Chapter 1: My Jolly Sailor Bold
“Upon one summer's morning
I carefully did stray
Down by the Walls of Wapping
Where I met a sailor gay
Conversing with a young lass
Who seem'd to be in pain
Saying, William, when you go
I fear you'll ne'er return again…”
It was his baby sister Julie's shrill and almost pitiful cries that woke John in the middle of the night.
He groaned and buried his round and lightly freckled face once more in the sweaty-salty sheets, those that covered the great majority of his damp twin mattress.
But eventually, he did sigh and lift his face, using one small hand to scrounge about the floor blind, trying to find something to cover himself with. He settled on a pair of dirty boxer shorts that had likely seen better days, smelling of surf and sea, and yanked them on single-handedly. Staggering out to find the toddler's crib in the darkness. He was all that she had left, if he didn’t come to her cries, no one else would.
"Oh hello, a leanbh."
He instinctively slipped into the Irish-Gaelic of his birth, as his sleepless brain wasn't exactly working on all cylinders. His child, he pressed a gentle kiss to the soft curls damp against the crown of her head. Checking for a fever almost naturally by this point. She was fine.
"Not sick then are we? Just a fussy little mite."
He sighed and settled back against the threadbare sofa, her little red head pillowed against his jutting collarbone. Spit bubbles and snot making his skin sticky where she nestled into it, but he was far more than used to the sensation. ”How's about we get you sleeping, eh?” He'd bottle-fed her himself on fatty seal's milk as a newborn.
He yawned, scrubbing at his tired eyes with his free hand. Trying to dredge up a lullaby from his clouded memories of bloated lancet skies and the lapping of sweet dulcet little waves against the vast shoals of the cove where he was born, shimmering like diamonds against the water's surface. It was only Julie's low whimpers and the sniffling that always preceded a bout of sobbing, that compelled him to begin. Rubbing her back gently as the words tumbled forth. "The selkie song is bright, to waken all who follow. Manannan will lead and Tír na nÓg will follow..."
She stilled in his arms, soothed by the song that had once lulled him too as a child. Sitting on the banks of the Celtic Sea, cradled in his mother's arms. Their mother’s arms. "Dúlamán na binne buí, Dúlamán Gaelach. Dúlamán na farraige, B'fhearr a bhí in Éirinn." It sounded like Gaelic on his tongue now, but that wasn't what it was, not really. Yet translating the old language for a human child's lullaby was simple enough.
"Long, long we prayed to hear the selkie song. And now we pray again that her song will never end..."
When Julie was finally down, he stood, toddler-laden, clambering to his feet both slowly and hopefully gentle enough not to stir Julie from her fitful loose-limbed slumber.
His tiny redheaded charge snuffled a little when finally left bereft of his warm neck, but soon made do with her numerous blankies and teddies. He spoiled her rotten with whatever he had. She was his heart.
John curled up near her cradle, studded with shells and sea-glass of all colors and sizes, still scared to leave her be, wrapping their pale webbed hands together and rocking her back and forth with the instinctive motion of the sea that never left him... before finally nodding off himself.
“My heart is pierced by Cupid
I disdain all glittering gold
There is nothing can console me
But my jolly sailor bold
His hair it hangs in ringlets
His eyes as black as coal
My happiness attend him
Wherever he may go.”
Julie’s father died while their mother was heavily pregnant with her.
Then, the day after Julie’s birth, she too was gone.
But not to the afterlife like her fisherman lover, instead she went back home to the sea.
She wasn’t a human lass, perhaps the understatement of the century.
She bore John to the sea, raised him in the sea, then when she fell for a human fisherman, she brought John aground with her. He was her son. Her son just as inhuman as she, perhaps even more so. But it didn’t stop him from learning to behave and live as a human boy. He learned to cast out nets with his fisherman father and bring in the day’s catch with a smile on his face. To walk along on his broad flat human feet and to have his light skin freckle in the sunshine.
He had always been strange, even to the folk beneath the sea.
His mother was a moruadh, a merrow, one of the sidhe of Tir fo Thoinn.
And John should have been born one as well, yet he did not resemble any sort of male merrow. His hair was soft and downy brown, dark, his eyes the color of emerald scale and his cohullen druith resembled a red sealskin instead of a pearly cap. He looked the prettiest human child when he was small and then as comely human youth when he grew. Instead of the tiny green stunted creatures that were merrow men, exceptionally ugly and pig-faced, stealing the souls of human men to seal in jars down in the deepest darkest trenches of the sea. They were so cruel and ugly, that many merrow women refused to mate with them.
Many, like his mother, chose humans.
