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The Sea Witch and the Maiden

(copyright 2008 Ruth Keyes)

 

                                       (A story Brought to life by

                                         the music of an unknown fiddler

                                        May I one day discover his name.)

 

     Once upon a very long time ago now, when the mists of the Ocean danced like ragged wraiths along the rock strewn coastline, and creatures of magic and mystery still dwelt in the depths of the waters, there lived a girl named Eilidh MacKenzie.

          She was a beautiful girl, and a good one and true, and she had for her own love a lad by the name of Thomas O'Domhnaill, a fiddler so fine that his playing could coax the dawn from the heavens to dance beside him on the  shadowy beaches below.

          Young Eilidh and Thomas lived close to each other in a fishing village near to the rockiest part of the coastline, where the fisher folk had lived and plied their trade since long before this story. They had given their hearts to one another; true as the stars to the sky in the midnight, and had promised to wed when next the new Moon danced across the tides. Thomas himself was the son and grandson of fishermen, born into the tradition of the sea from the moment his eyes first were opened. In those days he often would stand on the shoreline, his feet balanced nimbly  on the rocks that jutted out into the waters at the edge of the jetty, and play on his fiddle sweet starlit airs that could wring tears from the very Ocean. Eilidh MacKenzie lived in the cottage nearest the waters, and would dream herself to sleep every night to the sound of the fiddle that sang like the voice of the heavens, in the hands of her loyal lover.

          Now there was in the village only one soul of all of them that

hated Thomas O'Domhnaill, and that  was a surly and taciturn old whaler by the name of Jonas Callaghan. He had been in his day both an adventurer and a thief, and was by his nature neither an honest man or a kind one. But unbeknownst to anyone in the little village on the shore, Callaghan had seen with his very own eyes, something there in the waters just off the rocky coastline. A shadow in the silver traced waves beneath the shimmering Moonlight; a figure unseen by Thomas O'Domhnaill, as night after night he played his fiddle to the Ocean.

          It was this figure, this shadowy denizen of the deep, that drew Callaghan from his own bed night after night at the height of the Moon, and kept him in his cottage by day, carving  weapons and weaving a net, stronger and stranger than any he had ever used in his past days of whaling.     

          What Callaghan had seen in the Moonlight was that never once, midnight after midnight, did the music of Thomas O'Domhnaill go unattended. Never once did the tunes ripple across the Ocean, without a secret silent listener, hanging on the sound of the strings as though nothing in the world held more beauty and magic. Which perhaps indeed nothing did. 

           A Sea Witch, exquisite in beauty, but evil all the same, heard every note that Thomas played, felt every tremor of his fiddle, and watched every movement of his body - and in her eyes grew a light of wickedness, desire and envy, until she swore by Neptune and all the gods of the ocean that she would possess the fiddler and his music for her own. On the shoreline, always crouched in silence behind some shadowed dune or darkened boulder, Jonas Callaghan watched the Sea Witch with the same light of possession in his eyes.

          One night, as the Moon sailed eerily through a misty starfilled sky, Callaghan left his cottage with his net and a sharpened dagger, and crept to the edge of the water, his eyes on his prey, and his ear tuned for the sound of the fiddle that he knew could entice her to shore.

          But Callaghan was not the only one seeking a prize that night,  in the churning Ocean off the coastline. The Sea Witch was watching for her prey as well, edging closer and closer to the rocks that rose from the water.           It mattered nothing to her that Thomas was not hers for the taking, nor did it matter that Callaghan stalked her with with net and sharpened dagger. Her wicked heart was set on Thomas O'Domhnaill, and nothing would deter her from her passion. What happened then t'was quite certainly the work of magic.   As the Moon burst from behind a cloud with a light like the silhouette of a thousand eternities, Jonas Callaghan left the shadows drifting on the shoreline, and leapt in a frenzy to capture that which he desired. The music shattered into silence, as Thomas saw the Sea Witch for the first and astonished time. Taking in the danger in an instant, he leapt to try to save her from the hunter, only to find himself seized by sudden enchantment, and held in arms that encircled his soul like ice, as they dragged him down into the Ocean, his fiddle left silent behind him.

