The Fower Quarters: 08 - The Warlock's Curse
Author(s): Sheena Blackhall
Copyright holder(s): Sheena Blackhall
The lad pit aff the ingine, steppit ooto the car, an telt the lassie aside him tae dae the same. She wis a shargert, reid-heidit quine wi a peely-wally, fern-tickelt physog an derk shaddas aneth her een. Her claes war as skyrie an fantoosh as the loon's war plain an orra. Fan he wis riggit in cassen jeans an a weel-worn green anorak, the quinie's skirt wis o blaik silk nippit short aneth a skinny rib tap that sookit ticht tae twa breists nae mair nor unripe aipples. Blaik suede buits cam up near till her hurdies an the dubs lappit ower her feet like broon furlin lips, near swallaein the uppers at ilkie stride.
"Damn!" she banned. Her loon leuch, tichtenin the pyock slung ower his left showder.
"I telt ye tae dress wycelike. Ye kent far we wis gaun," quo he.
"We've tae wauk the length o the hale muir yet, tae Logie's wid aside the loch, afore I takk oot the gun."
The quine, Kate Murdoch, hytered ahin him, fu kennin her rig-oot gypit, bit she'd worn it tae gaff him takk tent o her. The Merch wins ruggit an rived the daffies powkin frae the antrin sheugh, yarkin their yalla powes back an forrit. Hyne aff, the Bens war tappit fite wi snaw an glimmers o ice. Firs raxxed up aroon the twa waukers, derk an shaddaed, their boos criss-crossed like a ghillie's net. Macinnes cairriet a poacher's gun, its swivel barrel company tae a fu belt o cartridges. He slawed tae let the quine faa tee. Efter he'd shot a pucklie birds, or a mappie or twa, he'd lie aside her in the wids. Bit first he'd fusper a puckle sweet lees. Weemin likit things trickit oot wi smeeth wirdies. A hoolet swoopit oot frae the heich stoorie branches wi a sabbin skreich. The lassie's buits war smoored in peat bree noo, clean connached, the clart o the muir sypin ahin her inno ilkie sunken, sookit fit-preint. Guid siller wastit. She cursed her ain vanity an Macinnes's indifference.
They war near at Logie's wid. The Loch o Sgian lay afore them, a steel targ, deid an flat, wi wraiths o haar wyvin ower like a heeze o slidderin aidders, a nest o vipers..
"Sit ye an wheesht," hissed the loon. Geese war fleein in lang raws ben the lift abeen them. Fur an oor or matt the quine sat chitterin on a daud o deid heather. The cauld sypit up frae the peat, soomed in frae the haar cerclin the loch, an creepit inno her banes, garrin hen's flesh sproot ower her airms. A fleggit grey dyeuk quackit frae the reeds wi the speed o a snappin snare. Gavin Macinnes heistit the gun, aimed an fired.
There cam a flist o feathers an the deid bird duntit doon like a drapt steen inno a boorich o bullrushes. On a suddenty, a wheeplash o icy win runkled the loch's surface, garrin it lirk like a froon. The loon strode ower tae the reeds, liftit the dyeuk bi its spinnle-shanks an stappit it inno his pyock. Syne he turned wi a smile tae tryst the quine inno the derk canopy o Logie's wid, an laid her on a damp carpet o pines fur a birze, her reward fur the lang, dreich wyte. There wis nae tenderness in the jynin. A bull wad hae mountit a heifer wi as muckle civeelity. Fin he wis daen, he rowed aff the quine an crackit a spunk in the crook o his haun tae kinnle a fag. He tuik a lang sook an lat the rikk stream ooto his neb slaw an cannie, his slit een watchin her straichten her claes.
"Hash on, Kate. There's rain comin ower the back o the Knowe o Ledrach."
She wis blae wi cauld as she plytered hen the sappy muirlan tae keep teetle him, an sair ooto pech, fur he didna shorten his stride tae dauchle on her behalf. Aince they steppit inno the car, he drave her back tae her hame at the clachan o Ledrach in silence.
