Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Ninjas and Folklore

When I originally studied the people of the Amur River I was struck by how similar their lore was to that of Early Japan. For example, a great shaman character in their lore and that of Japan falls in love with the lord of the underworlds daughter. The lord of the underworld puts him through a series of tests to try to kill the shaman but his daughter helps the shaman succeed so that they can be married. The lord of the underworld is even put to sleep in both places by pulling the lice from his hair.

There are so many similarities that I began to wonder if there was some connection, a few years later it turns out that there is. The people of these lands are most closely related to the Jomon people of early Japan. In other words, much of Japan's early culture is shared with that of the hunter gatherers of North East Asia. So perhaps the story of Japan's Ninja's begins not with massive castles, but with cone shaped tents and small huts in which the hunter-gatherers of Japan first made their homes. For the art of stealth and cunning are the greatest weapons of the hunter gatherers, something, something which is clearly shown by the tales of the Oroqen. The Oroqen are closely related to the early people's of Japan and they have many folk tales that are very similar to the Japanese creation myths. Perhaps most importantly, within the Oroqen who were primarily hunter gatherers until very recently we can easily see the beginnings of the ninja myths and art in Japan. In one Oroqen tale when a man named Mokodai's wife was carried off by the Tegecen tribe he disguised himself as a cripple and went out in search of his wife. When she saw him she knew what he was doing and said that he was an old cook she knew and so her captors agreed to let him stay and cook for them. Then when they were asleep he killed them and freed his wife.

In another tale some enemies came to kidnap Mokodai’s wife yet again, though she didn’t go easily, when they stormed into her home chopped off their arms, and legs, and killing them one by one. At last they surrounded her and threatened to kill her if she didn't surrender. However, she thought “I'd rather kill myself then be caught and insulted by you,” so she lifted her sword to end her life, but an archer shot the blade from her hand and she was captured.

Her husband and brother caught up to the enemy three years later. Knowing they could not win in a direct attack, Mokodai transformed into a tree stump in order to spy on his enemy. When the leader of his enemies saw this stump he suspected it might be Mokodai, for he knew the man could appear and disappear, change form and do other tricks at will. So he shot an arrow into the stump, but Mokodai endured the pain, he shot a second arrow but Mokodai still didn't respond so the man decided that the stump was just a stump. That night Mokodai's wife, having been signaled that he was coming with his bird calls got up and cut the bow strings of their enemies. One by one Mokodai murdered his enemies and freed his wife.

Within this Oroqen story we have many aspects that are similar to Japanese motifs, and while the Linguistic and Genetic relationship between the Oroqen and Japanese is limited I believe that this story shows us two important things. First is that the idea of ninja, which is all too often traced to China, is common among the hunter gatherer cultures of North East Asia, so common that such trickery and deceit could almost be said to be the primary means by which hunter gatherers in the North, where the Japanese people come from, and waged war. Second the idea of suicide to retain honor is also present among these people, indicating further that Japan's indigenous culture retained a strong presence in it up into the modern era, and that rather than looking to China, perhaps one should look to related peoples for the source of their traditions.

Writing Prompt
Write about a ninja like society among a group of hunter gatherers which not only must deal with conflicts with other tribes, but which must also hunt for food for their village, they also have to deal with the kami rulers of the forests and many other monsters.

Among hunter gatherers the kidnapping of woman to become wives was a fairly common reason for war, as was conflict over hunting grounds as there was only so much food to go around. Hunter gatherers in these cases usually needed about one square mile per person in order to survive, although the later Jomon seem to have had a higher population density they were still in danger of starvation if they didn't have enough territory. In this case than the losing side in a war would have to watch many of their family members starve to death which had to be fairly motivating.

Another interesting point to keep in mind is that later Jomon tribes likely had wealth, which was held primarily by a few people as shown by jewelry and crafts which were traded from a long ways off, yet were not shared evenly within each grave site. This meant that there was a poorer class which may have resented the wealthier nobility.

Because hunter gatherers, and those in the wilderness throughout the world often engage in ninja like wars I would argue that the roots of Japan's ninja's come from its long periods of conflict between isolated villages over thousands of years. Even one of Japan's most famous heroes Yamato-Takeru wins many of his most famous victories by stealth and deception. He dresses like a woman to sneak into an Emishi home as a servant and assassinate their leader. He assassinated another leader by befriending him then killing him after secretly giving him a wooden sword in place of a real one. Wars are generally won in large part through knowledge and deception, for it is through such tricks that even a strong enemy is made weak. And it was the gaining of knowledge and the use of deception which the ninjas excelled at.

A storm rages outside the castle under siege, an owl glides silently through the rain and perches on a window sill for a moment as it peers through the darkness into the castle. No guards take notice of it, the window it's coming through is far too small for any human, so it flutters past them unseen. A moment later it's turned into a rat and is scurrying quickly along the walls, squeezing under doors, climbing up drainage vents to listen to the secret plans of his enemies and find places where it could start fires in order to cause the most damage to his enemies.

