9:3: “It Shall Come to Pass on a Summer’s Day”, by Lenora Rose

9:3: “It Shall Come to Pass on a Summer’s Day”, by Lenora Rose

Fiona will be coming soon.

She will be sickly, and scared, remembering how, on our night together, I named this day.

If she does not, we both die, though she only knows that she will die. That must be enough to drive her, teetering, to the water and the man who wears nought but a sealskin, before dawn lights the sea the same green as the bottles my people gather from shipwrecks.

With the power of the sea, I will help her give birth to our son.

She will name names for me, solid land names like Eamon and Padraig and Hugh. I will name back seal names, and we will agree at last on Tadhg, a name we share.

I will carry her home, and not see her for another year.

In a year she will return, carrying Tadhg, sand-coloured linen next to his skin, and green wool to keep out the cold. She will be wan with the judgment of her people, who dislike that she will not hide the child.

That year of cruelty will have raised the first grey to her pale hair. I will long to kiss her, but she will not wish the same of me. I will take her child, nursed a year on mother’s milk, do the magic that gives him a seal’s fur, and lead him swimming into the sea.

She will weep, and tell me, in her honest way, that she does not know this act for right or terrible.

I will not offer answers, nor consolation; the things I do give will both seem bitter at the moment of giving.

I will give her first a purse of drowned ship’s gold. She will tell her people that the father of her babe has bought back his child; they will see the stamp on the coin, and it will give them a mistaken idea that her lover was a Spaniard, a shipwrecked foreigner — not the devil they had none-too-secretly feared. She will not suppose that I chose it with deliberation. She is a truth-teller. She does not believe anyone she has cared for, even briefly, could be foremost a liar.

The second thing I will give her is prophecy.

The first words I spoke to her were prophecy, when I heard myself sing, “Fiona, if you do lie with me, we will get a child. Are you ready for such a fate?” And blushed in relief that I sang my own tongue.

She saw the boyish blush, and the way I looked at her, drawn enough by music and what she perceived as shyness not to mind that I wrapped her in a seal’s fur when I laid her down, so she could be between my skin and my skin.

But she did hear my prediction after we lay together, when I named this night for childbirth, and I told her to come to me, for the village midwife would not save her. No-one would, for a selkie child must be born by the sea-side.

Tonight, I will leave her with no prophecy; it is cost enough that I will leave her a living mother.

But on the day I take my son, I will tell her that she will meet a fisherman less interested in maidenhead than in a woman whose heart is warm. He will wed her, who makes his living killing the creatures of the sea.

This man will one day see me and my son, lying nearer the fishing grounds than most seals dare. He’ll never know we are more than beasts. He will fire for our skins and oil, and kill both my son and me.

As I speak this prophecy, which will be true until the very breath that utters it, that future will shatter away.

For as she hears my words, she will twist her woolen shawl once between her fingers, and resolve that it shall never be.

She will wed her fisherman, but only on the condition that he never hunt anything but the fish themselves, however hard the times. She will speak with passion, she with her too-honest tongue, until he concedes this one minor thing. She will have his comfort and his children without the shadow of our death upon her.

I will see myself, with my son Tadhg, on a rock near the fishing ground, seeking to glimpse the women waiting on the shore, and pick out his mother. I will foresee this man coming to us, lifting his gun to his shoulder. I will see myself dive for the water, too late, while my son will simply watch the human approaching.

I will hear the report, and the splash far away in the water, as he fires over our heads, and curses from hunger. He will weep to his wife about torn nets and poor catches. She will soothe him with the softness of her thighs, because she cannot speak to reassure him; she shall never grow good at lying.

I will not utter this future, the day I see it born. But it will make me calm; unnatural calm she will say before she turns for home with that will in her breast.

Though she leaves me, my prophetic eye will not: I will foresee her one last time, many years beyond, hair wrapped in a scarf of cream wool. I will know by her gaze that my flattened face is made more homely by new creases. Our lives will be behind us, without the touch of strange where we once crossed our borders. I will tell her of her long-lost son, and she will take my hand in callused, knot-knuckled skin, for hearing the name Tadhg spoken with pride. I will tell her how he went to the harbour city in the south, where a strange accent is just a strange accent. I will tell her how he took sail on the ships that trade with what her country calls the New World. I will tell her how he dives deep when he is on leave, to show himself to kin and cousins even when he cannot visit me.

