Liam forked a pile of eggs into his mouth without tasting them at all. He took a bite of toast and immediately had to gulp down a mouthful of tea because he felt like he was choking on sawdust. He had meant to comfort Máiréad, but when he had hugged her she had felt different in his arms. Liam had only ever hugged his Auntie, and he hadn’t thought about it but he had assumed that Máiréad would feel the same, but the way she fit against him so perfectly and the scent of her hair had made him immediately aware that she was not his Auntie. He hadn’t realized Máiréad would feel so warm and soft. But when her hair trailed across his hand and he felt it tickle his skin, he had nearly gasped at the feeling that shot through him. Liam hadn’t realized he was staring at her until she looked up at him. The jolt he felt when their eyes met left him numb. He had frozen in that moment, feeling heat zig zag up his body, leaving his face warm and a thin film of sweat all over his body. Máiréad had stepped back, but he still couldn’t move. He was glad she had turned her back on him and went to the stove, giving him a chance to collect himself. When they sat down at the table, he had to concentrate to remember that he was supposed to be eating. He felt like he had touched a live wire and could not, if his life had depended on it, explain why. Instead, he decided to follow Máiréad’s lead and let it go. At least for now. He needed time to think, and right now he definitely couldn’t think around Máiréad. 

After breakfast he took care of bringing in firewood and then decided he needed some time alone, so he told Máiréad he had to go home and help his Auntie and Uncle. Liam felt bad for not telling her the truth, but he couldn’t figure out anything with his head spinning like it was. He left the cottage and headed across the field, kicking stones and wrapped up in his thoughts until he looked up at a sound and found the Cailleach sitting on the low stone wall that marked the boundary between the fields and the road. He was startled for a second and then shrewdly realized she was there for a reason. “What is it you want from me today, Cailleach?” he asked, stopping and crossing his arms and standing with his feet firmly planted, as if daring her to try to move him. The Cailleach grinned and then cackled, “Oh boyo, if you want to stand up to an onslaught you’ll have to find someone else to fight. I’ve got naught but good intentions for you and the young miss.” Liam appeared unconvinced, so she went on. “I thought you might want to talk…” Liam nearly choked imagining telling her about the feelings he was trying to think through. “…about your gift.” 

Liam was so relieved he unconsciously uncrossed his arms and took a long breath. “I’d like to talk about that”, he said. The Cailleach looked at him appraisingly and raised an eyebrow at his apparent relief, but stayed on the topic of his gift, so Liam started to relax. Maybe, he thought to himself, it would be better to think about being a Seer than to try to work through his confusing morning. “What can you tell me about being a Seer?”, he questioned.

“It would be easier to answer your questions first”, the Cailleach responded. Knowing he needed to start thinking about his gift and what it might entail to start to make sense of it and of the changes he would experience in his life if he chose to undergo training. Liam thought for a long minute, considering the tales he had heard growing up, the things his Auntie had told him and the way it felt when he could sense things about people. He wanted to know when he could trust the feelings he got, so he asked the Cailleach about how much he could trust his gift and if there was a way to get better at perceiving things about people and situations.

The Cailleach put her hand to her chin, considered his question for a moment, and then began. “When you are young, like you are, your gift is raw and untried so you’ll have to learn when to trust what you are Seeing and when it is not a true Seeing but only a wishful thought. If you want to do more than feel a vague sense of what is going on around you, you’ll need to train. I can show you some basic skills, but once you have exhausted my teachings, you would need to find another Seer to complete your training. Have you considered what you want to do?” she finished, looking at him with curiosity. Liam looked back at her and considered the whole of the situation and decided he needed to understand more of what his gift could bring to his life before he made any decisions. And so he asked. He asked about everything he could think of. He asked about the time it would take to train. If he could train a little bit at a time or if he had to do it all at once. He asked about what it would entail, and what it would cost, and finally came to the heart of the matter. “How will it change my life, Cailleach?”

The Cailleach looked at him and nodded. That was his real question. He had finally asked what he truly wanted to know. She drew a breath and told him, “I only know the surface effects of living with this gift. I know that if you forgo the training people will notice you ‘guess’ correctly more often than they do and they’ll think you’re lucky because you seem to know when to take in the laundry before it rains, bring the cows down from the hills because there is a storm coming, and things like that. If you decide to go through the training, it won’t cost you in money, but it will cost you in time. The Seer you train with will probably have their own rules, but I know that training can take years if the student isn’t particularly focused or doesn’t take the training seriously. I also know that if you decide to train, you will have to learn how to keep your thoughts to yourself. Some people will know there is something different about you and will seek you out, and some will sense something different and push you away. Either way, unless you want to charge people money to tell their fortunes like the Travelers do, you’ll have to learn to keep the things you see to yourself. It can be a hard life, to keep things to yourself and not be able to be honest with anyone. Do you think you want to partake in the training? Or would you prefer to stay ignorant of the depths of your gift and live a more normal life?”

Liam didn’t know what to say. He considered what the Cailleach had said and decided what he needed to know was about Seeing Máiréad while she was away. “If I start now, will I have enough training to be able to See where Máiréad is and if she is safe while she is gone?” The Cailleach shook her head and said, “There is no way to know for sure. You could be a gifted student and learn quickly, or you could struggle. If you want to try though, I am willing give you simple exercises to start to hone your skills.In your favor is the fact that the two of you have a deepening connection.” Liam considered for a split second and then nodded. He didn’t know what he had felt that morning but, more importantly, Máiréad was the only real friend he had and he wanted to do anything he could to make sure she completed her journey safely and got what she wanted out of it, whatever that was. “Tell me how to begin,” Liam requested as he sat down next to the Cailleach on the stone wall.

