In a land of black rock and white snow, of grey sky and green sea, of winds and waters, of beauty and cruelty, the Selkie is a creature of two faces. In the winter it hunts in the dark waters of the Ice Sea, singing through storms. In summer it stalks the land, transformed in almost every respect. The sea Selkie is a fleeting, swift and strange creature, a vision of a darker world beneath the feet of every sailor. The land Selkie is a silent, grey predator, which kills with swords of bone and feeds the dead to its mewling children. The Selkie as a whole? Well, who knows how those dark eyes view the world? Only one thing is for sure: something gives it a reason to smile. - The majority of the information in this entry is taken from the observations of Rossmarus Doben (see Researchers).

Appearance. The Selkie is generally likened to a large, four-limbed pinnip, though in actuality it looks like no pinnip you could expect to encounter. A seafarer described to Rossmarus Doben his encounter with an adult male Selkie thus:

“It were big, bigger than any pinnip, ‘tleast 3 peds long, heavy built, too, I woulda hated t’be in the water with it. As it were, it reared out, turned this great big head round and jus’ looked at me – ‘is face had a muzzle like a pinnip, but much blunter, so it had a proper face, nearly flat, with the roundest, darkest eyes I’ve ever seen, like it’d taken a couple bucketfuls o’ darkness up from the bottom o’ the sea, held in it’s head. And if that stare weren’t enough, it had massive great tusks, yellowish orange an’ all scratched, curvin’ down from his top jaw and making ‘im smile at me, like he knew everythin’ about me. ‘Samattero’fact, it was just like ‘e were puzzlin’ the best way to get them teeth round my own skull, an’ all the while, twitchin great bushy white whiskers at me. Like I say, y’can tell they’re intelligent by lookin’; anyone says there’s nothing similar ‘tween us’n them’s never set eyes on one, ‘n that’s the truth.”

-- Ismarr Yvad, Ice tribe seafarer

Growing as much as a fore in length, the tusks this man described are equally developed in adult males and females, as they are used as deadly weapons when hunting. It is not particularly unusual to see a Selkie with broken or missing tusks (though frankly it is fairly unusual to see a Selkie at all) as, with the support of other pack members, Selkies can still play a key role in hunting effectively (see Diet), even without the yellowish tusks which give their mouths such strange, knowing grins.

As seen in bleached skulls washed up on beaches, the mouth of a Selkie contains a few large, square teeth used for breaking bones, with sharp inner edges that can shear off small pieces of meat. The tusks are placed about midway along the jaw, with no teeth behind them, and are wide enough at the base (around 3-5 nailsbreadths in cross-section) that they lift up the lips of the Selkie in a permanent smirk.

Selkies have a flexible neck and body, with a strong, curving spine, but generally sturdier than most aquatic animals, as it has to support itself outside of the water as well. The front limbs are very like short muscular arms, with large, blunt nailed and surprisingly dexterous hands on the ends. Perhaps the most extraordinary physical attribute of a Selkie, the hands have only four webbed digits, with the outermost two of those acting like opposable thumbs, which allow the animal to exert a vice-like grip on slippery prey. The palms of the hands are hairless, covered by supple pink skin. This skin is soft, but leathery and slightly rough to the touch, like a cat’s tongue.

Instead of simply tapering down to a tail, the hindquarters sport two flipper-like limbs, a little like those of the great sea monster the carteloreen, but heavily clawed and articulated, so it can also act as a foot on land. Examining the skeletal structure of these muscular oar-shaped flippers have finger bones much like those of a pinnip, but rather than being rigid within the flipper they retain their autonomy, being hinged much like a human hand, minus the thumb, and therefore able to curl outwards, forming a foot on which the Selkie stands. Its fingers are wrapped in a thick leathery skin, with long, sturdy claws protruding from these.

