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Selkies' Choice

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“You have a year to notify the clans. Then? Your bill comes due.”

“You come to me in time of mourning to tell me this?”

“Yeah, Lizzy, I do because this is when you’ll listen to me.” The Luidaeg leaned forward, the driftglass haze bleeding from her eyes, replaced by blackness.  “I can make the choices for you but you won’t like them. Tell the clans. One year.”

“And what do I tell the children for whom there are no skins? What do I tell parents who have to chose between them? Annie - Luidaeg, please - ”

“You tell them the truth.” The Luidaeg stood. “I’ve been kinder than I had to be. You know that. I didn’t have to give you warning.”

 “One Salt Sea” by Seanan McGuire

 ~

  “So I forgave them. And I bound them. They would be Selkies from that day onward, they would wear the skins of my sons and daughters and grandchildren, they would keep the magic alive until I found a way to make things right.”

“One Salt Sea” by Seanan McGuire

~~~~~~

Siobhan sits on the sand.  Through the blur of a look-away she watches her daughter and her grandchildren playing in the shallow waves.  Two Selkies and a Selkie-in-waiting.  Normally she would join them, using the magic of the seal skin wrapped around her waist to transform into her sea-self, but not today.

Today she will sit in the sun and watch her family playing and think about the message passed on by Elizabeth Ryan.  The message from the Luidaeg.

One year.  Less than a year now, until the Luidaeg reclaims her children; until the Sea Witch tears apart the Selkie families along the fracture line of their seal-skins, by the skins cut from the bodies of the Roane less than a lifetime ago for the Luidaeg, but many generations for the Selkies. Many generations of carrying the blood guilt on their backs and the remembrance on their bodies.

Generations of being hated by the sea they love.

Now the last generation.

In less than a year the Luidaeg will come for those who hold the skins of her children and grandchildren.  A year from now there will be no more skins to pass; no more Selkies.  There will only be the Sea’s children and those left behind with the salt sea in their blood and the call of the waves in their hearts, and the knowledge that there will be no more choices and no more skins.  No more Selkies.

Siobhan strokes the grey fur of her belt and watches her granddaughter dancing through the waves on human feet.

There aren’t enough skins for all of them.  Whatever choices they make they will bring pain and loss.  For herself, Siobhan is torn between her love of the sea and her love for her granddaughter.

In a strange way Siobhan finds herself glad that only one of her children lived long enough to have children of her own.  It is strange to find a taste of sweet in old bitterness.  Unlike so many others in the clan her family only has one Selkie-in-waiting, only one hard decision to make in this year.  Only one child to face the choice between life as a fae or a quick death as a mortal.

Her dark thoughts are interrupted by the approach of her grandchildren, trailed by her smiling daughter.  The children each grab one of her hands and pull her down the beach to play in the sea with them.

~

Siobhan gives herself six moons to say farewell to the sea.  Three moons spent in the deep ocean and visiting the coastlines and islands she has loved.  Long enough to reach those places but not enough to slake her salt-thirst.  Never enough to slake that thirst.  So she drives herself to return to the home beach before her thirst can trick her into waiting too long.

The exhaustion and worry marking her daughter’s face say that Siobhan has been gone too long, whatever the date, but there is understanding in her eyes, beneath the fear.  

She spends a week with her family, spoiling her grandchildren and trying to make up for any errors with her daughter.  She had worried how to tell her daughter but a sad resignation in those eyes tells her that she doesn’t need to.

One last time.  One last swim in the deep waters.  One last time wrapped in the magic of a long dead Roane whose name she doesn’t even know, that her many times great-grandparents killed and skinned.  One last time.

Shedding her skin she carries it up the beach to the house, to where her daughter is waiting.  To the mixture of anguish and gratitude that is the Selkies’ inheritance.  To gift her granddaughter with the bitter truths and consequences of the Selkies’ Choice.