessly. The elders had already gathered, alerted of her transformation into a seal.

“Fenella, what in St. Andrew’s name happened but moments ago?” Moire demanded. “You used a transformation spell?”

Fenella sighed and concentrated again, ready to turn into a human before her clan’s eyes. Every selkie gathered became speechless and gasped at the sight of Moire’s youngest daughter on two human legs.

“Fenella!” her mother chastised, astounded.

“Mother, listen. Everyone, hear me! We selkies helped humans long ago. Aunt Annag told me that, doesn’t everyone remember the tale? We mustn’t fear them all! There are murderous, poaching pirates approaching who will take our lives just as they will take the humans’ and their supplies! We must help them. Their village has already been burned to the ground, perhaps we can help rid them of the pirates.”

“That sounds quite dangerous, Fenella,” Maesie said. She could tell there was a tremble in the crowd. Fenella walked next to her sister and put her human forehead against her sister’s.

“I have a plan. We won’t be hurt.”

“I forbid this! It is foolish to involve yourselves with the humans. They will betray our trust and hunt us for entertainment, for food. They do not deserve our respect or protection,” Moire ordered.

“They saved me,” Fenella fought back. “If not for Oliver’s gun, or his parents’ food, or the village’s hospitality and protection, I would already be dead. I wouldn’t have ever returned to you. Oliver has kept my secret to this day. I have to return that favor, whether or not any of you will join me!” Fenella climbed onto a rock where she could stand over everyone, and raised her human fist. “Who will join me in battle?”

a selkie tale – part 28

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.”

a selkie tale – part 26

Aunt Annag had Fenella work on a number of different exercises over the next few days, including using her excitement to breach further from the water’s surface and her mild irritation from other fish stealing her prey to ward them off and keep her kill for herself. She also used the empathy she had for her seal kin on a neighboring outcropping to create a fog thick enough for them to escape their human predators. Her exercises took multiple tries, but she achieved success with each in the end. She felt the exhaustion creeping in, and her heart ached to see Oliver.

Her aunt was very pleased with her first tasks, and told her she was growing stronger and more confident faster than most selkies of her age. “Tell me, child, is there more motivation for this power than you’re letting on?”

“No, Aunt Annag. I want to become reliable and gain respect and friendships from my clan.” At the back of her tongue, wished she could say, I must see Oliver.

“How about I tell you a story now, since you’ve accomplished your goal for today?” Fenella laid down in gratitude. “Before I was even born to surf this sea, there were selkie clans who worked with men.”

“Is that a jest?” Fenella asked, appalled. Why hadn’t she been told this before?

“Hardly. Our ancestors used their ability to turn into women to lure ships of invaders into rocky shores. There was a mutual agreement between the human clan’s leader and the selkie clan of old. They would protect the humans’ shores while the humans allowed seals and selkies alike to live in peace. The humans did not fish in the selkie territory, and they did not hunt us or the seals.

Unfortunately our ancestors became too trusting of the humans. Once the human’s leader passed on, another rose, who longed to enslave selkies: capture and exploit our powers around Scotland and even past the borders. Some were captured and brought in cages to be stared at by people who would pay human currency for them. Our ancestors never saw those captured ever again.

We must be careful who we trust. It has been many years since our kin were captured, that now selkies are but a legend. Most would take care to keep it that way. After our clan retreated to a new home–here where we reside today–humans continued capturing seals, trying to decide which ones might be selkies. Eventually they thought they had captured us all and found other uses for them.” Annag grew quiet and thoughtful, her perpetual smile fading. “We must take care to protect our family and our species, for we could lose them to untrustworthy humans.”

“But Aunt Annag, it was before that terrible ruler that humans and selkies worked in harmony. Do you suppose that could ever happen again? Or are selkies like us sure that all humans will become our predators?” Fenella pressed.

Annag laughed. “I don’t suppose anyone really knows if it would work out again. Humans still hunt seals, so I would assume they would hunt us as well. Don’t you think? We are in seal form for the majority of our lives.”

Fenella didn’t respond. She knew Bridget’s family, who seemed the head of their clan, could be trusted. They fished and hunted on land. They never spoke of going on seal hunts or of selkies, and she never once saw a seal in their village. She knew Oliver would revolt at the sight of a hunted seal, now that he knew she was one herself. Wouldn’t he?

a selkie tale – part 24

That night when Fenella glided home, she tried to slip in, unnoticed, behind the family.

“Stop, Fenella,” her mother ordered.

Fenella froze. “Yes, Mum?” She knew she’d be chastised for leaving without notice. She thought Maesie would have covered for her better than this…she had been caught.

“I don’t want you leaving without someone knowing. What if something were to happen to you? What if we wouldn’t have a clue where to find you? We can’t save you from a shark or human attack unless we know where you are.”

