Goodness gracious me, what a day! The rain! Old Sir Adam seems to think it’s all about him and his cursed succession. Cursed literally I suspect, the Lady having lost the last two at birth. The old chap seems sure it’ll be a boy; well if wishful thinking has any power to it the bairn’ll be all balls. Ah, talking about balls, there’s one or two of the scola who are on the point of dropping theirs; let’s hope the voices stay up! We’ll find out soon no doubt … only half a dozen making it tonight, but given the short notice and the weather I suppose that’s not bad … and oh, what weather! The lanes were hardly passable; seem to have been travelling all day … breakfast at Whithorn, jggle jiggle in the carriage all the way to Glenluce, barely time for a quick Angelus, before lunch with the Abbott. And eggs again! … just because they were laid by quails, eggs are eggs …. more jiggling in the same carriage to here … probably an omelette by now. And that Abbott; hmmm, I know Mother Church is not to be sullied by temporal concerns, but I suspect that Abbott of having rebel sympathies!
Ah, but here are my sweet boys.
The priest smiled encouragingly at his choir boys, and raised his plump arms. Father Barnabas had managed to persuade six of his precious Scola to come out to Wigtown Castle. He liked to think that with all his connections he was loved by all, and of independent mind. That he was actually a priest, ordained in Whithorn, who’s see itself was funded by the Balliols of Cruggleton, never diminished his comfortable view of himself. Not only was he a child of his times, he was also a paid up member of the ruling branch, a position he assumed with good-humoured ease.
The time is the end of the 13th century, the place, Galloway in the Southwest of Scotland. It is the time of the Great Cause, and the throne of Scotland was feuded over until only two great houses were still in contention, the Balliols, and de Brus. Locked, the various Lords could not decide between them, so asked their big neighbour to the South, Edward Longshanks of England, to decide for them. He settled on Balliol, being the more biddable of the two. So this tale is set amongst the shifting sands and alliances of the two great houses.
Galloway was no different. Nominally for Balliol and King Edward, but the lands of Carrick to the north, and Annandale to the East were both strongholds of de Brus. Even the Church was divided, and Fr Barnabas could never be too sure just where to put his loyalties. Was even self-interest a sure guide?
With a keen lift of his pale eyebrows Fr Barnabas broke into a Kyrie Eleison, and the boys followed suit, until the Factor, with one eye of his lean face pressed against her Ladyship’s door, shook his head. ‘Not yet’ he mouthed, drawing his hand across his throat. The Laird had stopped his pacing, looking with wild eyes at his Factor. The firelight and wall torches flickered in the great Hall as the words died on the boys’ lips. The guards by the door moved their feet to keep warm, their pikes before them, planted on the stone floor. The cries in the bed chamber curled up with the wild wind outside, and the Laird ran shaking hands through his hair.
“For God’s sake woman, an heir is all I ask for … third time lucky, surely!”
The cries lowered into whimpers. Shadows cast by the fire dimmed on the faces of the choir boys and their master. The pacing boots of the Laird echoed round the shadowed Hall. Moans from the next door chamber once more rose to a cry. “Now Sir Adam, now” said the Factor by the door, beckoning him forward, and Sir Adam rushed to the bed chamber.
“Kyrie, kyrie, kyrie eleison, “ sang the choir, Fr Barnabas with a beatific smile on his face … until, from the now wide open door the Factor once more motioned him to silence. The congratulations the Factor had started out with turned to a whisper, ending with “Uh oh!!” – he knew the Laird’s temper only too well.
“What in hell’s name is this? … and from hell it may have come” … and he threw the deformed child on the bed beside it’s dying mother. Without a word or thought for his wife, he stormed from the room, leaving the midwife and distraught servants to mop up the blood. The Factor, as was his wont, took charge, closing the dead woman’s eyes with a muttered prayer. He called in Fr Barnabas to administer the last rights, and beckoned to Meghan, the shepherd’s wife. He drew her to one side, and said in a low and reassuring voice,
“The less said of this terrible tragedy the better Meghan. Sir Adam is in no fit state to decide. I’ll leave you to dispose of the unwanted child. I know that with your recent experience you’ll know what to do”. He smiled at her; she lowered her head, as was her wont, looking at the floor. She’d recently lost one of her twins at birth, and was on hand as a wet nurse.
So with an anxious nod at the corpse on the bed, surrounded now by mourning maidservants and an anxious priest, she gathered up the child in a blanket, and left the room, hurrying down ill-lit passages to exit the Castle by the tradesmen’s entrance.
But when she came to the river, which acted as a moat around the Castle walls, she paused. She had not the heart to throw the baby in. She continued through the wind and rain, the child clutched to her, until she arrived at the cottage she shared with her husband, the shepherd Thomas. From his seat by the fire, Thomas raised his eyes slowly from gazing into nothing. He knitted his brow and said, “ye gods Meghan, wass at?” She told him what had befallen her at the Castle, ending with “… och he’ll be company for Fay to grow up wi’”. Thomas peered down at the ugly baby, shaking his head. “Meghan, I thoct they wanted yi fer nae more than yer tits, and ye come back wi this!”
“… och Thomas, I’d no the heart to put him awa. An see Fay? Why, I think she likes him. Let’s call him Aken, for mending ma broken heart”
So the child was brought up by Thomas and Meghan. With Fay as his inseparable sibling, he was soon taking his first steps, and tumbling playfully with his sister. As they ventured further from the cottage, they came across the other children of the village. At first, it all went fine. They’d all go swimming in the pool up the river, above the caul that had been built to draw the eels down the lade. In summer the surrounding trees turned it into a magical place, and the other kids seemed to accept young Aken’s ugliness, especially as he turned out to be such a good swimmer. One of the boys, Walter, especially took to the ugly child, recognising another fit specimen, even beneath the gnarled skin. Walter had learned patience, with his large but simple younger brother, Wullie.
Then one day all the children fell silent. Aken emerged from the water. A tall red headed girl had walked down, and stood amongst them. Her name was Griselde, the factor’s daughter, deigning to come down and play from the Castle. She curled her lip at the sight of Aken’s naked and scaled body.
“wass this?” after an awkward silence, a boy came forward.
“He’s the shepherd’s boy, an’ he’s okay” said brave Walter.
“Is he now Walter? … if ye ask me he’s no but a little creep … a little creep to help wi the sheep … and a head like a neep” She turned and left, looking back to beckon the other children to follow … except of course for Aken and Fay.
