1879: Far Frae Lan

For I am a man upon the lan’
An I be a selkie on the sea
An when I’m far, and far frae lan’
My home it is in Skule Skerry

Mary Louise O’Connor, after trad.

1879 lacks many of the trappings of traditional fantasy, leaning toward a more rationalist, steampunk world. Yet, there are bits of the wild peeping through. As Jethro Tull said,

Jack, do you never sleep
does the green still run deep in your heart?
Or will these changing times,
motorways, powerlines,
keep us apart?
Well, I don’t think so
I saw some grass growing through the pavements today.

— Jack in the Green, Songs from the Wood, Jethro Tull

There’s elves and dwarves, sure, but they were all just humans who carried a magically reactive gene, the result of genetic expression that happens under specific conditions, like so many other features. And there’s snarks and trolls, they’re a little more different maybe, but they were still just humans who happened to carry the trait for growing really big and getting tusks. But with upcoming products, we’re introducing something new to the world, something that can’t be so easily explained in a Western, scientific mode. We’re introducing shapeshifters. We’re bringing in selkies.

I’ve been waiting on the love of my life to find
he’s been waiting on his Selkie to come back
he said “I know these shores are not like yours
but will you make your home in my arms?

— Tori Amos

First appearing in the forthcoming 1879 GM’s Companion, in the New Creatures chapter, selkies will turn up again in an adventure somewhere down the line. Whether these seal-human shifters are an Awakened form of seal, or a new form of human, or something else again, maybe not even From Around Here, really only they know and they’re not talking about it. Selkies tend to be insular, but deeply involved with human communities out at the edges of the world. That small fishing village up the coast has a little summer traffic, but only the fishermen in the colder months, and they don’t make a lot of supply trips over here. Yeah, their people are kind of short, and stout, and have dark eyes, why do you ask? The selkies have been tightly integrated with their human relatives for a long time, it wasn’t just legend. Of course, it doesn’t work the way your popular stories say, but then when have the newspapers ever really gotten it right? Much less those maudlin poets back a generation or two ago?

There’s no shedding of the skin. It’s a smoother, more graceful turn than that, a slow dive from one form into the other. It’s a sacred thing that can only be done under certain conditions, proximity to salt water being one. Using the shift to escape from danger is certainly acceptable, although selkies do their best to leave no evidence behind, even if it means dragging their grandfather’s pocket watch through the ocean so as not to leave it behind to be found. They’d rather shift for feeding on a nice shoal, or love, or leisure, or the turn of the tide and the need to return to the ocean. The cycles of land and sea call to them, and they must go.

Watch the ocean rolling in,
Moonlight tripping off the waves,
Along the bays.
Like a mirror between the worlds,
I catch the reflection of a star,
But it slips through my fingers.
Then out from the water,
From out of the waves,
Two eyes are looking at me.
Oh, I want to go to the sea again,
Oh, where the Selkies dance and I don’t feel alone.
Oh, I want to go to the sea again.

— Damh the Bard

What are the selkies really? Neither fish, nor fowl, nor good red herring, it would seem. What might they presage? If there are selkies in the world, what else might be out there, or right in among us, that just hasn’t risen to wider attention yet?

What could ever drive a man
To venture out in all this cold?
What could ever be the dream upon his mind
Or the voice he heard come singing through the snow?
Singing down down, bless this soul
Singing down down, this i know
Singing down down down down, waming must be sent
And by foot it must be brought and so we went
For the wren

— Jack Hardy

Tally Ho!