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.
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.
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…
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!