I was asked if I could post the text to Ròn Beag (in addition to the audio featured in the previous post).
Turns out some people like to listen. Others like to read. Imagine that!
For all those who couldn’t understand my wild Scottish, faery tongue, you can now enjoy reading your own version aloud.
Together, we can keep the selkies and storytelling alive.
Ròn Beag is a modern fairytale set on the remote West Coast of Harris in the Outer Hebrides. Crabhadail beach, Hushinesh, to be exact. Events take place on Christmas Day.
If you are ever lucky enough to visit this magical place, look out for Ròn Beag and look out for Odhran’s tiny croft. Most importantly, if you meet her or her Selkie Sister, Lauren Lloyd…….
Walk through the world with care, my love
And sing the things you see
Let new names take and root and thrive and grow
And even as you stumble through machair sands eroding
Let the fern unfurl your grieving, let the heron still your breathing
Let the selkie swim you deeper, oh my little silver-seeker
Even as the hour grows bleaker, be the singer and the speaker
And in city and in forest, let the larks become your chorus
And when every hope is gone, let the raven take you home
“What the…… Oh Jesus. No, no, no, NO.” Odhran gasps. He falls to his knees beside the grim discovery. “Oh please no.”
Panic sucks life like a tidal wave.
Hiding behind a forgotten garden of odorous seaweed, something is obscured by a flat rock.
Swallowed by his thoughts, he almost walks past it.
He shakes the ice-cold form.
“Hello, hello.” His voice is notched up, weirdly high-pitched, a mixture of surprise, alarm and dread. “Are you ok?”
Bloody ridiculous question.
Odhran, people who are ok aren’t ice-cold. They don’t lie at weird angles, covered in seaweed on a remote beach in December. You fool. You’re always a fool, Odhran. Quite clearly, she’s not ok.
The accountant in him kicks in.
He pulls a phone out his back pocket.
No sodding signal.
Of course there’s not.
No signal is the plan isn’t it? No phone. No contact. A remote Christmas in the darkness of the Hebrides. Odhran the Pleb, his grief, punishing austerity and the memories of his late wife.
Crabhadail, Hushinesh is the remotest location the internet can find. Hours of deliberation.
The planning, if not comforting, is at least a distraction from the pain. Here he can be alone with Ellie. Just the two of them. United by solitude and memories, if not flesh and blood.
Now another dead woman intrudes on his self-indulgence.
Anger is rarely an appropriate reaction, but it’s all he has to greet death.
“Fuck. No emergency services.”
Only the seabirds to hear any cries.
Odhran straightens the young woman out. Makes sure the airway is clear. The iciness of her blue-tinged translucent skin gives him shivers. Her thin cotton dress is in tatters. Long dark tangled hair around pale skin gives her an ethereal, other-world look.
They could both be dragged to feed the Underworld by Cerberus himself. Not a soul would know.
She’s not breathing. No pulse evident.
Pointless, but he starts CPR. What else can he do? Damn phone.
Hand on the breastbone. Two compressions per second. It’s horribly familiar. Traumatisingly familiar. The flashbacks are difficult to control. Ellie…. And 2 and…. Ellie and 2 and…. Ellie, Ellie, Ellie.
Pinch the nose and inflate the lungs.
Where does the help come from?
The Faery Kingdom? The Seelie Court? A life for a life?
With a shocking suddenness, the girl starts coughing. Sea water pours from her mouth.
She splurts and stutters to life with a violence that overwhelms him. Not knowing what else to do, he slips himself onto the sand behind her, so the upper half of her body is upright in his arm. One leg either side of her body. He bends her gently over his arm, like child, and holds her – pressing gently on her stomach as she ejects the water from her lungs. It’s like she’s being sick. Salt water sick.
He presses her to him as the coughing subsides. He rubs her back. Doesn’t know why. Oh, she’s so cold.
(coughs) “I’m sorry.” She manages to get the words out, but it starts another coughing fit.
