SCOTCH BROOM: Book 3 of The Witches of Galdorheim (Kindle Edition)
A magical trip to Stonehenge lands a witch in the Otherworld where an ancient goddess is up to no good.
Hart and Hound
Researching Celtic mythology, I knew I wanted to use some of the lesser know magical creatures. I also decided that they needed to be “like” animals, but not quite. The reason for this is obvious to readers who’ve been following Kat’s story from the beginning. Kat’s magical ability is to talk with animals. She has greater or lesser success depending on the innate brain-power of a natural animal. For example, she chats along nicely with Salmon the Orca since a killer whale is the largest of the dolphins and are at the top of the IQ charts. I believe the ability to communicate to others shows greater intelligence. Sorry. Don’t want to offend any fish out there, but you guys just aren’t that bright.
I found two mythic creatures who met my criteria. Sianach, a huge stag (possibly a Red Deer) and Cusith, a giant-sized green dog with a braided tail.
From my favorite source, Encyclopedia Mythica (http://www.pantheon.org/areas/folklore/folklore/articles.html).
An enormous hound of the Scottish Highlands. It is said to be a dark green in color, with a long braided tail and the size of a bullock. Whenever his baying was heard on the moors, farmers would quickly lock up their women because the hound's mission was to round up women and drive them to a fairy mound so they might supply milk for fairy children.
I’m a bit leery of that rounding up women part, but decided that was just an ancient attempt to keep women close to home. Clearly, not much has changed except for the mythological excuses.
"Monster." In Scottish Gaelic oral tradition, a large, malevolent, predatory deer.
That’s to the point. Other research indicated that the basis for Sianach might be the Irish Elk, which is now extinct.
Now that I’d identified a couple of mythical critters, then all I had to do is get them together with Kat. Since she was tricked into entering the Otherworld (land of fey), she has been searching for the hall of the Trow King. She meets Sianach first and he agrees to guide her to King Connor’s hall. What Kat find strange is that she can’t look into Sianach’s mind; he can close off his thoughts from her. This makes Kat a bit nervous since Sianach, while seeming to be amenable to helping Kat, is also very vague as to his reasons for doing so.
The two begin their search for the Trow Hall, although Sianach claims, reasonably, that in the Otherworld, there is no such thing as a map to anyplace. They’ll have to seek the Hall in other ways. Apparently, Sianach’s method is to simply wander around through the swamps.
They camp for the night, and the next morning, Kat meets another denizen of the Otherworld, the giant green hound, Cusith.
Sianach grazed near the edge of the small clearing. When the lean-to disappeared, he raised his head. “Good morning. I thought you were going to sleep all day.”
“You sound just like my mom.” Kat let out an exasperated snort. “Besides, it can’t be past eight o’clock.”
“I do not carry a timepiece.”
“Of course, you don’t.” Kat opened her pack and rummaged through it. “Cool. I’ve still got the granola bar.” Her head snapped up when she heard something large crashing through the underbrush. Sianach stood stock still, staring toward the ruckus.
“Omigosh, what’s that?” Kat’s voice trembled as she looked to Sianach for an answer. The hairs on her neck and arms stood at attention.
Sianach turned toward a nearby tree and struck his antlers against it. The clash of antler against bark rang like a warning bell. Kat didn’t expect the loud clang coming from horn against wood.
“Hide,” Sianach said in a breathy whisper. His head raised now and pointed toward the howl that sounded closer than before.
Kat did as he told her but had to ask, “What is it?” just before she crouched behind a bush.
“The Hound from Hell,” Sianach replied. He dashed into the woods with antlers thrust forward to meet the howling canine. Kat heard a sharp yip from the dog. Sianach must have scored the first strike. Sianach bugled, and the hound yowled. Thuds punctuated the vocalizing, when one or the other creature struck a blow.
“I have to help,” Kat muttered. She jogged across the clearing and pushed her way through the saplings and undergrowth blocking the way. She followed the battle sounds—bugling stag, baying hound, splintering of small trees being knocked aside. She darted around another large tree and saw the combatants squared off in an area beaten down by their fighting. She stopped still, her eyes widened. A huge green dog faced Sianach, its fangs exposed from under snarling lips. Kat gulped and stood frozen with fear.
