The Logician and the Selkie
by Allie Dawson
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3, 4
My God... His rather less impressive eyes widened. He slammed the wall with a ferocity that would have frightened the girl had they been on land, sending out ripples like a little storm.
“What? What is it?”
He swam up and down, drunk with the exhilaration of his discovery, before gripping the girl by the shoulder.
“I have it, I think.”
The two conjoined their minds to the resolution and, at last, they believed to have hit upon a translation of sorts:
Mine be the power.
Mine the glory and the honor.
To me be the knowledge forbidden.
Mine be this land
Here, now, and everlasting.
A coldness seemed to flow from the inscription into his fingers. His words died on his mouth as the girl stared like she gazed into a flaming pit of pestilence and death. Yanking his collar, she hauled him away, kicking a vortex up through the currents and bubbles until they reached the surface.
The logician coughed and sputtered in the open, salt air, while the girl kept her eyes on the burgeoning crests and troughs, pensive.
“What was that?” he asked at last.
“You still don’t understand?” she snapped.
He wondered if it would be better if he sank back under the waves.
She held her fist to her temple, shutting her eyes tight. “It’s so... oh, I don’t know. I think I... but really—”
“Young lady, I’m sure your inner monologue is utterly fascinating, but until you deign to enlighten me, I’m afraid it will be useless to us both.”
To his everlasting surprise, she laughed. But the shimmer quickly faded as her eyes grew grave. “The mark of a warlock, I’m sure.”
“A warlock, you know?” The blank expression on his face told her with certainty, that, no, he did not know. “The marks of a warlock litter that cove. I think he placed a spell... a curse maybe, did something to make that” — she pointed to the cliffs — “into the waste it is now.”
They tread the water in silence for some time. The logician forever counted himself grateful that he never received the withering look she now bestowed upon the cliffs.
She chewed her lip. “I don’t know.”
“I can’t think with that cliff looming over us. Care for a swim?”
“Perfect! Follow me.”
Where was she going? The lack of explanation on her part he found more vexing than forgetting his laundry in the washer.
But he couldn’t ask her anything under the water. Indeed, he realized that, in her oceanic element, he was utterly dependent on her, for guidance, for aid, for survival. Why, for everything! He’d never been so dependent on anyone for anything, not since he grew up.
A tower of rock rose up out of the water before them. He looked up in time to see her little white feet kicking up to the surface.
He popped his head up out of the water and saw her clambering onto the rocky shore. He swam through the surface, offered his arm and struggled with her. She slipped her hand into his and led him down the beach. Here grey clouds billowed over the sun, a soft breeze chilled their wet skins. Some dark green plants hung ragged in the cold breeze, though on the whole the island stuck him as grey, barren and abandoned.
The girl sat at the edge of the rock, swishing her feet in the surf, saying nothing, seeing nothing, engrossed in her own reflections. Troublesome ones at that, the logician figured, if her face could be trusted. At least the cliffs were now quite out of sight.
The logician struggled to formulate his thoughts. Not even job interviews made him this self-conscious. “So...” The words remained elusive.
“The marks of a... warlock.”
Brilliant. “How can you tell?”
She glanced at him, opened her mouth and shut it again. “Power,” she said at last.
“Warlocks crave power. They want to control everything as they see fit, and if they can’t...”
“I’ve been told a warlock will let the world burn to ash before he’ll relinquish the tenth that he holds. Or so I’ve heard. But the cove... Why the cove?” She held her fist to her temple again, rocking back and forth in the fervor of her tortured thoughts. “Why use the cove?”
“He wanted to permeate the land from within.”
The girl stared at him, as if the very stones had decided to lend their opinions.
The logician cleared his throat. “If the cove is indeed in the roots of the earth, as you say” — he clenched his fists tight in his pockets, attempting not to look as foolish as he felt — “then what better way to begin molding a land after your own fashion then from... well, from the inside? If he wanted to break the land apart, then he would need to begin with the foundations.” He coughed. “Logically.”
The girl kept her eyes on the logician, silenced, it seemed, by a plausible deduction concerning her world from the logician.
“But he’s probably long dead,” the logician continued.
“Why do you say that?”
Why did all her questions seem like a challenge?
“The land is such a waste, that...”
She jumped on her feet, straddling the rocks on the uneven shore. “But there must be something keeping his spell in effect, if monsters can still roam free like that.” She turned pensive a moment. “Or maybe no one’s tried to break it.”
The gleam in her eye made him jump on his feet as well. “You don’t mean to tell me we’re going back?”
“Well, why not?” the girl countered, folding her arms. The logician stared at his feet, unused to reprimands from someone at least a decade younger than him. “How can you leave it under a spell, when you know you could’ve done something about it?”
The girl’s eyes darkened. Had he scored a victory? Yet, glorying in this one seemed petty and mean.
“The only way to redeem a land rent by wickedness is by drowning it in pure water.”
Her voice, in a dreamy, sing-song tone oddly like chanting, seemed to float over the water from another world entirely. As if someone else spoke with her voice. “What?”
The girl lifted her eyes. “It’s from a legend... or a song, or something. I found it in an inscription in an island cave. It’s amazing what you’ll find there. You don’t even need books.”
The logician groaned. “Then how do you know it’s true?”
“You really ought to be more trusting.”
