The Journeys of Iain Baird

Russell Figgins

The thunder cracked overhead as the rain beat down onto the land. No one in their right minds would be out in this squall. But indeed someone was, a Wildman from the misty hills of Scotland. A tall and imposing youth, aged only 17 summers. His name was Iain of the clan Baird, and he stood stalwart against the Roman Legions at Telamon, where he and his clansmen made their last stand, and despite fighting with unrivaled savagery and strength, they were massacred against the Roman shields and short swords.

He alone survived; trapped under the dead bodies of his older brothers he lied there as the Romans went about killing the wounded, holding his breath as blood ran onto his face and into his eyes, nose, and mouth. When it was all over 20,000 Celts lay dead, 10,000 more were carted off to Rome to be publicly executed in front of Caesar himself.

In the distance he could here the sounds of music and singing, pulling his brown cloak around himself he continued onward in the downpour, his boots sinking into the thick mud of the wet road. Soon the lights of a tavern cut through the gloom. Making his way over he pushed the door open the sounds of the merry making stopped abruptly. In the dim and smoky haze he could see that all eyes had turned to him, looks of hatred and disdain were everywhere.

Stepping inside he shut the door and lowered his hood before removing his cloak, shaking the water from it Iain hung it on one of the free hooks beside the door, before placing his large shield and long sword against the wall underneath. Walking across the floor toward the bar he heard the mutterings of the tavern goers.

"Thaïs' one o' those Wild men from tha' hills." some said.

"Noting but a savage, kill ya just as soon shake your hand."

He paid them no mind as he stepped up to the bar, the innkeeper was a short pudgy man with the face like the south end of a northbound wild ass. He scowled at the Scotsman, showing off his missing and blackened teeth.

"I want a room an' board for tha' night if you don' mind please." Iain said reaching into the pouch on his kilt he placed three silver coins on the bar. "This should cover it."

"We don't serve your kind in here." he said, jerking his thumb towards the door. "Get out o' here you Hillman. Go sleep in the stable with the other animals!" the innkeeper swept his pudgy hand across the bar quickly, knocking the coins off onto the floor. The nearest drunks dove for them, several in their haste bashed their heads together with hallow thuds.

Iain said not a word, just knelt to retrieve his coins from the struggling hands of the drunks, walked across the floor to his belongings, pulled his cloak on, and with a slam of the rickety door went back out into the storm. Inside the tavern silence continued until one of the patrons spoke up.

"Ye should not' a done that Mickey." he said. "The Hag o' the Hills rides on nights like this."

"Ain't such a thing as the Hag o' the Hills." Mickey replied. "Let that savage drown for all I care."

Farther up the road Iain soldiered onward, and pulled his cloak tighter to keep the chill wind at bay. Amid the sounds of the storm the shrill, sad howl of a wolf was heard. Iain stopped and cocked his head to the side. The howl came again, closer than before, and followed by what sounded like a cackling laugh. Was that a woman's laugh? He shook his head at this; no woman would be out in this din, not with wolves stalking about.

Walking on the rain started to let up, soon the downpour turned into a drizzle, then just stopped. Lowering the hood of his cloak Iain shook his long brown hair out. In the distance, just off the road was an old building, a good place to sleep for the night. Making his way over he saw that it was a stable, decrepit and falling apart, part of the roof had caved in. Stepping inside the smell of wet hay and rotting wood filled the air. 12 stables, six on each side, had piles of hay in them; the hole in the roof was directly over two on the right side.

Going inside the farthest from the hole Iain placed his shield and sword on the ground, and removed his cloak to use as a blanket. As he lay there, looking up at the dark ceiling, he felt a dread and awful feeling come over him. Reaching for his sword he unsheathed it and placed it underneath the cloak with him, before doing the same with his shield and drifted off into an uneasy sleep.

Later that night as he lay sleeping Iain heard the sounds of footsteps, they started off soft in the distance, and grew louder and louder with each passing second. Soon they were outside the stable. The footsteps then proceeded inside the stable; they went from the first stall on the right side, inside it, then out, and onto the next one.

This went on until the footsteps stopped outside the stall where the Hillman lay sleeping, and started toward him slowly. Cracking his eye slightly he saw the wizened and ugly face of a decrepit old woman with long white hair, wrapped up in a dirty and torn black dress, a tattered shawl was around her boney shoulders. She came closer and closer, reaching for him with her long, boney fingers that ended in pointed fingernails.

"You will feed me for tomorrow my pretty one." she whispered, her voice was gravely and raw. Iain remembered the stories his gram had told him by the fireside when he was but a boy, about an old hag that traveled during thunderstorms. She would go to stables and snatch any children she found there and take them away to eat them. When she neared him Iain threw back the cloak and jumped to his feet, sword and shield in hand.

"What? No! "The hag drew away in surprise, instead of a sleeping babe she'd stumbled on a Hillman. With a loud shriek she fled from him, and he gave chase. Over hill and dale he chased her, across meadows and streams. Soon she led him deep into the forest, when they came to a clearing she turned and attacked. Raising his shield Iain was driven back at the hag's strength as her small hands pounded against his large shield. Slashing with his sword Iain missed as the hag danced around his blows and came at him and slashed at his unprotected chest.

Her fingernails cut through his cloth shirt with ease and sank into his flesh, leaving jagged cuts across his abdomen, causing him to cry out in pain. Tossing the large shield aside he grasped his long sword with both hands, and charged the hag again. Hacking and slashing he attacked her with the savagery and strength he showed at Telamon against the Romans Iain came at her again and again. But for naught as he kept missing until his great strength gave out. He fell to his knees in exhaustion.

She cackled at this and started forward for the kill. She drew back one clawed hand and prepared to deliver the death blow. But at the last second the cock crowed, and the sun started peaking over the hills. The hag looked at the approaching dawn wit horror, for the sun's light would strike her dead on the spot if she were out in the open.

"No! Not the morn, not now!" she shrieked, turning to flee she made it to the edge of the clearing when the first ray of sunlight fell into the clearing. When the sunlight touched her the hag only gave a strangled cry and fell to the ground dead.

Iain stood up slowly and retrieved his shield. Walking over to the body he was surprised to see only a pile of old bones wrapped in rags. Turning away he left the clearing far behind him and returned to the stable to retrieve his cloak, pulling it around him the Scotsman made his way out to the road and continued on toward the next village. He never returned to that part of Ireland for the rest of his life.

END