Tale of a Hero
Roderick MacGregor piled more wood onto the fire to stave off the chill of the autumn night in the Highlands. Orange sparks flew into the air as the logs settled into place. He looked out at the glen now purple with the heather of the season that glowed in the setting sun. He closed his eyes for a minute and breathed deeply, remembering days long past when he had grown up in this same glen as a bairn.
He suddenly heard the sound of footsteps behind him and turned with a smile to see his twin son and daughter running toward him.
“Da, we want to help wi’ the fire!” said the little lad, Jamie.
“Of course ye do,” Roderick said and took the lass, Flora, into his arms. “And when ye’re done, I’ll tell ye a story before ye go to bed.”
“What kind of story, Da?” asked Flora as Roderick put her down again.
“Ye’ll just have to wait and see,” Roderick told her and smiled at the two again as they each took one of his hands and went off with him to pick up more kindling for the fire.
Once they got back and tossed all the branches and twigs onto the fire, the night had settled in, that gentle gloaming time when the earth held onto the last of the day’s light before letting it go until the next morning. Flora and Jamie danced around the fire, watching the sparks fly off into the night. Their mother came out of the cottage they lived in and stood with a small smile as she watched her children play.
“Shouldna ye two be in bed?” she asked them, raising an eyebrow.
“But Ma, Da said he would tell us a story!” Jamie said and stuck his bottom lip out.
“Please can we stay up?” Flora begged.
“Let the wee ones stay up for a few minutes, Aileen,” Roderick told his wife. “I think they need to hear this story.”
Aileen smiled at the young ones and nodded her head. “All right, ye young rogues, ye can listen to yer da’s story.”
“Yeah!” Flora and Jamie ran to Roderick as he sat on a log by the fire and he took them up upon each knee.
“I want to hear a story about fairies, Da!” Flora said.
“No fairy stories tonight,” Roderick said.
“Is it a story about William Wallace?” Jamie asked excitedly.
“Not about Wallace,” Roderick told him. “This is a story about another great Scottish hero. One who always did what he thought was right for his king and country. Now, ye have to understand, my wee bairns, that some people may tell ye he was the villain, but they never knew the real story; never knew who he really was.”
“Are ye going to tell us the real story, Da?” Jamie asked, his eyes already wide.
“Aye, I am,” Roderick told him. “Ye see, this story happened when I was about your age. Yer Granda fought in the war that came about because of the trouble brewing in Scotland around that time. Ye see, my wee ones, Scotland was in a bit of a mess with the controversy of the Covenanters and all that, but ye’re too young to understand all the politics behind it so I’ll just tell ye what happened. Ye’ve heard my stories about the great Montrose who fought for good King Charles, havena ye?”
“Oh aye,” Jamie shook his curly head. “He was a great warrior.”
“Aye, that he was,” Roderick smiled. “Well, the hero of this story is his descendant. He was a great military commander and started off his career fighting in Holland until war with the Covenanters brought him back to his own country. Our hero loved Scotland, so he gathered all the loyal men he could find and fought for her right.”
“Just like Wallace,” Flora said excitedly. “Right, Da?”
“Aye, just like Wallace, mo chridh,” he said and kissed her on the nose. “And just like Wallace, he refused to serve a false king. His king, Scotland’s king, was James, and he fought for his right to the throne. When he was called to the banner of his rightful king, he knew he would never give up until the war was over or death took him.”
“Like a true Scotsman!” Jamie cried and grinned.
“Aye, lad. He certainly had a true Scottish heart. When King James tried to get the throne, it resulted in many battles, eventually causing the king to have to leave Scotland and sail for Ireland.”
“Oh, Da, he came back didna he?” asked Flora.
“I have to finish the story,” Roderick told her with a grin. “Our hero never gave up hope though. He still fought with his loyal men, having all kinds of adventures. Once he even scaled the rocky face of Edinburgh castle to talk to the man who was holding it for King James.”
“That must have been hard!” Jamie exclaimed even though he had never seen Edinburgh castle before.
“Aye, it was, lad,” Roderick told him. “But our hero did it. Before long he was outlawed for fighting against the English king and a price was put on his head. This didn’t stop him from fighting for what he knew was right, though. He gathered more men from the Highlands, Camerons under the Chief Lochiel, and marched out to meet the foe.”
“Was there a big battle, Da?” Jamie asked excitedly.
“I’m getting to that,” Roderick assured his son. “The English were scared at the force he had gathered and sent a regiment under the command of MacKay to send them packing. They met at the Pass of Killiecrankie, our hero appearing to the traitors over the top of the hill. He and his men, having the high ground and a strong cavalry charge, made it immediately clear to MacKay that they had the upper hand.”
“Because a Scotsman can always fight better with a hill at his back, right Da?” Jamie asked. “You always told me that.”
“Aye, that’s right. And they did have a braw charge at that! MacKay’s troops tried to hold them off, but as soon as the Highlanders charged down the hill, the Sassenachs lost their nerve and ran away.”
“So the Scots won, right Da?” Flora asked.
“They did,” Roderick told her. “But their victory came with a price. Many of the men were killed and our hero unfortunately was shot in the charge.”
“No!” Jamie cried and Flora grabbed Roderick’s hand.
“He died,” Roderick told them. “But he died leading his men intae battle, and there is nothing unworthy about that. His men carried him off the field and the piper played him a fine pibroch called Lochaber No More, you’ve probably heard it before. And he had a hero’s funeral.”
“But what happened to the war, Da?” Flora asked. “Did James ever become king?”
Roderick shook his head. “Nae lass. But I dinna want ye two to despair. Someday, Scotland will have her own king again and it will be men just like the ones I just told ye about who will make it happen.”
“What was the hero’s name, Da?” Jamie said suddenly. “Ye never said!”
“He’s known by many names,” Roderick told them. “The English called him ‘Bloody Claver’se’ because they made up rumors that he was a butcher and killed men mercilessly.”
“That’s no’ true though, is it, Da?” Flora asked.
“Of course no’,” Roderick shook his head. “The Scots wouldna follow someone like that. The Highlanders liked to call him the Gaelic name Ian Dhub Nan Cath, which means Black John of the Battles because of his black hair and his courage on the battlefield.”
“But what does everyone else call him?” Jamie asked.
“The normal people?” Roderick raised an eyebrow. “Well, his real name is John Graham, but ye know what the men who fought under him always called him?”
“What?” the two little ones asked with wide eyes.
“Isna it time ye get into bed?” Their mother, Aileen came out of the cottage and beckoned to them.
“Aw Ma!” Jamie whined.
“I let ye stay up long enough,” she said with a concealed smile. “It’s time for bed.”
Roderick stood up and took the two into his arms, carrying them back to the house. “Come on ye two. It willna do tae get yer mother mad!”
They complained as he tucked them into bed and kissed them goodnight. “Have sweet dreams my wee bairns,” he said to them.
“Da, wait!” Flora cried grabbing his hand. “What was his name? What did his men call him?”
“John Graham?” Roderick said. “For what he did for his country and his kindness, the men all called him Bonnie Dundee.”
And I have probably already told you this before, but read Rosemary Sutcliff's book Bonnie Dundee. As far as fiction goes, I don't think his story could be bettered.
Have a good day my feres and if I can, I will be back tomorrow with a post about Montrose. Weather it will be some heartfelt comments and drabbles or a little information, I don't know yet.