The Kelpie of Loch Ness
Macgrigor drew his hefty claymore and struck the Kelpie’s nose. The Kelpie yelped in fright and rushed backwards…
Words by Rebecca Brown
Illustration by Linley Barba
James Macgrigor was a man of many curiosities. He was intrigued by all manner of things, and this curiosity extended also to the fearsome water demons known as Kelpies. He was aware that one lived in Loch Ness, for often people would go for a stroll by the water and never return. Macgrigor longed for nothing more than to eventually see this Kelpie so he might discover more about the elusive and terrifying beast.
That day came when Macgrigor was making his way down a lonely path between Strashspey and Inverness when he spied, at the side of the water, a dashing stallion, wearing the finest tack he had ever seen. A more foolish man, at this point, would be deceived, thinking the horse to have lost its master, mount it, and attempt to take it back to its master, or keep it for himself. At that moment, the Kelpie would seize its opportunity and plunge into the water, giving up the victim’s soul to his master, Satan, while devouring the body itself.
However, Macgrigor was a wise man, and he knew all too well the stories of Kelpies. As he approached, the horse pretended to graze and mind its own business, obviously looking forward to the full belly it believed it would have in just a few moments.
But, before the beast could realise what was happening, Macgrigor drew his hefty claymore and struck the Kelpie’s nose. The Kelpie yelped in fright and rushed backwards. The sword had sliced through the Kelpie’s bridle, and now its bit lay on the ground. Macgrigor inspected it, finding that it was fine and shiny, perhaps the nicest bit he had ever seen. When the Kelpie had recovered from the initial shock of the blow, Macgrigor straightened and readied himself to face the beast in combat. He pointed his sword at the Kelpie, but instead of attacking, the Kelpie only looked at him with pleading eyes.
“What do you want from me?” It asked. “I have heard you are an honourable man, why do you now attack a defenceless animal? Kelpie or horse, I did you no harm.”
As the Kelpie spoke, Macgrigor slowly lowered his sword, for it was becoming obvious that the beast had no interest in combat. The Kelpie continued its petition, “You have treated me with cruelty, and for that I should attack you with double the force of your own. But lucky for you,” said the Kelpie, “I resent such violence, and only ask that you return my bit to me and we might part ways peacefully.”
Macgrigor considered the Kelpie’s offer for a moment. “Why should I return this bit to you, when your kind have spirited away so many good folk?”
The Kelpie sighed. “Indeed, we Kelpies must partake in such dreadful undertakings, but surely you can appreciate that necessity has no law? My actions are not at one with my feelings, I do what I must to earn an honest living. So if you would, please return to me my bit.”
Macgrigor laughed. An honest living? He didn’t believe the Kelpie could be honest for a moment, and so a plan started to formulate in his mind. He was all too aware of the Kelpie’s careful attention on the bit, so he resolved to find out more about what it could do.
“I still disapprove of your work, but you seem as honest as a Kelpie can be,” said Macgrigor. “Very well, I will return this bit to you if you reveal to me its every secret.”
“Our bridles are imbued with transformational powers,” the Kelpie explained. “Without it, I am no more than a horse. My powers are at an end, and should the bit not be returned within four and twenty hours, I am certain to perish. As much as I loathe to admit it, you are the stronger than me as long as you hold my bit.
“If you look through the holes in the bit,” the Kelpie continued, “you will see all manners of fairies and witches and devils.”
Macgrigor lifted the bit to his eyes and peered through, and sure enough, the world he saw was bright with colour and full of beings invisible to the human eye. He was so enamoured by the contraption that he wanted to study it in more detail. He was also not deaf to the Kelpie’s claim that without the bit, he would die, and Macgrigor saw an opportunity to free the people of the surrounding area from the Kelpie’s reign of terror.
“I am impressed with your honesty, but I find I am quite fond of this contraption,” Macgrigor said at last, “I think I might keep it.”
The Kelpie looked at Macgrigor with wild eyes. “What! You will break our deal? You dishonourable man!”
Without another word, Macgrigor turned on his heel to head home, with the bit safely stashed away in his pocket. The walk was short, but the whole way the Kelpie followed him.
“The joke has run its course,” the kelpie said. “Surely you don’t mean to take my bridle?”
What began as good humour quickly turned sour as the Kelpie grew more and more irritated and worried for his bit being taken from him, and when his anger flared, Macgrigor flashed his claymore, which settled the Kelpie, who knew he could not face Macgrigor in his current state.
Soon, Macgrigor’s house appeared over the hill, and the Kelpie galloped off in its direction and stood as a statue by the door.
“Macgrigor will never pass across the threshold as long as he holds the bit!” The Kelpie declared.
But Macgrigor was a wily fellow, and without so much as a sigh he moved around to the back of the house and called his wife to the window and passed the bit to her. Once the bit was safely in his house, Macgrigor returned to the front door where the Kelpie still stood.
Macgrigor sighed and said with a shrug, “I regret that the bit is no longer in my possession, Kelpie, for it is now in my wife’s keeping and I cannot return it to you.”
Anger and panic flashed through the kelpie’s eyes, and he hunted for a way to enter the house and take his bit back. He made to enter the house but realised he could not, for there was a rowan cross above the door. The Kelpie, sorely hurt by the trick, turned and started to walk back in the direction of his river, cursing Macgrigor as he went.
The magical Kelpie’s bit remained with Macgrigor for the rest of his days, and he learned many things of the Other World thanks to its powers.
Rarely is a Kelpie the victim of a trick, but after that day, no one went missing on the banks of Loch Ness ever again, all thanks to the cunning of James Macgrigor.