"Achilles is quite the despot in the kitchen," said Paddy and Danny laughed: "he used to be the Baby-Face in a touring boxing show, big farm-hands would pay 6d to take him on, with the promise of a 5/- purse if they lasted a round! but they never did – and when they went down they were flabbergasted to find their legs were like Jell-O, hahahaha! but he's married and settled down here, and his food is legendary – like those two priests over there," he said in a quiet voice, drawing attention to two elderly clerics mowing in to huge bowls of curry, sweat dripping from their florid faces: "the one on the left with a face like a baboon's arse is Bishop Auckland from Belfast and the other with a face like mashed spuds is Bishop Briggs from Dublin – they must be going to visit Bishop Stortford up in Londonderry; it's not often you see two bishops out of their sees, at the same time," said Paddy, "I wouldna be surprised if they're havin a convocation – or an orgy, with them fellas ye can never tell!"
Connor felt distinctly stretched, although he didn't know that this was one of the many possible side-effects of his recent passage through the Worm Hole, or Pneumatic Tube, in the Space/Time Continuum: time seemed to have slowed down so that the next few minutes felt like days, his heartbeats sounding like a succession of widely spaced booms from a Lambeg Drum, his blood thickly sliding through his veins and arteries like oil, the faces of his companions in the courtyard moving in slow-motion, like the single frames of a movie, each seeming to be replaced after a long delay by another which looked the same, differences barely distinguishable; the sounds of their voices so deep they were like gravel dropping down a well, each plop reaching his eardrums a long time after it had been produced in the depths of the well; his breathing was so slow as to be non-existent, when he blinked, it was like a long night's sleep, and when his eyes opened, nothing had changed; he still sat here in this courtyard, feeling like a bonehead, when suddenly with a zzzzzippppp and a flurry of movement and the sounds of three voices being jammed together and he had caught up with the conversation – no-one seemed aware of his time-lag except himself, and he heard Doubleday asking if they liked Indians? "we've got a nice wee restaurant in the town, well, when I say 'Indian' the chef is actually an Irish-Parthian-Indian, name of Achilles Guru Khrishnan Murphy, does a great line in Curries – ever had Irish Stew Vindaloo?" and Connor found his head shaking along with Alec's, though he had no idea what Doubleday was blethering about, but thought it best to pretend, then MacFarlane said he would deem it an honour if the two would dine with him and Danny, and Alec said that he would love it, he hadn't had real Indian food since he had been in Kashmir in 1933 which caused great laughter and Danny quipped, "well, I hope you told them you had your first in Dungannon in 1793!" and even Connor was able to laugh at that, but Alec looked closely at him and asked if he was feeling well, and Connor replied: "to be truthful, no, not really: something's wrong, everything seems to slow down and then speed up like Charlie Chaplin, it's making me a bit dizzy," and Paddy said: "it's the Tube, sometimes it does that – like a deep sea diver getting the bends; you can feel fine for a day or so and them everything goes skew-wiff, it's because travelling backwards in time goes in a reverse spiral and the particular one from Melrose to here is also exosolar – it loops round the Milky Way and then swoops back and around itself: if you keep your eyes open, sometimes you can see yourself before or after the loop, and sometimes I've even bumped into myself, it's no wonder if you feel a bit space-sick!" so he produced a bottle of the Special Potcheen and poured a generous measure for Connor who knocked it back and gave himself a shake: "oh, that's lovely stuff, best I've ever tasted!"
Paddy MacFarlane got to his feet and sashayed around the courtyard as he spoke: "you may have heard of the Fleets," he said: "they were large gangs, small armies even, either largely Protestant or Catholic, but also geographical, and in some cases a Protestant Fleet was led by a Catholic – Andy Byrne was one Catholic leader of a Protestant Fleet, Willy Donaldson a Protestant leader of a Catholic Fleet – and they operated a kind of Protection Racket, like the Kray Twins in London – oh, you won't have heard of them, they'll come later! anyway, supplying them with armaments was a major part of our business, where most of our pelf came from; but that began to taper off a few years ago, then The Peep o' Day Boys grew out of the Protestant Fleets and The Defenders out of the Catholic ones, and things began to pick up again; both sides chivvy each other, night raids, that sort of thing – you might call it minor skirmishes, but it keeps the demand for weaponry coming, until now!" and it was Alec who asked: "why now? what's happened?" and Danny answered: "a group of young Protestant Radicals who see that the entire population is suppressed in the interest of the British Crown and Government – they are all pawns in the British Game: it costs nothing to the British if both sides take pot-shots at each other, in effect, they police themselves, and the involvement of the British Army is minimal. a few guards for the Lord Lieutenant, or Viceroy, George Nugent-Temple-Grenville, Marquess of Buckingham, who, between these four walls (and the ears doubtless pressed to the door) is worse than useless – he not only accepts bribes, but actually solicits them! but that is by the by; what's more important is that these young Radicals, not a few of whom are Lawyers, have formed an organisation called The Society of United Irishmen which is non-sectarian and aims to bring the two communities together, it duns into people's heads that all citizens are equal, regardless of Religion or Origin! hot stuff, eh? fighting words, yes? and if they succeed in uniting all Irishmen, what do you think will happen?" and Connor jumped to his feet: "we will gain Independence from Britain, and be a Nation Once Again!" and Danny laughed: "you've been reading Robert Emmet, eh?" but Paddy pushed him down into his chair: "what will happen is the English Army will return and that's the last thing we want to happen! it's bad for trade and industry and commerce – and it drains England of resources and diminishes her ability to fight wars abroad," which was when Alec spoke quietly: "and would cut hard into your armaments business, Mr MacFarlane?" and MacFarlane laughed bitterly: "aye, well, that too – but although the gun-running may be the most lucrative part of our business, it isn't the be-all and end-all of it, we trade all sorts of necessary things across the whole of Ireland, not just Ulster – we bring 20th Century know-how into what is, essentially, a Medieval society, and we fund medical projects, we run a network of Village Schools, Soup Kitchens and Food Banks, and . . . . ." but he was cut off by Alec, who said: "you're arms smugglers, gun-runners, making profits out of death and destruction!" and MacFarlane protested: "it's not all bad, man! that's what we want to talk to you two about – we know how you got here, we've been able to go backwards and forwards in Time and sideways in Space, by what are called Worm-Holes in the Space/Time Continuum, but we like to think of as Pneumatic Tubes like in the London Underground Map: they are a kind of Network, with umpteen destinations, some are unpredictable and others are as steady as a rock; so, if you want to be able to get back to where and when you came from, pin back your lug-holes and listen, without butting in or abusing your hosts, in other words: Behave Yersels!"
