The first time the selkie maid saw her, a creature clad in bright, reflective surfaces, a cold knife of fear pierced her gut.
As a pup, she was a curious thing; both an oddity and a creature filled to the brim and spilling over with curiosity. She often did not heed her mother's and aunts' words of caution regarding, well, anything.
When the wind was high and whipping the ocean into wild, crashing waves, her heart soared and she zipped through the foam, relishing nothing so much as the feeling of being completely untethered, free.
She stayed out long past dusk to skip through the water and watch how the stars reflected on the surface of the sea on particularly still nights.
She strayed too close to shark hunting grounds to catch a glimpse of the drawn, angry faces of great whites.
Worst of all, perhaps, was that when the pointy shapes of fisherman's boats growled through the water leaving strange smells and sounds in their wake, poles and lines piercing the sky, nets dragging through the water, she watched from afar with large, intelligent, dark eyes.
"Humans cannot be trusted," her mother said, lip curled in disgust.
"They'll covet you," her aunt said.
"They'll take what's yours and keep you captive, away from the ocean. Away from us. As long as they can," her elder sister said.
"Cara was taken," Eimeer, her best friend, said voice hoarse and heavy with fear and tears. "Seven years, Fiah. We won't see her for another seven years."
As the years dragged on, for a selkie's life is long, her curiosity never waned, instead, it grew into a gnawing, frustrating thing that urged her closer to danger, to the desire to learn more, know more. So, the day she found herself face-to-face with the very thing her loved ones warned her about came as a surprise to no one, least of all herself.
In her venturing to the shark's grounds, she found herself face to face with a young bull. Clever and swift, she managed to maneuver herself away from one danger and into the waiting arms of another. Swimming close to the shore, and looking frequently behind her, she failed to detect the drift net suspended in the water.
The pain was sharp, lines catching in her soft flesh as she met it at high speed. The spike of fear that struck her erased every caution and word of advice her sisters had ever shared with her.
"Don't struggle. Don't thrash. It only makes it worse. Go still. Call us. We'll find you."
Fiah panicked. Adrenaline high, heart like a hummingbird, she violently twisted her body to free herself, only entangling herself further and causing the fine lines of the net to drag further into her hide. The blood that began to ooze from her wounds was like a siren's call to any surrounding predators. Her lungs began to burn with her herculean efforts. She needed air.
In a final attempt for air, if not for freedom, she began to shift. She eased her top half out of the warmth and safety of her seal coat, freeing clever hands and nimble fingers. Fingers, numb from the cold water, fumbled with the rough knots of the net that surrounded her. Able to loosen it, but not remove it completely, she managed to allow herself enough space to float to the surface.
The air hit her face and her lungs with a devastating impact. Gasping, she pushed dark locks from her eyes as she attempted to determine where exactly she was. She was miles down the shore away from her family's nest, that much was clear. Surrounded by steely gray--the water, the sky, the rocky shore-- the flicker of hope afforded to her moments ago when she reached the surface began to fade. Minutes passed or perhaps hours. It was hard for Fiah to tell as she floated there, despair growing. It was beginning to get dark. She closed her eyes.
"You there! I'm coming. Hold on!"
To human ears, the shout would have been swallowed by the roar of the ocean. To Fiah's, it rang clearly across the water. Her eyes shot open and she swiveled her head frantically to determine the source of the sound. She found it in the form of a human woman, clad in strange reflective surfaces. Fear, her familiar companion on and off for the past several hours, appeared again, and increased tenfold. The woman began shedding her strange metal skin in an awkward, hasty way. Then she was diving into the water and swimming towards her.
If Fiah had thought she had known fear before, she was mistaken. The ocean's dangers were familiar. Sharks. Storms. Fisherman's boats. Fine. She knew these. This was something different. Something foreign. Something human.
She thrashed again in her desperation to get away. Hands and fingers pulling at the net around her, tearing the skin of her palms as she tried to release herself from her prison. The sound of the human's clumsy body cutting through the water growing closer all the while.
"Hush, it's alright. I'm here to help," the woman soothed in a voice like dark honey.
Fiah's wild eyes met the human's. Warmth. Blue. Something other than the cold gray that had been crushing her chest in a vice. The selkie stilled immediately, though the fear never left her.
The woman was treading water in front of her. She held her hands above the water, her gaze earnest.
"I'm going to cut you loose. But I need to get my knife from my boot. I'm not going to hurt you. Do you understand?"
After a moment's hesitation, Fiah gave a nod.
The woman's right hand dropped below the water's surface and then reappeared with a sharp object that caught the dim light and glinted dangerously.
"I'm going to come closer now. Is that alright?"
Again, Fiah nodded, the hummingbird taking up residence in her chest again.
The human swam closer. Fiah's sharp gaze caught the woman's eyes widening as she registered the sight of the seal coat half on, half off of her in the sea. Fiah silently cursed herself for being so careless. However, the human said nothing and, careful not to touch the selkie's skin, she began gently and methodically cutting through the net where it held the selkie woman.
As each line was severed, each knot cut, hope began to grow again in Fiah's gut. She itched to swim away, to fly through the waves home, to safety.
As the last knot fell away the human, breathing hard with her efforts, spoke again, spluttering a bit with each wave that struck her.
"It's getting dark. You're bleeding. You'll never make it home before morning."
Fiah would have been angry if the woman hadn't wrapped her words in gentleness. It made Fiah still again. She met the woman's eyes once more.
When the human seemed to realize she had her attention, she said, "I have a small camp set up in the shelter of a cove nearby. Come? We'll warm you up, feed you, stop your bleeding, and you can return home in the morning."
Humans can't be trusted.
But. What choice did she have, really? The woman wasn't wrong. Fiah contemplated making a break for it and finding some shelter on her own to weather the night. But, the prospect of warmth and a meal was tempting.
And then, she was an oddity, after all, filled to the brim and overflowing with curiosity. Endless years of the same had begun to wear on her. This was something new. Something different. Something dangerous. It wasn't in her nature to refuse knowing an answer to a question when it came knocking. So, she did what no selkie in their right mind would do.