You will I’m sure have heard of the ghost of Duntulm Castle. I’ll specify which I mean, as there are a few keeping one another company. If each of them wailing can be classed as companionship.
The one I mean is the nursemaid who was set adrift in a boat, as punishment for the death of her young charge, who fell from the window of the castle and was killed.
This is what really happened that night and beyond.
She was indeed put on a boat to be dashed to death on the rocks, or starve, whichever came first. The chance she would go mad is not an impossible one either.
And yet, she was not killed. Nor did she drown or any other gruesome thing hoped at the time.
In that boat, on that night, she learned that stories were true. That dreams she’d long had were not just dreams. The images in her mind last night existed.
As the boat drifted away she sat there, calmly accepting of her fate. Spiteful voices on the shore came on the wind, desperate to see her panic set in.
Once she realises there’s no food, or water she’s going to panic. Once she notices that she’s adrift with no oars, and no way of getting home, she’s headed into a storm and certain death
On and on the gleeful voices went, happy to watch another suffer. It meant that today they were safe from the wrath of the masters. The blame was apportioned elsewhere. Joining the mob meant safety. And the boat sailed out of view. It was dark early that night and the baying crowd were disappointed that they could not watch longer. The sun set, blood red in the sky and the near darkness plunged straight after it.
‘What was that noise?’ One of the villagers said, knowing what he’d heard wasn’t human.
‘Ach, it’s the dogs, the foxes maybe. What’s wrong with you?’ Laughed his wife, still wishing she’d seen the girl panic at least. A new song to waulk the tweed with tomorrow. Yet, the wilful girl denied them that.
He looked back towards the sea but saw nothing there, as he expected. The noise lay ahead. At the edge of the copse of trees, that led to the home they shared.
They hurried along, for who wants to walk in the dark?
Stepping into the copse he stopped as he came face to face with the noise he’d heard. A wolf. It looked balefully towards him, or so he thought. He tried to push his wife behind him, but she was too busy complaining about this and that. As quickly as the animal appeared, it was gone. Not an apparition, it just slunk quietly away. Lifting it’s top lip in a silent snarl, and it’s eyes flashing red, terrifying the man.
When he tried to explain to his wife what he’d seen she laughed.
‘You’re afraid, husband. We were not sending out some demon there, just a stupid girl. But, if you keep saying ridiculous things, we’ll be the next on a boat to nowhere. Do you hear me?’ She hissed in his face. He felt her spittle spray his cheeks like a mild sea fret. He looked back towards the water and as expected he saw nothing. Except on the shore what appeared to be a pair of shoes. But, of course, could be the kelp that dragged under the boat. He would check tomorrow.
They carried on home. She feeling her husband was afraid of shadows and filled with anger at him. He sure she couldn’t see what was in front of her, but resigned to it.
The next morning dawned cold and bright. The air was fresh and crisp. Winter was on the way.
On his way to the shore to check on the shoes that haunted his dreams, the man crossed again through the patch of woodland and looked carefully for the wolf, of which there was no sign.
His feet carried him a little faster to the shore, and he licked the salt from his lips. Felt it pulling his skin tightly. He loved this feeling.
Looking out to sea there was a seal playing. His eyes must be playing tricks. It appeared to be waving at him. Much as he knew it was foolish, he returned the wave. The seal disappeared from view.
For eight days the man returned, each day the seal appeared to wave and on his return wave, disappeared. On the ninth day he waited and seeing nothing, was about to leave. However, he heard a voice beside him that told him something he’d long suspected was true.
The shoes he’d found on that first day. He’d moved them and hidden them within the rocks.
‘Thank you for putting my shoes in a safe place. You are indeed a friend of the seal women. Do not be afraid, but never decide to swim out to me. You will surely drown. They will say when you’re old and beyond, that I haunt the castle. I’m not dead. I will return on the night they set me free, every year. My wolf is of no harm to you. He merely howls at the injustice of men. However, I am free and happy’
He made to turn, but feeling the wind pushing him forward heard her. ‘Please do not look at me. I wish you no harm or torment.’
For many years, the man returned to the shore. Sometimes there was a seal and sometimes not. He never confided in anyone, not even his wife.
Just before his own death, and long after his wife had passed on, he returned to the shore. Knowing that this would be the last visit here, and certain that the seal or the woman or whatever she was, would be long dead or moved on. Yet, he hoped that he might see it once more. There further away than usual, or it may have been his aged eyes was a seal and he was certain a hand raised in the surf. Long after she was gone he sat on the shingle beach, a huge stone his seat. His eyes drifted to the castle as darkness fell. He knew he should go home, but he felt rooted to the beach. Soon he would go home. Soon.
There at the window from where the boy fell, little changed, was the girl who had been set adrift. Next to her, the wolf. Her head was thrown back and she emitted an ecstatic howl. The wolf joined her in pace and she stroked it happily. They both looked directly at the old man.
He was found the next morning, by local fishermen on their way to sea for a catch in their small boat. He had a small satisfied smile on his face. In his hand he held a pair of shoes.
Yet, to this day on a calm night you might hear her, wailing for the loss of her friend, if you listen carefully. Listen more carefully still and you might hear the old man sigh on the wind.
©Ailsa Cawley 2021