A Modern Bestiary – Z is for Zmaj

Z is for Zmaj. And no, you are not mistaken. The Zmaj is not a creature of Celtic myth. They hail from the Balkans, where the letter Z is used with gay abandon while the letter J is treated as though it were a Y or a long ‘I’ which is why the name for them is pronounced as though it were spelled Zzzm-eye.

 

While I need but one letter.

Mmmmmmmm….

 

But we’ll get to that in a moment.

Some consider them dragon-kin, and portray them so:

while others see them as lizard-like:

and still others as wyrms, with a snake’s long body and a ram’s horns:

From Milenko Bodirogić’s “Fairies and Dragons – Serbian Mythology”. Photo source: www.serbia.com.

Unlike most dragons, the Zmaj is considered a benevolent creature, willing to defend his people and one of the very few who can defeat the Azjada. That is a kind of demon who’s apt to bring hailstorms and even tornadoes down upon ready-to-harvest fields of grain, on vineyards and on orchards full of ripe fruit.

The Azjada, who is also called an Ala, may hide within anvil-shaped storm clouds like these. Or produce them from her own body:

The goal of the Azjada seems unclear. Some say they come to destroy the crops, and others blame it on simple greed. Their intention is to steal the harvest and feast upon it. All agree that they are voracious and particularly fond of eating children, the more tender and innocent the better. No surprise, then, that she is considered close kin to the infamous Baba Yaga, though the Azjada appears to be far younger and prettier and lives in the sky, not a chicken-legged house hidden deep in the woods.

Why am I including the Zmaj in all of this?

Because some of them fled the Balkans and claimed sanctuary in Faerie. The slaughter and utter destruction resulting from endless wars, and especially the world wars, drove them to distraction. Here was an enemy they could not defeat, a multi-million-pated monster far more lethal than the merely three-headed Zmey Gorynych of Russian and Ukrainian fame.

A painting by Viktor Vasnetsov (Wikimedia Commons)

They were granted refuge, but won themselves only a few years of peace before The Fall swept them back out of Faerie and dumped them here, on the other side of the world from their original homes, and where they have remained, for the most part, taking advantage of the ignorance of husbands in the West.

For the Zmaj‘s a cunning creature indeed, and capable of shapeshifting into many other forms, including that of a human. Such men are lustful, well-built, and commonly of an exceedingly pleasing demeanor, such as may sorely tempt a disappointed wife or lover. Or even an exiled Faerie Queen.

Not that all in the West can by fooled by them. Here, for example, is a painting by William Blake entitled “The Great Red Dragon and the Woman Clothed with the Sun,” one of a series he produced to illustrate the Book of Revelations between 1805 and 1810:

Another of the paintings is much better known these days, having been the focus of a popular novel (and movie) by Thomas Harris concerning a serial killer who wants to become The Red Dragon.

Neither book nor movie, however, had much to say about the true identity of this particular dragon, which is clearly a Zmaj with dishonorable intentions! Note the ram’s horns!

Once the cuckolded husband identifies his rival, however, the resolution is remarkably peaceful. Because the Zmaj is so fond of humans, he will not turn on them, and while in his human guise, he has only the strength of a mortal man to draw upon. One can, in fact, win a fist fight with him. Or, if a woman, one can seize his ear with one’s fingernails and simply lead him out the door and perhaps out of the village as a whole, telling him to begone.

The real danger comes later. For the Zmaj may well breed sons on such women, and those sons are likely to grow into men who are formidable in many ways.

A medieval example would be Vuk Brankovic, a Serbian nobleman whose control over his fief was so complete it was simply known as Vukova zemlja (Vuk’s land), and who would have considered MacArthur a worthy adversary.

Who knows what Zmaj-bred men like that might do in today’s world, where they are not limited to the speed of a galloping horse nor handheld weapons like swords and lances?

Advertisements

A Modern Bestiary – Y is for Yarthkins

 Y is for Yarthkins, as they are known in the fens of the northern parts of England. In other lands they are known as the Quiet Folk and are numbered among the dwarvish races. Adults stand between half a yard and two and a half feet tall. They wear black for the most part, when they wear clothing at all. As their skin is also black, they can vanish easily into the darkness, which they much prefer to daylight. Often enough they do wear red or gray hats but have little in common with Redcaps.