          Cursing in fury, Jonas Callaghan stood on the rocks and swore to the heavens, his net tangled uselessly around him. The hunter had lost his rare and coveted prize. but the Huntress had dragged hers to the bottom of the Ocean, leaving only a mocking ripple there in the waters behind her. Callaghan's hands were yet empty - but Thomas the fiddler was gone. 

          Everyone in the pub heard Callaghan raging that night. Sails reefed and riding on the crest of a half-dozen empty bottles,  he pounded on the  tables and cursed the Ocean and the heavens, till even the fisherfolk wondered if he had lost all his senses at last.

          A silence  fell over the pub as a tiny, windswept figure,  chilled to the bone in her homespun dress and shawl, stepped into the barroom.

          The innkeeper hurried forward. "This pubs no place for you, Miss Eilidh," he insisted, taking his own coat and tucking it over her cold and spray drenched shoulders. "Your Pappy, rest his soul, he wouldn't want you being here in the pub with the menfolk, no sir, poor motherless Maidy that ye always have been..."

          Eilidh MacKenzie raised her chin up proudly, though everyone in the barroom could see that she had been crying. Her face was drawn and frightened in the lamplight, but she held her ground and did not stand down before them, the memory of her seafaring Father giving her courage, not caution.  Her gaze swept over the faces in the tavern, men her Father had fished and stood and sailed with,  and her eyes came at last to rest on the face of Jonas Callaghan. 

          The old whaler scowled into his beer and would not see her, but Eilidh crossed the room and stood squarely before him, as the rough men in the tavern parted like seafoam on the shoreline to let her small figure pass through. A stubborn tilt gave lift to her chin, and her eyes swam with a desperation and though her hand was gentle on the arm of the surly old Seaman, her voice was as steady as the seasons.

          "I heard you shout and swear Callaghan, and I heard you curse the heavens. Now I swear by the Ocean you will tell me what you know."

          Callaghan glared red-eyed at the girl, and pounded a fist on the table. "It's him she wants, and never me-" he shouted, his words thick and slurred with rage and passion and drink . "If the Witch lets him live, I myself will cut his heart out!"

          Eilidh MacKenzie stood straight and she stood tall, and she stopped him in his tracks by the very fire of her eyes. "You'll tell me now, Jonas Callaghan, and by God you'll tell me true. Where is Thomas O'Domhnaill?"

          Callaghan raised his eyes to her furiously, stumbling over the last of the bottles as he staggered past her to the door.

          "By now 'tis sure he's in hell", he growled, leaving her standing there staring. "And would to God I were there too!"

          With that the heavy wood door swung open, then closed, and Jonas Callaghan was gone. 

          From that night onward, Eilidh MacKenze became yet another shadow on the shores of the fisherman's coastline.  Singleminded she went searching, on foot or in her rowboat,  for her heart told her truly that no matter the chances, no matter the danger, no matter what appearences would otherwise have her believe, Thomas O'Domhnaill was alive.

          On the first night she found his fiddle, lying dry and silent on the rock that stood furthest out from the shoreline.

          On the second night she found the bow, resting beside it, it's wood still warm and vibrant from the playing. And so on the third night,  with the fiddle waiting expectant in the Moonlight, she took up her vigil in the shadow of the dunes at the edge of the sea. The Moon cast a glow over sand that swept golden, and the waves rushed against the edge of the shoreline, with a sound like the brush of a thousand teardrops falling. She was about to lose her battle with weariness when she heard it; the sound of the fiddle weeping in the Moonlight,  in a tune so sweet and perfect it could have been played by no other hands but his own.

          If there was one sound that Eilidh MacKenzie would know in the midst of the darkest moment, the wildest storm, or the deepest slumber, it was Thomas O'Domhnaill and his fiddle. He played in the ocean now - her heart had spoken true. Her footfalls soft and silent in the sand, Eilidh crept to the water's edge, and cast her eyes across the beach to the rocks that led from the shore, where, as her heart had foretold her,  Thomas played his fiddle. The Moonlight danced across his shoulders, the fiddle gleamed in the starlit rays, and Eilidh's heart swelled with love and with fury, as she crouched  silent in the sand. For there around Thomas' neck, where so often her own head had rested in sweet and tender  comfort, was a  silken cord, thin and finely spun of shadow, but woven with malice and glimmering with enchantment. With this the fiddler was imprisoned, and with it might be dragged down at any time to the roiling breast of the Ocean that no longer was his friend. Even as she clenched fistfulls of sand in hands that trembled with anger, Eilidh blinked as starlight dazzled her vision. Every shadow on the sand held it's breath as the Moonlight shuddered in silence. When next her eyes beheld the face of the Ocean, Thomas the fiddler was gone.

