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On the date 02/02/2020, the United Kingdom had left Bruxelles by 3 days on the note of Scottish music, even if Scotland is clearly against Brexit. Another time England and Scotland are enemies.

Once upon a time, Sir Walter Scott told us that the rivalry between these two countries was overcome through the Love and the cunning of a wee lassie.

(From Sir Walter Scott’s Minstrelsy of the Scottish Borders)

This is a story from the Scottish Borders. These were once known as the “Debatable Lands” when the Scots and the English would cross the Border to raid each other’s houses and land. Many traditional tales of long ago involve the gallant hero rescuing the fragile maiden. In this story, the heroine, Jean, decides to rescue herself.

Jean of Mortonhall was in love with William of Aikenwood and William of Aikenwood was in love with Jean of Mortonhall. Good and well, you might say, but you would be wrong. For Aikenwood lay just north of the Border in the wild and beautiful countryside of bonny Scotland, while Mortonhall was a few miles south of the Border in the fair sweet land of England. And at the time of this story the English and the Scots did not get along together at all.

They ran off with each other’s livestock and set fire to each other’s castles and keeps. The Border reivers rode up and down the Border plundering and fighting and stealing sheep and cattle and generally behaving badly and causing trouble. Who was the most to blame was anyone’s opinion, so I’ll leave it up to yourself to be the judge of that.

Jean’s father, the Earl of Mortonhall, had eight pretty daughters. He had warned that under no circumstances were any one of them even to smile at a Scotsman, far less talk to one. Never in their lifetime would he allow them to visit Scotland, and he said that he would kill any Scotsman who entered through his gate.

This caused Jean, who was the youngest and prettiest, much distress and unhappiness. Many months previously, when riding out with her sisters, she had lost her way and wandered over the Border and into Aikenwood. She had stopped to let her horse drink a little stream and there she had met William, a handsome young Scotsman. The two of them had at once fallen deeply in love.

William of Aikenwood was a fine hunter. He rode out each day with his hounds and his horses, his goshawk sitting proudly on the leather gauntlet on his left arm. Now this hawk had very special powers. As well as being a swift and deadly prince of the skies, it could think and talk almost as well as humans. Indeed, in some cases, better. And it wasn’t long before the bonny bird noticed that its master was pining away.

“What ails thee, sire?” asked the clever goshawk. “I see that thy mind is not on the hunt today.”

“That is true, my bonny bird,” said William sadly. “ “Neither my mind nor my heart is with thee this morn. They are far, far away acroos the Border with my own dear Jean.” He sighed heavily as he thought of how they could never be together. “I cannot even speak to her,” he went on. “I am not allowed within sight of her, yet I want to tell her how much I dearly love her and wish to marry her.”

The bird turned its bright black eyes on William and said, “Write out your message and I will fly straight and sure with it to thine own true love.”

The lady Jean was sitting in her flower garden with her seven sisters when a strange bird came and settled in a nearby birch tree. Jean watched this bird as it began to sing. First, it sang sweet and low. Then it sang loud and clear. And as it sang Jean thought she heard it say her name over and over. “Jean,” trilled the bird,

Jeanie, Jeanie, Fairest flower o’ England, Jeanie,

Bend thy head and list to me

Jenaie, Jeanie, bonny Jeanie.

Jean stood up, left her sisters and came towards the branch where the bird sat.

“Why do you speak my name?” she asked, and she stretched out her hand.

The goshawk fluttered its feathers and William’s message fell to the ground. Jean read his letter telling her that he would go each day to St Mary’s Kirk near Aikenwood, where he wanted to marry her. He wrote that he hoped she would come to him and that he would wait for her until the end of time.

Jean thought for a while nd then she smiled a merry smile.

“Tell your mster I will be there,” she said, “and that he must listen for the sound of bells.”

Straightaway she went to see her father.

“Father,” Jean spoke up bravely, “you would never allow me to spend my life in Scotland, but would you allow me to spend my death there?”

“Daughter,” her father replied, “I do not understand your question.”

“It is not a question that I ask of you,” Jean replied, “but a boon that I beg. Grant me this wish. When I die I should like to be dressed in a linen shroud and carried forth upon a bier to rest in St Mary’s Kirk.”

Her father laughed long and long. “I fear it is you who will be first to see me at rest,” he said, “but if it pleases you, then I will grant you your wish.”

Jean then spoke to her sisters. “If I should die,” she said, “will you make me a shroud of finest cloth? Also, to mark my passing, I would like each of you to fasten a little silver bell upon it.”

Her sisters tried to coax away gloomy thoughts but finally they promised to do as Jean sked them.

Jean hurried through the castle halls to her chamber. There sge prepared a strong sleeping potion and drank it down. Her eyes closed, her cheeks turned pale and everyone thought she was died.

Her sisters cme and stood over her. They could not rouse her. Then they lamented sorely at the loss of their youngest sister, but in keeping with her last wishes they sewed her a white lines shroud and each of them stitched a silver bell to the side.

The next morning they laid Jean on oaken bier and carried her over the Border into Scotland towards Aikenwood. As the sad procession wound its way slowly to the Kirk of St Mary, all the little bells tinkled one by one, just as Jean had planned.

Deep in the surrounding forest, William of Aikenwood heard the bells ringing. He stretched out his arm and his faithful goshawk flew down to rest upon his wrist. Together they rode swiftly to St Mary’s Kirk.

When the funeral party left, William slipped quietly into the tiny chapel. He strode down the aisle and ged at his beloved Jean. Her face was as white as the lily flower and her cheek as cold as the snow on the Border hills. He knelt beside her and took her hand gently in his own. Then the rosy colour came back to her face and lips. She opened her eyes and smiled at her gallant.

“I am happy to be here with you, my love,” said the Lady Jean.

“As I am with thee,” said William of Aikenwood.

(from "An illustrated Treasury of Scottish Folk and Fairytales" written by Theresa Breslin and Kate Leiper. )


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