4 July, 2017 by katelaity
Chambers took a long draw from his pipe and blew the smoke out in a series of puffy clouds that floated away like thoughts. ‘It’s said she may have helped along the Goors of Gowrie, as Thomas Erceldoune predicted all those years ago.’
‘Thomas the Rhymer?’ Tansy asked with evident surprise.
‘None other,’ Chambers affirmed. ‘Like so many of his prophecies, another one we hope will not yet come to pass.’
‘Even you must know True Thomas,’ Tansy said to me with a little laugh that suggested for once I might not be completely ignorant of the topic at hand.
‘He is the one seduced by the fairy queen, is he not? And went off to Elfland or Fairyland or whatever it was.’
‘But who seduced whom is a bit of a debate, surely?’ Tansy was inclined to take the woman’s point of view even when it wasn’t his own. Sometimes I think he just liked to be provoking.
‘But what has this to do with your witch?’ I said, avoiding wrangling with my friend by turning the subject back to what it ought to have been. ‘She was opening doors was it? Doors to Elfland?’
‘Not doors,’ Chambers corrected me. ‘Goors or gows of Gowrie. It was when the Pictish king Nectan allowed the Dargie Kirk to be built down there by the Tay—that’s the silvery river that leads to the sea just south of here. You’ll see it from the hills. The devil took umbrage at the king’s construction and tossed some boulders across the rivers toward the church. He couldn’t hit the structure itself of course, being a holy site. They landed in the river where they were called the goors or by some, the yowes.’
‘And what was Thomas’ prophecy?’
‘Let me see if I can remember it right: When the Goors of Gowrie come to land, the Day of Judgment’s close to hand.’
‘End times!’ Tansy said nodding.
‘Aye, but with the rail coming through in the 40s, the flow of the river’s changed and they are part of the land now. And yet no Day of Judgment, unless I’ve missed it somehow.’ The man chuckled and puffed away some more.
I was finding this most perplexing. ‘So the witch moved the stones?’ I couldn’t really follow the thread of things anymore.
‘There’s some that say so,’ Chambers admitted. ‘The story told is that she was spotted, Catherine Lyall that is, staring intently down into the waters of the Tay, watching the waves very closely. A neighbour happening upon her was struck by her odd attitude and queried whether she was ill. “Ah no,” said Catherine, “I’m just keeping the sheep.” Well, as you can imagine other people thought it most strange. But they remembered her words when Thomas Scott’s ship The Augustine broke up on that very spot in calm waters.’
‘Did she confess?’ Tansy asked with an arched brow.
‘She did with venom. Claimed that the devil squeezed her until she agreed.’
I shook my head. ‘But what has that to do with sheep?’
Chambers pointed at me with his pipe’s stem. ‘Yowes, you see. Means ewes in the tongue up here. Folks believed she was drawing the ship onto the Goors deliberately to smash it up. For spite of course. And she was put to death after confessing to the crime.’
‘No doubt after torture,’ Tansy added quietly.
‘Aye,’ Chambers agreed. ‘No Isobel she, but Lyall did have a wide variety of experiences which, whether imagined or believed, suggested a very malicious nature.’
‘What woman would not be malicious in a culture that suggests any ambition on her part be monstrous? Very few I think,’ Tansy said, with some heavy leavening of bitterness.
We sat quietly contemplating the sad errors of the past until it was time to go.