For St. Patrick's Day, I wrote a short story, prompted by Jon Paul at Where Sky Meets Ground. His idea? The Drunk at First Sight Blogfest, a playful twist on recent blogfests all about smoochies. I hope you enjoy this fairytale, and I wish you all a happy day filled with stories and good cheer.
The Selkie and the Thief
The morning after a fierce storm howled its way over water and earth, Hugh McCafferty stood at the place where sea met land.
"What's that?" he said to no one but himself.
A person floated lifelessly along the rocky coast. Hugh scrambled and slid down to where he could see it was a woman of uncommon appearance. She was naked, but a silky coat drifted by her side.
"Selkie!" Hugh gasped.
He was not a man given to industriousness, but, on this occasion, he found a piece of driftwood and used it to snag the coat. He pulled up the heavy mass, squeezed out cupfuls of water and tucked the coat under his arm.
The selkie's eyes opened at that moment and looked straight into his. They were golden brown and luminous as moonlight.
"You seem to have caught me, Man."
"Yes, and that means you must come and be my wife."
"As you wish." She slithered from the water and stood gleaming before him.
Hugh took a step backward. He put the coat in a sack he carried and unbuttoned his shirt.
"I can't cover you with your coat or you will return to sea, so you shall wear my shirt."
He was so proud of himself after taking the selkie to his cold, stone cottage, he left her there and went to his brother's pub to brag about his fine, new wife.
Eyebrows rose and tongues wagged: "Hugh McCafferty couldn't get a wife unless he tricked the poor lass." "Who'd marry that lay-about, I ask you?"
He raised his voice above the din. "I said I have a fine wife, and I should think you'd be buying me a pint then."
Hugh's brother, Cornelius, set down a glass of nut-brown stout topped with an inch of creamy foam. "Here you go, brother. Now don't you be bothering folks."
"What about a sip of whiskey, as well? It's not every day your brother gets married."
"Just how is it you got married? I don't recall you courting anyone." Cornelius poured the whiskey and shoved it at Hugh.
"I stumbled upon her, and she couldn't resist my charms."
Cornelius rolled his eyes and went back to pouring drinks for his paying customers.
Hugh savored the fire of the whiskey along with the creamy stout. As his insides warmed, he thought of the fine night ahead with the selkie. Perhaps he would show her off another night, and folks would have to buy him a few pints to be sociable.
When he returned to his stone cottage with its poorly-thatched roof, he found the selkie huddled in a corner.
"Have you no fire, Man? I am freezing in your cold house."
"You live in the icy sea. How can you be cold?"
"You took my coat."
Indeed, and he intended to keep the sack it was in with him at all times. So, he found some peat in his bin and built a meager fire.
"You should come to my bed," he said.
"You should have a home warm enough to keep a wife." The selkie would not move from the hearth.
It wasn't the sort of wedding night Hugh envisioned. Next morning, he went in search of something to burn. He didn't feel like going all the way to the peat bog. As he walked, he chanced upon a hawthorn tree. He shivered, knowing the hawthorn was favored by fairies. But maybe they wouldn't begrudge him one small branch.
Later, gazing into the flickering flame, he thought he saw something. A figure dancing? Perhaps he was dozing, dreaming--nothing more.
The following day he looked for more firewood, because the selkie wasn't satisfied. He searched up dale and down, but wood was scarce. The hawthorn, though, still had some branches to warm them. He hesitated, but nothing had happened the night before, had it? Surely, it was all right to take a bit more.
He went home and built a robust fire, demanding that the selkie cook his evening meal and boil water for tea. He dozed and woke with a start. In the flames he was sure he saw a face grinning. Disturbed, he wrapped himself in the selkie's coat and went to bed.
The morning dawned bright and clear. As nothing bad had happened, Hugh went straight to the hawthorn and gathered an armload of branches, whistling as returned home.
His eyes grew heavy as he rested in his chair before the crackling hearth.
"One, two, three times you stole from our tree, and one, two, three times you must pay," said a voice.
Hugh's eyes snapped open to see a grinning face in the flames.
"One: You must return the wood you stole. Two: You must make the tree whole. Three: You must dance with the fairies of the tree."
Hugh broke into a sweat. "But how can I return wood already burned? How can I repair a tree? And everyone knows if you dance with fairies, you never come back."
But the face was gone. Hugh turned to the selkie. "What should I do?"
She shrugged, putting the finishing touches on a dress she'd fashioned from scraps of cloth. "I'm not a wood fairy."
Hugh ran to his sister, who had seven children and the ability to sort out troubles. He told her what the fairy said.
"Tch, you foolish man," she said. "You may as well face your punishment. There's not getting around the fey."
Hugh ran to his brother, who listened to many tales of woe from his customers.
"Tch," said Cornelius. "You've made a right mess. I never heard a sure way to get out of a fairy curse."
Finally, Hugh ran to the tinker who told fortunes.
The gypsy didn't say "tch," for which Hugh was grateful. The man threw down handfuls of sticks and stared at them before speaking.
"You can return the wood and make the tree whole if you scrape every bit of ash from your hearth and bury it around the tree. But, mind you, do not let a single ash fly away."
Hugh was relieved. "What about the dancing?"
The gypsy turned away. "If the tree is whole, you will dance free."
So Hugh set to work. He scraped and brushed every ash into a bucket, but ash is not easy to capture. It flew in the air and crept into corners. Hugh had never worked so hard, but finally he had the cleanest hearth in the county.
On a still morning with no breeze, Hugh hid the sack with the selkie's coat behind his cottage so he wouldn't be encumbered, and carried the bucket with great care to the hawthorn. First, he dug a trench around the trunk. Finally, he poured the ashes in. With a sigh of relief, he reached for his shovel to cover the ash. But, just then, a playful breeze lifted half the ash and carried it away.
"No!" He sank to his knees.
Laughter burst from the tree--many voices making merry. Soon there was dancing, wild and dizzying, until like a whirlpool, Hugh was drawn down into Faerie beneath the tree.
The selkie watched from a nearby hill. A smile played on her lips as she threw her retrieved coat upon her shoulders. She wore it as a cloak and didn't change shape. Instead, she wandered to the pub, coveted by her husband and never shared with her.
When she entered, all heads turned.
"Hello. I'm a lone traveler. Might I have a pint in exchange for a tale?"
Indeed, everyone wanted to hear what stories she could tell.
She settled on a stool by the fire and took a long drink from her pint, licking the cream foam from her lips and smiling brightly as sun on water.
The room was hushed, waiting.
"Have you heard the tale of the Hawthorn and the Thief? It's an old favorite of mine." She drank deeply again.
The people watched her lick away the foam and pictured waves licking the shore, sliding in and gathering, sliding in and gathering in a never-ending dance.