Sianach’s head lowered, and he charged the hound with out-thrust antlers. The dog jumped aside at the last second and leapt on Sianach’s back. The monstrous creature bit down hard on the stag’s neck. Kat heard the sickening crunch of breaking bones. Blood gushed high, and Kat gasped at the sheer volume. Kat screamed. “Sianach!”
The hound jumped off Sianach and stood aside, panting and watching the deer fall to the ground on his side. Sianach’s head dropped, held up only by his antlers, then the mighty rack shrank, and his head hit the ground with a thud.
“No!” Kat screamed and raced toward the two. The dog looked away from the dying stag toward Kat. His lips peeled back in a slathering snarl. His muscles tensed to leap on her, and she cast her eyes around trying to find a defensive weapon. “Of course!” She cast a defense spell around herself. The hound lunged toward her and smashed into the fragile shield. It shattered and pale yellow splinters like glass scattered through the air. However, it protected Kat for a moment. The hound rolled aside yelping in pain.
Gathering her strength, she blasted the dog with a clear message: “Sit! Stay!” The hound rose to his feet then plopped his rear end on the forest floor. His tongue lolled from the side of his opened mouth, and his tail thumped on the ground.
Kat’s jaw dropped. “Oh! Um, that’s better.” Kat was amazed her command worked at all. “You stay. That’s a good dog.” She stepped slowly toward Sianach but kept her attention on the dog, watching for any change in his now friendly demeanor.
“Oh, no! Sianach?” She dropped to one knee by the deer and placed her hand on his brow. Eyelids fluttered and then opened. Sianach looked up at her. In a weak voice, he said, “That was fun.” He then jerked himself upright and stood. Kat jumped back, astounded as she watched the wound close, the blood slow, and then stop.
Kat glanced at the dog and saw that he stayed put. She didn’t know whether to keep watch on the mutt or try to do something to help Sianach. However, the stag was rapidly healing and soon seemed unharmed, except for the drying blood on his neck.
“What? How?” Kat stammered. But Sianach was not your average, everyday red deer; he was a creature of magic. It shouldn’t surprise her he couldn’t be killed.
Turning her attention back to the dog, she looked him over with interest. His shoulder was as tall as her own. The dog’s shaggy fur coat was a startling, and quite attractive, forest green, and he sported a long, braided tail. By the shape of his blocky head and the size of his jowls, Kat thought he must be a mastiff.
“Just what is going on here?” she asked, planting her fists on her hips and glaring at both creatures.
Sianach stepped toward Kat and pointed his rack toward the dog. “Our apologies, Kat. We did not mean to frighten you.”
Kat looked back and forth at the two legendary beings. She closed her mouth when she realized she’d been gaping. “You scared the stuffing out of me!”
“I would not want to do that. I imagine you need your stuffing. Meet my good friend, Cusith. Cusith, this is Kat, a witch from a far off land.”
The dog raised his right paw. Kat hesitated, her adrenaline still pumping.
“I would not have harmed you,” Cusith said. Kat took his paw and shook it.
Kat shrugged off the scare and nodded to the big dog. “I’m pleased to meet you, Cusith?”
“Pleased to meet you, young witch.”
Sianach said, “We’ve been good friends for years. Since neither of us have any of our own kind to match ourselves against, we fight with each other for practice. All in good fun, naturally.”
“Yeah, right. Good fun. You nearly gave me a heart attack. I thought Cusith killed you, Sianach.”
Both hound and stag broke out in laughter. Cusith with woofs coming up from deep in his chest. Sianach with a weird combination between a snort and a bugle.
“I am truly sorry. I assumed you’d know the creatures of the magic realm cannot slay each other; only an outsider can kill us.”
“Well, I didn’t know,” Kat replied grumpily. But then she tried to laugh with them. Why not? Everybody was fine, and she learned something new about how the Otherworld worked. She briefly considered asking whether an Otherworld creature could kill an outsider. Sianach began to tell Cusith of their quest, and the thought disappeared as she filled in details. The giant dog nodded. “Aye, I could help. After all, my nose is much better than either of yours. I can probably pick up the scent of the Trow Hall from several miles away.”
“I’d love to have you come along, Cusith. I’d never realized there was so much more to the Highlands than beautiful scenery.” Kat loosened her tense muscles, relieved the dog was friendly and could be a big help in the search.