The shinobi (ninja) was only very rarely an assassin, as killing someone once they had infiltrated the enemy’s position would give them away. Rather they would take advantage of their stealth to spy on their enemy, learn their weaknesses and secrets, and to sabotage their operation. As spies the ninja would often first arrived in an enemy’s territory, long before any war broke out, before the land they were spying on had any knowledge that there might be a war. They had three primary tasks at this time. First they needed to determine which lands were the best marks for their lord to expand into by force. Second they needed to determine the strengths and weaknesses of the land they entered. Finally the shinobi would look for people who they could bribe over to their side. In order to find people who they could bribe they would listen for rumors about samurai and or government officials who were angry with their lord. Such as samurai had a family member was forced to commit sepiku (ritual suicide) by their lord, had been fined a lot of money, had had their income reduced, were desperate for money, or had been demoted. These were all potential targets for the ninja to bribe.

During this time the ninja would live among peasants and poor samurai, people who were likely to gossip. To do this they would act as poor travelers, as in the past such travelers often stayed in people’s homes, rather than in inns. Other times the ninja might create a false cover, even using a false family to pretend to be a merchant, blacksmith, poor samurai, or someone else who could move into a community.

Writing Prompt
In books with information on how to counter the activities of ninjas it recommends having underlings report any attempted bribe which took place right away. Because of this it’s conceivable that a ninja would need to kill those they failed to bribe effectively.

Tell the story of a ninja who bribes a number of people successfully but fails in one case. Now he must kill the person and make it appear to be accidental.

Or in another vein the ninja might have to kill off government agents so that those they've bribed can rise in rank before the war begins.

The Ninjas False Family
Write a story about a ninja who uses a fake wife and child as part of his cover when he is sent to a city or village to gather information.

As information gatherers and gatherers of double agents it was extremely important for the ninja to blend in with the people of the region he moved to. In order to do this the ninja would often times work with a woman who pretended to be their wife as well as children pretending to be theirs as well. Exactly where or how they recruited these women is uncertain, they may have purchased the contract of brothel girls and children who had been sold into servitude. They may also have picked up orphans or found desperate widows. Or there may actually have been special training for such women and children. Given the risk which was involved in these assignments it was unlikely that samurai or ninjas would give up their own wives and children for this task. Indeed it wasn't uncommon for a ninja to simply ditch their false family when the mission was over, leaving them to be captured by their enemies.

Writing Prompt
Imagine what a ninja who created an inugami could do.

Most often the Shinobi were chosen from the ranks of the lower samurais and the Ashigaru (foot soldiers) and were trained to perform their specialized tasks. Indeed samurai were told in some cases that it was important for them to learn the arts of theft for use in war and to prevent theft. Even the sword school Tenshin Katori Shinto Ryo taught the arts of the ninja to their samurai students. Further during times of peace the samurai would become unemployed, and while they were members of what was socially a higher class than most this didn't always translate to money. Because of this records show that samurai used the skills of thieves to sneak into people’s homes and rob them for hundreds of years.

Writing prompt
Write a story about a samurai who is a very skilled thief who is offered a pardon if he helps his lord in an upcoming war.

Because of the nature of their jobs Ninjas could come from any class. They could be merchants with specialized knowledge, skilled porters, and more. In addition, as with everything else in Traditional Japan, ninja’s jobs were at times passed down within the same families. Of course unlike many other jobs the ninja’s skills were meant to be a secret. This meant that if a ninjas decedents were dim witted or physically weak they wouldn't be taught these skills. Instead the ninja would have to seek out another to teach them to. After all, as spies’ ninjas were chosen because they were extremely intelligent but looked stupid. By looking stupid the ninja was able to appear unassuming, but more than this they were able to use there seeming ineptitude to gather information. Many if not most people after all, like to feel intelligent and so the ninja would buy a person a few drinks and then begin to ask them questions. The ninja’s unintelligent look meant that he could explain away his desire to know gossip or secret information, or lack of knowledge in general with a simple confused and befuddled look. The ninja’s apparent confusion meant that many a drunk person would be likely to give them more information than they should in order to explain the regions politics to the confused looking ninja.

However, in addition to having the ability to ferret out information many ninjas also needed to be skilled in the arts of stealth and war for once the war started the ninjas would sneak behind enemy lines to count soldiers and determine the make-up of enemy armies, they would sabotage the enemy through the use of fire and poison, and they would act as scouts and would lead guerrilla tactics against their enemies. This is why a lords retainers were often selected to become ninjas. Rather than loan wolves ninjas were typically a part of a larger military structure, one which they helped to win wars. In addition ninjas would work together in small groups, often leading larger groups of samurai and soldiers on a guerrilla raid inside a castle or other fortified position.

One of the favored tactics of the ninja was to use a storm as cover, so that they could sneak through a windy and rainy night into their enemy’s position where they would set fire to buildings, lead soldiers to fight quick guerrilla battles, and in short cause mayhem. Often times such infiltration meant not only the use of stealth but the climbing of hundreds of feet of rock and wall to get into a castle, or the swimming of moats all during storm, which meant that the ninja had to be very skilled at all of these.