A few, also like his mother, chose selkies.
John’s father was a selkie man.
A seal in the sea and a remarkably beautiful man when he shed his sealskin to walk about on land. A son the Orkney Isles.
Poor John was born with merrow and selkie blood in his veins, doubly tethered to the sea.
Yet he still grew on the land, loved by a poor fisherman named Arthur Deacon as his own son, and loved by his mother, his human father called her Lily, as her only child.
His half-merrow, half-human baby sister, who changed everything.
No more early morning breakfast together or dancing around the kitchen in colorful socks. No more beach days playing hooky from school, running around in the salty spray and chasing the seagulls away. No more gentle kisses goodnight or hugs that always smelled like morning mist and sea-salt clinging to wet skin.
He was left alone with a baby girl who was never going to be merrow enough to follow him home, or human enough to stay.
After losing their family, being near the water hurt too much.
John spirited them away to London where sewage and pollution clogged up public waterways and even the cleanest beaches were all vaguely ill and riddled, rotted inside. It was nothing like their true home in Ireland, in the Celtic Sea. A home that Julie wouldn't even come close to remembering in a couple of years, but that John would never forget. He would study at uni and she would never have to hear the rumor-mill in Leistershire or Dublin. She could be as human as nature allowed her to be. He would put shoes on her feet, gloves and mittens on her hands to cover up her webs, teach her how to walk like a human instead of with a rolling gait like she was on a ship. Teach her to speak, eat and act as a human. Hopefully her merrow side would fade with time.
She would never know his pain.
It wasn't hers to hold, hers to bear.
How being far from his true home ached like a traumatic amputation, how it still buzzed up his body like phantom pain.
How he would have to swim in the Thames and sit in salt-filled baths once a week to just breathe.
How the sealskin often locked away in his closet was their biggest secret, only brought out when he was desperate. (When he started to forget his mother’s face and it became painful how Julie would never know her, he would change and slip into the water, dandying her on his tail-fin and making her giggle. If she didn’t have their world, at least she had him).
Julie would be human.
Julie would be happy.
He would make sure of it.
“My father is a merchant
The truth I now will tell
And in great London City
In opulence doth dwell
His fortune doth exceed
And he frowns upon his daughter
Who loves a sailor bold.”
In hindsight, perhaps the day he was going to audition for a local band, was not the ideal morning for a swim lesson.
But it was too late now, as he quickly stumbled from the greasy waters of the Thames, a naked Julie in his arms, the wet and slippery sluice of a little girl wriggling about like a gasping fish on a line as he pulled those chubby arms through the holes of her pacific blue frilly dress and fluffed the tutu out properly. She would whine if he didn’t.
He peeled a piece of plastic out of her mouth, sighing.
Humans really were disgusting creatures when it came to matters of pollution. What was so hard about not throwing trash, sewage and rotting corpses in a place where other creatures lived and breathed?
John plopped the fussy little girl into her pram, pressing a stuffed starfish into her arms for her to nibble and slobber on as he rushed through the bustling avenues of London. The pram made for a remarkable good battering ram.
Oh and perhaps his appearance did as well.
He was dressed in a pair of black swim trunks and burlap sandals despite the chilly weather outside, a red shawl (his pelt) tucked over his shoulders, fluttering behind him like a cape, and with his chest bare. Sopping wet, enough to leave puddles in his wake, with those emerald eyes glittering like the stray scales that often peppered his sun-dappled brown waves of hair after a swim. Not ugly, just… odd.
Something that compelled the other passerby to give him a wide berth.
It didn’t matter though, not really.
Not when he could look at his baby sister and be consumed by childhood memories, days spent with his webbed pale feet dangling off the edge of their old boat: The Roan Inish. His loose long dark tresses flying about, the salt-curls that always shone oddly in the summer's sun and his webbed hands that had reached up into the painted sky, hugging at a man unseen. His adoptive human father, the most important man he'd never known.
He had loved John’s mother, even though everyone on their small island had called her strange and otherworldly. She with her wild black hair and eyes that always returned to, longed for, the sea. She was a good wife, a good mother to John. But she never quite belonged to The Emerald Isle. Sometimes it seemed like John had her coloring, the same untamable dark hair and lost eyes, the same dappled skin swathed in freckles. A Dark One. Julie was more like her father had been, with her soft red hair and mocha eyes, warm and sweet. One for land, one for sea. As ancient as the rules that governed any world.
But fuck nature, he was resolute, neither hell or high water would drag him away from the tiny redhead in his care.
Nothing, it would seem, except for his audition.