The hips supporting these formidable swimming aids are large, strong and heavy. When looking at a skeleton of the animal, their importance is clear; the rear flippers have to be big and strong enough to propel and steer the animal underwater, and to carry the whole weight of it on land, as it often walks on its hind legs.

A Selkie’s build gives it a distinctive, swaying gait, with swinging hips and slouching back. Whether on all fours or hind legs, they undoubtedly swagger, holding their heavy heads low in a decidedly predatory fashion.

During the winter months, the Selkie has a beautiful thick pelt, coloured in a subtle mixture of soft grays and browns. Thick fur with a white downy layer underneath traps warm air. In a manner unusual for a mammal, the Selkie sheds its whole coat during the first weeks of spring, in order to avoid overheating on land. After that it has much darker skin, usually with only a faint velvety fur growing on it, until the pelt grows back after several weeks. When it has shed its fur, it is often remarked how small and slim it looks, though this is also partly due to the weight loss that many Selkies undergo at that time of year (see Habitat/Behaviour).
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Special Abilities. The quagmire of folklore surrounding the Selkie makes it hard to discern which of its supposed magical abilities stem from any real abilities, but what is known of this reclusive animal suggests that the stories could be only a small portion of the truth. The legendary thick pelt of the Selkie, combined with a layer of blubber under the skin, means it can withstand the perishing waters of the Ice Sea through the long winter months. A Selkie will barely ever even venture near land until the winter is well and truly dead.

As has been remarked, the Selkie is undoubtedly intelligent, and research has indicated it has the intellectual capabilities of a wolf or other social predator, at the very least. This is indicated in its behaviour – they form long lasting packs with strict social hierarchies, pair for life, sustain two entirely separate sets of behaviour throughout their lives, take part in elaborate singing rituals with others, and they have even been observed using primitive tools (see Habitat/Behaviour).

Perhaps the greatest ability of the Selkie lies in the bipolar nature of its lifestyle, perfectly suited to its challenging habitat. Whilst the winter months are spent far out at sea, the summer is spent entirely on land, and heralds a remarkable change in the behaviour of the animal, to the extent that they were long regarded as two separate and unrelated animals. The aforementioned thick pelt is shed when the animals leave the sea, so females can gather it to use as a lining for their nests. There have been suggestions that this dual life fosters a high level of intelligence.

The large eyes, made up entirely of pupil, offer excellent night vision, as well as helping them see well in the dark waters where they hunt. Whiskers also offer an excellent sense of touch underwater, and long tusks make for a quick kill of any prey that falls into their webbed clutches.

Finally we come to its more romantic abilities. The Selkies communicate, settle rivalries and seem to generally express themselves through strange, mournful songs, loud enough to be heard above the water, and consisting of whooping, ululating howls which unfailingly send a shiver down the spine. They seem to sing most when storms are approaching, which is unsurprising given that they hunt during storms. Their uncanny ability to apparently sense the approach of a storm, better than the most experienced sailor, is as of yet unexplained, though the Selkie researcher Rossmarus Doben suggested they had some means of feeling the build up in pressure, even pointing out an unusual cavity he found in the skulls of the animals, which he felt could have had such a purpose. Nobody is sure why they so often hunt during storms either. One would expect them to take shelter, but then the seas they live in are largely shelter-less, so perhaps they are merely taking advantage of other animals less able to cope with such conditions. 
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Territory. A northern species through and through, the Selkie is confined to the ice sea of Northern Sarvonia. It comes ashore only at the more isolated coastal areas of Caael'heroth and the Peninsula of Iol, though bodies found preserved in the ice of other such areas suggest they may have been more widespread in ancient times. Strangely enough, these bodies show significant differences from living Selkies. They are larger, and more beautiful and refined in their features.
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Habitat/Behaviour. It is important to note that the Selkie is a creature which, as mentioned earlier, divides its life into two utterly distinct sections – the aquatic and terrestrial periods, which respectively take up the winter and summer months of the year. The animal behaves so differently at these times that it seems sensible to deal with them separately.

