Daughter of the Sea
by Elisabeth J. Hobbes
Folklore, fairy tale, mythology
On a windswept British coastline the tide deposits an unexpected gift…
It was the cry that she first noticed, the plaintive wail that called to her over the crash of winter waves. Wrapped only in a sealskin, the baby girl looks up at Effie and instantly captures her heart. She meant only to temporarily foster the young orphan but when news reaches Effie that her husband has been lost at sea, and months pass without anyone claiming the infant, she embraces her new family – her son Jack and her adopted daughter Morna.
Effie has always been an outcast in her village, the only granddaughter of a woman people whisper is a witch, so she’s used to a solitary existence. But when Midsummer arrives so too does a man claiming to be Morna’s father. There’s no denying Lachlan is the girl’s kin and so Effie is surprised when he asks her to continue looking after his daughter, mysteriously refusing to explain why. She agrees, but when he returns six months hence she pushes him for answers. And Lachlan tells a story she never anticipated … one of selkies, legend, and the power of the sea…
Effie Cropton finds a baby girl floating on the sea off the Yorkshire coast. No one comes forward to claim the child so Effie decides to foster her. A year to the day, a stranger arrives at her door, claiming to be the baby’s father.
Lachlan was standing in the centre of the room and looking about him with interest. Effie lifted her chin and stared at him. His clothes were good quality, for all that they were plain. Maybe he was used to grander surroundings than a two-room cottage. Effie’s furniture might be old, the crockery mismatched and the rug shabby, but the house was clean and neat. He would find nothing to criticise.
“Do you live here alone?” he asked.
There was curiosity in his voice rather than judgement.
“With my son. And your daughter,” Effie added.
“Where is your son’s father?. Do you have a husband?”
Effie gestured to the black skirt she wore.
“My husband drowned in a shipwreck. Almost a year to the day.”
She blinked as grief welled up, fresh and raw.
Lachlan’s eyes narrowed then filled with sympathy. “In foreign parts? He travelled far?”
An odd question but Effie answered it anyway.
“No, barely out of harbour from Whitby.”
“Ah. My condolences. My wife also…”
Lachlan tailed off and his face creased with visible evidence of deep sorrow.
Effie recalled Walter’s report of a crack in the hull of the Serenity cause by some large object. The vessel carrying the child and her mother must have been in the same vicinity for the basket to float towards Allendale Head. Perhaps both ships had fallen foul of whatever it had been.
“I’m sorry,” she murmured. “I never understood how the babe came to be in the sea. Would you like some tea?”
Lachlan lifted his chin. “Thank you, but no. I am already under enough obligation to you for what you have done for my child.”
“It’s only tea. There is no obligation,” Effie said. “You just looked cold.”
She glanced at the seal fur that was draped over one arm. It matched the one in which she had found the girl wrapped and wondered where they had got them. Perhaps he was a seal hunter.
“Your daughter had a fur like that,” she said.
“Had?”. He leaned forward urgently. “What happened to it?”
“Nothing. I kept it safe,” Effie answered, slightly taken aback at the alarm in his voice.
“Good.”. He pulled a stool back and sat at the table, resting his hands together on the edge.
“Mrs Cropton, we have a predicament. You have nursed my child and looked after her. You took her in and gave her your milk. You have cared for her for a year and she calls you mother.”
He rubbed his eyes with his fingers. They were long and slender and looked as if they had never seen hard labour. He gave Effie a wry smile.
“You have as much claim to her as I do.”
“I’m sorry,” Effie repeated. “I did what I thought was best.”
“And you did it well. You love her, don’t you.”
Lachlan exhaled loud and long.
“You had no understanding of the bonds you were weaving or the obligations you have created but I cannot take her from you. If I leave her, will you continue to care for her as you have done?”
Effie hid her elation. “Of course I will.”
“What have you named her?”
Effie felt a blush rising to her cheeks. She’d been defensive and accusatory, but now had to admit that a year had passed without her naming Lachlan’s daughter.
“Nothing seemed to suit her,” she admitted.
Lachlan didn’t seem angry at this but his shoulders tensed. “Then you have not had her baptised, I assume?”
“No.”. Effie met his eyes boldly, staring into the inscrutable depths. If he condemned her for this he would not be the first. “I’m not a churchgoer myself and it didn’t seem right without knowing who she belonged to.”
“That is well. My people are also not of that faith. I would not have another barricade set between us.” He gestured to the fur around his shoulders. “Where is her skin? I would like to see it before I leave.”
It was an odd request. Effie narrowed her eyes suspiciously, wondering if he planned to make off with but the fur was small so couldn’t be particularly valuable. The basket was where she had left it a year ago on top of the wardrobe in the bedroom. It had continued to disintegrate and was now little more than a pile of loosely woven stalks and reeds. By the light from the open door she stood on tiptoe and pulled it down, trying to keep silent so as not to wake the children.
She placed the remains of the basket on the kitchen table and unfolded the fur. Dust filled the air. Lachlan ran his hand over the soft pelt and closed his eyes. Effie remembered the softness and how it had felt warm under her palm even when cold and damp. She stroked the edge with her fingertip. In the bedroom, the girl stirred and whimpered softly as if she were dreaming.
Lachlan looked round at the sound. He crept to the cot and held his hand out over the sleeping children then withdrew it slowly. He bowed his head. Effie left the room, not wanting to intrude.
When Lachlan emerged he walked to Effie and tilted her chin back. His hands were so cold the shock of it almost outweighed the surprise of being touched by a stranger. He regarded her seriously and she suddenly felt very young.
“Effie Cropton, will you keep my child safe?”
She nodded. “I will.”
Lachlan took her right hand. He pressed something cool and hard into her palm and curled her fingers round it. Effie opened her hand to discover a large pearl. She blinked in surprise. It must be worth double the sum she received from the Poor Committee each quarter year.
“We have a compact, you and I,” he said. “I will return at Midsummer’s Night on the turn of the tide and I’ll bring you another pearl in payment.”
Lachlan paused at the door and looked back at Effie, dark eyes flashing.
“Her name is Morna.”
Effie clutched the pearl and watched as he slipped away. He headed away from the village, along the beach towards the brig. The moonlight followed him but when the shore curved away the shadows claimed him and he was lost from sight.
Author Bio –
Elisabeth’s writing career began when she finished in third place in Harlequin’s So You Think You Can Write contest in 2013. She was offered a two-book contract and consequently had to admit secret writing was why the house was such a tip. She is the author of numerous historical romances with Harlequin Mills & Boon covering the Medieval period to Victorian England, and a Second World War romantic historical with One More Chapter. She lives in Cheshire because the car broke down there in 1999 and she never left.
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