When you were born, she began, you were a precious gift that your parents treasured. You were the answer to their prayers. Your parents were happy, and they thought everyone was happy for them. Sadly, they seem to have been mistaken. Maeve believes that someone, or possibly a group of selkies, from the palace conspired to end that happiness. She doesn’t know if it was because with your arrival the line of succession was cemented, or if it was jealousy over the happiness your parents shared, but she still searches for clues to what happened to this day. She’s had to be very careful not to give herself away. As your guardian, she would be suspect if she asked too many questions, so every year she ingratiates herself a little further and they think of her as less of an outsider. Maeve is convinced if she can stay at it long enough that she will find a clue that unravels everything. She also believes that she will one day find the person or persons who caused your parents’ deaths. 

Máiréad continued to look at the Cailleach even after she was done speaking. She couldn’t think for a moment. Then she looked at Liam, her eyes unfocused as she searched her memory for anything that she could remember. There was nothing. She hung her head. Tired and feeling bereft, she slumped into the chair. She took a deep breath and decided there was nothing to do but move forward. “So what comes next?”, she asked. 

“Next?”, the Cailleach asked.

Máiréad signed, “I can’t just sit here and wait for Maeve. I don’t know when she’ll be back and even if I did know I can’t live here by myself, the people in town will talk and I’ll have people around all the time trying to get me to move into town, or worse yet, marry.”

Liam swallowed hard. She was right, and for a split second he considered saying something, offering himself, but then his gaze caught the Cailleach shaking her head ever so slightly. 

Máiréad put her head in her hands and let out a sob that nearly broke Liam. He wanted to go to her and offer something, anything, to get her to stop crying. The Cailleach held up her hand, signaling him to stop. She knew what he did not. Máiréad had to work through this on her own. She also knew Máiréad had to learn to find strength deep inside her to survive the journey on which she was about to embark, instead of relying on Liam.

Liam was terribly uncomfortable. He had no siblings and his Auntie wasn’t one to cry so Máiréad sobbing like she had lost everything was driving him to distraction. But he didn’t want to cross the Cailleach, so he stayed away from Máiréad. Instead, he went to the stove and put the kettle on to make tea for the three of them. As he busied himself pulling out cups, he listened to what the Cailleach said softly to Máiréad.

“Darling girl, I know how hard this feels, but you need to decide what you want without letting your fears get in the way. You need to think. You can wait for Maeve. Or you can go without her. You need to think about what you want and what you can do, not what you are afraid of.”

Máiréad shook her head as she dragged her sleeve across her chin and cheeks and then wiped her eyes. She knew she should get a handkerchief, but she was too tired to do anything but make this single decision. A decision that would change the course of her life. 

Liam brought over the tea tray and settled in on the couch and decided he’d pour since the two women were clearly thinking things through, their facial expressions unreadable. Liam wanted to say it wasn’t safe for Máiréad to go by herself, but he knew it wasn’t his decision to make and that his intervention wouldn’t be welcome. So he leaned back and drank his tea and waited for the two women to break their silence. When Máiréad finally did, she began with a deep breath. “I know it might seem odd, but I can’t imagine waiting for Maeve. We don’t know when she’ll be back, or even if she’ll be back. If I wait for her, I could spend years here. Years where the villagers would wonder why I didn’t go back to the city to live with my family or why they didn’t join me here. Years where people would begin to expect me to start to walk out with men and be courted and eventually marry someone. All while I was desperately trying to find my family and avoid entanglements with the villagers. Can you imagine how awkward it would be for me to turn down invitations to people’s homes and offers to go to dances and fetes? At first I’d seem shy, but with time I’d be the eccentric girl who lived alone. If I’m lucky, they won’t decide I’m a witch and avoid me altogether.” Máiréad glanced guiltily at the Cailleach, not wanting her to feel bad because of the comment about being a witch. The Cailleach waved her hand dismissively when she saw Máiréad looking at her. 

Knowing she hadn’t offended the Cailleach, Máiréad focused back on the topic of whether to stay or go. After a minute, she shook her head as she realized she had already thought about it to the point where there was nothing left to consider. Máiréad shrugged as if her prior statement was the final word, and as much as Liam wanted to object and offer himself as her escort to events, he knew that would complicate things. People were already giving them sidelong glances when they walked places together because they’d been seen together so often. The villagers would eventually assume that they were walking out together, and then Máiréad’s predictions would be their reality. No, he corrected himself, her reality. He knew it wasn’t fair, but he also knew the reality of how the villagers saw things. He saw the determination cement itself on Máiréad’s face and sighed deeply. He knew her well enough to know she’d made her decision and had the strength to stick with it. 

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