SHORT STORIES: CORBIES

Other Short Stories: Marina, Glasgow 2050, A Christmas Miracle

CORBIES

For the kingis privy sicht

at drumfreys.

Maist he prince sen I ha ressavit your graceis commissioun to ryde in till annandaill to speir anent the vanyssing of schir iohne irving be it kent that i tuk wi me wat heslop my britheris man squere gilbert douglass the frensch halie fr. jehan de touraine and ducan macdonal the hieland aixman wi fouir lele men mair o my lord maxwellis following. We lugeit weill but thriftily at muffatt and cam doun by to the castill of lochmabene quhar met us the warden schir andro stewart and his depute iames iohnstone of brydekirk quha undertuik on the mornes morne to leid us quhidder informatioun fra sindry fowk on land had tald o schir io. irving his hors after being spyit lowse rinnyn amiddis thir commounis kail and corn.

Fell air betwixt the sun and the sky the mornes morning we rade oot endlang the annan watter binna ane o the lord maxwellis men quha had ouir drunken and wald na fra his bede the quhilk wes a canny childe thon day. Quhill we yeid did schir iames iohnstone mak me acquant wi aa materis anent the vanissyng short syne of yr graceis frende and lele man io. irving quhow that he wes to the huntin gane ae day wi hawk hors and mekill doig and niver mair seen by ony man ather gentill or sempill. Quhow that his guidwyf the leddy maryane did sair greit and sek easedom fra hir kizzen wm. airmstrong him that scars eschapit hingyn ouir twa murthrys in liddesdaill. Quhow that the afoirsaid wm. airmstrong ha sweerit on the haly buik afore the shireff crichtone at dumfreys tht he lay in bede fouir dayis of a fever in annan and his men did sweer the sam aith.

We cam doun to schir iames iohnstone his castill of bryidkirke short quhill eftir noone and thar did his wyf entretane wis weill wi venaison bannockis and guid aill afore we raid fyrthir. The leddy iohnstone commendis hir hartly serviss to yr grace and prayis you to rest in hir hous quhan nixt you ryde to yr border huntin quhidder of the hart or of reivin grahamis.

Nou cumis the hert o my taill anent this matere for quhan we hed rid to the length o warmonby towre betwix bryidkirke and annan thar cumis rinnan to us sundry hindis and puir cottar fowk beseikin schir iames and his following to kerry aid and soccouris thidder quhar the land ny ecilfechane wes herriet be ane cumpanye of inglis cumbirlond men be report mair nor xxxv. To the quhilk supplicantis did schir ias. declair his entente to ryd haim to bryidkirke for the gaidderan o men and vivaris fra quhens he wald til ecilfechane for the punissyn thir inglis reivaris. Than did i schaw my commissioun and declar myn purpois to gang about yr graceis matere by myn awne wille and rewle. Sa we sindert oor cumpanye he gangand ae gait yr servaunt the tithyr.

Quhill that we restit oor hors and powneis fornent wormonby the hielandman macdonal espyit ane mekill fleicht o corbie crawis distrublit and skriechin ouir and amiddis the derk schawis o chapel crois. Than did wat heslop tak hors and gang speidilie thon airt seikin caus o thir briddes distress the lave o wis following wi wappounis on schaw and redy. Seemit me mair lyk matere o bogill or faerie nor of beastis or mannis weir sen cam na soun of vois nather ding of armoure bot anerly the squakin o thir blak birddis and forby ane unco skreman as of hielan banshy yt stoppit nocht and gert fr. jehan cry his orisounis and ducan macdonal sweer gret othes in erse toung. Lykwise did i hald in minde quhow thir reportis erlier avisit anent schir io. irving his hors rinnan wilde did mak mentioun o mekill crawis yt did leid the beaste the airt o the chapellecroce.