And so, as time went on, the two children took to following Thomas on his rounds. They’d get in his way as he hoed the neeps in the strip of land behind the cottage, then onto the fell, to help with the sheep. As time went by Fay would sometimes leave Aken, to eventually play with the other children, or help her mother round the cottage. Thomas grew quite fond of the monstrous child, who seemed to thrive on the hill. Whatever the weather, or however hard the fetch, Thomas and even his dog would always be matched by the stubborn child, who seemed to have an instinct for knowing their next move; he would always just be there.
Then one fine Spring day, as the bees set upon the gorse in flower and the wee birds dashed about their nesting, Thomas and his boy came across the Laird, who would walk around the Estate, unkempt since that terrible night, swinging his stick and muttering to himself. He paused at the obstructed path before him
“Ah, the shepherd, yes? … and who’s that hiding ahind your coat?”
Aken stepped out, and Thomas, for once taking his courage in his hands, said
“This, sire, is yer son, abandoned by ye as a babe”
The Laird just looked, his face gradually turning to thunder. He eventually spluttered some oath, turned on his heel and made his way back to the Castle. That night, he sent for his factor.
“What is all this? Why was I not informed?”, his voice rising from a menacing whisper to a shout.
“Of what, my Lord?” replied the unctuous Factor.
“That the disease is upon us? … I have seen it with my own eyes .. the dread child of the shepherd! … Have it begone!!” ….”To where my Lord?”
“to the colony in the hills, the colony of lepers!”
OLIVER THE FACTOR
‘Very good my Lord, Certainly my Lord’ …is this really me?and my Lord, Sir Adam? The ‘really me’ should be running this show. But I have to pretend, in order to actually run this damned show! Would ‘Sir Adam’ get a look in anywhere else, if he had to pit his wits against the likes of … oh I don’t know … an English soldier, let alone a real English Lord? … no chance! Why, me and my sweet Griselda are the ones who have to get blood out of this damned land, these surly and reluctant peasants. But we have to do it by Sir Adam’s rules, his soft ways. And it’s us, not those peasants that have to put up with his tantrums. “yes my Lord” indeed!
So the last we see of young Aken is a little face looking from the back of a cart as it trundles on its way to the Abbey of Glenluce in the Galloway foothills. Evening settles on the land, and darkness approaches as they near the Abbey. The cart pulls up behind the kitchens, and the driver coughs as he gets down from the front. He knows the small passenger in the back has the disease, and keeps what distance he can from the young leper.
“Come on then young ‘un, down yer get. You’ll be here for the night.” he says, flinging the wee bag of belongings after Aken, to the sound of the Monks singing vespers. The hunched figure of a janitor leads him through high walled passages and under tall arches to a small cell where Aken will spend a sleepless night. He hears the tread of the monks as they file in silence past his door, on their way to the refectory for their evening meal. He looks at the moon through the high window, alone and lost, with no idea of where or why he is. If tears could come to his lidless eyes, they surely would. He longs for home, and when he finally sleeps he dreams of the wee family who waved him off, and were all he knew of human affection.
Was that young Aken? Must have been; can hardly get him muddled with another. Here at Glenluce again; I hope the Abbott’s cellar is better than his kitchen. Still, that’s the lot of the wandering priest I suppose; pot-luck! Wandering seems to be my speciality …’Oh Barnabas, could you take a message to Cruggleton? Oh Barnabas, nip down to the harbour see if the Sally Anne’s in yet…Oh Barnabas, could you nip out to look at Mrs Bunyan’s bunions’, or whatever wherever. And now they pick me for Colony Laison Officer. As long as you stand downwind of them and shout a lot, even that scoundrel Joseph can’t infect you. The Lord’s disease is all very well, but there’s a time and a place for doing good, and if you don’t mind I’ll stick around while I can. Once a month, I suppose I can put up with that.
Mind you, it gets me out and about, and as my old uncle used to say, ‘no one notices a still reed’. And it can be fascinating, getting behind the scenes as it were. I mean, fancy seeing young Aken here after all this time … knowing who he’s really from might come in handy some time … one never knows. I doubt there’s anyone round here knows as many secrets as me! Fr Godfrey for example … pretty sure now he’s of the Bruce faction for all his saintly ways. Praying for the soul of that renegade Wallace for example … not something we hear much of down at Whithorn; you never know who might have the ear of the Balliols. After all, Cruggleton Castle’s just down the road. I suppose old Abbott Godfrey forgets these things out here.
The following morning, Aken is woken by the sun light falling through the window, and is summoned to a lonely bowl of gruel by a grunt from the janitor. He dawdles over the sparse breakfast, and is roused by the clatter of hooves outside..
“ah believe ye’ll hae company on the way to the colony” says the same cart driver, as Aken is stowed back in the cart. As well as a fat priest, who looks at him closely and grunts, before climbing up beside the driver in the front, a young man joins them, his cowl hiding half his features. “Here we go”, he sighs. He looks at Aken with one eyebrow raised, and winks at the ugly young thing as he settles back to doze. That is the only communication as they wend their slow way into the hills, until …
“We’re here” calls the driver … “ last stop this side o’ hell for you fellas. The Purgatory Burn is where ye’re at. Tak a last look around ye, for there’s nae gan back”
The moorland is bleak; heather grows amongst the tussocks of sedge grass; a crow peers from the branch of a wind-bent and stunted tree.
They dismount, and the driver throws the bags over the dyke, the monthly supplies for the colony, as well as Aken’s and the fellow’s belongings. Three grey figures stand on the other side, watching as the fellow and Aken climb over the style. The priest waddles back to the cart, with packages for the monastery, and having left the scrolls on the dyke shelf.
“So, the new intake, eh?” says the tallest of the grim figures, his grey rags fluttering in the breeze. “Wass tha names?” He looks at the fellow with disdain, who looks back, taking his time to reply. “Bert” he eventually says. ”… you can call me … Bertie. And you?”
the things we all do for duty! Old Godfrey’s a good enough man, but I doubt he’d be helping me out if it weren’t out of loyalty to my old man. As good a place to hide out, I suppose … who’d think of looking for me here among the lepers?
And this wee gargoyle? Och, he’s just a child … with no idea of why he’s here no doubt.
