The cliffside rose thirty meters above the sea at high tide. The waves crashed against the rocks below and Áine stood along the edge. After six years of coming out here to the edge, she had become familiar with the winds and the shape of the ground. Any fear that may have once held her back was long since replaced with the certainty that came from an intimate bond with the world around her.
She stood on the ledge, her toes hanging over, dangling in the air, her arms held out to her sides. With her eyes closed and a strong wind blowing rain into her face, she imagined falling to the waters below. She was a bird, and the sea was her sky. She could plunge to unfathomable depths then return to the surface and leap into the air, only to be cradled once more in the loving embrace of the waves.
She leaned back and fell into the grass, blissfully unaware of the world around her, entranced in her own imagination. Then she heard it.
“Áine!” Was the sea calling her name? Had it finally heard her prayer and come to take her to Tír Fo Thuinn?
“Áine!” She opened her eyes to see a woman standing over her. It wasn’t the sea or a beautiful Merrow. It was only her mother, her hands on her hips, clearly annoyed.
“I am sorry, Máthair.”
“I know, Iníon. You shouldn’t be so close to the edge. One change of wind, and you could fall.”
“If I fall, the sea will catch me. Besides, I know these winds like a sister. They would never betray me.”
Her mother shook her head. “Come. Supper is ready, and then to bed.”
The next day was Áine’s thirteenth birthday. The morning was met with a small feast followed by opening gifts from her parents. For the afternoon, a trip to the beach. The water was cold, but that did nothing to prevent her from enjoying the waves as they crashed up against her. She swam for a while, imagining as always that she was a Merrow out on the open sea, free to explore the world without fear of the storms or sea monsters.
After a short time, she looked to the beach to see her parents both fast asleep. She made her way out of the water, moving at an angle that would put her directly in front of the cave where she had seen the woman two years ago. She had returned to this cave a few times — once, she even left a note which was gone the next time she visited — but she had seen no real signs that another Merrow had come through, and her note remained unanswered.
As she made her way into the cave, she could see that it was, as usual, unoccupied. She sat on the ground near the pool of water and hummed a tune. It was a song that she had heard once about a sailor who fell in love out at sea. She did not know the words, but she imagined someone had heard the tune being sung by a Merrow and fallen in love with her. Finally, she jumped in the pool and swam to the other side.
The pool was deep, far too deep to stand in. In fact, she had never even been able to swim to the bottom. She could not hold her breath for long, which was the only thing about herself that made her feel like a failure as a would-be Marrow. She had tried many times to find the place where the hole led back out of the cave and into the ocean. By this point, she had begun to imagine it as a mysterious portal. Perhaps it led directly to Tír Fo Thuinn.
She pushed down under the water, releasing and kicking to prevent herself from floating mercilessly back up to the top. It was only a matter of seconds before she started to feel the pain in her chest. She kept pushing, further and further down. She had never been down this far before but there was still no sign of the hole she was searching for. All around her was black as pitch. There was no use, she had to get back up to the surface. She kicked her feet and flung her arms wildly, and just as she felt like she might not make it to the top this time, she surfaced.
Exhausted, she made her way back to the edge and pulled herself out of the water, stretching out over the dirt, unwilling to move another muscle. She turned her head to the right and saw something in a corner of the cave. What was it? It definitely was not a rock. As she focused a little harder, her heart sunk. It was her letter. Any hope she had that some Marrow had taken it into the sea was gone.
She sat up and moved over to retrieve it. If they did not want her, perhaps she did not want them either. As she picked it up and began looking over it, though, she realized this was not her letter. The look and feel of the paper were unlike anything she had seen before. It was firm, but soft to the touch, and it had lines running diagonally across it, each spaced about five centimeters apart. The lines resembled the bones running through a fish’s fins.
When she opened the letter, in a shining blue and purple ink, she read:
My dearest child who dreams of the sea
Longing to live where she can be free
I grant you this one chance to change your course
To start a new life on Tír Fo Thuinn’s shores
From the place where you saw my wandering child
On the rock in the sea that set your heart wild
When the tide is high and the stars above dance
On this night I will give but a single chance
When the arms of the sea are stretched before
Waiting to hold you close once more
Faith will carry you to her heart
And from her love you will never part
But be warned that you leave your world above
Everything that you have, everything that you love
For once you accept my gift to be free
Your first love will evermore be the sea