At first it had been harmless chatter. She and her protector would talk during their days together as she had never truly been that close to her Sister, who should have been her confidante. That he called her beautiful had not meant much as she took it as him stating the truth. That she found him handsome was only true in kind. Then her hand would stay in his for longer after he helped her from her pallet. A greeting kiss to her cheek would be closer to her lips than the time before. She too would feign tiredness so he could wrap his arm around her.
Her Sister had then warned her, asking in horrified whispers what she was doing with a man. They were Seraphia, the chosen sirens of the sea, and their chastity was paramount.
She had not listened, ignoring her Sister’s warnings. She took her duties with as much seriousness as she could, being still a girl, and she could not devote every moment to the gods. Her chastity was safe, she was doing nothing that siblings could not do.
Then they kissed as man and woman, and gone to bed like husbands and wives.
With shame and embarrassment she refused to speak with him for a fortnight after their coupling. Then she swore him to secrecy, by her power as the sea’s chosen, swore to herself that this would never ever happen again. She repented, kneeling in the surf and weeping as if to add herself to the ocean.
She felt herself cleansed.
Over the next several months she was the most dignified she could be, and this became more natural every day. She took her duties far more seriously, tending to both the beaches and the great salt stones. She was praised by the Crone, and she and her Sister spoke more often and with greater joy. Her protector kept his word, being again no more than the dearest of friends, his life and sword hers to command.
Then the curve of her stomach had become visible even under her most elaborate wrappings.
Weeping did nothing now. Neither did protesting, yelling, or reminders of how over the last season she had done so well.
There was no trial. No one witnessed her acts, but it could not be denied that a child grew in her. When asked who her lover was she said nothing, and her protector kept his oath in that he did not speak up, though from the pained expression he wore he desired it dearly. If nothing else she was his charge, and the child her blood and his.
She would be given a test, as it was possible a spirit or a lesser god had put in her a child without violating her. If she could still stand upon the water then she would be revered even more for her being chosen yet again. If she walked into the waves she was not allowed again up on dry land.
Now she stood at the edge of the surf where she had weeks ago wept. The entire city had come to watch and see, many in mourning clothes. They did not believe her pure. And she was not.
Sirens were creatures of air. They lived in the cliffs and delighted in the breeze. Their wings were useless for actual flight, feathers growing long from their shoulder-blades, gleaming gold in adulthood, but without muscle to be of use. They could not swim. But they lived on the edges of the continent, the sea air calling them and asking for their voices. They sang with the whales and lured sailors upon their rocks. And the Seraphia were their twelve queens, able to stand upon the water as long as they were chaste until their fortieth year.
She was only fifteen.
She began to walk. The first few steps still felt as they always had, she liked the feeling of cool water swishing past her ankles. When it came time for her to step up on the surface as if it were glass her foot fell through again. She took another step, another try, and wished and prayed.
She was now knee deep.
There was silence behind her.
She stopped walking, her hands coming up to wrap around her belly. She felt her child move for the first time.
“I have broken my vows,” she said to all gathered. “But I was consecrated until my death and beyond. I deserve this for my fault was great, but I am still Seraphia.”
She continued to walk, the surf almost nonexistent as if to help her keep steady. Her clothes began to feel heavy, and then her wings. Her hair, usually tied up in many braids and pins, was free and also now another weight.
Neck deep she paused for a moment. She caressed her stomach. She apologized.
She took her next step.
Every siren of the city stood and watched. Many cried. The other Seraphia had their backs turned to the ocean, out of respect, not hatred. She had been right- as grave as her error had been, she was still Seraphia.
After several minutes people began to leave. In an hour there only stood the other Seraphia, their protectors, and her protector.
At dusk only her lover remained. He thought about walking in after her, but as before when he had wanted beyond all else to shout that it was his fault, he could die, he broke his vows first, the magic would not allow it.