The first time I saw her I reacted entirely upon instinct, though I was more than satisfied with the outcome. By acting furtive and afraid I showed I wasn’t a threat; by disappearing into thin air I made the simple unequivocal statement: supernatural.
She was barely a woman and destined for the very highest echelons of society. Whereas I, new and lonely, didn’t know my identity or nature. I was male and that confused me at first. But I worked everything out soon enough. If she had been a boy I could just as easily have been a girl – people are complicated. Why I existed at all and felt like an outcast took a little longer to understand.
Our initial meeting took place by a small waterfall only twice my height and split into a dozen or so separate trickles. I was sitting cross-legged and entirely naked on stepping stones lying across the plunge pool stream.
How I came to be there I don’t know but I returned to that quaint dell frequently. Sometimes the sunrise cut through cracks in a low cliff behind and made walls of pink or red light in the morning mist like ghostly panes in a cathedral window. Later in the morning when the sun’s light turned to white it made fresh spring shoots glow brighter than they’d ever be until the sanguineous reds of Autumn.
I never wanted to meet her there again in case she suspected how much I loved the place. She may have been the centre of my world and the only person I truly loved but it was going to take some time before I could trust her not to damage the dell as a way of hurting me. I knew this relationship would be a lifelong struggle.
She was utterly repulsive. I wrote this in my notebook so many times – and said why. It was usually regarding her arrogance, prejudices, spitefulness and her repellent assumption that she was superior to other people.
Her monumentally indoctrinated parents were the cause. They insisted some of these attitudes and beliefs were appropriate – even virtues – and inculcated them with dogged aggression. Threats, guilt or cold withdrawal of love and respect were their weapons – weapons wielded relentlessly since she was an impressionable child. At our encounter by the waterfall she was sixteen years old and still endured that crushing onslaught every day. I was determined not let the parents destroy her soul. I knew she could have children eventually and I intended to put everything of me into making sure they would not suffer the same fate.
I drifted, invisible, around the castle her father owns. I’d never entered it and didn’t want to – except the library when it was empty. The castle was, and remains, no more than a nauseating declaration of wealth and status. The grounds of the estate go far beyond the limits of a human eye and include mountains in the distance and endless woods to the east.
Claudia, for that is the name of my love, has rooms overlooking one of the larger lakes. During that part of our lives she stared at the swans occasionally or the peacocks on the lawn and I watched her. Moving close I sometimes saw in those eyes the reason why I was, and still am, here.
Those were my best moments for a long time.
After our first meeting I kept out of her sight for just over a year. I say out of sight but I always saw her, knew everything about her – except what went on in that corrupted mind. In those days I didn’t want to see her thoughts at all.
I spent a lot of time reading, haunting the library at night. It’s where I realised I was actually male and didn’t just look like one. When the maid appeared some mornings to tidy and clean, still dreamy and half asleep, I confess I was very attracted and wanted to appear out of nowhere and hug her. Well, hugging was part of it.
Then I let Claudia encounter me again one night. I showed off terribly, luring her to the top of the cliff by making trails like shooting stars. As soon as I knew she was about to see me on the beach I made myself glow, just a bit, and danced on the sand among rocks. I’m not spectacular at dancing but it wasn’t a bad attempt. Though she was too far away for human ears I froze when she coughed, and ran over the sea, jumped over waves; the surface of the water barely splashed under my feet. I wondered if that would start her searching for me.
It didn’t but I knew that would come soon enough.
I ignored my notebook for a while and some of our meetings were not recorded. They weren’t that important anyway. I do remember one in which she, again at the top of the cliff at dusk, approached and called out, “What are you doing on our land? Gypsies and vagrants are clapped in gaol or shot.” I don’t think she recognised me in the poor light.
Of course I leapt from the cliff and dived over the water, flying about two hundred waves in distance before hitting the sea faster than a falcon can stoop. It must have been quite a splash but not so far out she wouldn’t have seen it. I am so dramatic!
