Monday, March 16, 2009

The Old Mermaid, or The Fish Wife

This is the beginning of the novel I wrote in Arizona this year. It's first draft. I haven't even read it for the stupids. Hope it works. Enjoy!

Part One

Chapter One

Sara heard Ian Mclaughlin whisper her name before she saw him as she stood on Far Cliff and looked down at a dark green sea. She smiled. When Ian said her name it sounded like the whisper of sea spray over rock or the beginning of a siren song.

The other villagers said her name as though it was a lament, “Sar-ow.” When they asked after her it always sounded as though they were saying, “Where is sorrow?” “She’s not far behind,” her mother would say. “Sorrow is never far behind.”

Sara did not turn from the stormy sea, even for Ian. The O’Broin women came from the sea and a tempest stirred up all that remained wild inside each of them. Sara was no exception.

“Have you seen a sign of these times yet, Sara my girl?” Ian’s arms went around her waist from behind and she felt his breath on her neck. “I’m waiting for you to leave your red cap on the beach so I can steal it and you’ll be mine forever.”

Sara turned around so that she was facing Ian. He grinned. His eyes were the color of blue ice and his hair was as black as the raven on Muiraugh Hill.

“That is a silly story, Ian McLaughlin,” Sara said. “We don’t have red caps you can steal. I would let ya. But there’s no need. I am already yours and you are mine.”

They kissed. Then they held hands and ran down the hill, toward a place where the green skin of the Earth split open and spilled out a river of rocks. They climbed down this crevice and went into an open cave where they were protected from the coming storm. Ian McLaughlin dropped his coat onto the sandy floor of the cave, and then the couple lay on the cloth and made love.

“When are you going to marry me, Sara girl?” Ian whispered as he leaned over her. She reached up and wrapped a black curl around her fingers.

“In all good time,” she said. “When the auld ma of the sea whispers her approval. Or when the moon is blue. Or maybe next full moon, up by Cailleach Stone.”

“Is that a promise then?” he asked.

“It is,” she said. “Can you wait that long?”

“That’s not far off,” he said. “Don’t let anyone steal you until then.”

“And you keep your boat close to here until then,” Sara said. “I won’t have the auld ma or anyone else taking you to the world below. My sisters are very enticing.”

Ian laughed. “I’ve known your sisters since they came out of your ma’s womb,” he said. “They have nothing I want ‘cept you!”

Sara smiled. “I’m talking about my sisters down below.”

Ian kissed her lips. Then he said, “Aye, I’ve heard the stories. I don’t believe any but the ones you tell me.”

“Go on then,” Sara said. “Ya better catch us some fish. We’ll be feeding the three of us by end of spring.”

Ian jumped up and nearly knocked his head on the ceiling of the cave. He clapped and laughed out loud. Sara smiled.

Sara reached for his hand and pulled him down beside her.

“Can I tell the world, darlin’?”

“Not this world,” she said. “Not til the druid handfasts us and the priest blesses us.”

Ian took Sara’s face between his hands. “I’ve loved you forever. It’ll be a grand life.”

“It will,” she said, “unless I decide to swim back into the ocean and leave you and the babe on your own. So you best treat me well, Ian McLaughlin.”

“May the strength of a thousand old oaks me on you,” Ian said.

“May the sight of the raven be on you,” Sara said. She kissed Ian’s lips.

“May my love be on you all the days of your life,” Ian said.

“Aye,” Sara said.

The next day, the storm was over and the sky was bird-egg blue. Ian went out fishing with his father and brothers. Sara watched them get into the boat, and then she turned and headed home. It was bad luck to watch a loved one leave; everyone knew that. But it was difficult not to look back and see Ian’s face one more time. They could be gone a week or more, depending upon the weather. Sara would think of him tonight before she went to sleep and imagine him up on the shores of one of the islands. She had promised to sing for him before she slept; the great auld wind would bring her siren song to him to keep him safe and help him sleep peacefully.

