Once upon a time, there was a girl who didn't want to marry…
"I'm not 'a girl'," she said. "My name is Sedna."
"That's the way people talk about you, though," her mother replied, laughing. They were tanning skins together that day. Sedna's father was a great hunter, killing a lot of hares, foxes, moose, sometimes even a bear or a musk ox. There was a lot of work, a lot of skins to tan, but they were never hungry and could always wear the thickest, softest and most comfortable clothes. "You are the girl who declines every one of her many suitors." She smiled. "You're a celebrity even outside the village! But it's not for a good reason."
"Can't I just stay with you?" Sedna asked
"No. Your father will grow old with me. And it's time for you to have children. You're the prettiest girl here. You have far more options than I had at your age."
Sedna pouted and didn't reply. She didn't want one of the men she knew. They felt rough, she couldn't stand the thought of lying with them.
The one who changed her mind came from the sea. His face was pretty as a girl's, his hair was long and soft like Sedna's, that made her so proud. He wore necklaces made from ivory and feathers, and he looked like no boy she had ever seen.
He promised her everything. He promised she would never be hungry, never be cold. He promised he would love her and respect her forever. He promised he would lie by her side, never on top of her.
"Would we kiss?" Sedna asked, tempted and terrified. She didn't think it was what the girls called love, but she couldn't imagine better.
"Only here," her suitor replied, showing his temple. I can do that, Sedna thought. She kissed him and the marriage was official. Sedna's parents were overjoyed. Her mother gave her a thousand of bits of advice, her father promised he would come and see her, and Sedna got in her husband's kayak. He lived in an island not far away.
His black hair, she thought, looking at his back, had a blue reflection, like the feather of a raven.
On the island, Sedna's husband dragged the kayak on the gravel, before turning back to look at her.
She squealed. He was a bird. A giant bird, with a huge beak, and eyes fully black. His hands were human-shaped, she noticed, but covered in feathers, and his arms looked like withered wings. She didn't want to imagine what was under his clothes, his body, his legs. She screamed.
"My wife," the bird said, in a weird shrill voice, "follow me to my hut." His beak was long and sharp. They were alone here. What could she do?
Maybe she had married a demon, she thought, maybe he would eat her. But he acted in all things like nothing had changed. He showed her the cooking pot and the tools, everything she could need.
"Kiss me, my little wife," he said. He offered her his temple; of course he had no mouth. Sedna put her lips here with disgust. He smelt like fish, and blood.
"You're the prettiest of all girls," he said, "and I'm so happy we're married."
For dinner, he gave her dry fish. She cooked her part, as he ate his own raw.
The night came, and he proposed they sleep together. No comfortable furs here, the couch was all feathers. It felt unpleasant on her skin, as if her husband was covering her with his wings. Maybe he did, if the feathers had belonged to him. That night, she couldn't sleep, fearing her husband would take advantage of it to approach her. He slept like a human, and on his torso, there was a long wound, that could have, in Sedna's nightmares, opened like a mouth to swallow her.
The morning after, he asked her for a kiss, and left to fish, leaving her without skins to tan. At home, she would have rejoiced at this unexpected free day, but here she felt trapped. She went out to discover her surroundings, and to try to find some berries to go with the fish.
There were birds here. Not a lot of them, but they seemed to be always a sandpiper or a bunting, looking at her, reminding her of her sad lot.
The following night, she succumbed to sleep. The sky was still entirely dark when she woke up surrounded by silence. Her husband didn't snore, breathing as lightly as a bird. And she realized that if she ran away away on the kayak, maybe she could go back to her parents before he noticed she was gone.
As silently as she could, she put on the furs she had worn the day she came, with her shoes, and ventured along the pathway to the sea.
She heard squawking in the night. For each step she took, they seemed to screech louder. When she came to the shore, dozens of seagulls were staring at her, clearly visible in the moonlight.
She tried to ignore them and get nearer the kayak. She had never used one before, but she had watched her father. Even if she sailed the wrong way, a man from her village would surely find her.
As she was pushing the kayak on the gravel, seagulls started to hit her with her beaks. She tightened her hood around her head to hide her eyes. The blows didn't tear her clothes nor make her bleed, but they still hurt her. She would bruise everywhere, she thought.
When she reached the sea, she understood it had been only a warning.
The beaks were now diving at her flesh, tearing her clothes, and the icy cold was almost as painful as the wounds. Even the wings seemed to hit her. She passed out, with a last prayer for the boat to start floating with the tide and to carry her away.
This wish was not granted.
When Sedna woke up, her bird-husband was tending her wounds. She closed her eyes to pretend she was still asleep, but he saw through her.
"You shouldn't have tried to leave," he said. His voice was calm. In it, there was no worries, no threats, no compassion either. He didn't ask why. "You're my wife. I will heal you."