“Shhhh…… don’t try and talk. Just rest. And breathe. Slow and deep. In…. and out. In and out.” Yes, breathe. Please breathe. Don’t stop breathing. Enough death on my watch. Enough for a lifetime.
Odhran slips his jacket off.
A padded red ski jacket. Bargain purchase he’d bought from TKMax. He’d been rather pleased with it until, on taking it out the bag, Ellie called it a Santa Jacket.
He puts the Santa jacket around her shoulders and tucks it round her fragile frame.
“You’ll get cold,” she says eventually.
He grins at her
“And you almost died. I’m tougher than I look. At least allow me the pleasure of being the hero of the hour.”
He breathes into her hair. As if breathing life into her from the top down.
Gallantry is bloody cold.
They should both try and move, or else freeze solid on a winter beach. Eaten by gulls the size of Highland cows.
“Think you can move?” he asks her. “I’ve got no phone signal. We need to get somewhere warmer.”
Odhran uses the rock behind to lever them both to their feet in stages.
The tiny croft he’s renting is not far away.
“Shall I carry you?”
It wasn’t a question. He lifts her into his arms, so their faces are almost touching. She’s still wearing his jacket. He can smell salt and seaweed. The sea.
He staggers a few steps, adjusting to the load.
“I’m Odhran, by the way. Scandinavian mother, Scottish father.” He’s so used to trotting that out after he tells people his name, it almost falls out of his lips automatically. He’s never met another Odhran. No-one has.
Jeez, Odhran, you really are a pointless numskull. What do your parents matter? Ellie. Ellie was what mattered.
But the girl in his arms smiles. Talking is tricky when you’ve just barfed a tonne of salty water.
“Gaelic-Norse, like the Seal people,” she says eventually. “I’m Ròn, Ròn Beag. I was born here. Hushinesh. Or close by anyway.”
Her voice has a lilt. Like a lullaby. It spurs him on. He’s charged with protecting. He can’t fail this time.
“I have a cottage Ròn. About 500 yards from the beach. It’s not much. But I have a fire. And a phone and a car. We can at least get help. We can let people know you’re safe.”
Odhran struggles through the soft sand, sinking with every step. On machair sands, balance and fitness are both a challenge. Even when the girl you’re rescuing is tiny, other-worldly and virtually naked.
Pride won’t let him set her down.
If he counts the steps and doesn’t scan the horizon, the cottage will appear sooner.
Like the hero he is, he manages to juggle girl, Santa jacket and getting the key out his back pocket. And like a married couple, they fall through the door. Ellie and Ròn. Ròn and Ellie. Dead and Alive. Alive and Dead. This world, the next. He places her on the leather sofa and wraps a blanket around her.
“So, hospital in my car or family?” Odhran waves his phone around, “damn, still no signal. What happens when there’s an emergency out here? Only the Gods can save you.”
It’s a far cry from his native West-End of Glasgow with its Bistro cafes and super-fast wifi. He has the urge to cry. Eight months of grief is suffocating. There’s no room for any more.
Ròn pulls the hairy, woollen blanket around herself and burrows into the squashy sofa.
“We light fires, don’t stress and cosy down for the day.” She studies the man fretting around her. Such sadness. All pent up. She’s never seen an aura so pained or so much suffering. “Shall we light a fire?”
“It’s Christmas day Ròn. You need to let people know where you are? That you’re safe.”
“Won’t people be worried about YOU, Odhran? Don’t YOU need to let people know where you are? That YOU’RE safe?” She almost sings the parody. Mirroring him, word for word.
The minx. Quite mesmerising.
“People know not to bother me today. I’m here because I don’t want people to know where I am.” It came out gruffer than he meant it to.
I was meant to hold you forever Ellie, but time had other plans.
“Aha, misery and solitude and memories.” Ròn studies his broken stance. Can she unpack the sorrow? Cut through the shame? She gets up to start laying wood for the fire. “Sounds like we’d both rather be lost for the day.”
