Over the next several days, Máiréad planned out how to leave without being conspicuous, and then put her plan into action. She told the woman at the village store that she missed her parents in the city and implied they might call her home now that the old woman was gone, then she told the schoolteacher that she might finish the year in a different school because she might go back to live with her parents, and finally she told the constable that she would miss the village if she had to leave but missed her family more and would like to see them again. Feeling like she had covered the people who might look into her disappearance, or be asked where she was by her more gossipy neighbors, she felt like it was time for her to talk to Liam about moving in when she left. They had discussed it before, but she wasn’t sure if he had changed his mind.
He still came by every day and, although it had taken her a couple of days to stop feeling embarrassed about her dream and feel comfortable around him again, they continued to sit and talk until dusk when he had to go home to do his chores. That night Máiréad asked Liam if he had spoken to his Aunt and Uncle about moving in to the cottage when she left. “If you haven’t, or if you’ve changed your mind, I’ll understand,” she said.
Liam laughed, “I haven’t changed my mind, but they have some concerns and I’m doing my best to address them.”
“What kind of concerns?” Máiréad asked.
“Well, they’re worried that I’ll put all my work into your farm and then you’ll come back and I won’t have anything to show for my work. I can’t tell them I won’t lose anything because of the pearls you’re leaving to cover the costs of running the farm…” his voice trailed off, and he looked at her, a questioning look on his face.
Máiréad instantly realized he had a point and knew that instead she could sell off some of her pearls and leave the money with Liam so they wouldn’t have to tell his family about where the money was coming from. When she suggested it, Liam looked wary.
“I don’t want to just take your money.”
“You’re not.” She insisted.
“I know you don’t think so, but I just don’t know how it will look to my Auntie and Uncle.” he shrugged slightly and looked a little flustered but he squared his shoulders and said, “But we can figure it out.”
Máiréad smiled and felt a sense of relief. She had been hoping that he would agree. She slumped back into her chair and took a deep breath. That was the last thing she needed to do. Now she was free to leave. And with that thought, she realized she would dearly miss sitting in front of the fire in this cozy cottage with Liam. As she looked up at him, she swallowed a sob and blinked hard to keep the tears welling up in her eyes from falling.
Liam saw her face change out of the corner of his eye, but he stopped himself from going over to her or saying something because he knew if he tried to comfort her he would also end up struggling not to cry. She might fear what was ahead, but he was not just afraid for her, he would miss her as well. Instead, he cleared his throat and asked what else she had to do to get ready. Grateful for something to talk about, Máiréad considered the question and finally said, “I need to exchange the pearls and create some kind of pouch so I can carry the ascension jewelry back with me.” Her voice trailed off, and she played with the fringe on the heavy throw draped over her legs. Liam could tell Máiréad was restless and asked her what she thought might happen while she was on her journey. He listened to her talk about how she might find her parents if Maeve were mistaken and they had not been killed. Liam could hear the longing in her voice for Maeve to be wrong and for her parents to be alive and well, but also saw the look on her face that let him know she was aware that was an unlikely outcome. She talked about needing to avoid the dangers of the ocean. She had never swum more than a few leagues off the coast of Ireland, but according to the map Maeve had left, Máiréad would need to swim further than she could even imagine. As she shared her concerns and her hopes, she felt calmer, and before she knew it, it was time for Liam to go home. He hesitated at the door and When he turned around, he looked like he was going to ask her a question but had stopped himself. Máiréad prompted him, saying, “What is it?”
“I just wanted to say that I’ll do whatever I can to help.” He paused. “I just want to be sure you’ve really thought about where you’re going and why.”
Máiréad felt herself bristle. Who was he, she thought, to question her plans? “I’m quite sure it will work out” she replied shortly, pursing her lips slightly and straightening her spine as if to emphasize her response. She might have shared her fears, it was Liam after all, but now that it felt like he was questioning her choices she was determined to keep them to herself.
