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…
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.
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.