Odhran was now hanging out the front door, his arms raised to the sky as if in prayer, trying to get a signal on his phone. Nothing. Not even the glimmer of a bar.
He turns to see Ròn laying coal and wood in an alternate pattern.
He fusses back to her, clucking like a concerned chicken.
“No, no, no, no. You. On the sofa.” He tucks her in like a child. “Not 5-minutes ago, I thought I had a dead girl in my arms. Rest Stay warm. I’ll do the fire.”
“What, like you man, me woman?” Ròn giggles at him. “I’ve been lighting fires all my life, Glasgow Boy.”
“Maybe so, but watching you do it so much better dents my ego. So just lie still.” He tweaks her nose, as if they’ve been friends forever. The intimacy of it takes him somewhere painful.
“The trick’s the scrumply newspaper,” she instructs from her sofa bed. “Scrumple the balls tight and build the sticks up around it, like a tower. Now the coal. Alternate stick, coal. Small sticks at the heart.”
Turns out building fires is an art form.
Odhran feels pleased with himself when it kicks into life. Yes, building fires is manly. Especially when you’re keeping a faery alive.
Food. Food is the next priority. And tea. Hot, sweet tea. What do faeries eat?
He opens the cupboard, berating himself for his meagre shop. The last thing he expected to be doing was entertaining. A bag of porridge oats, a loaf of bread, tea, milk, sugar, three bags of tortilla chips and a bottle of whisky. Maybe a Michelin starred chef could rustle something out of that.
Too late for regrets about bacon and eggs. You’re a million miles away from anything and it’s Christmas day.
At least porridge is hot. Life-giving even.
He starts the porridge pot.
By the time he brings two steaming bowls over, the fire has a bit more heat. Sickly heat perhaps, but the beginnings of something.
He studies her face as she takes her first mouthful, hoping it’s edible.
“I put a good slug of whisky in. I thought we could both use the cheer.”
He looks relieved as she nods her approval.
He waits on her taking another mouthful before slipping under the blanket beside her with his own bowl.
Whisky in porridge and whisky in tea feels right in a way that whisky in a tumber doesn’t. It’s an unconventional Christmas dinner.
She stretches her legs out over him under the blanket and he rubs her feet. This time giving her life from the bottom up, rather than the top down through her hair and her lips.
“What brings a Glasgow man to Crabhadail on his own on Christmas day? Only the seals are mad enough to make that journey in winter.”
“What brings a raven-haired girl with a thin dress and no shoes to Crabhadail to die on her own on Christmas day?”
“Nope,” she pokes his belly with her big toe and makes him jump, “I asked first. That means you answer first. Them’s the rules. You’re carrying a sadness deeper than the ocean out there, boy. Speak to me.”
It all tumbles out. He doesn’t mean it to, but it does.
Ellie. The car crash. The other driver. The car going into their car at Ellie’s side. If only she’d been the one driving, if he’d been the one to have the wine and not her, it would have been him. Having to cut her out the car. The futile roadside resuscitation. The week of life support. They empty flat they’d bought together. The cat. The funeral. The ashes. Her parents. It all tumbled out. Along with eight months of pent-up, impenetrable blackness.
“All I see are police cars, ambulances, sirens. Monitors, wires and tubes. Waiting alone, hope slowly fading. It haunts my dreams, invades my days, lingers always at the edges of my life. My life is nothing without her, Ròn. No colour. Just grey, with sharp, sharp angles waiting to cut me. I wished it was me dead on the beach today. Not you. That would have been a fitting end.” Breathing and grieving and crying and talking and tumbling and falling. All simultaneously. The tears won’t stop.They soak his face. “It was a joy that someone as amazing as Ellie wanted me. A joy to put her needs, feelings and wants first. I will love her for as long as there are stars above me. Longer if I can. I came here to spend Christmas with her. Who knows what I intended. I want to join her wherever she is.”