The walk through the centre of Dungannon was an eye-opener to Connor O'Hare, who'd spent almost all of his life in Glasgow, apart from summer holidays Doon the Watter: it seemed more like a village, but MacFarlane told him a little of it's history, particularly the Plantations, when Presbyterian Scottish settlers were encouraged to migrate from their homeland to take up lands confiscated by the English Crown, in which way they had become the majority population in the Province of Ulster: "they whelmed the place, swarming like rats, getting the most fertile land for their farms and leaving rocky hilltops or bogs for the native population," and Connor suddenly understood the origin of the derogatory term, Bog Irish, he had heard as a schoolboy, usually directed at Catholics, then realised that MacFarlane was still talking: "and they received pelf – money grants – not available to the Catholics, and here we are!" it was a long low building of timber and cob, with a thatched roof, and although it was surely old, it gleamed in the morning sun, for it had recently been painted – or re-painted – the walls a startling white, window shutters a sunny golden yellow, and the two doors that Connor could see were a vivid green, and above the doors in a deep sky blue, the name – The Fountain! in a flowing script: "let's away in and see if they are arrived already," and MacFarlane led the way into a sizeable room, again freshly whitewashed and with sawdust scattered on the stone flags; they passed through this to a smaller room, lined with bookshelves from floor to ceiling on all four walls – even above the doors; MacFarlane opened the second door and indicated that Connor should go first – a narrow corridor, with three right turns took them to a door which, Connor realised, must be in the middle of the place, and he opened it, as directed and found himself in a small square space which was really a courtyard, with no roof, barely furnished with a square table and four chairs: on two of them sat Alec and the other man from last night, Danny Doubleday: "do sit, Mr O'Hare, Paddy and I have a few questions for you, and Connor's eyes met Alec's, which gave nothing away; when Connor and Paddy were seated, Doubleday produced two pipes and a tobacco pouch, while Paddy put two other pipes on the table: "take yer fill, gentlemen," said Danny, and each man filled his pipe, then Danny took a tinderbox from his pocket, struck and lit his own pipe, before handing the box to Alec, who did the same, and when all four pipes were producing clouds of grey smoke, it was Paddy who said: "you'd better tell us where you come from and why you are here – and don't try to sell us any brummagem, remember, we saw you arrive out of nowhere and forget all that shite about an ass and cart! we know exactly how you came here, because we came the same way! so no flim-flam, or Danny here will have to do something rather noisy!" at which point Danny took two large flint-lock pistols from his pockets, twirled them on his forefingers in an impressively wieldy way and pointed them directly at the two new arrivals' heads: "they aren't very accurate, but at this range I cannot miss!" which as it turned out, was a bluff charge, for, a few seconds later, he returned the pistols to his pockets, the door opened, and a young woman entered carrying a tray, with a large slab of fruit cake, already cut into slices, and a whiskey bottle – unlabelled – and four tumblers, all of which she set on the table, then, with a quick curtsey, she left and closed the door behind herself; then Danny said: "okay, I'll start the ball rolling – you dress like you're from the mid 20th century, you told me, Alec, that you both met at an archaeological dig at Trimontium Roman Camp near Melrose, so that suggests to us that your journey here began on or in – or thereabouts, which makes no odds – the Eildon Hills; am I getting warm?" his eyes flicked from Alec to Connor and back again: "your faces tell me I'm hot! and that's good to know, because it means you have no history here, no known identities, and you are from the two local moieties – the indigenous Irish Catholics and the transplanted Scotch Protestants," and he turned to Paddy, saying: "it's like the forerunner of the US of A, in't it just? sweep the Redskins into reservations to make way for the Settlers, whether farmers or ranchers, and keep shrinking the reservations till there's no Injins left, and the Nazis followed that same pattern, but with modern technology – what goes around comes around," and his eyes returned to Alec and Connor: "of course the Romans were good at it too, divide and rule, you create a binary choice, Good vs Evil, because you can't have Roast Beef without it's essential entremet, which is?" and Connor said it: "Yorkshire Pudding!" and Danny: "Fish?" and Connor: "and Chips!" and Danny turned gleefully to Paddy: "he's gottit, by George, he's gottit!"
