Selkies

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"Oh, they're pretty enough... until you see what's below the waist. Then they're just comical. No wonder they like to keep their tails under the water. Their kind sure can appreciate good music, though."
River, travelling bard

Writer Credit


  • Selkies Codex Entry

Codex

Name: Selkie (p. selkies)

Sexes: Male and Female (20% male, 80% female)

Height: Ranges from between 5 ft. and 6 ft. on average, with females standing slightly taller than males. If they could stand, that is.

Weight: Despite their proportions, selkies are kind of light. They may weigh as much as 75% of what might be expected of a human of similar build and stature.

Skin: Generally pale owing to their environment. Their seal half can be anything from black to grey, brown and white.

Hair: Fundamentally human-like. Gold is most common, but bleached brown, grey and white also exist.

Eyes: Selkies have human-like eyes, with brown, gold, or blue colors most common.

Ears: Selkies have humanlike ears.

Lifespan: About 50 years.

Maturity: 18 years.

Description

Selkies, like many aquatic races, inhabit the seas and oceans of Savarra, keeping mostly to chill and frigid waters. They can be largely described as seal-mermaids — humans joined at the waist to fat, blubbery seal tails. While practical in the context of their natural habitat, the chubby seal tails give them a comical appearance when out of water and on the ice — deceptively disarming for what they're capable of.

Owing to their physiology, selkies cannot stand; the most they can do is push their head and torso off the ground with their arms when out of water. They are, though, on average five to six feet long from head to tail; a selkie's human half tends to be quite conventionally attractive by human standards, but their seal tails are fat and blubbery even as it grants them considerable speed in water. A number of them are aware and self-conscious of this fact, and will hide their tails under the water's surface or otherwise out of sight when meeting other peoples. However, when amongst their own, they will lounge about in full view atop beaches, ice floes, and the like without a care. Despite their ungainly appearance when out of water, Selkies are able to move over ice and to a lesser extent land with surprising speed, wriggling their seal halves like snakes and bouncing over smooth surfaces.

Like the seals they resemble, selkies are not truly aquatic and cannot breathe water like merpeople or siorcanna do; although they can hold their breath for hours at a time, they must return to the surface for air periodically or drown. They do not use their hands for swimming, keeping them tucked close to the body in an aquadynamic fashion while moving through the water in a wriggling fashion; instead, they rely on their tails to propel them, and their nature renders them impervious to the cold and pressure of the frigid oceans they call home.

History


As with merfolk, selkies have occasionally interacted with seafaring or coastal peoples of land-dwelling races, appearing to ships and on beaches. Since they typically do not compete for similar territory or resources with landed peoples, interactions have been historically friendly. The same cannot be said of relations with aquatic peoples — they have clashed with merfolk on and off over territory and the hunting and fishing that comes with it. Due to merfolk organisation and strategy, they typically lose, but conflicts tend to flare up every so often nevertheless. Selkies keep out of the way of siorcanna except when they heavily outnumber the latter, acknowledging the shark-peoples' superior strength and ferocity in combat.

Selkies themselves have little record of their history, and what little there is takes place in the form of oral traditions handed down from mothers to daughters. Actual historical data comes from other peoples who have interacted with them — the most extensive knowledge of them comes from a Belharan functionary named Gaius Autumnstar, an elven civil servant who upon finding an injured selkie washed up on the beach took her in, kept her in a tank of seawater and nursed her to health over the course of a year. It is through the conversations with and anatomical examinations of his aquatic companion that much of the information in this codex is derived, concluding with his returning her to the ocean. It is likely that modern-day stories of the menfolk of land-dwelling races kidnapping these seal-women to be their wives by stealing their animal halves originate from Autumnstar's records — the discovery, the captivity, and the final release or escape of the selkie back where she belongs.

