The Briarary

Tears streamed down his face but he refused to cry out. That would only entertain his tormentors and he couldn’t give them the satisfaction. At the last, the trees looming huge before him, Landus dropped to his knees and glared accusingly up at the people he had always called friends and family. He tried to find a face that showed anything but hate and loathing but saw nothing. Where was Tommen? Had he escaped? Was his safe? Then a booted foot shoved Landus down into the dirt and he looked up into the accusing eyes of his Tommen. That answered a question then. Now Landus knew who had turned him in.
“As is the ancient law, defilers of our ways will be cast unto the forest. Landus, no more are you a son of the Briarary. Henceforth, you are a child of the forest. Speak the name of the one who shared your crimes and he will be sent with you.”
Landus met Tommen’s eyes and saw only hate there. Tommen turned away, taking Alina’s hand in his. Landus hung his head and let them rip the amulet from his neck. It didn’t matter now. Rough hands grabbed him and shoved him towards the treeline. He stumbled, hands still bound. Soon, he was beyond the flicker of their torches and he knew now that he was truly alone. He curled up at the base of one of the great oak trees and let his tears fall.

The crunch of leaves was what woke him. Landus tried to pull himself to his feet quickly, forgetting the bonds that held his wrists fast. He stumbled as he tried to support himself and fell hard, arms jammed underneath him.
“Are you alright?”
The deep voice was nearby and concerned. It seemed to come from directly above him and Landus rolled to stare up at the man standing there. He was tall, this stranger, muscular and fit. He wore only light trousers of a mottled green and his chest was bare. It was the rack of antlers that sprouted from his curly hair that caught Landus and held him.
“Who-?”
“Your wrists… You’re bound.” The stranger knelt before Landus and reached to touch the rope. “That would be bad for you, if my brother and his wolves were to find you.” Then the stranger smiled. “I am called Merrin. Who are you, little human?”
“L-Landus. My name is Landus.”
Merrin pulled an obsidian knife from his waistband and cut the ropes. Then he frowned.
“You have bruises. You have been hurt.”
Landus chafed his wrists as the ropes fell away and he looked up at Merrin’s open face.
“I’m… I was from the Briarary. They cast me out.”
Merrin smiled then and bent down to kiss Landus on the forehead.
“Then you are welcome in the forest, Landus. You are safe here.”
Landus let Merrin pull him to his feet. It was confusing and Landus felt a blush creep to his cheeks.
“But…”
Merrin brushed his fingers across Landus’ cheek.
“I know the customs in the Briarary, young Landus. Never fear that we will do the same. The forest is free for all who dwell here.”
Landus took a half-step back, fear in his eyes.
“Then you know what…what I am.”
Merrin nodded.
“Landus, never think that you are wrong. It is they who do not understand.” Merrin took Landus by the hand, tugging slightly. “Come, and I will take you to my home and to the other children of the forest. You will understand then.”

Walking Out

“It’s been real swell, Marco, but I gotta bounce. I got a real sweet thing waiting for me tonight.”
Marco rolled his eyes as Kevin set his paper hat on the shelf and untied his apron.
“Only girl waiting for you is your old lady.”
“Lies I tell you, nothing but lies.” Kevin clutched dramatically at his chest. Then he laughed. “Didn’t I tell you? I’m walking out with Lana.”
Marco nearly fumbled the glass he was washing.
“You…what? Since when?”
He tried to sound excited, like a friend should. Not jealous. Anything but jealous.
“I asked her last week.”
Kevin had such a real smile on his face that it hurt.
“Well, she’s lucky she’s got you, Kev.”
Marco watched as Kevin laughed, watched the way the lights of the shop gilded his skin and traced his jawline. He almost wished he could reach out and trace those same lines with his fingers. But no.
“You know, Marco, she’s got a friend who’d probably go with you, if you wanted.”
“No thanks. You… You just go show her a real good time, alright?”
Kevin grabbed his jacket and cap.
“I sure will. Tell you all about it tomorrow.”
Marco’s shoulders slumped the moment his friend was out of sight and tried to focus on finishing up the washing. He wiped his eyes.
“Stupid steam…”

