Thank you to dellaterra for her beta work and HoochieMomma for pre-reading duties. All mistakes are mine.
Thank you if you are still reading.
SM still owns.
Brief recap – In an attempt to rescue Alice and Rose from the hill trows Bella must swim miles into the ocean to find the Odin Stone. The trows will exchange the girls for the stone but to find it Edward must bite Bella so that his venom will give her the ability to swim underwater for long enough. He fears that the venom will only work once and so this means Bella will never be able to share Edward's underwater world with him. However Bella has set off and although she has reached Sule Skerry, where the stone is being kept in a cave, she has surfaced to find that she is not alone.
When Bella was a child she owned a cat. He was a solitary creature, preferring to venture into the house only to eat and then skulk back outdoors. But occasionally he would find a patch of sun on Bella's bedroom floor and allow the heat to warm his fur and bones. Bella would hang off her bed and watch him stretch his legs in appreciation for the rare display of Forks sunshine. Then he would open his eyes and return her stare. His eyes were green, watchful and full of secrets. Bella wished he would tell her one, reveal a tiny fragment of a mystery he knew about. Hidden in those gimlet eyes were untold stories and unshared knowledge. Bella longed to unlock the secrets she knew were there.
And now, staring into this strange pair of eyes, Bella Swan had the same sensation.
The stranger was no animal, but she knew it could not be entirely human. Bella's instincts told her the supernatural was at work here, for they were miles out in the ocean with no boat or ship around. It was womanlike – a mermaid or a sea goddess. Bella tried to sort through what she knew of Orkney folklore to identify the creature she was facing, but retrieving any information was like catching sand falling through a sieve. Her eyes were a viridescent green, and they held Bella's gaze in a vicelike grip. She had clear white skin with prominent cheekbones and a high forehead, which gave her a regal look. The woman's hair was long with curls that disappeared under the waves. She was unnaturally still in the water, while Bella moved her legs, kicking beneath the waves, a habit from a lifetime of survival in deep water. The sea woman gave her a smile, an expression kind and gentle enough for Bella to try to quash her first feeling, which had been to panic and disappear into the sea again, despite the fact she was the stranger in a strange land.
The woman, silent and serene, continued her watchful consideration of Bella. There seemed to be a question in the air, hanging between them, but Bella was powerless to fathom it. She wrestled with opening her mouth and asking for some vital information but suddenly it was too late. The sea woman turned her head and dipped under the waves, leaving Bella alone. The water hardly rippled; it was an instantaneous movement that left Bella blinking in confusion and suspended in indecision. Seconds later the sea woman resurfaced, her eyes searching out Bella's. Then she was gone once more.
She wants me to follow her, realised Bella. Conflict rose in her, like bubbles pushing to the surface. Why should she follow this stranger? All her life she had promised her police-chief father to avoid strangers in the park, when walking home, when she was alone. She had sat through numerous classroom presentations about not trusting people you had just met, not believing someone's explanation of who they were. But she was in the middle of the ocean on a supernatural quest, and she didn't think the normal rules applied in this case.
She had trusted Edward, without really having enough evidence to do so. She was headlong in a world that she should have run from at the first hint of the preternatural. This was the time for believing in your instincts, she told herself as she stared at the void where the stranger had been. Sule Skerry was a shadowy outline in the distance. There the cave where the Odin Stone lay was waiting. She had to trust that this stranger had some part to play in helping her get there. Perhaps this had been orchestrated by Edward – this unexpected help must have come from his request. But why had he not said anything to her? Maybe it would seem as if he were breaking the trows' stipulations that Bella had to do it alone. There was no time to ponder the different possibilities. Bella decided to give herself over to her instincts, and pray that they were not wrong. The sea covered her again as she sank below the surface, welcoming her back to its tourmaline world.
Bella swam in the direction of the stranger, praying her decision was the right one. A minute later, metres down, she saw the shimmering figure, her pale face glowing with luminescence, a small smile on her lips, her hair a beautiful auburn halo around her. She flipped around and swam away, Bella following, half-wondering if she would see feet or a mermaid's tail when she was close enough to the sea woman. But she moved too fast, with a gown that twirled and spun in the water, and Bella could not tell.
