They say I was in love with a fulmar, violent and bloated, with a pack of followers who tried attacking me. A foolish story, a way to justify my father’s brutish actions, perhaps. But it was not a jagged nosed fulmar that swooped down to me that day, but a kingfisher. My Alcyone.
I had watched her dive from her widow’s walk and into the sea. Some supposed it an accident, a slip of the foot on sea-slickened wood. Others imagined her overwhelmed by a longing for her husband, his ship cracked open against the rocks.
“How dedicated,” the men would say, lifting a glass in Alcyone’s honor. “What a model of a wife.”
“How romantic,” the women would say, cleaning the fish for the day’s supper, their fingers as raw and pink as the salmon they cut. “They were so in love.”
But I knew, as she leapt, the truth. Alcyone cared nothing for the man lost on his rat-infested ship. She did not spend each night in the salt-thickened air, pulling her shawl close around her shoulders so that she might spy a glimpse of his vessel. She did it for the sea. Each night I heard Alcyone’s wailing voice, aching to be at one with the spray and foam, at one with me.
Her body was sleek and lithe, long before any feathers grazed her limbs. She entered the sea head first, her hair wrapped in her mourning shawl. The blackened robes clung to her as her form withered and shrunk, dyeing her skin before it sprouted tufts of feathers in the brackish water. She was only submerged for a moment before she flicked her tail up and beyond, her dagger-like beak aerating the wind as she flew. When she reached me, I nuzzled into her downy neck, her spine bristling with her newly sprung feathers. We clung to each other and stayed just so for a long while.
She was yar; she was Alcyone.
We had spent the winter together, sleeping on ice caps, pointing out constellations far above us in the sky. I would stroke her feathers, midnight blue and black, with specks of white, her own constellations that I would memorize, each spot, each freckle. She’d chitter softly in my ear, whispering the secrets of the wind.
It was too warm the day he came, the ice melting around us. We had drifted away from our favorite berg and spotted his dread boat in the distance. I tasted bile in my mouth, and felt her wings curl around my neck, protecting me from him as best she could.
“Who has captured you, Sedna, stolen you from me?” he called from his boat, his dogs barking at the waves, biting at the sea itself.
“No harm has come to me,” I said firmly. Alcyone stood perched on my arm, her sharp beak cast downward, bracing herself against the incessant barking of the dogs, their hot breaths thawing the ice around us.
“And yet here you’ve been for months, wasting away on an ice flume, while I hunt for you. To protect you,” he added, his voice attempting to soften. His boat rocked unsteadily against the surrounding ice. In a flash, a knife appeared in his hands, his dogs quieting at the blade’s radiance.
“I need no protection,” I said again. I could feel Alcyone’s feet begin to shift anxiously, her claws tiny daggers in my flesh.
When the poets tell my story, they say my father killed my lover, the fulmar, and then, when we were on our way back home, he threw me overboard. As I clung to the side of the ship, he slashed at my fingers and they flopped past me into the ocean. How did my story become so obscured, so obfuscated, like looking at yourself in a muddy puddle? Would Narcissus be enchanted by such a blurry version of himself, his tale stretched and shorn in translation?
It was he who leapt out of the boat, knife raised. I heard Alcyone scream, her rattling voice like metal scraping along the ice. I lifted my hands to reach for her, to hold her fast to me, but I was too late. His blade sheared my fingers, lopping them off into the water. I fell to the ice, hearing Alcyone’s angry chittering. I looked up, clutching my hand to my belly, and watched her jab her beak through his flesh over and over, his knife useless on the ground. He swiped at her, knocking her aside, but she darted back to him again and again until finally she collapsed next to his still body. The dogs slunk into the bowels of the boat, unsure of what to do without their master’s voice.
My fingers lost to the sea, I lumbered over to Alcyone. With my other hand, I picked up her small frame and cradled it in my arms, my blood-soaked hair blanketing her. It stained her breast and I began weeping, my tears freezing on her feathers. Below the ice I could see fish swiping and pecking at the rivulets of my tinny blood floating through the water. I watched as one of my shorn fingers bloated and distended its belly, a tail protruding, then a flipper. The whale lurched at the ice flume, nuzzling us further out to sea together, where we belonged. Another finger sprouted whiskers on its muzzle and barked at us mournfully. They carried us to Alcyone’s nest, and I gently placed her there. The whale and seal brought me kelp to wreathe around her, tying her to me. I laid there next to her, my new companions by my side, moaning a dirge that echoed along the ice, until I drifted to sleep. Upon waking, her body was gone and I wept until winter.
Now I sit on the ice caps, my flesh one with the frozen water, and wait for her return. On a calm day when the wind seems apologetically quiet, I hear a familiar metallic purr. I look up and see her in the distance, diving, dancing over the seafoam, arching nearer to me. She chitters in my ear as I sink my face into her feathers and all at once I am home.
This story previously appeared in New Myths, 2019.
Edited by Marie Ginga
Shelly Jones (she/they) is a Professor of English at a small college in upstate New York, where she teaches classes in mythology, folklore, and writing. Her speculative work has previously appeared in Podcastle, New Myths, The Future Fire, and elsewhere. Find them on Twitter @shellyjansen and https://shellyjonesphd.wordpress.com/.