Updated: Nov 11, 2019
As much as I disliked people coming to me for menial and mundane problems, it did much to prevent the tedium that might otherwise occur. In fact, rare was the day when no one at all came through my door. That day had the appearance of just such a day. The sun was growing low in the sky, and I considered closing up shop somewhat early and perhaps going to my usual haunt at the Wolf and Swallow when a man walked in. He was a young, fair-haired man, decently well-dressed and very well-groomed. He was carrying a moderately large, unadorned handbag. "Can I help you, sir?" I asked, trying to keep the sound of apathy from my voice. As with most perspective clients, most of his attention was on the trophies that hung from my walls, "Would you be Evit Merriman, by chance?" "That I would. You've heard of me?" "You have something of a reputation among my people. Based on what I've heard I thought you'd be taller." "Most people do," I replied, trying very hard to hide my annoyance at that same, tired observation. "Who are your people, exactly?" "I'm a selkie. My name is Naron, by the way." That the man was a selkie wasn't that much of a surprize for me. Every now and then one would visit me, and they all want the same thing. "Pleasure to meet you, sir. I take it you've been forced into a marriage you disapprove of and you want me to find your seal skin." "An excellent guess, but no. I have mine with me," he held up the handbag for emphasis. "No, I'm here about the love of my life. She's been forced to marry some... human—no offence." "None taken." "We're not meant to live on land, Mr. Merriman. To be forced to do so is inhumane." I'd heard such things from many selkies before, and I had no desire to repeat such a conversation, so I turned our discourse to a more productive direction, "So where is it this woman lives? Fishertown? Demarr? Tanbury?" "Demarr. My love's name is Tenya, she's married to a... dockworker, I believe." "There is still the small matter of my fee. That would be twenty grams up front, five for every day I'm gone, and ten for the return of your lover's skin. Do you have that much?" He nodded, "Yes, I came prepared, although it almost seems like exploitation to charge for such a service." "You'd be far from the first person to say as much to me. The fee is an unfortunate necessity. Not only do I need to sustain myself, but..." I removed one of my silver grenades from a locked drawer on the other side of the counter. "Do you know what this is?" "An explosive, of course." "Made from pure silver. They're five hundred grams apiece. My silver bullets are eight apiece, the iron ones three. The specialised materials make the ballistics... difficult. The only place I can get them is the shop next door. As much as I might want to help as an act of kindness, the grim reality is that it would put me out of business, and that ultimately helps no one." As expected, he had no further argument. I found that very few of my disgruntled clients ever did. "You've made your point, Mr. Merriman. Are you ready to leave today, or will I need to return in the morning?" As the initial payment changed hands, I answered, "I don't believe in procrastination. We leave immediately." The two of us exited my office and I started down the street towards the stables that served as a staging area to the carriage drivers with which I was familiar. My client, however had other ideas, "Sir... the train station is the other way..." "I dislike trains. It's the incessant rattling that unnerves me. I always feel as though the train will fly off the tracks. We leave by carriage." The man hesitated, clearly about to protest, but he thought better of it and followed. As a very large and busy city, carriages leave at all hours, even rapidly approaching the evening. I had dealt with most of the professional drivers on a fairly regular basis, so it wasn't long before we were underway. During the journey, I found that Naron had grown quite restless. "Is there a problem?" I asked. "No sir, it's just... I'm finally going to have her with me." "Didn't you already?" "Yes, of course. It's just that... she's been married to that human for awhile." The both of us then fell into a comfortable silence. Normally, such journeys are uneventful, but that particular journey was quite different. Suddenly, a gunshot cut through the silence and the carriage came to a stop so quickly I was nearly thrown into my client's lap. I heard an indistinct voice from outside, and the driver's response, "Do you have any idea who you're trying to rob? You boys're in trouble now." I drew my revolver and cocked the hammer. "Wait here," I told the selkie before walking outside. "Thank you, but I'm perfectly capable of being intimidating on my own." There were five ruffians, dirty and dressed in clothing that could almost be referred to as "rags". One was armed with a rifle, three with revolvers, one with a butcher's cleaver, and one was even carrying a club crudely fashioned from a table leg. The one with the rifle snickered, I reasoned due to my decidedly unintimidating stature, "Yeah we're terrified. Hand over your money or you're dead." One of his compatriots said, "Uh... mate, do you see how he's dressed? He's a witch hunter." "You should listen to your friend," I said. "As far as frightening things I've seen this week alone... well, you and your gang don't even register, really." "That's funny, I was about to say the same thing about you." He then pointed