When she was born, Bean Alainn was indeed a beautiful girl. Her seal fur was softer than that of her siblings. It glowed slightly, almost as if it were being lit from inside out, especially when rays of light from above burst apart like shooting stars in streams of greens and golds. Her beauty far surpassed outward loveliness, however. For Bean’s eyes were like harbors, pooling calmly and quietly into deep fathomless blue: eyes that at once contained compassion and elicited awe. For to look into them was to not only be well met, but to be suddenly immersed in something indisputably beyond your ken, and yet discover that far from losing yourself in that vastness, you would instead recognize yourself reflected there. I met Bean Alainn myself only on several unforgettable occasions before life flew from her, and I have never forgotten those eyes and how it was her very soul that looked out from them and somehow always sought and found my own.
Anois, now, there is yet one further thing to be said about Bean’s birth. For though Bean was páiste beag, just a wee child, her soul had in fact lived a very long time. Bean’s soul had traveled at least three life circles between this world and the next before arriving here, or at least, that is what the druids told Bean’s parents upon her birth. For even the seal folk have their keepers of the wise who know the patterns of the stars and can sing of the loom on which new life is spun and how, among it’s threads of many colors, the strand of fate is woven throughout. And this is what the keepers of the wise said, that Bean Alainn’s soul was very old indeed, and that upon her lay the fate of three worlds, and no matter how carefully she chose her actions, she would bring much joy to some, and much sorrow to others.
And so Bean’s parents kept this knowledge to themselves, and neither to any kin nor even to Bean herself would they speak of it. The druids’ pronouncements were not ordinary, and they feared their daughter might be found to be displeasing and destructive to their underwater world and be sent to the edge. So they brought Bean up as ordinarily and uneventfully as possible.
Young Bean grew strong and well alongside her many brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, parents and friends. She ate with them, sang with them, and laughed with them. She learned to count by sifting grains of sand, and learned the names of the stars by how their figures appeared on the surface of the water. She learned how to stay out of reach of sharks and fishing boats, how to hunt for fish, how to swim gracefully, and how to put a mist on the sea that would muffle the selkies’ voices so human beings would not realize that they often spoke to one another.
She and her siblings would often watch from some distance as their mother would dance out on the rocks and sand bars at midnight with the other women of the clan. The ability to shed a seal skin and take human form did not appear until selkie children came of age. Boys and girls alike grew into their power as shape shifters, but it was quite rare for the men among the selkies to come to land. Roomer had it that a selkie father and his son were killed in a hunt off the place the humans called Sule Skerry, and that had the father not come to land to fetch his son himself, such ill fortune would have not befallen them. So it was that the only men who ventured onto land were childless and had few immediate kin, and they were pitied by the rest.
By the time Bean was six summers old, she had won a reputation for herself despite her parents’ intention that, other than her stunning beauty, she be plain and unremarkable. Anois, now, selkie children learn their people’s sacred songs from the day they can speak, and to a human person even the most unskilled singer among the selkies would take your breath away. All selkies have haunting voices that make the human heart ache for a home it cannot name until a person is filled with such longing that her dreams are of nothing but sliding silently beneath salty spray and frothy foam, yearning after some lost and forgotten island mirrored beneath wave and sea. But it became apparent quite early on that Bean would be one of the greatest bards within many generations. When Bean sang, the very rocks of the land heard her song, and the mountains echoed her high clear tones so that stopping in a field, a person might turn her head and wonder at the voice reverberating upon the wind. When Bean sang the waves grew quiet and still, and trees bent to catch her words, letting them linger for a moment in their leafy hands. When Bean sang, birds cried overhead circling and calling to her, until she could imagine the current of a river and the silent authority of a forest.
Anois feiceann tú mo leanbh, now you see, my child, the elders had never forgotten the words of the druids, and so they took notice as elders should. And it was decided, as often these things are without the person present, that Bean Álainn ought to learn the ways of the clan early, for the knowledge holders had come to the elders saying, “This girl will be among those from whom we will one day choose a new leader, and it is fitting for such children to begin training early so that when the time comes, their responsibility will not weigh so heavily upon them.”
So it was that when the girl reached her seventh summer, Eithne, a well respected elder, sought the child’s parents and instructed them to take Bean and come with her to the next council which was held after every third rising of the moon.