General Fiction posted October 7, 2018


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From the Storyteller Series, Tales of a Scottish Wood.

The Stranger

by rspoet


The Last Drop was not just an inviting tavern; it was a community hub that served some of the finest food in the area, and without doubt, the best beer. The locals met at the pub for lively conversation, laughter, and entertainment. There was often music and revelry. Some played guitars, fiddles, and tin whistles, while patrons joined in singing traditional ballads or gay, spirited songs.

Other times it was quieter, with storytellers weaving spells, and even poetry reading—the great poems of Robert Burns, “O my Luve's like a red, red rose” or Hugh MacDiarmid’s Scotland, “a statue carved out in a whole country's marble.”
 
Ewan and Duncan were on one side of the tavern engaged in an intense game of darts, with several friends cheering them on. Duncan just threw a double twenty, much to Ewan’s dismay, when a stranger walked through the door and strode briskly to the bar. His hair was white as snow; his skin had a grayish cast, but he stood straight as a ship's mast, in contrast to his stark appearance. He had an air of confidence about him that drew the attention of those in the room.

“What can I get ye?” asked Cameron.

“A pint,” he replied.

“Are ye passing through, or stopping to see someone?”

“Neither. I’m here to visit your tavern. I’ve heard much about it, so I decided to see for myself.”

“Ye’re welcome at The Last Drop. Would ye like something ta eat? We’re featuring the Smokey Salmon, today, with bacon, tomato and sauce on dark bread.”

“Sounds delicious, but I’ll stick to the ale for now. I hear there’s a storyteller that frequents your tavern.”

“Aye, that’d be Sean. He stops in from time to time and tells his tales of the wood.”

“Would he be here tonight?”

“He’s due to come by soon, but we never know when he might arrive.”

“Too bad, I’ve heard he tells great tales.”

“That he does,” said Rory, who was standing by the bar. “He told us of a family of white deer not long ago. Said he first told the tale at a festival up near Edinburgh. He sure makes them sound real.”

“Oh, they are,” said the stranger.

“Ye’ve seen them, too?”

“Aye, but ye’ve got to rise early to see’em.”

“His story of the deer is fine,” said Graham, “but his tales of the fairies are rubbish. I think he’s aff his heid.”

“Oh, I don’t know. The water in that little green flask cured my knee,” said Cameron.

“That so?” said the stranger.

“Aye. The knee’d been plaguin’ me for years. One drop from that flask and there’s no more pain.”

“Sounds like a magic brew. Ye should add some ta the ale. Do wonders for ye business.”

“I don’t think Sean would be partin’ with his flask,” laughed Cameron.

“Aye, likely not.”

“He told a great tale about two fiddlers at a festival on Tom-na-hurich Hill,” said Alison.

“Did he, now?”

“Aye, made us all want to ta go to the next ball.”

“Why don’t ya, then?”

“Sounds a bit scary and we’ve not been invited or nothin’; besides, we don’t have the foggiest notion where it is,” replied Alison.

“Ye’d best be stayin’ here, then. Ye don’t want ta get lost in the woods.”

“I’d go,” said Kenzie.

“Ye wouldn’t be scared?” asked the stranger.

“Oh, I would, but I’d go anyway.”

“Ye’re a brave one.”


The stranger finished his ale and said, “Ye’ve got a fine tavern here, Cameron.”

With that, he turned and moved swiftly to the door and left.

“Well, he’s a strange one,” said Cameron as he noticed a box sitting on the counter.

“Ewan, hail the stranger and tell ‘em he forgot his box.”

Ewan looked out the door and said there was no one there.

“Rubbish,” said Graham. “He just stepped out.”

Graham went out to the yard and returned. “The lad’s right. He’s nowhere in sight.”

After a brief silence, he continued, “Ye know, I don’t recall him havin’ a box when he came in.”

“Neither do I,” said Rory.

They all looked over to Cameron and the box. It was an odd, nondescript box; utilitarian, made of weathered cardboard. Not the least bit fancy.

“Well, why don’t ye open it, Cam?” said Graham.

Cameron eyed the box, not quite sure what to do.

“Go ahead,” urged Graham. “Open ’er.”

Cameron gingerly lifted the top off the old box.

“What's in it?” said Alison.

“A bunch of envelopes with names on them," replied Cameron. "There’s one for Duncan, Kenzie, Alison, Graham. Looks like that's it.”

“Well, open yours, Duncan,” said Graham.

Duncan removed his envelope and slid open the flap. “It’s an invitation.”

“An invitation ta what?”