his rifle at me. "Now, hand over the money. I'm not about to ask again." I looked around at the entire gang. None of the others had their weapons at the ready, and they seemed quite uncomfortable with them. Those details told me that those would-be highwaymen were quite inexperienced. Without any further thought, I shot the leader in the chest and aimed at the man next to him. As I expected, he and his fellow robbers dropped their weapons and put their hands up. "If I were in your position, I would leave and give up on criminal activities forever. You can start by leaving." I had barely finished speaking when the bandits retreated so quickly it appeared as though they vanished into the trees. I calmly re-entered the carriage, which was soon underway again. "Does that happen a lot?" my client asked. "It's far from the first time, and it will hardly be the last. I don't fear men like them." "So what do you fear? Aside from trains, that is." "I would dearly like to answer 'nothing'," I said, "but, suffice it to say that without a healthy dose of fear, a witch hunter dies." "Nets. I got caught in one when I was young and I haven't been able to look at them since, even in human form. I thought those fishermen were going to gut me." "Understandable. The ocean's full of dangers for a young selkie, and I'm fully aware that not all are as fortunate as you were." He simply nodded and silence fell over our journey once again. It was well into the night when we reached the town of Demarr. It was a decently-sized fishing town around a large cove. I always found it to be a very peaceful place, and it had a quaint quality I rather admired. Long ago, I determined that if I ever lived long enough to retire, that is where I would go. When my employer led me through the now-empty streets with the unerring direction of a local man. Before long, we were standing by a small cottage a stone's throw away from the piers. "This is the place," he said. I nodded. The small size of the home would make searching it very simple and brief. "Alright. Until the job is done, I'll have to ask that you remain in human form so you can be found. Do you know where the Terra Firma House is?" When he nodded, I continued, "Mention my name to the owner, Orra, and she'll let you stay for a day or two." A look of curiosity crossed his face. "It almost sounds like there's a story behind that." "I saved her from a maere awhile back, and she's never forgotten it. Now go, I'll meet you there when my task is complete." He only replied, "Good luck," before leaving me alone with my work. I spent several minutes listening at the door, but heard no sound. I carefully and quietly picked the lock on the door and slowly opened it. What I saw next was very easily the last thing was expecting. The empty skin of a seal—the most prized possession of a selkie—was hanging from a hook by the door. That one find defied all the logic built up around dozens of similar cases. In my vast experience no selkie would marry a human, and if coerced into marriage the human would need to hide the seal skin. I am not too proud to admit that I was entirely flummoxed. With no other course of action I could think of, I simply closed the door and walked away. When I entered the Terra Firma House shortly thereafter, only Orra was behind the bar. She was a slight old woman with a thick white mane and a fine latticework of wrinkles on her face, but that face had more life than a woman decades her junior. "If it isn't my favourite witch hunter!" she said while pouring a drink. "Come on in, boy. Kick off the dust 'o the road and have a drink." "You know I don't like it when you call me 'boy'." "At my age, I don't much pay attention to that kind of thing. With everyone coming and going, you're either 'boy' or 'girl'." "That's... flattering. I suppose I should be thankful you don't refer to me as 'girl'." She scoffed and took a tone that feigned offence, "I'm not that old yet, you know. I've still got a head enough to recognise that look on your face. There a problem with that contract 'o yours?" I considered very carefully whether or not I would elaborate. On the one hand I felt a responsibility to my client's privacy, but on the other the act of talking such things through has helped me before. After a few moments' consideration I answered, "Did a man called Naron come in?" "Aye, he did. I didn't just give a room to a werewolf or a vampire, did I?" "Hardly. He's a selkie, actually." A look of surprize crossed Orra's visage, "A selkie, really? I thought they were just in stories." "No, they're very real, and the stories you've heard are actually uncharacteristically accurate." "So let me guess, he wants... that thing they have." "He has his skin. It's his love's he wants." I took a deep sip of my vodka and gave my dilemma one more thought before continuing, "After a brief reconnaissance, I found that her seal skin was far from hidden, defying my every expectation for a contract such as this." The elderly woman chuckled and shook her head, "You know what your problem is, boy?" "You have quite the selection to choose from, I'm afraid. To which are you referring?" "You think too much. Your using your head when you should be using your heart." It was a rare moment when I was confused, and Orra was one of the very few who could manage such a thing on a consistent basis. "What do you mean?" "So this selkie woman is shacked up with this fisherman or whatever, right? Something she'd normally be forced to