The Quiet Folk, you see, do not dip their hats in the fresh red blood of their victims. Instead, the color bespeaks the power of invisibility those conical hats grant the Yarthkins, not to mention strength and courage well beyond the norm for even the brashest among the little people.

The Yarthkin is not known for his or her beauty, however. Their forearms tend to be overlong and their beards and brows are bushy as hawthorne and nearly as prickly. Yet many of the males are totally bald by the time they’re five, having begun to go gray at the tender age of four!

Yet the Yarthkin is quite long-lived despite a short childhood. More than a few were around when Pontius Pilate washed his hands two thousand years ago.

Their noses and their bodies are frequently misshapen in some way and they have feet very like those of ducks or geese.

Useful indeed in the waterways of the fens.

These are the fens of Wood Walton in Cambridgeshire, England

Which greatly resemble the Suisun Marsh, part of the San Francisco Bay and Delta region of central California:

Which is why the Yarthkins caught up by the shockwave that stranded so many fae here on Earth after the Fall have taken refuge in the wetlands stretching eastward from San Francisco. The Delta’s islands and marshes are far less populated by humans and their machinery than anything closer to the coast.

There have been side effects to their presence, however, including bits of wild magic that may find a focal point in yarthkin burrows yet strike at random passersby. That’s because the Quiet People are so well protected by the earth itself. These strikes are small in scope, but can cause startling transformations of individual humans and animals, changing them into a form closer to their true nature, or perhaps just making them a better fit for their habitat. This wee creature, for example, was captured last week near the town of Rio Vista:

Best not to bother the Yarthkins, though. They do indeed know much about the depths of the earth and the hidden locations of gold and other precious metals, but if you think to catch one like a leprechaun and force him or her to give up their secrets? Think again. The Mother Lode lies not in the Delta but in the mountains further to the east. And if you should  offend them… Well, the Quiet Folk may be slow to anger but they’ll hold a grudge for the length of their long lives, and they are nigh impossible to appease.

  This is a human whose husband dug up a Yarthkin’s home, and paid for it with his life and his wife.

They dislike the sound of church bells in particular, but also the noise made by drums or farm machinery, and they truly hate humans who try to cheat them, break their promises, or abuse any Yarthkin. Above all, do not force a Yarthkin to take off his rather peculiar boots and show you his duck feet.

While the Quiet Folk are not ashamed of their feet, it’s rude, and they’ve heard about how odd some humans are. They’ll have no truck with any foot fetish!

You won’t see them coming, either.

They can take on human form and move about in total silence in the dark, as this lad is doing, and if they decide to take revenge, they might well make your children go lame, or visit sickness upon your whole household. Some have been known to make grown men and women lose their minds.

Do them a kindness, however, and the Quiet Folk can be amazingly generous. More so to those who serve them well in time of need, as a midwife, a judge, a referee, or even as a coachman if they must travel by way of man-made roads. Or you might be asked to host a faerie feast, perhaps even a wedding. In the latter case, though, especially after the keg has been tapped and beer poured into mug after mug, you’d be well advised to avoid the same two topics as many a wise man will at any such well-lubricated gathering – politics and religion!

 

 

A Modern Bestiary – X is for the Unknown

X can stand for a great many things – the Greek letter Chi, a foreshortened form of Christ, the spot on a map where treasure is buried, or simply for the Unknown. When it comes to Niseag, the creature more commonly known as Nessie, or the Loch Ness Monster, very little is known.

Niseag is most often described as quite large, with a very long neck, a smallish head, and one to several humps that rise out of the water as she swims in the Loch.

This shot is known as “the surgeon’s photograph” supposedly taken by Dr. Robert Kenneth Wilson, a London gynecologist, in 1934.  A bit grainy and blurry as well, it’s now believed by nearly everyone to have been a hoax concocted by Marmaduke Wetherell and his son-in-law.

Here’s another, also thought to be a hoax:

Judging by these images and similar photos of other crytpozooids, the shutterbugs in question must have either remarkably bad luck or bad lenses.

There is a great deal of misinformation bruited about as well. For instance, the first report referring to Niseag as a monster was published in the Inverness Courier in 1933 by Alex Campbell, who was the water bailiff for Loch Ness at the time. A Londoner named George Spicer and his wife said they had been driving around the loch when he and his wife saw “the nearest approach to a dragon or pre-historic animal that I have ever seen in my life.” According to the two Brits, she was trundling across the road toward the loch with “an animal” in her mouth.