Sara hurried away from the water and up the road to her mother’s cottage where she lived with her sisters Fiona and Aine. Her brothers Sean and Dylan had left for the north with her father several years ago, so now only the four women lived in the cottage. Her mother Maire liked it better that way. She never lived easily with her husband. But she was a good wife, he always said; and she did what was expected of her.

Sara did not want to do what was expected of her. She knew, as all O’Broin women did, how to keep a child from her womb until she wanted it. Her father said that was because O’Broin women were still close to the animal kingdom, still wild, and like wild dogs, they knew when it was safe to have pups and when it wasn’t. Sara’s mother, Maire, bristled any time her father talked about them being like wolves--or dogs.

Her Uncle Ruarce said her father did not understand the wild. Or the history of things. The O’Broin women came from the sea. The Ryan men came from the forest. Uncle Ruarc and her father were Ryan men.

“We understand wolves and bears,” Uncle Ruarc told Sara once when she was a child and crying because her father had struck her. “We even know how to avoid being captured by the fey. But we do not understand the sea.” He held Sara close to him as she sat on his lap. “You and your mother are sea fairies, sea goddesses, and as such, you must find your own way home again.”

Sara didn’t understand what her uncle was talking about then--or now--yet she was grateful for his words. She missed her uncle and wished he had never gone to the other world.

But Sara was glad her father and brothers were gone up north.

Sara heard a whistle and she looked off to the north. Cormac MacDougal stood on one of the hills watching her. She turned away and kept walking. They had once been childhood friends, but now she could hardly bear to be near him.

When they were children they used to lay on the beach together, stare up at the sky, and watch the clouds pass overhead. She had liked him then. On her twelfth birthday, Cormac kissed her and told her he wanted to marry her. It was already too late, she said: She was in love with Ian. Cormac didn’t say a word after that. He turned and walked away, and they weren’t friends any more.

Now Sara hurried toward home.

Maire was standing near the fire, stirring a pot that hung on a hook over gold flames, when Sara came into the cottage. She looked up at Sara. Fiona and Aine stood next to their mother, their faces as white as the milk that came from Neasa’s cow.

“What has happened?” Sara asked.

“There’s gonna to be a bad storm,” Aine said. “Ma heard it in the wind.”

“But Ian and his da just went out,” Sara said. “It looked as peaceful as can be.”

“The wind knows what the sea does,” Maire said, “and it has told me right. It comes from roundabout but it comes. We’re down to the sea then.”

Sara glanced at her sisters.

“Careful not to touch your hair,” Ma Maire said, “in case one of the villagers is watching us. You know they think we bewitchin’ them every time we unbraid our hair.” Her mother reached up to the bonnet on her head and pulled from underneath the first one red cap and then another and another; she handed one to each girl.

“It’s been a long time, since you were bairns. You probably don’t remember them. I wove them with the hair of a sister mermaid, the wool from the Witch McClarny’s sheep, and your own precious hair while whispering the fath fith. These will keep you protected and invisible. Keep them close always. If someone steals it, you will be obliged to do whatever you can to retrieve it again. And if it be a man that steals it, then you are his sea wife, then and there. That is the way these spells work.”

“I thought that was only a fairy tale,” Sara said.

“And don’t the fairies know a sight more than we do,” Maire said.

“Just yesterday Ian said he’d like to steal my red cap and I said I’d let him.”

“Don’t give yourself away to any man,” Maire said. “You should know that by now. If I had found what your da stole from me, I would have left you all behind long ago.”

“You wouldn’t have taken us with you?” Fiona asked. “You wouldn’t have taken us to the place beneath the waves.”

“I hardly remember it at all,” Maire said.

“I remember,” Sara whispered. “I remember how it feels. Like every part of me is alive and connected to every part of the world. I remember.”

“How can you, my sorrow?” Maire said. “You were so young last time you heard the siren songs.”

“I hear them every night before I sleep,” Sara said. “I hear them in my womb where my baby sleeps. I hear them. I sing to them.””

Maire nodded. “You’re all old enough now, past old enough, to know your heritage and your responsibilities. The O’Broin women have always kept this village safe, despite what they have done to us. It’s down to the sea we go to see if this tempest we can rest.”