“Bertie eh?” The man spits on the ground with disdain. “Bertius, I think ye’ll find now yer here. I’m kent as Joseph, and Am’m the head yin roon here.” He looks at Aken, and at his hand, which has slipped into the fellow’s on clambering over the style. Bertie follows the gaze, and looks back enquiringly. “Aken”, whispers the child, withdrawing his hand, then repeats it louder for Joseph to hear. … “Akenus … um. Akendium … Akendrum is what ye are. Follow me, do as yer tell’t an we’ll all get on”. He turns, and is followed by his stumbling acolytes, who shoulder the supplies and catch up as best they can. Bertie looks at Aken; smiles encouragingly, shrugs his shoulders, and follows on at a leisurely pace.
So begins what should have been a dismal time in Aken’s life. Banished to a leper colony! But with the blessed ignorance of youth, Aken slips into his new life with a child’s optimism and curiosity. The colony is perhaps twenty strong, though that might be the wrong word for an ailing group of people, stuck out on the moors to live out their shuffling lives. In their desultory way they follow a monastic life, the women separated in a different ‘community’. The tone is set by Joseph: grim and no compromise to comfort or even good will. The vegetable patch and few sheep supply most of their needs, but they’re supplemented by the monthly visit from the monastery below. Aken is put with old Fr Cuthbert, who keeps to himself, dividing his time between the ‘orchard’, as he rather grandly calls it, and his own strange projects. Each year Aken helps old Cuthbert collect the apples that the orchard produces, and the old man shows him how to box and store the apples for future use. Cuthbert also takes it on himself to teach Aken everything he knows, since the child would do his best to help the sick old fellow.
Mind you, everything Cuthbert knew was not an awful lot, because he had not had a wide experience of life before being struck down at a tender age, barely having joined the Community in the valley below. But he had the foresight to persuade the Abbey to set up the Colony in the first place. Now in his dotage, and ravaged by the illness, he was tended by the young Aken, who would hang on his every word. Especially stories, like the one he made up about the young bird who lost his sight. Without his sister or other children to play with, Aken needed the stories to construct the world that youthful imagination craves.
One day he came to Cuthbert, who was toiling away at his steps in the hillside behind the chapel. He said excitedly “I’ve seen it … just like you said it’d be!”
“Seen what Aken?” said Cuthbert, fixing him with one of his steely bird-like looks.
“the Kingdom o’ Heaven”. It seemed that Aken had climbed a distant hill, initially in pursuit of a lost sheep, and seen a silver expanse stretching to the horizon, where it merged with the hazy sky. It was peopled, if that was the word, by heavenly castles, supplied by Aken’s imagination, and lorded by the Heavenly King, with a heavenly host all about.
“Ah”, said Cuthbert “… that’d be the sea”
So Aken learnt all about the sea, while Cuthbert worked away at step number 23. Well, as much as Cuthbert knew, though even he had to admit that Heaven could well lie beyond its edge, for no man had ever found it. When Aken told Jonas and Petroarchus (or John and Peter to their friends) about it, they laughed at Aken for his naivety. As young men, even they knew about the sea.
Apart from Aken, hardly anyone saw the inside of old Cuthbert’s hut. It was a small stone affair he’d constructed for himself over the years. Inside, as well as a paliasse in the corner, were a table and shelf for his belongings, a fireplace for warmth and cooking … and all around were various constructions made of twigs and branches, the better, he would patiently explain to Aken, to observe the stars. The walls themselves were bare, except for a small cross to remind him of his duties as a Brother. Sat at his table, he enjoyed telling young Aken stories of Jesus and Abraham, jumbled but coherent, of how Jesus chased the traders from the Temple, to be herded by Moses across the parting sea. And as for the Garden of Eden, it was just like the orchard, and beware of the snake!
Joseph was glad enough to have the old renegade not cramping his style, so with the excuse of advanced years Cuthbert was allowed to live as he willed, alone and carving his strange staircase into the hill. Either John or Peter could have done the job better and faster, but would not have presumed to offer; it was Cuthbert’s own project, according to his own inscrutable ideas. Aken took to visiting the neighbouring hill, and gazing out at the view, whether shrouded in Galloway mist, or clear and sparkling as he had first seen it. He would sometimes stay there as dusk descended, and watch as the stars would wink into life one by one, until darkness descended, except for the flood of stars overhead. Cuthbert would tell him about the various constellations: Taurus the Bull, Orion the hunter with his dogs, the Seven Sisters … and Aken would tell himself stories of who loved who, the betrayals and battles that he would see enacted. It was a lively place, the night sky.
Aken took his share of chores, the rota set by one of Joseph’s accolytes, Helveticus. They had mostly taken names that echoed classical saints, a fashion pursued by Joseph, and as far as they could followed the monastic routines. Aken drifted towards tending the sheep, and spending what time he had outside. He would help Bertie with the firewood, which is all the the fellow seemed willing to do. Aken would watch, as Bertie split the logs, the axe starting high above his head.
“that’s it Aken, let the spirit be with ye; there’s nothing can resist determination.” Then one day, while waiting for Bertie to sharpen the axe, he sliced down with the side of his hand. The thick skin, which reduced the delicacy of his movements, had hardened like a blade, and the claw-like hand split the wood as an axe might. Seeing this, Bertie just laughed “… A weapon like no other! Come young friend, I’ll show you a use for that” So after the logs were split, Bertie and Aken would engage in practise … or, as Bertie put it, “chasing the wasp”, until the boy became fast enough to slice a fly in mid air.
And it was Bertie who undertook the other half of Aken’s education. Old Cuthbert, in his own way gradually explained to the boy how the world works, from God down.
“Well,” he’d say, tucking his arms into his cloak – not to hide them, you understand, but because that was the pose he’d adopt when thinking – with a distracted air, “We know God exists, because He does, and there must be something between Himself and us, so why not Angels? We have the lowly worm, or the midge, on up through the beasts and the birds, till you arrive at Man … surely we are not the end of God’s creation?”
Bertie decided the boy needed to learn something about Man. He tried to teach Aken to read, but without success. The boy would look at him with blank enthusiasm. It was only if pictures and parables were introduced that he would understand. So between Joseph’s bitter catechism of hell-fire and despair, and Cuthbert’s wayward but affectionate bible stories, was balanced Bertie’s insistence that people were not as bad as all that … principles of trust and fairness found a natural home with Aken’s open nature. The varying lessons and outlooks though bred a certain spirit of enquiry in Aken’s young and ugly head.
As far as domestic chores go, the brothers were always pleased to have young Aken on their ‘team’, especially as time went by, and Aken seemed to grow as they diminished.
