I’m happy to bring you today’s post from David McNicoll of Vacation Scotland. David is something of a sage on Scottish history (and really, all things Scottish), and today he shares one of the spookier tales from Scotland’s past. Enjoy and happy holidays!
It had certainly been a rough week since the Scarlet Fever had taken hold in the school, and recently many of the boys had taken a turn for the worse, but for now all seemed quiet in the makeshift ward. Feeling the need for a stretch of her legs the duty nurse decided on a five-minute break and headed out the door for some fresh air. As the door shut, Francis Mackenzie, Lord Seaforth, awoke. Seaforth, a twelve-year-old lad found himself alone in the gloom, scanning the room and seeing all his fellow inmates fast asleep. In his grogginess, he watched as the other door to the room creaked open, and entering the room was a vision that soon brought him to his senses.
Shuffling in though the door was a hideous old hag: bent over, bow-legged, and with a dark cowl over her scraggly hair. Her malevolent, yellow-stained eyes crowned a long, pointed nose, and over her shoulder she carried a sling bag. As the rest of his peers slept, Lord Seaforth watch enthralled and with an increasing sense of dread as the eldritch crossed the floor to the bed of the first boy and pulled from her bag first a mallet and then a wooden peg; Seaforth’s foreboding turned to genuine fear. Yet, for all that he felt compelled to watch, as a creeping paralysis started washing over him.
The old lady moved to the head of the first bed and placed the peg on the sleeping boy’s forehead, raised the mallet, and brought it down with a swift blow. Seaforth’s eyes stood on stalks: he’d heard the bone splintering and the squish as the stake drilled into the boy’s brain. Desperate to scream out or run, unseen arms seemed to hold him in place and against every desire bind him spellbound in a paralytic fear. The old woman shuffled to the next bed. This time she placed the peg against the lad’s eyelid, unleashed the blow and drove it through the ocular cavity. Then, quite surprisingly she missed out the next few beds, as she made her way slowly, but oh so surely, around the room getting ever closer to the petrified Seaforth.
In her progression around the room the visitation drilled stakes into some of the boys heads, and missed out as many, and finally she stood at the foot of Seaforth’s bed. Seemingly hypnotised, he lay prone as the crone placed the sharp peg on his scalp. He could feel the pin-prick upon his scalp, and utterly unable to help himself he awaited the sickening crunch that would end it all. But it never came. Instead, she put the peg back into the bag, and then turned and looked at him with her wild eyes and tombstone teeth before stretching out long arms with bony fingers. She touched him on his ears. Smirking, she brought her arms back to her bag, redrew the mallet and stake and moved onto the next bed.
Finally, the old witch left by the door she came in, and as if released from a trance Seaforth’s fog cleared and he screamed out as hard as his lungs could manage in utter horror.
Outside, the nurse jumped at the most blood-curdling scream she had ever heard. The doctor in his study heard it too, and together they ran back down the corridor to the requisitioned infirmary. There they found Seaforth feverish, gibbering, insensible, and delusional. Between them they were able to calm him down and settle him again, and as he looked around the room he saw that all the others were fast sleep, just as they had been when the nurse had left the room. It had been a dream, an hallucination, no doubt brought on by the Scarlet Fever. The doctor however was intrigued, and he wrote down everything that boy said he’d seen while it was still fresh in his mind.
Over the course of the next couple of weeks the fever passed through the school, and as was the case with such a lethal disease not everyone made it. However, to the doctor’s amazement, and no doubt horror, all the boys that Seaforth saw having stakes drilled into their skulls were the ones who died of the fever; the boys passed over by the hag survived with no ill effects; and Lord Francis Mackenzie of Seaforth was left deafened by the disease. And, so began the fulfilment of an ancient prophecy – uttered by a condemned man being dragged to his death over 150 years earlier. That man was Kenneth Mackenzie: the Brahan Seer.
* * *
The Brahan Seer was a great prophet, famous in his own lifetime for predicting with uncanny precision the future, although it would take many centuries for some to be fulfilled. His master, the Earl of Seaforth, chief of the Mackenzies, was in Paris when Lady Seaforth invited the prophet to their castle of Brahan near Dingwall. The Seer had been given his gift by the Sidhe or fairy people, and could, on demand, see things beyond the ken of mere mortals. Lady Seaforth enquired after her husband, and while reluctant to tell his mistress the truth, her insistence eventually forced him to reveal that her husband was in the arms of another woman fairer than she.
In a fit of rage, Lady Seaforth had the Brahan Seer condemned for witchcraft, and he was ordered to be executed for the crime by being boiled alive in a barrel of tar. As he was dragged across the shingle at Channonry Point, he looked at Lady Seaforth and gave the last of his predictions: one that would curse her house and bring tragedy upon the last of the Caberfeidh, the chiefs of the Mackenzies.
I see far into the future, and I read the doom of the race of my oppressor.
The long-descended line of Seaforth will, ere many generations have passed,
End in extinction and Sorrow.
I see a chief, the last of his line, both deaf and dumb.
He will be father of four fair sons, all of whom he will follow to the tomb.
He will live careworn and die mourning, knowing he is the last of his house.
After lamenting over his last son his lands will pass to a white-hooded lassie
from the east, and she is to kill her sister.
As he looks around him, four chiefs in the time of the last Seaforth, shall be –
Buck-toothed, hare-lipped, half-witted and a stammer.
They shall be of the house of – Gairloch, Chisholm, Grant, and Raasay.
When he sees this, he will know his sons will die before him and he is the last
of the house of the Mackenzies of Seaforth.
A dove and a raven of pale plumage circled over the ashes of the Seer, and a dove alighted on his remains. Thus the fate of the Seaforths was sealed.
Francis Mackenzie was born in 1754, and despite being deaf he would go on to have a distinguished career both in the army and in politics. In 1793 he raised the Seaforth’s Highlanders, one of the famous regiments of the British army. Yet his life was full of sadness as well, and in later life, realising he was fulfilling the prophecy, he became increasingly melancholic. As predicted he would have four sons, and one by one they died. When his last two sons died in quick succession, Lord Seaforth never spoke again and was dead within the year. It is also understood that the various chiefs with the notable features described in the prophecy did indeed live in the time of the last Seaforth.
His lands passed to his daughter Mary, who was married to a British Admiral stationed out in India. Her husband died around the same time as her father, and when she arrived to claim the estate she was wearing mourning dress, which in India is white. Her husband’s name was Samuel Hood: she was indeed the white-hooded lassie from the east. There was a riding accident, in which her sister was killed and she blamed herself – from then on she couldn’t bear to live at the castle, and so left. The estate eventually passed to the Matheson family and thus Francis Mackenzie proved to be the last of his house.
Almost word for word the Brahan Seer’s prediction came true and many Mackenzies even today consider it a curse, a revenge for what was done to the prophet in the name of truth.
David McNicoll is the owner of Vacation Scotland, which specializes in tours and vacation packages to Scotland. Visit his site for more information. Original photo by Lutrus via Flickr under Creative Commons.