Once inside a castle it wasn't simply stealth that allowed ninjas to pass undetected; instead their ability to seem confused, their skill at lying and their knowledge of the enemy would allow them to pretend to be guards searching for ninjas trying to sneak into the palace, messengers or simply as lost soldiers from 'such and such a clan'. In this way they were able to move about freely, gather information, and of course assassinate whomever they wish.

Although they would often lead men or perform sabotage when they would sneak into an enemy position this wasn't always the case. Often the ninja was purely after information that they would use on later raids. In this case they most likely went alone, or in very small teams so that they could sneak close enough to learn what passwords an enemy was using to distinguish friend from foe, the names of the clans and even individual people within the enemy encampment. Anything which would help the ninja lead successful raids later.

Sneaking into an enemy encampment is not the only use for stealth, however, it can also be the only way to prevent the enemy from sneaking up on one’s own army. For this reason shinobi could also be used for guard duties. Scouting out ahead of armies to search for potential ambushes. Or they could lay in wait at night in positing they felt another shinobi might try to sneak into their sides encampments.

Of course if a war was anticipated, which it often was given how common war was in Medieval Japan, there would likely already be ninjas within the enemy encampment. People who had been pretending to be someone else for weeks or even years before the war started. Such long term infiltration would better allow ninjas to join their enemies armies later, after all the easiest espionage occurs when you’re already in the trusted circle of those you’re spying on. From inside the enemy position the ninjas could spread rumors and false information to misdirect their opponent. They can also act as double agents or false guards, thus allowing the other shinobi to do their work more easily. Further while inside the enemy’s city the ninja could start fires, and raise an alarm that the city had already been breached. This misleads the guards away from their actual posts and gives the ninjas own allies outside the walls a chance to breach them.

Another way to begin a war was for ninja's to act as bandit lords, leading their allies on small raids to steal money. These, however, weren't the purpose of these raids, the purpose was to lure their enemies into the mountain in order to hunt down the ‘bandits' who had been causing trouble. Once the enemies soldiers were in the mountains traps would be sprung and rocks would be dropped on them from above. Thus the ninjas could slaughter huge numbers of their opponent’s men with very little danger for themselves, before anyone even knew they were at war.

Of course in lore ninja's were said to be able to change form, or at least nearly do so with disguises or magic. This means that any ninja who had made their way into an enemy encampment could pretend to be anyone they chose, including in some cases an animal. Part of where the idea of form changing likely comes form is the fact that ninjas would use animal skins to change their outline. This because at night or at day when the sun is right people can't and don't look too closely at animals they see all the time. This means that a ninja's disguise wouldn't have to even be very good to fool someone for a moment.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Vagabond Fae

A story of courage and survival for two fairies driven from their home by terrifying spirits. They now travel without a place to call their own. Hiding from the thing that stalks them, dealing with rival clans. All while searching for a new home. 

The wood wives of Germany are some of the most interesting fairies in folklore, but there are very few tales about them translated into English. Which is why I had a number of German tales translated. 
The German fairies are interesting because they needed humans, they loved to help humans, but were terrified of us. 
This story follows two wood wife sisters who are driven from their home by a magical hunter. No fairy can stop him. There are stories of thousands of fairies fleeing their homeland to escape him, because only a human can stop him.
But humans have killed and exploited fairies in the past, so the fairies were often too afraid to ask for help (though not always).

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With her red hat making her invisible, Saga whispered secretly into a girl’s ear. Giving the inspiration to fix the lines of code that had been troubling her. The girl in question, was sitting on the steps of a high school stairwell. Having been distracted from her trip home by her eagerness to finish her program. She was so motivated and brilliant on her own, Saga loved helping her. The app she was working on wasn’t world changing, but it would help a few people. Saga delighted in that thought. For she could feel the future. She could feel the relief, the happiness that the app would indirectly cause once it was released. She could also see the good it would do the girl who’d made it.
Saga was an ellegirl, related to the elves. Elves, however, were nearly divine beings, and she was decidedly not. She wasn’t even a member of the elle clan. She and her sister had been abandoned as a little girls, or perhaps lost? She’d been too young to remember exactly what had happened. After that, they’d been raised by a family of foxes. Making her a bit wild, and she looked it. Her dress was sewn together from the bits of clothes people abandoned in the forest. Mostly brightly colored mittens and socks. Saga loved the cheerful patterns of these. Even more than Saga’s moss and leafy hair, or her fierce blue eyes, the crazy patchy dress would have provoked staring if any human saw her for more than a second or two. Though that almost never happened. She was only visible to humans when she took off her little red cap, often to scratch an itch or cool off.
Saga could feel a new problem coming. High schools, she’d learned, were filled with garbage people who loved nothing more than to hurt those who did things worthwhile. No, they were worse than that. Garbage, at least, could be delicious and fed so many animals. Saga’s scowl was deep as she went hurried to head off the worse than garbage person coming towards them. Jared. His happiness was based on the unhappiness of people who were better than he was. So pretty much everyone. Saga ghosted over to him before he had spotted the girl and blew in his face. His eyes, already pretty much vacant became even more so. They fluttered a bit as Saga’s spell caused him to forget where he was going. Saga touched his stomach, causing him to suddenly have an intense urge to pee. He danced and hopped back towards the restroom. He wouldn’t likely return any time soon. Bullies were like a fish, easily distracted by shiny new objects. By the time he got out of the bathroom he’d be off chasing something else.
Saga skipped out of school. It was time for supper and she had a gimpy little skunk she and her sister had been helping to feed. Saga wandered out into the little patch of trees near the school. She swapped her red hat for her fox cape. All the easier to hunt for fresh food.