Cuthbert was found dead near his precious steps, one morning by one of the brothers. Joseph ordered the usual brief ceremony. Burial was to be in the usual sad grave yard, beside the vegetable patch, but Aken persuaded the elders to bury him beneath his beloved apple trees. So the orchard became the beneficiary of the old man’s mortal remains. Bertie and Aken were aided by John and Peter as pall bearers. As Joseph uttered his few terse words, Aken eyes would have once again filled with tears, had he been able to weep. The thin moorland wind was the only sound to accompany the sound of earth falling on the wrapped and pathetic old corpse. That night Aken found a star that must have been Cuthbert’s departed soul, and thereafter the youth would sometimes watch his old mentor’s progress through the heavens.
The hut though, was declared by Joseph to be the new potting shed. Though meant as a sign of disrespect by the head leper, Aken reckoned that old Cuthbert would have approved… a good practical use of resources, after all
A word here about Aken’s growth: Ok, he doesn’t get any prettier, but before long his limbs are like those of a tree, and his overall size is large. But he takes no advantage of this growing strength, except for spending longer outside. His skin is thick enough to inure him from cold, and he takes to sleeping beneath the stars and near his flock.
Stir crazy … that’s what they call it when prison gets to you I believe. They should try it up here in the Colony. That Joseph … calling himself the Head Man; pff! … But is it occasional visits to the real world that make me so impatient of this? Young Aken, if only I could see things like he must: straightforward, and you just do what’s in front of you. Happy as anything out there on the moor with his sheep. At one with nature, that’s him, And good luck to him too. Old Godfrey didn’t need to tell me to look out for him, I’d do it anyway. Inspiring love and confidence with those around him; a good example for the likes of myself. Ok, a bit of jealousy can lead to hatred, if you’re twisted and bitter anyway, like Joseph and his crew . But maybe that’s a measure of loyalty as well.
The number of sheep grows larger with Aken’s care, from six bedraggled specimens to a real flock. He enjoys being out on the fell with the sheep. He keeps them trim, shearing the fleeces before the ewes lamb, supplying the lepers with their own supply of wool, and following them as they seek fresh pasture. His presence is enough on its own to keep the wolves at bay, and so the numbers gradually increase.
With that and the expanding vegetable garden, the monthly requirements from the monastery dwindle to a trickle … if anything, more start to go down the hill than come back up. The fellow Bertie is the only other one who seems immune to illness and infirmity. Both him and Aken spend hours with the dying, tending to their sores or even just sitting with them. Apart from this, and his time closeted with old Cuthbert, he spends much of the time with John and Peter, helping them with the vegetable patch, or repairing dykes and the like, as they both have spent time in the building trade, as well as planting out and tending the cottage strips, before the illness took them up here.
As Aken spends longer outside, so Bertie vanishes for days on end, then weeks … then one day just does not return. No one, even Joseph remarks on this, as they prefer not to mention those who have departed, through sickness, death or whatever.
So what of Joseph and his acolytes? Shortly after Aken joins the colony, Joseph has a dream. In this dream, he is visited by God, who impresses on him that he, Joseph, has been chosen to lead the community. Such is the culture of acceptance that no one challenges this, and before long Joseph has established a hierearchy, with himself at the top, and various friends and acolytes appointed to subordinate roles. He continues to address his subordinates with Latinised names .. if unsure, he adds a bit on each end, hence Akendrum and Bertius. He avoids telling either Bertie or the growing Aken what to do, especially after ordering Bertie to the chapel below to pray for their souls, and Bertie’s laughing refusal. Aken is concerned by this, for he had always been a good boy, and is worried about the effect on Bertie’s spiritual health.
“No Aken, I am not bothered by whatever Brother Joseph might say or do. Your concern is commendable, and I thank you for it. But if you have seen as much of the world as I have, y’are less worried by the opinions of others. As for God … well, I’ll grant He can be useful, but I doubt Joseph has his undivided attention. Now if you don’t mind, this scroll is really rather interesting.”
He was always reading scrolls, that would come up monthly from the monastery, and using words like ‘commendable’. … perplexing to Aken, who continues to sit with his friends at the bottom of the table. But as described, Bertie withdraws from the colony, till he is seen no more. Aken meanwhile spreads good cheer just by the effect of his personality, and his appetite for work, which in a community devoted to sickness was unusual. But one day all this changed …
Aken comes bursting into the common room, and breathlessly announces “Betsy’s had triplets!! .. who ha thocht it at her age??”
Joseph looks up, quelling any enthusiasm with a sharp glance. “Triplets, eh? In a sheep? Now that would be unnatural, as in Agin Nature! … a sign me-thinks, from God. Come Helveticus, Spasticus .. there is God’s work to do … no, you wait here Akendrum.”
They leave. And return 20 minutes later, Joseph wiping blood from a knife. Aken jumps to his feet, “No, no!!”
“aye, and the ewe that begat them. She’ll no produce further abominations” he glowers at Aken, who subsides, white as a sheet.
That night, Aken is troubled by dreams of screaming lambs. He is roused from fitful sleep, summoned from his straw paliasse by Joseph and the acolytes.
“Come with us …” He is led to the crypt, and the last he remembers seeing before the club falls and the net enfolds him, is the gleaming knives laid out on the stone altar.
… and the next, as he awakens, are the bodies of Joseph and his henchmen, strewn on the crypt floor. Leaning against a pillar is Bertie, resting on his sword like a lord might on his rapier.
“ah, Aken, ’bout time you woke. What time d’ye call this? … as well as I came back for …ma things” says Bertie, kissing his blade
“Whit’s happened Bertie, whit’s aal this?”
“all that talk of abomination; they had plans for you ma’ boy. They’ll have nae more plans, and mebe God will be quizzing our leader right now. Well … I’ve tarried long enough, but I’m sure our paths will cross agin Aken” … and with another of his winks he was away.
Aken makes his dazed way to the refectory, and sits between his hi friends for breakfast. “ Wha’ve you bin Aken? .. we’re just waiting for Joseph and the others afore we start” whispered his friend John.
“they’ll no be wanting breakfast” said Aken, pointing down to the crypt
John returns from the crypt below, ashen faced with Peter. “Aken, whit have ye done??”
So Aken refuses to admit his guilt. But despite questioning by the elders, neither will he point the finger at his friend Bertie.