The sisters put on their caps and followed their mother outside. The sky was overcast now, suddenly, and Sara wondered if it was magic that made it so. She whispered the fath fith, the ancient charm to make her invisible--to help her blend into her surroundings--and to keep her from harm. Her mother had taught it to them when they were young. She used it to walk amongst the deer in the forest and swim in the cove with the seals--although she used it in the cove mostly so none of the village boys could see her and follow. Especially Cormac MacDougal. Something wrong about the way he looked at her these days And he was always trying to start a fight with Ian. Cormac had asked Sara to dance at Winter Solstice last. It had been the first time he had spoken to her in years. Sara told him she would rather walk a foggy moor alone with a banshee than have a dance with him. She shouldn’t have said it, but she was angry with him for hitting Ian when he wasn’t looking. Had she a sword, she told Ian, she would have sliced off his head and used his skull as a flower pot.

Ian said, “I thought the O’Broin girls had the muir in their blood, not Bodicia’s! I won’t make the mistake of making you angry.”

Sara squinted at the sky and wondered why she was thinking of Cormac MacDougal. Just then three ravens flew over their heads.

“Ah, they’ve come to help us then,” Maire said as she watched the ravens. “It’ll be all right then, I’m sure.”

The women followed the path that went around the village and down to the beach. They meet no one. The air got colder and the wind began to whistle.

“The storm is calling her friends,” Maire said.

Sara’s breathing quickened. She felt strangely happy. She remembered other times when her mother had gone down to the beach without Sara and her sisters, times before a storm. Even then, Sara had felt as though she should be with her--her place was with her mother singing to the sea.

The tide was out, so some of the beach was exposed in spite of the waves and wind. It had grown dark, too, the way it sometimes did when a big storm was coming ashore. The wind was so strong and loud now, Sara couldn’t hear her mother, or anything else except the wind. She looked around and saw other women on the beach--in a kind of line that she and her sisters and mother were now a part of--walking toward the water. Sara could see their lips moving, and she heard something coming from her own lips. It was a song, a chant, a prayer. It was a plea.

They sang, “We ask those of the Sidhe and those of the sea, calm this storm before it forms, clouds part before it starts, waves calm like a summer’s balm, blessings of the sea, blessings from ye, blessings of the Sidhe. Remember us who were once you, sisters, mothers, daughters all, heed our call.”

They got closer to the water or the water got closer to them so that the waves touched their feet. In the semi-darkness, a wave of light filtered through the storm, and the beach shuddered and shimmered. Sara saw the women for what they truly were, saw their tails gleam and glimmer, and she looked down and saw her own true self. Yes, yes, yes. This was how it was supposed to be. This was her place in the world. For a moment she was balanced between both worlds: She could chose. She could dive into the ocean and feel the freedom within or she could stay on land and live the life she had known for so long. She began to lose her senses. It wasn’t a true choice. There was only one way. One wave.

Then the a gust of wind unsteadied her and snatched the cap from her head. She broke from the line of sea women and began running after her hat, only she couldn’t run at first, so she shook off the part of her that was of the sea, as though it was a skirt she could no longer use. And she ran to catch the cap.

But something happened. The wind stirred up the sand at the same time it began to rain. Sara turned to go back to her mother and sisters but she couldn’t see them.

“What enchantment is this?” she called to the storm.

She saw the red of the cap bouncing down the beach and she ran after it. Every time she almost had it, the wind snatched it up and carried it away again. She couldn’t lose the hat, especially not minutes after her mother entrusted it to her.

It was so dark and the rain was so thick--like fog and rain had become one thing. Someone grabbed her arm and pulled her toward something--away from the roar of the ocean. She didn’t shake loose. She should have shaken loose, but she was disoriented, she was afraid, she was lost. She wasn’t quite here or three, so she let herself be led into one of the cliff caves, out of the storm and into total darkness.

“He’s dead.” The stranger said those words, and Sara knew it was a man. She started to run back into the storm, but the man jerked her back into the cave. She knew that voice. She tried to pull away again.

“Let me go, Cormac MacDougal,” she said.