"Will I see ye again, Gavin?" she speired.
"Aye, aye. Nae doot ava. Cud be the Setterday daunce," quo the loon, blawin a ring o rikk inno the rug o the clammy car, its windaes rinnin wi steam. "Then again, it michtna be as sune as thon."
He wis playin wi her, tormentin her fur the gype she wis. He stoppit the car tae let her oot at Ledrach an she ran ower the road tae the pleisur park far twa teenage quines war sweyin back an forrit dourly on the bairns' swings. Twis late on Tuesday nicht an bar them, the pleisur park wis teem. Maist clachan fowk war inbye their hames, watchin TV. Jist the soun o some chiel hackin wid or dellin dung inno his gairden afore the spring plantin.
"Ye gaun steady wi Gavin MacInnes?" speired Ruth Ledingham, the auldest o the three lassies. Nae lang left the schule, an wirkin at the local Auld Fowk's Hame, Ruth wis a sonsie, frienly quine wi moosie hair straikit blonde an spikit up like a hedgehog's prods. Kate Murdoch hid sterted schule wi Ruth as a littlin - indeed Kate wis ay there, the clivver vratch. Twad be shamefu tae tell Ruth Ledingham that MacInnes hid jist made eese o her, wi as muckle grace as he dichtit his hauns on an ilie cloot. She shruggit, said naethin. The third lassie, Tracy Mowat, sat birlin in the seat o the swing till the chynes abeen her heid war pleated ticht, syne lowsin them wi a fing! an a furl o her flouncin skirts. Tracy traivelled ten miles ilkie day tae the toun, far she vrocht in a hairdressin salon. Like Ruth, she'd new left schule, sae spent her days swypin up hairs frae the fleer o the shoppie an makkin fly cups fur the customers. Thon wikk, her hair wis chestnut broon, bit ilkie wikk twis different. Kate dowpit doon at the tail-eyn o the play-chute, luikin hingin-luggit at her bladdit buits.
"Weel?" speired Tracy. "Is Gavin yer lad or is he nae?"
"I ken a wye tae makk him ma lad," quo Kate Murdoch o a suddenty.
Tither twa cockit their lugs. Fyles, the clachan quines caad Kate the Professor, fur she wis ay powkin aboot amang auld buiks. A waukin encyclopaedia, richt eneuch.
"Sabbath neist's the equinox," she fuspered. "Merch 21st."
"An fit's yon equinox fin it's at hame?" speired Ruth Ledingham, mystifeed.
"Mebbe naethin. Mebbe aathin. I"ve bin readin a buik screived bi the first Sgian o Sgian."
At yon name, baith listeners sat upricht an tuik tent. The first Sgian o Sgian hid bin the maist feared, the maist wechty warlock in the hale o Scotia - ay, in Britain tae, fower hunner year syne, an he'd bedd less than twa mile frae far they war hunkered doon. Frae the fauns o Ben Ledrach tae the dowie Loch o Sgian, he hid terrifeed aa the fowk o the kintraside. Sib tae the Deil hissel, the warlock's cantrips were legion. He cud reist a chiel wi ae glower. He cud birssle a hairt tae aisse wi ae touch on a breistbeen. He cud founer hale herds o kye bi blawin inno a wee siller bow lie reamin wi fey herbs. Beeriet he wis in the wee kirkyaird o Sgian, hard bi the pleisur park far the lassies foregaithered, lat inower the i hallowed grun efter a pyot an a craw focht fur his soul. The pyot won, the pit-mirk soul wis sained - tho fowk said he wis anely pit yonner because the meenister hid bin ower feart nae tae open the mools o the kirkyaird tae lat the warlock laird bide there.
"Fit hiv ye read, Kate?" speired Tracy Mowett, her interest kinnled.
Kate raxxed oot ae haun afore she spakk in a fusper:
"Fin the winter nichts growe lang an cauld,
Strange tales of the warlock laird are tauld.