The disposal of dead bodies was not a problem for the colony, but what to do with the main suspect? Aken is sent to his cell, which is fearfully guarded by two brothers, while word is sent down to the monastery. His friends, John and Peter bring him food while the others debate his future. Aken gradually convinces them of his innocence, despite the evidence. Tears are shed as they bid him farewell, as he is taken in the cart from the colony one last time.
… to be held by the Convocation in the Abbey hall, Abbott Godfrey presiding…
“Oh must we really?” quailed the Abbott “ the Colony is hardly hallowed ground, so I don’t see why the Church has to decide … oh alright, I suppose it is our responsibility …
Three of them for one of him? … hardly seems fair … what, bigger than Wullie you say? … must be massive. Don’t worry, we’ll not hold his looks against him … My God!!”
“so, you’ve heard the charges against you …. and yes, it’s a capital offence; aye, indeed, hanging by the neck till dead …. still nothing to say?”
“yes I know, silence is no defence, but surely if there were no witnesses? … very well …”
“our decision is that you be taken from this place, held securely overnight, to be hanged at first light”
“(best put him in the far cell … not so far to the hanging tree)”
So Aken is led meekly to the dungeons, it deemed sensible to have six men holding chains, afore and aft of the hulking criminal. He is locked in the cell, and sleeplessly goes over the events; and decides that he has indeed done nothing wrong, nothing to warrant death. As he comes to this conclusion, he hears a scraping sound at the door. He goes over, suspecting a rat, but lifts the door anyway … it magically swings open. He looks down the moonlit passageway, and seeing no one makes his escape. He crosses the meadow, and slips into the river.
The night is calm, and the moon bright. He floats down stream, the anxiety of pursuit gradually fading. He is reassured to see the same stars and constellations as he floats on his back, and tells himself a story, whereby the young hero escapes false imprisonment. However hard the huntsman tries to track him down, a convenient cloud comes to his rescue. Some miles further on the dawn starts to break, and he emerges to hide in the bushes behind a mill. He dozes off.
Some time later, he is awakened by activity at the Mill. As he peers out from the undergrowth, he sees two young men, stacking a cart with sacks of grain. He recognises Walter and his brother Wullie, now grow into young men.
“How many times must I tell ye Wullie? Three is one less than four, and yan more than twa.”
“och you an’ yer sums. Wait while I drop a sack on yer nut, then ye’ll no be so smart … then ye’ll no need ony sums”
“But Ah’m ne stupid enough to wait for a sack on ma heid. I’ll just keep movin’m aboot.”
“Ah no, Walter, dinna be movin awa’ agin … yis ony jest back” said Wullie, suddenly anxious and serious.
“Dinna worry Wullie, I’m no gan onywhere” soothed Walter, laying the last sack in the cart.
The good natured chat between the two brothers fades, and they lapse into silence as three horsemen ride up. As they draw up the one in the centre removes a helmet, to reveal tumbling red hair … it is Aken’s nemesis, Griselde.
“Ho Master Walter. These sacks will not be light perchance? I’m sure ye’d not cheat the Laird of King Edward’s tax?”
“Certainly not, Mistress Griselde. Ah ken King Edward needs our money more than we do” replied Walter. “We weighed them all last night” he adds.
“mmm… that one, let’s check that one” said the woman to one of her soldiers. Once on the scales, she stopped it swinging with the butt of her whip.
“looks light to me, Walter”
“ah Mistress Griselde, .. if it’s light the rats might have got in amongst em. Either that or Wullie’s got hungry”
“I ken ye like a jest MASTER Walter … but not, I hope at King Edward’s expense?” and with that she cracks her whip, slicing a fleeing rat from between Walter’s feet. “So just to be sure there’s nae joke involved, perhaps you an’ yer brother wouldna’ object to re-weighing the lot?”
Walter frowns at the mere suggestion of his honour being impugned, then with a mock sigh sets to it
While she waits, she looks around the yard, and as her gaze stops at Aken’s hiding place, he is sure that he’s been seen. He is about to give himself up, but Griselde carries on with her perusal. The brothers finish weighing the load again, and with a small bow from Walter, she and her men ride off.
“Strict! Just how Ah like ’em” says Walter admiringly.
Aken slips back into the river and continues downstream.
There’s nothing to beat the crack of a whip. The results when it lands might be a bit messy, but as it cuts through the air it’s hard and clean. Just like me, they say.
It is midday, and Aken is woken from dozing in the reed bed by the river. A cart is approaching, and he recognises the joshing tones of the brothers. The horse glimpses Aken in the reed bed, and shies, tipping the cart into a rut.
“och Wullie. Look whit ye’ve done noo”
“it wasn’ae me it wus the hoss”
“ye were drivin, so you can fix it”
Wullie sets off grumbling back to the Mill for tools to fix it. As Walter unslings his bait, and sets to a large hunk of bread and uncorks a jug of beer, Aken emerges from the reeds, rubbing his empty belly. Walter holds it out, agog at the site of Aken, and looking twice at his beer. Aken demolishes the lot; looks at the damaged cart. With one hand he lifts the cart, throws a fallen sack under the axle with the other. With his eyebrows he encourages Walter to roll the wheel back on to the axle. Job complete Aken saunters back to the river. His mood is good.
On Wullie’s return Walter nonchalently claims to have fixed it himself “…. Ah got bored waiting”. Wullie casts occasional puzzled looks at his brother as they drive off
And Aken floats on down stream … past the pool where they’d swim as children, beneath the overhanging trees, heavy with summer foliage … and is just in time to see the empty cart returning over the bridge from the Castle.
He knows he’s home. He climbs up the river bank, shakes his wet head, and says in a loud voice,
“Have ye work for Aken Drum?”
As he repeats the demand, the nervous guards retreat and drop the port cullis. But in a window on high, Griselde sees him. “Surely!” she mutters to herself. Ordering the gate raised, she strides out to stand before him.
“Well well, haven’t we grown?”
She raises her eyebrows and smiles.
“oh, work … nope, not a thing” she turns with a flourish, and goes back into the Castle.
A little crestfallen, Aken climbs down to the village below, and strides along, repeating and elaborating his request. He’s never had to advertise himself before, and shrinks from putting himself forward, but hunger compels him to shout out his wares:
“I lived in a land where we saw nae sky,
I dwelt in a spot where a burn runs near by;
But I’ll dwell now wi’ you if ye’d like to try—
Hae ye wark for Aiken-drum?”
doors shut as he ambles down the street, so he goes again:
“I’ll shiel a’ your sheep i’ the mornin’ sun,
I’ll berry your crap by the light o’ the moon,
An’ ba’ the bairns wi’ an unkent tune,
If ye’ll keep puir Aiken-drum.”
