The Selkie's Bride
Banner by @jamiearkin
The boy eyed her all week, going slack-jawed every time she passed him by like she was a bitch in heat and he liked the smell. I told him it would come to nothing but trouble, but who listens to a palsied old man whose eyes have gone blue with age? No one and that’s the God’s honest truth.
“Granda, wipe your chin,” he said, shaking his head and muttering under his breath. “Jaysus, man, the gruel is halfway down your neck.”
He came over to me, and like a babe, I let him clean me. We both knew that my hands wouldn’t work. He couldn’t look me in the eye, but at least he was gentle. I couldn’t blame the lad; he didn’t ask to take care of me in my last days. He was still a strapping young buck of a boy, not meant to be wiping spit off an old man’s chin. No, this was not the life Ailbert would have chosen for himself.
“The nets need mending,” he told me gruffly. “I’ll be gone most of the afternoon, but the Misses Muir and Wylie will come and lunch with you.”
He paused and seemed to consider whether to admonish me into behaving. I waved him out of the hut with a grunt; I was too old to be putting on airs on a young man’s account. He paused as he walked down the path toward the water, and I knew that the witch must have been hanging her laundry. I thought quickly, something I rarely did these days, and reached out a shaking hand for my walking stick. My fingers hit it and sent it bouncing off the breakfast table. It was just enough noise to make Ailbert jump.
“Clumsy old man!” he scoffed, thinking I couldn’t hear. “Hold on, Granda. I’m coming.”
Ailbert trudged along, his boots heavy on our wooden floor, and picked up my cane. As he reached out to hand it to me, I grabbed him by the collar and brought his face down close to mine. I was not so weak as he imagined.
“Ye stay away from tha witch, Ailbert,” I said, pounding my cane on the floor for emphasis.
My grandson recoiled from me, repulsed by the spittle that flew from my lips and frightened by the light in my eye, but I held him tight. He needed to hear me, though he didn’t want to.
“She’s trouble. It’s no right tha a woman got away from a selkie. She’s got magic running in those pretty veins and she’ll do ye harm, I’m sure of it.”
Ailbert pushed my hand away from his shirt as easily as though he was brushing off some dirt. Angry and defiant, his face was hard as he looked at me.
“Iona is not a witch, Granda. She’s a nice woman who would like to help you if you’d just ...”
“Ye dinna know what yer talking aboot.” I stood up slowly, my walking stick creaking as loudly as my joints. “She killed a selkie sixty years ago and hasn’t aged a day since. Ye think she’s no but a fine young lass now?”
“Granda, there are no such things as selkies or magic. You’re confused is all. You probably remember Iona’s mother, or maybe her grandmother.”
“I saw her walk out of the loch wi’ my own eyes, clothes dry as though she’d pulled them off the line just a minute before.” My voice strained and I struggled forward, raising my weak body up to full height. “Ye say what ye want, but tha’ woman’s no good for ye.”
“It’s a foul rumor, Granda, and I’d think that you would be a better man than to believe such superstitions. I’ve invited Iona to dinner tonight and you will be civil to her.”
The boy straightened his shoulders and stared me in the eyes, laying laws down in my own house as though he were the master here. My lips quivered at the thought of the witch dining with us, preparing us food, but Ailbert’s face showed he had no intention of discussing the matter.
“I’ll be out tonight,” I hedged, but he shook his head emphatically.
“Ye’ll be here,” he said firmly. “And ye’ll be civil. I intend ta court her. Enough of this nonsense, Granda. I want ye to be reasonable. She’s no a witch and she dinna kill a ... selkie. Get it through yer skull.”