Folk singer Donal MacCraith is touring the Scottish Western Isles, documenting traditional songs and investigating his family history. He meets Niall MacLachlan in Stornoway and Niall invites himself along. He has a secret and an agenda of his own. Meeting Donal is the chance he needs to complete it.
American Donal MacCraith is on a road trip along the western coast of Scotland and the Western Isles. His family roots are there, but his main reasons for the extended vacation are the songs and legends. He’s a folk-singer, come to collect some new old material. In Stornoway he meets the Shielingers and Niall MacLachlan. Donal is attracted to Niall, but doesn’t act on it, unable to guess if the man is gay or not. When he continues his exploration of Lewis in his rented motorhome, making for the small crofting community his grandmother left as a young woman, he finds Niall waiting for him on the road just outside the town. Donal invites him along, and Niall leaps at the chance.
Once out on the road, Niall makes a play for Donal, and they begin a casual no-strings relationship, though Donal senses Niall has an agenda of his own. Donal knows their fling won’t last, but that suits him at first. Later, though, he begins to want something more, even though he has the feeling Niall is using him. He’s right, and it’s the clue in the old stories of the Sinclair Selkie Donal’s grandmother had told him. That clue will lead Donal to the startling truth behind the legend, and they’ll both be faced with life-changing choices.
“Stick around, Donal MacCraith. You fit in just right.”
That was all the invitation Donal needed, and for the rest of the evening he stayed with the Shielingers, taking over Niall’s bodhran when it was put aside for the tin whistle. Then, after the last song had been sung, the last beers ordered, Fergus pinned Donal in a corner.
“That song you sang,” he said without preamble. “‘The Sinclair Selkie’. I know the family legend, of course, but that song is a new one to me, and my mam is a Sinclair of Lewis. Did you write it?”
“What legend would that be?” Niall asked, pushing in between Fergus and Donal.
“No,” Donal said over Niall’s question. “It was one my gran passed down to me.” During and after his parents’ acrimonious divorce, Mairi and his grandfather Colum had been the mainstay of his teenage years. It was from them he learned Gaelic as well as the Scottish songs and legends, and inherited the talent to perform them. “She was a Sinclair before she married a MacCraith and she got it from her gran.”
“Yeah. Her family has a croft on the western side of the island, not far from Mhangurstadh.”
Fergus nodded, his ready smile widening to a grin. “My granny came from Mhangurstadh. Hey, that’ll make us kin! And Creagliath is between Mhangurstadh and the sea. That’s the name of the Sinclair’s keep, or what’s left of it, though I’m thinking you know that.”
“I know the names.” Donal chuckled. “And I’m going to be visiting the place. Gran wants lots of photos, and I have to find her sisters and say hello. She gave me directions to find their old home as well, to see if it’s still standing, and maybe still lived in.”
“I doubt it will be, on either count,” Fergus replied. “Though a few of the old places have been bought up by mainlanders and outlanders and modernized for summer homes.”
“What legend?” Niall raised his voice. “You’ve never said anything about it before.” There was a slight edge to his words and his gaze remained fastened on Donal.
“Oh, God,” Pat groaned. “You’ve done it now! Our Niall’s searching for old songs as well, only he’s more specific. He’s fixated on the seal-folk. He’s only been with us a week, but if I had a pound for every time I’ve heard him ask–”
“Shut up.” Fergus grinned. “It’s the legend of the Sinclair Selkie, like in the song, only it’s a mite darker. God, I haven’t thought about it for years.” He settled himself comfortably on the piano stool, and with the ease of a born storyteller, he launched into the tale. “Robert Sinclair was one of the many bastard sons of Ferghal Macauley, got on Agnes Sinclair when Ferghal was visiting Orkney some twenty and five years previously.” Around them, the pub’s remaining customers grew quiet, obviously listening. “Now, it so happened that young Robert was staying a while with his uncle, James Macauley, and Robert liked nothing more than riding out and exploring his uncle’s lands. He was returning from one such adventure at dusk, when he heard a lassie singing down by the shore. Her voice was so sweet and pure it drew him down to the sea’s edge.
“There he saw a young woman sitting among the boulders, combing out her long, long black hair in the light of the setting sun, and her beauty nigh on stopped the breath in his lungs. He immediately fell in love with her and decided she would be his, no matter what may be. When he rode closer, he saw that not only was she naked under the cloak of her hair, but a rich fur mantle lay beside her on the rocks.
“She was a selkie.” He paused for dramatic effect and took a swig of beer.
“Then the young Sinclair did what any man would. He snatched up the sealskin in one arm, the lassie in the other, and carried her away to his uncle’s keep. James gave him land near the sea, and that’s where Robert raised Creagliath, so’s his bride would be close to the waters she loved so much.
“Now,” Fergus continued, “this is where the legend parts from the song. If you’re expecting this tale to end with her bearing his children until she finds where he has hid her sealskin, then takes it back and abandons him and her bairns for the sea, then you’ll be wrong. She never did find it, so she was bound to him until the end of his days. Even his passing did not free her, for though he was dead and buried, he’d told no one where he’d hidden that mantle, not even his eldest son nor his favorite daughter.
“In time, she grew old and faded from the living world, forever bereft of the sea and her selkie kindred, and her half-human sons and daughters could not console her. Where her body lies, no one knows, but it is said her spirit still weeps among the ruins of that once tall keep, as she searches endlessly for her lost sealskin.
“And that, my friends, is the legend of the Sinclair Selkie.” He flourished a bow to acknowledge the spontaneous applause from his audience. “Is that how your folks remember it, Donal?”
“Pretty much.” He smiled, and didn’t mention that his gran knew another ending.
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I started creating stories not long after I mastered joined-up writing, somewhat to the bemusement of my parents and my English teachers – even my school essays weren’t safe from my overactive imagination. But I received plenty of encouragement. Dad gave me an already old Everest typewriter when I was ten, and it was probably the best gift I’d ever received until the inventions of the home computer and the World-Wide Web.
My reading and writing interests range from historical, mystery, and paranormal, to science-fiction and fantasy, mostly in the male/male genre. I refuse to be pigeon-holed and intend to uphold the long and honorable tradition of the Eccentric Brit to the best of my ability.
In my spare time [hah!] I read, or listen to audio books while quilting or knitting. In the past I’ve worked for my local Constabulary as a behind-the-scenes civilian for over twenty years, I’ve been a part-time and unpaid amateur archaeologist and a 15th century re-enactor.
I live in a small but ancient city in the West of England in the heart of what once was the kingdom of Wessex and I share my home with an extended family and assorted livestock. Life tends toward the chaotic, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.
It’s always been an equal amount of fun and hard work, and I hope my readers get as much enjoyment from reading the stories as I do from researching and writing them.