King of Dún Mhara and the Children of the Sea

 

The salt waves of the sea crashed against the ominous craigs jutting from the rocky shore, splashing over the beach. Dark clouds gathered above and lightning flashed in the sky. Ailill O’ Ri’Tirtonnath watched through the window as the waves threatened the shore and the ancient seaside castle of his ancestors.

Ailill could not sleep so far that night, and not for lack of trying. He was listening to the crashing of the waters on his coast. He wondered of the damage that the raging sea had done, and told himself he would gather a party to survey the damage on the beach to see if their ships stayed in safe harbour or were torn by gale.

When sleep finally did come to visit Ailill he had suffered from feverish dreams hearing the waves crashing on the jagged black rocks and sand, depositing seaweed and dead fish in the heavy downpour on land, through the storm he heard the sound of a sweet high voice singing through the night, voice raising above the sound of the violent storm, and amidst the waves, stood a maid waist deep in the water with her arms spread out and eyes to the sky. Her long black hair blew around her and he could see her face, her eyes as blue as the waters stood in and her skin the colour of the pearls strewn in her hair. She sang contently in the rain and waves, the sea crashing violently around her.

Ailill moved closer, feeling the rain and ocean splash against him as the wind blew him back, the sweet songstress called to him moving further and further back into the waves while she sang,

slowly, her form began to disappear into the water, Ailill followed her and found himself soon struggling in the monstrous waves trying to get to the maiden of the sea and soon she was gone, he saw a wave crash down over her, the last thing he saw before he himself went under was her delicate white hand reaching out of the water, grasping at the sky and as everything around her became pale green and white sea foam above the next wave came to drown him.

The next morning the king of Dún Mhara was walking among the shore surveying the seaweed strewn rocks with bits of wood hidden under blown over wet sand, some planks were floating in the water that were quite obviously from a small boat that was kept on the beach, and enough fish to feed the city seemed to be washed up a shore. His men went about gathering the fish for most the day before sunset. It was then that he made a shocking discovery that would change the course of Lirchosta and indeed the whole of the land for generations.

In the pale light of dusk, he found the body of a young woman laying on the beach covered in nothing but a seal pelt, the last rays of sunlight glowing on her flowing black hair and pale skin. She did not move, but it appeared the woman was breathing. He ordered the woman taken to the infirmary within his castle, and as the wet locks of hair fell from her face, he saw the heart shaped face of the mistress of his dreams from the last two nights.

“The girl is healing quite well. I have no clue how she survived during the storm,” Ailill’s court druid said pushing his wispy white hair back. “She’s quite fortunate, had she landed anywhere else she might have been torn apart from her impact on the rocks. And it’s a miracle the girl didn’t drown.”

“I imagine she’s a tough lass,” Ailill replied leaning on the stone wall.

“More than that,” the old man’s brown eyes twinkled with wonder as his voice lowered into a dramatic whisper. “The young lady was found with nothing more than a seal pelt?”

“She was clutching the thing around her body as if for dear life.”

“She very well might have been, my king. Your foundling girl is not just some waif washed ashore from some fisherman’s boat. I think this girl is a selkie. The faerie folk have always been abundant in these lands, and the folk here once spoke of an extraordinary people who live under the waters of our sea, often when in sight of men, they will take the form of a seal, but if they were to shed their seal skin, it would be as a pelt and the selkie would take the form of a beautiful young man or woman. Such is the beauty of the selkie’s human form that they could lure their victims into the salty depths. Worse yet, is their song. It is the sweet siren’s call, and it’ll be the death of many one foolish enough to anger the children of the sea.”

“That is not my intention, I assure you.”

Ailill and the lady, who told him her name was Niamh, spent the day and night together on the beach, watching the waves roll as they dined on food packed from the kitchens, watching the waters. She told him grand stories of the sea and ships that were sunk, brought to the ocean floor by the waves, of beautiful faerie creatures who lived in a magical kingdom beneath the waves where they played music more beautiful than that of any expert bard. She filled his thoughts with her sweet silvered voice in the moonlight painting pictures of stories that even eclipsed his own people’s. She seemed to have seen the shore of every country he knew of, and some he did not.