The kind-looking older receptionist at Imperial College's practice rooms took one look at the amp, bass and pram, and was happy enough to relieve him of his little girl for a session.
“I’ll pay you for your troubles.” His voice was soft, quiet, melodic, he absolutely detested being a burden on anyone and she shook her head.
“I love this age.” Twirling a lock of red. “My own are grown, you see. So I take any chance I can to cuddle a little one.”
Resolute in the knowledge that should anything happen, little Julie could easily kill and eat her captors. John strode into the room with instrument and equipment in hand, still dripping wet, but with a smile on his face that proudly showed off the gap in his front teeth.
Strode, unknowingly, into a new life.
“Come all you pretty fair maids
Whoever you may be
Who love a jolly sailor
That plows the raging sea
While up aloft in storm
From me his absence mourn
And firmly pray arrive the day
He's never more to roam.”
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Chapter 2: Down To The Sea
Oh! Sooooo funny story, I just realized I had this sitting finished and not posted, probably for a while. :)
Also OMG thank you so much for the lovely comments, I will answer them ASAP :)
So surprised anyone read this :D
Features: Down to the Sea from The Little Mermaid 2, and The Selkie Girls song below. ;)
“You are my world my darling
What a wonderful world I see
You are the song I'm singing
You're my beautiful Melody…”
Arthur knew the boy wasn’t his.
Lily had come from the water with the little boy’s hand in her own, and he was just as otherworldly as she. The fisherman could see it in the boy’s eyes alone, they shone a color he had never seen before in a human iris, a vivid green that he was sure had only been possible in artificial plastics and mixed acrylic paints. Not gazing back upon him.
But he loved them both with all his heart.
He had expected the boy to be terrified of him, the child was a creature of sea and wind, of salt and sky, of a wild and wide ocean found fathoms below. Arthur had expected him to recoil from his mother’s confinement. For the child to blame the young fisherman for the loss of their home, and their lives.
Instead, the boy had regarded him thoughtfully.
The would-be suitor did the same.
But looking at him long enough played tricks on Arthur’s eyes and for a moment, in the child’s round face and wet dark hair, he saw the flicker of a seal.
The same creatures that dotted the coast and the beach near his little stone cottage home, resting on the outskirts of the tiny town in which he had lived all his life.
The little boy had surged forwards, once the millennia in a millisecond had passed, to lay his cold, forever-damp, and webbed hands on Arthur’s bare stomach. It was the highest place he could reach.
Then the otherworldly thing tilted his head back and stretched up his face as high as it would go, waiting.
Arthur bent over in confusion at the sight, and the child pressed his salty lips to Arthur’s own, inhaling deeply as if to memorize the human’s scent. It was an entirely practical gesture at first and then as his little boy got older, became one of pure affection and love. The boy did the same to his mother and would have done so to any kind passerby in the street if Arthur hadn’t learned to stop him at every turn.
The intimate touching could easily be misconstrued as a kiss and he worried for his son, what people would think, what people would do.
The mere idea of someone harming his child made him sick.
Lily insisted that he give the boy a human name, so he named the child: John Richard Deacon. After himself and his father, a strong sturdy name like the currach they built together and the nets they wove for the boat. His boy was like a limpet, always on his hip. Where Arthur went, his little shadow did too.
They checked the crab traps together, brought in the nets during good and stormy weather, he taught the little boy everything he knew.
Arthur learned early on, the power of John’s voice.
Once he had caught Irish-Gaelic’s slippery tongue and then English, he could communicate just fine when he chose to. Hs son learned the importance of silence and when to exercise it, but his song was different.
The first time Arthur heard his son sing, it was off the side of their boat, trilling broken melodies to the fish in the sea. He felt the world around him go dark at the edges. And the next thing he knew, he was coughing up lungfuls of water on the grainy sand of the beach. His son’s face was buried in his chest, sobbing.
“Tá brón orm, a Dheaidí!” I’m sorry, Daddy!
Sorrow is upon me.
Merrow song was not something meant to be heard by human ears, ever.
They made ships run aground, men and women drown themselves, children walk off cliffs and into the sea, it could make milk curdle, flowers bloom, free faerie folk from bindings, and all manner of strange things. But most things caused by Merrow song were tragic and sad.
His poor boy.
Arthur carried his crying child along the beach for a while to calm him, soothing him with the rocking motion of his arms instead of the sea.
“Tá mo chroí istigh ionat.”
He whispered it into his son’s dark hair, long and shiny like the slippery pelt of a seal.
The truth of his heart, of the life he had given away to two creatures of the sea.
My heart is in you.
Arthur knew then, that the boy was his.