And sure enough, the old grandfather in the hall was striking nine, when Paddy MacFarlane walked into the dining room and spotted Connor, on his own at a table in the far corner; he stopped at a couple of other tables, saying "good morning," to acquaintances, before reaching Connor's table, where they shook hands and MacFarlane said: "top o the mornin' me boyo, and did you sleep well?" and Connor replied: "not a peep out o me till day-break," and gave the local man a wink, which he returned, with a grin: "now, where did ye learn that little code, Connor? where are ye from?" and Connor answered truthfully: "born and bred in Glasgow to a Kerryman and his wife from Rosscommon; I worked for Alec on an archaeological dig down by Melrose, d'ye know the place, Paddy?" and received a non-committal nod: "and the code, Connor, how d'ye know that?" at which Connor lowered his head and leant across the table, to whisper: "we've still got cousins in dear ould Ireland, so we hear things – a word here or there, a hint, a bit of gossip, something about The Peep o' Day Boys and The Defenders, and Vaward is the Word and The Shan Van Vocht! – and I can even spell it in Irish – and of course most of the Glasgow papers have correspondents over here, seeing as there's a sizeable Irish readership in the Dear Green Place – which Hibernians like to think is a reference to their presence in the city!" and MacFarlane seemed to consider this answer sensical, for he called for a pot of tea, which was soon brought by a slightly older boy, with the same face as Manus, and Paddy introduced him to Connor as Liam: "ye'll probably see a lot of Liam, for he's my Runner, when he's not here, he carries and delivers letter faster than the Government Post, and not just in Dungannon, mind, for the Gallaghers have a wide extended family network right across the North, from Belfast to Galway Bay, and young Liam here is the mastermind behind it – and it's a very professional organisation, in fact, I've heard tell, Liam, that your bhoys even carry letters to and from the Castle, is that a fact?" and Liam grinned: "surely, Mister MacFarlane, and how else would you know their contents?" and laughing, Paddy slapped a sovereign onto the table, pushing it towards Liam as he said: "would you please let Danny Doubleday know that I'll be in the fountain at 10.30?" and with a nod, Liam pocketed the coin and quickly walked out: "what fountain?" asked Connor, and MacFarlane told him: it's The Fountain, on William Street, it's a newspaper office, a hostelry, considered by some to be a den of vice, and others to be a place of learning – or a finger-jam for loggerheads trying to get onto the first step of the ladder! we even host sangschaws, kind of festivals for the Irish language arts, you know, singing, poetry, music and dance, there's a way to strengthen yer thews, a bit of Irish dancing," he grinned, then: " it's also where I conduct my business, with my Partner, Mr Doubleday, and we have a little proposition to make to you, Mr O'Hare and your confederate, Mr Curle, which I feel sure you will be bound to accept!" and he tapped the side of his nose, and poured them each another cup of tea, and called for soda bread and jam, saying to Connor: "eat up, lad, you should always prepare for the possibility of an arduous day, with plenty of rowel, in the hope that it may instead be an easy one!"
Connor O'Hare was very pleasantly surprised when he and Paddy MacFarlane arrived at Bridie Gallagher's Catholic Rooming House – Miss Gallagher was a comely brunette, of pleasing proportions, which even a long-married man like Connor could appreciate, and polite, courteous, warm and welcoming to Mr MacFarlane and the new arrival; she called in a lilting voice and a young boy appeared, who she introduced as her littlest brother, Manus, and instructed him to show Connor to the upper back room and set a fire in it "for the gentleman's comfort," while she and Mr MacFarlane "sort out the details,"and so it was young Manus, aged about 8 or 9, who took Connor upstairs and showed him into a comfortably furnished room with a single bed, an armchair and a little table; Manus quickly set a fire and when he left, Connor sat in the armchair and studied the pictures in the wall – a fine water-colour of the Mountains of Mourne rolling down to the sea, and another of The Giant's Causeway, and a gaudy telesm of Jesus and the Sacred Heart, which he was sure would give him nightmares; Connor reflected that, if this was indeed March 1793, he would have to be careful: he shouldn't mention Robert Emmet and Theobald Wolfe Tone, both of whom were members of the United Irishmen, and involved in the 1795 and 1798 Rebellions, unless they were mentioned to him; he had to be careful not to know about events which were yet to happen, such as the formation of the Orange Order and the clashes between Catholics and Protestants which were a background to the Rebellions, lest he trigger a fantod: this was going to be difficult, because these kinds of situations encouraged paranoia. but his and Alec's lives could so easily be jeopardised if he were to happen to sing certain songs which were so familiar to him but which might cast doubts on the two of them as Government spies, for both sides in this society would be bound to be suspicious of strangers who seemed to know too much and the last place he wanted to be was up Calton Creek in a leaky scow without a paddle! he wished he had paid more attention to the details of Irish history, which his Da had tried to instil in him and his brothers and sisters: Brendan O'Hare had been a member of James Connolly's Irish Citizen Army during the Easter Rising of 1916, after the defeat of which he and his young wife had fled to Glasgow, where Connor, James, Brendan, Grace and Maura were born and had lived all their lives; he was almost dozing off in the warmth of the fire when he was startled by a knock at the door – shaking off his sleep, Connor quickly rose and opened the door: there stood Bridie herself, with a tray of food and drink: "good evening, Mr O'Hare," she said, coming in and putting the tray on the table, "you looked as if you hadn't eaten and, as you'd missed dinner, I thought you might appreciate a little supper and a pot of strong tea – we don't normally supply any alcohol, but if you want," and she produced a bottle from the pocket of her apron. "a drop of the Pure?" and when Connor beamed, she put it on the table: "my uncle Aemonn has a still on the farm, strictly on the QT, and lets me have a few bottles for special customers and, as Paddy MacFarlane has vouched for you, and imbursed me on your behalf, I think it's safe to consider you as one!" and Connor thanked her as effusively as he felt appropriate, while thinking to himself that this was even better than a Home from Home – Kathleen was a supportive and considerate wife, but she was more devout in her Catholicism than he and as a Member of the Legion of Mary, adamantly forbade 'strong drink' in the house, though she had no objection to him having a couple of pints of Guinness and the occasional nip with his pals after a Celtic match, so long as he stuck to the limit and never came home drunk! "well," he said to Miss Gallagher, "I'm not sure how long I'll be staying, but I appreciate your kindness and hospitality, but be warned, you might have to forcibly evict me!" at which she laughed and, bidding him a good sleep, turned to the door: "we start serving breakfast from 7am until 9.30 – most of the working men are away before 9, but a couple of others are in no hurry, and Paddy usually joins them at 9, on the dot, so I expect you'll be down by then – shall I get Manus to give you a knock at 8.30?" and Connor agreed that would be perfect, so she said that Manus would bring him a bowl of hot water, so he could wash and shave and with that, left him to his supper of soda bread, cold meat and scones, tea as strong as he liked and, as a nightcap, a good measure of the potcheen, which had a bouquet which spoke to him of the land and it's changing seasons, after which he climbed into the bed and slept like a baby until he was wakened by the boy's loud knock on the door and his entry with a bowl of steaming water and a towel – which was when Connor realised that, of course, neither he nor Alec had brought a razor with them!