Now, ‘trundling’ implies the presence of feet, not flippers, but a creature looking a bit like this one might be so described. It looks like a hybrid dragon/seal of some sort.

The first report was followed by the first fuzzy photograph and then by an order of protection from the Secretary of State for Scotland to the police, to keep the creature from being trapped, attacked, or shot.

None of that ‘first report’ business is true, of course. The first recorded sighting of the creature was in the River Ness, not the Loch. And it was in 565 A.D., not 1933. That’s when St. Columba made his way into northern Scotland, much of it still inhabited by pagan Picts.

A portrait of St. Columba at Bridei’s Fort. He was considered one of the Twelve Apostles of Ireland, and the Apostle to Pictland in particular. He was also a son of clan MacEwen, the original Ewen being a younger son of the High King of Ireland, called the O’Neill and sometimes Neill of the Nine Hostages – that being the number of other kings’ sons he held captive to ensure their fathers’ good behavior.

Now, St. Columba was quite an impressive fellow. He’s said to have been a man of great stature and powerful build, a man who had such a loud, melodious voice that he could be heard from one hilltop to another when he preached. When he arrived in Scotland, however, he was in disgrace and had no reputation worth claiming in Ireland, let alone a foreign country. What he had was the isle of Iona, given to him by a kinsman. So he founded an abbey there and then set off to evangelize the none-too-terribly-interested Picts.

The Abbey at Iona still stands today.

While in northern Scotland, St. Columba ran across some local people burying a Pitctish man. They said he’d been swimming in the River Ness when a ‘water beast’ attacked and killed him. Whereupon St. Columba saw his opportunity to make a new name for himself. He promptly sent one of his followers, named Luigne moccu Min, to swim across the very same river.

Some saint, eh?

Then, when the water demon went after Luigne, Columba waded into the water, making the sign of the cross and invoking the name of Christ. He is believed to have ordered the creature to “Go no further. Do not touch the man. Go back at once.” To everyone’s amazement, the creature stopped as if it had been “pulled back with ropes” and then fled. Columba claimed all the credit for this for himself and his god, happy to let the Picts believe they’d seen a miracle.

The truth, of course, is that the creature was pulled back with ropes, for Columba was a canny devil and had set the whole thing up the night before, having heard what happened to the Pict.

It worked very well indeed. Thereafter, the Picts flocked to Columba’s Christ on a Cross, and he earned himself many honors, much worldly power, and not a few very fine stained glass windows in the churches erected by his converts:

 

How do I know all this? Why, I was there, tending to the creature and her babes when that silly Pictish ass tried to kill the tender hatchlings, and so earned his just reward! What did you think was going on?

Nowadays, Clan MacEwen will sometimes claim to have thereby pulled off the greatest hoax in history, but others know better. And no, I won’t be telling you where you can find Niseag today, nor yet her offspring. X does indeed mark the spot or spots and I will say no more.

If you like, though, you can visit the Loch Ness Centre and Monster Exhibit at the Drumnadrochit Hotel, up toward the northern end of the loch. They’ve done the creature up as the plesiosaur you see below, never mind the fact that the vertebrae in a plesiosaur’s long neck would never have allowed the poor beastie to swim like a swan:

Besides, dear Niseag is ever so much more beautiful than that!

 

 

A Modern Bestiary – W is for Water Bull

That’s right. W is for water bulls. And no, I do not mean water buffalo. Those ridiculous creatures would not last a week in the Highlands in winter. No, true water bulls are Faerie’s version of Highland cattle, with even more of an attitude.

And yes, this fine fellow is demanding, “What the bloody hell are you looking at, mate?”

Highland cows, or as Glaswegians tend to pronounce it, ‘hayland coos,’ are a wilder breed than most, and bulls even more so. Those horns, for example, may make an American think of Texas longhorns and cattle drives and the cowboys they’ve mostly seen in the movies, but no drover has any luck with a water bull.

In Scotland, they’re called the tarbh uisge or airbh uisge, which is Gaelic for “water bull’ or ‘sea bull’. The word for water, uisge, is one you may have seen before, since it’s also part of uisghe beatha, the water of life. which has long since been shortened and anglicized into the one word ‘whiskey.’

