Trellis didn’t know what to expect when he went fishing on the harbor. Fishing was finicky business. Sometimes he’d reel in a big catch, sometimes he got nothing. He certainly did not expect to end up fishing up a coat.
He had trekked out to the rocks of the harbor that overlooked the water. The ocean was deep there, was quiet, and was largely secluded save for fishermen that occasionally passed by.
Trellis had come to live on this tiny island with his uncle after life had become unbearable with his father. It was quite the change of pace from his hometown in the mainland. The village was small, the huldres were quiet and sweet, and best of all, his father was an ocean away. Yes, Trellis was a bit lonely on this tiny island but at least he had his peace of mind.
His uncle, Virgil, had constantly remarked his nephew needed companions, maybe even a sweetheart.
“There are a lot of good huldres on the island who would love to get to know you,” his uncle had chided, casting him a playful smile. “A lot of eligible young ladies as well.”
Trellis coldly rebuffed the thought. He was happy to be on his own for as long as he could. His father was constantly trying to marry him off, he didn’t want the same issue here. Besides, he knew the young bachelorettes were only interested in him because he was the only new face on the island. That’s bound to get some attention.
Trellis sat along a sea smoothed rock, taking up his fishing pole and casting far into the water. He watched the ocean waves roll and burst into white foam against a far off rock, about 7 yards away. The waters churned this way and that. How peaceful yet unpredictable the sea could be. He had previously lived on the mainland, unable to escape to the water’s edge for a moment to breathe and refocus. The ocean had always been his first love. Well, the ocean and library with its quiet knowledge. He had been more than content when he found out he’d be living on an island with uncle Virgil.
It was quite a change. From the cold halls of his father’s lavish home and suffocating eyes, to living on the waterfront with as many books as he could read and as much peace as he could want.
The only thing that would make the moment of peace better was if he could actually haul in a catch. Of course, many tries were many failures.
Slowly, Trellis reeled in his fishing rod. His ear twitched in curiosity as he noticed the shift in weight. The rod bended slightly under the drag of something on the end of his hook.
It was heavy but showed no resistance, just steadily letting him drag it through the water. Maybe an old boot? A piece of trash? He took his time to pull in his catch, irritation lining his shoulders. Such was his luck to catch garbage. Wouldn’t be the first time.
Irritation turned to confusion when fur bobbed up and down in the water as his line was reeled in. Trellis knelt on the smooth stone as he hauled in his peculiar catch, plucking it out as soon as the item was in easy reach. Twisting the hook until it detached, Trellis examined the sodden fur and held it out.
Wine red in color, it seemed to be a full body, hooded sealskin coat. The texture was soft, even when wet and the end of the coat was split like a tail coat. The buttons were on the inside of the opening, small loops of twisted thread to form tiny ropes that latched onto little pegs of smooth ivory no bigger than the end of his thumb, reminiscent of bitts on a ship that effectively imitated buttons. Darker red spots flecked the back of the coat like the harbor seals that lived on a nearby island. The slender fit and smaller size seemed to indicate that the coat was a young woman’s.
He hadn’t heard of any women in his town that lost a coat and not had seen anyone wear anything like it. The huldra women were simple in clothing choice; their preferences mostly comprised of comfortable dresses or trousers with holes for their tails to fit through, and loose blouses that were good for farming. This coat was extravagant and seemed very expensive. Perhaps it was lost at sea on some voyage?
Well, it wasn’t lost for long.
The water bubbled slightly and a hand shot out from the sea foam, gripping the coat aggressively and trying to rip it from the huldrekall’s grasp. Trellis jumped back with a yelp, his tail lashing in alarm. The hand from the ocean held fast to the coat with a blazing passion. Despite the common sense nagging him to drop the coat and flee, Trellis held fast to his prize in a vice grip. With a strained growl, he hauled the coat back to his chest.
The well timed pull completely revealed the owner of the ocean hand. A young woman was pulled sputtering to the surface, briny water spraying from her crimson hair. Black, fierce eyes burned with fury as she hauled herself out of the water on her elbows, hands still knotted into the fabric of the coat.
“Let it go!” she shouted in a thick Irish accent, trying to yank it out of the huldrekall’s grip. “Give it, you thieving bogán!”
“What is wrong with you, you maniac?!” Trellis hollered, tail arching aggressively and ears flattened to his head. “It’s just a coat!”
Air was forced from Trellis’ lungs when the woman kicked him in the stomach as she remained latched to the sealskin cloth. She tried to shove him away best she could while grappling for the coat.
“Give it back!”
Vexed with her hostility, Trellis surrendered and thrusted the coat into her arms with teeth bared.
“Here, take it!” He snapped, ears flattened to his head. “It’s not worth some maniac trying to kill me over! You could’ve just asked; I would’ve given it back! It’s not like I know anyone who’d like a coat like that anyway!”
