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Character Spotlight: Catirna Canda-Lesh Elkela

Hey folks, anyone remember my old epic? The one awkwardly named Lay of the White Carnation?

Only about a handful of people have, which is a good thing. The setting — a messed-up, in-between afterlife inspired by limbo — was interesting but poorly thought-out, while the story was just plain ridiculous (though very fun and dramatic). Still, those characters never stopped floating around my imagination, so a few years ago I decided to reincarnate them into a different world and a different story altogether.

The working title of the new story is The Whitemaiden, and here’s my little first-draft story blurb:

When a young sage turns up in the woods, tortured and cursed, a disgraced healer must regain her gift in order to save him. But it isn’t until she’s captured by the very men who cursed him that she realizes the true nature of the curse, and that the key to its healing lies deep in her past…

I’m working on that story now. Over halfway finished — maybe even three-quarters. (Yes!) So, while we wait for that story, I thought I might do a series of blog posts highlighting the main characters … revealing who they are, and who they were.

The first up? Catirna Canda-Lesh, aka Catirna Elkela, the “fallen faith healer” of the blurb.

Catirna’s Folkloric Origins

Catirna Canda-Lesh came from the old character Caitir* MacCandlish, an 18th-century Scottish girl who died in the Jacobite rising and turned into a banshee-like creature after her death. That character came in turn from an earlier one named Candless, who emerged from my sketchbook.

A sketch of the original Caitir:

Caitir MacCandlish

…Folklore purists will scold me for having a Scottish girl become an Irish banshee, but there’s an explanation, I swear!

This Caitir was a half-ghost, sometimes more solid, sometimes less so, depending on her emotional state. As a “banshee” in a hellish afterlife, where she was punished for being a traitor, she was cursed with a scream that caused death, rather than simply announcing it. Anyone who heard her [involuntary] scream died at once, so she wore a blood-drinking magic sphere at her neck to keep it at bay.**

Anyway, the new Catirna Canda-Lesh is also inspired by the lore of the banshee — but more specifically by the keening women of Irish tradition, whom I studied while at the University of Limerick in Ireland. These keening women would let their hair flow long and wild, rather like a banshee, and would perform a heart-rending keen for a dead person in order to express the grief of the community.

Catirna is, in fact, a keening woman, but her purpose isn’t to publicly grieve. Through her keen, she has the special, once-in-a-generation gift of healing death … which includes everything from curing gangrene to bringing people back from the dead. HOWEVER, she only keens for souls that are sent to her to be reunited with their bodies. (So, pretty much … she sees dead people.)

Like the traditional image of a keening woman, she has long hair, and it must be full-length (to her hip) and unbound in order for her to use her gift.

Here’s a picture I sketched of Catirna:

Catirna Sketch

How the New Catirna is Still Like the Old Caitir

Like her former incarnation as Caitir MacCandlish, Catirna is a healer by trade, as well as a motherly figure who is the official guardian of a younger healer. (The former Caitir was “mother” to a household of misfits in hell.)

She is also tormented by guilt for betraying people she loved for the sake of a young man she loved, just as the former Caitir betrayed her clan in the Jacobite uprising, died a traitor, and never forgot it. However, this Catirna is rather less potty-mouthed, more mature, and more sensible than the other sometimes was.

And if anyone remembers the minor character Dirmaid — the best friend Caitir left behind on earth, never to see again — he returns in this story as Dirmad Canda-Rell, Catirna’s best friend and protector from the nearby village. This Dirmad is an expert archer, hunter, and fisherman who supports himself by selling what he catches and trading it for Catirna’s herbs and vegetables. He’s also a widower, and his intense grief was what drew Catirna to help him in the first place.

Which reminds me … I like Dirmad, but he’s kind of getting the shaft in this story. I may need to write a short for him.

Anyway …

Musical Inspirations

I rely heavily on music for inspiration, both in developing characters and in drafting the actual story. Catirna has several songs of her own. I can’t list them all, because spoilers … but here are a few:

Unfortunately, I can’t remember the former Caitir’s theme songs. Indeed I seem to have saved EVERY OTHER CHARACTER’S theme songs except for hers.

My other main characters, Axel and Kitty, have a lot more themes. Maybe they’ll be next.

What do you think, guys — should we continue this series?

*Pronounced KAH-cheer, but kah-TEER is acceptable.

**I may use that concept again in a short story, but not with Caitir. 🙁

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