Tuesday, 16 December 2008
The Selkie herd
There was once a man who owned a cow, two sheep and a few chickens. Every day he fed the animals and worked the little plot of land he owned. It was not much but it kept him fed and gave him a little money for clothes. It happened that one morning when he went out to feed his cow there was a bull and a calf in the stall. The bull was a peaceable handsome beast and the calf no less, so the man fed them all with what little he had. When he went to feed his sheep, likewise he found another sheep and a pig there too. As they were good healthy animals he fed them.
Once he had fed them, he went out into the fields to work his land. But when he returned to the stalls, all he found were traces of seaweed and driftwood where the animals had been. He did not understand this at all, but as his own animals were safe enough, he did not worry, but fed his own animals and went to bed.
In the morning, the new animals were back again. The man fed them with what little he had and continued to his fields once more. This happened two more days but the man never knew where the animals disappeared to. On the following day when he went out to feed his animals he came across a young woman leaning against the stall. He bid her good morning and asked her if he might help her.
She thanked him for feeding her animals and entranced by her manners and her beauty he said that she was welcome. He asked if he could help her with her farm, but she smiled and said that she required no help but thanked him nonetheless.
Then she turned and left her animals there on his little farm. When the man went out of the stall, the young woman had disappeared. Now he began to wonder about her and her animals. Still, he fed the animals and continued to work in the fields. To his surprise as he was ploughing the land, golden coins were turned up and after collecting them he realised that he was exceedingly wealthy.
Still he finished his work and took the coins home vowing to buy wood and bricks to build up his little house and make a larger stall for his animals. He would also buy more land. The next day, the young woman was in the stall again and he told her of his good fortune.
"How lucky for you," she remarked, "The earth and sea are grateful no doubt."
This struck him as a peculiar thing to say so he asked her what she meant. She smiled and asked him if he would now be looking for a wife, but he blushed and said he was not a great catch. For all his new found wealth, he said, he would prefer a wife who loved him rather than his money. The young woman did not reply, she curtsied instead and left the stall. When he followed her, she had vanished again.
He began to think as he worked his fields the following day, having been to the bank and bought more land and all he needed to enlarge his house and the stalls for his animals. He could not get out of his mind the young woman's large expressive eyes, her nymph-like figure and the smile she greeted him with. It came into his mind to ask her hand in marriage. The following morning he went out to feed the animals and there she was. He asked if she would marry him and she agreed but added,
"You must obey me in everything, which is something no man likes to do. But if you do you will gain greatly. If you do not, you will lose me forever."
He was so overjoyed that such a lovely young woman would have him that he agreed. So they were wed and a charming couple they made. Everyone who saw them said as much, though they wondered where she had come from. He obeyed her with pleasure for he loved her greatly and whenever he asked her if she were happy she would smile and kiss him.
Now it happened that the man had to go into town for some provisions. His wife told him that he must not tarry but come straight home. This he took to mean that she loved him and would miss him.
"There are those who will tempt you to stay," she told him, "But obey me and come straight home. Then all will be well."
He kissed her and promised he would come directly and off he went. He bought his provisions quickly and loaded up his donkey and himself. But for all the good we gain, a jealous doubt can remove it. He was met by some other farmers who asked him how he did. He told them he did well and excused himself but he must be home as his wife had asked.
"Oho! You are the man of the house and take orders from the wife?" they teased him.
It was not at all like that, he insisted, he obeyed her because he loved her and because she was wise as the day is long. Still the teasing persisted and having go under his skin it began to infect him until the other farmers began to goad him. At first this was enough to get him to go, but when they invited him for a beer he began to make excuses to himself as to why he ought to. Still, he told himself, she warned me that there were those who would tempt me to stay. I will go home.
But after a little while it seemed as unreasonable as his tempters had suggested that he should go straight home. He went into the bar and ordered a beer. Two hours later he thought to himself that he really ought to go home, for his wife would be missing him. He went outside and led his donkey home. But his little house was dark and he began to fear for what he had done. He unloaded the donkey and went inside, but all was dark and nobody was home. He began to berate himself for his folly and went out into the stalls to see to the animals. They were not there but there was a trail leading down to the beach. He ran then, ran with horror at what he was losing and there on the beach he saw a procession of animals heading to the sea. They seemed to have shed their skins and flesh. For they seemed made of driftwood and seaweed, of shells and little else. Then he ran down to the beach and wept as the animals passed him by heading into the sea and becoming a part of the wild surf and tide. Further out to sea he saw the large expressive eyes of a seal. When the moonlight touched the seal's face he saw that tears streamed from the animal's eyes. He never saw his wife or her herd again.