Halftin or herd, be they e'er sae bauld,
Grow airgh fin they hear o Sgian."
Ruth Ledinghm leuch nervously. "Even I ken yon auld rhyme. Cauld kail hett again!"
"Ah," quo Kate, "bit did ye ken he set his spells doon in an auld buik that they hae in the toon library, in the neuk set aside fur the blaik airts? An did ye ken that on Merch 21, at the Vernal Equinox, the pouer o the auld magic is at its heicht?"
"Fit kinno magic, Kate?" speired Tracy Mowat. "Spells tae makk ye bonnie?"
"Aa kinno spells," cam the repon. "Bit the maist pouerfu is a luv spell, tae bind yer luver tae ye foriver an ay, gin he wints ye or no. Aa I need is a cuttin o Gavin's hair, an anither twa quines tae spikk the wirds frae the buik wi me at the Vernal Equinox, far twa watters meet bi meenlicht."
"Merch 21," quo Tracy, thochtfu-like. "Yon's this Sabbath. The daunce is on Setterday nicht. Mebbe ye'll nae need a spell an a magic buik. Mebbe Gavin MacInnes'll sikk tae wauk ye hame on Setterday wi'oot ony warlock's witcherie. Gin he disna, dinna fash yersel. His hair's tae be cuttit at the salon the mom. I can easy fetch ye a tooshtie. Naethin easier. Tho I dinna believe a wird ye've said - it's aa styte an havers tae my wye o thinkin."
Bit MacInnes didna sikk tae wauk Kate hame efter the Setterday daunce. He flytit an smooriched aa nicht aneth her verra neb wi the blaik-haired, plooky-chikked cook frae the howf bi Nether Logie.
"Niver gee yer ginger," quo Tracy Mowett. "I hae the tooshtie I promised. Is't on fur the mom's nicht? Far dae we makk the spell? Fit time div we meet?"
"Hard on the chap o midnicht we makk for the place far the Burn o Ledrach rins inno the Loch o Sgian, far twa watters meet aneth meenlicht. We'll foregaither at the pleisur park first, syne wauk doon thegither. Myne, ye maun tell naebody fit's planned, or the spell tynes aa its fushion."
Neist nicht, the Sabbath meen raisse caller an eildritch, glimmerin like the muckle siller Kirk ashet that held the Corp o Christ on Communion days. The three lassies tip-taed frae their hames an creepit ooto the clachan o Ledrach like licht-fittit hairst moosies. Kate Murdoch cairriet a buik an a caunle in the foun o her jaiket pooch. Tracy Mowat grippit the cuttin o Gavin MacInnes's hair an Ruth Ledingham held a box o spunks an a flashie-licht. Aa thrie keckled like schulebairns as they steppit alang the tar-blaik, meenlicht road. Nicht souns fleggit them - squallochs that war nae byordnar ben the daylicht drave their herts stounin faist as the Ledrach linn. They cooriet doon, chitterin thegither an glowerin inno whin buss an tree fur fear o guid kens fit, or guid kens fa.
A hauf oor's steady tramp an they'd wan tae the neuk o Logie's wid at the fit o Ben Ledrach, far the Ledrach burn teemed itsel inno the Loch o Sgian an wis tint there fur aa time. Muckle steen gargoyles glowered doon at them frae deid steen een, frae their perch at the tap o the posts at the auld warlock's brig, near haun tae a Greek temple smored amang willows raised bi the laird hissel fur his eldritch ongauns. Mids the muir, the loch wis derk as pitch, as if the verra watter itsel wis deid. Boddomless, fowk said o yon loch, hemmed in wi a taigle o bog an muir an rashie weeds. Statues o wud boars an goats glowered oot frae atween fangs o breem an scratty firs. Ower aa, the glisk o some nae-richt-catched, tail-o-the-ee jeelin frichtsomeness clung like a secunt skin till ilkie dreepin, mossy, meenlicht-oorie branch.