Trublit wi thae thochtis i wes war o wat heslop cumin wi mekill hast cryin a murthyr and soccour quhareat we mad gret sped to meet him and quhan he gat neir did heir him speik distract anent blak freiris and spangyairtlyk painis of inquisitioun lyk to a sathane masse or warlock artis.. Than did we debait quhat wes best to don ather to gang bak as urgeit my lord maxwellis men or gang forrit as sayd fr. jehan and the aixman macdonal het for the fecht. Squere gilbert did mak ane bitter jeste upo the maxwellis quhow that they wald raither a gudewille waucht or hielan tochantorus than to fecht lyk lele men for theyr lorde or king or halie crist quhilk wes ane hard sayinge but did nocht gude for that thir cravenis turnit hors and raid for brydkirke as speedie as jockeis on leithe sandis. For the quhilk ressoun i pray yr grace to hae wordis wi my lord maxwell touching the tressoun of his menyie on yr graceis he affairis leavan bot v. servauntis of yr grace fornent the blakest feendis o hell and of thame the afoirsaid wat heslop nae better nor a yammerin bairn in his fricht.

Takkin hert fra the benisounis seyd by the halie fr. and sindry bummanis and vauntis by hieland dunkane than did we mak forrit til the skirtis o the chapillcross shawis wi the skrieghis o hellis foulis and demonis bizzan in oor luggis quhar we did stay fute on sicht o glaumry lichtis that schane sklentin atwix the bussis and rochis and heich treis o the wuid. Eftir schort counsall wi gilbert i gaif command to the aixman and fr. jehan quha were nocht trew scottis blude and kin that they gang afore wis twa quha wald leave daft wat his lane and follow clois ahint. Swa we made forrit agayne cumin at lang and last upo the middis o the wuid and a roun open bit o girss the quhilk wes aa brent wi fyr and blak wi ess and aizlis quhar stade a faerie knowe maist lyk but of a schene as it wer siller or the bricht steel o swerdis and a port or gateslap agee in its side thurgh the quhilk wes passand monkis or freiris in blak habit wi hudis ouir heidis and grunyies. Sindry o thir freiris cairriet bricht cruzies wi warlockrie lichtis mair nor candell culd gie quhill itheris bare the trew instrumentis and wappounis o sathanes reaulme the quhilk wald blast me to speke anent. Fra oot the port of the faerie knowe ther cam the ugsome skremin nois o the quhilk I spak afore.

The warst and veriest deedis of hell lay manifest upo the girss na fer fra quhar we stuid amang the treis and that wes a mekill kist of siller schene in the quhilk ane devillis freir wes stowin lyk banis in a deidkist the corp and airmis and schankis of a naukit manne quhilk as i lukit aghaist did muve and stirre lyk lievand flesch yit wes ther nane bluid or ony guttis. Last did the servaunt of baal lift hiech ane heid that bare the face and semblant of yr graceis trew and pittous sleyn lele man schir io. irving as i have sene him in the lyf reid and sonsie in the cheke and smilan lippis as it were at yr graceis levee or turney at the halyruid or kingis park or gangand be the cowgait to purchas his milk and kebbuck. I cryit oot lyk man gulliegawit wi a scherp cuttie and than horrour tae bing on horrour did the heid luik roun and see me quhar i stude atween the treis than smyle lik man at ease in ony taverne and speer hou wes i this guid even and cryit me be name as jamy fleming quham last he saw at hugmanie in falkland pallice the quhilk wes trewe at every pointe. Than did he saye to me not to feare for that he wesna deid but rather translatit fra oot this mortal corp intil a bodie baith eterne and evir younge and that he wes to gang wi his new menyie of sapient servauntis to a kintra ayont the sternis. At that the freis tuke the heid stowin it in the kist syne shut the tap an yokit tae cairrie it awa intil the faerie knowe.

Quhill that i stude lyk man in dreme than did duncane macdonal and the fr. jehan rin forrit fra the wude the tane wi mekill lochquhabbir aix heich abune the heid an cryin a duniewassil slogan the tither haudin up his crois and halie beadis to crye doun the powris of hevin upo thir demonis and warlockis. As i lukit in dumfounder did aa the deillis freiris and their miniounis of corbyis and hudyis quhilk fleeit as espiallis and keekeris abuin i the lift rin and flee and slidder intil the faerie knowe bot anerly the freir quhilk barit upo his bak the kist wi schir io. irvingis corp athin. Him did the macdonal cut in twa piecis wi his michty aix and caus to drap the kist upo the blaknit girss spillan the limbis and heid and corp aa ouir ither. Than the port o the knowe did clois fast and sudden the haill did uprais in glamourie licht and lowe heich abuin the wuid and flee awa fra sicht in the gloamin o the day. Squere gilbert douglass quha hed gane eftir the fr. jehan to pou him fra the divellis haundis wes sair scaddit be the lowe o the fleean knowe and liggis still amaist at daith and fr. jehan hes vannyssid fra this warld claught intil the deillis hauld and cairriet aff the gude kens quhar.