 

Of which, here are a few of my favorite varieties…

The water bull of Scotland is normally nocturnal and is most often found in the moorlands or along the shores of Scotland’s lochs, long saltwater inlets from the sea that look like lakes but aren’t. You will likely know that word too, loch, from either the silly romantic ballad about Loch Lomond or because you’ve heard of the Loch Ness monster.

Which we’ll discuss another time, if you please, since even this, the best photograph ever taken of the beast, is still quite deceptive. The layers of fable and wishful thinking and outright chicanery that have attached themselves to the Loch Ness monster take a bit of unraveling. That’s especially true of the more far-fetched explanations of the sightings, such as this beef-witted nonsense:

Nor is the Loch Ness monster anything like the water bull, which is much closer kin to the water horse (otherwise known as the kelpie).

The water bull has the amphibious nature of the kelpie, and is likewise known for its shapeshifting talent. But where the kelpie is attracted to humans, and apt to seduce them into accepting a fateful ride on its back, the water bull is far more interested in cows than people. Nor will the water bull consume its hapless rider, leaving behind little more than a bloody hunk of the victim’s liver.

This is far more to the water bull’s taste – a fertile female of (nearly) his own kind!

So he is most likely to wait until dark and then try and insinuate himself into a herd of highland cattle, taking on the appearance of the very thing he wants most to avoid – a true bull.

Sexy? Well, not to me. But as Dickens put it in The Pickwick Papers: “Everyone to his own taste,” the old woman said when she kissed her cow.

If the water bull should succeed in his quest, the result is apt to be a calf born some months later. The tarbh uisge, however, has no ears. They are apparently a problem for some water-dwellers, and so he does without them. His offspring, therefore, turn out to be half-eared, with the tops missing. Knife-eared, according to Highlanders, who do their best to kill the poor creatures at once, upon discovery.

That’s not so easily done, since you cannot drown the calf anymore than its sire.

But if you allow it to grow up, you’ll soon find your whole herd is corrupted. Your cows and calves will disappear into the water and you’ll be left with nothing more than muddy hoof prints.

Your best hope, then, is spotting the water bull before he has his way with the ladies. Or letting your own bull have at him.

See? No ears. And his offspring’s knife-ears are likely to be either crimson or purple in color, making them easy to spot.

You may well lose your bull, though. The tarbh uisge‘s no pushover. It has been said the water bull can set off earth tremors simply by stamping his feet!

That’s a problem, here, since some of them were transported  to the San Francisco Bay & Delta by the very same shockwave that has trapped so many Fae in this world since the Fall. For California was already earthquake country, and prone to such things. The Delta, in particular…

…because all those waterways are prone to flooding, and must be protected by an extensive levee system. This is what happens when a levee breaks…

d

Whole islands can go underwater, with crops and farmland destroyed in the process, and levee roads cut, and sometimes sizeable cities go under (as happened once with half of Antioch!)

What can you do, then?

First, keep a sharp eye out for water spouts. They were once uncommon, and so were tornados in California, but climate change has wrought a difference in this as well as the snow pack up in the mountains, and funnel clouds are no longer rare.

Thing is, the smaller ones that seem to skitter across the water’s surface like a living thing… just might be exactly that: a water bull, seen from a distance.

My advice is to use a spotting scope or binoculars, if you have nothing else, to make sure of your sighting. As I’ve mentioned, the water bull will have no ears, and may be quite shaggy and large indeed.

Then what?

Load up your shotgun. The easiest way to be rid of the water bull is to kill it with silver. The Scots and the islanders who live in the Hebrides or on the Isle of Manx grew accustomed to adding silver sixpence to the lead shot in their shells:

But of course, things have changed and the coins have been adulterated to the point where they contain so little silver, they’re useless for this, or for potting a werewolf. American money’s a little bit better, but not much. The dime, for example, no longer contains any silver at all, and the quarter is now only 10% silver. So jewelry might well be a better option, or bits of sterling from other sources.

Or you might think about an electric fence.

https://www.bing.com/videos/search?q=Electric+Fence+Shock+cattle&&view=detail&mid=85AF6B81E77B094F594385AF6B81E77B094F5943&&FORM=VRDGAR

As it turns out, the water bull, being wet all the time, is especially sensitive to a wee bit of voltage!

