Copyright Cormac Doyle © 2016

Edited by Peter Rudin-Burgess for The Guild Companion

" see this graceful girl transform into a smooth, white-pelted seal as she swam out of the bay would have been truly shocking."


The fingers of dawn were slowly climbing over Sleibhe Iolar when Sorcha woke. The tides are receding. My freedom awaits! With only a moments delay to check on the fire smoldering in the hearth, Sorcha hastened to the shore and waded in to her knees.

This early in the morning, there would be few wakeful eyes to glimpse her transgression, but as always she was watchful. A furtive glance around to see if anyone other souls were up and about this early in the morn and then she dove under the tide's welcoming arms.

As she swam, the thrashing of her arms and legs became smoother, more fluid; her form becoming more compact and dynamic in the ebb and flow of the currents around the mouth of the harbor of the small village where she lived.

Had anyone been watching, the sight of the beautiful young woman slipping into the sea would have been a transgression — something they should not be watching — but to see this graceful girl transform into a smooth, white-pelted seal as she swam out of the bay would have been truly shocking.

Her swim brought her several leagues down towards the mouth of the bay. There she should taste the deeper salt and feel the swell of the sea as it passed the mouth of the fjord. The open sea lay beyond; not something she was scared of — of course — but equally not something she was eager to challenge. She could feel the draw of the other seals in the open waters. Somewhere north of the bay she knew there were islands where the seals met for courtship and mating but her heart was also human and drawn to some of the boys in in village.

Several dark shadows passed her by as she frolicked at the opening of the bay. No great panic beset her — the fishing boats of the village sometimes came out this far. The spring salmon could often be caught at the edge of the bay. But soon enough she felt driven by honor, by duty and by hunger to return to the village and her mother. Turning she headed for shore. The beach of white sand was just outside the fjord but its advantage was that it was not overlooked. She could not bring the shame of her skin changing upon her family!

Coming ashore, she quickly found the stash of clothing she had hidden there several days earlier and began the hike back cross the peninsula to the village where she lived. Walking among the sheep-fields always amused her. The shepherds often did not even look as far as the hedge-line, never mind the seas within a stones throw of where they stood.

All was quiet, and for the first hour or so, Sorcha relished the silence and privacy broken only by the bleating of the sheep and lambs as they wandered through the hedge-marked fields. Cresting the hill known as the Grange by those round about her heart froze in her chest. Smoke rose from the village where no smoke should rise and dark shapes of foreign ships marked the beaches behind and in front of the village.

Distance. Obscurity, Speed. Her thoughts raced in front of her, and sensed the form of an eagle in flight. With a thought and the slightest push, she felt her senses transfer and her body collapse. I'll worry about that later, she thought to herself as the eagle adjusted its flight. The once soaring path of the curious predator became a sweeping investigative flight. Five ships — but one had an acrid burned odor that implied it's doom to her mind — and chaos in the village as iron-born course through; their armor and blade a corruption.

A breath and a gasp, and her senses once more from her body do struggle and chime. The disorientation — confusing as always — at this time means nothing to Sorcha. These invaders are ruthless — she saw their blood thirst and the resolve backed by iron and steel. So as she now struggled to retake her body from fatigue and confusion and sleep, her mind was racing and her heart fearfully beating: spare my mother and sister and kin!

Weapons around her were but just winter-worn branches and stones she might find on the ground. Thank Aoife she packed in the pack with her clothing a short knife of antler and flint. An armored sea raider's hauberk might turn its blade, but most travelers would fear for its bite.

Her feet seemed unbidden to increase their pace and soon towards her home she comes running. Her safety forgotten, she speeds her way hither, and o'er that last distance she runs!