The Blue Men of the Minch
by S. J. McKenzie
The next morning, John found Alexander out there again in the same spot, along with a few more Blue Men who looked just like him, all sticking their heads up above the water, curious to see the young human fellow who had sought them out yesterday.
The younger ones began giggling at him for they thought he looked very outlandish, what with his bright red hair and the red freckles on his nose. They’d brought with them an extra sea hood, and shortly after stretching it right down over the lad’s head like a bag, Alexander gave a signal and they grabbed him about the waist and then disappeared below the water, like birds diving for fish.
He gave up on holding his breath when he worked out that the blue hood somehow had breathing air in it, and after that, he started to enjoy himself down there. Can you imagine the journey they had? Think of all the things John might have seen, had it not been completely dark!
When they got close to the end, though, they did come into some light, and it seemed to him there were giant creatures on the edge of his sight, which were watching their descent and maybe thinking to gobble them up.
But then he saw they were coming to the safety of a large metal door, in the side of a mountain that grew out of the ocean floor. The door opened and they made a sort of tumble, and then they were on dry land, for somehow the water didn’t come into the cave like it should.
Well, inside was the most astonishing place you could ever see. There were many other doors and passageways, all dank and dripping, with bridges and arches of green stone here and there, leading to caves and grottoes where the strange underwater men were walking about as normal folk do on the streets of Tarbert or Portree. All of this lies under the Shiant Isles, just on the horizon over there, according to MacCodrum.
So after he’d been shown around, he sat and talked with the leader of the Blue Men, whose name was Iain Môr Gorm, or “Ian the Great and Blue.” MacCodrum made a foolish remark when he told the tale, saying that in fact the leader was no bluer than any of the rest, but of course Iain was called “The Blue” simply because he had Royal blood inside of him.
Anyway, in the course of their conversation, it became clear to MacCodrum that much of what was known about the Blue Men was the wrong way round entirely. The ample quantities of liquor they served up may have helped him in forming this favourable opinion.
“Do we kidnap sailors and drown them?” asks the chief, in answer to one of MacCodrum’s questions.
“I think you’d best be asking yourself about your own people kidnapping us, instead. Our women folk are forever going missing up there! Some young lad of yours sees one of our lasses sunning herself on the rocks, and he thinks he’s in love! So up he sidles, and he steals her sea hood while she’s dozing there. So of course, she’s stuck, isn’t she? She can’t get back down again without her sea hood, it’s like part of her soul, so she’s forced to marry him.
“I’ve lost count of the times that’s happened over the years. It’s at least three. One poor lass spent seven years up in the sun till she forgot the feel of the green sea about her. And when we finally rescued her, it was too late, and she couldn’t feel at home either above the waves or below.”
At this the other Blue Men made a general chorus of agreement that this was a very shameful thing.
“Alright, so what about the shipwrecks and all that, then?” said MacCodrum. A different kind of lad may have made some attempt at an apology, or at least an excuse for what the chief had said, but he behaved as though the actions of his own kind were no reflection upon him at all.
The Blue Man chief looked aggrieved at this, but nonetheless he answered the question right away. “What are we being accused of here? The weather? The current that flows in the Minch? If ships become ruined on our waters, these things are Manannan’s doing, not ours. Maybe we benefit from them, but that is a different thing. We do the sea god due honour, so he favours us with his actions.”
Again, the other Blue Men made noises of assent when he had finished talking.
“So it is not the case that you entangle the nets of fishermen and ruin their boats and suchlike?” said MacCodrum, wisely ignoring the blasphemy that had just been spoken.
“Well, I’m not saying we haven’t taken steps to defend ourselves,” said Iain Môr Gorm in reply. “Every so often, a man from the surface causes us harm and draws our ire, and after that, we make sure he has a bad run of it with the fishing or whatever he does at sea, if we can. And that is the reason why we brought you down below here. So we could talk to you about your father.”
“Old Bill?” said MacCodrum. “Let’s not dwell on him. He never has a good word to say about you or anyone. I would rather forget him, and pretend I had been found under a stone, if it is all the same to you.”
“I can see why that may be so, but we cannot forget what he has done,” said the chief. “You know that I spoke to you of human men that kidnap our women folk and keep them prisoner on the surface? Your father is just such a man. Many years ago now, he took my wife captive, and when we came to rescue her, we couldn’t find her sea hood, not at all.
“Well, we got her back down below safe enough in a borrowed one, but we all like to have our own hat, the one we were born with. The hood is like a part of us, and without it, there are certain things we can’t do right. It’s especially so for the womenfolk. So, we’d like to know what became of it.”
Ever since MacCodrum had learned about the sea hoods, thoughts had been slowly making their way to the top of his mind, like bubbles in water. One of them came up now. ‘Haven’t I seen one of those things before, somewhere?’ he asked himself, and as he listened to the chief’s story he remembered it clearly: the little folded-up hood of blue skin, all dry and dusty, he’d seen a few times when he’d crept in to his father’s room to steal money from the old metal box beneath the bed. So he believed what the Blue Man told him right away.
“It seems my father’s misfortunes are well deserved after all,” he said, “which is just as I always suspected. So, I think that I can help you get the sea hood back. You must meet me in the usual place in seven days time.” And after that he came back up to the surface, with his friend Alexander to show him the way.
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Copyright © 2011 by S. J. McKenzie