The stranger swam fast and fluidly, cutting through the water as if she was indeed creature of the sea. Bella struggled to not feel clumsy and slow in comparison and made herself concentrate on keeping up. A huge part of her was glad not to be alone, despite the small voice inside that questioned the wisdom of trusting this stranger. They made their way onward, going deep into the sapphirine sea.
Then in front of them there was a rock face. Bella felt both relief and consternation. She had reached the island; now there was the difficult task of finding the cave and retrieving the stone. But the stranger swam on, and Bella followed. The underwater world was now full of jagged rocks, menacing shadows, and gritty water. Everything felt murky, and the water seemed to pull her in different directions. She had to fight to stay in position, in case the swell of the waves slammed her against the rocky underwater cliff. The sea woman glanced behind her at times to make sure Bella was still there, still trusting in her and in this mysterious journey. There was no sound in Bella's head except for the rhythmic pounding of her heart. On and on they swam through the water, dark and strange.
Then there was the woman, still and waiting. Bella swam up to her and trod water, watching her face for a sign. Small fish flitted around them, darting and dancing. The stranger raised a long, elegant finger and beckoned Bella to follow her. As Bella turned to do so, she realised there was an entrance, a cave-like hollow in the rock face. Touching the cold side of it, she wondered how long it would have taken her to find it alone. But there was no time to dwell on this. They swam inside.
At the back of the cave, just as Edward had said, there was a smaller entrance to a tunnel. Now the sea was the darkest she had encountered on this strange journey, the light so poor she worried that the stone would be invisible to them. But the sea woman seemed unconcerned. Within a minute Bella realised her eyes were readjusting enough for her to make out the walls and roof of this passageway. The small fish had accompanied them too, and their tiny scales shone with an iridescent light, which added to the amount she could distinguish.
Suddenly the sea woman halted. Bella wanted to gasp but stopped herself. They gazed at the wall in front of them.
There was the Odin Stone, a tall monolith, its whiteness glowing in the dark cave like a candle trying to burn brightly. Seaweed draped it like an ancient curtain and barnacles, tiny sea jewels, had attached themselves to it as if to adorn it. Bella approached the ancient rock, sweeping off the seaweed and feeling its freezing coldness with her hands. There was the hole in its centre; the natural gap which caused it to be so celebrated among the land folk and the trolls. If Bella had not been underwater she would have shed a tear of joy at finally reaching it.
Wasting no time, the woman had taken a large seashell and was cutting through the twisted cords of seaweed which bound it to the wall. Bella reached down for the diving knife that Edward had strapped to her leg. She unsheathed it and began sawing through the ropes the selkies had made years before to attach the stone to the wall of this small cave and keep it hidden from their enemies. Strand by strand, the hold on the stone loosened and it began to tremble as it started to become detached from its fixings. Bella began to worry that the stone would fall on top of them – or worse, crash to the ground and lie like a shipwreck, immobile on the cave floor, making a bed for itself among the sand and shells. But Edward's words came back to her. "We hae put a peerie spell on it. It will be light enough for ye tae carry, so long as ye di'na let the sunlight reach it."
At that moment the stone was wrenched free from its hold. It wavered in the waves and then seemed to float, as if it were balsa wood or a child's bath toy, refusing to be weighed down by the pull of the water. Bella touched it. It felt solid and cold – so cold – but it was light. There was no heaviness, no impossible drag for her to fight against. As she marvelled at this magic, she realised that the stone was moving. The sea woman had slipped the rope looped around the stone's opening over her head and she was towing it out of the cave, through the narrow tunnel, and into the larger cave. Bella had no option but to swim after her and pray that this was not going to end with the stone disappearing out of her sight, a white flash in the distance with the stranger leaving Bella behind. But no, they exited the cave and entered again the water at the edge of the island, the rocks of Sule Skerry at the back of them, the way home in front of them.
The sea woman paused and waited for Bella to catch up. Then they were face to face, serene green eyes staring into brown questioning ones. The sea creature grasped Bella's arm and squeezed it gently. Clarity came quickly, like a sudden glimpse of a hidden room full of treasures. With a jolt, Bella was filled with an understanding. There was nothing for her to fear. As if she had been infused with a calming enchantment, she knew now that the Odin Stone was going home to the trolls and the fate of Alice and Rose was assured. Nothing was going to stop her.