Still in her fox form Saga sighed with pleasure, as she took another bite out of the plump little mouse. It tasted of the wild forest it had lived on. It was late in the evening, and what little sun remained was mostly blocked by heavy clouds and thick trees blocked out most of the light, making it easy for her to hide at the base of a large pine. The other ellefolk. The ones without fox parents always found this behavior a little repulsive. Though not as bad as her dining with a squeaking little fox. The skunk looked at the last little mouse, then at her.
Go ahead, Saga told the adorable little animal.
She watched as the skunk, happily devoured rodent. She knew from experience that the skunk’s fur was even softer than her own. Sadly her sister had made her promise not to cuddle with the skunk without washing before coming home.
Saga was just gnawing down the last of the mouse’s bones when she heard two human lovers half whispering half calling each other as they tried to meet for what she assumed had been some sort of arranged secret meeting in the dim shelter of the trees. Her fox sharp ears could hear them, but they obviously couldn’t hear each other yet. An evil grin formed across her face.
She pulled her fox fur back. It was dark enough now that they wouldn’t notice her mossy hair, or even her face. She used the human girl’s voice to answer the boy. He found her a moment later. The shadows hid her face, and men never payed that much attention to dresses. He never suspected that she might not be his lover. He kissed her for a moment before pulling away.
“Are you bleeding?” He asked, the blood from her meal still fresh on her lips.
“What’s going on?” His lover asked her voice quivering on finding him in another woman’s embrace.
He spun to look at her, his face twisted in confusion. He looked back towards Saga.
With a laugh Saga jerked her fox skin back over her head to return to canine form. She bolted away from them. The sound of her barking laugh echoing through the little orchard.
Rain started to fall in giant cold clumps.
Whiskers falling off a kitten, Saga cursed. She ran faster towards home. The rain would cause the berries her sister had been carefully growing to split if they were left out too long.
The base of the elm tree where she lived was twisted in a large knot, making an opening just large enough for her and her sister to get through when they were small as mice. Her sister Ella was four inches tall, standing inside the doorway.  
“You’ll never believe what I just did,” Saga said, a laugh forming on her lips.
“Something terrifyingly obnoxious,” Ella responded, a little smirk on her face.
“Me? I’m all sweetness and blackberries. I just kissed a boy.”
“And did he know what he was doing?”
“He might have thought I was his secret lover,” Saga said with a mischief filled giggle.
“I prefer to think of it as playful and full of mystery. I’m really trying to keep people’s sense of wonder alive before cold reality takes it away.”
“You know we’re supposed to keep the fact that magic is real a secret. We can’t trust humans.” 

Hearth Knights

Anyone who knows me, knows I'm obsessed with house fairies. When I was a child I'd wake up really early in the morning so I could pretend to be a brownie sneaking around the house.
This is the story of a magical cat stray cat who's adopted and so joins the house fairies in protecting humans against the things that go bump in the night.
It's also about a witch who works for the house fairies. 
And of course it's about a number of different fairy traditions, as the fairies followed people to the U.S. from basically every country in the world. 