The sound of further doors closing …
“I’ll lowp the linn when ye canna wade,
I’ll kirn the corn, an’ I’ll turn the bread,
An’ the wildest filly that ever ran rede,
I’ll tame it,” says poor Aken
“To wear the tod frae the flock on the fell,
To gather the dew frae the heather bell,
An’ to look at my face in your clear chrystal well,
Might gi’e pleasure to Aiken-drum.”
He’s not used to rejection, but his empty stomach makes him continue …
“I’ll seek nae guids, gear, bond, nor mark;
I use nae beddin’, shoes, nor shirt;
But a bowl of broth ‘tween the light an’ the dark,
Is the wage o’ Aiken-drum.”
… then a door cracks open, and a pale face looks out.
“Psst! Hey, Aken! Stop yer bawlin and come here”
“Fay?? .. Fay, it’s yoursel, by God and St Joseph!”
They look at each other, brother and sister, united again, an adoring look on her face, regret on his.
“och Fay it’s guid to see ye again. And what o’ Ma and Pa?”
“Ah Aken, they’re baith passed on. I’d have said if I’d ha’ kent whare ye were. But come in to the warmth for a while an’ we’ll catch up”
“I would Fay, but I dinna want to bring grief to your house, fer I’m a wanted man. Dinna believe a thing the sodgers say if they come by. For the slaying o’ innocent sheep three men died, but I swear it wisna me that did for them”.
“Never mind that, there’s nae sodgers come doon here. Anyways, look at the size o’ ye now! But come on and get some clothes on ye afore ye catch yer death. Ma man Owen’ll hae something to drape on ye … won’t you Owen?” (who has come behind her to see what’s going on. He gulps and nods)
“Do ye no mind Fay? the frost doesna bother me, an I’ll sleep out here. But I’ll do aal I say. A bowl o’ broth will do me fine fer a day’s work”
As much out of pity as affection did Fay encourage Aken in his work, for she hated to see him down hearted. The strip of land behind her and Owen’s cottage soon saw the benefit of his attentions however, and bore plentisome food that harvest. At first two or three village children would follow him, teasing him for his looks and demeanor. But he was used to that, and before long their taunts drifted gradually into comments, as much to elicit any response from the grim giant. Before long they were competing for his attention, and dialogue began.
It started with mimicking bird calls. A pigeon had cooed through the bushes, to be answered by Aken, cooing back. And when the children repeated the call, Aken would look at the bushes, pretending to be startled. After a few days of this, Aken cracked a smile, the first one for a long time. Before long, he was repeating the tales and describing characters that he’d taken to inventing up on the moors, and the village kids would gather round him in the morning, calling for him to start talking…
“and so the wee bird was born blin’, with no’ a feather on him. But he grows and grows, and ‘cos he canna see, learns about the world from his hearing … and to fly, with his arms outstretched. He’s as fit in the dark o’ night as his bothers are in the day, and can snatch a midge as sure as a swallow”
“he’s talking aboot a bat” whispers wee Fergus to his neighbour. “Jus ‘cos it’s real doesna’ mean it’s no real” exclaims Aken.
Come evening, he’d settle them down with some tale he’d make up, which would always end up with them “all going to sleep”, and off they would troop to their homes and happy beds.
The villagers themselves kept their distance from Fay’s tame monster, who would sing to himself, passages he’d half learned in the Colony. “Fal-diddly-would it benefit a man di-didly-um, to go through the eye of a needle-di-dum” he’d hum, as distracting to those who heard him as he had been to the Brothers in the hills. But he was quite happy to be working away on his own, hoeing the neeps and gathering the sheep.
As mid-summer approached though, word went round the village that Fast Eddie was in the area … the champion shearer was going to be there to lead the annual sheep shearing, and the village was proud to have secured his services, for no one could cut faster than he. As was his wont, he was to stay at Andrew the Sproat’s big house, and every favour was laid on. The big day arrived, and Aken was sent to fetch in the ewes, to be clipped before they lambed. The sheep were all in their pens, and the villagers gathered to watch, as with a nonchalant air, and a wink at the lasses, Fast Eddie laid out the tools of his trade: a fine pair of shears, wrapped in embroidered cloth, and his own three-legged stool. He was on to his sixth sheep, the three other shearers on their fourth, when he noticed the crowd drifting away. His eyes followed the crowd, and there he saw Aken, fifty yards away, happily on his eighth sheep, and seemingly to be doing them bare handed. Being professional, he finished his quota, before going over, and watching, slack jawed as Aken dispensed with his last ewe. The naked sheep cavorted in the grass behind him. Fast Eddie, with a shake of his head, raised his hands and applauded with the rest of the villagers. Aken took a small bow, and left.
And so the villagers lost their caution. As in the Colony, he was gradually tolerated, and then actively sought after. The lambs gambolled, the beasts lowed, and the other strips of land blossomed, not just from Aken’s hands, but also by his example.
By the end of the second year of Aken’s arrival, the market, held weekly on the green outside the Castle, produce from the village was noticeably more fruitful compared to neighbouring villages, and by the third year the improved yield of the whole locality could even be observed by the Factor … at least through the reports of his keen-eyed daughter Griselde.
But why should King Edward, or his tax collectors and agents such as the Factor benefit from their hard work?. So they took to hiding some of the improved yield from Griselde, who became ever more determined to catch them out. Even Aken, sitting by the river, idly sharpening his claw on a large flat stone, thought ‘aye … ten bags o’ wool, and they pay us fer nine?’
So one evening Aken observed from the field below Walter’s cart once more coming fully laden from the Castle (less of course a couple of sacks for the soldiers’ trouble), and a defeated look in the two brothers’ demeanor. He climbed up onto the bridge, and faced Griselde
“Would that be Walter and Wullie gan hame wi’oot pay?”
“Well that’s a possibility …. and what possible business might it be of yours, oh Scaly-faced one?” replied Griselde, loosening the whip from its shoulder holster. Aken raised his eyebrows. “Go for it girl … but I’ll be back; full pay for Walter!!”. He whistled a tune, turned and sauntered off, as Bertie might have done.
