Bertram de Shotts


“So, tell me what you know of Bertram de Shotts,” Willielmo said into the flickering semi-darkness.

“Hodon,” Baird said. The miller had only introduced himself moments before. He was short and gruff, but there was a certain sharpness to his eyes, glinting out between a pair of heavy sideburns. His home was scented of drying peat and livestock, and there was a broth bubbling over the middle fire. “Mags!”

“Whit?” came a woman’s voice from outside.


“Whit is it?” There was a hiss of rain as the door swung, and in came Maggie holding a hen by its legs. The bird eyed Willielmo calmly from its upturned vantage. Its wee neck pumping in the glowing and receding light.

“Mags, the lad’s askin aboot big Bertram.”

“He’s a stain that een,” Maggie said, pulling on the tie of her cloak. She hung it on a hook near the fire. “Count yersel lucky if you never bare sicht of the man.” Maggie was a stout woman. Thick arms, woolly hair, sharp voice.

“Actually,” Willielmo said, looking into the fire, “I’m here tae see Bertram.”

“Well… eh… yer here tae see um?” Baird said. His hair was waning over the crown and his breechs and undershirt were frayed and torn in places. He was on the other side of the fire, poking at a swathe of peat that had fallen off the main stack.

“Aye, I’ve been sent,” Willielmo said. The young laird had earlier run up to the small home, off the Great Road of the Shire cutting through Shotts. A slight village. A smattering of stone and wooden buildings nestled in the waterlog between the split forks of the Curry Burn and the South Calder Water. As the young Willielmo neared the village, a summer storm had come on in sheets, so he’d knocked at the miller’s door, asking for hospitality. The couple had been happy to take him on for the night, pleased at some company besides themselves.

“Fae who?” Baird said. “Where’d you say you were fae? Muirhead?”

“Aye, but I’ve been sent by Robert.”

“Robert McAvoy? He’s an odd wan, that man.”

“Robert the Third.”

“Oh,” the stick paused in the fire, the tip catching on the burning peat.

“Oh, oh, oh. You should’ve said,” Maggie said, running over. She took a knee next to Willielmo. “A royal envoy in oor hame. A’d have goat something better than this scraggly hen.” She gave it a shake, and the hen flapped a wing limply. Its eyes shifting and darting.

“Och no, don’t fret,” Willielmo said, settling into his stool. “I’ve no been sent personally by the King. He simply called for a man wae a blade to take care ae it.” The young laird shifted awkwardly, looking out across the room. The roof was dripping in places, and great shadowy figures danced behind Baird, cast from the fire. The miller eyed the lad grimly. “I thank ye fer yer kindness,” Willielmo said, “an fer lettin us oot the rain.”

Willielmo de Muirhead was of average build. His face was sharp and angular, and he was dressed in auld, worn travelling clothes, still dripping wet. Leaning on the wall beside him was a sheathed braidsword with a wrapped hilt.

“Aoidheil, son. It’s oor pleasure,” Mags said, giving Baird a look.

“Right enough, son,” Baird said, catching that look.

“So, tell me about this Bertram,” Willielmo said.

“Highwayman, robber, murderer. A big lad, a giant, yet he moves with a surprising grace and steadiness,” Baird said. “He’s strang, like a tree, and he haunts the great road. Sleeps it rough oot on the moors.”

“Oh aye?” Willielmo said, a shadow crossing his brow. “Ken where I may find um?”

“Dan Herder’s son saw um just last week,” Baird said, looking tae Maggie again, “It wiz out near Kate’s Well. Just aff Saint Catherine’s Chapel, west ways.”

“I know it,” Willielmo said.

“Aye, Dan’s son, shepherds, wiz gettin a refill on his waterskin and the big een, Bertrum, strode up behind um. Groon shakin wi every step.” Baird poked at the stack again, plunging a fiery eye into the peat. “Dan’s son tried tae run, but in two great strides, big Bertram grabbed the boy by his scruff and broke the poor tyke over wan knee. Boy’s been a limpin wreck since. Bertram made off wi his pocket contents and a sheep under each airm, see.” The little man stood up out of his stool and held his arms round, long shadows bleating behind him up the wall. “Big lad, see?”

“Right, so where might a man like that sell a sheep?”

“Sell? Naw that wiz the giant’s breakfast, I’ll tell ee.” Baird said, sitting down with a groan. “So, whit’s the King’s interest?”

“He’s got some landowners fillin his ear wi bile on it. Offered a hawksflight to any who can deal wi the problem.”

“Hawksflight’s nothing tae bite yer thumb at,” Mags said. She lifted the hen onto a table behind Baird and grasped its neck between finger and thumb. A sharp twist and then she started on the feathers.

“Good luck on ye,” Baird said, grinning. “Needin a hond?”

Maggie looked up sharply, pulled a wooden spoon out the broth, followed by a slurry of bailing water, and slapped Baird hard on the arm with it. “You’ll no be aff fighting giants. Think I’m gonnae grind that mill on my ain, aye?” Baird recoiled, falling backwards, but Mags wasn’t deterred. She came at him again, dropping the half-plucked hen. “I’ll skelp ye all nicht if need be. Auld coot.”

Willielmo de Muirhead grinned and looked back into the fire. Black ash flaking and hissing out of the peat. An earthy smell. The young laird was no coward, but still; tales of a giant lifting two sheep rattled his mind as he bedded himself down after a hearty stew. Willielmo was the only son of the laird of Muirhead, tired of resting on his family’s laurels. A lad descended from mighty Norman stock, or so they said. A lad whose father had known battle with James Douglas at Otterburn, or so they said. A lad who had grown out of his youth to seek his ain fortune. A spear to the gut, along with the death of Douglas, took the spirit ae Willielmo’s father, but no such horrors had been witnessed by the young rabbit Willielmo. The lad thirsted for more. Dark of hair and strong of arm, so they said.