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Autumn and her familiar crept through the sleeping house, carefully searching every shadow and tiny crevice. Halloween was fast approaching and this year something was stirring up the ghosts and goblins. Autumn ducked down to peek under the couch. Dust bunnies peered back out at her. There were a few tiny toys, some coins, but nothing else. This particular house had a lot of little nooks for things to hide. It wasn’t filthy by any means. It was just that a lot of people had lived in it for a long time. So it was filled with memories. There were shells and bits of wood collected from the beach, wheat from the Midwest, and a dozen other little nick knacks from dozens of family trips and hobbies.  
Her familiar spirit, was checking the box of toys kept under a coffee table for when the nieces and nephews visited. The familiar’s name was Fabian, a Puk. He usually appeared as a tiny woodland spirit, and sometimes a ten foot long dragon. Right now, though he was in the form of a cat so he could sniff out trouble a little better. His pink little nose twitched in the way that made Autumn want to pet him until he was grouchy. Which usually only took about three seconds.
They crept carefully over the worn carpet. It wasn’t the sleeping humans they were being quite for, a simple spell insured that everyone would stay asleep. It was always easier to find curses left behind if you could catch the one leaving them. So they padded silently around a corner and into the kitchen. Lewis tapped the hem of Harper’s skirt with his tail, using his nose to point to the thing standing on the counter. The boggart was rummaging through the cups. He wasn’t more than thirty inches tall. His legs were so thin and his body was so fat it looked like he should have toppled over. His head and his arms were almost human. Though is face looked like someone had smashed a wolf’s face flat with a hammer.
Most boggarts had the good sense to run when they were faced with a witch and a puk. But Harper was young, not much more than fourteen. Boggarts are used to tormenting the young, not fearing them. He stood there staring at them as if uncertain what to do.
“You have no business here,” Lewis snarled, his voice coming out in an angry cat yowl. The boggart showed his teeth in a twisted grin. He dropped something onto the counter which clattered like hollow plastic. A baby bottle, Autumn realized a snarl forming on her own lips. She lifted her wand. The boggart had been placing a curse on the bottle. What kind of foul monster would place a curse on a baby?
Her wand started to glow. The boggart’s eyes narrowed. Autumn whipped a spell at him, but he leapt over it.
“This is our territory now,” the boggart snarled as he rushed towards them, snorting like an angry bull, claws clicking on the ground.
Fabian leapt into to meet him, unsheathed claws flashed wildly. The boggart tried to catch the furious cat. Fabian used the boggart’s outstretched hand as a spring board. Cat claws ripped into the monster’s face and chest.
The boggart screamed as he tried to grab Fabian, but the familiar had already dropped away from him.
Autumn’s next spell knocked the boggart back against the counter. He was snarling with blind rage. Trying to stumble to his feet.
“The stalker will devour every bit of you,” he was screaming.
A knot formed in Autumn’s racing heart. The stalking? She already felt on edge. Her wand hand was shaking. Fabian slammed into the side of the boggart’s neck. The boggart’s screams turned into a yelp of pain. Harper fumbled with a bag of salt, spilling some of it across the floor.
“Get out of the way Fabian,” Autumn called.  
He jumped back down, and she flung the salt in the boggart’s face, chanting words of magic. There was a sound like frying bacon and the boggart ran. He leapt out the window, crashing through rose bushes. Howling in pain.
Autumn sank to the floor, her hands pressed to her chest. She’d only been doing this for a month, so everything was still fresh. Fabian was in his old man form. He did that when he wanted to be reassuring. Right now, however, Harper would have felt better with him in his dragon form. Unfortunately that form was exhausting, so he couldn’t spend too much time in it. She was fiddling with the acorns and stream smoothed stone neckless she’d made. Each item painted to represent one of the fairies that had promised to help her.
“You did very well,” Fabian told her. Witches like her worked for their familiar spirits. He was her connection to the fairy courts that ruled over the magical world in the area.
Autumn nodded, more on reflex than because of any actual agreement. “What do you suppose he meant, by the stalker?”
“Something’s trying to push into our town. Give the bad guys a little more free reign to place their curses, spread illness and despair.”
Autumn sat there a little while, her chest rising and falling heavily. Finally, a little calmer she got up and went to the bottle. The curse he’d placed on it was a nasty little thing. Like a long black slug coiled in the bottom. It writhed when she poured her purifying salt on it.
“Do you think that it really could…” She stopped herself from repeating the boggart’s threat. A shudder running down her spine.
“The boggart was most likely just talking trash,” Fabian said in his most reassuring voice.  
Autumn washed the bottle out, twice. “Do you think I could have tomorrow off? She asked as she blew the bottle dry with a flick of her wand. “The Court of Cats invited me to their little dance.”
Lewis’s leafy mustached twitched. “I’m still nervous about letting you run off to play with the fairies and cat court unsupervised.”
Autumn deflated. “Most of my friends party with them almost every night.”
“And you wonder why I worry about letting you be unsupervised?” Fabian said, his face turning grandfather stern.
“Not bad partying.” Autumn said. She got up on her toes to check the rest of the cups in the cupboard for any other nasty curses the boggart might have left behind. “They play Scrabble, stuff like that.”
Lewis let out a puff and chuckled. “Scrabble? Was that the best you could come up with? You hate Scrabble anyways?” He was searching through the plates and bowls for any curses.
“No, I hate playing Scrabble with you. Your way to competitive. Though I suppose it does suck when a little child beats you.”
“When have you ever beaten me at anything?”
Candyland? Harper reminded him, barely able to contain her laugh.
Fabian’s voice took on a slightly grouchy edge. “Yeah, we must have been bored out of our minds to play that silly game.
They finished searching the kitchen and he lead her back out.  
“So, can I go?” She asked as they made their way up the stairs.
They crept into one of the children’s rooms, checked under the bed and in the closet. As usual there was nothing under them. Despite the stereotype bad things preferred the kitchen, but it was always good to check.
“Fine,” Fabian said.
Harper clapped her hands together in rapid excitement. The Court of Cats had been planning this party for a month. They’d invited the brownies and pixies, and so many more court’s she’d never even meet before.
“But,” Fabian continued. “You need to make at least one knew friend.”
“In one night?” Harper asked. Knowing that Lewis wasn’t talking about someone to have playdates with. He meant a friend she could call on if she help in a fight. Any given person only had so much magical energy. When they ran out they would borrow little bits from fairies who’d agreed to share with them. That’s what her neckless was for. She had twenty seven fairies willing to help her. That had taken her almost a year. About two weeks per fairy. Finding a new ally in one night seemed like a bit of a stretch.
“Halloween is still a month away, and things are already getting intense. So we’re going to need all the help we can get.”
She really wanted to go so she just nodded. She secretly hoped more help would just land on her doorstep. 