The quines devauled at a sma howe far tinkers hid made a campfire the simmer afore. The flashie's preen-prick lowe gied sicht o a boorich o kinnlers wi an auld tinnie in their mids. Cannily, Kate Murdoch set it upricht an plunkit the caunle inno't, ooto the wheech an sough o the snell nicht win. Ruth, her hauns shakkin, crackit a spunk an the yalla flames lowpit up, birlin roon an roon like the lirks o a strae com dallie.
"Staun hard bi the caunle, an dinna meeve till I tell ye," Kate fuspered tae the ithers. Brakkin a stick frae a larick, she scrattit oat twa triangles in the grun - the Seal o Solomon. Ane stude on its back, tither heelstergowdie; syne, meevin widdershins, Kate gaed roon them aa wi anither scrat o the stick.
"Nabody maun step ootbye yon ring till the spell's daen. Is't time yet, Ruth?" she speired.
The tallest quine shone the flashie onno her wrist.
"Ay, jist turned midnicht."
"Haud ma hauns noo an wauk aroon the caunlelowe wi me," Kate telt them baith.
As the three cauld figures traivelled slaw aboot the tinkers' tinnie wi its flichterin caunle, Kate Murdoch spakk the weird she'd fand frae yon warlock's auld buik, screived langsyne bi his ain haun inbye his ugsome keep, nae hauf a mile frae the brig.
"Hoc est enim os de ossibus meis
Et caro de carne mea,
Et erunt duo in carne una."
Seeven times ower she spakk the spell. The auld Latin wirdies, that meant naething ava tae the clachan quines, war taen bi the warlock frae the Halie Buik - "This is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh - and they shall be one flesh."
At the hinmaist time o tellin, Tracy Mowat haundit Kate the cuttin o MacInnes's hair. She flang it inno the caunle lowe, far it birsled an spat an dwined, syne turned tae fizzin aisse.
"There," quo Kate Murdoch triumphantly. "He's aa mine noo. Foriver an ay. Like it or no!"
A duntin, thrummin soun gart aa three stert aboot in fricht. Twis anely a bawd, a muckle fite bawd, its heid cocked sidiewise like its thrapple hid bin thrawed, glowerin at them wi its queer yalla een. Its lugs lay flat tae its back, like they'd bin preened. Ruth haived a steen at the breet an it breenged awa inno the taigle o dowie firs.
"Let's gyang hame,"quo she, o a suddenty jeeled. "This airt gies me the grue."
Neist Wednesday nicht, fan Kate steppit aff the schule bus, she noticed a boorichie o fowk mellin roon the yett o Willie Fraser's grocer's shoppie. Sklaik drew fowk like flees roon sharn. Despisin the gossips, yet smit wi their curiosity, Kate jyned the boorich an tappit John Bruce, a nearhaun fairmer, on the showder. Fit's adee, John?" she speired. "Fit's adee?"
"A coorse business aathegither," the farmer telt her. "Young Tracy Mowat drooned in the Loch o Sgian this eftemeen." The colour drained frae the quine's chikks.
"Twis her efterneen air, as ye'll ken," the fairmer gaed on. "She fell in tow wi Dougie Tawse frae the Ledrach smiddy, an the Anderson loon frae the dairy, an Jess Duguid frae Bograsherty. They tuik auld Tawse's boat oot fur a turn aroon the loch. Twis smeeth's a boord fin they gaed oot. Flat's a bannack. Jess Duguid said the wave raise up ooto naewye. Made straucht fur them an skelpit inno the side o the hull, cowpin them clean ower. Tracy Mowat sank like a leid kist."
"Mebbe she swam tae the shore?" quo Katie, laith tae think the warst.
"Na," Jaik Coutts, the grieve frae Braedykes chippit in. "We gaed eftir the polis divers tae the loch twa oors by. They rand young Tracy trappit amang yon lang, treelipin weeds at the loch's foun. Wippit ticht roon her queats, they war, like shackles. The divers said ye'd hae thocht somebody'd knottit them, they war wyvit sae thick thegither. It tuik ten meenits an mair tae cut her free."
