I was dreaming. I could see shore stretching before me above of the water like the belly of some great beast that had rolled onto its back, its skin hard and glittering in the pale morning light. The air had the tang of salt and storm. I ducked my head back under the water. I blinked and the subtler world of the Sea came into focus. Everything was tinted green. Fish flickered past like little darts crafted from hardened stars, and I stretched languorously, feeling the invisible wakes they carved in the water brush up against my skin.
The dream shifted and I was on the diamond shore, struggling to free my bare feet from the brindle velvet that clung to them. It was warm and dripped like liquid, though it was dry and slightly sticky, light as satin. My tangled hair was stuck to my cheeks in damp strands, smelling like seawater and lightning. I peeled off the velvet and left it in a crumpled puddle beneath a pitted rock. I stepped back and looked up. The rock was studded with barnacles and dry seaweed, shaped like a fist with the little finger pointing up.
"Farewell," I whispered to the wind. Whether I was speaking to the others still gliding gracefully beneath the waves or to my discarded skin, I didn't know.
I woke up with a sense of longing and confusion I had become used to. The sea dream always left me feeling lost, as if I belonged somewhere else, to a different time or different world. It was almost as if the dream was attached to a ribbon and the being who held the other end of it was drawing it in, winding it around an invisible spool and chanting for me to come home.
I could nearly hear it, that voice. A lilting whisper, as if the Sea could speak.
"Come home, Aisling. Come home, little one, beautiful one."
I shook my head to clear it, the dusty cobwebs of sleep melting away as I breathed in the mountain air that was leaking through my curtains.
I'd never been to the Sea, not in this life. I'd imagined it many times, yes, the waves rolling smoothly into the edges of my daydreams, the imaginary gulls coasting above my head and crying out in silent voices. But I was a maiden of the mountains, pale-faced and dark-eyed, thin-wristed and sharp-shouldered. I tended the sheep, gathered wild leeks, spun wool. I ran through the fields, and stood still when it rained.
My father used to tell me I was too young for dreams.
"You don't want the Sea," he'd say. "You don't need the Sea."
"But the Sea wants me," I would say.
Now he told me I was too old for dreams. I was too busy.
I knew I didn't belong here in the mountains. I knew there was something more, something out there waiting for me. A different life, a secret that had been kept from me.
I was laying in the field, the wide green blades of grass surrounding me so still they seemed painted on the pearly sky. The sheep were grazing nearby; I could hear a lamb bleating for its mother to make the world stop spinning, the night stop coming. I listened to the sigh of the breeze and the whispers of the earth. I almost heard words.
"Aisling, you've misplaced your skin."
I closed my eyes, picturing the beaten sand and relentless waves.
"The shores of Tir Na Nog."
I rolled over.
"Aisling, little one, we are coming for you."
A drop of rain hit my face. I sat up. The clouds were melting, cold rain dripping down and turning the field to glittering grass.
I saw a flicker out of the corner of my eye, as if something darted by and then vanished. Another flicker, up high and to my left. Every time I looked, though, there was nothing there. I shrugged. I'd been seeing these little flickers all my life, and never managed to catch a glimpse of whatever it was that disturbed my vision. Perhaps it was just raindrops, or bending grass. The little movements only appeared with the rain, and faded when the sun broke through.
I stood still when it rained. And I watched.
Lately there had been more flickers than before.