Kylo says that, when a selkie runs away from her horde, she will find a high rock away from everything, and claim it as her own.
It will be the first thing that she has ever owned. It will be the first thing that has ever been wholly hers to keep. She will hide from her horde until the reungwir has stopped looking for her, Kylo says.
Rey listens carefully.
The selkie will sleep for days. The squalling of unwanted babes will not wake her. She will eat as much as she can find. The silence of the night will press down on her like the body of a mate.
Kylo says that this is the gods’ forewarning of what may come.
A water-horse will see her. Perhaps he will see her from the shore, and wonder if she is hurt, or perhaps he will spot her from the sea blow. He will be big and she will not.
He will make his presence known, but will not intrude on the new space she has claimed. He is only curious for now.
She will be terrified.
He will be gentle. This will frighten her. She will not trust him - she believes the stories still. She will think him deceitful. She will think he wants to attack her, the way the reungwir did, only worse. She will think that he means to eat her alive.
She will shriek at him until he goes away. If he does not go when she shrieks - he will - she will cast rocks at him.
He will be gentle even so. He will begin to love her.
The water-horse will bring gifts, Kylo says. He will bring seashells and stones and flowers, great hanks of seaweed pulled from the ocean floor, silvery mackerel and pinching crabs.
He will dare to scale the rock and leave them at its edge when she does not see. He will not push into the space she has claimed. He will go back to shore and find apples and pears and cobnuts, and he will give those to her, too.
The selkie will eventually come to understand that, if his intentions were to harm her, she would have come to harm at his hands long before now.
She eats the apples and pears, the mackerel and the cobnuts. She will begin to love him.
Eventually, she will come down from her rock. He will wait on the shore, and she will realise the size of him and the power he bears in bunched muscles. He will know this, and will sit still and quiet so that he doesn’t panic her.
They will play.
He will lie on his back and let her look at him at her own pace - his hair, his nose, his chest, his legs. He will dare to gently nose at her, and she may slap him or scratch him, only to let him continue on. He will touch her hair very gently and weave things through the ends of it - shells, flowers.
They will transition into intimacy very quickly, when she is ready, and from that day will never leave one another’s side for as long as they live.
That, Kylo says, is all he knows. Rey believes him. It’s more than she knew. She likes it.
Penn-wydh is soft and blue in sky and sea. Kylo says it means the end of the end. It isn’t true. South of here is the long headland of Kylo’s birth, and on from that there is who-knows-what.
She asks him, when he tells her, how he knows what it means. He tells her that, long ago, Penn-wydh was home to his kind, and when they left they left a remnant of their tongue behind in two women. They were not right, Kylo says, and liked Men too much. They taught the Britons their tongue. The Men adopted it, and unknowingly speak the tongue of water-horses long after both mares have fallen dead.
The grass is gentle on Rey’s back. The sun dries her quickly. The seagulls are the same here, as if they followed her from Ériú, and they circle above, calling out. Blackbird chases them, nosediving to the sea and averting just in time.
They have been here for two days.
At home, Kylo had seemed different. He didn’t care for her kind, but held himself differently for her benefit; stood up straight, wore a shirt, ate, drank, spoke reasonably politely to others.
He is becoming himself again. His hair has grown out properly, swept wild and curly by the sea’s wind. He is wilder, but happier, and so gentle .
Rey hears a curse. She lifts her head and spies him emerging from the long blue sea, dripping. She watches him drag a great armful of things up the shore. The dry sand coats his wet legs as he walks. His great bulk casts a giant’s shadow on the sand.
“What are those?” she asks him, as he comes closer, mass shading her body from the sun.
Kylo grunts and shows it all to her. Rey sits up, and he watches her expectantly.
There are shells; cockles and mussels and periwinkles. Rey sees wave-whipped quartz, strange jags of bloodstone pulled from the rocks by the might of the sea. There are unopened scallop shells and half-crushed crabs. Kylo lies on the sand with his back to the yellow sun, puts his head on his arms, eyes bright.
“What are you doing?” she asks him.
“Do you like them?”
“Yes.” She touches the smooth stones. “But why are you doing it?”
Kylo draws himself up in offense. It is the same, Rey supposes, as when Men bring Women white nanny-goats and bulls and linens and white cats and heifers and carved boards of ash to scrub clothes on; strange courting gifts worth silver and gold.
It is the same as rare mates from long bays trying to know one another through a selkie’s inborn fear and a kelpie’s great, loving eagerness.
“For you ,” he exclaims, taking hold of her legs where she lies. His bare chest is all sandy. “Do you like them?”
Rey reaches to brush the sticking sand from his chest. “I love them.”
She realises very quickly that he is trying to court her in his own very strange and incomprehensible way, the way he’d told her about. He had promised, at Lughnasadh, that this would be done properly in Gaul.