The Setterday nicht daunce wis cancelled yon wikk ooto respeck fur the deid quine an her faimly. Bit the kirk wis reamin wi fowk on the Sabbath. Ben the pews the hum o spikk wis aa o the tragedie. Auld angler chiels spill o coorse cross currents in the Loch o Sgian, an minded o tithers fa'd drooned in its deidly watters. Ane or twa auld wives claiked o the warlock an the curse that clung tae his mochy dreich estate like a haar, wi its temples an its briars an its queer steen statues, an said the hale place sud hae bin brunt tae the grun, him wi't, an his orra Loch drained an teemed.
Neist Monday, fan Kate spied her frien Ruth at the grocer's shop, twis as if Kate hid bin nae mair nor thin air. Kate cried eftir her, "Ruth, Ruth, ye canna blame me fur Tracy's droonin. Ye ken fine I wis twa miles awa at the Academy fin it happened."
Ruth Ledingham birled roon, een bleezin. "Dougie Tawse saw a fite bawd watchin them frae the shore, jist afore the wave struck the boatie. A fite bawd, merk ye. He telt the heid keeper, an the heid keeper said that aa the bawds hereabouts tint their fite coats a fyle back this year, bein sic an early spring. The keeper telt him that in the auld days the warlock cheenged hissel inno a fite bawd. Fit say ye tae that, Kate Murdoch? Deil kens fit ye've steered up, powkin aboot in yon fey lear. Bide awa frae me. Bide awa! I wint nae mair adee wi ye."
Thon Tuesday nicht, the Murdoch faimly feenished their evenin meal an Kate cleared the ashets inno the sink. She teeted throw the kitchie winnock an drappit the plate wi a splyter onno the flair.
"Da! Da! Come quick! There's a fite bawd oot in the gairden, glowerin up at the hoose!" she skirled.
"Is there tho?" her faither muttered.
Mr Murdoch keepit a shotgun inno the cubbie aneth the stairs. He wyled it oot an ran tae the kitchie door, loadit, aimed, an fired baith barrels straucht at the fite bawd. It wis a clean shot, at pynt blank range. The bawd lowpit awa, nae even scrattit, nae wan hair o its heid as much as pairtit. "Damned if I iver seen the like," her faither banned. "I'd sweir on a stack o Bibles I shot yon bugger fair an square."
He'd scarce brukken the barrel tae clean the gun fin Geordie Duff, his neebor, cam hashin up the path frae his car, hame frae his work on Bruce's dairy fairm.
"Did iver ye hear the like, mill?" he cried. "First Tracy Mowat droons in the loch, an noo, young Ruth Ledingham's bin killt bi a larry doon on the main road. "
As the chiel spakk, Kate Murdoch could hear the thin skirl o police an ambulance sirens skreichin ower the saft air.
"The driver says she ran straucht oot afore him," the neebor hubbered oot. "She wis rinnin frae a fite bawd, a muckle fite bawd. He'd nae chaunce o stoppin! The bawd wisna merked bi a fusker. Jist lowpit clean awa. Bit the larry struck the quine wi its wheels an killt her ootricht. She maunhae gaen gyte, clean gyte. Fit ill is there in a bawd, efter aa?"
Nae a blink o sleep did Kate Murdoch get yon first nicht. Ben the bowster she tossed her tousled heid throw the lang rigs o derk, till at the hinner eyn she decidit tae till the warlock's buik back tae the library neist foreneen. She vowed she'd gang tae kirk that Sabbath anaa. Faith, the hale clachan wad gyang tae the kirk that Sabbath, drawn thegither tae the place bi the double tragedy. Mebbe the meenister wad pit aathing richt, wad undae the unchancy wark she'd vrocht, the hotterel o hairm she'd caused. In time, Kate kent, she'd forget thon daft, derk ploy at the lochside. In time, she'd stert tae forget even fit her twa friens luikit like. Thinkin sic thochts, Kate's mind grew quate.
