No Man’s Lands
The most northern point in all of this is still difficult to say for as it is, as all things are in Scotland a subject for much debate and controversy to the inhabitants. John O’Groats might well be the most northerly point but to the east and west of there which croft or bothy would one risk declaring was the most northerly? If the crofts are so sparsely spaced then the bothies are quadruply so. They can hardly be accurately described as hamlets; nor quaint, nor idyllic retreats up there. Nor do such things occur in the Borders much, nor in the Highlands in times as dark as these. Yet among such places we are to meet many a hero to our woeful tale of England.
There are the Twemblings for example whose ancestors fell in love with some McKillicuddy filly at some point or other there. There are - what should be called if logical - if the naming of parts would permit it the McRothsays but logic is rationed and does not say so. Many a McKendrick and Bruce besides do not say, to name but a few who may or may not be worthy of a mention later. There are darker forces there too of course but all in God’s own time, if ye din nay mind for is that not a fire burning in the grate to welcome a weary traveller home on this brae evening? Why so it is.
And inside we see a couple aboot their evening repast. They are talkative tonight for the harsh winter gales have not yet arrived, nor yet the thunder, the frost, the snows and the ice which is concerning to most around those parts for it is not as it should be by noo.
This middle aged, childless couple are God’s parents to many orphans both humane and no but it's nay that they are recalling to mind tonight, och no. It was the tramp who here they have called Tuff which is short for... Here we get stuck, we can nay remember. Wist it will blow in if it means te. Tea is served and the gentle chat is of Tuff at the store today which is rare in any year but particularly so now.
No one as yet has managed to teach or learn Tuff’s dialect and even if they did it would most likely confuse them further for he seldom uttered more than a syllable as a word and sparser still are two words made up a sentence in his mother’s tongue. Primitive? Maybe. Basic? Definitely. Mad? Most likely yet not mad enough to get the better of. He is not one to lose easily in a haggle for what he came for as usual; if regular visits were ever a routine to him.
His appearances were regular enough though for most of the locals to view them as a good omen. Over the years they had managed to exchange some understanding of each other’s customs. Tuff’s name had a slight click to the beginning of it and almost a whistle near the end and wasn’t there once an ‘atch’ sound near the end too and an 'eee' like the longing of an ancient sea to it too? Perhaps he had both a hearing and speech defect too. Who knew? No one here. None over yon t’other place either where they would swear his name sounded more like Mothofee which certainly was a slightly more apt name given his attire and attention to personal hygiene. Doon south from here mind, amid the strange remote clans in the Highlands it was more akin to Gwrathatchkay or was it?
However it was, whoever it was, it was indeed the same man with the same gait; the same shambling rotted but not fetid look aboot him. He had the same hair, the same teeth, the same jaw and the same obsidian dark depth of dark eye. From a young man he had it as had the man who had accompanied him then too. All assumed his companion was his father and was long since dead noo. They were half right there at least.
Among the many educational exchanges of customs at these remote trading centres Tuff, as we shall call him for now, had learnt that a picture in a newspaper was of a real person alive or dead. A slit across the throat was ample clarification of which it was whenever Tuff’s curiosity was peaked, which it seldom was. It was to be on this visit, though. A picture of a woman, of striking features and beside it; her skeleton. The face he did not recognise but something was familiar to him about that tall slender skeletal image though none present could tell for it was odd to everyone who viewed it. It had nodules on it that others did not, indentations from disease or malnutrition.
The conversation if one can call it that did not linger on the matter. Tuff was not impressed by it, but then nothing about the trading stores impressed him so there was nothing unusual in that either. The talk turned to business. He wished to trade his pheasants and grouse, partridge and brace of hares for wax, oil, matches to help him through the long winter months if they ever came at all for they were well past their late in anointed time. And so the conversation duly turned to the exchange rate and the climate over the preceding seasons. Far from any indication that food was going to be plentiful for all this winter Tuff confirmed what they all suspected, it was not.
The couple in their croft supped more slowly their meagre broth at this point, before the woman resumed the talk of the month. Ordinarily Tuff’s supplies were more abundant and plentiful in healthier times. So much so that some even ended up in expensive tourist attractions for none but the wealthiest to purchase, be it food or woven trinkets or treen usually with some snake or salmon skin cover or lining - Tuff was many things to these crofters; the best supplier of any long storage food was one of them, but even he could not indicate when he would be back this way again. All his goods were of the finest quality yet none in these parts make such luxuries as he would bring to trade. Transaction completed, his visit was at an end. One quick enquiry more from him... The woman; killed or no? Answer – killed. He snorted his usual scoff of disinterest and the woman packed an extra haggis and shortbread from her own shopping into his proud and stubborn hands and he left and disappear as if he knew the dusk was calling back, back into the myths of times long, long past.
They were not wrong to, for that is precisely where he came from.