This tale, like many others of its time, is one of sadness, misery, anger and love. Up until the year 1721, a strong, handsome knight named James McPherson lived an ordinary knight’s life: he fought for his lands and his people, and his true love Annie Grant. Little did he know, until that ruthless month in 1721, that he would be fighting to save his own true love from the cruel and testing hand of the church.
James lived with his love Annie in a small cottage in a small village called Rohallion in the Scottish highlands. Everyone in the village respected them and they were a very well thought of couple. They kept good faith and went to the church every Sunday morning to pray that their lives will be long and happy. James always helped out in the village and if ever anyone had a problem, they would come to him for help, and he always managed to solve their problems. He was the tallest man in their village, looming over even the biggest of the men. He had smooth black hair that women just wanted to touch and royal blue eyes that made even the most evil woman’s heart turn soft. Yes, he was a perfect match for Annie.
Annie was a beautiful, natural looking woman and was very similar to James in the way that she caught the hearts of every man in the village. She had long, smooth amber hair that glinted and winked whenever the least bit of light caught it. Her eyes were the two most beautiful things in the whole world. They were like the ocean, beautiful and mysterious with their blue-grey hue and clear bright look. She was fairly tall for a woman and all of the women respected her because of her outstanding natural beauty. Every morning she would go out to the forest and gather herbs and roots that she would add to the dinner she would prepare at night; and her dinners were the most beautiful smelling and pleasant tasting meals anyone could ask for. It was almost as if she had cast some spell over the food which would make it taste gorgeous and fill even the greediest man.
It all started in the finest month of May anyone in the village had ever witnessed. I remember it well and doubt I will ever forget it as it almost killed me. I remember joining James and Annie while they were walking through the forest one morning. It was a beautiful day: the sun cast a fine hue over the world and the warm air filled our hearts with fun. The blue sky looked as if a sapphire had leaked its colour upon the earth and there were only but a few powder white clouds in the sky. Birds were singing their love songs and the trees whispered in the faint wind.
“What wonderful force brings the presence of Sir Robert McClellan to me and my love on this fine may morning?” said James to the sky with a pleased smile on his face.
“Only the force of my morning walk kind James. And how would you and yer lovely maiden be on this day?”
“Ach we are as happy as any couple on this earth can be Robert. We fair enjoy our walks in the morning air. It seems to draw us like the bees tae the flowers.” Answered Annie.
“Just like I have been drawn tae the finest flower of the forest dear Annie” James whispered to his love while she giggled happily and her eyes glowed with admiration.
I remember it like yesterday. That was the last time I ever saw Annie and James so happy. We were young back then, and full of life. We were three bonnie people back then, like a fine mountain with the sun shining upon it. It strikes me hard how quickly beauty can be sucked from the natural wonders of the world, as it happened to Annie and James. Oh how the memory hurts an old troubled mind!
Annie came to me a week later, her rich complexion faded to a faint hue. She was very distressed and it pained me to see her like this.
“Annie, oh lovely Annie what’s the matter dear?” I asked.
“What do ye mean lass? A man? What’s he done tae ye lass?”
“A man in the forest.” Her voice was ghostly. “ A man in the forest with an evil look. Oh Robert I’m so scared! He sneaked up on me while I was out gathering for dinner.”
“What did he say to you Annie? He didn’t hurt you or do anything horrible to ye did he Annie?” I had never been so worried and angry in my life.
“He wanted me to be his wife. He said tae me, ‘lie with me Annie. You are the fairest lass I have ever seen and I need you. My heart grows cold and it needs warmed. Only you can help it Annie.’ That’s what he said.
“I said to him I was so sorry but I couldn’t help him. I told him I was happily in love with James and a horrible gaze drew over him. He stared at me and grabbed my basket. ‘I know what ye are up to Annie. I’ve been watching’ ye. I’ve seen ye. On the hill.’ Is what he said.”
“What in the name of holy god did he mean? Annie, why did he say this?”
“He said he knows what I have in my basket. He said it’s not for the dinner. He said it was for evil use.” I remember Annie starting to sob. “He said I could save myself if I would be his wife.”
“Oh Annie! Oh dear Annie! I really don’t like the sound of this. It stinks high to hell. Who was this man? Who was he?” Anger festered up inside me/
“I don’t know,” she sobbed. “I told him I would never be with anyone else but James and he pushed me against a tree and whispered in my ear ‘your going tae pay for this lass. Yer going tae pay with yer soul, evil witch! Word will get round this village which you love so much and everyone is going to want a piece of ye. Even yer true love will want ye dead, ye’ll soon see that!’ and he walked away. Oh Robert I’m so scared!”