The two played together on the beach running wildly like children on the shore line and in the water, Ailill followed, bewitched by the sapphire eyes of the lady, he followed her deeper into the now calm waters as she sang to him a joyful song of love. The innocence of moment was gone and the two of them embraced in the waist deep water.

The next morning he awoke on the beach in the pale light of dawn and found no trace of Niamh, and the dress he had given to her was folded neatly on the shore a distance from the waves. It seemed the druid had been right and Ailill was going to wait for her return.

She returned once every two years, when the moon was full on Midsummer Eve. He was always there waiting when she returned to shore, and they would spend the nights from dusk until dawn together. Ailill was happy with his selkie companion, meeting her once every two years on the beach, though as the years went by the pressure to take a bride became more and more. It was the seventh year after their meeting he arranged for their wedding.

“Niamh!” he called.

Niamh walked ran over to him and wrapped her arms around him. The two kissed under the full moon and stared at each other. Ailill brought Niamh back to his castle and was taken to a their chamber and while she changed into her wedding gown, Ailill stole her pelt and hid it.

The ceremony was grand to be certain, and their wedding night was nothing more than blissful. That was until the first rays of dawn began to shine through the window. Niamh searched everywhere in the chamber for her pelt, certain that she had put it somewhere safe.

“I have hidden it somewhere, Niamh,” he told her coolly.

“But I must return to my kin, my home.” Niamh crumpled into a ball under the windowsill weeping inconsolably.

“You are a queen now, and everything here is yours.”

The years past and Queen Niamh took to her role and ruled alongside with her husband without complaint. She bore him seven children in seven years, the youngest she kept with her at all times. King Ailill would often come home from a long voyage to the islands and find his wife on the beach where they met, staring into the waters while their children played in the waves. Servants reported the queen walking barefoot among the battlements or the beach singing the most beautifully sad song any have ever heard. But she said nothing of wanting to return home since their wedding night and did her duties as queen.

As the seventh midsummer on dry land approached, she grew pale and wan, her once sapphire eyes were now the seafoam green and she was growing thin. It became clear to Ailill that Niamh would die if she were to stay on land longer. However, he also knew that after the seventh midsummer on dry land she could not return to the sea. Ailill had the druid care for his ailing wife and bought medicines from all over the world in hopes it would make her better.

Niamh grew weaker and weaker as the days grew closer to midsummer. After the Midsummer Eve celebration that their oldest asked Niamh why Ailill kept a seal pelt in the east guest chamber. Upon hearing this Niamh kissed her daughter’s brow and fled to the castle to find her pelt and return home to the sea.

When she got to the beach her husband wept before her, knees in the sand as he begged her not to go. “My love, it’s past midnight…It’s your seventh midsummer.”

Niamh kissed Ailill and smiled. “I know.”

Ailill watched as the love of his life as she slowly walked back in to the waves in the moonlight singing as she did when they met on the beach and a the waves became violent. Waves crashed on the jagged black rocks and sand, depositing seaweed on land. Through the waves was a sound of a sweet high voice singing through the night, voice raising above the sound of the violent storm, and amidst the waves, Niamh stood waist deep in the water with her arms spread out and eyes to the sky. Her long black hair blew around her and he could see her face, her eyes as blue as the waters stood in, her skin the colour of moonlight. She sang contently in the rain and waves, the sea crashing violently around her.

Ailill moved closer, feeling the rain and ocean splash against him as the wind blew him back, the sweet songstress called to him moving further and further back into the waves while she sang, slowly, her form began to disappear into the water, Ailill followed her and found himself soon struggling in the monstrous waves trying to get to the maiden of the sea and soon she was gone, he saw a wave crash down over her, the last thing he saw before he himself went under was her delicate white hand reaching out of the water, grasping at the sky and as everything around her became pale green and white sea foam above the next wave came to drown him.

Thus is the origins of clan Ui Lir, the children of the sea, who ruled over Dún Mhara for centuries. It is said that while clan Ui Lir was in power over the western coastline that the seas were always calm and no boat ever sank in combat. It is said still, that when the sea is raging, and the moon is full that you can still hear the song of the selkie, or see a mermaid washed upon the shores with seafoam green eyes and faded black curls.

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