Everybody loves a good storyteller—and so much the better if he is a good-looking Scottish witch. In Zoraida Grey and the Family Stones, just such a character tells Zoraida stories about the fantastic and sometimes deviant creatures of Scottish folklore, many of whom this guy knows on a first name basis.
In the cliffs above the haunted castle, he tells her about the Blue Men of the Minch.
The Minch is a particularly inhospitable stretch of water between Scotland and the Outer Hebrides. The Little Minch is the lower part, a treacherous strait filled with nasty uncertain currents and prone to sudden storms. Between the Isle of Lewis and the Shiant Isles (Enchanted Isles) is an even more narrow strait called Sruth Nam Fear Gorm (The Stream of the Blue Men).
The Blue Men, so the story goes, live in the frigid waters. They are human-sized, blue-skinned, with long grey arms and long grey faces and long white hair.
They may be a kind of storm kelpie. Some say they are fallen angels. Or they could be water elementals, jealous of their domain.
When The Blue Men Clan sleep in their caverns beneath the churning waters, ships may pass unmolested. Awake, they stir the waves with their long arms and conjure the storm. Their lookouts float just beneath the surface, keeping an eye out for likely sport. When a ship or fishing boat hazards the strait– in a hurry , perhaps, taking the short cut—the lookout calls his fellows and the whole clan boils out of their caves.
Using their terrible strength, they grab the keel of the ship and pull her into the wind until she founders, or they hold the rudder and turn her into the rocks. They call up the storm and swim with the waves, laughing and taunting frightened sailors on the doomed ship.
The crew have only one hope once the Blue Men swim beside them. The leader of the the Blue Men sometimes challenges the ship’s captain to a rhyming game. The Blue Men’s chief hurls two lines of poetry like an icy dart. If the Captain can respond quickly with two lines of his own, the Blue Men will relent.
One such encounter went this way:
The chief of the Blue Men, half out of the water, called to the captain:
Man of the black cap, what do you say
As your proud ship cleaves the brine?
The captain, a poet and a bit of thrill-seeker, answered in the blink of an eye:
My speedy ship takes the shortest way,
And I’ll follow you line by line.
Oh, the Blue men gnashed their teeth at the challenge—and at the prompt response. The Chief tried again:
My men are eager, my men are ready
To drag you below the waves–
But the captain, glib and steely-eyed, answered in a flash.
My ship is speedy, my ship is steady,
If she sinks she’ll wreck your caves.
The Blue Men, laughing at the sport, grudgingly released the ship.
Nowhere else in the world is troubled but such as the Blue Men. They are uniquly Scottish and live only in the Minch. Read about the Blue Men and more in Zoraida Grey and the Family Stones—to be released Fall 2015.
A boatman’s song.
When the tide is at the turning and the wind is fast asleep,
And not a wave is curling on the wide, blue deep,
Oh, the waters will be churning in the stream that never smiles,
Where the Blue Men are splashing round the charmèd isles.
As the summer wind goes droning o’er the sun-bright seas,
And the Minch is all a-dazzle to the Hebrides,
They will skim along like salmon–you can see their shoulders gleam,
And the flashing of their fingers in the Blue Men’s Stream.
But when the blast is raving and the wild tide races,
The Blue Men are breast-high with foam-grey faces;
They’ll plunge along with fury while they sweep the spray behind,
Oh, they’ll bellow o’er the billows and wail upon the wind.
And if my boat be storm-toss’d and beating for the bay,
They’ll be howling and be growling as they drench it with the spray–
For they’d like to heel it over to their laughter when it lists,
Or crack the keel between them, or stave it with their fists.
Oh, weary on the Blue Men, their anger and their wiles!
The whole day long, the whole night long, they’re splashing round the isles;
They’ll follow every fisher–ah! they’ll haunt the fisher’s dream–
When billows toss, Oh, who would cross the Blue Men’s Stream!
Donald A. Mackenzie .Scottish Myths and Legends by Judy Hamilton.