Selkie’s Song, Prologue

Wild sea mother
bear your child ashore
there whelp her and pelt her
Honor those gone before
with the strength of an old name
and a cunning new mind
and a kind, loving heart
These things she won’t find
if born of the ocean
mid salt, wind, and waves
for the sea she is wild
and her children the same

The sun set the sky ablaze over a rocky, curving shoreline where cool waters lapped at the sand and a woman squatted, screaming and clutching the hand of her midwife. Her naked skin glistened in the fading light and dark, damp hair clung limply to her face and back. Eventually, the cramps tearing at her abdomen abated again and she allowed herself to be settled back onto the rough blanket behind her. The midwife knelt between her charge’s knees to check the baby’s progress.

“Soon?” the mother rasped, and swallowed thickly against the dryness in her throat.

“Very soon. I can see the child’s head now. Will the father come to see?”

“He will not come ashore, but my time here will be short this season. He will see when we return to the pod.” She moaned, signaling the next wave of pain. The midwife retrieved a thick, rolled piece of leather from her kit and pushed it between the mother’s teeth. Blue gray eyes looked up at her beneath a furrowed brow, red rimmed and filled with a kind of wild fear, as the midwife helped her to rise again to a crouch, knees akimbo to accommodate the wide bowl of her belly. The mother bore down against the contractions. Again and again they came until her voice was hoarse from crying out, and her body slick with sweat despite the chill evening breeze.

Suddenly, finally, with a surge of wetness and a great release of pressure, and weight, and pain, the child slid in a rush from her body and into the waiting hands of the midwife. The woman wiped at the tiny red face, clearing air passages and ears and eyes, and within a few moments, the child’s first cries quaked furiously against the cold dry world into which it had been thrust.

The mother released the midwife’s shoulder and slumped back, breathing a sigh of relief, her eyes streaming tears of joy and pain. The child continued to wail as the midwife cleaned it and swaddled it in a soft linen blanket.

“You have a daughter,” she said and laid the precious bundle on the exhausted woman’s chest.

“Thank you,” she said, though the midwife thought the words might not be for her, and cradled the tiny new body, brushing back the swaddling clothes to look at her daughter’s face.

“Tell her what her name is, Mother,” the midwife commanded gently, and the mother answered without hesitation.

“You are Moridde, daughter of Hassea, daughter of Sulach, daughter of Atenna, daughter of Moridde, who was the sixth to bear that name. You, little one, are the seventh. May the legacy of the name of your foremothers give you strength for the measure of your days.” The mother, Hassea, intoned the line of generations hoarsely, but with solemnity, and thus Moridde, seventh of her name, was come into the world of her selkie breathren, on the shores of the world of Men.

“It is well chosen,” the midwife said as she busied herself gathering the tools and supplies of her art, and leaving her two charges to acquaint themselves. She built a fire nearby to warm them all, and when the afterbirth came, the midwife took it and burned it to ashes. She gathered the larger part of them, leaving the rest for the fire, and scattered them, half over the sand, and half into the waves, for their Mother the Sea, her Sister the Earth, and Brother the Light.

Only after the supplication was made, did the midwife turn her attention to the pelt of dense short fur that had been set carefully aside in expectation of the birth. She lifted it with reverent hands and returned to kneel at Hassea’s side.

“Will you rise, Mother, and make the cut for your daughter?”

Hassea pulled her gaze from the now suckling Moridde to look up at the midwife. Her heart fluttered at the sight of the old woman holding her pelt, her eyes bright with unspent tears and a thumb brushing almost imperceptibly over its silken surface. Somewhere from the depths of Hassea’s mind voices whispered warnings of a reviled act.

Still weary, her body aching and torn, she gently detached the babe Moridde, laid her on the blanket, and pushed herself up. Hassea reached for the pelt which had been hers since her own mother had made the cut for her. She gripped the heavy fur and pulled firmly but slowly, so the midwife’s hands might linger on it as she took it from her. She met the older woman’s gaze, and said in a gentle voice, “Thank you, Deshett. May I beg the favor of a your blade?”

Deshett held her young charge’s gaze for a moment, and then accepted with a nod the respect given to her as a Lost Mother. She turned to her kit to retrieve a small bone knife. It was only as long as her hand and a third as wide, with a finely honed edge and strips of leather wrapped around the handle. Deshett turned and presented it to Hassea pommel first on her open palm; the younger woman bowed her head as she accepted it.

Hassea unfolded the pelt on her lap, found the edge, and set the blade against it. Taking a deep breath, she pushed it through the soft hide. It split like water around a rock, and she drew it down in a single long stroke. Tears sprung anew to her eyes and spilled over her cheeks, and Hassea bit her lip as she cut out a sizable piece of furred skin, one as long and as wide as the tiny figure that lay beside her. A bleeding wound appeared on her own flank, thin gouges tracing across ruddy skin.

Only when the piece was completely severed from the whole did she finally allow the gasp of pain — a pain wholly different from the hours of agony she had just endured — to escape from her lips. Her breath came quick and shallow as she wiped the blade, then picked up her daughter again, unwrapping her so she could draw the blade carefully, so, so gently across Moridde’s small thigh to produce a delicate line of blood.

Immediately the child began to wail again, but Hassea’s own pain and the necessity of her task drowned it out. With shaking hands, she wound part of the piece of pelt around the babe’s wounded leg, and the rest around the infant’s body.

“By blood, and your mother’s pelt are you bound, Moridde, seventh of your name, to the Mother Sea and your Selkie brethren. Only by your own hand can they ever be truly forsaken for the Land and the Light.” The words fell wavering from Hassea’s lips, and when the incantation was completed, she laid her daughter aside, and allowed pain to wash away her consciousness.