The same evening, the kids came down the street for their nightly story, but Aken said “No story tonight … but I want you all to gan back to yer hames, and tell them Aken’s having a meeting, and aye, they’re to come along”
Times had changed since he’d first turned up, and sure enough they came down the street, until all were gathered, even if it was curiosity that drove them.
“Can I call you ma friends? Aye, I will … Walter and Wullie ne’er got paid fer the corn today. The Factor is no the Laird, an’ even if he wis, no pay is no guid. Are ye wi’ me? I’m gaan back to the Castle for Walter’s pay. If yis wi’ me I’ll be there in the morning. Aye, at the Castle … for Walter’s pay. For the corn. Aye. Whit? Tax? … whit’s tax? … och aye, fer the tax”
So the villagers went to bed a bit confused. In the morning Fay and Owen went up to the Castle, to join Aken on his mad errand. But they weren’t the only ones. Their neighbours joined them, as much out of curiosity. And as the morning sun came up, the crowd grew, as nearby villagers arrived as well. A crowd attracts a crowd, but it seemed the talk of tax was the tipping point.
“No Griselde, not this again. I’ll not have it, we’re Balliol’s men and that’s it. It’s to our benefit that Sir Adam has lost his way. … and Sir Aymer is happy with the man in his sick bed too. You’d rather have us ruled by that mob out there? We’re perfectly safe with the English … all we have to do is keep our heads down and send the occasional sack o’ stuff to Cruggleton. Having said which, it might be high time to send a message now; this mob is getting big!”
Oliver looked nervously out of his window on high
“Aye, a message to Sir Aymer. That Scalyface as you call him seems to have a lot of support … think we’ll nip this one in the bud, with a lesson to boot”
Griselde stretched out on the bench with a yawn. “I wish ye would ‘nae Father. I’m sure we can crack this one oursells” …. she looked down at her hands, avoiding her father’s eye. Instead of going to her bed room however, she went down the back stairs, gathering her cloak as she went silently down the passage and out the back door.
Aken frowned at Walter. The miller’s son, and his brother Wullie for that matter were a constant source of surprise to Aken, busy organising the incoming people. Likewise Fay, gently moving Aken out of the way, till he was little more than an on-looker. The brothers’ tent seemed to be the hub of a lot of activity. Tents were erected, including the Sproat’s grand affair, fire-pits laid, trenches were dug … even the blacksmith Stue Persid was setting up his forge.
The day wore on, and as the sun went down Walter called Aken over to the fire, to share a rabbit that was cooking on a large spit. He moved a minstrel to one side, to make space for Aken.
“All down to you Aken, all down to you … all that talk o’ tax an’ stuff last night,” he chuckled between mouthfuls. “ Ye’ve a way aboot ye, tha’s fer sure”
Aken looked at him in surprise, with no idea what Walter was on about. He bedded down for the night, as Walter and the other villagers tied up their tents.
The following morning, Aken joined Walter and the others to break their fast with a bowl of porridge.
“Tell me Walter … those boys by the wall, with the bows and arrows ….”
“Too close ye think? … aye, yer could be right … Andrew!! … move yer boys back! … back an’ spread oot! … naw, Ah can still see them; maybe in the bushes, aye?”
All day long, Walter and the Sproat organised the villagers into their feudal duties of military service, and the camp was alive with shouts and the clash of weaponry. The blacksmith and his boy were busy with forge and anvil, turning plough shares into swords; butts bristled with arrows as the archers refreshed their aim.
It dawned on Aken that this crowd were here to give more than support for a request for payment; they were here to fight. And Walter seemed to be in charge, supported by Fay and Wullie. Owen stood beside him, arms folded. “Who’d ha’ thocht it!” he said with a smile on his face. “Aye, who indeed?” replied Aken.
“So Aken,” began Walter later that night, as the last chord was strummed and the fires guttered low.
“So will you speak for us in the morning when Sir Aymer comes? We’ll expect the worst and this mob are keen to prove a point. But we’ll gie the Balliols a chance to be fair”
“Sir Aymer? From Cruggleton?… he’ll be here?”
“Aye, we’ve heard he’ll be here wi a squad o’ sodgers, an the men here all reckon you’s will be the one”. He clapped Aken on the back as he rose to retire for the night.
I suspect bravery might be required, so I’ll just duck into this tent … that young doxy will need protection while her man’s out fighting. Valoris favet imprudens, as the saying goes.
Morning broke, and the sounds of the camp awaking were with the dawn chorus. Mist from the river drifted over the fields as the sun rose. Bugles called in the distance, and from the retreating shadows the opposing army gradually appeared.
“Och ye’ll be fine …. just say what ye did nicht afore last in the village”, and with a pat on the horny shoulder, Walter prodded Aken forwards.
He stood between Walter’s rabble and Sir Aymer’s cavalry, the well drilled soldiers behind.. Sir Aymer rode forward on his magnificent war horse, both bedecked in the colours of Edward. Aymer’s armour glinted in the morning sun. He looked down with all the disdain he could muster at the scaled ruffian before him.
“So I believe you want something?”
“Aye, a’m here fer Walter’s pay … and tax” added Aken, still not knowing what tax was. Aymer looked momentarily confused. Then,
“you’d bargain with me, savage? … tell you what, I’ll give sixpence for your ugly head” .. and louder, at the villagers, “SIXPENCE FOR THE MONSTER’S HEAD!” he shouted, as he wheeled his horse about, and went back to his army.
“Ah dinna think they’d gie us oot” said Aken back at the camp. “Well, sixpence fer yer heid Aken … tha’s quite an offer” said Walter, suppressing a laugh. But his grim look soon returned
“Remember, haud yer ranks till I gie ye the word” said Walter, going up and down the length of his bedraggled warriors. He had them stretched out in a line, and Aken couldn’t see them holding much of anything. Except for the Sproat, looking like he was going to church, they were confusing to the eye, dressed in whatever came to hand … blankets, bits of leather, saucepans; for weapons, hoes and scythes … even branches with their leaves still on them. For once, Aken didn’t stand out, as he positioned himself amongst them. He eyed his neighbour Stuart who had his smith’s hammer in his large hands, and a grim expression as he squinted at the enemy. “Fer a dunt in the heid” he growled.
Aken hadn’t thought it would come to this, but having started it gritted his teeth. He looked down at the ground, then up to the clouds moving across the morning sky. He saw bears and wolves moving towards the enemy. He opened his throat, and joined in the roar of the villagers. With the others, he raised his arms, “Freedom!” was the shout … “and Walter’s pay!” added Aken, striding forward, as the English cavalry charged.
