by Beth Camp
Copyright © 2017 Beth Camp
All rights reserved.
Visit my Shakespir Author Page at:
Thank you for downloading this e-book. This e-book is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This book remains the copyrighted property of the author and may not be redistributed to others for commercial or non-commercial purposes. If you enjoyed this book, please encourage your friends to download their own copy from their favorite authorized retailer. Thank you for your support and for respecting the hard work of this author.
Whenever the moon is large in the sky, I like to walk along the beach, although my three brothers yell at me. They warn me of the dangers of the summer night. Someone could kidnap me or worse, have his way with me against my will and throw me to the side, ruined.
But I never met anyone while walking late at night, even in the warmest summer nights. My brothers say otherwise – Mac, the oldest, and some call him the wisest, the head of our little clan since Da died; Dougal, an equally large bear of a man is next, still older than me, and Michael, the baby, forever running after his much bigger brothers.
None of them have any qualms about going down to the pub in the center of town and staying out late, a euphemism for trying to pick up girls. But I, Maggie Kelley, the virgin maiden, must stay safe at home. God forbid I should join my brothers or meet a stranger.
So after they’re gone, and our cottage is quiet, and I’ve tidied up after them all, I go out walking, first through the moors, the grassy bushes undulating in the wind like the sea, then along the rocky cliffs that takes me to the path and down to the beach.
The wild sea always amazes and refreshes me, for I feel connected to it in a way that my brothers will never understand. The sea is my companion as I hike along the beach, watching the waves in their insistent rhythm, the dark colors of the night, the stars wheeling above, all together bringing a sense of peace to my heart. Just when the stars are at their brightest, I turn home. Later, I lie in bed, seeing stars everywhere. When my brothers return, their loud voices fill the cottage until the walls seem too small to hold them.
The last time I went walking by the sea at night, I was overcome with sadness; my tears fell into the waves. I don’t know why I was crying. The night wind pulled at my dress, making it sail out behind me and the moon shone brightly, yet I felt utterly alone.
So I wasn’t surprised when I did meet someone. The first time I saw him, he was swimming in the sea at night. He came ashore naked to sit on the rocks, and he was beautiful in a dark way that my rough and tumble brawny blonde brothers could never be. That night I was content to simply look. The next night, I waited, hoping for him to return. And when he emerged from the sea, again naked, his long hair around his shoulders, the waves washing his feet, our eyes met. I didn’t faint or run away. I knew who he was, a selkie, a man of myth who lived in the sea. My tears had called him from the sea. At least, that’s what the stories say.
That night, we sat together on the rocks, facing the sea, not talking. He held my hand, and we watched the stars rise and fall. I knew when it was time to go back to my cottage. I placed his hand on my heart to say goodbye and as a promise that I would return. He looked long at my face and whispered words I couldn’t understand. Would he come back? I didn’t know. I only knew that I had found my mate, selkie or no, and that my brothers would be furious.
The next morning, as they came clamoring down for morning tea and another bowl of oatmeal, Michael was the first to notice a change in me. “Head’s in the stars this morning, love?” he said as he bussed me on the cheek.
Mac’s eyes narrowed. “Ye’ve not done anything foolish, lass. Have you?”
“Little enough you would know, off gallivanting every night.” I whirled on Mac, leveling my wooden spoon at him. “And when are you going to find a wife so I’m not the only one here cleaning and cooking and washing and all.”
“Don’t try to change the subject. You’re the woman of the house and queen of our hearts, as you well know.” Mac stood up from the breakfast table, his head barely clearing the beams of the ceiling. “Now you should know that Deidre is close to saying yes,” he said formally.
“And close to saying yes she’s been these last fourteen months,” I replied, as Michael and Dougal smothered giggles into their teacups and pounded the table.
“Shut your laughing,” Mac growled at my brothers, but they all three dissolved into great whoops, including me. I was glad when they left for the day’s work. Perhaps today they were mending nets or scraping and painting our family’s fishing boat, Margaret’s Treasure, so named for our mother and me, some sixteen years past, for she died when I was born, and no one in the village could save her.
No time for thinking of that, I mused, as I set the house in order and rebuilt the peat fire so the stew would simmer all day, and a good stew it was, with carrots and onions, and a bit of parsley fresh pulled from the garden, with an added chunk of cod fish. I set the bread to rise, made all the beds in the house, and settled down to my knitting, a new cream-colored sweater for Michael, with the cables and diamonds that identified our village should he drown. I shook my head of such thoughts and wondered whether I’d see my selkie that night.
