Selkies' SkinsInstallment 61Chapter 31
Return to the Beginning (part three)
Return to the Beginning (part three)
Kirsty slept through her aunt’s sampling of Finnol’s emergency mood restoratives, and the stomping feet of the menfolk when they arrived early in the morning. When she came down from the upstairs it was to find her father and some of his friends from the Order drinking large mugs of coffee and slumped forward in the ancient furniture. That was not exactly an unusual sight, it was seeing the Cowan professor Marc Wolcott there so early that was the unusual bit. She set that puzzlement aside for later.
Instead she flung herself onto her father with the force of a tsunami from the last step after thundering down like an entire herd of sealions. Finnol nearly spilled his coffee, but his daughter’s exuberance prevented his irritation. Even if the hug he was the recipient of felt like his bones were cracking.
Finnol wrapped his arms around his treasure and rocked her, humming softly and unknowingly, the song a bittersweet mixture of love and loss. He had one remaining bit of happiness that he knew to be safe, and all too soon she was growing. For a short time he could pretend she was the precious babe lifted out of the birthing waters, or the innocent toddler trying to understand why she couldn’t talk about what she was in public.
“Whoa there lassie. We know you always miss yer father, but don’t kill him with love there.” Andersen drawled, taking the mug from Finnol so that he could better hold the young woman beginning to enter her bloom.
Finnol nodded and hugged Kirsty a little tighter, burying his face in her dark hair and inhaling her familiar blend of scents.
“As yer ‘uncles’ we’d like a little love too.” Merrow agreed. “How’s Castle Carrick and their ‘human training’ been treating you?”
“Parts of it are good, parts ok–a few people that could use some time out on a rock at high tide.” Kirsty replied, releasing her father and allowing him to gasp a breath, then proceeding to give her ‘uncles’–more accurately godfathers–less exuberant hugs.
“Kirsty...you cannot try to put them on a rock.” Belara called from the kitchen door, spatula in hand.
“Awww... Too much effort anyway.” Kirsty grinned apologetically at her aunt, to the chuckles of the men. Andersen tousled her hair.
“Public Cowan schools are no better, from what I hear from Andersen’s tales.” Merrow assured her. “Be glad you’re not homeschooled. You get to meet more people.”
“Breakfast.” Belara reminded them, before either Merrow or Andersen could start spinning lengthy yarns about their youth hiding among regular land dwellers. At least if they did it at table then they’d have the food in front of Kirsty and Finnol.
Marsali gave Belara a knowing smirk from her portrait, the selkie wearing her white and shell encrusted wedding and ceremonial gown this day to mark the transition point. Marc was a little slower than the others, still processing a moving and talking painting. She’d seen and been seen by Marc a few times, but never had she shown herself for being more than paint and canvas before.
Belara shook her head at Marsali. Once knowing Marsali, it was easy to see where the Makays got their mischievous streak from. She hoped if Kirsty’s friendship with David progressed the way she expected it to that poor David would be up to the challenge.
Kirsty scooted into her usual seat and Byron trotted over from the stove with a cast iron fry pan and slightly soggy kitchen mitt in his mouth, then promptly dumped the fry pan full of egg, mashed potato, sea veggies and fish onto her plate. Belara busily served out for the menfolk their own portions.
“Colcanon? Not Monday already is it?” Kirsty shot an anxious look at her father and at Byron, both shaking their heads. Kirsty sighed in relief. Loosing a day or two was usually a bad sign after all.
Kirsty fell to with gusto, shoveling her breakfast and relaxing as the heavy food dropped into her belly and eased the acid and the cramps from going too long without eating.
Andersen and Merrow laughed at her focus, eating with just as much enjoyment, but more sedately–all the better to watch ‘their girl’ eat up. Marc shook his head at the spectacle–he knew Kirstin was an eater–while Finnol murmured him through the introductions to his aunt, the teacher.
In general, the table was a quiet din fit for any mini-reunion, even with Etain’s usual seat left empty. A plate, cup, and cutlery had been set, and on that plate had been served some sea biscuits and a little of each of the dishes. From time to time someone would look wistfully where the Makay matron should have been, but then they would rap the table lightly as if to obscure a thought.
At length, and after two platefuls, Kirsty pushed back from the table. “Thank you. I should go check on Mrs. Kitsch...before I get ready for...”
Finnol nodded and got up. “I’ll go with you. I hear that even at school there are problems.” He exchanged a quick glance with Belara.
“Yeah...a couple happened. Thanks Da’.”
Belara began to clear up, but Andersen and Merrow waved her off and took over, leaving her flummoxed and having difficulty finding something to do with herself. There were no papers to grade here, no students to supervise, no extracurricular classes.