“Down to the sea we go
Down to a world I know
There's never been
Not ever before
A child born of sea and shore…”
He was late.
It was made more than obvious by the fact that the band’s amps were all rolled over to one corner of the room, a guitar was being settled back into its case and their drummer seemed to be taking apart his kit as they buzzed about. John swallowed, hard. Definitely not the morning for a swim lesson then. But it was too late to do much about it now. So he steeled himself and walked further in, pushing his amp along with one foot and toting his bass, comfortably slung across his shoulders.
“Excuse me, is this the bassist audition?”
The three blokes seemed to freeze all at once, then begrudgingly looked over at him, all of them taking their sweet time to do so.
The drummer did so first, an angry retort seemingly playing peekaboo on his lips.
But it faded into something else, the moment their eyes met. All he heard from the blond was a pointed exhale of breath and a quiet bloody hell.
The guitarist was fussing with his case, so he spoke up without so much as looking at John.
“Sorry mate, you’ve just about missed it. We wouldn’t mind hearing you play a bit though, if you don’t mind us ordering you about for while.”
Their frontman smiled as he turned to see John standing there, in all his glory. “Of course we don’t mind! Ignore Bri, all the others were right shit. Now darling, if you’d ple—.” But his voice died the moment he took it all in. The moment he took John all in.
Suddenly, there were hands cupping his face and twisting it, this way and that. The frontman’s eyes were big and dark, the same shade as the deepest chasms in the darkest portions of the sea. Akin to the flesh of sleeper sharks that lurked near corpses, riddled with hagfish resting on the bottom. “Darling boy, are your eyes genuinely that color? I’ve only ever seen paints in that shade… They’re practically glowing, dear!”
John simply stared at the boy, whose face was inches away from his own. Blinking and inherently self-conscious of his own appearance. He knew it was different, that it wasn't quite ordinary, there would always be something off about him to human eyes and sensibilities. It was true for all their kind.
But it was rare for someone to so vocally and physically point it out.
“I simply must paint you!”
The frontman trilled, grinning from ear-to-ear and exposing his prominent teeth. He looked a bit like the human incarnation of an orca. Not the psychotic and infirm ones of modern day amusement parks, those filled him with a true and visceral sense of pain and grief. But for the grand beasts he’d swum with many times before in his youth and childhood. Those dark eyes and teeth, complete with his imposing demeanor and tactile nature, were very reminiscent of a killer whale. A true orca.
“Alright.” His voice was slight, pinched and tight. Wondering exactly how long the older boy was going to cling to his face. “My name is um… John Richard Deacon, born on the nineteenth of August, 1951 and it’s quite nice to meet you—?” That was the year his human father had bestowed upon him, carved it into the side of his own currach.
“Freddie Mercury!” The bloke chimed in, finally letting go of John’s face and stepping back to throw out his arms dramatically, stars alight in his eyes. “You can call me Freddie though, love. The frontman and lead singer of her majesty, Queen!” Complete with gaudy hand waves and John’s tentative applause, unsure of what else to do with his hands.
“That pixie over there is Roger, but you can call him Blondie.”
The blond in question bristled visibly and threw one of his drumsticks at Freddie’s head, it missed by a mile, nearly hitting the guitarist on the other side of the room. “Hey!”
“And that one with half his weight made up of sheer hair-fluff is Brian, our dearest Brimi Hendrix.”
“Fred…” Cue a long-suffering sigh from the taller bloke, who was still glaring across the room at Roger, who in turn was pretending to look innocent as he stared at the ceiling.
Freddie clapped his hands together and flashed that blindingly bright smile of his, folding his lips up in a way that seemed pointlessly uncomfortable, in order to shield his jutting teeth.
John did wonder why he was trying to hide his best asset, but thought better of asking about it. Sometimes humans did things that perplexed him, even after so many years among them, even living as one.
“Oh darling!” John’s eyes of St. Elmo’s Fire widened at Freddie’s exclamation. “Where in all bloody hell are your proper clothes? It’s freezing outside and you’re in sodding shorts, without a shirt no less! You must be practically numb by now!”
John huffed out a little laugh, shaking his head and letting his sea-kissed locks float up and down with the motion. “It's alright, I don’t.”
“Don’t what?” The opinionated frontman wrinkled his nose. “Dress for the occasion?”
Roger’s cymbal slipped out of his hands as he was stowing it away and made a loud clattering sound that could have woken the dead, and very nearly startled the human skin off of John. “Oh come off it, mate! Everyone gets cold!” His icy tone was dripping with patronization, as if the bassist moonlighted as a soft-spotted child. But he allowed it.