Seluna and the Starless Night

Why this project

I love the Winter Court of Welsh fairies. The best holidays belong to them. From Halloween and Christmas to Easter. This is the story of two witches who come to work for these fairies. A few years back when the cold snow and rain of winter didn't come to Wales their crops almost died. Without winter we don't get water. For winter means rain in the jungles, it means the cold that helps apples blossom when spring comes. The winter court can be destructive however.

A thousand five hundred years ago the English water spirits went from being kind creatures to man eating hags. That is happening again, with fairies turning into monsters. Seluna and Karen must find out way and stop it from taking over.

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Rain fell in thick sporadic waves, washing down the back of Seluna’s silvery violet hair, and over her blue animal print dress. She took a deep breath. Smelling the rain cleaned world and the popcorn from the theatre she’d just stepped out of helped to calm her. She tossed the last of her own popcorn on soaking wet lawn. Before the rain could make it vanish a dozen Wichtelmänner fluttered down from the roof of the movie theater like pidgins to collect her offering. The tiny exquisite fairies ran about, playfully sliding through the soaking grass like otters, even as they gathered the, now wet, popcorn.
“It’s moments like these,” she whispered to herself, “that I realize how truly lucky I am.”
Most of the humans in the small crowd that was chatting and laughing about the movie they’d just seen under the awning behind her would never get to see any of the fairies. “I’m lucky indeed,” Seluna smiled, even though an anxious knot still sat in her stomach. She handed the last piece of popcorn to a little Wichtelmänner boy who beamed happily at her. A moment later he followed his family home to squirrel away the food for the winter Seluna knew would start tonight. Seluna felt bad for them, the winter which was coming would be a cold one, and they had no clothes. But unlike the shoemaker who’d made the mistake of giving clothes to some Wichtelmänner generations before, Seluna knew that if she did they would lose their caring, generous nature. Human actions and words had power over fairies. Seluna understood that, she understood them. What she was on a mission to discover was her own human heritage. The few shows she’d seen on one of the new witch’s cell phones told her that teenagers often went on dates to learn about other people. So she’d decided to try that. It had been fairly easy finding someone to go out with. She knew hundreds of house fairies which kept secret watch over the people who lived in their homes. So she’d arranged an ‘accidental’ meeting with someone they’d recommended to her. Not knowing the person she was dating at all had been part of the adventure. And it had been intriguingly fun. Now on their third date she found herself worrying about what he thought. Which meant she was worried about the fact that she’d truly hated the movie they’d just watched together. What was the protocol for hating a movie? Should she say something, keep quite? If the people passing her by were any indication humans talked about the movies they’d just seen pretty extensively. They laughed, they made jokes. She wanted to do that, but she couldn’t think of any funny moments in that awful, awful movie.
Seluna peered around the corner to see if he was out of the bathroom yet. The line outside the door had been long and he’d drank so much during the movie she’d thought he was obviously done and looking for her. She waved at him and a few moments later he slid outside beside her.
“That was the worst movie ever,” Kevin laughed the moment he came out the door. “I can’t believe I let you talk me into that.” He popped open his dark black umbrella for the two of them.
Seluna gave him a bemused, all be it, somewhat confused smile. He’d laughed when he’d told her how awful the movie was. That had to be good right? She tugged gently on her silver purple hair. She’d thought that watching this movie was his idea. Was it normal for him to claim otherwise? The few TV show’s she’d watched did seem to indicate that women like her were always befuddled by their boyfriends, so maybe they were supposed to do confusing things? The two of them stepped out from under the awning and sloshed through the parking lot, the rain pattering against the black umbrella overhead. What a bizarre puzzle, trying to understand a human, Seluna mused to herself. This was exactly the type of silly puzzle she needed to get her mind off of the second time she’d died. She shuddered and turned her attention back to trying to understand the adorable problem at hand.
“If you remember you were the one who wanted to see that movie,” Seluna told Kevin. “You showed me the trailer three times during dinner, and all I could think was that it looked ridiculous. “
 “It was ridiculous, I showed you the trailers as an ironic joke,” Keven told her.
“Really? Seluna asked with some surprise. She laughed at the idea. We need to work on our communication, because I didn't get that at all.”
They crossed the street, and Seluna could see people through their car windows, families just coming from the movies, the children in the back seat. She found herself wondering, about their lives, their hopes and dreams, and what it might have been like if she’d grown up as a normal human.
She discreetly dropped a pastry from a pocket of her light blue raincoat into the wet grass for the swarm of curious fairies, mostly tywelth teg, sith and pixies that secretly made their homes in the neatly trimmed hedges along the edge of the suburban yards. No matter how fondly she might recall the child she’d once had when she’d been an ordinary person, she would never really trade it for being a part of this world.