Due to the solitary nature of selkie men, the vast majority of interactions with selkies have been with their womenfolk, giving rise to the impression that they are a monosexed people. This misunderstanding persists in several parts of the world, especially in places where they are more legend than reality. Selkies singing on beaches have been the stuff of legends since even before the Belharan empire, although they have to be approached with caution; if they feel threatened, selkies are able to weaponise their voices in ear-splitting shrieks. On land, such vocalisations are sufficient to buffet would-be attackers and even knock them off their feet, but underwater is where their voices are most terrible; the concussive force generated by a selkie shriek, projected and concentrated in a liquid medium, is able to pulverise threats to their person.

Society and Culture


Female selkies gather in groups known as herds, which may range from two to several dozen individuals. A herd of selkies will typically claim a swathe of territory to live, forage and hunt in, only moving when circumstances prove unfavourable or when migrating to breeding sites to meet up with their menfolk. The herd is led by a matriarch, who is certainly related by blood to the vast majority, if not all of the herd's members. Customs, rituals and taboos can vary widely from herd to herd; there is no singular racial identity that has formed due to the scattered nature of herds. Herd identity is kept together via oral traditions passed down from matriarch to her heir in song and verse.

Although selkies are omnivorous and have been observed harvesting kelp and other sea plants for food, meat and fish are necessary to sustain their lifestyle in frigid waters. Plant material is more often used for the weaving of nets, ropes and other tools; selkies are experts in shaping bone as spears and harpoons, which work just as well underwater as they do above. Hunting is carried out in packs of half a dozen or more, employing group tactics to isolate quarry from shoals and herds and flush them out towards others who will make the kill. Some selkies have been observed performing basic farming and aquaculture with ocean plants and fish and shrimp raised in netted caves, but their lack of greater organisation means that few herds will ever be able to make use of any knowledge gained, and they will be unlikely to ever rise to the sophistication and technological standards of merfolk.

When not feeling threatened, selkies are curious and gregarious; if a land-dweller is not overtly threatening or hostile, they will oftentimes gather around and approach in the safety of numbers before attempting to make conversation. Many selkies can speak a little Belharan and like to talk a lot; social play and interactions make up a lot of their recreational time. They can come across as easygoing and frivolous, charmed by the simplest gifts of cheap, shiny baubles. So long as the land-dweller keeps a respectful and amiable demeanour, they are likely to remain peaceful. A gift of food or useful material can be traded for directions, recent sightings, or other information; they do not like metal, though, as seawater corrodes it easily. Selkies have been observed cooperating with jotun whaling parties, serving as scouts and harassing the massive quarry towards the frost giants and their ice rafts in exchange for a portion of the kill.

Reproduction


As with many inhabitants of the frozen north, selkies breed in the summer when the air is marginally warmer and food more plentiful. Selkies tend to mate either on land or on ice, and depending on where they choose to breed, have different mating strategies. Selkies who choose to breed on land generally consist of one male and a harem of females; the womenfolk gather in large aggregations upon islands and the males, who have arrived earlier, are able to mate with them as well as defend them from rivals. Selkies who choose to breed over water and ice, though, are less likely to form harems of females; the instability of ice leads to breeding sites changing each year and males being unable to predict where females will stay during the breeding season. In such cases, pair-breeding for the duration of the season may occur.

Male selkies establish territories during this time, claiming for themselves stretches of land, ice and ocean containing resources that attract their womenfolk, such as shade, tide pools or access to water. While attempting to attract females with song and courtship displays, they will also chase off rival males and potential dangers to their womenfolk. Once breeding season is over, selkie men and women part ways; the former live solitary existences outside of breeding season, while the latter form communal groups as large as the locale hunting and fishing will support.

Selkie pregnancies last about a year such that the pups are born during the next spring or summer; females with newborns do not head to the breeding grounds, but instead stay to nurse their young. Selkie milk is even richer than minotaur milk; it is extremely thick and high in nutrients that pups need to grow and put on weight in order to survive cold temperatures. In the past, selkie milk, cheese and butter were delicacies in coastal Belharan cities, another ostentatious foodstuff for the rich to flaunt their wealth with. Whether this milk was freely given, traded for, or coerced from the seal-people has been lost to time. Male selkies will stay with their mothers for about a decade before leaving to their largely solitary existence, while a female will join her mother's community.

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