The First Visit
Áine waited two days before making her way to the surface. She developed a plan to circumvent the restrictions the salmon had placed on her. She had been told that she would only see her parents twice more, but she had not been told for how long.
When she returned to the surface, she looked east and saw the beach with the cave where she had found the note. She ducked under the water and made her way toward it. The hole that led into the cave was not hard to find, but it was clear that it would have been far too deep for her to ever reach it if she was not a Marrow.
She surfaced inside the cave and took off her hat, immediately transforming back into a young woman with a long red robe. She quickly exited the cave, stopping for a moment to remember what seemed like a lifetime ago — playing on the beach and swimming with her parents — before making her way to the shore and back home.
When she saw her house rising over the road, she forgot that her parents no longer remembered her, and she began to run as hard as she could. As she approached, she saw her father walking toward the house. She ran to him and threw her arms around him, nearly knocking him over.
“Whoah, child,” he said with a familiar chuckle. She pulled back and looked at his face longingly. His face held no such love. There was kindness, but there was no recognition, no elation for the return of a lost child.
“And whose might you be?” The reality struck her again. Her knees nearly buckled as she fought back the urge to fall on her face and cry. She knew this would happen. She had accepted it before, and she needed to accept it again. All that mattered was that she was here with her parents again, and she had a plan to stay here for a long time.
She pulled a letter out of her robe and gave it to him. It was of the same paper that her invitation had been written on, but he did not seem to notice the strangeness. On the paper it read:
My dearest cousin, William
It has been a long time since we met, I know, and you probably do not remember me. Your father’s sister, Elva, is my mother. I have come into much trouble and am no longer able to provide for my daughter, Áine. You are my closest relative, and I pray that you can take care of her until I am able to come collect her again. She is not accustomed to hard work, but I am sure that she can be trained and be of use to you.
All my love, Your cousin, Alayna
P.S. I have sent a hat along with her. This hat is important to my family, and I would ask that you take it and keep it somewhere safe.
He looked the paper over a couple of times then turned his face back to the child, took a deep breath and smiled.
“Well, it looks like you are staying with us for a while. Come on in the house and get washed up for supper.” He reached down to take the hat from her and turned toward the house.
As she followed him to the house, she looked out over the fields and hills to the East. They seemed so much more beautiful, under the fading light of the setting sun, than she had ever remembered.
She stayed with her parents, and they treated her like she was their own. They did not remember any of the years that she cherished with them, but it felt to her almost as though she had never left. Many times she forgot and brought up memories that only she held, frustrated at their refusal that such things ever happened. She was periodically reminded of her deceit when they would discuss her fake mother’s return or ask questions about her early childhood. She had to come up with a more elaborate history for herself than she had originally imagined.
From time to time, her father would write letters to his cousin, and Áine was quick to intercept them, offering to take responsibility for sending them along and writing responses which would arrive a few weeks later. This life went on for more than two years, and she had long ago decided that it would likely go on for many more. But on her sixteenth birthday, she heard the call of the sea.
She had heard the call many times before, but it was faint and she was good at ignoring it. Now, it rang loud in her heart. Once again, she began to feel the longing to return. Trips to the beach gave temporary relief, but she feared they may have intensified the longing she felt while she was away.
Within six months, she could feel nothing but a constant sorrow gripping at her. She barely ate, and she spent most of her time staring into the vast ocean or daydreaming. Her father, understanding that she was missing home, wrote another letter beseeching her mother to come take her back home. This was her opportunity to return. She did not want to leave her parents again, knowing that she would only be able to see them one more time, but her longing for the sea had far outgrown any other.
She did not wait long before delivering a note that she was to head back home. Her father gave her cap back, and she said goodbye to her parents. They offered to take her, but she refused, insisting on going by herself. As she crossed over a hill where she was sure they could no longer see her, she ran straight toward the edge of the land and jumped into the sea.