Quhan aa wes stille agayne than did me and dunkane macdonald gaidder thegither aa the bittis o the fals schir johne and the blak freir the quhilkis wer of na erdly mydir borne and aa ither signes and remaynes inby the middis of the shawis and caus thaim to be brent in a fyr of wude. Syne did we bar awa gilbert douglass and leid wat heslop lyk a gowk to the powneis than raid the length o annan thrugh the mirk nicht. Thar we did pit baith thir puir laddis in the spytaile o the burgh wi the sum of xx s. for food and herberwe afore the mornis morne quhan we did ryde to drumfreys here and i did speke privilie wi the shireff crichtone. Sinsyne hae we causit to be conveyit to the halie nunnis at glasgo the leddy maryane wyf to schir io. irving for safe kepynge agayns hir speking anent hir housbondis weirdly condicioun and unmanlyk manere in having na dealing wi hir in bedde or bowere for the quhilk ressoun sche becam leman to hir kizzen wm. airmstrang. Alswa we hae causit to be brocht to dumfreys in arrest the afoirsaid airmstrang and his men and steikit their mouthis agayns their proclaiman of innocencie in the murthyr of schir io. irving for the quhilk be your commissioun i hae gart thaim be hingyt athout process of lawe and that richt spedilie. Alswa i hae causit preyeris to be seyd in the kirke o the greyfreiris for the saule of fr. jehan de touraine be yr servauntis report droont i the solway and his corp niver fand. Last hae i peyit to ducan macdonal the sum of xv l. that he may be sustenit and cled for the frensch kingis serviss quhidder he hes gane seikin new weiris and fechtis. And swa hes the matere bene concludit as weill as may be don.

Yit in my conclusioun michty prince dois yr humill servitour beseik you to be war of fals semblant counsellouris quha may be nocht as they appears trew lele scottismen but rather chaungelingis as wes the unhappie and begylit schir iohne irving or warlockis or divellis familiaris in unerdly flesch and bluid or keekeris of inglond or spanye perchaunce sent to wirk you herm and caus tressoun athin the reaulme of Scotland to mak it a land wantan king and counsall and the guid lawis of oor faitheris and to mak yr grace a man fer fra the hertis o his subjectis and wantan the luve that ocht to be as dong to the grund of your kingdome makkin it riche for the growin o a fre and strang people. And swa may yr grace be kept in safetie be the luve of christ and his angellis.

Yr trewe servaunt to command
iames fleming knicht

"Corbies" is probably the only science fiction story ever to be written in Middle Scots, the official language of the Kingdom of Scotland between about 1400 and 1603. The language is a reconstruction using authentic documents of the 15th and 16th centuries as the basis for grammar and vocabulary, supplemented by the available dictionaries of the Scots language. The location of the story is authentic. It is an area that I know well. I grew up in the town of Dumfries, spent four years teaching English in Annan Academy, and rented a flat for two years in the Georgian country house of Warmanbie just outside Annan. This house, which is now a hotel, is situated almost on the site of a medieval tower, which is marked on the old maps of the Stewartry of Annandale. Nearby is the nuclear power station of Chapelcross.

The story, of course, deals with the well-worn theme of alien abduction. My interest was in considering how such an unlikely event would strike the consciousness and late-medieval mind-set of a pre-Reformation Scottish courtier. The story is, as. discerning readers will soon observe, derived from the traditional ballad, "The Twa Corbies", and is one of the stories in a group written in letter format under the inspiration of such Scots ballads. These, and other short stories written over the last few years, will at some time in the near future be published as a collection by Crowlin Press. "Corbies" was originally published in an imperfectly proof-read version in Chapman No.86 in 1997.

 

 

Alan MacGillivray.


 

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