‘Blood will fill the scribe’s inkpot and pen’
Extract from The Bogeyman
By Craig Watson
Published by Thunderpoint Publishing
“When the mortcloth of a regal brother,
Begins the Annals of Egglespether;
First the prior’s house will fall,
To the overlord of Balliol.
The wicked Norse wind usurps the west;
Two grains from a seed of wheat, at best.
Orphans of war; fiends in a den.
Blood will fill the scribe’s inkpot and pen.”
6th Day of December, 1335
Curled in the dirt like a dog booted in the ribs by its master, I watch as de Moray’s men strip my father of his skin and divide it among themselves in small parts. I lie tethered to our standard: the Christies of Finzean, who forwent their obligation to join the army of de Moray in the battle at Culblean. If I turn and lift my head just off the ground, I can see it: my father’s black, yellow and red pennon against the white clouds above, the pennon twitching one way, the clouds rushing the other. I breathe in dust, a fowl scratches and pecks loudly just beyond my ear. The burning house crackles as loud as a hundred pigs on a spit. The smoke mixes with the dust, the heat from the inferno dries my lips and burns at my eyelids. I close my eyes as my mother and sister are ravaged and beaten by one, two, five or ten men-at-arms. Peck, peck, peck. Scratch, peck. ‘…you fucking treacherous, cursed quean…’ He squeals with pleasure, or laughter. Or is it a swine being slaughtered? ‘…suck on it, I command…you will be wide enough for a cat to hibernate for a year when the victorious army of de Moray has finished its business…’ The other men say nothing. The fowl moves away. Amid sobs, my mother screams: ‘He made payment during peace! To commute service during war!’ Over and over she shouts it. ‘My husband made payment…he made payment…he made the wretched payment.’ No-one responds. My sister moans and mumbles: something pathetic, not defiant. Heavy footsteps move close. I open my eyes. I have seen enough to know it is the squealer; he has a thick, broad-bladed knife in his right hand, hanging by his side. He is much bigger and more thickset than his giggly squeals suggested. He turns to say something to my mother/sister, a question of some sort: ‘…make a trumpet of his arse…you want me to?’ He points the knife at me. Then swings it away. Then back again. Perhaps fearful where and when it will next come down, I follow the line of the blade. And beyond, behind Squealer, in the direction of the river, I see him! A small boy crouched in the reeds, gesturing wildly. My brother, who is not yet twelve years, is waving his arms madly, almost as though he wishes to be seen by the despoilers. His lips are wide, then pursed, again and again. He is mouthing my name: An-drew! An-drew! He half stands, clearly visible now, points at the river and pulls his arms to and fro, bending and straightening them. He is pleading, as though he has been waiting for this moment since we were woken by cries of ‘Havoc!’ before even dawn, as if willing his eyes to burst into a yell. My gaze travels farther. The boat: he is pointing at the logboat. The knife has moved closer; it is so close I can no longer see it without straining my neck. Squealer is standing over me. He follows my bulging stare. More fear-filled than at any moment since the first, I look back to my brother’s hiding place. He has ducked down, hidden again. Squealer hacks at my bonds: two, three times, then a final sawing motion. He catches a finger. It is not greatly sore so difficult to tell which one, probably the small one on my left hand. But my hands are free. And now my feet. Squealer drags me into a standing position and hands me the knife. Hands me the knife. ‘Son of the packsaddle – end your mother’s pitiful drone,’ he says, with no hint of a squeal. He holds a long-handled halberd confidently in his left hand. The curved axe head faces the ground, like a jester’s open-mouthed, leering smile. I look at the knife in my fingers, at the men around the flaming scene: no more than a score, most handling spoil. The woman still alive behind Squealer is my mother; the lifeless form is my young sister. A spear’s throw to the right, my brother is climbing into the boat. I make a decision and fall to my knees. Squealer bends down to yank me upright. Before his grip has fully tightened, I spring to my feet and cleave his skull and brain, cutting down through him beyond his feet until the blade hits hard ground below and the handle shivers in two. I take the bare blade in my hand – it cuts into my palm – and bring it down between his legs, into his boneless flesh so that the thing will never swell again, in this life or the next. Then I run to the boat and my brother kicks off from the shore.
The Bogeyman by Craig Watson is published on November 10 (PB, £13.99) by Thunderpoint Publishing
‘A reminder of the sheer range of Scotland’s literary imagination’