Braedan, 1872.

The sea called to him. Waves whispered in his ears soothingly. The water waited for him always, calming and safe. He only heard voices when the northern lights painted the sky, shimmering the veil between present and past. His ancestors waited in the deep, eternally peaceful. Immortally one in the House of the Stars with the other children of Dagon. Breadan shuddered. Eleven years old was far too young to hear the call. He fanned his tail in the air and lept off the cliff, briefly airborne above the crashing surf. Two selkies twisted in the air after him like acrobats competing for the best dive. Even though he was a fin folk and they were fur folk, Mother allowed them to play together under the watchful eyes of the seal pod. "Like a naked barbarian without a penny to his name," he heard two ladies in waiting gossip. It was true, he'd boasted proudly, surprising the older fae women. He swam just like the seals, as naked as a fish at high tide. He dove for clams in the off shore beds and ate them raw for lunch. One seal cousin even showed him the trick of bashing clams open on a rock. He picked shell bits off the tender, salty meat and ate every morsel. The three hunters entered the water with barely a splash, determined not to frighten away any tasty lobsters. Breadan loved eating clams, but would not pass up a lobster if he was lucky enough to catch one.

Erik and Magnus beat him to the clam bed and began biting at the stubborn mollusks. Their impressive jaws and pelts might already be turning the heads of seal girls, but Breadan had many advantages. He breathed water through concealed gills along his ribcage, and did not need fresh air from the surface. The selkie boys could only take a human form on the ninth day out of every ten, and walk about as a man. It was a dangerous adventure, so a young selkie's fur rarely left his back. Breadan's gills pumped as he worked clams loose. The heirloom titanium knife the Irish court sent for his birthday cut off clam after clam. He snatched the floating treats out of the water and secured them in a bit of fishing net tied around his waist.

Magnus rolled his round, brown eye and headed up, out of air but happy with his lunch. Erik waived his flipper and nodded toward the surface. Breadan knew they were expecting a share of his clams later as desert, so he picked a few more before sheathing his dagger. It wasn't new by any means, but it was new to him, and spelled to maintain it's sharp edge and shining finish. Learning it, knowing it well enough to fold it into the nothingness between here and there and pull it back out again. That was the first spell he wanted to learn. Until then, he sheathed it at his waist on a rope belt. Nobody said it, but he was sure the knife belonged to his late father. He wondered if Keenan had worn it's gold and platinum scabbard on a leather belt, dyed black to match his favorite boots. It certainly looked too fancy to be bouncing along next to a bag of clams, but it was the best knife Breadan had ever owned. He felt like a man now.

The small boy emerged from the water close to a thin strip of beach. He scrambled over the rocks, all knees and elbows, dressed only in his net, knife, and belt. His hair dripped in a sad mess on top of his head, cut short by his frustrated nurse who insisted that she needed more magic to comb it out properly. The only thing graceful about him was the points of his fae ears. Those ears heard more than the court ladies wanted him to hear, which is why one word was permanently banned from their vocabulary. Bastard. He might not remember when he heard it first, but he could not forget what it meant. He threw one clam to each of his friends, then started on his own meal. Tiny crabs crawled close to steal his scraps, but they cringed warily from the chewing seals.

An approaching horse and buggy distracted him from the dark turn of his thoughts. Braedan wasn't happy about his day out with friends coming to an end, but Magnus was pleased enough for both of them. He pointed his nose at the road before the spotted gelding came into view. It was a small two seater favored on an island where few people needed a larger carriage.

"Mom sent Valerian to fetch me." Poor Valerian, the ladies called her. She didn't look poor. She looked Irish, classically pale skinned and red haired. She wore a tailored wool jacket, cable knit sweater, and men's pants every time she went to the beach, even though she knew Braedan hated them. Nothing stupider than wearing wool on the beach, he thought. Too bad the water was so far away, or he might get to splash her for being a fin digger. Queen Deirdre told him not to call her that, even if it was true. What Valerian wanted most was a pair of normal human hands, and who could blame her for courting Magnus to get them?

Valerian was a human cousin to the fur folk. She was much too human to grow a pelt, but she had seal paws. That's what Orcadians called it when a child was born with webbed feet and hands. She hid them in the pockets of her men's clothing and walked like a sailor, trying to make her odd hands the last thing people noticed. If Valerian managed to mate Magnus, the ceremony would grant her the magic of transformation. To live fully seal, or become fully human, she would gain her own magical pelt. Where would that leave the Selkie, the undines wondered? Most human-seal marriages met with a sad end. Magnus might be willing to chance it based on her cooking alone. The feathers on her hat danced in the wind, but her pinned up hair never moved. The sight of her heavy canvas tote bag made Braedan's mouth water. Magnus bounced like a new born pup and wiggled his nose to make her open the bag. Cooked food was a real treat on the beach. Poor Magnus was so helpless against Val's scotch eggs that Braedan wondered if she spiked them with catnip.

"You look like a dog," Breadan muttered in fae. "If you keep balancing those on your nose, she'll put a lease on you." He stuck his tongue out at Valerian, who only spoke basic phrases. If he avoided actual curse words, there were a lot of insults he could still get away with. "Depren via pantalono."

Valerian fixed him with an amused glare. "Stop telling me to take off my pants. Met viaj vestoj sur. Her Majesty packed clothes and asked me to make sure you rode back with me. Dressed like a prince." She tossed another bag his way and returned to fussing over Magnus. If he didn't know better, he might think they were actually interested in each other. He made a face like he was trying not to puke and went to her buggy so he could change without getting sand from his feet all over the inside of the leggings and tunic Mom sent. Braedan sighed. Traditional court wear. He'd rather go naked, but at least it was in his favorite colors of black and silver. He looked like a renaissance painting. His casual birthday dinner just turned into a formal court feast with important out of town guests. Valerian got back to the buggy a minute later and pulled a small box from under the seat.

"Ha. Mom forgot the circlet and medallion," he hummed, checking the bag again just to be sure.

"No she didn't, your Highness. One runty little crown, just for you." Her smiled fondly at him and gave him the box.

"The day is graying up in a hurry."