"Hallo, Mother," Fiona calls. "Bless us with food from your treasure-stores."
Leonore cannot close her mouth for amazement, as she watches the selkie slide back beneath the waves. Later, she remembers nothing but those eyes, so large and round. And her mother's greeting, as if Fiona knows the selkie, as if Fiona herself comes from the sea.
Leonore confides in her friend Beatrice, that her mother is a selkie, aye, for sure.
Bea's eyes grow wide, as she asks, "Then she's no a witch?"
Leonore is shocked. "Nay! A witch! Where do ye hear such a thing?"
"That's what they say," Bea says, pouting. "Me ma and the others. A witch, with her beauty, they ken."
"She's no witch," answers Leonore.
A selkie, she thinks, but no witch.
"And a selkie's a grand thing to be," Leonore says. "No like a witch."
A selkie is a grand thing to be. And there is, Leonore thinks, a difference between a selkie and a witch.
Fiona leans against the wall of the mill, gasping. Leonore sees the blood on the dust at her mother's feet, as her mother clutches her round belly.
"Lass," says her mother, "fetch the midwife. Quick, now."
Leonore hides behind her ragged curtain, listening to the screams. She plugs her ears with her fingers, and rocks. Her mother has gone through this before. Leonore swears that she will never bear a babby, never, never.
When all is over, and the midwife gone, Leonore hears no small wails. She knows the wee thing has not survived. The second one, she thinks.
Leonore hears her mother's soft cries, her father's attempt to comfort. Three stout sons and Leonore, that's enough, he says. No need to weep over this one or that.
Fiona stops weeping but the women of the village now give her glowering looks.
Leonore hears the muttered words. Words like cursed. Madness. Evil. Now she understands.
Fiona is still a beauty, but her eyes are dark and round and haunted. Deep gray circles nest above her pale cheeks. Her hair has turned the color of ash, and is full of snares and tangles. She spends more time alone, and Leonore's father spends more time at the ale-house.
Leonore will never bear a human child, no never.
Leonore no longer dogs her mother's heels, but she follows nevertheless.
She follows Fiona to the sea, where Fiona raises her arms to the waves, where she even wades into the icy water, lifting her skirts so that her white legs show.
Leonore follows her mother into the woods, where she watches from behind the tall bracken as her mother dances in the failing daylight, dances barefooted on the springy sod, a crown of flowers laced through her pale hair.
Leonore fears a thing, which is why she talks to Bea, for Bea is that much older.
"What does a witch do?" Leonore asks, as they sit plaiting the flax for rope.
"Dances in the moonlight. Casts spells and such," answers Bea. "Especially over bairns. Why, a witch would make a changling child, a sith, and steal the real babby for her own."
Leonore leans away. "But I'm no changling. And my mother doesn't dance in moonlight, only by day. So there's no need to fret."
Bea stops her handwork and narrows her eyes.