And that was when, hundreds of years away, just there, over Blind Harry's shoulder, a bump in the dark and Connor O'Hare landed on top of Alec Curle, then onto the grass and both stared up at the black sky, and the Plough; with a grunt, Alec scrambled to his feet and looked around, and it was only the moonlight that enabled him to see the drystone wall, the rough and stony roadway, and his companion for the last few seconds since they had crouched in that small chamber inside the Middle Eildon; he recalled something he had glimpsed in his mind, said: "it's not much like Hollywood," and was surprised to smell pipe-smoke and hear a voice, not Connor's, that said: "most definately not, sir, Holywood's in County Down, ye've missed yer destination by about 60 miles, have they not, Paddy?" and another voice, "yes," they both had Irish accents, said: "just so, Danny boy, it's a clear case of disturbance of the mind, if ye don't mind me sayin so, but look ye, sir, ye'r friend seems to have twisted his ankle, can we help ye to raise him up, see here, there's a big flat-topped rock he can sit on, while he adjusts himself and gives that ankle a rest," and so Connor was helped off the ground and soon seated on the rock at the roadside: "so where are we?" asked Alec, and the two strangers, dressed in rather old-fashioned, distinctly rural clothes, regarded him with that amused tolerance adults often reserve for children; the first, the one addressed as Danny, said: "well, we're just outside Mullingar, in the County Tyrone, so you're rather wide of your mark, where have you come from? you must have taken a wrong turn somewhere and missed the milestones, isn't that so, Paddy?" and Connor, realising for the first time that they were back in his own country, said quickly: "well, we spent last night in Newry, but we didn't get good directions after that and then a couple of nights ago we were held up and our transport was stolen! all our kit, caboodle and moiney, too" and Paddy grunted: "was that yer horses only, or the whole rig?" and without a beat, Connor said: "it was only an ass and cart, but they took all our money too!" and Danny whistled: "aye, the highwaymen around here are gettin bolder and ye're lucky they left ye with yer clothes, and yer lives! some have cudgels erose with the number of heads they've cracked, not what you want to meet on a dark night, but so, come along with us, my pretty crusoes, we'll take ye into town and see if we can't find some digs for yese, oh, Danny Doubleday at yer service, and the quiet fellah's Paddy MacFarlane – he's the Papist, I'm the Scotch Prod, well my ancestors were, by the way; and yerselves, so?" so Connor introduced himself, with no need to say that he was a Catholic, with his name, and Alec did likewise, adding: "Church of Scotland, although I haven't seen inside one for about twenty years," and Paddy asked if they were merchants of some kind, "for an ass and cart's the kind of a rig dealers use hereabouts," and Alec explained that he was an antiquarian, a historian, and Danny laughed: "we've got plenty antiques around here, most of them drink in Delaney's on Sunday nights, although this Sunday being Easter Day, they might be forced to submit to church attendance for the sake of etiquette!" and Alec asked, seemingly disingenuous: "my Almanac was stolen too, what day and date is this?" and Paddy laughed now: "sure it's Thursday the 28th of March, in the Year of Our Lord Seventeen hundred and Ninetythree, at least that's what it is here, but what it is in Scotland is quite beyond my understanding!" and this time it was Alec who laughed, while with a feeling of verklempt his mind raced to try to recall anything about the period, which was far too recent for him to have any detailed knowledge of it, beyond the fact that it must be soon that some of the biggest wars of independence would begin to be waged and he recalled that the United Irishmen's Rising was in 1798, a union of the Protestant intelligentsia and repressed Catholics, but had much happened here, in Dungannon? "and by the way – I'm not going to hoodwink ye, ye might wll be friends and travelling companions, but in Dungannon, travelling Protestants lodge with Mrs Washington, and Catholics with Bridie Gallagher, that's just the way of it," said Danny, "and don't be worryin about the cost, they don't charge eleventy hereabouts, it's not Belfast or Dublin, it's a country town, where folk work for a living, and both the boarding houses are as couth as any you'll find in Londonderry, and Bridie's is particularly mignardise, Connor, ye'll like her so long as you don't fart, belch or pick yer nose; we'll settle that up, and if you want to thank us, there are a couple of things you could do for us, but we'll talk about that tomorrow; so Connor, that is the way to Bridie's, you go with Paddy and Alec, you come along with me, to Mrs Washington – she claims to be a relation, by marriage, of the American Hero, but I have my doubts, we'll all meet up in the morning, g'night, bhoys, sleep well," and the two pairs walking in opposite directions were soon swallowed up in the dark of a cloudy mass that obscured the moon.
