( two chapters in one)
Fiona stepped aside, her mind reeling as Duff entered the house. He sat himself down at the table but didn’t touch the food. Instead, he reached into his pockets and began pulling out what looked like pearls, coins and other bits and pieces of flotsam onto the table. “These are gifts from the sea and from my travels.” he said. His eyes locked onto Muireal with a light of recognition and she returned his gaze trustingly. “She is truly beautiful!” he declared.
Fiona was greatly disturbed and placed her hand on Muireal’s shoulder possessively. “Why have you come back?” she asked anxiously. He looked at her. In his eyes a great squall was gathering and flashes of lightening flickered and faded. “I have come to claim what is mine.” he replied. Fiona realized with shock, that he was attempting to pay her for her care of the child as though she was only a nursemaid. She turned immediately to Muireal and sent her upstairs to her room. Muireal went reluctantly, looking back at both of them with confusion and fear in her eyes.
After the girl was out of sight Fiona spoke quietly, “You cannot take her. She belongs to us.” She tried to keep her voice steady. “Why have you waited so long?” she demanded. Duff stood up and looked at her with a quizzical expression and replied, “Time is not counted by the long or short in my world Fiona, we know only the rhythm of the tides under the sun and stars. It is a far better place,” In a surprisingly tender and almost sympathetic gesture he reached out and touched Fiona’s cheek. “Did you not know my nature from our first meeting?” he asked softly. “There is so much I can yet teach our daughter. Have not the wind and currents called to her through these years?” His hand on her face was warm and wet. It smelled like the sea and for the first time since that fateful night she again heard the ocean storm roaring in her ears and she was afraid.
No one noticed that the captain had come in quietly through the front door and that his pistol was drawn. When Duff saw him he drew away from Fiona and the captain fired. Fiona screamed as Duff staggered back toward the door holding his shoulder. He turned and fled toward the beach. The captain ran after him into the night but as clouds again covered the moon, Duff had disappeared. There was only darkness and the sound of the surf. The Captain returned and locked the doors. He put the pistol on the table and without a word went upstairs. He left his wife standing in the kitchen weeping, with her head bowed in chagrin. The powerful wave that had swept over the shore was sucked back into the deep and only silence remained. Alone in her room, Muireal lay weeping too. They all knew that no one would ever speak a word about what happened, but it would hang over them all like a suffocating night without stars.
An t- Eilean Dorcha -The Dark Island
Duff was not seen after that though the captain continued to keep a vigilant look out. Every day and all day, he grimly patrolled the perimeters of the little farm from the pasture down to the shoreline. Fiona was glad the boys were away and not witnesses to any of it. A few weeks later, a seal carcass washed up on the beach. White bones shone in the sunlight as gulls swooped down to pick at the flesh that still clung to them. Muireal was very affected by the sight and kept watch over the body until the Captain finally cut it up into pieces and hauled the remains out into the loch.
Afterward she took to sitting on the rocks for long periods with her head on her knees, looking out to sea. She didn’t play the little bone flute. Her right hand appeared more awkward and in the light a glowing filament seem to thread its way through the web of her fingers. At night she appeared almost translucent. Fiona thought it was only a trick of light, like the halo that sometimes surrounds animals on cold northern nights.
She and the captain hardly spoke now and the profound stillness that had settled on the house continued on in an ominous and lonely vigil. Soon Fiona began to hear a buzzing inside her head like the crackling sensation of fear and elation that precedes the mysterious discharge of St. Elmo’s fire. She had an overpowering desire to scream and never stop but all she could do was wait helplessly and pray for a reprieve that might never come.
*St. Elmo’s fire is usually bright blue or violet
more about the shape shifting Selkie or Silkie can be found here