The Skink is a character in my story, “Maple Days.” It’s clear, from the references to Underhill, that he is some creature of Faery, but what sort?
He probably doesn’t fit into any category that most people could think of. And since he captivated me from the first time he stepped onto my page, I have thought quite a bit about him, leading to a background and the promise of future appearances in my stories.
Once, when I was trying to get back into writing after a brief hiatus, I used him as an imaginary guide on a writing tour, and somewhere along the line, he became my muse. (Many writers can visualize their inner critic – and I do that, too – but I have decided I like having a form for my muse as well!) Not only is the Skink my muse, and the muse of Olivia in the story, I discovered as I created his background that the Skink has been muse to many – it’s his calling.
The Skink started off as a nature spirit and spirit of mischief, much like the Puck. However, he was never quite as strong as the Puck, or quite as mischievous, or, really, quite as anything as the Puck. He felt like an inadequate younger sibling at the best of times, and a complete failure at the worst of them.
But as he lurked about, looking for mischief to make, the Skink began to notice the bards, storytellers, and minstrels. He stayed out of sight at first, and simply hung on to every word they produced. Eventually, though, he started appearing to them when they were alone, and encouraging them. After they were convinced that he wasn’t simply the product of an overindulgence in wine or some strange effect of bad ale, they would listen to him and discuss new ideas with him. The storytellers and songmakers he befriended thrived, and the Skink glowed, sure he had found his place in the world.
However, he began to spend all of his time with these artistic humans, and neglected his already badly-done job. It did not occur to him that anyone would notice, but notice they did. And one day, the Lords of Faery summoned him for a reckoning.
The Skink knew better than to try to hide; the Fae had creatures in every imaginable place, and he would be found quickly. So he gathered his courage, bid farewell to the storyteller he was currently accompanying, and appeared before the Faery Court with his small head held high.
The interview began much as he had thought it would. He was taken to task for each and every bit of neglect, and scolded roundly for his lack of caring. But then, before his punishment could be meted out, he spoke up.
The Skink told the Lords of Faery everything – how he knew he was bad at his job, and realized he was never going to be the sort of creature they had in mind – another Puck. But, he insisted, he could be a muse. And the High Lords of Faery enjoyed human stories and music, didn’t they? he wheedled. Why else would they kidnap bards periodically, if not to enjoy the fruits of human imagination and inventiveness?
The Lords paused. The acknowledged that the Skink had a point. They might even be willing to concede that he was far better at this job than the one they had assigned him. But he was still clearly in defiance of their rule by abandoning his role and taking up another without their consent.
They withdrew and considered his punishment.
Three days they considered, and three days the Skink sat in an opulent antechamber, waiting on tenterhooks, wondering what his fate would be.
On the third day, just at sunset, they came out and called the Skink to them.
“You have proved yourself quite valuable as a muse, of sorts, for humans. You are far better at that than you ever were as a nature spirit, we have no argument. But for abandoning your post, you must be punished. If we allow you to flout our authority, others will follow, and chaos will reign. Therefore, Skink, let it be known to one and to all that you are now the Faery muse, free to move about the human world and pick those upon whom you would bestow your friendship. But to remind you that you began as a nature spirit, and left that job without our permission, you will bear the mark of nature upon you.”
As they spoke, the Skink’s form began to change. He had been small to begin with, but grew smaller still, until he was about as tall as a small crow. His skin grew dark grey and bark-like, and his limbs became gnarled like tree branches, his fingers and toes like twigs.
The Skink looked down at himself. He had never been a vain creature, so the transformation bothered him little. He shrugged. “Fair enough,” he said. Then, bowing once to the High Lords of Faery, he bounced out of Underhill and back into the human world, where, ever since, he has been having adventures and inspiring human storytellers and musicians. And he has a special soft spot for those who find themselves in uncomfortable places in the world, as he himself started out in a job for which he was most ill-suited.