The young lady held the coat to her chest protectively, smoothing it. As she tended to the article, she eyed him cautiously, looking him up and down as if she expected him to reconsider and strike. Trellis couldn’t be bothered with some shoddy jacket, too irked to really care. He brushed himself off gruffly before gathering his catch bucket, tackle box, and fishing rod.
“Enjoy your coat, sea witch!” Trellis bit, stalking back over the rocks inland.
Trellis didn’t stop till he reached the tree line where sand and stone met flora. He cast a final glance over his shoulder, wondering if the mystery girl was still staring at him.
Sure enough, she was. She was still holding her coat protectively to her chest, staring after him with those expressive, black eyes. All traces of her aggression had vanished, replaced with utter confusion.
Later that night, Trellis has helped his uncle set out the plates for dinner. His mood had soured significantly after his run in with the plum crazy sea lady and lack of a decent catch. Every motion was accented with a slight scowl and a tense flick of his tail.
His uncle looked up from the broth he was making as his nephew hissed a curse under his breath when he knocked over the bread basket. A roll hitting the floor and was snatched up by his cat, Luxury.
“Language, Trellis,” he chided, stirring the ladle in the stew. “You seem tense. What happened earlier? Did your father send another letter?”
“No, he didn’t,” Trellis grunted, sitting in his wooden chair. “I failed to catch anything good and then some crazy kvinne tries to mug me for a coat that I managed to fish up.”
“A lady?” Virgil asked, straightening up in attention. “What do you mean? And what about a coat from the water?”
“I hauled in a very expensive looking coat from the ocean earlier,” Trellis explained, drumming his claws gruffly on the table. “Not two seconds later, some sea woman jumps from the water, starts kicking me like a maniac, and tries to wrestle the coat from my grasp.”
“What did you do?” Virgil asked quickly, brows creased in worry.
“I gave it back,” Trellis grunted. “I was going to see if it belonged to anyone on the island but it’s very clear that it belonged to her and I wasn’t going to get mugged over some fancy fabric. She probably was a siren or sea witch. They’re always collecting hoards and attacking people.”
“No, she was a selkie,” Virgil explained, relaxing a bit. “Count your blessings that she wasn’t a siren. You’d probably be her meal if she was.”
“Pardon?” Trellis asked, claws lifting from the table in interest. “Is that a type of merfolk species?”
“Relative of them,” Virgil clarified, serving up the broth and pouring some in Luxury’s bowl on the floor. “They’re beautiful creatures, mostly female, and much gentler than their mer cousins. Upon first glance, they look human but when they don their coats and jump into the ocean, they turn into seals. They’re very elusive and are sought out by people hoping to make a buck or worse.”
Trellis almost snorted at describing them as gentle but stayed quiet out of genuine interest. He had heard tales of merfolk that could travel onto land but he wasn’t familiar with selkies at all.
“I suppose their coats mean a lot to them. What do you mean worse?”
Virgil nodded, sitting down across from his nephew.
“If a selkie were to lose their seal skin, he or she would be bound to land,” he said. “Their coats are valuable and selkies are lovely, full of energy and youth. There are some terrible people who use the coats against them to earn a selkie’s trust. Often times, an unfortunate selkie who’s coat was stolen would be tricked or even forced by the thief into marrying them.”
“Marry?!” Trellis choked, staring at his uncle in shock. “Who would do that?”
“That’s just how it is,” Virgil sighed. “It’s a horrible fate for a selkie but if he or she ever gets her coat back, nothing would stop them from returning to their ocean home. It’s because of how often that would happen, selkies have become reclusive and hide among wildlife perfectly. There have been rumors and some sightings of their species living nearby on one of the Islands. With all the seals already living there, it’s impossible to prove. I suppose the rumors were true.”
“That explains why she was so fierce,” Trellis hummed, swirling the seafood soup in his bowl in thought. “I suppose I can’t be all angry at her for protecting it. Would’ve been nice to not be hit over it but I guess I don’t blame her.”
Virgil nodded with a contented smile, taking some bread from the basket and passing it to his nephew.
“Well, lad, the important thing is that you did the right thing,” he said. “Well done. I can bet it would’ve ended much differently for that selkie had any lesser man found it. She must be very happy to have it back.”
Trellis nodded absentmindedly, thinking about the look of confusion on the selkie’s face. She was probably expecting to fight to the death for that thing. He couldn’t help but dwell on his uncle’s words. What would’ve happened if someone else had found it and subsequently, her. There were greedy, terrible people out there.....
Virgil watched his nephew think and he smiled. “Selkies are rare and exceptional creatures. Tell me, was she as lovely as the stories say?”
Trellis scoffed, not bothering to look up from his meal.
“In a territorial, aggressive sort of way,” he grunted. “If your into that.”
Virgil hid his smirk behind a spoonful of seafood broth. He could see what his nephew was feeling just in the way his nephew’s ears perked ever so slightly and the way the tip of his long tail twitched subtly.
That pretty, huh?