The more I thought about him, the man creature I couldn’t give a name to, the more restless I became. Me, Maggie, going on about a man. Perhaps I could blame the summer afternoon that made it impossible to think about anything, not even a future. What dreams I had about going on to school and becoming a teacher seemed lost in caring for my brothers. I wasn’t really kidding about Deidre. I would welcome another woman in the house for companionship and to help with the chores. It was time my brothers were getting married and setting up their own households.
Where would I go? What would I do? Would I always live with my brothers or even one of my brothers and his new wife? Would my future depend on a man from the village? Who? Peter MacDonnell from the farm that bordered our bit of land came by now and again, but he was certainly too old, late in his 30s. I didn’t like his rough ways with our dog, Ranald. Sure and wouldn’t he treat me much the same? Sit, he would say. And we’d sit by the fire. Stay, he would say, and I would stay at home while he went down to the tavern at the far end of town with the rest of the boys. A bit of a night out, he would say, while I sat by the fire knitting. Knitting and waiting, not so different from what I did now.
Hist, I said to myself. Enough of this. I set my knitting aside and called Ranald out for a walk just before supper. This time I stayed on the hills overlooking the sea, just walking and looking at the sea far below, the heavy clouds moving in. I was thinking this was no day for fishing and hoped my brothers had not taken the boat out today. I was glad of my shawl for it was that cold, even for early summer, the afternoon winds picking up. Ranald ran back from whatever rabbit hole he’d been digging into and nuzzled my hand; I jumped a foot. Yes, boyo, time to be heading back, and we ambled up the hill to the cottage where I built up a nice fire in the kitchen to welcome my brothers home.
But it was long dark before they came back, and when they came in, they were so full of energy they couldn’t sit or talk.
“Maggie, you won’t believe what happened,” Michael began. “We had the boat out, yes we know, the weather was chancy, but we went out, you know. They said the fish were running out past Quernshead.”
My heart stopped. The one place on the coast near our village where boats went down.
“Yes, we went with full sail and got caught in one of those whirlpools out there, just like they say, only worse,” Dougal added.
“Don’t be looking at us like that,” Mac said. “Aren’t we all here and fine and all?”
“Dinna interrupt me now,” said Dougal. “So, like I was saying, we got caught out there in a terrible fog.”
“No, I want to tell it. After all, I was the one that went flying overboard,” said Michael. “And that was before we got the fish. “
“One of you! Just one of you speak. I can’t tell what happened from this mish mash,” I commanded, my heart thudding.
So Mac gave Dougal and Michael a look and began at the beginning. “Right you are, Maggie. After we heard the fish were running, we planned to take the boat to Quernshead. Sean told us, and he’s a good man, so we wanted to go. You know the rents are due come quarter day.”
They all laughed nervously.
“Go on, go on. Don’t make me wait. Just get to what happened. Don’t tell me that Michael really went overboard.”
“Well,” Mac continued, “It wasn’t exactly like that, we were following the fish. The closer we got to Quernshead, the better the fishing looked to be with the gulls crying out and squawking behind us. But a big fog came rolling in. You couldn’t see where the gray sky ended and the gray water began. And when the fog lifted a little, there we were, right in the nastiest part of Quernshead. This grand wave came up and took Michael overboard. And there our little boat was twirling around, her nets fanning out behind her like a great veil. We could see big fishes below us in the deep there, Maggie, like you’ve never seen in your life.”
I couldn’t speak, just looked at each of my dear brothers. Losing even one of them would break my heart. Suddenly, I felt weak at the knees.
“Here, catch her before she goes down,” said Dougal, quickly grabbing me.
“That’s no way to tell what happened,” said Michael. “You’re scaring the starch right out of her.”
Once seated, I fluttered my hands and said, “Tell it all now. Don’t leave a word out.”
“As I was saying, there we were at Quernshead in the middle of a beast of a whirlpool. To tell you the whole truth, Maggie,” Mac continued. “I thought we were lost, the boat and all.” He looked around the room, at me and at Dougal and Michael. “I thought I’d never see land again. This next part is passing strange, but believe me, it all happened just as I’m telling it to you now.”
“Go on, tell her the rest,” said Dougal.
I’d never seen my brothers so hesitant. Usually they were straightforward, not given to long pauses in telling any tale. I held my breath.