Diet. In the water, Selkies mainly prey on large fish and pinnips, in particular the common and caped varieties. They hunt them by ambush, lurking in the deeper waters offshore, and singling out pinnips which venture out to hunt. What follows next has never been observed, but, from his knowledge of their habits, Rossmarus Doben speculated that they might force the animal down into the deepest parts of the sea, where the Selkie’s better vision and larger build allow it to out navigate and exhaust their prey. Prey is then grabbed by as many Selkies as possible and quickly dispatched with a bite to the head – tusks easily go through the skull – and devoured by the animals that caught it, with scraps going to other pack members.

Often the pack will split into two groups which hunt in different areas along a shoreline, preventing pinnips from adapting to their hunting methods by simply moving along the beach before heading out to sea.

During the short time in spring, between the aquatic and terrestrial phases of the Selkie’s lives, they have also been witnessed using a novel technique to catch shellfish, as this woman describes:

“I’d been hearing noises down on the beach at night. My husband said I was imagining things, and he always says things like that, I was tired of it, so I took him down just as it was getting dark one night, and we sat and waited. There was a good moon, so when the first ones came out of the water we could see clearly. They looked like walking carteloreen; they seemed so big, shining silver in the moonlight. The only noise was their heavy soft breathing, the waves on the shore, and our two hearts thudding with shock. They seemed to be looking for something; they were shuffling around in the shallows, their great heads lowered so their noses were underwater. Every now and then one would raise its head and take a big loud breath, and we could see all the bushy whiskers highlighted in the moonlight, then it would dip its head down again. As they shuffled along, they’d pick up what I thought were stones with those strange hands, and put them to one side. After a while they’d have quite a pile, and I started to realize that they were gnackers. Then they would choose a single shell, pick it up in those strange webbed hands, and put it on a flat rock. Next they’d find another, smaller rock that they could hold easily in one hand, and started hitting the shell, again, again, until they broke, and these great beasts would bend down and lick up the fishy mush left on the rock, before picking another shell and starting again. That was the noise I’d been hearing, the Selkies smashing gnacker to eat. Well, my husband wasn’t so quick to cast aspersions after that, I can tell you.”

-- Ida Aùstran, wife of Vasily Aùstran, Remusian shipbuilder

When on land, Selkies prey on almost any animal they can catch, including livestock, foxes, and tar’andus deer. There are many stories of them taking unwary humans. They hunt by stealth, assuming a concealed position, waiting for prey to come near, and then creeping closer, nailsbreadths at a time, until a short, bear-like bound will land them on top of their prey. Again, a bite to the skull eliminates any need to struggle with prey, and in some areas it is not uncommon to find animal skulls with two neat holes through the top. Return to the top

Mating. Except in extraordinary circumstances, Selkies are monogamous, pairing for life. Both male and female are fiercely protective of each other, and it is reasonable to assume that elements of stories where males come after humans who have stolen their mates are not entirely untrue (see Myth/Lore). Certainly there are several reliable accounts of these animals intentionally attacking and even wrecking boats that have captured or killed Selkies.

Breeding takes place at the start of the aquatic season, when packs meet again after summer. This time of year is very important to a Selkie pack, as new young join from all over – how a juvenile Selkie locates a pack is not known, though it seems likely they follow the sounds of singing - and usually it will be accepted into any pack that does not have too many members already. If for some reason there are no packs with space for juveniles in an area, adult pairs will leave their packs and start new ones.

When they return to the water, pairs will sing together to cement their bond, and mating would appear to follow after this, though it has never been observed. Considering the rigidity of the pack social structure, breeding seems not to be aggressive, as competition for mates is kept to a minimum by the monogamous nature of the Selkies.