“It’s a matter of proof, not trust, young lady. How does it follow that ‘pure’ water cleanses a land from evil?”
“How does it follow that the grass is always green?”
An absurd rebuttal. “What does that have to do with anything?”
“Just answer the question.”
He sighed and strained his memory toward his undergraduate biology class. “Well... plants are filled with chlorophyll... and chlorophyll gives them a green pigmentation...”
“But why green? Why not purple? Or black? Or—”
“All right, I see, I understand,” he groused. Still, she had a point, he hated to admit.
“Look,” she crossed the rocks and stood directly below his chin. “You may not be willing to tangle with sorcery, but I made a promise to protect people from wickedness like this. Besides” — he had begun to hate that gleam in her eye — “therein lies the only path home.”
He glared at her, though the action disgusted him. He hated admitting he was wrong, after she had been right the entire wretched day. But what else could he do? Nothing left but acquiescence.
“Fine,” he answered between his teeth. “Lead us on, since you seem to know what you’re doing.”
Clapping her hands with glee, she grabbed his hand and wrenched him across the shore. Before the logician could blink, she dove back into the ragged waters, the logician close on her heels.
Now, he was by no means enthused by the prospect of confronting and eradicating a decades-entrenched evil, but he saw no other expedient. As they swam through the silver-blue waters back to the morose cliffs, he reflected that, though he had not caved to her out of cowardice, he still hadn’t the faintest shred of hope for their chances of success.
The whole situation was, simply put, incredible: it couldn’t be true! Spells, warlocks, magic... fit material for a story, but for the stark world of reality? But then, how was he here? Did he doubt his own eyes only when they disagreed with his settled notions?
He distracted himself from the muddle in his mind by watching his surroundings. Not once did he dare ponder what awaited them once they wandered back over the cliffs.
The girl swam up and broached the surface in one sharp, quick motion. The logician broached it a few seconds later. He wiped the salt out of his eyes. The midnight eyes bestowed upon the cliffs that withering look, that look that inspired in him, for one chill moment, something like fear.
Then, just as suddenly, she closed her eyes and then let them wander again across the horizon. She pointed to the sun, which now rested low over the cliffs. “We have to make haste; if we’re still here when night falls, I’ll doubt we’ll have any chances left.”
“What do you mean?”
“How well can you find your way in the dark?”
He always thought it absurd when he remembered it, but he found he had nothing to say in response. So, mute, he trailed her back to shore.
How blasted and worn the land seemed, now that he had the leisure to examine it. The long grass grew in patches, with clumps of brambles choking the wild flowers and the trailing trees. Still, some defiant flowers poking their minuscule heads up here and there and the trees that did straggle up to touch the sky gave him an inkling of what the land might have been like in flower. The thought struck him as mournful, in an odd, regretful sort of way. As if something he’d done had caused this.
The girl’s footfalls came fainter now. A quick glance at the horizon told him she had long outpaced him.
She stood before the edge of the wood, awaiting him. The tangled density that before irritated him now made him shudder with foreboding. Even the girl seemed ill at ease. She turned to him, midnight eyes solemn. Was she afraid?
“I see no other choice.”
That sufficed for her. She plunged in, giving nothing for either caution or danger. The logician hung back, watching the leaves rustle in her wake. But, disregarding his fear, he tumbled in after her.
The girl hugged the banks of the stream, following its languid course as it twisted through the heart of the forest. The ground began increasing in steepness, till the logician panted and felt the strain acutely in his legs. While he spent little time outdoors, he knew that they must be approaching the source of the stream. All the streams found their source in the mountains, did they not?
Not this one, evidently: the girl knelt by a faint sliver, a knife point of water hidden between the underbrush. The logician knelt beside, then looked off to the distance. The mountains proper were still a ways off. Was this...?
The girl knit her brows, stroking the dirt with her fingertips. The midnight eyes began dancing in the light of the dying sun.
She stretched forward on hands and knees, still fingering the dirt, eager and tense, as if discovering and following the thread of an invisible path. The logician rose to his knees, cautious and more than a little confused. However, curiosity overwhelmed caution for him in most matters, and he hazarded what she probably regarded as a stupid question.
“What does it mean?”
Her eyes, still glittering with thrill of discovery, had a touch of reservation, a touch of anxiety, almost as if she feared what consequences came with knowledge. “Perhaps,” she began, half to herself. “Perhaps it’s enchanted.” Without another word, she sat back on her hands and began digging at the source.
For all her pains, the first few clumpfulls of dirt only yielded muddy hands. But it took more than dirty nails to deter the little selkie, and she tore at the earth doggedly as ever.
A tiny “Oh!” recaptured the logician’s attention. In the girl’s hands, rather than the clumps of wet earth, a deluge of pure water bubbled up to the surface. The girl grinned like a mischievous child discovering the cookie jar; she dug her hands down under the earth and pulled up more dirt, widening the reservoir.
The logician sat back on his heels. The girl had the water she needed to purify the accursed wood, and he guessed afterwards they would find the way for him to return home. He thought he’d be glad at this point. But he wasn’t, and it agitated him. Something they had overlooked; something they had forgotten; something of the greatest significance for them. But what? Something is still keeping that spell in effect. What “something”?
Copyright © 2016 by Allie Dawson