“I have your red cap,” he said. “I know what that means.”

“It means nothing,” she said. He was stronger than she would have imagined. She tried to pry his fingers off of her arm.

“He’s dead,” he said again. “He will never come back to you. That bairn of yours will be a bastard child.”

“You use such words?” Sara said. “You do not honor your ancestors. What do I care what some old priest says about my child? And Ian is not dead. He will return to me.” Her heart raced. She could feel Cormac MacDougal smiling in the darkness.

Sara sucked in her breath. “You conjured this storm, didn’t you?”

“I have no knowledge of such things,” he said. “But I am acquainted with those who do people who do. And I knew if a bad storm came, your mother and all you witches would try and stop it. I knew I could find you here.”

“Make it stop,” Sara said. “Let Ian come home safely. I beg of you, Cormac MacDougal.”

“You’ll need those banshees now, won’t you?” he said.

“I am sorry for saying that to you,” Sara said. “I was angry with you because you were making such a fuss. You know my heart has always belonged to Ian. Any other girl in the village would be happy to have you.”

“You can’t get out of this,” Cormac said. “You are my sea wife now.”

“I will kill you when I can,” she said.

“I fear I am already dead,” he whispered. “I think of nothing but you. Now that I have the cap, now that I have you, I will have some peace. That has always been the way of it.”

“You will have peace,” Sara said, “but what of me?”

“You will have me,” he said.

And then despite everything, despite her own strength, despite her whispering the fath fith and calling on the faeries to save her, despite her screams, Cormac MacGougal ripped off Sara’s clothes, and he raped her. As she struggled to get away, she whispered to her baby that all would be well. The baby’s father would come home and he would save them.

“You belong to me now,” Cormac said when he was finished. “There’s no stopping it now.”

“I belong to no one,” she said. “And I will tell everyone what you have done here today.”

As Sarah searched the darkness for her clothes, the storm eased outside and the sky lightened. She could see Cormac for the first time. He looked uglier now than he ever had, especially since his left cheek was bleeding where Sara had dragged a rock down his face.

“I hope you will tell everyone,” he said. “That will make my claim on you even stronger. I will see you in the church three days hence. You must marry me. You have no choice now.”

He left the cave and walked down the beach away from her. Sara put on her clothes and then looked all around the cave for the red cap. It was not there. She staggered out onto the sand. She could barely stand, but when she was able, she began running. She called out for her mother and sisters. The wind died down and the sand settled onto the beach again and the way was clear she saw the other women walking away from the water. Her mother and sisters called out to her and ran toward her.

“We stopped the storm,” Maire said. “What has happened to you, daughter?” She put her arms around Sara.

“The storm was conjured so Cormac MacDougal could get me--get the red cap. He raped me, mammy, he raped me!”

Her sisters gasped.

“Where is the red cap?” Maire asked.

“Cormac MacDougal has it,” Sara said.

Her mother dropped her hands from Sara and stepped away from her.

“Mammy,” Sara said. “Did you hear what I said? He raped me. We must tell everyone. He must be punished.”

Her mother started walking away. Fiona and Aine stared after her. Sara felt as though she was going to fall down. Her sisters steadied her. “Mam!”

“There’s nothing I can do,” Maire said as she walked.

“Ma!” Aine said. “He hurt her!”

“It has always been this way,” Maire said. “I told you not to lose the red cap.”

“I had no choice,” Sara said. “He planned this. He conjured the storm.”

Maire stopped and turned around. “And so it was meant to be. The day I return the cap to you is the day it is stolen. Cormac is your husband now. That is the way of us. It is a bargain we made, an enchantment we agreed to.”

“I never agreed to it,” Sara said. “I will not go with him whether he has my red cap or not! I will be with Ian McLaughlin. He is my child’s father.”

Maire shook her head. “No, Cormac McDougal is the bairn’s da now. You cannot change this.”

“I won’t do it,” Sara said.

“Then you will die,” Maire said, “and the baby will die with you.”

1 comment:

Anonymous said...


More! I want more!

All work copyright © Kim Antieau 2008-.