Tag Archives: fairies

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…


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!