“It really doesn’t bother me. I was out swimming earlier, it’s why I was late.” Thinking wistfully of his baby girl in his arms, watching her trill and shriek at the cold bite of the water, a temperature that her merrow skin and fat would protect her from. He had cradled her against his soft chest for a while, lazily batting his tail to send them floating about in little circles against the tide.
Then he had sat her up, like a queen on his tail-fin, as he bobbed her up and down. Beaming as she squealed and clapped her chubby webbed hands together with joy.
“Where could you have gone bloody swimming in London?” Roger’s obtrusive disbelief stunned him from his reverie.
The blond’s jaw dropped. “You went for a dip in the ruddy Thames?!”
Oh yeah, that was a bit illegal come to think of it. Or at least frowned upon.
John shrugged, playing with the strap on his bass, peeling at the threads. “It’s like you said, there are no other places to go swimming in London.” He needed the water. He needed the sea. The same way he needed a moment, an instant, to swim and breathe without the land’s suffocating air pressing down on him, like an anvil or an anchor.
A shy smile flickered to life on Brian’s lips, his eyes properly raking over John for the first time, pupils dilating a little in surprise. “John Deacon, you must be the craziest bloke in all of the seven seas. …Can you play that thing then?” Nodding towards the scuffed bass case slung across his back, parts of which he’d fashioned himself, out of woven seaweed and shells. Cowries, strips of sea glass that fractaled in the light, a few halves of bivalved pieces, scaphopods and all other manner of deep sea debris. It was comforting to carry around bits of his first home.
“I like to think I can.”
“Up from the sea we rise
Up to the world of skies
Forever to be
Together as one
Under the sea
And under the sun…”
They put him through his paces, not that he expected any less.
Watching and listening intently to him strum out the bass-lines from Hey Bulldog, Rain, and Helter Skelter, as well as a couple pieces by The Who.
Then they let him improvise and expand on some of their own basic lines. Some of which were the most monotonous and boring-as-shit pieces that he’d ever played before in his life. He had to hide his grimace during a few portions, not wanting to be cut loose for having a bad attitude. But when Roger finally got re-setup, near the end of the audition session, he and John played off of each other so well, feeding off each other’s raw energy. That the rhythm section practically exploded, like a sonic volcano.
The sound was enough to make John smile brightly from ear-to-ear.
It reminded him of being a small boy in Arthur Deacon’s lap once more, pressing a conch shell to his doting father’s ear.
“Ni tir gan teanga.”
There be no nation without language.
“That was fucking brilliant!” Roger laughed, head tossed back with joy when the sound finally died, twirling his sticks around in his gifted hands. Blue eyes dancing like the shoals of fish that swam in droves beneath the surface, flicking and flittering in the thinly filtered oceanic light. “You’re bloody in!”
John felt a blush spread across his cheeks as he smiled at his bare feet, finally dry after all of that. He enjoyed playing barefoot and feeling the vibrations through the floor.
Brian groaned. “Rog, we have to discuss it first.”
“What’s there to discuss? He’s quiet, good to look at, and he’s a great bassist! Or did you just miss the part where we made the floor shake!”
Freddie nodded along to their drummer, echoing the sentiment with a smile of his own. “He does have a point Bri, John’s lovely.”
“I know that, but we still have to make a pros and cons chart and discuss the changing demographics of the band.” The guitarist was so far inside his own head, that he was checking off items on the agenda by using his long spindly fingers. Mouthing other things to add as he thought of them, slowly opening and closing his supple lips pensively, John was staring at them for so long that he forgot to blink.
“What demographics?” Roger growled, pouting and crossing his arms across his chest.
Freddie’s brow furrowed. “We’re not making a map, dear.”
John cleared his throat delicately, his voice low and melodic. A song that would never leave him. “Erm… before you make your decision, there’s something you should know.” He was wringing his fingers, around and around in a vice, as they glanced over at him in blatant confusion.
He sighed, “I have a little girl, her name’s Julie. She’s always going to be the most important thing in my life and it’s just us so… I understand if that changes your opinion of me, perhaps for the worst, but of all the things I’m unsure of in my life, my baby and my subsequent duty to her isn’t one of them.”
It would never be one of them.
Julie was his responsibility, his heart, his soul, and he needed to give her the life that she deserved. The life that their human father could no longer give her and that their merrow mother wasn’t there to give her anymore.
He would forever guide her, forever stay wherever she needed him to be.
If that meant laying her in a little currach cradle, letting her bob and sway in the ocean as her bed, then he would stand up on the jetty, watching and holding her fast for all his days.