What rivalries exist between pack members, including day to day competitions, are often settled by singing matches and intricate dances which form tests of strength, stamina and mental ability. Selkies begin any such interaction with the whole pack becoming excited, and swimming very close together in a spiraling pattern, then beginning to sing, each individual’s unique voice joining the others, building up the volume and complexity of the song until it reaches a crescendo. After this the song will continue, but Selkies will start to strike away, leaving the group one by one until only the original pair is left, oblivious to the others, still singing to each other. In this way Selkies are able to gauge each other’s memories, commitment and loyalty.

In the case of more trivial competitions, the pack will often take sides, splitting off into two dancing groups, which circle each other, gauging the support that the opposing individual has, and deciding whether there is any real division within the pack. Should this be the case, the individuals who started the dispute will again break off from the pack, and begin aggressive singing contests, with sounds even human listeners can distinguish as much fiercer, more akin to roaring. These contests seem simply to find the loudest roarer – who is inevitably declared the winner.
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Usages. Though rare and hard to obtain in any quantity, the shed fur of Selkies is highly prized, not only for supposed magical qualities, but also because it can be woven into a fine, silvery wool, unrivalled in the warmth and protection from wind and rain it provides. When dipped in water it is easy to see why; it has a waxy, water repellent quality not unlike the feathers of a shupsh bird, which ensures the wearer will remain untouched by the weather.

The tusks of dead Selkies are also used as charms, and carved into knife handles and other small ornaments by Remusians and other local Ice tribes, though by the time they are found they are usually too brittle to be of more than symbolic value.

Selkies are also occasionally hunted for food by the Ice tribes, though most other peoples would abhor the killing of creatures with such anthropomorphic qualities. Either way, Selkies are not often eaten, being both fairly uncommon and inclined to move on quickly if they know they have been noticed. Rossmarus, however, remarked that some of the best specimen bones and skins he saw were those kept from animals killed for meat, or for coming too near to settlements.
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Myth/Lore. The mysterious nature of the Selkie lends itself to storytellers as an ideal subject, and as such there are many myths, legends and folk tales about them.

Perhaps the most popular of these, told by people throughout Northern Sarvonia, but probably originating among the Ice tribes of the Iol peninsula – even those living far from the Selkie’s territory, is the tale of the Three Dark Eyed Sisters. Here follows a retelling of it as recorded by Rossmarus Doben:

The Three Dark Eyed Sisters. In a small village, perched on the rockiest, stormiest area of coast in the whole of Iol, three fishermen lived near the shore. They were excellent fishermen and gale-hardened sailors, but they were lonely, living far from any people and, all of them unmarried.

The youngest of the fishermen had taken to watching the world go by, and especially would stay up late at night to watch the moon grow. One night, on the cusp of spring, when the moon was particularly round, he sat watching while his friends slept, and realised the moon’s light was so bright he could see right down to the shore, as clear as day. Lulled by the sound of the waves, he fell asleep.

As he lay in the bitter spring cold, creatures were stirring not far out to sea. The wild people of our icy sea, the Selkies, were preparing to venture ashore to hold the first of their spring dances. One by one, they hauled their long silver bodies onto the shore and began to change. For on the first full moon in spring, until the following new moon, the Selkies become human, or as near as makes no difference, slipping out of their thick furs and standing tall on hind legs. The only way to tell a Selkie from a human is by their dark, shining eyes and webbed hands.

Whilst the Selkies were divesting themselves of their coats, the poor fisherman was freezing to death not far away. It happened that a female Selkie, of those who are named the Sedna, was especially curious about the land that she so rarely had the chance to visit, and ventured further in than the others. Spying the fisherman, lying shivering on the cold hard earth, she was horrified and enthralled, for he was a handsome man, if only there had been a woman to appreciate it. Seeing him so pale, the Sedna girl’s heart melted for him, and without thinking she laid her thick, beautiful pelt over him, to keep him warm. Then, hearing the calls of her people, she went back down to the shore to join in their singing.

