Drostan arose fae his mornin devotions and closed his book o The Gospels. He’d wrote and bound it fae the original himsel many years afore at Iona and like himsel the book wiz getting the waar o the weer. The thick leather bindin wiz worn by use an some o the folds were like tae disintegrate. Een o the monks back at Deer wiz affa gweed at leatherwork so he’d get him tae look at it fin he returned fae his retreat tae the Abbey.
Drostan heard the tap, tap, tap at the windae that owerlookit the steen altar he’d jist feenished prayin at. He smiled. This wiz the mornin ritual ivvery time he came here tae his cell at Aberdour bay. The tap tap tappin got mair insistent so he made tae open the wee windae. As he made tae dee this he wiz always struck by how clever the Picts were for the wee windae wisna glazed wi glaiss but wi cured fish skin scrappit till ye could near see fair throwe it. The mornin sun cast a warm pale yella licht intae his cell and ower the steen alter and even as important the fish skin keepit the caal breezes that were usual in this exposed place oot. Mair tappin and Drostan laachin tae himsel said
“Aricht ma quinie!” and opened the windae.
Standin there wiz his constant companion. A big aal craw that he caad Ruby. He’d saved her years afore fin she’d brook een o her wings an fae that day till this she’d nivver left him.
She stood there blinkin an haaf turnin her heed she lookit him up an doon afore jumpin in an settin hersel doon ontae the altar. Drostan’s face wiz a picter an fair lichted up as he made a fuss o the big aal craw by strokin her heed an spikkin tae as if a budy.
Her wing hid healed a bitty crookit giein her a bit stoop but she could flee for aa that. A devil’s bird some o the Celtic kirk said but Drostan nivver saw craws like that and in particular nae Ruby. The Picts held the craw in great veneration and even they were impressed fin they saw him walk forth wi the craw sittin atop the Holy Cross on a pole that Drostan always cairried fin he wiz oot and aboot in the district. Though the Picts were by nae means aa Christian at this point they themsels held Drostan in great store as a holy man and this holy man teen een o their pagan birds as his constant companion.
Ruby hoppit ower towards the lowin fire and set hersel doon at een o the binkies mutterin awa tae hersel jist like a budy drawin in aboot tae get some heat. Drostan teen the wee bowl he keepit some scraps for her and in nae time Ruby teemed the wee bowl then settled hersel doon and nodded aff. Drostan smiled kindly. Ivvery mornin she wint throwe the self same routine and Ruby liftit his spirits wi her antics. Drostan himsel hid a bowl o porridge for braakfast but the last speenfae wint intae Ruby’s bowlie for she likit a wee drappy porridge fin she awakened.
Drostan teen oot his wee three fittid stool an set it in front o the altar. Fae a shelf he teen doon his pen and ink pittin it tae the richt o the altar. Then fae a big leather satchel he teen oot his pride and joy. A massive tome o a beuk bound in deer skin. Inside wiz his life’s work faar he’d recorded much o his travels. Nae only that but he’d written extensively aboot the Picts, their beliefs, their wye o life, their language and a lot aboot the herbs they used tae cure illnesses.
The Picts spoke a language much like the Gaelic Drostan himsel spoke though wi a lot o different words and pronunciations. The book also recorded a lot aboot the grasses that grew in abundance here in the lands o the Buchan. There wiz pages and pages dedicated tae the grasses wi a lot o drawins showin their different stages o growth and notes o observations made ablow the drawins. Some hid even been coloured in but nae much o them for Drostan much preferred the ordinary pen and ink. Some o the monks back at the Abbey were affa gweed at makin illuminated manuscripts . But nae wye could he the Abbot let ony o them read his book because it wiz full o stuff that would be viewed as heresy especially aboot the Picts and their belief that stones were alive.
The subject o the stones fascinated Drostan and through time he’d tried tae find oot mair aboot this living stones and fit the carvins on some o them meant? He’d spoken tae a fyowe o their priests but neen were affa forthcomin and wid only tell him the carvins were tae pey homage tae their ancestors. Drostan kent there wiz much mair tae it than that but keepit gweed counsel and accepted fit he wiz tellt.
But his writins recorded some o his thoughts. One entry says that he noticed fae the distance how the Picts approached the symbol steens. They waalkit inaboot tae the steens wi their airms folded then they’d kneel in front wi their airms still folded then say some words. He wished he could hear fit they were sayin but the Picts wid nivver let him near enough for that so he’d jist hae tae dee wi at a distance. He did notice one thing though and that wiz the concentric rings were the maist used symbol. Different fingers o the richt haan wid be used and ran alang the grooves startin fae the ootside towards the centre as the person spoke. This wid often be repeated a fyowe times then the person folded their airms an arose walkin backwyes for twelve paces then turnin fae the steen. It wiz obvious tae Drostan the rings were for prayers o some kind and he observed that some fowk used different fingers. Through time and many observations that wiz the conclusion he’d come tae?