“Ta the next Fiddler’s Ball. Ta be held on the seventh night of the seventh moon. It says ta come ta The Last Drop and transportation will be provided.”

Graham grabbed his envelope and opened it. “It’s an invitation, all right. What da ye think, Cam?”

“I don’t know what ta think. I wish Sean was here.”

Kenzie opened her invitation. “Well, I said I wanted to go. Would ye be takin’ me, Graham?”

Graham looked at her like she was gowk. “Are ye aff yer heid?”

“We’ve been invited.”

“By who?” asked Graham.

Kenzie looked at her invitation, again. “It’s signed Thomas.”

“Thomas?”

“Ye don’t think that was Thomas the Rhymer, da ye?” asked Ewen.

“Now, my skin’s crawlin’,” said Alison.

“Ye all be gowk, the whole bunch of ye. Thomas the Rhymer, bah! He’s been dead eight hundred years,” said Graham.

“Well, who do ye think it was?”

“Someone playin’ a trick on us, that’s who. I’d bet Sean set this whole thing up.”

“Doesn’t sound like something Sean would do,” said Duncan.

“I agree,” said Cameron. “Whoever he was, it had nothing ta do with Sean.”

“How far is it ta the ball?” asked Duncan.

“I don’t rightly know, but it’s nowhere near here.”

“Then just what does it mean, ‘transportation will be provided?’”

“Ah dinnae ken. Ma heid’s mince,” said Alison.

“The seventh night is just a few days away. Didn’t Sean say the event took place at midnight?”

“Aye, that’s what he said.”

“Well then, why don’t the four of us gather here at midnight? Anyone who wants to go, that is.”

They all looked to Cam. “It’s alright with me.”

“That’s well radge. Ye’re all daft,” said Graham.

“Ye can stay here, if ye like, Gra’am, but I’m goin’,” said Kenzie.

Graham scowled.

“It’s settled, then. Anyone who wants ta go, meet here before midnight. I’ll have the tavern open.”

 
On the seventh night of the seventh moon, they gathered at The Last Drop. The moon was full and cast the stark shadow of a rowan tree across the yard. No one was quite sure what to expect. They talked softly, without mentioning the ball, until a few seconds before midnight. The clock on the wall started to chime.

“Ye see,” said Graham, “it’s all a bit of a….”

The moon slid behind a cloud, the shadow of the rowan merged with the darkness. You could almost hear the collective pulse of all inside the tavern. Several wiped clammy palms on their trousers. No one spoke a word, as the lights dimmed and heartbeats began to race.

They heard the clip-clop of horse's hooves approaching.

There was a sharp knock on the door.

Duncan stepped forward and opened it with trembling fingers.

A tall, slender figure dressed in black stood by the door. “Your carriage awaits.”

A single lantern in the driver’s hand cast the only light.

Kenzie and Graham hesitated. They stared into each other’s eyes, then Kenzie stepped into the carriage pulling Graham with her. Alison and Duncan followrd.

When they were all seated, the driver said, “Do not look out the window until we arrive.” He then pulled the curtains shut and closed the doors.

As the trip began, they heard the noise of the hooves again. The coach shook gently as they traveled. The sounds slowly faded; the sway of the carriage stopped, but they were still moving. All was quiet as night as they slipped through the darkness.

“I’m scared,” said Kenzie, as she grasped Graham’s arm.

“You’re not the only one,” said Graham.

After several moments, they heard the clip-clop of horse shoes again. The carriage jiggled to a stop.

The door opened and the stranger with the white hair greeted them.


 
“Guil evenin. It’s a braw bricht moonlit nicht to nicht. Foirfe nicht, perfect night… for the Fiddler’s Ball.”

 


Recognized


For those not familiar with earlier tales, the last line of this story is the opening line at the fiddler's ball in the story Gavin and Bard, The Fiddlers' Tale.

Thomas the Rhymer or 'True Thomas', was a legendary character found in many folktales. He was a 13th century Scottish laird and poet, born around 1220, near Ercildoune, now Earlston in Berwickshire. The character is thought to be based on a real person -Thomas Rimor de Ercildoun or Thomas Learmonth. (From Myths and Legends)

Tomnahurich, Tom-na-hurich Hill - (hill of the yews) a hill near Inverness where a cemetery is located, thought to be the burial place of Thomas the Rhymer. Folktales imply it is a fairy hill.

a braw bricht moonlit nicht the nicht - a bright moonlit night, tonight.

Foirfe nicht - perfect night

Gowk - crazy or daft

radge - mental or crazy

Ah dinnae ken. Ma heid's mince - I don't know. My heads mixed up.

aff yer heid - you're crazy

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