And in the mornin, while the buoys et their porridge, which Blind Harry had soaked in watter owernicht, Harry resumed his story: "weel, lads, tales began tae trickle intae Glen Lochlann, o the activities o MacFarlane an Doubleday; it seemed they wis falsely representin theirsels again as crusoes an as pseudopatients, claimin they's lost airms an legs in fechtin invaders an wis swindlin puir fowk, an gettin up tae aw sorts o mischief an abusin lassies an aw sorts, an when these stories reached the ears o the young Laird, Lochlann o Lochlann, he sed tae hissel, 'am responsible fer aw this, so it's up tae me tae pit a stoap tae it,' so he upped an set aff tae see the miscreants brocht tae justice or else! noo, as it happens, he caught up wi them in Glen Glum, an he confronted them wi their misdeeds, an MacFarlane cheeked him, sayin: 'ye'r nae oor maister, an ye hae nae authority here!' an in a sense, thon wis true, but Lochlann wis so incensed, he went tae see the Chief o Clan Glum, auld Torquil, faither o the Torquil in the story o The Red Etin, wha said: 'whit can ah dae aboot it?' for he wisnae the least bit bothered aboot the wey the two slaughs were abusin his tenants, it wis nae worse than he'd bin daen hissel when he wis younger, an they wis gien him a backhander onywey, as Lochlann fund oot through enquiries wi Glum's Factor, wha wisnae a bad sort, only a bit queer an lackadaisical, an this fair riled Lochlann, fer he wis by nature honest and carin, an he resolved that it wis his duty tae the puir, even nor Glum wisnae interested in rockin the cradle; so he girt hissel wi his sword an dirk and sought them oot an telt them it wis him or them: 'ah'm goanie run yese aff, an yer nevver goanie set foot back here agen or ah'll run yese through!' an ye ken whit? he nevver sed a truer word; weel an anon, the fecht wis terrible tae behold, whit a hammajang o a ding-dang – on yin side, young Lochlann, an on t'ither, MacFarlane an Doubleday an their crew – horrible brutes wha'd rape a wummin an then force her maun tae feed them, waitin on their table like as if they wis Lairds an no common thieves and robbers and murderers an rapists! weel an anon, cam the fateful hoor, the sky was reekin red an the mountains turned tae bluid an on ane side o Loch Glum, there wis MacFarlane an Doubleday an their band o rogues an rascals, all thirstin fer Lochlann's guts, fer he had disrupted their business an they jist wanted him deid so they cood cairry oan as afore, an on the ither side, aw alane wis Lochlann! an the first scary thing the rogues saw, wis Lochlann, eatin a scrumptious juicey plum, like ane wha hus nary a care in the wurld, walkin oan the watter, aw the wey across tae their side; weel, that fairly spooked the mair nervous o their cronies, wha didna fancy fechtin a maun wha kin walk oan watter, so they scarpered sharpish; next, as he stood oan the shore, he threw a dirk up intae a tree ahent him, an oot tummled a grouse, wi the dirk stickin oot, an the yins that didnae fancy tacklin a maun that kin see ahent him slunk aff intae the hills; an thon wis when Lochlann took his bow an arra an fired a arra intae a bale o hay, that burst intae flames, an the yins that coodna tak the heat fair ran back tae their mammies, which only left MacFarlane an Doubleday an it hus tae be said, they were cowards but they were the last men staunin until Lochlann pulled oot a flat bent piece o wud an flung it awa across the Loch in a big arc follo'd aw the wey bi the eyes o his twa opponents as it skimmed across the surface o the loch an soon wis headin back an they cood see it wis comin straucht fer them two stiltskins, which wis when they took tae their heels an ran as fast as they micht, ower the hills an fer awa! an they never cam back, nor their bluid-thirsty henchmen neither, an when the tale wis bein telt in Castle Glum later that nicht, Torquil Glum asked his Factor wha it wis that aided Lochlann an wis telt it wis naebdy, jist hissel, and Torquil asked, amazed like, "jist The Lochlann hissel?" an that wis hoo he came tae be The an no O!" an the loons fair cheered an spent sum time, while daen the washin and dryin an tidyin up, tryin tae wurk oot hoo the amazin things The Lochlann hud dun that day hud been dun an in the end it wis Gibby wha walked up tae Harry an asked him ootricht: "hoo cood he walk on watter, Harry?" an Harry turned his unseeing eyes towards the buoy an said: "d'ye really want tae ken, Gibby?" an the lad said: "aye, Harry," so Harry telt him: "cos he wis The Lochlann!"
Noo, the efternin an the e'en that followed wis spent in restin an regainin the echt buoys strength, in boady an mind, fer the Sacred Test that the morn wud hold fer them; an as dusk derkened intae nicht, they aw set aroon the campfire sippin the uisge beatha measured oot bi Blind Harry – it burned their throats, melted their boadies an suffused their minds, mesmerisin them an allowin them to accompany their Master's voice through the Mists o Time in his tale o hoo it wis that The Lochlann acquired the The! "ah, ma fine wee loons, settle yersels comfortably an ah'll begin: the tale began a lang time ago, lang afore yer Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Great Granpaws an Grannies wis even thocht o, hunners o years, an it began in the deep, steep an rocky glen ower which, far up at the Heid o the Loch, towers the famous Castle Lochlann, hame o the heritable Chief o Clan Lochlann, at that time Colm o Lochlann wha's only son an his heir, Lochlann o Lochlann – ye'll note that neither the Clan nor it's Chief, carries the prefix Mac, bit rether hus that o which denotes that their forebears cam fi across the watter, bit that wis lang afore human memory, so while long distant generatins micht hae been Hibernian, they'd bin on this Land lang afire mony o the present Clans, so nae squabbles aboot their richt tae cry theirsels Caledonians! fur Chrissake, they harried an focht the Romans an drove them oot o the Clan lands an made them slink back homeward tae Hadrian's Wa' tae think agen; so, ah must furst tell ye that the o Lochlanns wisnae jist bonny fechters, they wis cultured an learned an wrocht ballads an histories an romances, Lochlann, like his faither, wis a polyglot, hey Humphrey, whit's a polyglot?" and the young MacAugustine-MacAmpersand piped up, though his voice was thickened by the drink: "sumdy wha kin speak lots o langwidges, Harry!" an Harry congratulated him: "very richt, Humphrey, no tae be confused wi sangwidges, ye pit them intae yer gob, langwidges cam oot – but dinnae speak while yer eatin, it's impolite, Erchie; noo, young Lochlann cood speak an write in French, like a Frenchman, German, like a German, Latin like Cicero and Greek like Aristotle and Plato; an he cood blaw up a fine lament oan the pipes, draw oot a comely jig on his fiddle, and larrup the bodhran tae stir yer hert! he cood write stirrin tales an tell them tae, he'd a fine readin voice, like an orator: Humphrey?" a wheeze and a sleepy voice: "a rotter is sumdy wha dus ye mischief, Harry, aye?" and Harry laughed: "awa intae yer dreams Humphrey, gaun intae the ancient Land o Nod, or future world o atompunk, or white'er yer favourite is the noo," and he turned to the others, who were still haudin their breaths: "when auld Colm died an Lochlann wis hailed the noo Clan Chief, he took stock o a'thin in the lands o the Lochlanns, an he wis a richt tarblish noo broom, he rooted oot onythin evil an cankerous an made it clear he wudna staun for badness – which didna suit aw his fowk, fer in ony faimly, therr's a few black sheep, but he stood his grund and the first few tae challenge him cam awa wi dunted heids and bashed faces an yin goat his neb hacked aff, but aince the fowk saw that Lochlann wis a maun o his wurd, them as wis loyal an troo accepted him an yin or twa ithers chinged their ways an steyed, bit a few turned their backs oan the Clan an went oot intae the Wilderness – and twa o they wis cried Parlane MacFarlane an Dominic Doubleday!" but most of the buoys were sleeping by now, yet wee Padraig's voice whispered: "hoo wis they cried MacFarlane an Doubleday, Harry? wis they no o Lochlanns?" an Harry reached oot an rubbed the wee laddie's curly hair an patted his heid: "weel spottit, Padraig, naw they wisnae o Lochlanns, they wis gangaboots wha'd come ower the mountains in the guise o puir traivellers, crusoes, evicted fae their hames an forced tae fend fer theirsels, seekin shelter in return fer work, an steyed oan, fer young Lochlann wis a hospitable Laird, in chaotic times fer Caledonia, an he'd made welcome aw kinds o fowk, evicted bi hard an ruthless landowners, no fit tae be cried chieftains, but wha hud the ear o a dissolute, beardless King in Roxburgh Castle – aye he wis as near England as possible, for thon wis whaur his hert lay and whaur his bribes cam fae, but Lochlann soon saw that they twa hud evil in their herts, so them gaunin cam jist afore he'd huv booted them oot, micht o saved their rotten carcasses, but . . . . ." an that wis when Harry realised that even stout-hertit wee Padraig had jined his pals an wis snorin softly, so Harry checked that each o his loons wis well wrapped in his plaid, pit anither twa muckle logs oan the fire, which comminuted the flames sae they'd keep the lid oan tae a nice even heat an keep them warm through the night, had a last dram tae hissel, then rolled in his ain plaid an laid hissel doon tae sleep tae – the rest o the tale wull still be here tae be telt the morn's morn, he thocht an blessed his company, Amen!
