Authors: Elizabeth A Reeves
“When the gates were closed, the selkie folk were restrained from this world, just as all of the Fae were. However… twenty years ago… something happened.”
Devin cringed, but looked up, picking up where his mother had left off. “My father, the last Guardian, lost control of a gate as he was fortifying them. He was… killed in the process. It left the gates to this realm open for a short time. Not long… but long enough.”
“For my father to see my mother,” I said, stiffly, hearing the pause in his voice. “So he coerced her somehow?”
Maura shook her head quickly. “No, dear… the selkie are very childlike, innocent, unaware of consequence of action, just as all the Fae are, but, my guess is that your father desperately needed someone to love, and his need—the love and need of a mortal is a strong thing to the immortals—drew her towards him. She would have loved him just as he loved her. And… loved you, too… the selkie, in all stories, make wonderful mothers… at least, until the sea calls them back home.”
I shook my head, but not to disagree. I was trying to grasp what I was hearing as something that really had to do with me.
“When she… drowned?” I asked.
“She returned to Faerie,” Devin answered. “The Gateway does not allow the Fae to enter the mortal plain, yet nothing can keep the Fae from returning to Faerie.” He paused, thoughtful. “Someone like you, however, would likely need some means to enter faerie… like the seal-skins of the old time selkies.”
“But, why is there a gate?” I asked. “I know it explains why people don’t see Elves or dragons, or… whatever is really in Faerie… anymore, but why was it built in the first place?”
Again, it was Maura answered. “Because,” she said, “an Immortal with no conscience, no concept of true good or evil, can be a terrible thing for a mortal. Like children, they can innocently cause much harm, but, unlike children, they have enormous powers and gifts that can make them… lethal… for humankind.”
I shivered, suddenly feeling chilled. Goose-bumps rose on my arms. I tried to imagine a being with power and no guile, with no concept of conscience, and the horrible things that could be accomplished in their ignorance. I thought of the stories of the Greek gods and their disregard for human life and pain, and wondered if they were of the Fae.
“Mankind can wreak much evil,” Devin said, his voice low. “Yet there is always our mortality, our awareness of wrong and right…”
“They’ve never tasted the fruit,” Maura said, her voice equally soft.
Devin raised an auburn brow at his mother.
“There are arguments for and against that understanding,” he said patronizingly, then shrugged. “Whether or not they failed in the test that Eve mastered is irrelevant, they are what they are, unable to comprehend mortal pain, mortal emotions, mortal suffering.”
“I’m sorry,” I interjected, thinking of reconsidering that cult theory. “I’m lost?”
Devin waved his hand. “It’s a matter of debate,” he said. “My mother believes that the Fae were given an opportunity once, as Adam and Eve, to taste of mortality, to feel pain and sorrow, and thus learn joy and life, and procreation, and that they obeyed the admonition not to taste the fruit, and have ever reached for another chance to be as we are… mortal, changeable, and full of both lights of good and ill.”
I nodded, not sure I completely understood, but catching a glimpse of a theological debate that had existed long before my birth.
“You said,” I said slowly, changing the subject to one I might actually hope of following, “that my father would have had to have a terrible need for my mother to turn to him?”
Maura and Devin exchanged glances and Devin shrugged, gulping down more of his tea.
“It may be,” Maura said, slowly, “that your father was already dying when your mother met him. The selkie, in their kinship with the sea, are wonderful healers. First her, then you would have helped to keep him alive…”
I sat back as if she had struck me across my face.
“What?” I whispered.
But I could believe. This, of all things, I could believe.
It made everything else snap into place, suddenly so plausible.
For, the one time I left his side, in all that time in hospital, he died.
Tears burned my eyes and I leaned against the table, letting sobs wrack through my body.
I should have stayed with him. Maybe he would have lived. Without knowing, I had taken his hope of life away from him.
“Am I that Fae?” I demanded, more of myself than of the shocked Maura and Devin. “That my ignorance is fatal to those I love?”
I could not sleep that night. My mind, my heart, were full of visions of my father. Looking back, how could I miss the evidences of a man who was living on borrowed time? How he always made sure that I knew he loved me, that he had always made provisions for me, when I was young. I had always thought his dislike of doctors to be the way of a tough, independent man, but perhaps it had been more.
They had been so shocked that the brain tumor that struck my father down had not been detected before.
But it was so easy to imagine, and when I finally fell asleep it haunted my dreams.
My beautiful, strong, independent father strolled along the sand, tears dripping unheeded from his eyes, his heart full of knowing that he, the last of his line, would not live long enough to experience any of his dreams. He knew of the tumor that lay in his brain, felt its effects even as his feet drew through the sand. He knew the truth of his fate, and he hated it. He fought against it and now he despaired. He caught up a stone in his hands and threw it from him with all his strength, the strength of a man knowing he faces death, skipping it across the surface of the water until it disappeared.
And a dark head cleared the waves, black curls flattened by salt water. Sad, dark eyes stared into his. Beautiful eyes that bored into his soul.
And he saw her rise from the sea, knew what she was, and he didn’t care, because he desperately needed her, needed something to hold onto, to live for, to give him hope. For, if she could exist, then perhaps all was not lost after all.
And she, hearing the call of his broken heart, ran to him and clasped him in her arms.
And I knew it was a true dream.
I sat up in my bed, tears streaking my face, my hands clutching the quilt on the bed, seeing their faces together, hurting for them, and hurting for me, the child who had lost them both, the one that they had loved… and left.