“Là dhomh 's mi 'm beinn a' cheathaich…” He would sing into the waters below. One day when I was on the misty mountain…
“Far al a leò ro ho bhi ò
Hoireann is ò ho rò bhi o ho
Hi rì ho ro ho bha ò hug ò ro.”
Watching a glittering red tail sweep up in the distance, a flash of green hair the color of seaweed disappearing behind a buoy.
“Gill'Eòghanain mòr an gaisgeach.”
Gilleonan, the great hero…
Sometimes he would wrap her in his pelt or tuck her into his pouch, when she couldn’t be soothed and it was only the salt of the sea on her skin and the feel of a second skin atop her own that would do the trick. He worried for her.
Goodness, he worried so much for her.
“Ruairi òg an t-oighre maiseach.”
Young Rory, the handsome heir.
He loved her enough to know that his stories and songs would stay relics of her childhood, that there would be a time when he would stop spinning the yarns of Mac Lir or telling her tales of Tír na nÓg and Tír fo Thuinn. That eventually, he would give up who he was, for her.
And pretend that their kind was nothing more than a fairytale.
For her? Anything.
“This is your world my darling
One world the land and sea
My hope for you for always
Is that your heart will know part of me.”
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Chapter 3: The Great Selkie Of Sule Skerry
Song is June Tabor's version of The Great Selkie Of Sule Skerry.
Thank you so much for sticking with me this long :)))
“In nor'way land there lived a maid
"Hush ba lu lilly" she did sing,
For little ken I my baby's father
Nor yet the land that he dwells in.”
She sat on the salt-slick skerry stones, her long tendrils of viridescent hair batting to and fro in the wind.
John watched her as the waves crashed around her mortal feet, her heart still ensnared by a fisherman’s line, lost in the deep. Her belly was round, heavy with child, it was why she hadn’t gone out with Arthur on The Roan Inish that day. She wasn’t there to save him when the anchor caught and he rushed to free it. Or when he slipped into the water, hitting his head on the side of the boat, his steal-toed boot twisting up in his own fishing line. The mortal man, beholden to two creatures of the deep, took his first and last breaths of salt and sea, closing his eyes as the frantic seals tried to bat him to the surface. But it was too late.
All they could do was bring him home again.
Instead of the mournful flowers that tradition dictated, the river lilies and orchids that he saw adorning the graves of the other lost souls in their small island cemetery, John would bring sea-shells to lay beneath the heavy stone celtic cross where his father lay. It felt wrong to bury a fisherman in the earth, sealing his soul away from the home that he had chosen all those years ago, so John would bring the sea to him, pressing the shells against the ground until they joined his father in the heavy soil.
When Julie was a weight in John’s arms instead of their mother’s belly, and she too was claimed by the sea, the other villagers would whisper terrible things about him and his slumbering child, as if he had no ears with which to hear them.
It was long believed that if a girl or boy went missing on the ebb and flow of the tide, that their selkie or merrow lover had come to drag them down into the depths of the bottomless blue, forgetting that mere mortals could never live beyond their sandy shores.
Arthur Deacon was raised on the isle, he was born into the waters as his baptism basin and was a fisherman from his first breaths to his last. All the folk who lived near and far, knew the Deacons, a hardworking family that had dwindled over the years, until only a few small snatches of the bloodline remained. One being the hale and hardy Arthur, who worked long and hard without complaint for those who requested his service.
The strange girl he took as his wife and her odd child, were the first strikes against his character, in all the years that he had lived on the isle. They knew she wasn’t from any mortal place and that the boy she bore was the same. But she was a good wife for their Arthur, gentle and devoted in all she did, and the small wiry child was hale and strong, akin to his adoptive father as he stared up at the redhead in adoration.
They brought fish in with their nets and fed the folk who needed it.
Many a family with a bad haul or a failed crop would be greeted by the sight of the strange boy on their doorstep, with an armful of blue deep sea lobsters and crabs, as well as a soft smile on his oddly curled mouth, below those glowing harlequin eyes.
But it didn’t stop them from blaming him and Julie, especially once Arthur was found drowned on the surf and their mother was returned to it.
They said that his mother had obviously drowned his human father in cold blood, by dragging him down deep into the depths of the sea, and leaving his bloated corpse washed up on shore for her monstrous bairns to eat.
Then, furtively said as he passed by, if that boy knew what was good for him, he'd find a good Orkney family to leave the girl with and return to the sea with his whelper. Never to see his half-human sister again. The good isle folk would do him a service by raising her to be a good fisherman’s wife, to clip the webbing on her hands and feet until they grew thick and scarred, near immobilizing the joints. Before marrying her off to the first man who would see her grow into a trowie flower, and claim her far too early.