In the morning, the fisherman woke with his head full of the powerful unearthly music of the Selkies, and tantalising but blurred visions of a beautiful girl with eyes as deep and sad as the whole ocean. Though the Sedna maiden had carefully taken back her pelt before dawn arrived, he also found nestled in the crook of his neck, and caught in his hair, small tufts of fur of greater quality than any he had seen before. Taking it back to his two friends, for the life of them they could not figure from what kind of animal it had come. However, on hearing his strange dreams, the three of them decided to return the next night and investigate.

Sure enough, when the men had got settled and were sitting still as stars, they saw in the light of the waning moon slim beautiful figures step out of the breakers, drop their rich cloaks, and dance like mad wild fae. The youngest fisherman noticed one Sedna who seemed intensely familiar, and found himself amazed by every aspect of her. The others, too, were enamoured of the beauty of the Sedna, and when three unwittingly ventured towards them, including the one who had helped the youngest fisherman, they agreed amongst themselves to steal them away and keep them as wives. They leapt, and wrestled the shocked Sedna away from the shore, muffling their cries with the thick pelts they wrested from the girls’ webbed grasp. As soon as the other Selkies saw the humans, they turned tail and fled to the sea, but the poor Selkie girls could do nought but sit silent and stunned, looking with imploring, tearful eyes at their captors. The youngest fisherman, viewing the distress of his conquest, found himself terribly uneasy, and quickly found he could not bear to look into her eyes. The other Sedna girls, growing desperate, began to plead in mewling soft voices for the fishermen to return their hides (for a Selkie cannot return to the sea without its pelt, and one who holds it has great power over them), but the two fishermen would not relent.

The youngest, however, found himself weeping along with the Sedna he had caught and could do nothing but hand the soft bundle wordlessly back to her, and watch her leave, equally tearful as he.

From then on, he would have little to do with the other fisherman, and gave his time over to pining for his dark eyed love. He spent all his nights at the beach, not sleeping except during the day, but the Selkies did not return, wisely shunning a shore haunted by the menace that is man. But one set of eyes would gaze, unseen by the fisherman, from the sea just offshore, and they shared his longing to cross that great divide between land and sea.

Meanwhile, the two brothers who had kept their Sedna found themselves consumed by fear that the muscular, fearsome Selkie men, or Sidh, as they are called, would come to reclaim their kidnapped sisters and wives. The fishermen agreed to lock away the pelts of the Sedna in a safe place unknown to their wives, and to bar their doors at night, to keep anyone from getting in or out. The Sedna, for their part, were utterly silent from the moment they were taken inside, not opening their mouths to laugh, nor lightening their eyes to smile.

The youngest fisherman, too, was faring badly. Eventually he resolved to end his life, being unable to envisage any future without his mysterious Sedna. One night, on the cusp of spring, he threw himself into the wild, icy sea, to drown in the broken reflection of a full moon. The Selkie, watching from her usual place, was horrified to see him leap into the roaring spray, and rushed to his aid. She dragged him to the shore, and wrapped his unconscious body in her pelt, then curled up like a cat next to him, to keep him warm all night. As she combed salt water from his hair with her fingers, she resolved never to let him be forced to seek her out: she would make it her duty to cross the divide whenever she needed to. And that is why Selkies live both on the land and the water; so they will never leave anyone behind.

One of the two other fishermen grew increasingly paranoid, and dreamt every night that he heard the Sidh tearing at his door. He lived in constant fear that his beautiful wife would escape, and he would never see her again. One night, drunk and wild with dread, he struck a light, and burnt the wonderful pelt of his wife. As soon as the flame touched it, the Sedna let out a fearful scream, and the pelt went up in a burst of bright flame, dazzling the man so he dropped it on his foot. Within minutes he, and his house, and the poor Selkie girl too, were burnt to ashes.

