A man with a tablet walked up to my desk in the county clerk’s office and said, “I’d like to apply for a marriage license.”
“That so?” I asked. “Are you aware that both parties need to be present to fill out the paperwork?”
“Aye,” the man said, but he sat down in one of the chairs anyway and turned his tablet on. “Thing is, sir,” he said as he opened a video chat app, “much as she’d like to be here in person, my betrothed simply cannot make the trip here. Too far inland.” He checked my nameplate as the app connected to the person on the other end, and once the connection was made he turned the tablet so I could see the screen and said, “Mr. McDuft, meet Saoirse. Saoirse, Mr. McDuft is the county clerk for marriage lisences.”
“Hello Mr. McDuft,” said the fair, brown-haired woman in the video chat window.
“Good day,” I said evenly. I looked up at the man as I asked, “So why, exactly, can Saoirse not be here in person, Mister…?”
“Oh, Conor Llewellyn,” he answered, offering his hand with a sheepish expression. I shook his hand and then gave them both an expectant look.
Saorise was the one to answer my question. “I can’t travel too far from the sea, sir,” she said. “Bad for my health. You see, I’m a Selch.” She turned slightly to show me the grey cape of sealskin she was wearing.
“Ah, I see,” I said, leaning back in my chair. “We do try our best to be accommodating here, Mr. Llewellyn. If you’d just called the county office and explained, we’d have sent someone out to handle all the paperwork in your home, saving you the trip.”
“I tried to tell you, Conor,” Saorise said with a giggle. Conor blushed and turned the tablet to look at his fiance.
“Ok, you were right, I’m sorry,” he said. He looked back up at me and asked, “So, when can you send someone out then?”
I checked my calendar to make sure I had no appointments, then pulled out a marriage license form and placed it and a pen in front of Mr. Llewellyn. “Go ahead and fill out your address on here and I’ll be along shortly.”
“Thank you, sir!” the young man exclaimed, nearly dropping his tablet as he grabbed the pen. He wrote quickly, then jumped up and all but ran out of the office, clearly eager to go home to his Selch girl. I smiled at his youthful exuberance as I turned to the bookshelf to my right and looked for the binder containing the regulations on human-Selch marriage. I hadn’t needed to issue a license for one in quite some time, and I wanted to refresh my memory before meeting with the couple.
Selches weren’t particularly common, but they appeared with enough regularity for the government to feel the necessity of codifying the rules of human-Selch relations and relying on justices of the peace and clerks like myself to ensure that the men understood what they were getting into in order to avoid trouble down the line.
There is a long-standing debate of whether the Selch are full Fey or just Mythics (the mortal descendants of ancient Fey). It did not help matters that unmarried Selches were impossible to track when they went beneath the waves and the whole species was completely close-lipped about whatever kind of seal society they had under the sea. Despite the mystery surrounding them, there was no doubt that the Selch need for human males in order to breed benefitted the men in more or less equal measure. Once properly married off, a Selch always bore at least two children. The first child would be a human boy to continue the father’s bloodline, the second would be a Selch, and if there were any more children it was coin-flip whether they’d be a boy or Selch. Selches were perfectly loyal to their husbands, but they were tied to the sea by more powerful bonds; once a Selch’s youngest daughter turned seven, the mother and daughters had to leave their family and return to the sea. As far as the census bureau could tell, a Selch-wife never returned after that separation, but the girls often tried to find husbands of their own near where their father or brothers lived. In any event, any man who’d been married to or borne by a Selch had incredible luck with any job associated with the sea for their entire lives. At least a third of the country’s fishing industry was due to Selch-blessed families.
Not every man or boy understood or accepted the inevitability of losing their Selch-wife or -mother to the sea, and that’s where people like me came in. It was my responsibility to grant Selch marriage licenses only to those men who I was convinced fully understood and accepted the conditions with a sound mind. Selch blessings could easily change to curses if a man tried to prevent a Selch from returning to the sea at the appointed time or forced them to travel away from the coast unnecessarily. Conor Llewellyn didn’t strike me as the sort to abuse anyone, Selch or human, but he was a young man obviously prone to acting impulsively, so I had to make sure he knew what he was getting into.
The address Conor had given me took me to a large cottage not too far from the fishermen’s docks and just a short walk from a sheltered beach. That spoke well for his and Saoirse’s situation. Saoirse answered the door when I knocked, and as she escorted me to the kitchen I noticed recent pictures of the couple already hung on the wall. After Saoirse sat me down at the table and Conor handed me a cup of tea, the two sat down next to each other across from me, holding each other’s hand in automatic, comfortable intimacy.
I drank my tea and made polite conversation, which proved my hunch about them, and then brought out my binder and the license form. “I have no reason to doubt the attraction you two feel for one another,” I said. “In fact, I think this application and what comes after will just be a necessary formality.”
“Yes,” Saoirse said, hugging Conor’s arm, “but it is necessary. I love Conor deeply, but we must be legally and lawfully wed before we can enjoy the fruits of that love.”
“That’s all good,” I said, giving Conor a serious look, “but before we proceed, I must be sure you understand what you’re signing up for, Mr. Llewellyn.”
“Oh, I do, sir,” Conor said, matching my tone. “I probably know more about Selch-wives than you do. See, my best friend’s dad married a Selch, and Saoirse here is that friend’s little sister; we grew up together, and I remember how sad everyone was when she and her mum had to go away when she was seven.” He gave the Selch a loving smile, and the pair looked into each other’s eyes as he continued, “but Saoirse promised she’d come back to visit, and sure enough a couple months ago she caught herself in her brother’s fishing net on purpose.”
Saoirse picked up the tale. “Dear Ben wasn’t too pleased with me messing up his net like that, but he was too happy to see me again to stay mad for long. I thought he was having a bit of fun with me when I asked him about eligible bachelors and he pointed me to Conor, but when the two of us saw each other again after so long, it was love at first sight.”
I sensed trouble. “So, childhood sweethearts, then?” I asked, leaning forward. “And you don’t foresee any trouble giving that up in, say, ten years or so? That’s the hardest part about marrying a Selch, Conor.”
They both looked at me with determination in their eyes. “I told you,” Conor said, “I’ve lived through that once already. I know Saoirse can’t stay with me forever, nor the daughter she’s going to have, and I’m willing to accept that. I’ll still have memories, pictures, videos, and a son to share them with.” Saoirse nodded.
“All right then,” I said, giving in with a smile. “I see no reason to doubt either of you. Let’s just get this paperwork out of the way, shall we?” I turned the license form around and slid it across the table to them.