To the Sea

The sea is never silent. Not when there are no ships for leagues around. Not so far from land that a bird is a rare sight indeed. Not even when a young man alone lays in his refuge of wood and nails and prays that the end would be gentle and kind. Two score and ten days, he had drifted since the Bedford sank beneath the waves taking all hands save for himself. He had clung at first, then pulled himself into the small boat that had survived. It was one of the many meant for chasing whales, but the only one that had broken free of its mooring lines. He had drifted as the moon changed above him and now this lonely son of a New England port wished his boots had never left the docks.
He nearly didn’t hear the surprised gasp over the mournful wind and the sea clawing at his safety. But he couldn’t miss the voice, reverent as it was.
“A human.”
Sitting up, he saw a young man’s smiling face sticking just up over the side of the boat. Lean, tanned arms rested on the low side and the strange man started to pull himself aboard. He was bare to the waist, save for a fur mantle he wore with the hood down and his leggings seemed to be made of fur. He was quite fit, a well-built specimen of manhood with tanned skin and lean muscles. His eyes were a bright, clear blue and his smile full of wonder.
“I’ve never seen a real human. And a man, no less! What are you doing all the way out here? I thought humans needed sand and shore and the green places.” Then, as almost an afterthought, he leaned in. “I’m called Macsen. Who are you?”
“I…I’m Tad.” The young sailor paused. “Thomas Jameson.”
“Well, you’re awfully far from the mortal halls, Tad Thomas Jameson.”
Tad blushed brightly and Macsen moved closer to him.
“Just…I’m just Tad.” Taking a breath, Tad began to explain about the ship, about the storm, about the sharks and even about the men who hadn’t made it. Macsen wrapped an arm around Tad’s shoulders.
“I can try to get you back to your shoreland if you want.”
Tad was startled by the sudden contact and looked up into those clear blue eyes.
“You’re real,” he breathed, the words barely escaping his lips.
Macsen chuckled, his laugh deep and infectious.
“I’m as real as the sea and the stars. You’re not nearly so lost as to be seeing what isn’t real, I promise you that.”
For a long moment, Tad was silent. Then he looked at the young man sitting beside him.
“What manner of devil are you, then? Or maybe some kind of sea monster?”
Macsen pulled back, affronted.
“Monster? I will have you know, sailor boy, that I am a Selkie.”
“I thought Selkies were maidens?”
The question came slowly from Tad’s lips and Macsen chuckled again.
“Mortals, I swear. Selkies are just like humans, my dear boy, just more free.” Macsen brushed his fingers lightly over Tad’s cheek. “Are you telling me you’d rather have a fair Selkie maid because I somehow doubt that.”
Tad felt his cheeks go hot and he looked shyly up at Macsen.
“How did you know?”
Macsen cupped Tad’s cheek gently and brushed his lips against Tad’s. He was warm to the cold sailor and tasted like salt and sweet and wonderful things, and like a promise.
“I’m a Seal Lord. We have our ways.”
Tad leaned against Macsen and then spoke quietly.
“Were you really going to take me home, Macsen? To the shore?”
“Only if that is what you desire.” Macsen stood carefully, pulling Tad up with him. “Or, my dear young sailor, you could come with me.”
Tad rested his hands lightly on Macsen’s bare chest, leaning so his face was in the soft fur of his mantle.
“I can’t breath under water…I would drown.”
Macsen pressed his lips to Tad’s forehead.
“But if you could?”
For a long moment, they stood there in silence, gazing into each other’s eyes.
“Then I would go with you.”
“And dwell beneath the waves as my husband?”
The blush crept up Tad’s ears and down his chest now, under the collar of his shirt.
“I would.”
Taking Tad’s hand in his own, Macsen turned to the edge of the boat.
“Then come into the waves, love. And I’ll give you one of our seal coats. Be a human no more.”
Uncertainly at first, but then with his eyes full of trust, Tad removed his shirt and boots before jumping into the sea. Macsen followed a half step later, pulling the hood of his mantle up as he hit the water. A large gray seal swam up next to Tad and butted him affectionately. Then they swam. Down and down and down into the depths they swam until Tad had no more air in his lungs and could feel the darkness rushing up to greet him. Then Macsen pulled him into a grotto mercifully full of air for the breathing. It was a beautiful place formed of stone and shells and pearls, full of treasures of the deep. A luxuriant nest of furs filled one corner of the place. One more, Macsen took the shape of a man. This time, he strode purposefully to a waterworn chest and produced a mantle to match his own.
“For you, my bold one, for daring to come away with me.”
As Tad pulled it on over his shoulders, he felt the change. No longer was he cold or wet. No. He was a Selkie, made to swim beneath the waves and walk the shores in the moonlight with his fair and handsome seal lord at his side.