Fin it dawed, the Sabbath wis a fine, warm, sappy day. The blossoms on the geans by the kirkyaird plawed fite as brides in their waddin falderals. Twad be a dowie, dowie service, bit a sainin ane for aa that. The meenister wad gar aabody pray fur the deid quines' faimlies an say oor Faither in Heiven wad luik efter the innocent young lassies noo, that they'd niver grow auld an dweeble, that they'd bide aawyes wi the ither angels, fur angels they fairly war, far ower young tae hae daen ony real ill tae a sowl. An Kate wad pit the hale business ahin her, fur the bairn-like daftness it wis. The double daiths war accidents, jist thon. There war nae sic ferlies as warlocks or the Blaik Airts. Niver wis; niver hid bin. Twis aa blethers, havers, dirt, kintra styte. The fite bawd wis an albino - nae common, bit ye heard o sic things. There wis an albino loon at the Academy, wi a pure fite powe. The ill-vrocht buik wis back on the library shelves an there twad bide.
The sun wis glentin in throw the pented glaiss in the kirk, ower the showder o a kneelin shepherd, a rosy glimmer like the styoo o poppies dauncin ower the air. Kate sat doon at the eyn o a pew, quate an peacefu. Sic a rowth o fowk! The twa bereaved faimlies war doon by, near the front, aside the table. Neither o the twa young corpses hid bin taen fur beerial yet; the polis darg wad takk time. There wis wird tho o a double funeral, the twa young quines tae be laid in the mools thegither. As she booed forrit tae lift her Bible, she felt a tap on her showder. Stertled, she luikit up. Twis Gavin MacInnes - fa'd niver derkened the door o a kirk in his life. He wis luikin at Kate queer-like, as if he wis seein her fur the first time, throwe new een, an as if thon een socht tae ett her up, body an soul, as if she'd some pouer an a haud ower him.
"I'll be twa seats ahin ye aa throwe the service," he telt her. "I need tae be near ye. It's bin growin an growin inside me fur days, this feelin, this wintin tae see ye, tae touch ye, tae be wi ye. Growin an growin till ye're aa I can think aboot, aa I can see. An I ken ye wint me tae."
He sattled back, inno the pew ahin, as the congregation wyted fur the meenister tae cam in, tae bid them wheesht an boo their heids in prayer. Twis fit she'd schemed fur, plottit fur, bi fair means an foul - tae hae Gavin MacInnes in her thrall foriver an aye. Bit noo the spell hid wirked, an the chiel wis chyned tae her, soul tae soul, fur aa the days on the eird they'd wauk abeen it. She kent thon, jist as she kent the sea wis blue an the girse wis green, jist as she kent that she wad grow tae loathe sic dogged adoration, sic servile luve. He wad trail ahin her aawye like a shadda. There'd be nae wye oot. He'd stalk her like a stoat hunts a moose, niver swervin, niver lettin up. Even in the hairt o the kirk, the warlock's curse held guid. Luikin roon at the timmer door, open fur the hinmaist o the flock tae jyne the body o the kirk, far the warm sun streamed inno the aisle throw the scentit spring trees, her skin crawled wi hens' flesh. Staunin in the mou o the yett, its heid cocked sidiewise like somebody'd thrawed its thrapple, wis the muckle fite bawd frae the shore o the Loch o Sgian, wi the warlock's curse thirled tae its cruikit hairt.
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The Fower Quarters: 08 - The Warlock's Curse. 2023. In The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. Glasgow: University of Glasgow. Retrieved 29 November 2023, from http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/document/?documentid=553.
"The Fower Quarters: 08 - The Warlock's Curse." The Scottish Corpus of Texts & Speech. Glasgow: University of Glasgow, 2023. Web. 29 November 2023. http://www.scottishcorpus.ac.uk/document/?documentid=553.
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