The days passed quickly and as the month drew to a close Liam had talked his Aunt and Uncle into letting him take on the responsibility of the farm, persuading them it would be a good way to learn to be a full-time farmer and make any mistakes he was going to make and correct them as he learned on Máiréad’s farm and then get his own later. They were further convinced to go along with the idea when they heard that the old woman had left some income and Máiréad’s family was going to support the farm as well. Liam felt slightly dishonest telling them that, but he decided it wasn’t a lie because the pearls were from her family and they were going to support the farm while Máiréad was away.
Máiréad had also made strides towards getting ready to go. She had asked the Cailleach where the old woman had gone to trade in the pearls and had decided to take on that responsibility herself. At least, until the Cailleach insisted on joining her. Outwardly, Máiréad graciously accepted her presence. Inwardly, her acceptance was nothing short of extremely grateful. Máiréad wanted to be independent and take care of things on her own, but she knew there were some times when she just didn’t know enough to do that. Or at least not well enough to do it the best way possible. Why, Máiréad wondered, was it so easy to ask the Cailleach for help and accept that she had knowledge Máiréad needed but not want Liam to offer help or advice or to question her? Was she vain? Did she not want to seem stupid? No, because if that was the case, she wouldn’t want to ask the Cailleach for help either. What was it, she considered, that made it different with Liam? She pondered the question as she walked in companionable silence with the Cailleach towards the dealer who would trade with her for her pearls. Without thinking about it she heard the Cailleach answer her, replying, “It is because you feel an ease with me that comes from knowing what I am to you and knowing what we will be to each other. You don’t know those things with him. Yet.” Máiréad was thinking about her response for a minute before she realized she hadn’t spoken out loud. She looked sharply at the Cailleach, wondering if she had the power to read her mind. The Cailleach laughed at the look of suspicion on Máiréad’s face. “No child, I’m not a Seer, but your whole being is so focused I’d have to be blind not to know what you are thinking about.” Máiréad felt sheepish and hung her head slightly, sorry to have been suspicious. Suddenly, her head shot up, and she whipped around and looked at the Cailleach wide eyed. “If Liam is a Seer, does that mean he can hear what I’m thinking?” she asked, clearly disturbed by the thought. The Cailleach laughed. “Oh my, you’ve just had quite a shock, haven’t you? Liam is still untrained so he can sense things but even if he has that skill he can’t use it yet.”
“What do you mean? Are there different kinds of Seers?”
“Lets call it different degrees of Seeing. That is closer to the true way Seeing can be experienced. There are a range of abilities depending on the strength of your gift and the training you undergo. Some people never know they have the gift and spend their lives feeling like they ‘guess’ things correctly all the time. Some people know it is a gift and feel a little bit of the magic and can ‘sense’ things about people, like Liam did when he was so sure you were the seal he saw. And some people train and build their capabilities and can know things that haven’t been said or haven’t happened yet.”
“Oh” was all Máiréad could say. She wasn’t sure why this revelation was such a surprise. She had grown up knowing that there were Seers, she supposed it was that she had just never actually expected to be friends with one.
Again, the Cailleach laughed, “You need to learn to hide your thoughts, child.” But then her face turned serious. “If you want to survive, you need to learn to turn a blank face towards the world. The Selkie Kingdom is no place for you if you can’t hide your thoughts. Do you understand what you are choosing to do? Do you truly understand the risks? If they suspect you are a pretender to the throne, or that you were involved in the intrigue that removed your mother from the line of succession, they will not hesitate to kill you. Without Maeve by your side, you have no proof that you are your mother’s daughter. Even with the ascension jewelry you will have to prove you did not come across it by thievery or deceit, they will not assume you to have come across it honestly. Have you considered what you will say, or how you will present yourself?”
Máiréad was suddenly aware of how little she actually knew about what she needed to understand before she left on her journey. She was sure that some of it would be things she needed to learn as she went, but she realized for the first time the gravity of what she was trying to do by going home alone and unknown.