The Tidemaster

The waves pounded against the shore and the sounds of laughter echoed from within the rocks. Peony was giggling with two other girls her age as I dropped down between the rocks. The trio looked up, every inch children caught with hands in the proverbial cookie jar.

“Uh…hi, Mouse.”

I just gave them a smile.

“Don’t mind me. I’m here to talk to the Tide Master.”

One of the seal-girls gasped and the other girl’s eyes went huge.

“The Tide Master? Really? Well, he’s in his cave…but…”

I gave the poor girl another smile and tousled her hair.

“Don’t worry, he’s expecting me. And Peony, stay out of trouble and don’t go farther out than you can swim by yourself.”

“Yes, Mouse!”

As I climbed further down into the cliff, following the secret roads, I hoped that Peony really would listen to me. Mistress would be angry if we lost the changeling girl to the Sea Fae. Selkies were notorious for that kind of thing. I could hear the waves still and knew that soon the water outside the rocks would be well over my head. This cave was only intended as a meeting place between those of us from the land and those from the sea. Descending the last few feet, I stepped into the great receiving cavern and found myself gazing at the great bulk of the Tide Master.

The Siren Song

We both knew how the stories all went, how this tale ends. Land and sea can only mix on the shore and only for a brief time. At first, I believed it. Then I met her. Maddie will tell you I saved her, but I will swear until the day I die that she saved me.
It was one of those summer days mortals write songs about. The kind of day where the light skips off the water and plays games in the spaces beneath. I lay on the bottom, watching the girls playing on the shore. One bolder than the others ran out into the water and dove beyond the drop-off. She didn’t realize she’d caught a foot in one of the ropes that littered the seabed. They didn’t realize she hadn’t come back up. So, I freed her and brought her to the surface.
Sitting on the rocks at dusk, we talked alone. She didn’t know then what I was. I was just a pretty girl named Carys and she was just Maddie. Every day, she came back to the same beach to meet me until I was sure she must know, she must have realized.
Realization didn’t come until we’d gone moon to moon twice. Under the stars on that dark night, she kissed me. She tasted like hope and taffy, like young love and summers bright. Her lips were so warm against my own. It left me breathless. But she realized that I was cold despite the warmth of the air, that my lips tasted of salt and sea foam, that my feet were wet even this far from the surf. She knew the stories, knew I wore a sealskin as a coat about my shoulders.
She didn’t take it. We both knew the stories, and I almost wanted her to take my coat and hide it somewhere where neither of us would ever find it. Take me away to her dry shoreland and let me be hers. But she spoke of a thing called University, of studies and grades. And of a promise, sworn on the sea, to return.
The sea is a fickle thing, her faces changing with the tides. But four years later, a young woman with bright eyes and a bag of saltwater taffy walked up the beach. She left her shoes on the shore and walked out into the water calling my name.
She didn’t take my coat then either, though I would still have accepted it. She spoke of research and tides, of the faces of the sea and the wonders beneath the waves. And of something called scuba.
My Maddie and I know the stories well. When a human takes a Selkie’s coat, they stay together for a time and part in anger and sorrow. But when a human gives her heart to the sea, things are very different.

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.