That would be their repayment for his kindness as a boy.
Was it any surprise, that he was gone with his baby sister by midsummer’s eve?
“It happened on a certain day
As this fair maid lay fast asleep,
That day there came a grey selkie
And sat him down at her bed feet.”
Brian’s mouth was turned perfectly taut and spherical, his lips became a round and opalesque pink pearl.
The youth's eyes were large enough and expressive enough for John to see the apprehension, and then the ensuing sting of guilt at that apprehension, that dawned in them. John wanted to reach over and smooth a gentle webbed hand over those inky curls, to tell him that it was alright. That he wasn't offended, that he understood where the guitarist was coming from. A single parent bassist wasn't in anyone’s master-plan for musical success.
John meekly packed away his bass and unplugged his amp, it was fun while it lasted. “I’ll give you all a night or so... to discuss it.”
Brian nodded, shame burning high in his cheeks, big dark eyes turned askance. While Freddie was clearly stunned into silence, his skin a touch paler than it had been before, but his most visceral reaction was to lunge over and cover Roger’s pink mouth, as the drummer’s pert little nose screwed up and he parted his lips, inches away from a vicious tirade no doubt.
“That would be wonderful dear, we’ll give you a ring, yes?”
They wouldn’t be calling him, not in a million bloody years, he could see it in Freddie’s rigid posture and the sorrowful heaviness of his eyes, a far cry from the jovial boy that he’d met at the beginning of his audition. Roger seemed a touch angry at the revelation, although John had only met the boys an hour or two before, and was happy that Roger had been forbidden his undue scathing monologue. He was sure it contained no surprises under the sun and sea.
He left the soundproofed room with his head held high and his heart stomped into the dirt, remembering the way the moist earth had felt on his tiny hands, damp from the sea mist, as he pushed the shells down down down.
His world was only set to rights, when he had a sleeping Julie placed in his arms again. Her resting face just as lovely and serene as it had been when she was a newborn, the first time she was laid in his arms and would never truly leave them.
The sweet grandmotherly receptionist helped him to gather up his belongings with his one available arm, the other was too busy cradling his tiny girl to manage much. She yawned into his neck and curled her little mittened fingers into the small baby hairs on the back of his nape. They were still wet from the swim and it comforted her, while he merely shivered at the sensation.
“She was a complete dove.”
The older woman folded up Julie’s blanket and laid it delicately in the pram. “A right little peach.” Before doing the same with the red pelt that hung over his free arm without a second thought, twisting it up with the upmost care. He felt his heart clench on instinct, but didn’t stop her.
She was kind.
“Didn’t go well then, did it?” Her voice was soft and reminiscent of his own mother’s. He smiled softly, resignedly, and shook his head, saltwater waves of brown hair falling over his vermillion green eyes.
“Not really, no.” John huffed a small, self-deprecating laugh. He hadn't been expecting very much though, so the disappointment was minimal.
“Well, buck-up, dearie.” She reached up to pat him on the cheek, he leaned into the touch. “It’ll get better soon, I guarantee it.”
He believed her.
It was only when he was home again, attempting to lie Julie down in her crib without waking her and trying his best to extract a clump of his tawny hair from her sharp-toothed little maw, that he realized… he had never left his number for the band.
“Awake, awake, my pretty maid
It's oh how soundly you do sleep.
For here am I your baby's father,
Sitting here at your bed feet.”
Part of him desperately wanted to teach Julie how to hunt.
The same way his mother had once taught him.
Moving through the depths of the sea, chasing shoals of fish to and fro, running his webbed hands over coral and algae that spread like lace across the jagged calcite rocks beneath the surface. His baby sister would never know the thrill of the first mouthful of her first catch, gulping down a full swim bladder in one go and savoring the slippery sensation. She would never play amongst the jellyfish that bobbed like mauve quivering masses, tassels and tendrils wiggling and wobbling below. Chasing her own red-gold tail as she dove and splashed beneath them, trilling with joy.
Sometimes, the pain that Julie would never know that life, was greater than his own knowledge that he would never know it again.
“Did you want these tuna, mate?”
John blinked at the dizzying jolt from his memories and smiled with too many teeth on reflex, handing over the money to the boy working a stall at Billingsgate Fish Market.
