Sila loved water, thirsted after it, could not live without it. She swam in the sea throughout the summer, embracing the waves with her outstretched arms, her hair streaming like seaweed. In the winter when the waves were wild she stood on the rocks and laughed as they crashed around her. Only the sea was vast enough and changeable enough for her. Every moment it was different and every moment it was the same. Sila never tired of it, could never have enough to satisfy her craving.
When she was a child no one worried that all her time was spent on the shore, but no one stays a child. She had no mother and no father and her five older brothers needed her to do the work that women did then: to cook, and clean, to fetch tame water in clay pots. It was hard work, it was a day’s work every day, and it left no time to swim and stare and laugh with the sea. Sila tried to escape the drudgery by running barefoot down to the shore, but one brother or another would soon drag her back.
Her brothers were not unkind; they needed her to work. They made her promise that she would not go down to the shore and, because she loved them, she promised. Then she dreamed and in her dreams the sea called her. Waves reached out their white arms and opened their green hearts and she woke crying like the gulls. She kept her promise, but her liveliness was gone and her life seemed to be ebbing away.
The people’s god in those first days on earth was Raven. The people asked Raven for food and warmth and he brought them fish and fire. The brothers in their despair went to Raven and told him of their problem. ‘You cannot change what is,’ he said. ‘Keep your sister from the sea and she will die.’
So Sila swam in the summer sea, in the waves’ arms. In the winter gales she stood on the rocks with the fine spray running off the ends of her hair. She remembered her brothers, when she could, and cooked and cleaned and fetched the tame water, when she could. It was not enough and the brothers grumbled among themselves and added her work to their own, for they were not unkind.
One day a wave rose up into a man, tall, glistening, with sparkling eyes and water running off his skin. He held out his arms and the sea reflected turquoise off his chest. Sila stepped back and her footstep filled with water that shone in the sunlight between them. The man laughed and his laugh was like the winter sea.
‘You do not remember me, Sila, yet you have been in my arms.’
Sila stared, mouth open, so the salt wind savoured her tongue. ‘In my dreams you have called to me,’ she said.
‘In the sea,’ the man said, ‘when you were just a child.’
Sila shook her head.
‘Where are your parents?’ the man asked.
‘I do not know,’ she whispered. ‘No one speaks of them:’
‘Your parents took you to see your grandmother who lived along the coast. Their boat was too small and it was a rough sea. The boat sank and they drowned, but I took you in my arms and carried you to the shore and set you on the sand.’
She looked at this sea-man who stood before her with his hand outstretched. She took it and they danced together amongst the waves, that day and the whole summer through. Sila became his sea-wife and loved him as she loved the sea itself and he held her as the sea held her. The cold winter seas drove him away, with many promises to return in the spring. Sila stood now in winter gales and cried his name out to the winds.
When her child was born it was not as other babies are but looked shaped for the sea, seal-like and furred. Sila loved her son dearly but her brothers and the other villagers shied away, fearful. Now she was often followed to the shore as if she needed to be guarded from harm, or kept at home, and she dreamed wild dreams again and cried out and her son cried with her.
When spring came her brothers were busier and couldn’t watch her as closely and she and her son and his sea-father could play in the rolling wave, hair streaming like seaweed and laughing. Could play, until the day when one of her brothers, passing along the cliff-top path saw them, ran for his bow, and shot the sea-man. Blood flowed, mingling with the sea, and the sea-man slipped away as more arrows stung the water.
Sila cried out day after day, month after month, with the sea lapping around her ankles, but her husband never returned. Her brothers looked uneasily at her son as he grew, for he grew as strange as he had been born. Sila feared for his life too, and one morning she led him by the hand down to the shore. ‘Go,’ she said. Swim out and find your father’s kind.’
He went, and Sila sat on the sand and wept, her salt tears mingling with the sea.
There Raven found her. With one black wing he fetched the clouds down and with the other black wing he raised up the sea so that drops hung in the air, a watery world in which Sila could move and breathe and be unseen.
‘This is fog,’ Raven said. ‘I have made it so that you can see your son in safety. Call him, and he will come.’
Sila called into the silvered stillness, and her son came and they comforted each other until the sun melted the fog away and the men could see to work. Whenever fog came after that, Sila slipped to the shore and called and her son warmed her heart. One day she did not return, but fogs always do: water hanging in the air, like magic