It was mid-winter before she understood.
The man she’d nursed to health during the late days of summer was long gone. A warrior never stayed long in comfortable surroundings, and there were always wars to be fought. He left without promises of return, as neither believed in falseness. She had been saddened by the loss of him. His warmth in her bed at night, his humor in her simple ways. His helping hand in gathering wood for heating the cottage in the cold months ahead, when storms would rake up the coastline, and toss waves and sand against her sanctuary. When she awoke that autumn day, snow was spitting from a leaden sky, the hearthfire was burning brightly and a small, handcarved wooden bracelet lay at her place on the table in the gathering room. She knew then he had gone.
Routine comforted her. Harvesting the garden, hanging her herbs, creating her potions and putting up provender for the dark months kept her busy until now.
The snow had blown and piled by her garden wall, head high in places. She had trekked to the water’s edge, but her sea lover was not near. She turned to go back to her cottage when the vertigo hit her. Falling to her knees, she retched violently. After a time, the feelings passed, and she rose unsteadily to her feet, and made her way home.
No. It could not be.
Yet, as one day rolled into another, she watched her belly grow big and round with child. She knew by mid-Spring she would be delivered. She shivered, and not with cold. Alone, giving birth to a child. How would she manage? Who would help her? The townsfolk never came here; the new road bypassed this jut of land completely. She had always preferred that, but now, alone, she was frightened for the first time of her isolation.
Again, routine became her salvation. Beating the dampened sea-grasses to release the rough fibrous insides, she twisted and rinsed them until the fiber was maleable. This she spun into a coarse thread, eventually making spools and spools to be woven into the fabric for her clothing. It was a long, tedious project, and kept her mind occupied when panic threatened.
Again and again she went to the sea, but he never responded to her calls. She recalled their last, violent encounter, the same night her human lover had taken her for the first time. Perhaps that had been his way of saying goodbye, and she was truly alone.
Still, she had the sense of him biding his time. For what, she did not know. There was a feeling in the air, and unless she cast a circle for clarity, she would be kept in the dark.
The fear of knowing was almost as bad as the fear of not knowing. Putting it off for today. Always to be done tomorrow. She, who never procrastinated, refused to move forward on this one thing.
The days grew perceptibly longer, her belly grew rounder, and simple things began to take on a special onus. Bending was nearly impossible, so great was her girth. Sleep? Impossible. She was uncomfortable, cranky, irritible.
The heatwave came one moon cycle after the vernal equinox, and was a mixed blessing. The heat sapped her energy. For several days she was lethargic, sitting or laying on the garden bench was all she could muster energy for. On the third day, she woke feeling refreshed, energized. Rising quickly, she threw open all the windows and doors to the cottage, airing out a winters worth of musk and gloom. The cleaning frenzy came on her unexpectedly, and bedlinens hung in the branches of the flowering apple tree, curtains waved from gleaming windows, and by days end, every inch of the little house was tidy and fresh.
Looking around, seeing nothing more that needed doing, she peeled off her sweat stained clothing, leaving the pile by the door. She walked to the ocean, naked but for the wooden bracelet her warrior had left her, and slipped into the chill of the water. She felt like she had come home again. Warm sun on her back, cool water on her legs and lapping at her distended belly, sand smooth beneath her feet.
Slowly, taking it inch by inch, she lowered herself into the cold and briny water. As it closed over her head, she felt her hair floating like a cloud around her. The pressure in her back eased, and the feeling of weightlessness was a wonderful relief from the burden of hefting around her enormous belly. Head breaking the surface of the water, she turned to face the shore, to feel the sun on her face. Eyes closed, she bobbed there, home in the sea.
The first touch of the tentacle caused her to gasp. He was here! The tentacles twined around her recumbent body, softly caressing her breasts, now huge with milk for her coming child. She felt the maw on her back, sliding around her to cup her hip, the lips sluicing around her, tasting her until it came to the mound of her belly. Slowly, the maw sucked her belly inside of it. The tickling was both sensual and silly. She drew her hands across the tentacles, touching for the first time, her sea lovers skin, rather than just succumbing to his touch.
Tentacles touched her face, mouth, eyes, ears, throat. Such was the sweet feeling on her belly from the gentle suckling that she missed the first clenching ripple.
The maw slipped from her belly to her cunt, and she felt a gentle pull as the sucking resumed. A slender tentacle from the inside of the maw entered her, stroking her inner walls, probing at her cervix. She felt it slide up and inside. A feeling of something moving inside her caused her to look…she could see the slim arm of the tentacle against her swollen belly. It was inside her…touching her baby!
The first hard cramp came as soon as the tentacle withdrew. She was held securely in her sea lovers tentacle-arms, cradled, soothed as wave after wave of pain crashed against her. The urge to push was forestalled by one tentacle across her mons. She heard the soft ‘no’ deep in her head. Again and again cramps hit her, and she felt torn apart by the fury of them. Finally the arm across her pussy was withdrawn, and came to wrap around her belly above the child. She felt the squeeze as it tightened slowly, and the need to push was finally approved.
She bore down with a fierceness that was so unlike her. The growl coming from her mouth was more animal than woman.
She gasped through the release of pain, then again it tore across her belly…
and with a pop, she felt something emerge from between her legs. A pause. A breath. Repeat.
The sound of a babies wail filled the now dusky sky. Cradled tenderly in a tentacle, she was offered to her mother. As she took the child in her arms, the maw returned to her womansplace, and eased the afterbirth from her. Raising the babe to suckle, she felt overwhelmed, tired but energized at the same time.
As she left the ocean, she looked back to where he waited just below the surface.
“Return to me”
She smiled. She would indeed return to him. She looked down at the child in her arms. Greeted with eyes of deepest sea-green, skin as white as the tentacles that had brought her into the world, they gazed at each other. Mother and daughter.
The legacy continued.
Beneath the cool spring waters, he lay in repose, watching the witch-woman and the babe. He raised an arm to his eye, examined the wooden bracelet. If he could have snorted in disdain, he certainly would have. Carelessly he floated the disk in the water before him, then, grasping it firmly, he headed out to sea.
On an island far away, a ragged, unshaven man lay in a hut made of woven branches. He rose from his nights rest to pace the shoreline, scanning to see what may have washed up in the night. Halfway through his journey, he spied it. A round wooden bracelet. It was above the high tide line, and how this had come to be here was as much a mystery as how he himself had come to be here. All he truly remembered was going to the waters edge after leaving this bracelet at his woman’s table. He’d woken early, and thought to take a brief wash before returning to the cottage. He’d felt something choking him, and he lapsed into unconsciousness. When he woke, he was here. Alone.
It was her daughters first birthday. Taking the toddlers hand, she walked her slowly to the beach. She listened for him, but rather than him, she found a coarse-woven bag made of a seaweed that grew far too deep to have come from these shores. As she lifted the bag, she saw that it was filled with oysters! Large, meaty ones, good for making a hearty stew. Large oysters such as these she never found here, for as with the seaweed, these grew deep within the ocean.
It was later, cracking the oysters to begin the stewing, that she found the first pearl.