The sea woman lifted the rope of seaweed, as soft and slippery as warm leather, from across her torso and hooked it over Bella's head and under one arm. Bella realised she would be on her own now, and the responsibility felt heavy and daunting. How to thank her though, this stranger who had guided her without a word or need of an explanation? Before Bella could ponder this more, she was gone. There was a shimmer of diaphanous silk and she was metres away. She turned once, her curls swimming around her china-white face with its tranquil smile, and then she vanished in the distance. Bella was alone again.
She swam, her energy never flagging. The stone stayed behind her, content to be towed along in her path as they danced a delicate allemande through the water.
Fish seemed to trail in her wake like the ribbons of a kite, flying through the water, dancing in the current they created. The colours changed again, so many shades of blue and green that Bella had never seen before. She tried to snap them into her memory, but they were quick and elusive. She did not hear her heart pounding in fear and apprehension now, but rather in excitement. There was certainty in every stroke she made through the water. The beach was straight ahead and the stone was on its way to land.
Bella had loved the sea before, loved the shock of salty, freezing water and the invigoration of its brutal terms. The sea was in charge, always, bending its will for no one. When it claimed Jacob for its own, Bella was left alone. Jacob had gambled with the ocean's rules, and lost. There was no more need to jump from the high cliffs into the foam and rage of the waves, no allure any longer for the sting of salt on her skin or a breathtaking punch to her body as she flew through the air and impacted with the moving wall of water. But now, the sea and Bella were reconciled. The damage done by that day many years before was gone, kissed better by this journey under the wall, through the pavonine playground she was now privy to.
The water began to feel different. A slight change in temperature perhaps, or a different hue to her surroundings, but Bella felt sure she was coming nearer to her destination. Edward's warning that she should not let the stone see sunlight was foremost in her mind as she considered allowing her head to briefly surface, to gauge where she was. But she pushed on, keeping away from the water's surface. This was her underwater sojourn, and she felt she should protect the stone and herself from the light and the world above. There was a task to be completed and Bella wanted it to be done right. And she didn't want to leave the sea, didn't want to step out and leave behind the world she was desperate to stay in for a while longer.
On and on she swam.
Tiny fish flitted past her, keeping her company, showing her the way ahead.
Seaweed tickled her legs and Bella felt sure she would feel the wet sand under her feet if she drew herself upright.
Suddenly her ears focussed themselves. Edward was near. He was calling her. Heart pounding, emotions conflicting, her instinct for him took over and she broke the surface.
Feeling the air on her skin, she gasped. Letting herself breathe oxygen into her lungs with a ragged pull, she left her ocean paradise and rejoined the world of the land folk.
She had not been wrong. There was Edward, wading toward her, his broad shoulders and powerful torso illuminated by the early morning sun. She could only stand and stare as he raced toward her. And then unexpectedly he was gone again and she was underwater, yanked downwards. The spell was broken; the stone regained its true weight and it was sinking, taking her with it.
There was no panic. Bella let herself land on the seabed under the waves, and she waited. There was no need to breathe, no requirement for oxygen and no surprise that this was the case. But the rope of weeds began to strain and cut into her sharply; she reached to pull it from her, and suddenly Edward was there, his hands grasping the bindings and finishing the job. Then she was out, out the water, away from the Odin Stone, returned to Edward.
"Bella," he told her. "Ye did it, ye precious lass."
Peter, Garrett, and Eleazar were lifting the stone from the water and pulling it toward land. Bella watched as they struggled with the weight of it, marvelling that she had brought it safely from the cave.
"I did it," she repeated, letting relief flood her. Alice and Rose would be saved. It had all been worth it.
Edward kissed her and she felt as if every drop of water on her skin was surely evaporated with the rush of heat that surged through her. Her knees buckled as a moment of dizziness suddenly overwhelmed her. But nothing detracted from her feeling of triumph, and with Edward's arm around her waist, they walked back to the beach to gaze upon her prize.
Their companions had manoeuvred the stone to dry land and were standing around it. They were alternating their admiring glances between Bella and the stone that had been so long hidden from all.
"Ye did well, Bella," said Peter as Edward and Bella joined them.
"And fast tae," added Garrett. "We never expected ye tae make such guid time."
"I had help," announced Bella, who was certain that the sea woman had been an undisclosed part of their plan, for some reason.
