The Silkie Bride

Arthur was a fisherman. He lived close to the shore, and far from the village. Every day, at the first light of dawn, he would slip into the waves and row his small boat along the shore line. He knew every rock on the shore, and he could gauge the water’s depth from pure instinct. At low tides he ventured further out to sea, where he caught mackerel, cod, haddock, halibut, monk fish, and occasional crabs and lobsters. When he had caught enough, he rowed to the villages and sold his fish directly to the people. They ran to the beach with their fish baskets when they saw Arthur’s boat bobbing into view.

 Arthur’s parents were already old when he was born. His father taught him all that he knew about fishing and the ocean, and they built a boat together from the curved stunted oaks that grew besides the cottage. His childhood was full of quiet joys. His mother loved to sing, and she knew many songs of the ocean. When they finally died, it was on the same day, and according to their wishes, Arthur returned their bodies to the salt wave from the boat that he had built with his father.

 Arthur was a man of few words. He felt more at home alone with the ocean than in the company of men. But he had a kind heart, and he always gave away some of his catch to those who could not pay. Many could see that Arthur suffered from being alone. He had a far-away look that made them feel sad for him.

 When his work was done, Arthur would often walk along the rocky shore, and collect treasures that had been washed up on the tide. And under a full moon, he might row his boat out to the Seven Sisters rocks. He was drawn there by the moonlight, and by the stories. It was said that when the conditions were right, the Silkie would come out of the ocean in their human form to dance together under the moonlight.

 It was on one such night, with a rising orange moon, that Arthur slid his boat into the waves. The ocean was like liquid honey as he glided effortlessly away from the shore, and set his course towards the Seven Sister’s rocks. As he approached, he began to hear a hauntingly beautiful sound, like chanting or singing, rising and falling with the night breeze, interspersed with what seemed like laughter. It reminded him of his mother’s songs of the ocean. The moon seemed to almost fill the sky.

 He stopped rowing, and his boat glided towards the small rocky island, coming to rest with a silent kiss. Arthur tied off the boat and stepped noiselessly out onto the rocks. The air was still now, and the moonlight cast a glamour over everything, creating a bubbling foment of ever moving light. He followed the sound of the song, and climbed on to a small ridge. Then he saw it. In the centre of the island, surrounded by the seven pyramidal rock forms, the moonlight cast a silver glow, the air was full of ocean dust, and inside the glow of silver light were seven dancing maidens. They were tall and thin, with long hair, and they danced together in a circle, their bodies moving harmoniously together like the waves. As they danced, they evoked the night, the ocean, the sky, the stars, and the moon. The movements were heart-rendingly beautiful, and as he watched, tears rolled down Arthur’s face for the first time since his parent’s death. He witnessed with wonder, his soul being drawn deeper into the dance, and his tears fell silently into the ocean.

 It was as if time stood still. The Silkie maidens moved gracefully and gradually in a circle, their arms waving above their heads, their bodies rolling gently with the night, and their song was like nothing that Arthur had witnessed before. It came from a deep source, and it resonated directly with his heart, reminding him of a deep ocean past, and reassuring him of his place in the dance of life.

 For hours, Arthur was transfixed to the spot. The moon rose higher in the night sky, and the tide gradually lifted, until, all of a sudden, stillness descended and silence fell. The wind dropped, and the seven Silkie maidens stood like statues, utterly unmoving, with their arms outstretched, as if they had been turned to stone. Arthur looked around him, and he spied an open casket of grey seal skins lying in a hollow in the rocks. Guided only by instinct, he took one of the skins, and slid it into his jacket pocket and he stepped back to wait by his boat. The silence finally ended with the sound of laughter, and Arthur watched as the Silkie maidens glided over to retrieve their seal skins. One by one, they slipped back into their seal bodies, and returned to their ocean home. All that is, except for the seventh Silkie maiden, who stood by the casket and awaited her fate.

 Arthur stepped forward to greet her. “I have your skin. And I request that you join me in my human life, and become my bride.” She stared at Arthur, this deeply human man of the shore. “You have taken my skin under the full moon, so I have no choice. It is as it must be. The ways of the ocean can not be questioned. But although I will join you in your human life, I can never be fully human, and one day, be that soon or far, I must return to my ocean sisters.” Arthur and his Silkie bride returned in the boat to the shore, and the sound of her keening sisters could be heard throughout the remainder of the night.

 And so there was a wedding, in the old chapel by the waves, and soon enough, the Silkie bride was preparing their cosy cottage for the life ahead. Arthur caught fish, and his bride prepared delicious stews that seemed to feed the very soul of life. Together they planted their garden, and as time went on, they had many happy days. After one year, their first child was born, a girl named Coral, and a year later came a boy named Murlin, and then another girl called Rainbow. They had good times and bad times. As his young family grew, Arthur felt a deep gratitude towards life, and to his Silkie Bride.

 She taught her children well. They spent many happy hours playing in the rockpools of the shore, as she shared the stories, the songs and the dances of the ocean. She told them she was from the ocean realm, and it was love that had brought her to the land. But one day, when they were old enough, she would have to return to her ocean home. And when that day came, she would never forget them, and she would always love them.

 On occasion, she would dive into the sea, and go for long languorous swims. Sometimes at the full moon, when the conditions were right, she would join her family at the Seven Sister’s rocks. But she always returned, and as the years passed, and they grew older together, a peace descended, and they might have been excused for believing that they had found lasting and permanent joy.

 But every beginning has an end and this change occurred on Coral’s thirteenth birthday. The three children were helping their mother clean the attic. No one had been in there for many years. Suddenly, Rainbow pulled out a grey skin from under the rug. “Mother, what is this?” she asked. In a flash, their mother whispered: “Children, come with me. Now. It is time.” They skipped out of the cottage onto the beach. The tide was out. Their mother gathered her three children together into a deep embrace, and she told them the time had come for her to return to her ocean sisters. They hugged and wept together as she told them how much she loved them, and that she will always be looking out for them from her ocean nest. They clung to their mother, begging her not to go at first, but it was Coral who said: “I know you will always be with me. And when I am older, I will join you. Thank you for all you have given us. I will take care of my brother and my sister. I am almost grown now. I will always love you.”

The children watched as their mother slipped on her seal skin, and slid into the ocean. She swam a short distance, and turned to cast a final look upon her family, her home, and her earthly life, before dropping under the waves, and speeding back to her world.

 That afternoon, Coral, Murlin and Rainbow told their father what had happened. He scooped them all up into a big hug, and they wept together. Tears of loss, of grief, of joy and of gratitude. Arthur vowed to his children that that will always honour the memory of their mother, his Silkie Bride.

 The children grew strong and wise. They followed their mother’s teachings, and the ocean always gave them treasures and gifts. They soon realised that their mother was indeed loving them and looking out for them, from her ocean nest, and so were her sisters. And very occasionally, when the conditions were right, and the full moon cast a glamour of silver dust over the Seven Sisters, Arthur and his three children would stand by the shore, and they would witness the silver shadows of dancing maidens, moving gracefully and gradually in a circle, their arms waving above their heads, their bodies rolling gently with the night. And they would hear their song; a sound that came from a deep source, and resonated directly with their hearts, reminding them of a deep ocean past, and reassuring them of their place in the dance of life.