Distracted by selkies and their music, I confess I avoided Claudia for a while. I doubted it would be a problem. I knew this was going to be a long fight and there was no point in rushing anything. It was just after her eighteenth birthday when I saw her on the beach again. I was playing a sort of harp the selkies make.
That time I appeared as if wearing clothing. I’d added two years to my life as well and didn’t want to shock the poor lady. I wore only a sealskin kilt. Anything to draw her attention. I added depths to the music, made it reverberate as if played in a huge cave, and subtly included the magical enchantment selkies weave into sound.
Stunned, Claudia kept in shadow, still as a stone and made no noise. I played until I’d run out of tunes then curled up around the harp and sank into the rock and out of her sight. Something was changing. I think that was the moment things like, not dangerous, fascinating and supernatural came together in her head along with a desire to find out more about me. Either she was hooked then or was nearly so because shortly after that, after a couple of meetings in which my evanescence was the outcome, she shouted, “Good sir, please … don’t go away.”
We were going to talk.
My notes from that encounter:
‘This is the first time I’ve seen her looking less than haughty. Claudia was cautious at first but not afraid of me. I think she was worried I’d vanish. I worked on that, trying to appear as a hero happening upon an unpredictable and dangerous monster, not wanting to hurt it but in no way letting my guard down.
She asked me who I was, what I was and my name. Three questions met with long silences. Eventually I had to respond and start the spell. I couldn’t help myself. Her real self, the little girl she had been was there, very faint and timid in her eyes. I knew this innocence was only revealed for me or the mysterious being Claudia imagined me to be and would be suppressed before she returned to her family. However, a small beginning is still a beginning. I replied, “Do not speak my name lightly. Doing so will begin the biggest struggle of your life. When you know this, you will understand my nature. But I will not tell you who or what I am. These things you must discover for yourself.”
I had to leave straight away. She wasn’t used to answers like that. Arrogant anger in her eyes meant it was time for me to depart. I left as she flew into a tantrum and screamed curses at me.’
Had I not been so young, Claudia’s anger would have alerted me to her pain. It wasn’t arrogance in that fury, but fear. At the time I thought things were going well. I had no idea how hard, how intense and distressing was the conflict I caused within her. I was shocked when she tried to have me killed, though it was an understandable reaction and due partly to my being an idiot.
We had become tolerant of each other though I rarely spoke and always kept my distance, retreating if she came closer than about twenty paces. She told me about herself and, once, about a footman who had been tardy in lowering the carriage steps. Claudia had hurt her ankle as a result.
I said I hated the way she’d had him whipped. I realised too late I’d spoken stupidly. It was far too early in the spell for Claudia to suspect I knew everything about her, every moment of every day. However, it couldn’t be helped and I prayed things would move forward regardless.
Her inability to deduce my level of perspicacity saved the day. She merely assumed I’d somehow learned only about the whipping or witnessed if from afar. As a result she failed to realise I knew all about her organising my death. But that was useful; in order to appear unaware, I walked straight into the ambush she’d arranged. I wasn’t in any danger; no one can hurt me unless they hurt her.
To make it look as if I died in the attack, I staggered to the cliff edge and plunged into the seething turbulence of high tide storming among rocks. This explained why there was no corpse to be found.
That night I conquered my reluctance, passed through her bedroom window and laid the three musket balls beside her on a pillow. I understood that could have been seen as threatening so I added a daisy chain arranged around them in the shape of a heart. Nice touches, I thought. She’d last worn a daisy chain when she was seven.
I believe it worked to an extent, as did our separation of several months while Claudia and her mother indulged in a tour of Europe.
When she returned to the estate I realised something pivotal had occurred. The man she’d ordered to be whipped was promoted and given his own cottage. That day I waited outside Claudia’s bedroom window. I didn’t see her but I saw the daisy chain had been preserved and framed. It lay on the bed, wrapping torn and scattered around.