She grabbed me and put her arms around me ad afterwards my shirt was soaked with a maiden’s tears. I wanted to kill this man, this fiend who did this to one of my best friends.
I met James in the village the next day. I took him aside and asked him if I could have a word with him. I felt that he needed to know what had happened to his love.
“What’s the matter sir? What’s wrong?” he asked with worry growing in his eyes.
I said, “It’s annie, james.” At this he startled.
“What about annie, what’s happened to her? Is she ok?”
“No. She’s not, James. Has she not told ye?”
“No, what is it?” He grabbed my shoulder and said again “what is it?”
She came to me yesterday. She looked very pale and very frightened. She told a man met her in the forest. He wanted her to be his lover and she refused. He threatened her James. He said she was going tae pay for this. That she’s going tae turn the village against her. Even turn you against her!” I explained.
“Who the hell is this bastard? When I find out he’s not going tae live long. He’s the one whose going tae pay!”
“I don’t know who he is. Neither did Annie know. James, he called her a witch.”
I remember the look on his face. It looked like a piece of his heart had been torn off.
Rumour spread. Less and less of Annie’s friends came to her for help and people stared at her in a horrible way. I remember at that time the weather changed and dark thunderclouds came rolling in like the rush of the tide. Oh it was a terrible time to live. I remember the anger, the frustration…the fear. It took a lot of my soul away, did that time: and what it did to Annie…was a sin.
A large crowd of villagers crowded round Annie’s home. I think if my mind is right, there was almost everyone from the village there. They were quiet. They were waiting. All of a sudden, the door opened and there appeared Annie, looking very frail and pale. “There she is! There’s the witch! Witch! Witch! Witch” cried one raged onlooker. That got the crowd started. “Witch! Witch! Witch!” they cried. The sound was dreadful. Some of the onlookers were throwing rotten fruit at the house and I watched in sheer disgust as tomatoes and eggs were thrown at my dear friend. I remember shouting “Stop it ye fiends! What in the name of God has this lass done tae ye? She doesn’t deserve this! Anne Grant is not a witch! Leave her in-” then I was thrown and landed on my arm. Flaming hot pain rushed through my damaged limb and as I looked I could see the bone sticking out of my arm like some tree trunk in a bright red sea. I fainted.
When my unconsciousness fell from me, I woke to find I was sitting in a pew in the church. The place was packed full of folk. And at the end of the altar, I saw Annie; tied to a huge cross, naked, huge bruises all over her body. She looked pitiful. Great sorrow consumed my heart at this cruel sight. A man went up to Annie, with a long needle in his hand. I knew what was coming. Oh, how I wanted to free Annie. The man with the needle, David Douglas, approached Annie and said to his audience, “I will now prove this witch by means of Witch-Pricking. I shall find a spot on this wretch’s body that does not bleed when this needle in my hand is driven into it.” I gazed with acute horror as the needle was thrust into her hip, and blood was sent running down her leg. David, that cruel devil of a man, then thrust the needle into her back, and blood dribbled down her like a flow of lava. I remember then hearing him cry “Alas! I have found the spot where she has been touched by the devil himself!” I gazed in horror as he pierced the birthmark that Annie carries on her side. No blood was spilled. Anger boiled in me but the horror that was a broken bone stopped me from yelling out. “Annie Grant, you must now confess to your sins. Speak! Confess and you shall ease your own suffering.”
“I…no…devil,” Annie said, struggling to get the words out.
“Then you shall suffer the torture of the bridle. Torture-man, commence, your duties!”
I couldn’t bare this. “Don’t you dare! Don’t you dare place that on this innocent maiden’s head! Haven’t you grieved her enough already?”
“Silence! Or have you something to do with Annie’s little practices?”
“What practices? Annie is innocent! She has never contorted with the de’il! You know what has happened? I’ll tell you what has happened! She was threatened by a stranger in the woods! A stranger in the woods who would not take no for an answer!”
At that moment, a man, in a dark cloak rose up from the crowd. “What dae ye know young fool? I have seen her, dancing with the fairy-folk in the forest!”
“In…cent” whispered Annie.
“Ye haud yer weesht ye cruel beast of a man! I have known Annie since she was born. She is NOT evil. She is NOT a witch. Leave her be! Release he-” The next moment the church doors flew open. And stood in the doorway was Annie’s love, James, with a bow and arrow at the ready.
“Release her or many people are going to die in this holy place. RELEASE HER! NOW!!!” Screamed James as an arrow darted from his gracious bow and pierced the very ground below David’s feet.
“James….Love…you,” whispered Annie as her eyes closed.
“ANNIE! Come back Annie please!” He cried as he marched towards her, arrow pointing at many targets.
