Our records go back as far as yours, I think... the further back you go, the more obscured they are by time. We keep the same stories, but like any myth or fairytale, we have our own take on them, our own filter. Full-mortals feature in our tales, but in not quite the same light as they do in yours. Your reputation with us is as mixed as ours with you. And like you, we have books, songs, oral history... there’s always a Shenachie to tell tales on a dark night when everyone’s had more than enough to drink*.
* That'll be pretty much every night, then?
Your brother, Conal is described as ‘heroic’, but you’ve been called ‘half-feral, a bastard boy full of hatred.’ I think that only shows the surly outer armoured skin you have presented to the world so far. There’s someone much more complex underneath all the angry posturing of your younger self, and I’d like to know more about how you would describe yourself nowadays, as compared to in your childhood. Do you, perhaps, see yourself as a kind of mythic hero (or indeed antihero) figure akin to all those butch Greek demigods like Achilles, or do you feel more comfortable closer to home, with heroes like Fionn mac Cumhaill and Cúchulainn—or do you feel like none of them?
I’m blushing** at the very thought of Achilles and Cuchulainn. Hell, I’m not the legendary type, though I love those heroes. They always seem so much larger than life, Lucy, and I’m just... life-sized. I know they had their human frailties, and it’s true I can throw a temper with the best of them, and have been known to sulk in my metaphorical tent... but consorting with gods isn’t for me. Fionn is a little different, isn’t he? He’s closer to us all, more man than demigod, and I like that he had wits as well as strength. More Odysseus than Achilles. I can also vouch for his existence, since Griogair knew him (Aonghas and Reultan named their daughter after him). Needless to say, I only heard the stories with the rest of the clann. My father never talked to me about him.
As for how I see myself nowadays? I’ve mellowed, or I think I have. I hope I’m smarter and wiser. The Boss says I still have a sizeable chip on my shoulder. Hah! She may know me pretty well, but even she doesn’t understand all my motives, not all the time.
** YES! I made Seth blush! This may be a first....
You and I share a love of animals, Seth. If you had to choose two mythical creatures from any culture to go into battle with and to guard your left and right sides, who would they be, and why?
I have good friends, and good fighting comrades, but there’s no-one I trust more in battle than Branndair***. I know his head and he knows mine: we’re like extensions of each other. So if I was going to choose two mythical heroes instead, I’d take Bran and Sceolan, Fionn’s hounds, the ones with the hearts of men.
*** Branndair is Seth's wolf companion
I trust you know the cautionary kelpie tale ‘Myself is Myself’+, Seth? It’s said in most of our old Scots legends that the waterhorses can shapeshift. Is this true of your own roan kelpie, or has something got skewed in the story as it travelled across the Veil? We mortals are easily confused about such things!
+ If any of you Lovely Blog Readers don't know it, it can be found in my Coll the Storyteller's Tales of Enchantment
In the shamanic tradition it is taught that everyone has a spirit animal (mine is a bear) with which they share affinities. Your true name, Murlainn, as well as symbolising the swift and deadly falcon spirit within you, set off all sorts of mythological echoes for me, being, of course, the same as the great Arthurian wizard of my own culture. Do you think that that Merlin too might have had Sithe blood, or even been a Sithe? Is he someone the Sithe know about?
A bear? That’s lovely. It suits you, because you’re beautiful and have a soft exterior+++, but you can be fierce. I like my true name well enough; it could have been worse. I’ve overheard bitchy comments in the dun before now, like the tosser who said he’d no idea there wasn’t a Gaelic word for ‘snake’. Breaking his nose was a satisfying moment.
And yes, I’ve had full-mortal friends who mistook my name for the wizard’s, and that has sometimes been helpful. I don’t doubt the man had Sithe blood, though I don’t think he was all Sithe: there’s definitely something else there. Didn’t he live backwards through time? Some of his abilities were undoubtedly Sithe, and he had plenty to do with us, or so I hear.
I don’t like the Sidhe of your BBC Merlin. They’re nothing like us. I spend Saturday nights shouting at the Boss’s TV. She gets cross and tells me to shut up, because all she wants to do is drool over Arthur and his knights^ – even though they’re terribly slow with a blade.
+++The less said about how Seth knows this, the better.
^You're very mean, Seth. 'The Boss' needs her downtime, just like the rest of us. If she wants to drool over slow knights, let her (there's even a free BBC picture below specially to distract her). The rest of us will drool over slow nights with a certain faery...Oops! didn't mean to say that. Delete delete delete!
When I wrote my own book of Celtic myths and legends, my storyteller set off from the stone circle at Callanish on the the Isle of Lewis (Eilean Leodhas). There are so many stones and circles in Scotland, and they’re pretty much all associated with the Otherworld in some way—generally with mortals wandering through and then coming back tens or hundreds of years later (as you know, to your cost). You’ve told us that there are rings of ancient stones in the Sithe lands too. Do they equate exactly with the ones in the mortal landscape? Is the Veil thinner or somehow more penetrable around them—and if so, why?
