Welcome back to Selkies' Skins. This is the last installment before section two (for the archive site due to navigation issues) begins. I hope everyone had a Happy Thanksgiving (and that anyone whose final was this week... that it went well).
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Potionry and Watermagic
The villagers were out of their caves, using the light that filtered down from the surface in great green bars to ply their various tasks. The weavers wove the fishing nets and twisted their ropes, singing songs of strengthening. Spear makers and knife makers chipped at stones to form new blades, or affixed blades that had been gained from the sea clans. In the center of the village, the cooks prepared the village food, and even they had their own songs to sing. The effect was rather like whale song, especially from the seal-folk that had made their trading visit that day and threaded about the groups. Male and female both seemed occupied with the tasks, and from the opposite side, a fishing party made their way in with nets of longish fish from the deep waters by the sea-side passage. Water Imps, clearer and greener than Imp, swam with silvery fish-folk fry and pale Selkie-pups in the blended village of the reserve. Waterdogs patrolled the edges with long-fingered grundylows, on the lookout for predators.
"There's so much more activity... Come on, I want to go see what their herbalists are up to, maybe I can finally see some of the preparations they only make by day." Kirsty slowed her pace and let go of David, kicking circles around him in glee, before taking off for one of the larger caves below the rocks. Her laughter mingled with the various songs complementing each other.
David shook his head, then followed after the best he could, though feeling self-conscious. Some of the non-local merfolk that were trading looked toward him curiously, while others waved, recognizing him. The brown harbor seal selkies from the sea simply stared.
He shook his head and kicked along after the capering Selkie maid, at least as best he could with two human legs. Before he could catch up, a tiny silver streak plowed into his side, wrapping its arms around his middle gleefully. Looking down, in the region of his waist a little fry looking up at him eagerly, her facial scales glinting slightly in the eerie light.
Kirsty paused at his voice, thinking he was speaking to her, and looked.
"Shell! What on Earth?"
Swimming back, she helped David with extricating himself from the wiggly fry's clutches.
"I'm sorry, I was just excited to see him this far out. He's the only other Landwalker this far in, besides the Head Master and Head Mistress." The child spoke far more gravely than one might expect when trying to wrap her tongue around the strange titles. "I still don't understand what's so big about Mastering heads. I have a head... it minds..."
Kirsty giggled and looked at David, enjoying his reaction, which seemed a mix of resignation and confusion. She giggled harder when he gave her his usual unamused look. She truly did try not to giggle, but there were times, such as this, that she thought he was probably too cute for his own good. Shell scowled and crossed her arms.
"Stop laughing at me Seaswimmer. You Landwalkers have funny words and I'm just a little fry."
Must stop giggling. Oh gods I'm doomed. Must stop.
She managed to control herself. studiously avoiding the little mental stormclouds that her imagination kept putting over them both.
I'd like to Master my own head sometimes... "No, you're right. It's not funny, but I'm not meaning to be mean. And yes we've got some weird terms. Where's your parents Shell? You were one of the ones up at shore... did you sneak off again?"
"Only a little..."
She raised her eyebrow and shot a look at David, who had finished straightening his clothes, as much as was possible when trying to swim in them. She sighed.
"Come on then. Maybe we'll find one of them on the way to watch the herbalists."
Shell latched onto Kirsty's waist obediently.
It took a little time to get to where the herbalists had gathered, near the mercheiftaness' "cave." They studiously ground and mixed shells and weeds, and some of the harder to obtain mistletoe berries from trading with centaurian herbalists. The singing here was different than the rest of the village, somber and meticulous, these faces did not smile. Each flick of fin, curl of finger, or stroke with heavy, smoothed rock was more of an extension of some darker undercurrent.
Shell didn't like it here, staying close as possible. Kirsty could feel the fry squeezing her waist, her innards giving way slightly. She curtsied the best one can with only a furry seal tail, fitted skirt, and a shiny fry trying to become a belt, then knelt beside the white haired elder in charge.
Pupil-less silver eyes looked up from their task from behind a headdress of dangling shells and painted markings that flowed over her scales, slowly pouring over them before flowing back to her task, never quite focused on any of them. A voice like worn sails flapped through the water and broke into shreds.
"The boy comes a long way for a Landwalker with a fragile little bubble on his head. I hope you remembered to kiss him beforehand to prevent any unfortunate breaths for him Seaswimmer."
"I hope I am not intruding, I was asked to follow." David bowed.
"We have seen you harvesting before. You may watch. I do not know how much of today's you will find of use to you, Boy."
The elder indicated a rock next to her with the flick of a fin, out of the light. With another careful movement, she placed more of what they ground, her paste more of a bloody slime that she gathered each time she had generated enough.
"What is it, Elder?" Kirsty leaned forward slightly to examine the elder's handiwork.
