There was a legend told of old by fisherman who ought to know…
“To find yourself a bonnie bride, when the moon is full, high in the sky, get thee to the northern shore to spy the selchies sleeping on the rocky shoal. They lay their her heads upon soft beds of silky skin that they have shed. Choose the lass most beautiful and hide her pelt before she wakes. Forevermore she will be yours unable to return into the deep.”
Some townsfolk swear the legend is true. And if you doubt it they’ll tell you this tale.
One stormy evening at a local pub, a young lad named Benjamin overheard a few old salts prattling at the bar about this and that and the selchie legend. He decided to see if it was true. On the very next full moon night he set out for the selchie shore with a shovel and an empty satchel.
Glistening in the pale moonlight, not one but four maidens slept upon their silken hides. Benjamin crept silently from one to another to the next and the next, his heart racing with indecision. Each one was more radiant than the former and he feared the witching hour would pass before he chose his bonnie lass.
So Benjamin did what any young lad would do when faced with a such a choice and nothing to lose. He gathered all four pelts, stuffed them in the satchel and rushed inland to bury them.
He returned to the shore, as the sun was rising with cloaks to cover his lovely maidens. One by one they stirred awake and when they set their eyes upon his face, each was overcome with pure devotion.
It was a young man’s dream. Benjamin swelled with pride as he led his harem into town to his simple stick-built shack. Never was a man happier than Benjamin on that day and the many days that followed.
But as the blush of new love faded, each selchie maiden became jaded, not happy to share their Benjamin with the other. They came to see that being human was not at all what they dreamed it would be. Oh, how they longed to return home to the freedom of the sea.
Together they devised a plan to rise before the cockle doodle, while Benjamin was fast asleep, to search for their pelts along the selchie shore. They would never find their treasure, and Benjamin, who had become accustomed to having four-fold attention, never gave away his hiding place once he learned of their scheme.
Alas, these poor selchie maidens four were immortal, yet cursed to a life of human misery. Benjamin eventually died an old man with a secret and they continued to scan the beach, some say, even to this very day.
You might even catch a glimpse of them there, by setting out before the dawn, just as the amber sun is cresting along the selchie shore.
-kat – 7 February 2017
A tale for Jane Dougherty’s Microfiction Challenge based on the painting above by Frederick Leighton.