          By dawn young Eilidh had walked miles and miles across the sandy coastline. By dawn a thousand schemes and hopeless notions had gone whirling through her mind, faster even than Thomas could have played them on his fiddle. And by dawn at last, her head rested weary on her pillow, her heart determined and her eyes no longer weeping.

          There was one weapon against enchantment that the Sea Witch did not have. She wanted Thomas. She desired Thomas, and for the time, she possessed him. But though all these things were standing yet against her,  Eilidh MacKenzie held the only thing that alone might  be stronger than magic... and that was Love.

          At Moonrise she was waiting in the shadow of the dunes, and the light cast phantoms across the beach as she slipped toward the shoreline. The stars danced shining in the heavens, brighter yet for the music that serenaded them, and with a deep and determined breath, Eilidh climbed to the edge of the jetty and moved step by step toward the rock on which her Thomas was playing.

          Now the Sea Witch was watching from the water, swimming idly just below the soft edge of the Moonlight,  and her eyes glowed with hatred when she cast them toward the boulders. She knew who it was that Eilidh MacKenzie came seeking, and she hated the girl with every ounce of her being, as she stepped nearer the arms of the Ocean. Three times the Sea Witch had tried to seduce Thomas O'Domhnaill, three times she had bid him come to her bed and her beauty, and three times  he had refused her, his heart fixed on Eilidh as the eyes of a drowning man are fixed on a far away beacon. And so the Sea Witch waited, her eyes glittering wicked in the starlight, as Eilidh walked bravely out into the water.

The Sea Witch would have young Thomas O'Domhnaill - but first she would have her revenge.

          As Eilidh approached the farthest rock from the shoreline, her eyes locked with those of Thomas, and her steps never faltered, though the rising foam rose swirling around her ankles. Unable to cease his playing, Thomas stood tall in the Moonlight, his hands still dancing across the fiddle, doomed by enchantment to play until he bent his will or perished. 

His own voice silenced, he watched her approaching, and the bow on the strings made a desperate, strangled sound as his eyes flashed a thousand anguished warnings, and Eilidh refused to heed them.

          As the girl reached the last of the rocks at last, there came an inhuman shriek, as the Sea Witch lunged from the water, in her hands a silken shroud, woven from bracken and poison, with which to bear young Eilidh down to her death. Lightning flashed a warning to the heavens as thunder crashed directly overhead, the Moon trying in every way he could to avert the death of his friends.  Then several things happened all at once. Eilidh swept to the edge of the boulder and threw her arms around Thomas. The strings of the fiddle snapped with a scream, as love proved even stronger than magic, and Jonas Callaghan burst from the shadows and flung himself at Thomas, weilding a shining dagger in a drunk and jealous passion.   

          It happened very quickly. The shroud meant for Eilidh wrapped around the old whaler as he toppled screaming into the Ocean, and the Sea Witch cried out as the dagger meant for Thomas plunged deeply into her wicked and envious heart. The sea churned foam blood red and poison, as Eilidh and Thomas raced from the jetty and collapsed on the sand in each other's embrace, their hearts pounding with fear and with flight, and with something that was stronger than both of these together.

          The next day the body of Jonas Callaghan washed up on the shoreline, his lifeless hand still clutching the silver dagger.

The Sea Witch was never seen again.

 

 

Authors note....
 
This story is not to be misconstrued as illustrating stereotypes of any kind, or as a statement that witches are evil. There are good people in the world and there are are the other kind... therefore there are good witches and bad witches, good friends and bad friends, honorable people and decietful people.
 
I have personally met several evil accountants.
 
I have in my life known all kinds of people, good and bad witches included. 
 
This particular character was a witch.
And she was Evil.
Please do not read into it any more than that.
 
As for my other evil character being a whaler....
well, you may read into that as much as you like!
 
- Ruth Keyes
 
 

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