Mac shook his head and continued. “Right in the deepest part of the hole in the water that was dragging us down was a man.” He waved his arm. “Don’t interrupt me now. I’m telling it all. That man had a good hold of one of the nets, and he pulled himself close to our boat. He could see our faces, and we could see him. And he looked at each one of us. The winds were howling; the boat was turning like the devil himself had it in his hand. That’s when Michael fell overboard, the deck was that slanted. The man in the water saw it all. He looked again at us, we were shouting and crying, and he went after Michael and brought him back to us. Then, he pointed at our towline, and we threw it to him, for we were lost men, and we knew it. He swam with that towline wrapped around his body, down into the water, and by God, he pulled us out of that sinkhole.” Mac sat down, his forehead perspiring. “It was too close, Maggie. We’ll not be fishing off Quernshead again, quarter day be damned.”
The room was silent. For the first time I noticed that Michael’s clothes were wet under a borrowed slicker. “Off with your wet things, now, Michael,” I said. “I have dinner ready. You’re all in need of a hot meal.”
“No talking of this in the village, Maggie.” Mac said. “There’s no accounting for what happened. No one will believe us, and no one should. Not even the Queen of Heaven could make sense of this.”
My hands shook as I took Michael’s wet things out to lay on the porch, for I knew who the man in the water had been. My selkie.
ABOUT THIS PREQUEL TO STANDING STONES
Perhaps the ocean itself and stories about the folk who may live there inspired me to write about mermaids, for I grew up in California, Oregon, and Washington, close to the sea. Long before Ariel, I loved reading stories about mermaids.
In northern Scotland, many yet talk of the mermen called ‘selkies’ who came along the coast to carry the women away. Actually, some theorize those ‘selkies’ were Finns who paddled in small, seal-hide boats to search for wives.
Before I began to write historical fiction, I dabbled in short fiction. The story that follows, “My Selkie,” from my first collection of short stories, The Mermaid Quilt & Other Tales, is told from Maggie’s point of view, a young woman living in the Orkney Islands, north of Scotland. This is the story that morphed into Standing Stones.
The following poem was inspired by Greek stories of the fates, those women who live in the sea -- and led to Mac’s sister being renamed Moira in Standing Stones.
Once we three – maiden, mother, crone –
danced around olive trees, Athena’s gift.
All along the Mediterranean, eyes glowing,
each to each, arms linked, our feet
traced patterns in the dust the world followed.
Mothers prayed to us in their ninth month,
pinched offerings from loaves of baking bread,
always a tenth consigned to fire;
and at death, they offered up their souls.
Now we measure storms in the sea,
send cold currents in every direction,
and weave the fates of the world with our songs.
At night, chaos; our beards become white caps.
By day, those who see us cry: Mermaid! Mermaid!
ABOUT STANDING STONES
In 1842, Lord Gordon claims his new estate in Northern Scotland and plans to replace farmers and fishermen with sheep. Mac McDonnell, suspicious of Lord Gordon from the beginning, leads protests – despite the impact his actions will have on his sister and three brothers. When evictions begin, a second protest at Westness turns violent. What will Mac risk to protect his family, his sweetheart, and his livelihood?
Set in the Orkney Islands during the time of the Clearances, Standing Stones won an award from the Pacific Northwest Writers Association for historical fiction and was called “a very promising work, with appeal to a broad audience, peppered with a variety of characters the reader can identify with sympathetically or instantly distrust.”
PRAISE FOR STANDING STONES
“Well-developed characters and well-researched background & history made this an excellent book that I found hard to put down. I felt as if I was a friend of the McDonnell family, living on the island and sharing their love and hardships.”
“Camp’s characters step off the page in this finely detailed recreation of time and place.”
“I strongly recommend this book to any one that enjoys Scotland and family sagas.”
“This history should not be forgotten. The author’s writing style is exquisite, and her attention to detail is superb. If you are a history buff, you will enjoy reading this book.”
BETH CAMP CONTACT INFO
I love to hear from my readers. Please e-mail me at
What story would you like me to tell next?
Twitter: @ bluebethley
Visit my Shakespir Author Page at:
Sometimes love arrives when least expected . . . This short story is set in a small fishing village on a remote island in northern Scotland, where seventeen-year-old Maggie lives with her three brothers. Each day, Mac, Michael, and Colin take their small boat out in the sea, while Maggie stays at home. But she is lonely, and when her brothers are gone, she sometimes walks along the beach, not sure why she feels sad. Until one night, she sees a selkie, that mythical creature, half-man, half seal. This story led to Beth Camp's award-winning novel, Standing Stones, about the McDonnell family and their struggle to survive during the Industrial Revolution.