“You came here to die?” Her tiny voice sings through his grief. Her tiny hand finds his under the blanket.
“Yet you were the one who died and now I’m having whisky porridge and whisky tea with a faery. I am either drunk or bewitched.”
She squeezes his hand.
“Not a faery, my love. Just a girl. A simple girl from Hushinesh. A girl who loves the sea.”
“A girl spat out by the sea. A girl who almost died today. A mysterious girl who knows everything about me, but about whom I know nothing.”
In one fluid movement, Ròn slides out from the blanket and stands in front of him. She puts a hand out to pull him up from the sofa.
“Let’s go down to the sea, then.” Her little hand pulls him up.
He must be bewitched. He’s buying into the madness.
“Ròn, it’s freezing and dark. We’ve got a fire going.”
Despite the protests Odhran allows himself to be guided.
His hand still in hers, he finds himself at the water’s edge. The water laps their feet. He feels the rythm. She’s humming in time to the waves. Whilst his hand is in hers, it’s not cold.
If this is where it ends, it doesn’t feel dark or deathly. In fact, he feels more upbeat in this moment than he has since Ellie passed.
“Trust me?” She asks him. He feels the words rather than hears them. “Don’t let go my hand. Ever. It’s important, Odhran. You must hold my hand. Never let go.”
She feels his nod and they step into the spume. He feels the pull out to sea. The sea is singing. Ròn She has his hand. Never let go Odhran.
A few moments and they are shoulder deep, waves beginning to submerge them.
Is he drowning? He will walk happily to his doom with this faery girl.
No. He’s swimming and breathing and being carried along by a powerful force. A force that has a tail and can swim. Not using arms, but by undulating a small, muscular body.
“Don’t let go Odhran.” He feels the words.
Down, they’re going down. Cutting through the water at speed. Deeper and deeper. He can’t tell where his body ends and the vastness begins. Life has no edges anymore. Nothing to cut him. The more vast it becomes, the deeper into himself he goes. It makes more sense than anything ever has, at the same time as making no sense at all.
He can see. It’s crystal clear. They blink past fish. Jellyfish. We’re faster than the fish. Fish swim over, between, under touching them both. Shoals. Spots, stripes, flashes, white bellies, open mouths, urging them on. Big and tiny. Unphased, unscared.
As if it was the most natural thing in the world for two humans to be swimming alongside. Two humans? One human, one seal and a light orb.
The orb mirrors Ròn’s undulations, moving in time to her rythm. The orb is an extension of her. Her will-o-the-wisp. Her soul. It lights their way, navigates his way through her underwater kingdom.
“I can breathe? I can see? I can swim?”
Odhran had always thought himself a strong swimmer, but this is no form of swimming any human is capable of.
“You have my hand. I can share my power.”
He feels her words again. Her reassurances. Her power. Her love. Her healing.
“Don’t let go.”
He feels her hand squeeze his. She absorbs his loneliness.
He is surrounded by song. She is singing. Or the sea is singing. Or they are both singing. He lets it penetrate the grief. He embraces it. He is open.
The vastness of the sea, the song of the sea, the calmness, joy and forgiveness floods him. He is caressed. He feels it now. Ellie inside him.
Happy memories flood in through the cracks.
Waking to find Ellie watching him sleep. The warmth of her hand caressing him. Crying on hearing her say those two words on their wedding day, ‘I do.’ Her freezing cold feet under the duvet being thrust between the warmth of his legs. The tinkle of a laugh that makes everyone smile. Her obsession with tubs of picked herring. Their first date. His hand on hers. The stomach flutters. Knowing within moments of meeting her that this is the girl he’s going to marry him. The way her hand caresses his stomach, even in her sleep. The need to be connected as one.
Ellie’s hand caresses his stomach.
That’s what it feels like.
Odhran realises that Ròn has navigated them into a Cuvie Kelp Forest.