When Claudia next came to the beach I was sitting on a fang of rock silhouetted by the very last shreds of the day, long after sunset. I played my harp, having added many more melodies to my repertoire.
She stood, looking up, thinking I hadn’t seen her. “Come down, sir; please come down!” she called.
I looked at her in silence for nearly a minute to see how patient she could be. She didn’t move, just repeated herself once. A softness entered her tone then that hadn’t been there since she was a child. Hope broke my heart at that moment. My face streamed with tears as I leapt down and landed beside her.
She wasn’t expecting such an emotional reaction and froze in the act of holding her hand out: wide eyes and wonder. Taking my hand in one of hers she dropped the three musket balls into it. “Will you forgive me?”
I wasn’t prepared for the spell to progress so fast and didn’t know what to say. Dumbstruck, I watched her turn and dash back up the path between the cliffs.
What shocked me more than anything was the indication of how soon it would all end. I loved that wild life. I wasn’t ready to lose it, but to deny my fate would have turned everything into a nightmare.
I said my farewells to the selkies over the course of a few days and returned to the beaches with high hopes and a troubled mind … and waited for Claudia.
I was profoundly disturbed and confused. Too much had inexplicably happened too fast and I doubted if the changes in her were profound enough to be dependable.
But here am I, now, waiting for it all to happen. It’s going to be a light frost on a windless starry night with the crescent moon so high up it’s tiny. The waves are too small to roar and crash; there’s just an endless rhythmical hissing and sighing. I’m still nervous but I really believe in Claudia; she’s a wonderful person. I wish, how I wish this spell will work. I know it isn’t just me involved. Indeed, I may have played but a tiny part in it – or nothing at all. It has to come from her.
I make a fire on the beach. I’ve never done so before but it would be lovely to see her face clearly.
Driftwood bleached white always looks like ghostly sculpture and I’m trying to build the likeness of a kelpie as Claudia arrives wrapped in tartan plaid against the chill.
She sits on the sand and smiles at me. “Well met, my friend. Are you not cold?” She laughs and, not expecting a reply from one so taciturn, adds, “I had to come. I know everything now. Dreams, I’ve had so many dreams of you and put them all together with things you have said and done – and seen the truth amidst all. But … but can we wait for a while before I say your name? Will you walk with me a little way? Please?”
I stand and she follows suit holding her hand out, saying, “Take my hand. I want to know I once walked hand-in-hand with an angel.”
I’m happy to walk to the edge of the world and drop off it with her. Dreams? I hadn’t thought about that. Of course she dreams and I would inevitably be included in them – I am part of her even if she believed I wasn’t. Maybe dreams would have been enough and all we had to do was meet a few times. No … I think the way I acted helped. Actually I don’t know anything truly except my love for her. That’s the only thing I need to know.
We walk in silence, arm-in-arm or holding hands, between rocky buttresses and lines of seaweed. Sometimes we play with the surf, bravely going close but running back as it tumbles forward to wet her shoes. Well into the dead of night the path to the estate comes into view again. Claudia says, “Thank you for being so strong, inventive and persistent. Is it time to say your name now?”
I reply, “No, wait,” jump from rock to rock, scramble to the top of my favourite pinnacle and retrieve the harp and notebook. Claudia looks so small from up here. Leaping down, I pass them to her. “These will be proof to us that all this really happened.”
Tipping her head to one side, she asks, “And when I say your name you’ll return to be a part of me for ever?”
My heart thunders. I place fingertips on her cheek. “How I’ve missed it.”
She takes my fingers, brushes them over her lips, and says, “Hello, Claudia … magical Claudia who challenged everything I was ever told to believe, Claudia who rekindled my kindness and conscience, Claudia the fiery rebel. I need you back to help me fight my parents: I must and will live my own way. I’m sorry I denied you.”
©Gary Bonn, 2017