PRINCELING

Once upon a time, there was a young boy in Seal-Hame.

 

There were shadows and secrets among the rocks, in the seaweed that undulated slowly through the underwater kingdom of the seals. This boy's birth had been the celebration and joy of every seal in Seal-Hame, and echoed throughout vast oceans, the silent heavy darkness of the deep.

 

For, among the beautiful, he was transcendental.

 

He was the most beautiful child recorded in all the history of Seal-Hame. There had been no other child like him before, not in all the years winding down into centuries, not in the blood memory of the people of the seal.

 

Iain Grey was the pride of the seal-people.

 

He was unnaturally quiet. This concerned the Elders but they assigned his reticence to an introspective nature. He would be, they felt, the most successful of all selkies; an earnest and passionate lover, soft and gentle, strong and kind. The hopes and dreams of the selk rested on the boy.

 

He grew into a lithe young man, and was even more lovely than he had been as a child. He was impossible, and his clan boasted of him at every opportunity. As a seal, he was sleek and moved through the water like a current. In his human form, with his long, straight brown hair caressing a white and well-formed cheek, his black eyes captivated human and seal alike.

 

Iain Grey, beautiful and perfect prince of the seals, had a secret.

 

He longed for battle, and war.

 

Selkies, on the whole, were a peaceful race, content with flowing through the seabeds in the cold darkness of Seal-Hame. They dreamily composed poetry about their future loves, male or female; their hearts were easily excited and broken, their love of beauty famed.

 

Iain also could not fall in love. He did not want that for himself. He could tell no one.

 

Once upon a time, a seal-boy strayed too far from the beach.

 

He walked in the forest, wondering at the strange cool feeling of the pine needles against his bare feet. The shadows of the pines played across his white and stately frame, as he walked staring up at the trees, and the sky which seemed to him just another sea, blue and deep.

 

There was someone standing in the clearing ahead.

 

Curious, Iain approached. The sturdy figure turned, and he gasped at the green eyes, so striking to a boy who had seen only the dark eyes of the selk. The eyes were all he could focus on, for the moment, til the figure grinned. The white teeth startled him.

 

“Well,” she said, “Not that I'm complaining, but where are your clothes?”

 

Iain stared at her, and then pointed behind himself, towards the sea.

 

“Selkie?” she asked. He nodded.

 

“You'd better get out of here,” she said, “this is no place for one of you. The battle's over the hill but I think it might come to the edge of the water, foolish as that'd be. I'm scouting for the medic, he's going to need room for the wounded.”

 

“You're a soldier?” the boy asked, startled at the sound of his disused voice. It was clear, and sweet, if rusty.

 

“More than that,” said Desdemona, “I'm the commander of the army. I'm telling you, get out of here.”

 

Iain looked toward the sea again, and home, and the endless litany of praise, of the hopes of his people.

 

“Can I join?” he asked. Desdemona's eyes narrowed, the green flash unmistakable.

 

“A selkie's got no business in this place,” she said, “it is dark and violent and love is very far from here.”

 

Iain nodded.

 

“Yes,” he said, “I understand. Let me join. I cannot go back home.”

 

For some reason, this seemed to weaken Desdemona's resolve. She seemed to be thinking of something, a long-ago memory.

 

She sighed.

 

“All right,” she said, “Is your sealskin hidden well enough? I'm not having you drawn off by someone. And you stay behind me or beside me at all times. I'm not going searching for you.”

 

Iain nodded his agreement.

 

“What's your name?” she asked.

 

“Iain Grey,” he replied.

 

“Well, Iain,” she said, “much as it pains me, I think we need to get you some clothing.”

 

 

***

 

The outcry when Iain disappeared was heartbreaking. The wailing shook the seabeds of Seal-Hame, echoed in the seamounts, travelled via the whales and other voyagers across the oceans of the world.

 

He is lost, mourned the seals, What a brief and dying spark is beauty, a star was extinguished tonight.

 

The oceans wept, the creatures grieved, for the sweet and innocent beauty captured or captivated, murdered by some crude and calloused hand.

 

In the forest, miles away, Iain Grey shouldered his rifle and fell into step behind Desdemona, the only woman he would follow for the rest of his days.