By Abigail H. Leskey
I am Myrna; and tonight I am to be sacrificed to the Sea, that the Sea may rise and swamp the Red-Crests, that she may sink their galleys, that she may defend this land. I am willing. This would not be done were I not; what value would the Sea place on one who died in anger?
Today I am going to my favored place. Look, there; up that slope. I climb, brushing past heather. A bee lands on my fiery hair. Ahead is a cave, one too small for dry sleeping, but great enough for me to sit and look far away. I enter and sit on the round of stump I carried up here, having no lad to do it for me. This is just as well. I doubt I should be a willing sacrifice had I a love. Though is it strange I have not, being old enough to be the mother of two or three were I matched.
There, far below, heather and rocks; and then the Sea. The Sea is mine and I shall be hers, and from over her my father came, from a land called Eire. Back to that land he sailed, while my mother was moon-shaped with me, and he has never returned to us. My mother was sad of this when she was dying.
Eire is not far. Today is a fine day, and I can see that place. Often some one of us goes there, or one of them comes here. My mother was proud, and stayed here in Alba. Eire looks green; I did hope, someday, to see it. When I was younger I used to dream of swimming there and forcing my father to return. I became a fine swimmer, practicing.
I sit and watch the sea. It is darker than the sky, and when the sky begins to darken and become fire and apple and heather colors, it is still darker, and looks as if it knows what it is receiving today. I rise and walk down towards where my people are waiting. We will feast.
I do not eat much, but I am not distraught. I watch the fires and my people. Soon the fires and the round moon and the tiny stars are all the light left, and we walk down to the Sea. The tide is partway risen, and our chief and priests and I wade through the Sea to reach the rock. I hold my white gown up, although that makes little sense.
I stand on the rock, and the chief and the priests speak to the Sea as it rises, telling her what we desire in exchange for me. Then the chief asks me for the last time, “Are you willing, Myrna Nic Aodh, to belong to the Sea?”
“I am willing,” I say. They all leave then, quiet. The moon is above me, the rock is beneath me, and the Sea is around me.
After the water rises a hand’s-breadth, I hear a voice cry out the name my father called my mother. “Aoife!” I turn and look behind me. A tall old man is rowing a boat towards me, and he cries out again the name he called my mother.
“My mother is dead,” I say. “I am Myrna.”
“Dead?” He ceases rowing, and drifts back, away from me.
“She is dead.”
“Are you my daughter?”
“I fear so,” I say coldly, and turn my back on him. I hear his oars. Now he is before me. I look like him.
“Come on, get in,” he says.
“I will not,” I say.
I stare at him. “I will. I am a sacrifice to the Sea. A willing one. Go back to Eire. I do not wish to spend this time in your company.”
“Myrna—I meant to return. One of my kin had been slain…. I lost all memory—a sword-blow—for as many years as I have fingers and then that again.” He looks at me earnestly, sadly, and I credit him.
“I am sorry,” I say. “My mother wanted you when she was dying.”
“No,” I say. “I am saving my people from the Red Crests. I chose this.”
“Your mother was stubborn.”
I nod. “I am glad to have seen you.”
He bows his head and rows. Around a corner of rock he vanishes.
Water splashes my bare foot. The Sea is rising. As I look down at it, through the center of the moon’s reflection barges a dark-brown head. It is a sea-monster. It opens its snout, and many sharp teeth stay white as fire flames from deep inside the hairless beast. Another, its mate, silently pokes up beside it; and then behind me I hear a roar, and see bat-like wings spraying as a lizard pulls itself from the Sea with them.
I close my eyes.
Nothing, except more roaring. I stand while the Sea rises over my feet and climbs my dress. The monsters seem to be waiting.
Then a Sea wave rushes and throws me forward, and we fall together onto the monsters and into the Sea.
I sink in it. I am a willing sacrifice.
A monster swims through the water toward my face, and will-less I jerk back and surface for a moment.
As I go under, scratched by monster claws, it is as if my heart struck its forehead. This is water. The Sea is just water, and these are just animals. The sea is water. Teeth rip at my leg, and I cry out under water, and make myself rise. I am willing to die, but not merely that one more dead creature may float in water or fill the bellies of these beasts.
I reach the surface and gasp, but it still has my leg. I kick with the other, and scream defiance as one with three heads wriggles at me and another grabs my arm.
I go underwater, my white dress ripping and floating. Something dark is above, and I see a wooden paddle. I shove a monster away from my throat, slam another into my rock—a good thing these are small beasts!—and get my head up. My father clutches my hair and then my shoulders, and I grab the side as he stabs the monster biting my arm. It grunts and plops into the water. He jerks me into the boat, and passes me a knife even as he slits the throat of the monster sucking at my one leg, yelling as it emits fire and roasts his hand. I shove the knife into the head of a smaller one entangled in my white rags.
There are no monsters in the boat. We each grasp an oar and row for Eire. I am bleeding from four places, but I will be well in time.
A splash, a roar, and fire coats the back of our boat. We are the head of a procession. I push my oar into my father’s hand, rip off most of the lower part of my gown, and slap its wetness against the fire until it is out.
The foremost monster is now behind us, and we are gaining. I row again, shivering. We run onto the shore of Eire and my father helps me out of the boat. He ties it. We are safe.
My father looks at me, soaking wet, bleeding, barely covered. I look at him, also wet, with a burnt hand.
My father recognizes that this situation is so peculiar that there is nothing to do save act as if it were not. “Welcome to Eire, daughter,” he says. I try to say something. My nose coughs four times. He puts an arm around me, and we walk onto greenness, away from the sea.
Copyright© 2015 by Abigail Leskey
This story is inspired by Evelyn De Morgan’s painting “S.O.S.” which you can view here: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Evelyn_de_Morgan#/media/File:Evelyn_de_Morgan_-_S.O.S._%281914-1916%29.jpg