The green-brown fronds caress them both as they roll around, buffered by the gentle, kindly cushions. Like Ellie’s loving hand kissing the scars. Whispering their forgiveness as they pass the two forms from frond to frond, stipe to stipe, conjoined by hands. A million soft, seaweed hands. A living, breathing forest of kindness.
“Don’t let go, Odhran.” She never stops talking to him.
Their transit is watched and approved by the tonne of carefree creatures who make the dense, slippery forest their home: limpets; prawns; urchins; molluscs; sea squirts. The fish that dance around them: goby; wrasse; butterfish. A perfectly balanced, gentle underwater world. Seaweed is a truly, magical, life-giving form. Resentment, anger and shame have no place here. Only absolution.
He is ready.
Ròn navigates them through the dense fronds. Out into a new environment.
She’s going down.
Her orb lights up a rock entrance. A u-shaped, underwater crystal cave. Holes and pits, a labyrinth of calcite crystal. Transluscent draperies, dogtooth spar crystals, dense bushes of curly helectites adorning ceiling and floor.
The orb passes through the labyrinth first. Ròn leads Odhran through to their ultimate destination.
Odhran does a double-take.
No. It can’t be. If Ròn didn’t have his hand tight in her grip, he’d be rubbing his eyes in disbelief.
His imagination playing tricks. The lack of oxygen. Maybe he is dead after all. He must be.
Standing in an underwater waterfall. 10m tall crystal pillars touch floor and ceiling. The water bouncing off her. The calcite reflecting the droplets, bathing her in light. Her familiar form. Her familiar stance. Her eyes closed. Face upwards. Her long hair falling down her back.
He’d know her anywhere.
He can feel Ròn nodding. They have arrived.
This is why he’s here.
He shines more brightly than the orb or the limestone. His joy lights the cave.
So does Ellie’s love.
He is open.
An unadulterated aura of sunshine yellow.
Ròn nods again. That’s his cue.
Ellie smiles at him. Oh how he’s missed feeling human.
The need to embrace her is greater than life itself.
His body melds to hers. Hers to his.
He cups her face. They have become one.
All that’s left is the kiss.
“I love you as long as there are stars above me. Longer if I can.”
He lets go Ròn’s hand.
“It’s a body, man, jeez. It’s a body. Get it out, get it out, get it out. Help me. Tavish, help me. Get him over. He’s frozen.”
“Is he dead?”
“I think so. I don’t know. He’s like a bloody block of ice.”
The two men reach over the side and grab a limb.
“One….. two….. THREE.”
They manage to get Odhran onto the boat.
“Some fool’s tried to do away with themselves. Christmas day and all. Poor sod. Ye wonder what makes fowk do it. Must be bad. Mair and mair suicides at sea.”
“There’s a pulse, Alasdair. Help me. It’s faint, but I feel a pulse.”
“Get him on his side. That’ll wash the water oot his lungs.”
“Get the bloody fish oot the way.”
Odhran coughs, splutters and expels a tonne of sea water as he bursts violently back to life.
“He’s frozen, get one of them foil blanket things oot the first aid.”
Odhran stares at the two fishermen in confusion. Where the Hell is he? How did he land up on a boat?
(cough) “Where am I?” his splutter is watery and weak.
“Yer aboot six miles off the West coast of Harris, man. Did you mean tae do away wi yerself?”
Odhran shakes his head.
“I don’t remember. I don’t think so. I was walking along the beach. Heading back to the cottage. I came here to spend some time alone. Sort myself out. I’ve not seen anyone for days.”
He closes his eyes, trying to recall how he ended up in the water.
As the men turn the fishing boat back towards land, keen to get their rescued cargo back to warmth, safety and a doctor, a seal sits on a distant rock surveying the scene with dark eyes full of empathy and love.
Assuring herself that all is well, Ròn Beag nods and smiles.
Even from this distance she can see a new aura of optimism, hope and love.
The barely beating pulse of hope and love sailing back to Hushinesh.