She supposes that now is as good a time to start as any.
Rey watches him, amused, as he busies himself bringing her more pretty rocks and shells and things to eat. Rey knows that it makes sense to Kylo, but to her it is almost comical that he is trying to revert back to a gentle and tentative way of being, after all the things they have done together.
She will keep it all even so, and will never part with it.
Kylo’s way is gentler than that of Men, though the gifts are wilder. She is sure that he would bring her linens and cows and white cats if he thought she desired them; he’d steal linens from their stalls, lead cows brazenly out of their fields, pick up cats by the scruff of their necks no matter how they yowled and clawed.
It is so warm and so breezy in equal measure that Rey simply lies on the grassy dunes and sleeps. Kylo is gone when she wakes, but she can smell him still, and he doesn’t feel far. There are footprints in the wet sand. She lies on her side and eats the things he has brought her.
He comes back by the afternoon. Rey has woven sea-asters into an elaborate crown and eaten what feels like her weight in shellfish. He is clothed, almost Mannish, and he is carrying her satchel. It’s full.
“Hello,” she yawns, stretching. “What’s that?” She blinks, realising the bulk of it. “Hold on- is that my bag? Kylo - what’s in that?”
He lies down beside her and shows her. There are two loaves of bread, full of nuts, and a wedge of cheese in cloth. Rey takes the cloth parcel out, and Kylo comments, “Cheap.”
She gives him a look. “Do you know what cheap means?”
Kylo purses his lips and shrugs. He doesn’t.
Under the food Rey sees something shine. She reaches in, and her fingers close around cold metal. She pulls forth a gold coin.
He doesn’t meet her eye, and lies against her. “Kylo “ she says, and he huffs, pushing his face into her chest and squeezing both arms about her waist.
“Where did you go? Hey.” She pokes him. “Where did you go? Kylo!”
Face buried between her breasts, he says, muffled, “Town.”
Kylo groans, squeezing her tighter, and puts his weight on her until she’s on her back. “The nearest town.”
“I told you, you can’t steal. You’re like a magpie!” She reaches out for the coins and counts them. Most of them are new gold, heavy and smooth in her hand. She has never seen the Saxon gold of the eastern isles before. The gold is printed with helmeted kings.
“Oh, Christ, Kylo, there’s nearly twenty pieces here.” He guffaws into her chest. “Don’t laugh !”
Kylo whips his head up and puts his forehead against her. “I bought the bread!”
“But you stole gold!”
“Fuck gold. For you ,” he tells her. “It’s for you. Rich men don’t miss their gold. Now be quiet, woman, you give me a headache when you nag me.”
“ Nag you? You have some neck, you beast-”
They scrap playfully, stirring up clouds of sand as they roll and tussle. Kylo uses his weight to pin her, but Rey is quick, and pinches him hard to make him double over so that she can roll him onto his back. He wins even so, grappling for her wrists so that he can trap her. It becomes less playful very quickly.
He grunts, and leans his body into hers, laying his weight atop her. It is a wordless question, one he always asks no matter jer eagerness. She puts her face against his.
Rey has been wary of proper lovemaking in the days they have spent crossing the sea. It is not as though they have the space or the opportunity in the middle of the sea, but now they have both. Her seeds are with her, tucked into oilskin on the currach, but she has no means to boil them and doesn’t trust the potency of the herb when merely chewed.
“Can’t,” Rey mumbled.
Kylo rubs himself against her. He purrs, grizzles, and nibbles softly at her ears and her lips, but she resists him still. She wants to as much as he does, but she can’t take such a risk. Not here.
“Don’t,” she moans, pushing his face away. Kylo huffs. “You know I can’t. It isn’t safe. Stop - you’ll end up making a mess of us both.”
In petulant response, he buries his face in her lap. She allows him - and herself - that. It will be different in Gaul.
When it is time to go, Rey packs her mating-gifts into a sack and her stolen coins into her purse and climbs into the currach. “I’m going to swim once we’re out of the bay,” she explains, as he hefts rope over his shoulder. Blackbird comes down when Rey exposes wrapped meat, and she traps her on the currach with a knot around her black leg. The raven flaps and settles, perching on the oar-hook as she eats.
“No, you’re not. Stay in the boat.”
“Fuck off,” she says, but he leans in and kisses her on the mouth so fiercely that she squeals with laughter.
Her heart hammers unexpectedly as she watches him drag the currach down the sand and into the water. His pale bulk disappears into the blue water. The sea darkens as it deepens, seamed with the barest stitch of white foam.
The land begins to disappear behind them. Kylo brings them south. The air is still.
Rey disrobes under the blue sky. Her shift is light, and she wears no smallclothes beneath it, for ease of undressing. She steps over her possessions, goes to the hull, and dives in beside him as he slices through the water. Her skin prickles.