Now in amongst them, Aken wrestled a horse to the ground, dislodging the rider who was crushed by the falling horse. He raised his head before moving onto the next, and glanced about him, to see the advance dissolve into chaos. The villagers, on Walter’s command all moved to each side, except for those with the branches. Concealed amongst the leaves were sharpened staves. Dug into the soft earth they formed an array of spikes. Those horses that avoided the moat shied and reared, throwing the attack into disarray. From the concealed archers in the bushes arrows rained down upon the following soldiers, and amongst the chaos of their own horse men, they found themselves enfolded by whooping villagers from the flanks.
But the soldiers were many, and knew how to fight. They gradually repelled the villagers, who’s scythes and spears were no match for English steel, to reveal Aken in their midst, flailing at any who got near. Sir Aymer called to his own archers, “Ho there, finish this now!” But as they notched their arrows to finish off the berserk monster, a bugle called from behind. Aken looked up … he recognised the tune that Bertie would whistle … and the cry went up from the exhausted villagers, “King Robert, King Robert!” The soldiers turned to face this new threat, and the balance of the battle tipped once more in the villagers’ favour. Aken turned as well, and as he raised his arm in triumph, Sir Aymer’s horse received the blow on its snout. Having sneaked up behind the monster, determined to slay him, Aymer now lay in the mud at the feet of the surprised Aken. With their leader down, and before the new attack of King Robert, the English threw down their swords and acknowledged defeat.
King Robert, flanked by his brother … and loyal henchman James Douglas, rode forward on his wee garron. He looked down at the fallen Aymer, and turned to Aken as he raised his visor.
“Bertie, it’s yersel’ “ said the amazed Aken. “ha ha, Aken … said we’d meet again” replied the King as he dismounted … “had a notion of this place for a while; never thought we’d take it this easy”
Oliver had emerged from the Castle, and as he made his way along the drawbridge could scarcely prostrate himself in font of the King, for wont of obsequey. “Oh my liege and Lord, how can I express my gratitude! .. that you should arrive just now in the nick of time. As I was just saying to my sweet Griselde … where is she by the way?” … looking around him, lost. Robert ignores him, and looks at Fay instead. “Ah yes, Fay. I’ve heard a lot about you over the years. Aken’s sister, I believe. And what would you do with this fellow? … what, let the villagers decide? Sounds fair enough to me”
Best check the clothing … wouldn’t want anyone to get the wrong idea. I mean, some are meant for fighting, some for administering to the needy. Well, looks like the Bruce has turned up and won the day for … the villagers! … and there’s Oliver, no doubt making suitable noises. Might be a good time for the Church to do likewise …
All the while, Robert has his boot on Sir Aymer, still face down in the mud. “oh, Sir Aymer de Valence … awfully sorry; I’d forgot all about you. Tell you what, he’ll brush up quite nice. I think we’d get a bit for him. What d’ye think Jamie? I hear it’s sixpence for Aken’s head … what do think yours would fetch?” … this last to Sir Aymer, with no humour in his voice. He looks askance at the fat priest who has waddled forwards, saying something about his mother; ignores him, beckons over Fay, pointing at Fr Barnabas with a questioning face. With a shrug he claps Sir Jamie on the back and moves off, leaving the priest in mid sentence.
While this was going on, across the battle field, amongst the dead and the wounded, Walter cradled the still form of Griselde, stroking the pallid face. “She was softer than she let on”, he said to Aken, who now stood over his friend. “She was our inside information”. Aken said nothing; just squeezed Walter’s shoulder. He cast his gaze over the dead and the dying; reckoned if this was a cheap
skirmish for Bertie, he was glad not to be a soldier. The blacksmith was attending to his wounded boy, and the women of the village were emerging from hiding to do likewise with the fallen men. A listless air that followed the drama of battle settled over the field. Crows in the nearby trees waited their turn to loot the fallen, while the defeated soldiers with Sir Aymer in irons were marched without fanfare to the Castle dungeons.
“Come all”, cried Robert in a loud voice to the weary but relieved villagers. “Today ye fought well. We send another message for Edward … Leave us in peace, to manage our ane affairs. Whatever yer grievance, ye’re now wi’ us and our cause. Let us repair to the Castle. Fay, the place will be needing looked after. Would you an’ yer man be up for the job? I’m sure ye’ll find supplies to feast and drink for us all …”
Spirits were high in the Great Hall that night, the first time for many to be there. Aken sat with Robert for once at the high table, catching up with old news of the Colony, and Robert’s adventures. It seemed that for Robert it had been a place of sanctuary, suggested by his old friend Abbott Godfrey. Walter was deep in conversation with James Douglas, renewing their acquaintance from Ettrick Forest, where they’d both been schooled by the Wallace in the arcane business of guerilla warfare. Fay and Owen, the Sproat and Stuart the Smith, carousing and dining with the new Lords of the land. Sir Adam had emerged from his bedroom, blinking and confused, even when faced with his abandoned son Aken. For his part, the son furrowed his brow, sighed, and shook his massive head in disappointment. The flames of the firelight flickered over the dancers, in time to the music. As the rhythm gave way to a melancholy air of loss and forgiveness, Aken’s thoughts drifted to nothingness. Whatever the morning might bring, he’d face it afresh. Today had been a good day.
He made his way up the stone stairway, and stood up on the battlements. By the light of the crescent moon he could make out the silvery expanse of the Bay, and above the arc of stars, silver dust in the calm night.
“Thought I’d find you up here, Aken,” said a voice beside him. “So what stories do you see tell’t up there?” Aken looked at his old friend, Robert’s face pale in the moonlight.
“Do I call you Bertie, King Robert, My Liege?” he asked. “’Cos I see an arrow running doon the sky, an’ I dinna see whare it’s gan.”
“King Robert of Scotland, is how I’ll be kent. But you know names mean nocht to me. But it’ll be part of the story. And I hope you’ll help me tell it. A strong man beside me, aye, in these troubled times; but what we really need is a good story, and someone to tell it. Who knows where that dagger points?”
“I’ve heard ye speak of loyalty afore, Bertie. What if loyalty is bred by what we do, but also by the far future? Like a web, wi’ loyalty atween friends… strong bonds, close together … but long strands from the past supporting the centre. And others frae the future, reaching back to us … and you, the spider in the middle.”
“I like that Aken … See? Ye’ve a way wi’ words”