The echt loons collapsed, worn oot bi their exertions, airms an legs achin an sare, heids burstin, herts pundin like lambeg drums, sweat poorin fi every pore, an utterly unable tae sey a single wurd! "in sum fair distant furrin lands," said Harry tae his pupils, "this time o yeer is cried Nowruz, it merks the stert o the Noo Year, an is a Holy Dey, a Dey o Rest, an that's jist whit ye've earned – it'll be guid fer ye'se tae sit aroon the wagon, bletherin or dozin, as ye wish; mebbe thinkin o yer faimly an freens, or contemplatin the greatest task an test o yer lives; noo merk ma wurds - only yin person kin draw thon Axe oot o the Big Muckle Rock! – an it'll no metter iffen ye're big or wee, it's aboot Destiny, an mebbe nane o ye will be the ane Destined tae be King o Caledonia, but mebbe, just mebbe, ane o ye wull pass the litmus test and when his hauns grasp the haunle, he'll draw the Axe oot like takkin a knife fae butter; but if he gauns afore ye, ever mind an never fret, only yin kin dae it, so whether he's furst or last maks nae odds; noo, am takkin a wee walk tae reflect on this venerated place an bring The Lochlann back tae mind – maun, ah tell ye, he wis ane o the greatest Heroes o oor wee Nation ah ever met, an iffen he hudna vanquished thae three buggers, MacFarlane, Doubleday and The Red Etin, wi the especial help o wee Kwasi an his deadly slingshot, we'd aw hae rued the day, indeed we'd likely nane o us be here noo! so ma fine loons, galvanise yersels in yer ain weys fer the great Litmus Test o the Morn's Morn, mebbe fer ane o ye, it'll be yer Dey o Destiny, yer very ain Ne'er Dey, the Furst Dey o the Rest o Yer Life!"
Noo, despite his extreme age an the fact that he wis as blin as a bat, Blind Harry was gey dexterous an capable o bowin an scrapin when it suited him, oh aye, he could grandisonize like ony Coort factotum or major domo, an as he accompanied the lads aroon the trees, workin oot the distances an matchin them intae the plan that wis in his heid, he kent they wis gettin warm: "there wis a bower just hard bye oan the richt there, whaur Boabie's staunin pickin his neb," an even Boab hud a guid laugh at that! but then turnit roon and cried oot: "Harry! is a bower like a wee pickle staun o trees gien shelter? av heerd tell of places whaur mangabeys cavort an swing in the trees – is a mangabey a kind o maun, Harry?" an when Harry explained: "naw it's a sort o monkey an the only monkey roonaboot here is yersel, Boab, yer a red-arsed Baboon wi aw yer questions!" but then assented, Boabie shouted: "ah think av fund it!" and the party followed him into a dappled grove, where Harry sniffed the air an said: "noo look fer a άδυτο," and it wis Humphrey wha said: "is thon the Greek yin, Harry? a private place, a sanctum?" and Harry replied, "aye, ye kin decoct the petals o the floors an mak a pretty potion fer yer sweethearts, iffen you buoys even has sweethearts at yer tender age, oh aye Humphrey MacAugustine-MacAmpersand, as lang's yer nae a dungeonable lad like yer Great-Great-Grand-Uncle Launcelot, ah dun solitary fer seeven lang yeers a-cause o him, wis nearly lynched be a muckle evil-smellin whoreson o a gaoler, an swore, 'ne'er agin!' ah wis younger then an um urny sae young noo, but whit dae ye see?" and the excitit gasps an nervous mumbles telt him that this wis indeed the verra place! " so Harry stood stock still, his face turned up tae the mornin sun, turned slowly roon an pintit wi a horny forefinger: "hey Nicol, jist ahent ye, is therr a big muckle stane? wi a Battle-axe embedded in it? nae need tae be felicitous we yer enser, jist tell me whit ye see," an Nicol looked, but only saw a grassy mound an sed sae, but Harry was charging for it: "it's been hunners o years, laddies, ye'll hae to pull it doon, dig aroon it, pit yer shooders intae it an dinna be felicitous – iffen ye find a Roman coin, ignore it, if ye find a coo's horn that wud be a handy drinkin vessel, use it fer diggin, if ye find a Grecian urn or a statue o Venus or Diana, cast it aside, ye're only luikin fer ae thing!" an the buoys used their dirks tae howk oot the clods o earth, tight-bound wi the roots o gress an broom, until wee Padraig cried oot: "it's the haunle o a Axe, Harry!" an they redoubled their efforts till eventually, a big muckle stane wis exposed an, sure enuff, The Lochlann's Battle-Axe locked hard whaur it had struck doon an smote the evil Sir Parlane MacFarlane, an still stained wi black clouts o his blud, jist as Harry had telt them! and Theresa sent up a silent but felicitous prayer to the Patron Saint of Editors, St Typica, for solving the curious conundrum that had plagued the past two days and had her contemplating the lynching of someone, somewhere, but whither or whom she knew not! she decocted an infusion of lemongrass and coconut and gave a sip to her devoted mangabey, Ginger, after which he swung up into the still-bare branches outside her room and she settled down to watch 24 Hours in A&E, sheer bliss!
