Eion had been a young lad when he decided to catch himself a merrow-wife, down near the sea. At dawn, he stood, ankle-deep in the tide, with a fishnet in hand—and cast it three times out.
“It shall be like my father said,” Eion thought to himself, “I shall catch myself a wife and relieve her of the red cap upon her head and the sealskin about her shoulders so that she cannot help but be mine.”
The first time the fishnet was reeled back, it was empty, aside from the trash that littered the sea. When he tossed it a second, all that was caught in it were the few slippery spasms of fish, and several shells tangled up. Eion cast it out a third and gripped the fishnet in hand—for it weighed heavily.
From the sea, he dragged the maiden, which was spasming as the fish.
“What is it you want from me?” The sidhe asked once she could not free herself from the fishnet.
“You are to be my wife,” Eion told her, as he brought out a knife in which he gutted fish and cut the merrow from the seams, “You are to share with me, your wealth of the sea, and I will give you two sons.”
When the sidhe had been cut free, Eion took from her head—the red feather sewn cap. From her shoulders, he removed the sealskin. Once he had stolen these from her, the sidhe wept.
“Am I never to be given such things back?” She asked.
Eion said, “When I am old and burdened with age, I shall give them to you.”
Then he took the merrow up with him to his house upon the hill, where he hid the red cap and the sealskin so she could not return to the sea and made her his wife.
“Is she not the most beautiful woman you have ever seen?” Eion asked as he gripped the merrow’s shoulders, dressed plainly now in cottons his mother had sewn together for clothes. It had been when she was young and poor, and though the garments were tarnished with holes from moths, the radiance of the woman that worn them outshone the shame of wearing such things.
Nolan, a drunk, leaned in close to admire the merrow, and said to Eion, “What a beautiful wife!”
Sailors and fishermen alike gathered around as Eion had taken her to the local pub. She was a head taller than most and smelt of sea salt, and her pouty lips and dewy eyes made for a sad expression.
From beside Nolan, Keegan sat, with hair red as fire.
“Where did you find her?” He asked as he held a mighty mug in his hand that was filled to the brim with ale that tasted no better than the sea.
“I caught her from the ocean,” Eion spoke.
Griffin, a blue-eyed boy, leaned forward, a bard and a minstrel and a story-teller at most, “Why—you speak to have drawn her up from Tir fo Thoinn—a land beneath the waves. They say the fairies that live there have no love or want for the men like us.”
“Love, no,” Eion agreed, and sat with the merrow upon his lap; “But the stories of the merrow-men range abhorred and ugly, and the want for children often bring them up from the sea.”
His bride was the talk of all the traders and merchants, this wife Eion had coaxed from the sea. Those who saw him helping her along the small pathway up to that lone house on the hill paused to watch, for she was unearthly and beautiful and he the darndest man there ever was.
“Can I not have my cap at least this once, so I may go and soak my legs in the sea?” The sidhe asked when she had been miserable—for her bones felt brittle, being gone so long from the tides and sand.
“I shall bring you up saltwater myself, and you shall soak your legs here,” Eion said, and the merrow watched as Eion hauled up buckets of water from the sea.
Three times he went down, and three times he went up, filling the tub to the brim with salt water. When Eion looked to her, she looked back and allowed a papery smile on her face.
“Thank you,” The sidhe said, though there was no joy.
She sat, with her legs in the water, and scrubbed the salt against her knees. It did not keep her feet from feeling like blisters upon the floorboards, nor the teeth in her gums from aching.
When Eion was out, she searched that little house, over and over again. Eion did not mind leaving her alone in the house, for he knew she would not find where he had shoved that red cap, or if she did, most certainly would not find the sealskin, which was hidden aside from those rosy feathers.
“We are to try for a son soon,” Eion said once, as they laid in bed together, where they both could listen to the tide come up.
“What if it is not a son,” The sidhe asked, “What if they are born a daughter.”
“They will not be,” Eion said, “If they are a daughter, you will most certainly not see your red cap again, and I will most certainly not give you back, your sealskin.”
Quiet was the merrow, as quiet as she was when the night came when Eion shifted on top of her. For a moon, they waited until the swell of her stomach confessed all they needed to know.
“We will name him Teague, for it means handsome, and he most certainly shall be,” Eion said, and kissed her stomach, and it was the only kindness and softness the merrow had known from him.
Teague had been born a handsome child and grew to be a strong and sturdy boy. Niall came after him, a second boy, as was promised, and he was just as handsome, if not more compassionate.
“I come from the sea,” The sidhe would read to them, collecting her two sons under her arms, “Where the tides come to and fro, and lead out to the oceans and shores of foreign lands.”
Teague was the first who decided when he became too old for fairytales.
The merrow watched bitterly, the more he became like Eion, and when it was time for him to take a wife, he matched his father’s cruelty, in that he found the quietest and docile woman and holed her up in a house somewhere—for her to give him sons. She may not have had a red cap or a sealskin fur to steal, but she soon did have an iron ring upon her finger, which was a prison enough.
Niall loved the stories his mother told of the sea; they walked to the sand and beach almost every day. He held her hand as she wept and collected the pearls that rolled from her cheeks.
“Why is it that your hair looks this way?” Niall asked once when braiding it, for it was more like seaweed than anything else, and the merrow had laughed,
“Because it is what helps me stick to the hull of a ship like barnacles, that I may sail with them against the tide.”