I remember this more clearly than anything. I started walking towards the man with the black cape. “You did this! You did this! You cruel cruel fiend! You are the devil here, not Annie. It was you who threatened Annie in the forest. You who started this all! Ye will pay. And ye will die like no man has died before.” I said.
“You’re crazy! I don’t know what you are talking about! Someone stop this madman!”
But no one did. The crowd stared at him while James’ lips caressed Annie’s forehead. At this her eyes opened again, and colour came back to her face.
Then a strange thing happened. Someone rose up and cried “Te man’s a devil! The man in the black cape!” This triggered the audience into a riot. He tried to run but was tripped up. He lay on the floor and started crawling but I remember the crunching sound as his hand cracked and creaked beneath my foot. He screamed. Annie smiled.
As this commotion happened, James released his love from the cross and carried her home. At this same moment, the crowd lifted the man with the black cape and carried him, screaming and kicking like a trapped fox, out to the churchyard. He was thrown onto the ground. There he lay while I advanced towards him with my dirk in hand.
“I told ye you would pay, evil fiend,” I whispered in his ear as I pierced his eye. It made a horrible popping sound that haunts my dreams to this day. I remember his arms flailing all over the place, clawing at his face, where his eye used to be, screaming, whining in agony.
“I’m sorry! God I’m sorry! Please, forgive me!” He bubbled.
“This fiend has now confessed! We shall burn this devil!” I shouted and the crowd cheered and chanted, “Burn him! Burn him!”
Part of the crowd erected a large wooden cross in the churchyard. It was then that James arrived, with a hammer in one hand and his sword in the other. He said nothing.
He advanced towards the man with the black cape who was whimpering on the ground crying, and looking in horror with his single eye as James brought the hammer down over his left foot. The man in the black cape yelled like nothing on earth. I think even auld Nick down below heard him. James raised the hammer above his head, and dropped the hammer down again, this time on his right foot. The man in the black cape no longer had human feet, only to squashed piles of bone and flesh. James then advanced again, and swung his word down over the man in the black capes right arm, sending shards of bone and gushes of blood everywhere. The man in the black cape couldn’t speak; only horrible gargling noises escaped his mouth. James grabbed him by the hair and dragged him towards the cross. There I helped him tie this man up, and to the cross. A group of men had constructed a pyre of firewood underneath the man in the black capes feet. And there I saw an eerie sight: Annie stood there with a sweet but dangerous smile on her face, with a flaming torch in her left hand. The man in the black cape looked her through blood and bone; ad a sigh escaped his throat. Annie advanced towards the cross and said, calmly, and with real love, “I told you, I am in love with James McPherson” and as she said this she brought the torch down on the pyre and the man in the black cape vanished in a wall of flame.
I remember the last noise that man with the black cape made. Over the crackling of burning wood, hissing of boiling blood and cheering of the crowd, a scream pierced the air and a group of magpies flew across the sky.
Annie recovered, and with surprising speed, and the love between my two best friends grew. The three of us left the village, and headed to the small village of Dornoch, in the north east of Scotland.
The next year, we had another case of grief. In the year 1722, an old woman named Janet Horne, a friend we made up there, was accused of practicing witchcraft. She had a lovely young daughter who unfortunately was born with deformed feet. A group of people accused her of sending her daughter of to the devil to be shod, and then riding around the village on her daughters back. I can’t believe how blind people can be. Annie, James and myself had been away visiting friends in near-by Tain, when the news met our ears: Janet was to be burned that day. We rode off with great speed towards Dornoch, hoping to save our friend. We arrived, James drew his bow and his arrow, Annie drew a sword and I brought out my dirk. We were greeted by what we feared. A vat of burning tar was bubbling away and in the middle of it all, our friend lay, dead. We lost this fight. We lost our friend. I thank god that no more innocent people were sentenced to death under the accusation of practicing witchcraft. It ended with Janet Horne.
That was thirty years ago. I am an old man now, and I feel it more and more each day. My arm never healed, and had to be chopped off. I sometimes scratch the air because my missing hand is itchy. James and Annie had a greater fate. They married in the summer of 1724 and their first child, Mary, was born on the 23rd of March in the year of our lord 1725. I wish I could say we all lived happily ever after, but the events in that summer of 1721 sometimes creep up on the three of us, particularly Annie, and floods of tears are created. I’m getting frail, and I really don’t think I have much time left. I am ready. I want to leave this earth that has caused so much suffering. If anyone finds this memory I have written, I want them to turn it into a book, and send it to Annie and James from their best friend. I really am rambling on a little bit now. I suppose its time for my bed now. I’m going now, and I pray that Annie and James are in good health. I hope I don’t have the nightma
In the year 1752, Sir Robert McClelland died writing his memories of the most tragic event in his life.