Edinburgh January 1746
the streets of Edinburgh are no longer safe to walk as a maniac stalks young women and the homeless. His victims come from all levels of society but the city council want things hushed up through fear that they may lose their own privileged positions it is down to Robert Young and his wife Euphemia to ensure that justice is delivered. Meanwhile for Sergeant MacIan ghosts from his past return as flesh and blood and he is forced to face a decision made in haste now means life will never be the same again.
From the filth and squalor of the city’s back lanes to the splendour of a country house in the Pentland Hills, they face a race against time to unmask a killer before the music dies on the last dance.
Slumped in a doorway of a tenement in Riddle’s Court was the body of an elderly man dressed in the dirty, threadbare clothes of a vagrant. To the casual observer he simply looked asleep and a dozen or more people had passed him that morning already without giving him a second glance but as MacIan knelt by him it was obvious the man was no longer in the land of the living. Pushing the head back to show the man’s face he shook his head as he failed to recognise him. There were no obvious wounds to be seen but with the other death of a homeless man still fresh in mind MacIan raised an eyelid to see an eye pink from broken burst vessels. Gently he lowered the head again before climbing back to his feet with an audible groan as his knees protested at the abuse.
Still looking down at the corpse he said quietly, “who found the body?”
“That girl over there sergeant” replied Guardsman Neil Anderson who stood by him.
“She doesn’t speak much in the way of Scots, but she saw us out on the Lawnmarket and practically dragged us in here.”
“Send her o’er and I’ll question her.” While Anderson went to fetch the girl MacIan snarled at the other guardsmen to clear the small courtyard of gawpers which they happily did much to the displeasure of those who hadn’t yet managed to get a good look at the body.
“Here she is sergeant, I don’t know her name” Anderson said as he gently pushed a familiar figure towards MacIan who found himself smiling at the nervous face before him. Behind Anderson the onlookers were forced back through the pend and into the other slightly larger courtyard closer to the main street.
“Hello again lass,” he said in Gaelic. “We seem to me meeting each other all the time these days eh? Where’s the wee one?”
The girl smiled weakly towards him while trying to keep her eyes away from the dead man who lay at their feet. “She’s with her Grandmother Sir. She’s seen enough death in her life already without letting her see this poor soul. I promised her that she would see no more killing or suffering once we got to the city.”
“Were you following the Prince’s army?” MacIan asked thinking the family had seen the aftermath of one of the battles fought over the last few months but the girl shook her head.
“You don’t need to follow them to see suffering!” she spat bitterly. “The war came to our own door, kicked it down, forced us out of our home at the point of their bayonets then burned it down while we watched!”
“Who did this?”
“The King’s soldiers from a ship. They came ashore with the sailors hunting for our men saying they were all out with the prince. When they couldn’t find them they punished us instead…” Her eyes sparkled with anger and grief but she raised her chin defiantly as she said, “the few men still there were the lame and the old. They were shot down or taken away in chains. We had nowhere left to go but Glasgow. We were made as welcome in that place as a mad dog. The Prince and his army had not long left there so it was made plain we couldn’t stay if we valued our lives so we came over the land to find ourselves here.”
“You say they shot the men? Why?”
“Why do you think? You wear that jacket soldier! They are saighdear dearg. It is what they do. They shot our men because they couldn’t find the men who wield the swords and muskets against them so our men had to die in their stead, and they call this fair punishment for rebellion! Not a man from my glen willingly joined the army of the Prince but were forced out or our chief would have been the one to burn down our homes for failing to answer his call.”
MacIan nodded slowly. “And your man? Is he with the rebels?”
She shook her head. “No. He thought himself a fisherman instead of a farmer, but he would have been safer on dry land. He drowned when Aliene was less than a year old. Stupid man! He never could do anything right!” She sighed deeply but still refused to show any weakness before a ‘red soldier‘ and her chin had a defiant tilt to it as she added.
“It is probably just as well he drowned for he would have been the first to join the Prince and think it all just a grand adventure then go and get himself shot the first chance he got.”
Stuart S. Laing was born and raised on the east coast of Scotland in the ancient Pictish Kingdom of Fife Stuart grew up looking across the Firth of Forth towards the spires and turrets of the city of Edinburgh and its castle atop its volcanic eyrie.
He has always been fascinated by the history of Auld Reekie and has spent most of his life studying Scottish history in all its aspects whenever he finds the time between family, work and the thousand and one other things that seek to distract him.
Despite the vast panorama of Scotland’s history he always find himself being drawn back to the cobbled streets of the Old Town. Those streets have provided the inspiration for his stories and characters.
He would urge all visitors to Scotland’s ancient capital to (briefly) venture into one of the narrow closes running down from the Royal Mile to get a flavour of how alive with mischief, mayhem, love and laughter these streets once were.
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