Niall was the one who would spend afternoons with his mother, looking for the secret red cap and the sealskin fur, “You mustn’t tell your father you’re helping me look for it. It’s a surprise. We can’t let him know if we ever are to find it.”
Eion had no interest in Niall, who was passive and sweet. He took Teague out with him on the fishing boats and taught him the trade; before he grew and became of age and left the house.
Niall married soon enough and held his mother as she cried.
“I won’t be far, just down the path,” He said, as the pearls from his mother’s cheeks hit the hardwood floor and rolled underneath cabinets and furniture to be swallowed up by cobwebs.
The merrow smiled miserably because she knew she would soon be alone again with her husband. Without the companionship of either of her sons to distract her from the call of the ocean,
“I know you will.” She touched his face, “You will be happy with Aileen, and she will make a good wife.”
Aileen indeed was fair and kind and had a love for the sea herself. She had stood out on the threshold, as Niall went and gathered his things, and they left together. She held his hand along the pathway, where they passed Teague, who was out fishing with their father—and his wife, Maureen, near the birth of their own first child.
“We shall see your mother often,” Aileen assured him, “She’s alone no more with your terrible father. You know he has gotten to be very sick and will pass soon.”
He did pass soon, for there came a stormy night when the family gathered at that little house upon the hill—that house, which was now dark and heavy with sickness.
Teague spoke a long while with his father and left first with his wife, and Aileen sat as Niall went to talk with him before he took off his hat and said to his mother,
“He’s asked for you.”
Never had the merrow felt such joy than she did when she stepped over the threshold into their bedroom and sat on the other side of Eion, who was worn with age.
“Will you tell me now, where my red cap is, and my sealskin, that you’ve hidden so long ago?”
Eion laughed, his lungs heavy, and he gripped his wife’s hand.
“Here I lay dying, and I am not surprised that is all you care to ask of me. I promised you when I died that I may tell you, and I shall tell you now, you shall never find them.”
The merrow stared, and tears gathered in her eyes again, that hardened into pearls,
“You cannot die and leave me here; my home is the sea.” She said, and Eion just patted the top of her hand, and he smelt as much of sea salt now as she did, from so many years of fishing.
How often the merrow thought to curse him, that he got out to be on that boat in the water, and she was forced to slave on land. It was she who belonged to the sea, and he upon the solid earth beneath her. How she had tried once to throw herself into the waves so that she could smack upon some craggy rock, but Niall had stopped her, running out, a small boy in his pajamas, to drag his sea-torn mother back home.
“Your home is here now, with our boys and our house, you need no more for the sea,” Eion said, and with another breath, laid down his head and spoke no more.
The merrow sat, haunted by the words that she would never find her red cap or her sealskin fur.
Niall had heard some of the words spoken and laid awake in his own house that night. They had gone with the undertaker to the cemetery to bury his coffin beneath the old grass and rocks of the church, near the hill. How his mother had stood there, in her tattered clothes, looking more like the banshees, with the tears that turned to pearls, falling from her eyes.
“I used to look with her,” He told Aileen, who was not yet asleep beside him; “For her red cap and sealskin fur. I believe my father told Teague once, where it was hidden, and he delighted in Eion’s cruelty of secrets—and I know he will not tell us either.”
“It is a pity,” Aileen agreed, “For you and your brother both to have your lives, yet your mother still remains with her stolen, hidden away somewhere.”
Niall laid awhile longer and thought of what his wife said. He knew his father to be a clever and cruel man, and Niall sat up suddenly when dawn was not that far gone.
“I bet you, he was buried with them,” Niall said, as Aileen turned over in the sheets to stare at him; “In his coffin, his deathbed. My mother had no love for him, she would never look there.”
So, from the bed, he rose, with Aileen climbing out of bed after him. He dressed in a cloak, and she pulled her own shawl over her shoulders, and out they went into the cold night, with her carrying a lantern, and he a shovel he used to pry up his father’s coffin.
When they opened it, they found the cold corpse of Eion clutching a red cap in one hand and a sealskin fur in another.
“It’s as you said,” Aileen whispered, and decided to spit upon the man; “You may have thought yourself clever, but not as clever as the kindness of your son.”
Dawn was there when Niall came to his father’s house upon the hill. He knocked three times when his mother answered, her and he could almost swear that the floorboards were covered in pearls.
“Come with me,” Niall said, and gripped his mother’s hand, as Aileen gripped his other, and they made the walk down to the sand and the sea.
Once there, Niall took the red cap and the sealskin fur from underneath his cloak, and his mother cried in surprised as her hand went over her mouth and her other went out to grab it,
“Where did you find it?” The sidhe asked.
“Eion buried himself with it, in hopes the land could swallow up the sea,” Niall said and watched as his mother placed the red cap upon her head, and how her hands trembled as she wrapped the sealskin fur about her shoulders and stared at her son with such softness.
“I thought there was no love to be had here,” The sidhe said, “But that was before I learned the love of a child. You have done what your father would not, you have given your mother her freedom.”
Niall wept, as his mother kissed his face, for he knew it was her turn to go, and he would not stop her, for he could not be like his father nor brother and carry on this cruelty.
Aileen still held his hand as his mother turned out towards the sea, and as the sun rose higher, the merrow stepped more in-depth into the water until the waves carried her home.
Angelina Chartrand is a student at Lindenwood University, pursuing a Bachelor of Arts Degree in English Studies with an emphasis in Creative Writing. Having developed a passion for writing ever since she was very young, Angelina has found a love and admiration of short stories to convey her creative ideas.