Máiréad twirled and stepped to the tune she was humming, gathering her skirts up and swaying as she started to whistle the tune, laughing as she made mistakes with the tune and laughing harder as she then tripped over her feet. Liam smiled. This was his friend. He knew her. He understood her. It was so easy to be friends with the girl who was thumping around in the yard in a way that his Auntie would have called craiceáilte, crazy. Liam watched her for another minute before Máiréad, tired from a long day, a long swim and dancing in the yard yawned and then walked into the house. Liam heard the bolt on the door slide home and knew he could leave without being seen, so he quietly shut the barn door and wandered off home, staying on the path by the light of the moon and the stars.

As Liam awoke the next morning, he realized he was still smiling and knew it was because he’d gone to bed with a light heart. He knew there were hard times ahead, but today felt easier than days had for quite a while now. He was up and out of the house early to get his chores done so he could stop by the Cailleach’s on his way to school and ask her some questions he had about using the Sight and how much she could teach him. After he gulped down his breakfast, he took some bread and cheese for lunch, and flew down the road, enjoying the beginnings of a thaw that let him know spring was almost here. 

When he arrived at the Cailleach’s house, she welcomed him in and offered him breakfast. Liam, in the manner of all 16-year-old boys, had a near bottomless appetite and accepted the offer of a second breakfast. While she cooked their eggs and browned some bread, Liam sat and watched her and they talked of inconsequential things. After they were done eating, even Liam was full, and he realized he hadn’t felt this carefree in quite a while, either. He decided not to upset his mood by delving into his questions, but instead asked if he would see her after school at Máiréad’s. The Cailleach nodded her head and bade him farewell, understanding his need for a day when life was a little easier and not so fraught with tension and big decisions to be made, and the fear that Máiréad would be gone before he was ready to say goodbye.

After Liam went off, the Cailleach sat down and tried to think of a way to help him adjust. Máiréad would be leaving within days, and she was worried her absence was going to be too much for him. She sat and thought for a long time until she finally realized the only thing she could do was help Liam keep busy and work on refining his gift. With that thought in mind, she sat at the table and wrote a letter to the only Seer she knew and the woman she hoped would help Liam learn to use his gift. Feeling like she had done what she could on that front, her thoughts shifted to Máiréad. She decided to go see the girl and try to whittle down the list so Máiréad would be as ready as the Cailleach could help her be before she left to find her future. The Cailleach wasn’t sure where Máiréad would end up, but she knew the next step on her journey had to be to leave what she already knew to see what new things were waiting for her out in the world. 

Máiréad woke up to the Cailleach knocking on the door and calling her by name. She sat up in bed, feeling disoriented because she had been awake several times in the night, and put on her dressing gown as she stumbled to the door. Aware that she had overslept, she attempted to be cheery but the Cailleach could see the countdown to leaving was wearing on her. For the second time that morning the Cailleach made breakfast, pushing Máiréad to eat until her plate was clean. She was worried about the girl and decided today should be a light and easy day for all of them so she shooed Máiréad away to go get dressed while she did the dishes and thought about how to slow down their day and still finish the list of things that needed to be done before Máiréad left. 

When Máiréad came back, dressed and more awake, she was surprised to see the Cailleach was at the door in her coat and shawl. She motioned Máiréad to join her and walked out into the yard. Máiréad shrugged and got into her coat, happy for the chance to get outside and get some fresh air. 

The day was windy, spring was fighting to come to the island and Máiréad and the Cailleach stopped to look at greening bushes and shoots just starting to poke through the dirt. They walked in a companionable silence, enjoying the sunlight on their faces and the feeling of freedom that came from being outside with no particular place to be and no particular thing to do after a month of hard work. They worked their way into the village, and to the Cailleach’s house where she made Máiréad a sandwich for each of them before they walked towards the school. The students would be released to go home and get lunch and the Cailleach knew Liam would prefer the sandwich with its chunk of beef and soft bread from the center of the loaf to whatever food he had thought to shove into his pockets before he left home that morning. 