While the headmistress drifted off in confusion to perhaps find a book from the study, father and daughter tromped to the mudroom to don heavy winter boots and thick cloaks. It took a bit for Kirsty to find her riding cloak as it was buried beneath the mound of yellow rubber rain slickers. She cast a look at her dad, who grinned.
“Well, you don’t get to use it much till you’re here.” Finnol chuckled.
“I’d use it more if you’d been able to have me home-schooled.” It wasn’t an accusation. Having already been at the Castle for a couple years it was simply a fact. Kirsty thought about whether or not it would be a good idea to enquire if there was something that the Groundskeeper tended to that would consent to being ridden.
Finnol’s smile faltered a bit, and he patted her shoulder while guiding her out the mudroom door and around toward the barn. “If things were different, maybe that could have been.”
She dragged blue gloved fingers through the snow as they walked, leaving grooves on the tops of the burms beside the path and barely having to reach down. The winters steadily increased in severity here, although Seal Point always had its own idea of what appropriate weather for the season was compared to the rest of Ireland. Still, this was not quite as extreme as the more northern reaches of Scotland or beyond.
It was cold enough though. Waist high snow was simply what they’d have here. With the snow the red barn was somehow given a more whimsical air and if she squinted she could just make out the glowing blue glyphs that helped protect from leaks and weathering.
On going in the three horses looked up from their stalls: a chestnut, a grey, and a smaller white one with a spot on the tip of her nose. They whickered softly over the quiet bleats of the sheep, watching with bright and knowing eyes. Kirsty went over to the white one and presented her hand, which got lipped affectionately. After opening the stall and going in, she ran her hands over the horse’s side and pressed her forehead lightly against the horse’s.
In response, the horse closed her eyes and whickered happily.
“Missed you too Seal. You been getting enough exercise?”
Seal snorted and shook her head.
“Want to go visit Mrs. Kitsch? Maybe Whiskers if he’s there?”
Seal nodded and stamped her right front hoof decisively.
Kirsty giggled. “Good.”
“When don’t they want to go for a ride and jump fences when they can?” Finnol was already leading his tall grey, Mirror, to where he preferred being saddled.
Kirsty likewise brought Seal out, and went through blanketing and saddling properly, lavishing as much attention as she could on her horse. Seal’s eyes took on a brighter sheen and she stretched the mini-frills under her mane for scratchings, then sighed loudly when her mistress granted what she’d missed so.
Kirsty blinked a little, just barely. “Her frill’s getting thicker Da’. Think she’ll be old enough to foal this year?
“Hard to tell with the way they age. You’d have to ask Byron. I’m not sure if he’s ready for her to be that age yet though.” Finnol led Mirror out. “I think she’ll be so many generations removed that he might want to reintroduce his line to keep some company.”
“Would be interesting having some part-kelpie foals. I don’t remember when she was one.”
They closed the barn, and the horses eagerly gazed down the track to the ancient lane, waiting and stamping. After mounting, they were off, the horses first walking and warming up their muscles, then moving up into canters and trots through the snow and over the ice.
The barn, its yard, and the house fell behind. The rubble of the ancient abandoned village slumbered under the drifts as they passed through, ramshackle lines of stone fence and crumbled foundations poking up here and there, until they left that too behind. The forest enveloped them, in dense green arms and shrouding fog, and all that there was for them was the lane with its cart ruts and the frozen puddles under the snow that Mirror and Seal tried to kick up as they went.
Song and mouth music passed the time as they went, the horses holding back from a gallop in favor of savoring the trip this time. Perhaps if they weren’t too mischievous there would be extra apples and grain granted them by Whiskers.
They liked Whiskers. He never visited them though, they only saw him when they made a visit.
After passing through several invisible shields around the traditional holdings like butter‒which easily reinforced themselves and left their blood tingling from the reactivation‒the dirt below the snow turned to asphalt. They had turned down another lane shortly before though, and down the bumpy drive where the trees thinned and the watered rays of sun once more flowed down to them. Hoofprints now mingled with the thin tracks of an older car, which had come and gone. Cows lowed in a barn behind the small two bedroom cottage, while the nearer barn lay quiet.
Deftly, the Makays dismounted and led their horses into the barn, settling them in and making sure that there was grain and water. They spoke in low, loving tones, reminding their furred friends not to overindulge or settle too well, and to “mind your manners.”
Then they left.
Once the half-humans left the barn a tiny form crept out of the mouse hole at the end of it, conjuring heaped plates of apples for the hoofed ones. With his whiskers quivering, and holding the little red cap on his head, Whiskers scurried over to hear the latest news from the horses’ mouths. His tail twitched after leaping to Seal’s back and began to recomb and braid her main and tail.
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