Hope is being able to see there is light despite all of the darkness.
Ròn Beag means ‘Little Seal’ in Gaelic.
I was inspired to write Ròn Beag after reading about a real letter published in the Times newspaper in 1809. It recounts the sighting of a Selkie sitting on a rock, by school teacher, Miss Mackay, the daughter of the local minister, Reverend Mackay.
The legend of the Selkie is told along the Western coast of Scotland and as far down as Ireland. Sightings have not been uncommon over the years. Selkies are seals in the water, but once on land, they take off their skins and become human. If an ordinary mortal sees a Selkie in human form, they will inevitably fall in love.
Miss EI Mackay’s letter as published in the Times:
Reay Manse, May 25th, 1809. Madam, To establish the truth of what has hitherto been considered Improbable and Fabulous must be at all times a difficult task, and I have not the vanity to think that my testimony alone would be sufficient for this purpose; but when to this is added that of four others, I hope it will have some effect in removing the doubts of those who suppose that the wonderful appearance I reported having
seen in the sea on the 12th of January was not a Mermaid, but some other uncommon, though less remarkable inhabitant of the deep.
As I would willingly contribute to remove the, doubts of the sceptical, I beg leave to state to you the following accounts after premising that my cousin, whose name is affixed with mine, was one of the four witnesses who beheld with me this uncommon spectacle. While she and I were walking by the sea, shore on the 12th January about noon, our attention was attracted by seeing three people who were on a, rock at some distance, showing signs of terror and astonishment at something they saw in the water. On approaching them we distinguished that the object of their wonder was a face resembling the human countenance, which appeared floating on the waves: at that time nothing but the face was visible: it may not be improper to observe, before I proceed further, that the face, throat and arms are all I can attempt to describe: all our endeavours to discover the appearance and position of the body being unavailing.
The sea at that time ran very high, and as the waves advanced the Mermaid gently sank under them and afterwards reappeared. The face seemed plump and round, the eyes and nose were small, the former were of a, light grey colour, and the mouth was large, and from the shape of the jawbone, which seemed straight, the face looked short: as to the inside of the mouth I can say nothing, not having attended to it, though sometimes open. The forehead, nose, and chin were white. The head was exceedingly round, the hair thick and long of a green oily cast, and appeared troublesome to it, the waves generally throwing it down over the face: it seemed to feel the annoyance, and as the waves retreated, with both its hands it frequently threw back the hair, and rubbed its throat, as if to remove any soiling it might have received from it. The throat was slender, smooth and white: we did not think of observing whether it had elbows, but from the manner in which it used its arms I must conclude that it had. The arms were very long and slender, as were the hands and fingers, the latter were not webbed. The arms, one of them at least, was frequently extended over its head as if to frighten a bird that hovered over it, and seemed to distress it much: when that had no effect, it sometimes turned quite round several times successively.
At a little distance we observed a seal. It sometimes laid its right hand under its cheek, and in this position floated for some time. We saw nothing like hair or scales on any part of it, indeed the smoothness of the skin particularly caught our attention. The time it was discernible to us was about an hour. The sun was shining clearly at the time. It was distant from us a few yards only. These are the observations made by us during the appearance of the strange phenomenon.
If they afford you any satisfaction, I shall be particularly happy: I have stated nothing but what I clearly recollect: as my cousin and I had frequently previous to this period combated an assertion, which is very common among the lower class here, that mermaids had been frequently seen on this coast, our evidence cannot be thought biased by any former prejudice in favour of the existence of this wonderful creature. To contribute in any degree to your pleasure or amusement will add to the happiness of, Madam, yours greatly obliged.
Miss EI Mackay
We’ve reached the end.
I hope you enjoyed my fairytale. Perhaps you are inspired to live one of your own.
Happy Christmas Everyone. I hope it’s a truly magical one filled with love.
From Selkie Sisters, Ròn Beag and Lauren Lloyd.