They were in sight of the school when the doors burst open and children ran out, scurrying for home to fill their bellies on whatever their Mam was serving up before she sent them back for that afternoon’s lessons. Liam was the last one out of the building. He was talking to the schoolmaster and didn’t see Máiréad and the Cailleach right away, but as soon as he did he waved good-naturedly, said his goodbyes to the schoolmaster, and loped over. He grinned widely as the Cailleach held out his sandwich, taking it and gobbling it down like he was starving. “You were supposed to save that for later”, the Cailleach chided as she smiled fondly at him. Liam laughed, clearly amused at the idea that he would ever wait to eat. She started to explain why they had come, and suggest he come with them rather than go back to school that afternoon, when one of the village girls came running up. Panting, she gasped out, “It’s my sister, they sent me to get you, it’s her time, and she needs you!” The Cailleach, in spite of the tales told about her, was an accepted part of village life because in addition to being the unofficial doctor, she always helped the women through childbirth. The Cailleach told the girl to meet her at her cottage and once she had started off, turned to Máiréad and said, “You’re going to have to tell Liam what the jewelry needs in order to fit you correctly. It’s the only thing left on the list. I was going to do it with you but my help is needed elsewhere and I must go now.” And with that, she hurried off.

Máiréad was taken aback, but knew the Cailleach was right. There was very little time until her departure now. They had better go back to the house and get the beautiful silver mesh jewelry she would need to wear if she was going to ascend to the throne as the Selkie Queen. If they didn’t fix it so she could get out of it in an emergency, she would have to leave it behind and that would never do. She had to be able to unclasp it if she were caught in a net or in seaweed. Because she would be alone, she needed to be able to protect herself. 

Both Máiréad and Liam were wrapped up in their own thoughts, and the walk back to the cottage went quickly. When they arrived, Máiréad got the Seanmháthair’s deathbed gift and unwrapped the map and letter to get to the slim box. She took a deep breath and steeled herself to the feelings of fear welling up inside her at the thought of undergoing the journey alone. She hadn’t told the Cailleach or Liam, but she was terrified that she would fail and all their work helping her prepare for the journey would be for nothing, if she even survived. 

Knowing it wouldn’t do either of her friends any good to know she was afraid, she straightened her spine and brought the box out to Liam in the living room. She sat while he looked at it, relying on the skills his uncle had taught him for repairing the horses’ bridles and other metal objects to try to find a solution. If he made it a press to release buckle-like catch, she might be able to get out of it without using her hands. Máiréad went to the barn to get the tools Liam had asked for and when she came back, she found him engrossed in his work, oblivious of her presence. She stood and watched him for a minute, watching his elegant hands run over the chain and catch as he tried to figure out how to change it into something she would be able to manipulate in her seal form. 

She gave him the tools and left him to work, deciding to make enough dinner for three in case the Cailleach came by later in the evening. While she prepared dinner, she hummed a low tune to herself and Liam found himself humming along. When he looked at her and caught her eye, they both laughed and it felt good. Liam was glad the vague discomfort he had experienced from the hug they shared the other day had passed he wanted to keep feeling like this.

When he was done tinkering, he had flattened the catch and crafted a pin out of a couple of links he removed so she should be able to reach it with her mouth and be able to undo the beautiful threads of silver chains and opalescent stones if she needed to get free. Máiréad looked at the new design, marveling at the intricate details he had managed with so little time. He told her that he would have done more to make it look more like the rest of the piece, but first he wanted to be sure it fit her. Máiréad hadn’t considered that she would need to try it on. She shrugged, agreed, and they left for the beach in the small cove where they had first met. 

When they got to the cove, it was deserted, and Liam left Máiréad to transform, telling her to let him know he could come back. In only a minute she was sliding into the water, reveling in the sleek sense of freedom that came from the rolling waves. Máiréad called out, forgetting for a minute she wasn’t using her human voice. She was thinking about what to do and was getting ready to come out of the water and call him when he walked around the end of the rocks. She was startled because he couldn’t have heard her, could he? Even if he had heard her, how would he have known it was her? She sounded like every other seal in the cove. Liam smiled and said, “I don’t know how I knew it was you but I could hear it was you when you called.” She was now beyond startled. She was shocked. Had he read her mind? How had he known what she was thinking? Could he hear her somehow? She knew nothing about his gift and it made her nervous to think of him hearing her thoughts. Liam looked at her and asked, “Are you ready to try it on? I don’t know what you want me to do so you’re going to have to help”. At that, Máiréad puffed out a sigh, relieved her thoughts were her own. 