Now the Selkies living out at sea heard the screams of their sister, and the silent sobs in the heart of the other Sedna, and the Sidh especially grew enraged at the suffering the two fishermen had caused. They visited every possible misfortune on the fisherman, sinking his boats, and whipping up storms with their songs that tore his nets and drowned his good friends. Nonetheless, he kept his wife locked away, and grew cruel and covetous, or more so than he had been. By and by they had a child, a tiny girl who had eyes like her mother’s, and silvery webs between her fingers. This girl was a quiet creature, and adept at sitting unnoticed for hours, just watching with her wide, dark eyes.

Her father, the fisherman, had taken to checking regularly on the hiding place in which he had stowed his wife’s pelt. It was when he went to check on them one morning that his daughter, soft as sunlight, quiet as tears, crept after him, curious to see where it was her daddy went so often. She saw where he hid the soft pelt, and waited till he had gone to take it out herself. She thought it was the prettiest thing she’d ever seen, and ran down to the shore to play at being a queen in her royal, magical gown.

She was astonished to see that eyes were watching her out at sea – eyes like hers or her mother’s, of the kind she had never seen elsewhere. She bowed politely to the watchers, and asked them whether they had business with her father, but they remained silent, moving steadily towards her, until she could see a band of tall, silver skinned men, wearing draped about them the same cloaks as hers, in the same shimmering fur. The tallest walked up to her, and knelt before her as if she were truly a queen, and spoke in a faraway voice: “Be your mother the woman who lives in that house?” and he pointed a webbed finger at the girl’s home. She nodded, and said, “Aye, but she won’t speak to me, nor any other person as tries. Daddy says she hasn’t ever spoken, she’s just like that. Would ye rather speak t’ my daddy?” the Sidh shook his head and pointed to the bundle in the girl’s arms. “D’you know what that is?”

“It’s a magic cape my daddy was hidin’. I don’t think it belongs to him. Is it yours?”

“No. Give it to your mother tonight, but tell her to wait in the house until night. Tell her her father, king of the Selkies, will come to her aid.” And with that the Selkies turned and walked back into the sea. The girl turned and ran back to her home, and told her mother what she had heard and seen. On hearing the news, the Sedna’s eyes lit up like sunlight reaching the deeps of the ocean for the first time, and a smile glowed on her face. She hugged her daughter close, and buried her face in the thick, soft pelt, then settled down with ill contained emotion to wait for darkness.

Sure enough, as night fell and the round moon of early autumn rose, a band of dark figures advanced towards the little house. The Selkie’s husband sensed something was wrong, and rushed to the door, but he was too late – as he opened it a towering Sidh plunged his sword of yellow ivory into the cruel fisherman’s heart, and he was killed.
The Sedna and her child returned to the sea, and the Selkies never again allowed themselves to be drawn in to the affairs of humans.

The only trace that remained of their presence on the land were fragments of fluff from the pelt of the Sedna who had fallen in love with the youngest fisherman. The tufts of fur, blown in the wind and renewed by dancing, singing Selkies airing their pelts every spring, are a magical gift from the Selkies, and a rebuke to those who would seek to gain power over them. We gather the wool to make garments and blankets, and value it for its fineness and beauty. But any who steals an item of Selkie wool, whether from man or the beasts themselves, will surely die, as the Sidh will bring storm and misfortune down on his head.
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Researchers. The information in this entry is taken largely from the writings of Rossmarus Doben, an Arthyrón elf whose travels in the northern seas of Sarvonia introduced him to the myth of the Seductive Sedna, and her vengeful husband the Sidh. Intrigued by the stories, he sought to find out if there was any substance to them, and set about researching the reality of Selkie habits. In his inspections skeletons washed up on beaches, recordings of the wounds suffered by livestock and wild animals on the northern coasts, interviews with others who have seen them, and his diaries of the long sea voyages that attempted to watch Selkie hunting in the midst of storms, we can see not only the clearest ever picture of an elusive and extraordinary creature, but a man’s lifelong obsession with the creatures he dubbed “wild and callous sirens”. Return to the top

 Date of last edit 30th Frozen Rivers 1668 a.S.

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