The red hand shaped light stopped blinking when they were halfway across the street so they started running, Seluna’s foot splashed in a cold stream of water running down the gutter.
“I can’t believe you thought I wanted to see that movie,” Kevin said. I laughed through the whole trailer,” He laughed a little before Seluna could respond.
“Exactly, you never stopped laughing, you kept quoting it. I thought it was supposed to be one of those comedies I didn’t get,” Seluna said. She wracked her brain to understand why anyone would laugh at something they hated.
 “It wasn’t a comedy,” Kevin told her.
“Yeah, I know that now. What I don’t know, is how your crazy mind works,” Seluna allowed herself to fall a little behind so she could toss a pastry into a tree for a little dragon known as a niskepuk. She flicked a little meat to coyote who was denning in some shrubs. “Who makes someone watch a trailer for a movie hate over and over again as a joke?” Seluna laughed. “Couldn’t you just wait around a corner and yell boo when I come by?”
“Doesn’t that seem a little immature to you?”
“Well, at least if you did that, I’d have the pleasure of slapping you in surprise,” Seluna told him as she slapped at the air to emphasize her point. “At this point I just feel whelmed.”
“Whelmed, you mean like overwhelmed or underwhelmed?”
“No whelmed, sort of like just blah,” Seluna tried to stop herself from grinning, so she could look – whelmed - but she just couldn’t do it. This whole conversation had become so wonderfully ridiculous. It was nice to chat about nothing, to think about, essentially, nothing.
“Who uses words like whelmed?”
A troll queen, disguised as a toads was resting on the lawn ahead. Seluna watched her closely. She never even considered not introducing herself. It was important to be on good terms with the trolls. Besides, a King had once snubbed a Fee Queen in France and so had had his baby cursed to sleep a hundred year slumber on her 16th birthday. Seluna shuddered to think a Queen would do to a peasant like her if she snubbed her. So as she passed she turned as formally as she could towards the toad, and bowed low. “You look especially lovely this evening.”
“I don’t know,” Kevin’s voice startled her. But not as much as his laugh.  “She looks like she could use a bit of wart remover and maybe a bit of plastic surgery.”
Seluna’s heart lurched. The toad scowled. How stupid could I be? Seluna thought, of course Kevin thought it was a joke. As far as he knew a toad was just a toad. And it would be ridiculous to bow to a toad, they don’t usually care about such things. In fact the few time’s she’d talked to toads, they’d been too lazy to say much of anything.
“He didn’t mean it,” Seluna cried out, though she was already pulling her bell and blackthorn wand from her purse for the fight she knew was coming. She could see her father now, in the form of an owl standing in a nearby tree, ready to step in now that she was about to need help. Perhaps he’d been right, perhaps she was too interwoven with the fairy world to go out with someone as normal as Keven was.

Thursday, July 9, 2015

Cute Fairy Art

About my Art 

I grew up in a tiny Yupik village of only a few hundred people and no roads in or out. Since there was little to no TV access I spent my youngest days playing outside and listening to stories about Raven and the spirit world, in essence about fairies. It was here where I learned about art, including the ever important art of masks. In the Yupik culture masks were a way to make the unseen world visible, a way to tell a story about something magical. It wasn’t just the Yupik people who viewed masks as door way into the spirit world, into the real of fairies, this was true in Ancient Greece, in Indonesia, Japan, and more. 

Like these masks my art is meant to be a doorway into the fairy realm, into imagination.

I have also come to realize the importance of cute things.

Art should make people’s lives better, and I seek to do this. So while many may not understand symbolism of art, or don’t pay much attention to such symbols, they do know how something makes them feel. I want people to feel better with my art, to escape the mundane. In this sense cute also acts as a doorway into the fairy realm, into the imagination. 

Friday, July 3, 2015

Under the Midnight Sun

My name is Ty Hulse. I'm a folklorist who grew up along the Kuskokwim River in Alaska. As a child I daydreamed about meeting the creatures from the stories the village Elder's told. I heard strange sounds coming out of the ground while hunting on the tundra. So my thinking on the other world was shaped by the fairy tales of  of Western Alaska.

I've been writing an urban fantasy / cozy mystery that takes place along the Kuskokwim River.

The story follows Tracy. A woman who the little people are teaching magic to so that she can help them deal with the quickly changing world, and protect humans from the things they can't see. So when some of the normally passive ghosts begin to attack people, she has to team up with an old flame to find out why.