There, in that faraway fate, she will tell me how her husband has prospered more each year, and now commands several boats. She will wonder aloud that it should be so, and fix me in her look, but I will still know how to keep silent.

But as I stare into that far future meeting, I will seek further, and find that the future blurs. For her husband will see her talking to a strange man on the shore, hear her call me by my name as to an old friend, and he may not be able to believe even her truthful tongue, that I have not shared her all these years. Then the gun will fire on me and remake half my shattered prophecy. Or he may believe her tale, and begin to leave fish for a seal growing too old to hunt.

Or he may come bid me be a man and talk, though even in that possible fate I cannot see what I would ever have to say to him, who will have over forty years of honest love where I have a handful of days.

She will come tonight and hear this song I am singing. She will never know that my music is all the things I may never tell her. She will only know that it is beautiful and full of the sea.

For I never tell a prophecy of good.

We all fight prophecy, as she will fight to be sure I am not slain by one she loves. If I told her of the good prophecy, she would fight that too, and the gun would fire into Tadhg’s skull, and not over his head. She would fate herself and her husband to years of privation, because no seals would be grateful enough to drive the fish to his nets.

And in one breath more, she will step from grass onto sand, to join me by the sea.

Lenora Rose lives in Winnipeg, Canada, with her husband and the requisite cats. There, she practices archery badly, plays mandolin badly, dances indifferently, sings, writes, and aspires to rid herself of adverbs. She is a graduate of the Viable Paradise workshop, and rambles online at http://lenora-rose.livejournal.com/. She says:

It would be both easy and obvious for me to talk about selkies and other shapeshifters, or about traditional ballads of England, Scotland
and Sweden, both of which come up regularly in my writing. However, this story was mostly an attempt to wrestle with the idea of prophecy,
which both fascinates and repels me in reading. Why do we presume that because a prophecy is spoken, it has to happen? Why do we assume the
prophet is telling the truth? Most of all, what goodly purpose is served by telling someone you care for that their actions will lead to your death?

7 Responses to “9:3: “It Shall Come to Pass on a Summer’s Day”, by Lenora Rose”

  1. Merc says:

    Oh, I very much enjoyed this one–lovely!

  2. Wilma says:

    Excellent! Good story! I’ll be looking for more!

  3. Brannie says:

    That is indeed very unusual … but I like it. Well done!

  4. Why are selkie stories always sad? It’s as though their magic is primarily that of the melancholy…

  5. […] “It Shall Come to Pass on a Summer’s Day” by Lenora Rose explores (as the author notes in her afterword) the idea of prophecy, and just how reliable or immutable it may be. The tale is told by a selkie awaiting the arrival of Fiona, the human woman about to give birth to his son; all the selkie’s narration is in the future tense, as he describes what will happen when Fiona arrives, and the prophecies he will make about the future – yet those prophecies may (depending on the circumstances) change or remain unspoken, so do they really indicate what will come to pass? The voice Rose creates for her narrator is pitched very well: slightly out-of-time, with a similar flow to his words as the telling of a folk-tale. I also appreciate what Rose seems to be doing with prophecy at a structural level: in the world of this story, prophecy is a web – try to avert the fulfilment of one future, and another prophecy will take its place. “We all fight prophecy,” says the narrator, even if it’s good; so perhaps it’s for the best if Fiona doesn’t know what the selkie foresees. Yet ultimately there’s no escape from prophecy here, because the use of the future tense makes the tale itself a prophecy, one which may or may not come true. However, I think that very usage of future tense is something of a double-edged sword, because for me it stops Rose’s story from truly hitting home. The emotional core of the tale is Fiona’s quandary over what to do to protect her loved ones from prophesied harm; but this quandary is mediated through two “layers,” as it were: firstly, it’s not Fiona who is telling us about her situation, but another character. and, secondly, these events haven’t actually happened yet (and may not happen) in the world of the story. To my mind, both these factors distance the reader from the heart of the story; Rose’s tale is readily appreciated on an intellectual level, but it loses some of its vital emotional impact. […]

  6. Noah Graham says:

    Physics says in observing an event you change it. That is the basis of the Uncertainty Principle.
    But I suppose fantasy stories appeal to people who dislike Physics, and so prophesies that can be seen and said and yet remain immutable appeal to many fantasy writers.
    Very good story. Extra poetry points for telling it all in future tense.

  7. […] “It Shall Come to Pass on a Summer’s Day” by Lenora Rose […]

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