 

 

A Modern Bestiary – V is for Valkyrja

V is for Valkyrja, which is a word taken from the Old Norse for “chooser of the slain.” And then commonly rendered as Valkyrie, referring to the female spirits who are sent to select the bravest men from among those fallen in battle so they can then go to Valhalla and join Odin’s einherjar. They usually forget to mention that the goddess Freyja gets half of the chosen (and first pick, at that). Too busy with all that nonsense about the brass brassieres, I suppose.

Here’s one view of Valhalla, focused on the feasting rather than the constant daily battle practice, in which all of them will die again and again and again, only to be revived at dinner time. Some paradise, eh? Getting ready for Ragnarok is your only goal, and all the other options are worse. Much worse.

The Viking view is all wrong, of course. Honestly, these are supposed to be shield maidens of one sort or another, and yet they are only portrayed in one of two ways, with and without the brass brassiere.

Here’s one with the brass bazoukas, and with wings as well…and are those moose antlers?

 And here’s the usual alternative…topless.

Now, tell me, does either of these outfits make ANY sense, in this world or the afterlife, when BOTH feature all that snow and ice? Why would any woman ever put up with frostbitten nips?

I know. I know. My own attire is skimpy indeed in some respects, but that’s only in Faerie, where the weather is perfect. All day. Every day. Nor am I prone to sunburn. Or even mosquito bites.

So… let us dispense with this fantasy.

The Valkyrja, first and foremost, are dead women.

That means  any man lusting after them, even if it’s only in his own imagination, is indulging in necrophilia. Should he succeed in his quest, the resulting encounter will not be… fantastic.

  If any man succeeds in the usual way, this is how it goes… the Valkyries will haul whatever may be left of him to the Bifrost Bridge, where they ask for a hall pass from Heimdall, and then they’ll deliver him to Valhalla. En route, you may note his complete lack of interest in them, and his inability to participate in any part of the process.

It doesn’t get any better than that. He may be served endless horns of mead and ale, and he may feast to his heart’s content, but the legend says nothing about any other form of close encounter. He’s dead. She’s dead too. It would be gross.

And if our hero should be so unlucky as to encounter any of the valkyrja before he dies in battle, well, his prospects are going to get worse. He is likely to meet up with what is known as a scag– or skass-valkyrja. This is a Valkyrie who has not passed into the afterlife, and who is close kin to the Norns.

 If you’re not familiar with the Norns, they are something like the women known to the ancient Greeks as the Fates. And as they spin out the woolen fibers that measure your life, they determine both its length and its course.

So, too, with the skass-valkyrja. But rather than wait until you die in battle to decide what your destiny will be, the skass-valkyrja will make the decision beforehand. And may well enforce the decision, then and there.

  She may cast a screaming spear at you, and while the spear is small in size, its effect is lethal. It will strike you in the ribs and feel more like the sting of a bee or a stitch in your side than an actual wound, but you cannot escape its effects. All your organs will fail, one by one, in a cascade of agony that may closely resemble an acute case of pancreatitis.

There will not be a visible injury, and as pancreatitis is commonly caused by excessive intake of alcohol, no one will even know that you’ve been assaulted. No investigation will uncover what has really happened to you.

Therefore, be warned. If you wish to meet a Valkyrie, join the Marines and do it in the old-fashioned way, via the cult of Odin. Otherwise, settle for a Budweiser. Find yourself a living woman, if one will have you, and if not, then settle on something less dangerous. Invest, perhaps, in a personal appliance.

 

A Modern Bestiary – U is for Uncail

Uncail, however, is not what he is. It’s simply the Irish word for “Uncle.”

I do not know his true name. I’m not even sure if there’s only the one, or if there are more of his kind. Nor do I know the name of his kind. What I do know is that he is old, and he presents himself as an old man. As in human. Which he is not. Or at least not entirely.

  Uncail has always been old, for as long as I’ve known him, and I am not young. He is old in the geologic sense, as mountains are. And not upstart mountains like what you see in the Sierra Nevadas or even the Himalayas. Appalachian-old.

There a stories told about him, but even then he goes unnamed. He is simply “the old man” who lives all alone in a cottage remote from any town or other human habitations. His home is avoided by all, and that includes the Fae.