Although most of the creatures in it come from Yupik lore, there are tales from all over the world of fairies and trolls fleeing their home. So part of what's happening in this story is that these fairy refugees are finding their way to Alaska.

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I’d never seen a troll before, but I was pretty sure that’s what the forty foot tall beast wading towards my little skiff in the Kuskokwim River was. He looked exactly like I’d always imagined a troll should. From his dirty beard, to the massive nose which bloomed out of his face like a wrinkly Yukon gold potato. My brain began checking off everything I knew about them; Trolls come from Scandinavia, are afraid of the sound of drums which remind them of thunder, and oddly enough the Yukon gold potato is from Ontario, Canada. Stay focused I scolded myself. My mind tends to flutter like a moth trapped in a house when I’m nervous, such as when I’m being approached by a King Kong sized monster. I tried to focus on what I’d read about trolls, but since this was the first troll I’d heard of in Western Alaska, I wasn’t certain how many of the myths were accurate.
I hefted a large dip net out of the dark water and dumped half a dozen five inch long smelt into a bucket. I’d been catching the tiny fish for eight hours now. So long it was hard to open my aching hands. “There’s probably nothing to worry about,” I whispered to myself. My brain knew that but my heart, was still tying itself up in knots. Odds were the troll, like so many of the other beings from distant lands was a refugee looking for a new home. Which meant he would try to be as nice as a lost puppy. The image of him trying to act cute brought a brief smile to my face. Even as the large ripples he was making started sloshing against my little boat.
“If he says fee-fi-fo-fum, I’m out of here,” Emma said a twinkle of laughter in her voice. Of course she thought this was funny. She was a Ircenrraat, one of the magical little people that dwelt in the underworld beneath the tundra. So named because they were about the same height as a toddler. She was perched on one of the boat’s seats so that she could reach her own dip net over the side. Her little skirt like kuspuk had been made from the best parts of a dozen t-shirt’s she’d found funny.  Her foxy ears and wet black tipped nose twitched with eager interest as she watched the approaching troll. I was curious too, but the image of the troll popping me into his mouth like a piece of popcorn shrimp kept intruding into my thoughts.
“I’m pretty sure that’s a troll, not a giant,” I said. “In the fairy tales, only giants and elves say fee-fi-fo-fum.”
“I thought trolls were cute little things, like the dolls, or in “Frozen?” Emma asked.
Talking was good, talking helped me pretend I was calm. My hands were still shaking though, as I swished my long dip net through the river, only sort of paying attention to what I was doing.
“Troll dolls are based off Denmark’s trold, not trolls. And ‘Frozen,’ is a cartoon. I think trolls are supposed to be big, like he is.”
I gave the troll another quick glance. The water was up to his chest now, making his eight foot head, and the mouth that came with it look so much larger. The troll’s clothes were made up of dozens of pieces of discarded human clothes. There were t-shirts, dresses, pants, and bits of underwear all roughly sewn together. I couldn’t help but wonder if he’d ripped those clothes from his victims. I found myself whispering the words to the song calling for my tuunrat, magical beings that had agreed to help me. Although they were far away, they could give my spells a little boost, in case I needed it.
“Are you doing okay Tracy?” Emma asked.
“Sure, of course,” I said. “Why?”
“Your typical Velma geek girl look has been replaced by the way Daphne looks when she realizes she’s about to be kidnapped.”
“It doesn’t seem matter how many times I’ve faced monsters and giants, having one walk towards me makes me nervous.”
“I can fly us out of here,” Emma offered.
I was seriously considering it when I noticed that he was cradling a baby troll. I didn’t know much about troll babies. But I did know that the sun was bad for trolls. His child probably needed to get underground soon, and he needed Emma’s help to do that. Besides, if the troll turned out to be hostel, I’d have to deal with it sooner or later. As one of the awakened humans, that was my job. To protect the humans from the things they didn’t know existed, such as trolls that threatened the villages, and help the little people with the ever changing Otherworld. I was pretty much the little people’s five foot nothing magical bouncer for the region.
“I don’t think he’d be walking out here with a baby if he was planning to fight,” I said, cursing the stupid quiver in my voice. Gandhi had stage fright so bad his vision got blurry, but he became one of the greatest leaders in the world. I had anxiety too, but I was at least okay at dealing with it.
Emma waved at the troll with a tiny hand and a bright smile. She at least didn’t seemed at all worried. Though she was more use to things like him than a newb like me.
I deposited a few more fish into the bucket, while trying to keep my eyes off our visitor, and failing for the most part, but at least I wasn’t staring slack jawed the way I had when I’d first learned that the magical world was real.
“Hello, esteemed one,” the troll rumbled its voice was deep but gentle, almost a whisper. “I was hoping to find refuge in one of your villages.”
The formal way the troll spoke threw me off. Like he was addressing a queen. Relief that washed over me, and all at once, I felt the urge to laugh. Instead I settled for flashing Emma quick grin and mouthing the word ‘esteemed?’ at her.

She winked back at me, but remained focused on the troll.