My weary feet rest on the smooth stones that lie beside the Murmuring Sea. The tide is low, and so the stones are silent. A kelp forest drifts sleepily back and forth beyond the damp shoreline. I can feel the animals and magai who live there watching me from behind its thick fronds.
The air smells of things dying and of things being born. I close my eyes and listen, once again, for her voice.
"Wait, child," she whispers.
Or is it the wind I am hearing? I am so tired from my journey, and her words have always felt like wind through my spirit. Perhaps I am dreaming again.
"Listen for the magic."
They are the same words she speaks to me every night, within the secret realm of my sleeptime dreams. I turn to face the cliff and she is there, watching over me in this, my waking dream. I fear I cannot tell the difference anymore.
She is one of the Ancients. This I know from the way her voice feels each time it enters my heart, and from the bent, tree-like shape of her grey silhouette, which I have seen so many times in walks through both the shadowed and light-filled rooms of my imagination.
She is the reason I have come to this place. Why I brought my child across the desert, away from the brittle and the dry, to the rain-drenched woods of the Western Shores.
She stands high above the wild ocean. She is not at all like the grandmother willows I know from the inland rivers. She does not whisper with their tranquil words, or stroke my face with the gentleness of their tender leaves, or sing with soft boughs into a peaceful sky. This grandmother's branches are hardened and broken. She stands bent against the wind, her arms reaching for the sea, her roots clinging to the mountain.
She asks me to take off my sandals and feel the cold stones against my feet; to unfurl my hair and let the wind sting my face; to watch the horizon with eyes wide open, and to not look away; to blink back my tears and keep watching. The waves are low and sorrowing, the horizon dim and colorless. I whisper into the wind.
"I have come all this way, and yet I see nothing for me here."
I turn toward the village. She calls me by my old name, with a gentleness I have not felt from her before.
And so, I stay. Because I have come this far, and because I feel in my bones that I should. I lean against a boulder marked with green streaks, like a painting I saw in the village. I look around me. The stones are becoming more colorful as the tide rises and the water washes over them, bringing out their beauty. Round and polished from eons of movement and rhythm, of waves rolling them back and forth against the shore. The stones begin to murmur as the ocean rises to their height and moves them against one another, their subtle colors shimmering in the changing light.
The sun fades into the ocean. Mother Moon rises, softening the sky. As the waves finally reach my feet, the braided anklet I wear, a long ago gift from the one who birthed me, dissolves, transforming into tiny, silvery fish. They jump playfully over the flowing fin that stretches from my body into the water. The fin's delicate edges blend like lace with the seafoam, floating lightly on the cool waves, and I weep with relief. Grandmother sighs her waking lullaby from the mountain.
The tide rises, and now I am waist deep in salt water. The moon and sky reflect blue softness on my scaled skin, and sky magai fly above like living clouds, their mist bodies reflecting on the still water between the waves. They drift down and brush against my face. There are magai moving within the indigo space between the clouds, too. I can feel them in the light that ripples across the sea. I can hear their whistling song moving through the grass, like the memory of light.
The tide is full now, and the stones move and sing for as far as I can see along the shoreline. The seabirds float above the tide's edge, calling to the orcas, who answer from beyond the deep shadows of the kelp forest. I can see dolphins and meradelphi drifting through the canopy, spinning slowly, the moon reflecting on their slick bellies.
This is music I have never heard, a place I have never been, and yet I am home. The earth's movement, the moon's pull on the tide, the cloud magai swimming through the Sea of Sky, the whisper of the wind through Grandmother's branches, the welcoming touch of the salty sea, the orcas calling. And always the singing stones, back and forth and back again. There is life and beauty here, in this place.
I am home.
Light pours like a waterfall from Mother Moon, painting a silver river from the kelp forest to me. It seems such a generous gift, her love sent shimmering across the darkening sea. I sit for a time, my fin moving with the waves.
A pair of otters wrap themselves in the brown kelp fronds and ready themselves to sleep. The Meradelphi blink their large, moonlike eyes at me, beckoning…
I am swimming now, my long tail-fin pushing me happily out to sea. I wrap myself in the fronds, too, my body drinking in the feel of the ocean like air. I hide within the kelp forest's safety, my head covered in cool, sepia softness, and watch the village lights. I could live here, forever. And yet...
My child is sleeping there, in the village, behind the glow of a window; in a room hard and brittle, without the living breath of the sea. I wonder what realms she is wandering in her sleeptime dreams?
I think of a waking dream, long ago, when my own mother entered the sea and never returned. I wonder if she ever looked back, for me? If she even thought of me then, with the ocean pulling her away, the dryness finally gone. I glance over my shoulder. The otters, unusually still, watch me with their intelligent eyes. The orcas watch, too, their dorsal fins bent and sorrowing.
I push toward the shore with a flip of my tail and ride a wave across the singing stones. Quickly, I pull myself from the water. I am a two-leg again, walking on dry land. The earth is painful under my newly born feet.
I find my dress and slip it over my wet skin. I fill its pockets with the lovely singing stones and press my palm flat against the shore, letting a wave wash over the back of my hand. My skin glimmers in pale, aqua blue. Grandmother sighs from her dark silhouette against the sky. A new wave leaves my anklet stranded on the shore, and I place it in my pocket, too.
I approach my daughter's bed. Her curls shine blue-green in the light of Mother Moon. I empty my pockets of the stones and place them on the driftwood table. I fasten my anklet above her tiny foot. Then I open the window to the whispers of Grandmother Tree, to the sound of the wind and the singing stones. I kiss my daughter's forehead as she sleeps.
And suddenly, I am scooping her up in my arms. I wrap her in the blanket I made for her before she was born, with my own two hands. She awakens. I kiss her baby cheeks, and she is delighted by the moon as we run toward the sea, together.
I dip her feet in the water that rushes up to us at high tide. The magai are singing, flying, joyful. The anklet dissolves into silvery fish. My daughter’s lovely fin stretches softly into the welcoming sea.
"Listen for the magic, love," I whisper. "We are home."