do?" "Correct." "So when you go have your chat with her, I bet you ten grams she tells you she loves him. Call it a woman's intuition." I thought about what she was telling me, and her theory made perfect sense, despite my past experiences with such things. "That sounds like a fool's bet to me. Thank you for your assistance, madam." "I should charge people for sage advice. It'd make me a rich woman." "And it would make all of your neighbours poor and resentful in the process." The elderly innkeeper chuckled heartily in response, "It's about time I spread it around, don't you think?" "I'm sure you would find that immensely satisfying. Now, it's time I retired. Have a pleasant night, madam." "I always do, and you kill all the nasties and have fun doing it." "I always do." Our routine complete, I did as I said I would and enjoyed a night that was as peaceful as my nights ever got. Come morning, I returned to Tenya's home and waited until she walked out the door. As with most selkies, she was quite lovely, but her unkempt hair and tired eyes betrayed an exhaustion that came from many days' hard work. Her expression upon encountering was one of fear, "Witch hunter... are you here for me?" "Yes, but not in the manner you're expecting. My name is Evit Merriman and I mean you no harm." She crossed her arms in suspicion, "I've heard of you. What do you want, Mr. Merriman?" "That's it? You're not going to say you were expecting someone taller?" "I'm far more interested in what you want, which you still haven't told me." "Of course, I've been hired to retrieve your seal skin—" She interrupted me with the harsh edge of hostility in her voice, "Well then you can just turn around and go right back to Blackwatch where you came from. Let me guess: Naron hired you." "Correct. I simply want your side of the story." "I'm sure he told you that I'm his 'love', that we're meant to be together and live far away and play in the sea all day. He tells me that often enough, but the truth is that I want nothing to do with him. "I love my husband—I even got a job cutting up fish all day to help support him, so you can tell your employer that he can live that 'perfect' life of his far away from me, too. Do you understand me?" "Implicitly," I answered. "I'm sorry for bothering you. Good day madam." "Yeah. I'd say maybe he'll leave me alone, but I know better than to hope for that." "I'll endeavour to make your message as clear to him as you've made it to me." "Fine. Now I have better things to do than stand around chatting with you. Goodbye Mr. Merriman." Then, without waiting for a response or saying anything further, she walked away, her rage now evident in her steps. The next stop obvious to me, I returned to the Terra Firma House which had only just started to come alive in the morning. The lively bartender once again greeted me as I walked through the door, "I was right, wasn't I? She loves him." "How is it you always know these things? It truly defies all logic." "I told you: woman's intuition." "Does that truly sound better to your ear than 'it was a lucky guess'? Is my client present?" The woman chuckled, "What do you think? He left with that bag 'o his before you even got up this morning." "Blast," I swore under my breath. "I told him to remain in human form, and he couldn't even last one day." "It is the strangest job you have where you have to say things like 'I told him to stay in human form'." "That phrase comes up with surprizing regularity, I must say." After a short and mildly uncomfortable silence, I shook my head and voiced my annoyance, "I am going to have to wait for hours for that man, aren't I?" "He's been gone for a couple of hours already, so it's a good bet. What'll you do when he gets here?" "I'll return what he paid—except for my expenses, of course—and tell him to leave that woman alone. Apparently he's quite the nuisance." The old woman gave an exaggerated nod, "Ah, I've dealt with his type before." "And how long ago was this?" I asked playfully. "You'd better think a little before you talk, boy. I had that maere in my bed, remember?" "I believe you've grossly misinterpreted that situation." She merely laughed, shook her head, and serviced her few other clients. Left with nothing else to do, I waited for my former employer, inwardly seething. As hours went on, my rage only grew more intense. Every time the door swung open, I turned to look expectantly only to have my hopes dashed again and again, further increasing my frustration. By the time Naron walked through the door with an aloof, contented grin I was furious, the situation made all the worse by the expression on his countenance. "Where. Have. You. Been?" I asked through clenched teeth. "Oh, I figured you would be busy so I went for a short swim." "'A short swim'?! You've been gone from sunrise to very nearly sunset. Did you not hear when I told you to remain in human form?" Upon mention of the words "human form" the selkie glanced around to the other tavern patrons nervously, despite the fact that none of them were paying any attention. "Keep it down, please. Is it done?" I returned most of the money I had been paid, while the man's expression changed to bafflement, "No, I have reconsidered my arrangement." He glanced up to me as if he'd been struck, "What? Why?" "I have spoken with the object of your affection, and she told me very strongly that she wants nothing to do with you. I am unwilling to dissolve such a marriage, and certainly not for your