He spread some ointment on her wounds while saying magic words, and Sedna saw the wounds close up. It was so unnatural she wanted to scream. Already there was not even a scar on her skin, but she felt like they were on her entrails instead.
Her husband yawned, like a human, opening his beak wide and covering it with one wing.
"I will sleep now. Never do it again."
It was daylight now, but Sedna assumed such a powerful magic couldn't be used freely. She would have no fresh fish today - she was already getting tired of it anyway.
"How did you get this power?" she asked.
Her bird-husband moved in his sleep, and replied, without waking up. "By sacrifice of blood, love and body."
"And why don’t you keep your human form all the time, if you wanted me to stay?"
But this time, the bird-husband was sleeping too soundly and didn't reply.
Sedna spent the day restitching her clothes as best she could, and wondering where exactly her husband came from. He'd gotten power from a sacrifice... she remembered his wound on the first night. It didn't heal magically, maybe because it was done magically, to allow him to look like pretty young human, or for some other purpose...
Sacrifice of love, she thought. Did he know that they would marry, but she would never love him? It was not only because he looked terrifying. He had deceived her from their first encounter, until she promised to be his wife.
Sacrifice of body, and she wondered. Did her husband always look like this? Was he a real human once? Or a real bird? Maybe a totally different spirit, with even more wings, maybe a woman...
Sometimes after that, she asked other questions while her husband was sleeping, but she never got a reply; and during the day she didn't dare.
One day she heard steps on the pathway. She looked, warily first, then saw it was her father. She ran out of the house and hugged him.
"How are you, my daughter?" he asked. "You look healthy. Are you happy? Are you already expecting a child?"
She burst into tears and told him everything.
Sedna's father, deeply angered by her tale, decided a marriage had no value if it was not with a human. He would get her back home!
"Beware!" she said. "Birds obey him. They'll see I'm trying to leave, they will stop us."
Sedna's father thought about it. "We'll have to settle this with him, then." And Sedna's hopes started fading away. She didn't think her father could convince the bird spirit.
When her husband entered the house, she greeted him. Her father did, too, then he took his harpoon and drove it into the birdman's heart. It happened incredibly fast.
Sedna cried, out of an emotion she didn't know, but her father urged her to follow him and get home soon; of course he was right. They boarded the kayak, and Sedna's father paddled as fast as possible, towards their village, their home.
The sky darkened.
Sedna knew her father sailed perfectly even in the storm, but dread tore at her insides. Was it the wind, or something worse? She thought she recognized the fluttering of wings.
The birds were coming.
They didn't swoop down on them. They were so many, their beating wings were enough to stir up the sea, to raise waves higher than mountains; and they didn't have to fear any harpoon. Cold water was lashing at Sedna's face, dripping beneath her legs, making the kayak more unstable by the minute. Feathers were hiding the sky. And Sedna thought she heard, behind the birds screaming, her husband scolding her. I was mad thinking that piercing his heart would be enough to kill him, she thought.
Or maybe the birds had just found his body and came for revenge.
They would get it. Each wave her father fought seemed like the last one. She imagined so many deaths, she stopped counting. She saw her father screaming something, but she couldn't hear him over the uproar of the winds and the sea.
And then her father threw her overboard.
The cold cut her in half like a shark's bite. However, she was still fighting. She tried to resist the paralysis, to gulp some air, to swim upwards, and grabbed hold of the side with her two hands.
Her father was watching her with horror and pity, and she knew he wouldn't regret his action, she knew he wouldn't help her in again. He didn't want to die, just like her. But she didn't let go.
Sedna's father took his big hunting knife and cut every one of her fingers. She tried to hold on, and he cut all her remaining phalanges.
Sedna was living one of her worst nightmares, her red blood flowing in front of her eyes, blending with the roaring waves, as the icy water that had been freezing her skin now rushed into her arteries. And her father's eyes were still more cold. Finally, as she wouldn't let go even with her naked bones, he cut off her hands at the wrists.
He's a monster, Sedna thought. How could I see him as my father? He's giving me over to my husband, who's not dead, who wants all this to happen, who's a monster too.
And she understood.
A sacrifice of love, the rejection of a father she thought to love and respect. A sacrifice of blood, floating around her face. A sacrifice of body...
I can do that, she thought, as she was diving into the murky deeps. I will be powerful and dreadful. I'll take revenge against my father, my husband, and every human who decided girls had to marry. I don't care about being human myself.
Many creatures she h ad never seen before were swimming with her. She knew. These are my fingers, she thought. And like children she named them: seals, sea lions, walruses, whales, orcas, belugas and narwhals...
They cuddled up to her, comforting her as much as they could, as Sedna's legs were painfully turning into a fish's tail. They couldn't detangle her hair made wild by the storm, framing her beautiful face, making her even more terrifying. She went down to the bottom of the sea and made it her kingdom.
And no one asked for her hand ever, ever again. Of course, it was not the only perk of being an immortal goddess, but only for this, was it worth it.