As she swam in to the shoreline, he gingerly waded out into the water, but only up to his ankles. She could see him remembering the last time he had come into the water after her and could sense his fear so she swam in to where he was standing. She nudged his hand, and he snapped out of his thoughts. “I know, but I’m not too deep. I’ll be fine.” He smiled at her fondly and reached out to fit the sparkling silver chains around her head and body. When he reached around her, he realized the pin was too fine for her to be able to pull out, so he’d have to craft a flat head to the pin so she could manipulate it with her mouth. He thought if he got his uncle’s metalworking tools he would be able to craft it into a fine flower or some other delicate design but make it larger. 

What he didn’t realize was that, as he was standing there thinking, he was rubbing Máiréad’s back just below the headpiece. And while it was soothing in some ways, she was also aware of his hand on her skin. For her it felt just like when he had touched her the other day, when they hugged, and she had felt her skin tingle where his hands had been. She wasn’t ignorant of what she had been feeling when she had dreamed of him kissing her. She also wasn’t unaware of how close they had been in that moment that they had hugged. What she was unsure of was what he was thinking. She thought he might like her. The thought made her slightly uncomfortable and equally pleased. 

Liam seemed to suddenly realize he was stroking her back and pulled his hand away like he’d been burned, muttering “Sorry” under his breath. Máiréad supposed he had realized he was touching her. Disappointed, she backed up into the waves and swam for a minute until she had calmed down. When she came to shore Liam pulled the pin for her, talking softly, “I’ll make the pin larger and make sure it’s long enough to stay in and easy enough to pull out quickly if you’re in danger.” As he gently unwrapped the jewelry, he said, “I’ll be back in a few minutes. Or you can call me. Yes, that makes more sense. You call me when you’re ready.” He had flushed a bright pink when he spoke, and Máiréad was at a loss as to why. Maybe she just didn’t understand Liam at all. And with that disheartening thought, Liam walked away and left Máiréad to transform. 

Liam cursed himself in his head. He had to stop having these wayward thoughts about his friend. He would never be able to look her in the eyes again if she knew that for a second he had thought about what it must be like to watch her transform and had then realized she would be unclothed and nearly choked. He knew his face had gotten warm, and he could only hope Máiréad never guessed why. Her voice came sailing over the rocks, “I’m ready” and Liam took a deep breath and focused his mind on figuring out the intricacies of working a new pin for the catch he had crafted. 

As he rounded the corner, he gasped. Máiréad was sitting in the sand, her legs bare up to her thigh as she put on her stockings and shoes. Liam felt himself go still. He couldn’t stop staring at all the smooth skin glowing in the late afternoon sun. He shook his head and reminded himself they were friends one more time before he walked over to her, handing her back the box with the jewelry inside it. Máiréad looked up at him, her bright eyes framed by dark lashes spiked into points from the ocean water. Liam just stared at her, for what seemed like forever before he found his voice, “I’ll let you hold on to this and I’ll borrow my uncle’s tools to fix it tomorrow.”

Máiréad thought about it and said, “No, you keep it. It will be easier for you to work on it there rather than try to sneak your uncle’s tools out.” Liam realized she was right and slipped the flat box into an inside pocket in his jacket. 

With the box safely tucked away, he reached out to help Máiréad off the sand, gripping her hands in his. As she jumped up with his help, she misjudged her footing and came smack up against him. Slamming into him hard enough that he instinctively wrapped his arms around her to steady her. She felt the blood race in her veins; she inhaled and smelled the ocean and Liam, and the heady combination of scents made her lean closer. Her breath was coming faster, and she felt a little dizzy. She leaned her head back and looked him in the eye, wanting to reach her arms around him. But before she could, Liam took a step back. She was confused. He took his arms from around her and backed away. She was about to ask him why when they heard the Cailleach calling. They both turned and saw her making her way across the sand. She looked flustered. Máiréad felt instantly guilty. Had the Cailleach seen them? Was that why Liam had stepped back? She wanted desperately to ask him, but he was already headed towards the Cailleach. Máiréad sighed deeply and followed. Vowing that as soon as they were alone, she was going to ask him why he had put distance between them. She joined the two of them further up the beach.

The Cailleach was talking to Liam when she got there, “…The fishermen are all talking about a bad storm blowing in off the ocean. They say the bad weather will last days if not a week.” The Cailleach turned to look at Máiréad and said, “You’ll need to leave tomorrow at first light to get out ahead of the storm.”

One thought on “Máiréad the Selkie Queen (part 16)

  1. Ooohhh this is getting exciting! I can’t stand the anticipation! I’m torn between wanting Máiréad leaving to see what adventure await her and wanting her to decide to stay with Liam and see what develops there.

    Liked by 1 person

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