benefit." "You can't trust what she says, that... man has her skin!" "You know as well as I that isn't how such things work. She is under no compulsion save for those of her own heart." "You said you were 'unwilling', not 'unable'...?" he asked hopefully. "That distinction is irrelevant." "But I can—" I interrupted him forcefully, so as to end the conversation once and for all. "No! Nothing you can say or do will convince me otherwise. Furthermore, your desire to pull her away against her will makes you no better than those who kidnap your people." He shouted his response, silencing the nearby patrons. "I love her! I should've known a man like you couldn't understand. Goodbye Mr. Merriman, may we never meet again." As he stormed off, nearly bowling over a couple who were trying to enter the establishment, Orra spoke up from behind the bar, "That is the look of a man about to do something he can't take back." I was still trying reconcile the conversation I just had with my past experiences. As such, I drew on my previous knowledge for my reply. "Selkies are, by and large, peaceful. It's quite unlikely he's capable of such violence." "You're thinking too much again, boy. Remember, he's not some monster like a cockatrice—" "Cockatrices don't exist." She waved me off dismissively, "Forget the bloody death chicken, then! My point is that he's trouble, serious trouble." "What do you think he'll do?" "I don't know. A man like that is capable of anything." I have very few regrets, even over my long career, but I wish very dearly, even to this day that I'd heeded her warning sooner. ~~*~~ Most days I didn't even know why I owned a gun in the first place. I didn't spend nearly enough time among humans to need it, I always thought. It always stayed in my bag hidden among the rocks while I lived my life at sea. The thing I understood even less was why I had the gun in my hand when I left the almost insultingly named "Terra Firma House". I stormed down the now sparsely populated streets of Demarr first at a forceful walk, then a run, then almost at a sprint. I didn't know what was pushing me forward or even where I was going until I found myself outside Tenya's home on the docks. There was no hesitation; I threw open the door and stormed inside, seemingly at someone else's behest. Both my love and her husband were there, sitting around the table having their evening meal. They both bolted upright in response to my presence, and it was the human who spoke up first, "What the bloody hell is going on in here?! Who are you and what do you think you're doing in my home?!" I had no idea what to do next, so I stood there, dumbstruck. Tenya was the one who broke that silence. "Naron? What are you doing here?" Still very unsure of myself, I pointed my gun at the man and cocked the hammer. "Release her. Now." All the colour immediately drained from his face. She, on the other hand, had a very different reaction, "Are you insane?! I'm not his prisoner, I'm his wife, his family! I'm going to have his child!" That news took my attention from the man, "What?" I paid dearly for that lapse in attention. My rival charged at me, bringing the gun into my chest. With the intensity of the moment, I didn't hear or feel the shot fire off. Before I knew it, I was on my back with the large dockworker on top of me slamming me against the floor over and over. It didn't take long for him to wrest the revolver from my struggling grasp. He stood up and pointed it at me, panting both with the effort of the fight and out of bloodlust. In that quiet moment I had resigned myself to die when the heavy thud of a body hitting the floor broke the near silence. We turned to see the woman we both loved on the floor bleeding through a bullethole in her chest. Her husband shouted her name, dropped the gun, and held her in his arms. She didn't look at him, though, she looked at me with a look of pure hatred in her eyes as she choked wordlessly on her own blood. It was at that moment I heard the door swing open. I knew who it was even before my enemy said anything. "A witch hunter, good," the man matched his wife's expression, "there's a monster that needs killing." The diminutive man responded from behind me, but I couldn't tear my eyes from the woman I loved in another man's arms, dying from my bullet. I the witch hunter said, "Of course. I will handle this, she needs you." I didn't resist when he picked me up off the floor and took me outside. As he was walking me down the pier and into the sunset my mind was in such a haze I barely noticed the man's hand on my shoulder, or the barrel of his gun on my back. When we made it to the end, the man asked, "Have you anything to say for yourself?" Tears in my eyes, I replied, "I really did love her." "No you didn't. To you she was just some thing to win then possess. That is not love, and your false love is what killed her. You'll have to make your peace with that." What the witch hunter asked seemed impossible. Even if I weren't on the verge of death, even if I spent an eternity in Hel I would never be able to make my peace with what I did to Tenya. Dejected, I answered, "It seems like that will happen." "Who can say what will be? None know what comes next for any of us." I said nothing, instead only looking out over the most beautiful ocean sunset I had ever seen. After a few of the longest moments I had ever experienced, the sound of a gunshot cut through the air. I never felt the waters of the sea against my skin again.