“I wasn’t in any danger. I stayed against the sho–”

“You are no longer allowed to visit the boy. Giving him the ears to hear seals speak was dangerous enough, but to sneak away for a visit in person? It’s unheard of. He will reveal your identity, and before we realize, our family will be captured and sold, exploited for all the country to see. You would endanger your own clan, Fenella?” Moire was livid, and it scared Fenella.

“Y-Yes, Mum.” She watched her mother dive back into the water with enviable grace for her last border inspection of the evening. Elders of the clan would take turns swimming the border of their territory to be warned of intruders or to be sure everyone in the clan was ready to come onto the outcropping for the night.

Maesie bounced over to her, head hung low. “I tried to convince her that you wanted one more swim through the currents before the end of the night. I didn’t think she would find out you’d gone to your human again.”

“Nay, Maesie. You did your best. Thank you.” Fenella made her way to the warm rocks and thought about her next move. Her goal would be the same: be practiced enough in magic to turn human again, but because she could no longer visit her friend, she’d try her best to communicate with him from the water, and learn as much as she could from the elders. They could teach her more about her abilities. Before she could fall asleep, Fenella found her aunt, and asked, “Will you help me with my magic, Aunt Annag?” The old selkie grunted in approval, not even opening her eyes from her slumber.

a selkie tale – part 23

It was evening time once again before Maesie rushed Fenella out of the clan and into the open water. “Go on, now! You’ll never have enough time if you wait til nightfall!” Maesie hissed. She would swim in a cloud of sparkling tuna and in and out of the large kelp garden that her family frequented. It would be hard to keep away for too long, for the rest of her family would realize her absence.

Fenella longed to speak to Oliver again, and she hoped he would be waiting for her on the shore. Then they could plan their next visit. More than anything she wanted the power to change into a human by herself. She knew it would take much practice with magic to be experienced enough for shape-shifting, and her magic had only just awoken.

Finally she reached the familiar bend in the shore where Gillespie resided. As soon as she rounded the corner, Fenella’s stomach felt like she’d swallowed a sea urchin whole. She was so nervous Oliver wouldn’t be able to hear her from the village up the hill. Confident still, she slumped ashore and shook the brine from her whiskers.

“Oliver,” she thought. “I’ve snuck away and come ashore. Come and meet me!” She heard silence, save for the waves that crashed on the beach. It seemed as though so much time had gone by, and she felt rushed to return home, but she finally heard something. Raising her snout from the sand, she listened carefully.

“Fen, Fen!” she heard someone hiss at her. Whipping her head around, she caught a glimpse of a figure running toward her, kicking up sand behind it. “Fen,” Oliver said, breathing hard. “My apologies, I couldn’t come sooner.”

“Don’t fret, friend. I would have waited a bit longer,” Fenella said.

“I didn’t know if I should tell you or not, but my parents saw you change into a seal again,” Oliver admitted. He couldn’t hold it to himself any longer.

“Oh no… Have they told anyone?”

“I don’t suppose they have. Mum really doesn’t believe any of it happened.” Fenella snorted. “She’s not sure what to think of the story I told her, but she misses you.”

“I miss her, too. All of you. I hope one day to be strong enough to grow legs again and walk on your land. You could show me more of the human world.”

“That would be quite the time, Fen! I’d love to see the underwater world, as well.”

That gave Fenella an idea. “Perhaps I can make that happen.”

“Could you?! So I wouldn’t drown?” Fenella barked and shook the chill of the night wind from her coat.

“I’ll see what I can learn while I’m away. I promise one day I’ll be practiced enough in my magic to be able to visit more often, and speak real words to you.”

Oliver draped his arm over her neck. “I’d like that.”

a selkie tale – part 20

As Oliver walked back, he saw his mother and father running toward him.

“Son, what… What in Saint Andrew’s name did we just see?” Bridget gasped. Oliver held his breath, not sure what he was supposed to say. He knew Fenella wanted to keep her identity a secret, but he couldn’t very well lie to his parents. His father looked out at the sea, watching intently.

“Uh–uhm. You followed us all this way?” he asked. He wasn’t sure if he was more nervous that they saw him holding Fenella’s hand or watching her turn into a furry, blubbery animal.

“That wasn’t my question, boy,” Bridget warned.

“W-Well, Fenella, you see,” he couldn’t find words, “She comes from the sea. She’s a selkie.”

His father jerked his head around. “A selkie, you say? Like from the fairy tales?”

“Aye,” Oliver agreed, slightly comforted that it seemed someone was familiar with the fae.

“I don’t believe it. It can’t be true. I’m dreaming.” Bridget muttered to herself and rubbed her brow. Her husband laid a warm hand on her shoulder. “How about we go inside for some tea first, ay?” She agreed, but looked back to Oliver. He stared out over the ocean one more time.

“Come now, lad. Let’s go home.” His mother hugged him tightly, seeing the pain in his eyes.