He then caught sight of a familiar shape in a bin off to the side, long thin body, an odd blue-green frill down its back and small eyes turned glassy, staring at nothing. A long-snouted lancetfish, he’d know that wide mouth of needle thin teeth and gray scales anywhere. They tasted disgusting, gelatinous and thick, and they didn’t digest food well, so it was often two meals in one. Yet they were found just about anywhere in the ocean and because of that, they were a very common first catch item. They were his. He remembered his pride as he'd swum over to show his mother, catch in his jaws, and then her amusement as he recoiled at the taste.
“How much for the lancetfish?”
The wharf boy’s eyes practically bulged out of his skull. “….Mate, you can’t eat those.”
Speaking to him slowly, as if John were as young as Julie, sitting in her pram and chewing on an striped eel that he'd given her earlier in the day.
“How much?” He pressed.
The boy raised up his scarred hands from fisherman's netting, as if in surrender. “Fine, fine, it’s your funeral. Just take it.” John did with a shrug, wrapping it up with the rest of the tuna and prawns he'd purchased.
“Actually,” The youth sounded shy all of a sudden. “…one of my friends has a stall a few paces down and caught a spiny dogfish this morning, did you want that one as well?” A spiny dogfish, a small shark that would feed them for a day or two.
The last time he’d taken a bite of a spiny dogfish, she’d been full of unfertilized eggs. Which had tasted fantastic.
He may never be able to take his sister hunting, but that didn’t mean she would never know the awful taste of a lancetfish. She whined and spat it out almost instantly, looking at him with flushed pink apple-blossom cheeks and cold accusation in her lovely eyes. He just couldn’t help the laughs that bubbled up from his chest, a bit like his mother must have felt on the day of his own first catch, and it was only after a few spoonfuls of proper tunafish that she seemed to forgive him. Using both her tiny webbed hands to guide each spoonful to her lips.
It was a fairly simple meal, cubed tuna with a bed of toasted quinoa, edamame, mango, cherry tomatoes, seaweed, and cucumbers, salted with brine.
And one of Julie’s favorites.
He could also do adaptations with whatever fish was best at the market that day.
Salmon went best with wild rice and nuts, while tuna and shrimp went together with coconut milk and papaya, and for his spiny dogfish, he contemplated a bed of cucumber and seaweed.
John was singing softly to Julie as she greedily ate him out of house and home, and he pressed a kiss to her halo of tangled red curls, as no matter how often he tended to them, they seemed hard-pressed to never agree.
“Oh woe alas this weary fate,
This weary fate that's laid on me,
That a man should come from the west of Hoy
And father his ain child on me.”
Everyone knew the story of The Great Selkie Of Sule Skerry on the isles where he had grown, and everyone sang their own version of the tale. But still, it always ended in the same tragic way, as most selkie stories did.
“And she has nursed his little wee son
For seven years all at her knee
And when seven years were past and gone
He's come with gold and white money.”
With a boy being taken away from his mother.
“And now my dear, will you take the ring?
Will you take the ring and wed with me?
You may go to the wedding with whom you will,
I'm sure you'll never marry me.”
And losing his life for penance of it.
John was guiding another spoonful of thick congealing tuna to his baby sister’s wide open mouth, making all the necessary exaggerated faces to keep her interested, when his ears pricked up outside of his control. A hand was at his door, turning the knob.
An instinctual tremor went down his body all at once and he was instantly on alert, teeth bared, standing in front of Julie as if to protect her.
At the sudden shout of his name, he screeched a war-cry, one that tiny Julie echoed without comprehension of its meaning, a sound he often tried to teach her to humanize into scared little girl instead of bloodthirsty siren sea-monster, to no avail.
With one fluid motion he'd snagged a spare Damascus karambit from beneath his countertop, one of his old iron fishing knives, and flung it at the intruders, whose outlines he could just barely make out in the lowlight against his door. Ah, he’d forgotten to leave the patio light on. There was a gentle thunk as it embedded in the soft wood of the doorframe leading outside and a satisfying couple of screams as the intruders realized that he meant business and ducked for cover.
Next time wouldn't be a warning shot.
"Did you just throw a knife at us?!"
A familiar feminine shriek assaulted his ears and… wait...
He flicked on the patio light to expose three young men in varying states of shock, surprise and fear.
Freddie, Brian and Roger.
That… complicated things.
Julie used her tiny hands to scoop up her globs of greens and guts, smashing it into her face unceremoniously, before chewing heartily like a movie patron or an eager fan getting ready to see a show.
“I'll put a gold chain round his neck,
And a gay gold chain I'm sure it will be.
And if e'er he comes to the nor'way land,
He'll know for sure that it is he.
And you will marry a gunner good,
And a gay good gunner he will be,
And he'll go out on a May morning
And he'll shoot your son and he'll shoot me.”
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