Much of what little we do know comes from Fae who stray into his domain by accident,  in ignorance, or through confusion rather than malice.

  This water goblin, for example, has a rather limited intellect and has been known to wander into many odd corners of the world(s). Harmless, in large part, this creature follows the fluttering butterflies in hopes of finding the Little Folk among them and enticing them to play with her.

The tale she tells is one that some humans have told as well, and the outlines are always the same.

  It begins with a whirlwind. Sometimes no more than a dust devil. More often, though, it’s a full-grown tornado. Whatever it’s size, it comes swirling across the land in the heat of the day, full of fury… and sometimes full of Fae!

That is what makes it a fairy whirlwind.

What? Did you think the idea for Sharknado sprang full-grown from a script-writer’s brow?

Personally, I think I could handle Sharknado (so long as it doesn’t include hammerheads – I refuse to believe they are creatures of Nature). I’m not so sure about taking on a fairy whirlwind.

Much like a swarm of bees, the typical fairy whirlwind takes shape when a colony of the smaller Fae grows unhappy with its current situation. Discomfort, despair, fury, frustration and hormones running amok all play their part. Encroachment by humans is commonly the cause of their sudden displacement. When that happens, the little ones may come together to create a greater whole in the shape of a larger, more powerful Fae.

This composite Fae can be dangerous, even to other Fae, for most of its higher functions are limited. It operates on instinct, and that instinct tells it to strike out, either in retaliation or for new and much less crowded territory.

In its earliest stages, a building swarm can be beautiful, especially at night.

Fairy lights lend ethereal grace to their movements, even in moments of anger.

But as the day dawns, and the summer’s heat builds, the swarming Fae soon reach a fever pitch of irritation. Together with the upward whirl of hot air, what was merely a mass movement can become violent.

 When this happens, the fairy whirlwind takes on a demonic character, and sometimes the shape of one in its willful destruction of everything in its path.

Yet when Uncle sees one, he does not run from it. He doesn’t try to take shelter (though YOU should!). No, Uncle responds to the whirlwind by crying out, “God bless you!”

And if the Fae within the whirlwind are in the midst of their usual pranks, and they’ve taken a human child from someone’s home, leaving a changeling in its place? They will then drop the stolen baby.

And Uncle catches it.

Which isn’t easy. These two men managed to catch a baby thrown from the upper floors of a burning apartment building – no tornado torque involved – and narrowly avoided disaster.

Why Uncle does this, I do not know. It may have been instinct on his part at one point – the Fae dropped it. He caught it.

Then what? Whenever the story is told by humans, it always turns out that the “old man” has no kin of his own and no way of knowing where this baby came from. And so Uncle raises the child as his own.

But Uncle himself never grows any older. And human children do grow up. So what then? Does he need to catch another? Or is there something else going on?

Sometimes, that composite Fae inhabiting the fairy whirlwind takes on far more definite form. A female form. And she is most certainly ticked about something.

I’ve taken to calling her Auntie. Mostly for lack of a better name, I admit. She’s a mystery all her own, and she comes armed with thunder and lightning, so I’ve been reluctant to ask any personal questions.

I’m dying to know, though. Why does the mere offer of God’s blessing cause her to drop those stolen children? And why does Uncle do it? Is he trying to save the babies? Or simply to spite her? Or does he actually mean what he says? And is it that which gives him his power?

A great many Irishmen and women to this day can claim descent from one of the rescued, so clearly they suffered no serious harm and did rejoin human society.

They might not have been very happy about it at first, of course.

This little girl is clearly upset by the sudden loss of her fairy playmates.

And so is this sad little tyke, who’s lost his very best human friend.

I cannot explain what is going on, with Uncle or with Auntie. I can tell you, if you encounter them, best you stay out of it altogether.

And keep a weather eye out for those twisters. Where once they were rarities in California, even the utterly natural kinds of whirlwinds are building in strength and numbers now, thanks to climate change. Because of that, funnel clouds are no longer unusual here. And some of them are full of fairies.

 

 

 

 

A Modern Bestiary – T is for Trowe

  T is for Trowes, and I don’t mean britches, though many Trowes wear them, and so they spare us the sight of that which no woman can find enticing. They are thought to be barrow wights by some, but are not ghostly. Merely invisible when they wish. Some consider them close kin to trolls because they too are creatures of the night. Others think them a form of the undead. But sunlight does not burn a Trowe, as it will a vampire. Nor will it turn one into solid rock.