When morning came, Willielmo de Muirhead bid goodbye to the millers, taking a rolled oatcake and a wedge of cheese for the road. On the old miller’s heed, he hiked out to Kate’s Well. A rocky ring bubbling saintly water. On his way, Willielmo spotted a tussock of heather, and a plan began to form. The young laird cut some free, tying a bundle. As he continued his hike, he added more and more brush to the stack, tied at the base with a length of yarn.

When Muirhead arrived at Kate’s Well, just off the main path to the south of the Shotts Burn, he spotted two drops of blood on a lower well-stone, shaded from the rain, and to the front he spied a patch of marked ground. Signs of a struggle with that boy, no doubt. Towards the back of the well, on a walked path out onto the moor, there was a set of wide prints. The young laird put a hand to a boot mark on the soft earth. A great, deep heel and a long foot. The millers weren’t at jest when they called Bertram de Shotts a giant. The prints seemed to double over and continue out. Willielmo followed for a few paces but then spied more, older prints coming in the opposite direction. The giant frequented this well, so Willielmo pulled up his bundle of heather on one side, leaving a small space behind for himself. He then drew his braidsword and waited.

In Willielmo’s short life, he had oft been in unfair fights. As a youth, the local boys had called him ‘rabbit,’ the harshness coming to a head when he ran into a group of them at a local inn. The boys teased the young laird and the fiery Willielmo had struck out at one, catching a jaw. He had a mighty rage when he was small, but the boys surrounded him. Fury at the rabbit’s kick. Shoving him, clubbing him. Calling him that name as he ran, dribbling, to the Muirhead family home. A small home for a lesser laird. An important lesson was learned on drunken heels and was distilled that night as his mother dabbed linen at his eyes. “Yer faether would never willingly fight a losing battle. Foolishness only breeds disdain, boy.” She scrubbed hard at an open wound above his eye, digging out a mark of dirt. Willielmo winced and she said, “If you fight, you only dae it if you can win. A waste ae yer ain muther’s time, otherwise.” The next time Willielmo came to town, he cornered that boy who had first uttered the word ‘rabbit.’ He who picks the battle wins, and the rabbit caught the stoat. Willielmo beat the other lad bloody with a length of wood, and the name of rabbit was forgotten by all but himself.

The day progressed, the sun flitting overhead. The ground damp below. Soon, Willielmo heard a sound. A grumbling, humming sound, and sets of heavy footfalls. A towering giant bumbled up the walked path. The man was huge, cast in shadow. Almost double in height to the rabbit Willielmo, and under one arm he carried a dead sheep, still intact, with its tongue hanging loose. The giant, still humming to himself, strode up to the well and, dipping a wooden bowl into the water, he pulled up a mouthful and sipped. The giant seemed relaxed, steady. Not the way a man, hunted by the King, should be. Willielmo edged closer, through his camouflage, and the giant leaned down again, still humming as the holy water dribbled down his great chin. From Muirhead’s vantage, he saw the giant’s two exposed legs, arse bent over the well-stones.

 The young laird’s hands sweated. He slowed his loaded breathing and inched closer, gripping the hilt of his braidsword. The giant took another sip and in one smooth movement, oor Willielmo burst from the brush, running behind the giant with blade outstretched. He sliced clean Bertram’s two hamstrings. A great snapping sound and a gush of red. The giant bellowed, whipping round to grasp Willielmo, but the lad was quick. He leapt back and the giant flailed. With a thud, that shook the low ring of trees, Bertram de Shotts fell to the ground. Red mixing with the wet earth. It was then that Willielmo saw the face of the giant. It was grizzled and muddied. A great red beard fell from a laughing chin. Wild eyes, like a snared hare.

“Man, sneak, yer braidsword is keen,” the giant said, grinning. His hands were slick with blood, his fingers burrowing into the wet earth. He spoke in a bellowing, lyrical tone. “Tis sharper than mine, tho a doot no sae clean. For never wiz mine we sic treachery drawn. It wiz aye faced a foe wi a blade in his haun. I look for no mercy for a name I can trace,”[1] he said, lunging again at the young laird.

Muirhead sidestepped, letting the beast flail. He looked upon the huge, fallen man, and then he looked to the well of St Kate and said, “She who suffered the plague of Siena, so tae do we suffer the plague of Bertram de Shotts. I offer you this.” Willielmo de Muirhead stepped forward and grasped the giant’s beard, wrenching the laughing head upward. “Lauch at the face of Muirhead,” Willielmo said, and he swung his blade, hacking at the bulging neck. Two swings, three, and it came away. The giant’s body fell in a heap at the foot of the well and Willielmo held up the still smirking face.

Many days passed on the road, but soon enough, in the shadow of Arthur’s seat, Willielmo de Muirhede brought the giant’s head to the King’s court. Muirhead strode in, cloak dripping wet, holding the great head by its hair, the fearful eyes still wide. The hawksflight was awarded to the cunning gaisgeach. A parcel of land named Lauchope, for the giant’s laugh. He was granted the three acorns in the seed, and the crest of two hands holding a sword.[2]

The motto, ‘Auxilio Dei.’

Wi the help ae God.

[1] As written in Robert Dangster’s poem, (1922): Maxine Ross: The legend of the Giant, Bertram De Shotts and William Muirhead of Lauchope (

[1] Other information can be found in the Muirhead clan history:

Published by friggintoby


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