Oh, I’m sure that’s true, that the Veil is thinner in those places. You can feel it, can’t you? And not just in the stone circles – there are other rocks, streams, caverns where the other world seems very close. I think of places like Colonsay, or Gigha, or Tomnahurich Hill in Inverness, or the older places of Edinburgh. And I know, for instance, that the Veil is denser and less penetrable around duns and fortresses, so why wouldn’t it work the other way?
Still, full-mortals can’t just wander through, say, a watergate – you’d need someone of Sithe blood with you. That’s why there are all those tales of musicians or knights or midwives enticed through by some unscrupulous Sithe with a few coins or a convincing story.
Some of those stones have equivalents in the full-mortal world, some don’t. I suppose it depends on whether they have been moved or destroyed, or preserved, and why they were built in the first place – some were put there as markers for weak places in the Veil, which makes sense when you think of their atmosphere.
There are a few stone circles in your world I have special affection for. The place my sons are buried, for one. And another where – well. That’s a story for another time^^.
^^You're very good--I had hoped to tempt you into some revelations, but you're too canny for that
You faeries are burdened with the hideous Lammyr (which, incidentally, creep the flesh off my bones). They’re obviously pretty hard to get rid of, and I certainly wouldn’t want to meet one on a dark or any other night. We mortals think about a lot of scary things in our spare time—including vampires and werewolves. Do the Sithe have any experience of those—and if you yourself met either one, how would you deal with them?
I suppose our closest equivalent to your seductive bloodsucking destroyers would be our dear Queen. And I’d like to say the Lammyr are undead creatures, and alien to the Sithe, but unfortunately they live and breathe and we are related. At some point in the past we have to accept responsibility for them. Maybe they creep the flesh off their own bones, who knows? It would explain the way they look.
But werewolves – now, we don’t have shapeshifters, but I know that the Sithe have always had a close relationship with our wolves, just as we have with the ravens. (And of course, wolves and ravens have always had a symbiotic relationship, too, even in your world.) Not that I’m fond of my stepmother’s ghastly bird, I might add; that thing’s got it in for me.
Perhaps the werewolf legends came about in the same way the centaur ones did? A full-mortal sees a Sithe and a wolf working together, just as the ancients saw a man on a horse, and.... ah, but on the other hand, there’s every chance werewolves and centaurs are as real as the Sithe, isn’t there? We don’t know everything of every world.^^^
^^^ Interesting. So you admit there ARE other worlds....
In these modern times, we mortals have started seeing a lot of what are known to us as ‘urban faery tales’—stories about the Sithe, taken down by people probably not unlike The Boss. Many of them are set in the United States, and feature what seem to be some of your very distantly related kinfolk. Would you ever get on an aeroplane and travel across the Atlantic—or would you prefer to take a boat instead? Can you yourself go very far from the Veil—or can you get back to Sithe lands from anywhere in the mortal world?
Oh, I have travelled across the Atlantic, many times. I was in Antigua only recently #...but again, that’s a story for another time. To be honest, I prefer boats to planes, but I’m not as frightened of flying as the Boss is.
The Sithe certainly have kin in the United States, but then we have family everywhere – I’ve known Sithe from Germany, Belgium, Norway, Chile, South Africa and Pakistan. Some of those have different names, of course, but we’re all one race. Watergates exist in all countries; the Sithe world exists alongside yours in its entirety. I can go any distance from the Veil, any of us can – but I would never want to be too far from a watergate. You know how homesick I get.
# and there you go again with the enticing hints....
Now, finally (and this is a complete indulgence on my part), I just have to know the answer to this: 'The Boss' apparently has huge trouble controlling you and your urges, or so she tells me. You’re a kind of mega-flirt legend on Twitter already, and you have hordes of swooning female fans already (of whom I am obviously Most Important Number One, whoever might dispute that fact). So tell us, what would be your ideal night out with a lady in the mortal world of today (no expense spared)? Details, man, details!
All the details? Are you sure, Lucy? I’m not sure the Boss would allow that...!##
OK, but seriously... it would involve music, live music. And dancing. And down to the beach afterwards, to ride my horse together by moonlight and (probably) sober up. And then – oh, don’t talk to me about sand. It gets everywhere.
## I have a nasty feeling 'The Boss' has had her red censor pen out when she was transcribing this. She has a very Puritan Streak when it comes to your extracurricular activities, does Gillian. *sigh*.
Well, that's all we have time for right now. Thanks to the gorgeous Seth, (and to Gillian 'The Boss' Philip) for transcribing Seth's messy notes. I'm just off for a cold shower and a lie down.
You’re a wonderful interviewer as well as lovely, Lucy. Thank you!