She shivers, and opens wet black eyes to the new waters and the low, dark deep.
He is startled by her. He comes to an abrupt stop, and so does the currach, lurching forward with abandoned momentum and almost knocking them both in the head. She puts dappled arms around his neck. He’s monstrous under the water, but still beautiful. Rey pats a pale, greenish cheek with a clawed hand and kisses the bare mark she leaves.
She swims with him for as long as he’ll let her. He goes back up, once, to set Blackbird free in search of land. The rope at his ankle is long enough that it does not jerk the currach, and so they race. Rey darts around him in the water, squealing bubbles of laughter when he isn’t able to chase her, buoyed by ten feet to the currach.
She’s faster than he is. Kylo is stronger by far, she’ll never best him with her bones, but she’s faster, lighter. Rey feels the swipe in the water as his great webbed hands shoot out to grab her ankles, but she is always too quick.
Time is lost here. They keep moving forward, but Rey knows not where they are or how long they have been going for, but they do not stop. When she is shrouded in this skin, she follows her nose, follows the soft white whiskers above her brows, follows Kylo.
The sea goes dark and light and dark again. Kylo slows when the dark lightens, and in the shifting marine dawn Rey sees his nostrils flare, gills pulsing. A shoal of silvery fish dart along underneath them.
Forgetting herself, she opens her mouth to speak only to release a cloud of bubbles. Above them, there is the muffled screech of gulls in the sky.
Kylo meets her eye. Rey can see from his face that he knows where he is.
Below them, a forest of dark kelp shifts softly with the lull of the Gaulish sea.
The Isle of Hooves is a long, jagged promontory extending past the jut of Saint-Malo. Forest and riverland cuts steeply off into ocean and bay, into grey cliffs white with seabirds. Kylo says that the western waters stir up brewing clouds that hang bracingly over the headland for most of the year, but the summer is deep and green. At its very point is Penn-an-Wlas, Land’s End, the end of land - the end of all land as anyone knows it.
Kylo makes Rey get back into the currach when he knows where they are going. “Just in case,” he says. “I don’t know what’s changed yet.”
Changes could be anything, but Rey knows he means the reungwir , the tyrant males of her kind. They are few and far between, but so are lone ronín with no concept of where she is.
It is beautiful. Rey is startled by a great black beast upending itself into the hull of the boat, and is overjoyed to see Blackbird once more. “She came back!” she calls to Kylo, kicking the hull with her heel so he hears her through the water. The raven helps itself to the stolen bread.
The shallows are green here. Kylo gives up submerging himself at stays at the surface, never still, always searching. Rey tries to stand up in the currach. The sky is deeper blue than Penn-wydh, and the air is still and warm.
From behind a rocky granite outcrop, a small bay comes into view, shod by rock and crowned by trees that Kylo says lead on to the eastern woods.
Kylo drags the currach into the sand. He will not look away from the trees. He stands, staring to the east, as Rey climbs out of the boat and onto these strange new sands. “Britches,” she murmurs, patting his bare thigh. When he wears what she made him, white shirt cloying softly to his wet chest, his wild eyes do not make him seem gentler. He is searching.
Rey’s heart is hammering. This place feels empty, and yet he searches. How many will there be? What will they say? What will they do?
She swallows. “What do we do with the currach?” Her voice trembles. He seems to notice, turning his wet head to look at her.
“We can leave it. No one will touch it. Men don’t come here.”
Rey insists on burying it even so, and he obliges, hollowing the sand until the currach fits, and covering it over until only its hull peeks out. Rey marks the spot with three white stones, stuck upright into the sand.
Kylo bends and waits. “We ought to get you a saddle,” she grunts, laying the bags over his back. “And a bridle, and a blanket for your lazy arse. There.”
“Give me those, too,” he insists, jerking his head at the ones she carries, and she piles them on to the rest.
“Can you carry those?”
He gives her a look. “Hold on,” she says, and tightens the straps, as if he is a donkey. Blackbird croaks on Rey’s shoulder, misliking her sharp jerks as she pulls on the straps.
Very suddenly, Kylo’s shoulders fall back limply, and the baggage hits the sand. Blackbird squawks and flaps on her chain. An apple rolls out of a loosened bag onto the sand.
“Jesus, Kylo, what’s the matter with you?”
He is stock still. Rey follows his gaze.
There is a woman standing on the marram-shot dunes. Her hair is brown, and long down to her wrists. Her shift is foreign, a cut Rey has never seen. The sight of her makes the breath catch in Rey’s throat.
A child stands by her, clinging to her leg. Both are as still as stone only for the woman’s hair, shifted by the bare breeze. They have their backs to the high old woods beyond.
The woman lifts her hand. Rey hears Kylo choke on a sob.
The apple rolls into the tide, and is swept out to the long green sea.