Noo, despite his extreme age an the fact that he wis as blin as a bat,
Blind Harry was gey dexterous an capable o bowin an scrapin when
it suited him, oh aye, he could grandisonize like ony Coort factotum or
major domo, an as he accompanied the lads aroon the trees, workin
oot the distances an matchin them intae the plan that wis in his heid,
he kent they wis gettin warm: "there wis a bower just hard bye oan the
richt there, whaur Boabie's staunin pickin his neb," an even Boab hud a
guid laugh at that! but then turnit roon and cried oot: "Harry! is a bower
like a wee pickle staun o trees gien shelter? av heerd tell of places whaur
mangabeys cavort an swing in the trees – is a mangabey a kind o maun,
Harry?" an when Harry explained: "naw it's a sort o monkey an the only
monkey roonaboot here is yersel, Boab, yer a red-arsed Baboon wi aw yer
questions!" but then assented, Boabie shouted: "ah think av fund it!" and
the party followed him into a dappled grove, where Harry sniffed the air
an said: "noo look fer a άδυτο," and it wis Humphrey wha said: "is thon
the Greek yin, Harry? a private place, a sanctum?" and Harry replied, "aye,
ye kin decoct the petals o the floors an mak a pretty potion fer yer sweethearts,
iffen you buoys even has sweethearts at yer tender age, oh aye Humphrey
MacAugustine-MacAmpersand, as lang's yer nae a dungeonable lad like yer
Great-Great-Grand-Uncle Launcelot, ah dun solitary fer seeven lang yeers
a-cause o him, wis nearly lynched be a muckle evil-smellin whoreson o a
gaoler, an swore, 'ne'er agin!' ah wis younger then an um urny sae young noo,
but whit dae ye see?" and the excitit gasps an nervous mumbles telt him that
this wis indeed the verra place! " so Harry stood stock still, his face turned
up tae the mornin sun, turned slowly roon an pintit wi a horny forefinger: "hey
Nicol, jist ahent ye, is therr a big muckle stane? wi a Battle-axe embedded in
it? nae need tae be felicitous we yer enser, jist tell me whit ye see," an Nicol
looked, but only saw a grassy mound an sed sae, but Harry was charging for it:
"it's been hunners o years, laddies, ye'll hae to pull it doon, dig aroon it, pit yer
shooders intae it an dinna be felicitous – iffen ye find a Roman coin, ignore it,
if ye find a coo's horn that wud be a handy drinkin vessel, use it fer diggin, if
ye find a Grecian urn or a statue o Venus or Diana, cast it aside, ye're only
luikin fer ae thing!" an the buoys used their dirks tae howk oot the clods o earth,
tight-bound wi the roots o gress an broom, until wee Padraig cried oot: "it's the
haunle o a Axe, Harry!" an they redoubled their efforts till eventually, a big
muckle stane wis exposed an, sure enuff, The Lochlann's Battle-Axe locked hard
whaur it had struck doon an smote the evil Sir Parlane MacFarlane, an still stained
wi black clouts o his blud, jist as Harry had telt them!
he could grandisonize like ony Coort factotum or major domo, an as he accompanied the lads aroon the trees, workin oot the distances an matchin them intae the plan that wis in his heid, he kent they wis gettin warm: "there wis a bower just hard bye oan the richt there, whaur Boabie's staunin pickin his neb," an even Boab hud a guid laugh at that! but then turnit roon and cried oot: "Harry! is a bower like a wee pickle staun o trees gien shelter? av heerd tell of places whaur mangabeys cavort an swing in the trees – is a mangabey a kind o maun, Harry?" an when Harry explained: "naw it's a sort o monkey an the only monkey roonaboot here is yersel, Boab, yer a red-arsed Baboon wi aw yer questions!" but then assented, Boabie shouted: "ah think av fund it!" and the party followed him into a dappled grove, where Harry sniffed the air an said: "noo look fer a άδυτο," and it wis Humphrey wha said: "is thon the Greek yin, Harry? a private place, a sanctum?" and Harry replied, "aye, ye kin decoct the petals o the floors an mak a pretty potion fer yer sweethearts, iffen you buoys even has sweethearts at yer tender age, oh aye Humphrey MacAugustine-MacAmpersand, as lang's yer nae a dungeonable lad like yer Great-Great-Grand-Uncle Launcelot, ah dun solitary fer seeven lang yeers a-cause o him, wis nearly lynched be a muckle evil-smellin whoreson o a gaoler, an swore, 'ne'er agin!' ah wis younger then an um urny sae young noo, but whit dae ye see?" and the excitit gasps an nervous mumbles telt him that this wis indeed the verra place! " so Harry stood stock still, his face turned up tae the mornin sun, turned slowly roon an pintit wi a horny forefinger: "hey Nicol, jist ahent ye, is therr a big muckle stane? wi a Battle-axe embedded in it? nae need tae be felicitous we yer enser, jist tell me whit ye see," an Nicol looked, but only saw a grassy mound an sed sae, but Harry was charging for it: "it's been hunners o years, laddies, ye'll hae to pull it doon, dig aroon it, pit yer shooders intae it an dinna be felicitous – iffen ye find a Roman coin, ignore it, if ye find a coo's horn that wud be a handy drinkin vessel, use it fer diggin, if ye find a Grecian urn or a statue o Venus or Diana, cast it aside, ye're only luikin fer ae thing!" an the buoys used their dirks tae howk oot the clods o earth, tight-bound wi the roots o gress an broom, until wee Padraig cried oot: "it's the haunle o a Axe, Harry!" an they redoubled their efforts till eventually, a big muckle stane wis exposed an, sure enuff, The Lochlann's Battle-Axe locked hard whaur it had struck doon an smote the evil Sir Parlane MacFarlane, an still stained wi black clouts o his blud, jist as Harry had telt them!