  Now a rarity even in the Orkney Isles, and sometimes the Shetlands, the Trowes are dwarf-like in appearance, being short and somewhat misshapen, low-browed creatures.

They mainly go barefoot and cannot be shod by a cobbler working with any type of hide less resilient than that of a dragon. Their toe nails, you see, can drill right through boiled leather. Besides which, a Trowe with a howe to maintain soon grows annoyed by the need to remove his shoes or boots for the sake of digging in the dirt or tunneling into the dark red sandstone of the Orkneys, using his natural assets.

Some there are who live in sea caves, or atop rugged sea mounts, preferring those which offer them a solitude untroubled by the presence of humans.

  One such rocky pinnacle, the so-called Old Man of Hoy (Hoy being the island itself), was actually named for the Trowe who calls it home, although most modern men have long since forgotten about him.

Another group of Trowes guards the Yesnaby cliffs on the Isle of Hrossey. 

The most-feared of the Trowes is the Hogboon, which once haunted nearly every old mound to be found in the Orkneys. The word itself is a corruption of the Old Norse term haug-bui, or sometimes haug-buinn. It can be roughly translated as “mound-dweller” or “mound-farmer.”

An especially unpleasant Hogboon once inhabited the most famous mound of all, called Maeshowe by modern men and Orkahaugr by the Vikings.

 Maeshowe is a passage tomb, built nearly five thousand years ago. The Vikings never succeeded in evicting the so-called Hug Boy or Hog Boy of Maeshowe, who possessed amazing strength of both body and body odor. But tourists have now accomplished the feat using cameras and cell phones and loud, silly questions!

The Trowes and the Hogboons, however, should not be considered true Fae. They are instead hybrids of men and mound-dwellers! For long before ever the Vikings showed up, there were men here. Smallish, dark-haired, clever men.

And women too, of course. They were Pictish, and wild enough to give even the Roman legionnaires a real run for their money. Hence Hadrian’s Wall, built to keep the nasty buggers out!

 Much inclined to go naked in battle, especially during fair weather campaigns, it was the Picts’s custom to paint themselves bright blue with woad, which only made them more frightful to look upon. Worse, it did nothing to ease that personal aroma problem, also horrific to the bath-addicted Legionnaires.

The Romans never did succeed in conquering Pictland, let alone the Northern Isles. In 875 A.D., however, the Vikings invaded. They did take over the islands, and many a Pict went into hiding. Some moved into the mounds, where sharing close quarters with hogboons all through the long dark winters of the Northern Isles (and remember – the winter wind can scour them at 130 miles per hour, come January)… well, nature took its course.

One result? The Trowe has now acquired a taste for certain human forms of music and dance! For fiddlers, in particular.

Natalie MacMaster and Donnell Leahy, for example, are the favorite musicians of many a modern hogboon!

And since the Fall, there are more than a few Trowes living here in the New World. You will find them in the Mother Lode, where old gold mines offer them shelter and privacy near enough to what they had at home in Faerie.

Some old mines offer much more than others, however.

The Black Bart Inn, in San Andreas, California, for example, has a dance floor in its basement that IS an old gold mine, wherein much music is made. And tales are told of a ‘ghost’ who pulls many a prank on customers and bartenders alike.

I cannot say whether this mischievous spirit is truly a ghost or a Trowe who has taken up residence in a congenial tunnel. No need to worry overmuch, as the haunting of the Black Bart Inn has never resulted in serious injury to a human, although on at least one occasion, it did lead to flying pie in the restaurant. A rude remark by a tourist led to the pie case being yanked open by unseen hands, and the contents being flung in all directions. Without whipped cream, so it could have been worse. Or maybe just a bit tastier.

If you should wander into an old mine up in the Mother Lode, however, and happen upon an odd ‘face’ in the rock…

  Beware!

You’ve certainly stepped into a Trowe’s howe!  Save yourself. If you can, run. If you can’t, bring a fiddle along, or least a bit of fiddle music you can play – Alison Krauss and Union Station, for example – and be polite! Because no one is likely to find your bones if you trespass upon a Trowe’s hide-out and don’t even bother to carry an I-pod!