"Bloodberry Preparation we make today. For them." Her tail flicked to the visiting group. "It needs to be prepared and taken to Mara's Temple, but their herbalist recently was Netted. So, they come here. One more thing to trade with."
"And what is it for?" David asked, watching.
"They use it to clean wounds, usually from sharkbite. Sometimes it is acceptable substitute for... certain demands on her priests and priestesses. It must be Activated first, before that."
"Like the difference between a Cowan 'potion,' and a proper potion, Elder?"
"Yes Child. Just like the difference between their potions and a real potion."
She grabbed each by the hand, pulling them forward. Kirsty, being used to such treatment and demonstration, allowed it without question or reaction, opening the sensory center on her hand instead and closing her eyes to note the feeling of what was likely Unactivated. David tensed, but even if he would have drawn back, the elder herbalist was not as weak as her age made her seem, nor quite as blind as her eyes looked, and he too had his hand drawn over.
But unlike Kirsty, or so he thought, he felt nothing.
"I feel nothing."
The elder turned her silver eyes to him again as she let them go. "And why do you sound so shamed? At this moment, there is nothing to feel. There will be later."
She placed the gathered slime into a tarnished container of what looked to have been bronze at one point in its life, if the color of the coating was anything to go by. The other herbalists, some old, some young apprentices, brought their various ingredients, each adding in order and watching David curiously a moment before returning to their tasks. The elder, when the first few were placed in, changed her song and pulled from the pouch slung at her waist a red stone, placing both container and stone carefully in what looked to be a form of heating rack.
A word, and a flash of heat, and then the stone glowed, heating the contents of the ancient and dangerous looking cauldron, flickering like flame... yet leaving the water itself untouched. Kirsty tilted her head.
"So that's how you make heat here to brew."
"Of course. This clan isn't completely devoid of all magic just yet. We still have tools, just no more memory of how they are made."
The herbalists continued with what they were doing, measuring carefully. Kirsty watched, committing everything to memory that she could. When the mixture was rendered down, the elder looked to Kirsty.
"A test. Do you remember the last chant I taught you?"
Kirsty nodded, and repeated it, blushing. More of a series of sounds and tones than words, her hair stood on end as she concentrated on hitting each exactly, and David's rose in response. The elder grabbed her hand and placed them on either side of the still hot container. This time, she flinched, unprepared for the heat. Intuiting what her tutor desired, she began again, unfocusing her eyes as she chanted and toned, her blood boiling.
As she worked, some of the visitors gathered to watch, attracted by the chant that they associated with the finishing of their order, and then drifting away again with sniffs at seeing who and what was the one Activating. She ignored them, taking her hands off only when allowed.
"Can you feel it now?"
The elder looked to David, and he nodded.
"Now, we are done. And Seaswimmer's stance feels as if there is something troubling. Tell this old lady what ails the spirit?"
Kirsty sighed, shooting a sidelong glance to David and adjusting the nonexistent skirt, catching herself and covering by brushing what would have been her thigh- were her legs not currently a tail. The other healers, finished with their work for the time being, watched her. Some leaned forward while others pulled combs from their pouches and ran them through their hair, listening patiently. After collecting her thoughts, she related to them what had recently happened.
The Elder healer nodded gravely, not interrupting. Kirsty shrank back a bit, seeing the cold steel in David's eyes when she related the pain of the unseen teeth, knowing that behind those was still one of the Lord of the Hunt's hounds... human as he seemed. Whatever it was that she had experienced, she knew she did not want it happening to him. Nor did she want him finding trouble on her account.
"An unusual happening indeed. Have you done anything to anger any of the deities?”
“Nothing more than usual, that I am aware of.”
“More than usual...” The elder sighed, shifting her position and eyed her pupil. “That at least will be solved soon enough. They see farther than we. You should listen to what they say Seaswimmer.”
Kirsty picked at her fur and scowled.
They did not spend much longer at the healer's circle, instead taking one more swim past where Shell's cave was. Humming, low and discordant, could be heard from within. The voice was coarse as new gravel, with an immediate edge that raised eyebrows and gritted teeth.
“We have Shell...”
The humming stopped, and after a breath, a withered green hand pulled back the curtain of woven lakeweeds. Two glittering silver eyes peered from the darkness.
Shell bolted for a point below the eyes, plowing into the area beneath with the same zeal she had waylaid David earlier. David and Kirsty both sighed, and swam off after the elder's thank you.
Both were aware of the passage of time, swimming quickly.
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Be watching for the next installment in around two weeks. And for those that don't know, grundylows existed long long before Rowling, and to not include them at some point in Kirsty's experiences is an injustice to Celtic Folklore. Mine are different, I conceive of them as much more intelligent than the dog-like existence ascribed to them.
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