"Wha' dae ye mean, ye had help?" said Edward. All four men were stock-still, waiting for her explanation.
Bella began to feel apprehensive and less sure of her conviction. "I had help…from a woman, a woman in the sea. She swam with me, helped me find the stone, pointed me in the right direction to get home. I thought she was one of you perhaps?" Her voice suddenly felt very small.
The men were looking at each other with strangely disconcerted expressions. Suddenly Eleazar lifted one of Bella's hands into the light. He seemed to be examining it for something.
"Ha!" he exclaimed, releasing her hand. "I do believe she has the selkie blood in her."
Bella stared at Edward in disbelief. He looked back at her.
"Of course," he said as if something important was becoming clear. "Ye have relatives here, aye? Ye hae family history here?"
"Yes," she replied hesitantly. "What does this mean? Who was it who helped me?"
"The Mither o' the Sea," answered Edward and he gripped her hand tightly in excitement. The rest of the small group nodded.
"The who?" she asked.
Eleazar took over with an explanation. "The Mither o' the Sea is a guardian, the protector of the summer sea. She battles with her rival, Teran, and confines him to the bottom of the sea for her half of the year. Then she warms the waters and brings growth and life to every living thing. When winter comes, Teran has his revenge, sending rages and bitter cold to the waves. But every year, she takes her summer residence here, mother to all in the sea. She was helping ye Bella, because this is her kingdom, and just as she hears the cries of every drowning man, she must have known your mission."
"Have you ever seen her?" Bella asked Eleazar, who shook his head. Then each of the other men shook their heads also. "Why me? Why would she help me like this?"
"Tis a gift fae her, Bella. Di'na question it," said Edward, bringing her hand to his lips and kissing it. Bella swallowed hard but could not dismiss the look of confusion from her face.
Eleazar laughed gently. "There is nae mistake, lass. Ye hae selkie blood in ye, many generations ago mayhap, but it is there. The Mither recognised ye as one of her own."
Peter and Garrett were looking at Bella with a new admiration. "D'ye ken whit this means, Edward?" one of them ventured.
"Aye," he replied. "I'm a blind fool for nae seeing it afore."
They shook their heads in unison. "No, ye daft gumf. Bella is one of our ain. She can swim again. She can travel to Finfolkaheem."
The sun chose that moment to break over the horizon and the landscape was suddenly filled with golden light. There was silence until a pair of fulmars flew overhead and called a morning greeting to the party on the beach, standing motionless as they allowed the news to sink in. A passerby would have wondered at the oddness of it all, especially as the three men began to lug an enormous white stone with a curious hole in its centre toward higher ground, and a young woman dragged a tall man to the water's edge before diving under the foam.
"It wasn't the only time I can survive under the sea!" she announced as if she needed to say it aloud to both of them for it to be real. "I need to swim again. Take me to Finfolkaheem?"
Edward hesitated, still in shock. "No Bella, ye need to rest, I am takin' nae mair chances the day."
Bella advanced further into the water as he spoke. "Come on then. Let's go home and we can… rest."
She winked at him before disappearing under the waves. Edward laughed to himself, relieved this long night was over and that Alice and Rose would soon be released. He was immensely proud of Bella's determination and her success in returning the stone. The realisation that she was still free to swim under the sea and could travel to Finfolkaheem with him whenever she liked, allowing them the best of both worlds, filled him with happy elation. He dived under the sea and found her there, waiting for him. She kissed him, her hair billowing around her like streamers, her eyes vibrant with happiness. Then, hands linked together, they swam toward Bella's beach where the small white croft with the orange tiled roof waited for them to return.
The chapter title comes from an adaptation of the first line of Sea Fever by John Masefield. I like to think Bella could relate to these lines
"I must go down to the seas again, for the call of the running tide
Is a wild call and a clear call that may not be denied"
peerie - small
ain - own
guid - good
gumf – fool
mair – more
It was said that children of the selkies had a small webbing between the fingers, which is why Eleazar examined her hands. (In this instance Bella does not have it.) In case you are wondering, Bella's selkie ancestor is Alistair.
Short epilogue to follow in a few days. I am also going to post the outtakes, including a chapter about Edward asking for permission to use the Odin Stone as a bartering tool, which was written for the No Kid Hungry fundraiser.