Permit me to grandisonize you to my leafy bower, and when you're in my adytum for only half an hour, I hope you will appreciate that you are in my power, for I am quite dungeonable and you my 'prisoned flower!
Twas aboot Ēosturmōnaþ in 1485 sirs, that Blind Harry and his wee perty o wee buoys emerged fi the Caledonian Forest an fund theirsels gazin doon on Glen Glum – weel, the buoys did, Blind Harry couldna - an wi his ither seeven senses fair cracklin an ower-compensatin fer the yin he hudna possessed fer weel ower a hunner yeer, he reachit oot an tappt each ane oan the heid an spake his name: "Gibby Lonnegan, descendit fi Lang Lonnegan, wha cood rin the length o the Great Glen in baith directions in ane day, cairyin a bushel of wheat under ane airm an a gallon o Glen Glum Best uisge-beatha na h-Alba unner tither an no stoap tae eat nor drink until his rin wis ower; Tam Sneddon, echt o whas forefaithers aince held a Roman airmy at bay fer 16 days until they finally died o hunger and exhaustion an the victorious Sneddons cerrit their Eagle hame tae Glen Sneddon in triumph; Boabie MacConkey, the great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great-grandson o Big Boabie MacConkey the Conkey King o Alba celebratit fer an wide fer his Triple Smash an his conscientious dedication tae preservin the graund oul gemme o Conkey in his wee, but definitive, buik: Conkey, The Rools o the Gemme o Kings, Saints and Sinners, Scholars an Gentilmeun Perth 1065; Alasdair MacCaroon descendit fae The Caroon o Loch Caroon, ane o the finest Royal Pipers tae blaw his whustle oan tap o Ben Nevis, tae summon the Seventy Seven tae battle - his Pipes cood be heard a ower Caledonia an each made haste tae Rally unner the Mountin; Nicol Nicol o Nicol fae Glen Nicol, whaur in the Ancient Times, the Ancient Religion wis fundit by the very furst Nicol Nicol o Nicol, High Priest Annointed bi Goad, Amen; Erchie Ecclefechan, fae the famous femly o Ecclefechans, the finest fencers in the hale Seevin Kingdoms wha beat aw ither fencers hauns doon an whaes fences still staun efter echt hunner year, a credit tae Bonnie Caledonia; Humphrey MacAugustine-MacAmpersand, Scholars tae the Kings o the Seevin Kingdoms in Perpituitary, whit they didna ken wisna worth kennin, an wi each generation passin oan it's kenworthy tae the next, it's nae wunner each yin has a bigger heid than his faither, so if ye ever want tae ken sumthin, ask Humphrey; an last but be nae means least: Padraig Macaroon o Minestrone, latest o the famous line o Kwasi the Slinger, praised by The Lochlann hissel fer his invaluable work on that fateful day when they slew Devilish Dominic Doubleday, Sir Parlane MacFarlane an The Red Etin o Ireland! – each ane o ye has a femly history tae be muckle droop o, an ye each hae a muckle femly reputation tae live up tae," an the echt boys stood an glowed, each basin in the magniloquent praise o Blind Harry, an each determine tae live up tae his Praise: "noo laddies, this is whaur ane o ye will discover his Destiny – dinna get cauld feet, jist gethir untae yersels aw the power investit in ye frae yer noble an illustrious ancestors, an dae yer best; bit thons fer the morn's morn – the licht is fadin an we need tae mak oor camp an, efter denner, ah'll pley ye some music oan ma Jews Harp an ye kin hae a wee bit b-boying, is that whit they cry thon dance craze back at the Palace?" and the boys aw gaed a cheer, an set tae getherin branches and reeds tae mak the final camp afore facin the Axe in the Stane next morning!
Now, being, as it happens, a very conscientious person and Member of Parliament – and a Conservative and Unionist Member at that – Timothy Michaelmas-Daisy was rather stung to say the least; he thought about the conversation and realised at once that a casual remark could well reverberate around the Palace of Westminster and even spell the end of a career which, although he was still Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union and clinging by his fingernails and a handy bulldog clip to the impending wreckage of that piece of legislation (which he had strongly opposed when he voted Remain in the 2016 Referendum, something which David Cameron should never have permitted, even if it would have meant the Monday Club scuppering his chances of going into another General Election as Prime Minister) he was still only a beginner, really; and he began to think of the Old Man, whom he had found himself looking forward to meeting on these damp steps, as an Old Sod for his suggestion of racism on Tim's part; how could he deny it without seeming to protest too much, which, no doubt, the Old Sod was take as indicating the bitter truth? and yet he did have to say something, but not along the lines of 'some of my best friends are . . . . . tick the appropriate boxes', for he was sufficiently urbane and sophisticated to know that those were the killers, indicating, as they generally did, that the speaker was probably a member of UKIP or the ERG, BNP, BDL, NA, or even C18 and, it would matter not a whit that Tim definately was not! for it is very difficult to prove a negative, especially sitting on damp river steps with an Old Man for whom he had developed friendly feelings; at which very moment the Old Man gave him a playful punch on the shoulder: "but I know you're not, Tim lad, indeed, I'd go to say that ye're likely among the grandest anti-racists I've ever known – and that's a goodly number – but I just wanted to show how even someone like yersel can get tangled up in these whole Brexit shenanigans, it's split families, turned lifelong friends into rabid enemies and like the old Buddhist saying about how tossing a pebble into a pond changes it forever, the reverberations and ripples of Brexit will likely still be grinding and clanking for the next fifty years!"
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