And I resented him for the first time in my life, the small part of me that was whole enough for resentment.
He had blamed it on my mother’s death, but now I knew the truth.
He had kept me as far from the sea as possible, because he had known who she was, and what she was, and knew, as well, that I, as her daughter, would long to follow in her footsteps.
And so, the sea had been forbidden to me.
And he had never told me.
I wanted to feel something. I wanted to feel angry or betrayed that so much had been held from me. I wanted to be sad, remembering my father and my mother and their ill-destined love. It was something like a story that I would have loved.
It was not something that I wanted to live. This was real life and I couldn’t seem to wrap my mind around it. Too much had happened at once. I had lost my father—something I could feel, understand, as much as anyone can when they’ve lost a loved one. That loss was real, fresh, still bleeding from my pores.
My mother had died… or… whatever… long before I was even really aware of anything. I never knew her, not really. That little creature in the cottage drew me and I knew what it was like to hunger after knowing her. Even if she was some strange creature from a fairytale or legend, she was still my mother, wasn’t she?
Part of me wanted to believe that Devin and Maura were out of their minds. I would throw my things into my car and… and nothing. I had nowhere to go. I had nowhere to be. I didn’t even have enough money for gas, if I should just jump in the car and go.
I was stranded. And not just materially. Inside, I was empty. I was hollow because feeling anything hurt too much and I didn’t want to hurt anymore. I was so tired of hurting. I was tired enough that I felt like I could sleep for a hundred years and not even feel rested.
What was I supposed to do? I had done everything right. I had gone to school. I had gotten my diploma. I had even gotten good grades. I had jumped into farming with my dad right after school and it had really started to make the difference… and then it was gone. Poof! The Good Fairy just took it all back.
I winced. ‘Good Fairy’ didn’t sound right to me anymore.
And what if everything they said was true? Would I have a home with my mother?
I bit my thumb nail hard. What if she didn’t like me? She was magical—a creature of grace and beauty who could swim like, well, a seal. And here I was, mortally clumsy and awkward, messy physically and emotionally. What could I ever offer her but my hunger to have someone, anyone, to hold?
I moaned, tossing on the bed Maura had so kindly given me. She had taken me in, offered me hospitality. My bite of bread and my pinch of salt. At the very least I owed her something.
I sat up suddenly with horror at a thought. How was I ever going to get to speak to my mother if she was locked into Faerie and no one could get in?
With an effort I closed my eyes and unclenched my hands finger by finger. There were only two people I knew who could answer any of my questions, and that would have to wait for the morning.
I would just have to try to sleep, which always was a bad idea. Even the phrase ‘trying to sleep’ suggested the inability to sleep.
I threw my pillow over my head, willing my brain to stop whirling in ever-dizzying circles.
What does a person do when they’ve lost their whole life?
I opened my eyes and it was morning.
I spent the whole next day carding wool. It was a tough job and I was scarcely into my first bundle of wool before the backs of my arms were burning. The ‘carders’ were two flat combs with wire bristles, designed to remove debris and tangles from the wool by virtue of brute force. It rather reminded me of trying to brush my hair without conditioner.
The weather was perfect and I sat under Maura’s tree, carding, while she used giant witches’ cauldrons over wood fires to heat dye to color her wool. It was fascinating to watch her, as she used natural dyes only. It was like a science lesson as she chopped up sycamore bark and added salt to make a deep red, or roses and lavender with lemon juice for a beautiful pink. She was tireless, stirring hanks of roving in the pots as I finished carding them. She sang and hummed cheerfully as she worked.
Pulling the combs through thick knots of wool until they were smooth was oddly soothing despite the way my arms ached. The wool itself was lovely, coming to me in tangled dreadlocks and heading to Maura’s pots as fluffy clouds of exquisite softness.
When my bag of wool was done, I helped Maura hang her dyed batches over clotheslines to dry in the sunlight. I grinned with pride, imagining all the beautiful things Maura would make with all that beautiful fiber.
“Not that you haven’t earned your keep,” she said, with a wink, “but I believe the horses could do with a good grooming and some exercise.”
I grinned. “That’s not work, that’s reward.”
She winked at me. “I’ll not tell your boss that. She’s a slave-driver.”
I chuckled and headed off to the horse pasture.
Following Maura’s directions, I found grooming things and tack in the shed. I decided to groom the pony first, thinking of Coal. I hoped he was getting a good grooming at his new home.
Devin’s pony was a rascal. He checked me thoroughly for treats, snuffing my hands and pockets with the air of experience. He lipped up the handful of sweet feed I snitched for him as his dues, and chased the bigger horses away from me when they came up, snuffling, to investigate. I found his halter on the fence and led him to a hitching post to enjoy his grooming.
I set to currying him down and was soon the center of a cyclone of loose hair. I laughed and sneezed as the furry teddy bear became a little thinner and sleeker under my assisted shedding. The pony snorted and twisted his lips with pleasure as I hit all the itchy spots. His hair was like wool. I decided to gather it all up at give it to Maura to spin, if she liked.
He paid me back with a short bareback ride back to the gate so I could swap him out for one of the horses.
Grooming was familiar work for me, and it had never really felt like work. I took my time and enjoyed it, learning each animal’s itchy spots and ticklish bits, learning their different personalities. They were all full into shedding season, though none as heavily as the pony. I gathered up all the shed fuzz into a bundle. Perhaps Maura would teach me how to spin it. Maybe I could make a horse hair rug.