After several hours of talking and practicing Seeing what the Cailleach was thinking or imagining or doing while she was standing behind him, the Cailleach told Liam to go home and get some rest. “Unless,” she added coyly, “you’d rather go back to the cottage and finish what you started this morning?” Liam’s face blazed red, and he was embarrassed and ashamed and confused all over again. It felt wrong to want to kiss Máiréad, but if he was being honest, that was what he had imagined in the split second before Máiréad stepped back. He hadn’t wanted to admit it, even to himself, this morning, but he ached for her to take a step closer and life her chin so he could kiss her. Liam had never kissed a girl before, but he had seen courting couples steal kisses at dances and fetes when they thought nobody was looking and newly married couples kiss freely because they no longer had to hide their wish to share affection. He’d seen his Auntie and Uncle peck each other on the cheek to say good morning or wish each other well, but he hadn’t wanted that this morning. Liam had wanted to taste Máiréad and see if she tasted as good as she smelled. He wanted to wrap his hands in her hair and hold her face so he could kiss her again and again. When Liam realized the Cailleach was staring at him, he shook his head. “There’s no shame in liking her boy,” the Cailleach told him. “Would you like to know something?” she asked, and then went on as if he had replied in the affirmative. “If you ask Máiréad about her dreams, you might find out that you aren’t the only one having those thoughts.” The Cailleach smiled gently and patted him on the shoulder and said soothingly, “You’ll come to it in your own time, and so will she.” And then she walked out into the fields, headed for her home, leaving Liam sitting there with his head spinning. He had no idea if the Cailleach had the skills to See but the way she had spoken about Máiréad it certainly seemed like she knew more than Liam did. He sighed deeply and rubbed his hand over his face. He was cold from sitting on the stones and he wanted to go home and stretch out in front of the fire and think about all the things he had learned today. Normally, at the end of the day, he would have gone to Máiréad’s to see if she needed help to milk the cow or doing anything else that needed to be done, but tonight he needed peace and right now being near Máiréad gave him no peace at all.

Máiréad milked the cow and prepared dinner and sat in front of the fire and was a little surprised not to see Liam, but also a little relieved because this morning had been confusing and uncomfortable when he had hugged her. Maybe, she corrected herself; it hadn’t been uncomfortable, and that had been what made it uncomfortable. She shook her head; she wasn’t even making sense to herself. Máiréad gave herself a talking to, reminding herself that she needed to focus on what she needed to do and learn to be ready to leave at the end of the month, feeling more in control of her emotions and her situation. And so, with a giant yawn, she went to bed, determined to make tomorrow the first day of truly preparing for her trip.

The next day dawned and both Liam and Máiréad got up and started their day. Unsure how to handle seeing each other again but determined to find a way to be comfortable around each other. The Cailleach arrived at Máiréad’s cottage while she was making breakfast, interjecting herself into the space so completely that Máiréad didn’t even have time to worry about what Liam might or might not be thinking. When Liam arrived, he was pleased to see the Cailleach was there already, knowing that a third person would keep them from falling into any awkward silences. As they sat around the fire, the Cailleach had them each get their notebook from school and write out all the things they could think of that Máiréad might need, need to know, or need to be able to do before she left. On the list were things like learning how to find safe places to shelter, whether it was from a school of sharks or a storm or humans who would catch and kill her, memorizing the map so she could navigate to the Selkie Kingdom without getting lost, and finding a way to carry the ascension jewelry with her since she couldn’t wear it on the trip but would need it to help prove her right to the throne. Máiréad was wondering if she really wanted to be Queen but knew that if she went back as her mother’s daughter the right of succession would require her to become the next Queen. She had never considered how completely this was going to change her life and she found herself wondering, just for a split second, if this was really what she wanted. The Cailleach sensed her mood and so did Liam, so they suggested the group take a break. Máiréad didn’t see them both watching her carefully, instead she shut her eyes and fell into a light slumber almost immediately. 

Liam and the Cailleach went outside to talk and practice his skills for a while so she could nap in peace, deciding she must need rest badly if she had fallen asleep so quickly. The Cailleach used the time by testing Liam. Asking him to See her in the barn, or in the henhouse, or even just behind him, checking to see if the sense she had gotten from him this morning about his ability to intuit moods was only related to Máiréad or if it was more general. The Cailleach was no expert, but she had undergone the training back when she was young as part of learning her own craft, and she remembered her teacher telling her that when people were connected, it made it easier to See them and feel what they were feeling. Liam made every effort, the Cailleach could tell, but the ability to sense Máiréad’s mood inside the house earlier wasn’t something he seemed to be able to reproduce with her. Whether that was simply the limits of his learning to use new skills or whether it was related to the pull she felt between the two remained to be seen. 

4 thoughts on “Máiréad the Selkie Queen (part 13)

  1. For a story that I jumped in on at part 13, I’m amazed by how instantly engaged I was! Straightaway I felt like I knew these characters. This is clearly just a small part of a greater story, one that I have no doubt is equally as charming.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s