Stormy Weather continued . . .
. . .The wind had raged from the North for five days and nights, as if to wear away the land so the sea might rush in and cover everything as it had in the first days. Clare had barely heard the wind, huddled in the cellar with her mother and three brothers. Her mother—born and raised in the mountains—had a superstitious horror of the great storms that rushed in from the North Sea. She always made her four children sleep in the cellar when the rolling black clouds hid the sunset.
Clare’s father grumbled and stamped in the cottage above, like a giant from one of the old tales, until he fell asleep by the window to wait for sunrise.
Clare had chafed in that cellar. She loved to watch the storm clouds roil and heave as they rushed towards the village. She thrilled to the sound of thunder and the flash of lightning. If not for her mother’s fears, she would have stood out on the edge of the headland to welcome the sea’s fury.
As it was, she was forced to wait in the cellar until morning, when the wind stopped howling around the house and an eerie quiet settled on the shore. Then she ran with the other villagers to search the shoreline. She stretched her long legs and let her red hair loose to blow in the breeze. maybe she would run all the way to the headland . . .
But there were treasures to be found, washed up from the ship that had been broken by the storm. Already Clare’s brothers were watching the men pile the sailors’ bodies together for burial. The boys ran to and fro, gathering the bits and pieces the men shook loose from the hapless sailors.
Clare ignored the dead men and the group of women poking through the sand. She ran further down the beach. On other mornings, she might have looked for driftwood or dead whales, sponges or shells, cuttlefish bones or coral. But this morning she knew there was something else waiting for her on the beach. She knew it because she had found a queen conch shell—miraculously unbroken—and Granny Wikken had told her the words that might bring a man from the sea.
At sixteen, it was time for Clare to marry one of the young men of the village: James Dunham, who brought abalone to impress her father, perhaps, or Billy McConnell, who left lobsters clicking and clacking on the doorstep to win her favour.
She shook her long hair and ran from the others to find her own husband. Granny Wikken knew the way of it: Speak your wish into a shell on a night when the moon is full, and the tide’s running out. Then throw the shell as far out into the sea as you can. Look for the shell in the morning. If it’s not on the beach, your wish will come true. Clare had done exactly that. While her family slept, she had taken the queen conch to the headland. She had held it to her ear to hear the song of the sea, the whispers of the king beneath the waves. Then she spoke her wish into the pink mouth of the shell and threw it along the silvery path of the full moon. The shell glowed like a lamp as it turned and turned in the cool, night air. Clare watched the place where it sank until she was sure it had been taken. It had not been on the beach in the morning.
When she did find her sailor, she wasn’t surprised; he was exactly what she had asked for. He was wet as a wrack of seaweed and just as limp, but seawater bubbled from his nostrils as he breathed, and she knew she had found her husband.
Clare had her brothers carry the sailor to the shed beside their house, where she set about nursing him back to health. There he lay, not dead, yet not fully alive either, while the seawater drained from his body.
The village folk all came to look at him. When they saw his coal-black hair, the old women muttered about Silkies—fey creatures, neither man nor beast, but both together. “No good will come of this, you’ll see,” they said to one another and anyone else who would listen. Granny Wikken just nodded at Clare and kept her own counsel.
What came of it in the end was Myree, born six months after her father disappeared one night in the middle of another storm. Clare never bothered to explain. She gave birth to her child, and continued to live in the shed.
People had talked, but there was only so much time for minding other folks’ business when the men were out before dawn to fish, and the women up lighting fires to cook the hard, black bread they ate with salted fish each day. Even the children were busy gathering firewood, cleaning fish, and hunting for gulls’ eggs on the cliffs.
And now Myree was sixteen, and another ship was breaking up on the reef.
The rain continued to fall in solid sheets, sounding like a great, rushing wind from the ends of the Earth. Through the noise of the rain came the shrill cries of men in mortal danger. Myree sat on her bed and closed her eyes, the better to see through the storm. Like her mother before her (though not her grandmother, who still hid from the storms) Myree loved the wildness of the wind and rain. But it was from her father that she inherited the gift of farsight. All she had to do was concentrate on something, and instantly she could also see it as if she were there.
So it was that she found herself seeing Deadman’s Reef through the rain, waves crashing like thunder, the boat’s timbers screaming as loudly as the men trapped on the dying vessel. She saw faces contorted with fear, mouths open in agony or terror, limbs straining to hold to ropes or railings. She saw old men and young, all fighting for life against a foe stronger than their worst nightmares. And she knew she could only save one of them.
Like her mother before her, that was the boon Myree had sought and been granted by the sea; one man to be her husband. And now she must choose.
There was one with blond hair and strong arms—arms to hold a wife and carry children. And there, a good-looking man helping his friend. And another, dark-haired like her own father, who seemed unafraid of the wind and the rocks and the churning Sea. He stood as if in prayer, a still point in the chaos as all hell broke loose around him.
Myree chose, and the cries of the others rose to a crescendo as the boat finally broke apart, spilling everything into the sea.
The rain stopped in the darkest hour before dawn. With a collective sigh, the villagers settled for an hour’s sleep before rising late for work. Myree, however, was wide awake.
She pulled a woollen vest over her nightgown, slipped on her boots and rain cape, and left the small house she shared with her mother. By the light of a hurricane lamp, she walked through the predawn quiet, smelling the aftermath of the storm’s fury: ozone and seaweed and the empty scent of death. Down the trail to the beach she went, her feet sure on the path. And along the beach to where a sailor lay alone, seawater bubbling on his breath.
Myree stood looking at the sea’s gift for quite some time. She had never known her own father, but she had imagined everything about him: dark hair, long limbs, full lips. With a sigh like the wind easing, she knelt and kissed the drowned man on his lips.
His eyes opened. Myree gasped. They were not the deep, warm brown she had imagined; they were bright, vivid blue, with flecks of light dancing in their depths.
He smiled, and the first light of the sun flowed over the sea, turning the whole world golden.
“I asked the sea to bring me a wife,” he said, in a voice like waves breaking gently on the shore. “And here you are!”
Myree considered that for a moment, her head leaning to the side like a gull. Then she smiled, and her face glowed like the sunlit sea.
Copyright © 2008 Kaalii Cargill