Eence he’d saw aicht men fae een o the bigger boats in the bey come tae een o the steens and there each teen a turn at kneelin and rinnin the first finger o their richt haan in the trochs o the circles while speakin tae the steen. So he concluded they micht’ve been askin their gods for a safe return? Quite a few pages were dedicated tae the standin steens and the different symbols on them.
Drostan’s cell at Aberdour stood faar the ancient kirkyard is noo on the brae on the richt o the Dour waters. At the ither side o the burn there wiz a group o standin steens aboot the place faar Mess John’s well is noo. That wiz the Pictish priests place and Drostan wiz nivver allowed near it because o an stupid act he’d deen as a young man. In fact that is why he preyed wi sic fervour ivvery mornin beggin forgiveness for that stupid act. Mair aboot that later.
Drostan’s cell wiz a steen built building built by the monks fae the Abbey o Deer usin the saansteen that wiz abundant at Aberdour. Jist roch cut blocks thegither wi mortar made fae clay mixed wi the jellied bree fae aff o biled seaweed that keepit the simple buildin ween an waterticht. The reef hid fower cruck trusses that gave the reef a haaf circular appearance like a Nissan hut. The reef wiz then covered by mats made fae woven grass then covered wi divits tae keep oot the weet. The biggin wiz nineteen feet lang an ten fit braid wi side waas aboot sax fit heich an curved gaivels at twal fit. The east waa hid ae wee windae faar his alter stood an richt across fae it on the opposite waa wiz the door tae the wast.
The gaivel at the North eyne hid a simple widdin lum an the fire jist a squaar pit lined wi the hard dark blae steen fae alang the coast. Abeen the fire there wiz an bronze bar stuck oot that could be swivelled abeen the fire tae cook in his bronze pot. At the left o the fire wiz his bed made intae a box oot o saansteen lined wi dry girss for a mattress and a couple o woollen blankets for tae haap himsel. Drostan smiled fin he mind foo the Picts were fair amazed at seein a steen built biggin for the first time. They maistly lived in roonhuts made o timmer wi cone reefs covered in divits or sometimes animal skins shewed the gither. They’d also some simple places undergrun faar they keepit milk and grain, they were lined wi steen though.
The Abbey o Deer itsel wiz o timmer construction but Drostan hid plans tae rebuild it wi steen in the future. He’d even drawins o some plans in his beuk.
Drostan wiz tall and rawbeened wi a slight stoop noo that the years were beginnin tae lay their haan on his tall strong frame. His hair wiz the colour o Summer’s straw wi een o cornflooer blue turnin tae purple dependin on the licht or if he wiz tired. His face wiz pleasin tae the ee wi a short beard the same colour as his hair but a wee bitty darker.
He spoke the Gaelic wi a safter lillt tae it than the Picts used it. They hid lots o different words but found it quite easy tae understand them as they understood him. He wrote in baith The Latin and the Gaelic and wiz kent tae aa as ‘Drostan the Scribe’ because he nivver wint onywye athoot his satchel o writin materials hingin fae his side.
Though Abbot o Deer Drostan nivver wielded the power o sic a man wi onything but decency and tolerance and that mair so aifter his stupid act o so many years afore. He vowed then that he’d nivver again interfere in fowk’s beliefs be they Pagan or Christian.
Drostan lived a gye austere life wi little luxuries but the greatest gift that could be given him wiz sheets o parchment tae write on. In this funnily enough it wiz the Picts that keepit him supplied wi the parchment even though they themsel didnae seem tae hae much in the wye o writin apart fae carvins on steens. That wiz gye handy for Drostan because he couldna hae used the official parchments sent doon fae Moray for tae write his beuk.
A couple o the monks back at the Abbey were Picts. Een o them in particular wiz learnin tae be a scribe and hid an amazing ability makkin illuminated manuscripts. The ither Kenniff by name kent so much aboot the local herbs and grasses that he’d become a particular favourite o Drostan due tae baith their interests on that subject. He vrocht in the infirmary at Deer and lookit aifter the health o the monks and ony locals that came in for treatment.
Drostan wiz soft spoken and hid nivver been heard tae raise his voice in anger.
The clyse he wore wiz as simple as they were austere. A habit wi a hood made oot o the course local wool caad hodden wi a belt o the same wuppit aroon the middle. The locals dyed their wool in different colours but aa monks wore habits o the natural colour. On his feet wiz the Pictish type shoes that came up weel ower the ankles made o deer skin wi a thicker ox leather for soles. In the Buchan a budy needed that for the climate that wiz maistly caal an weet.
Fin he wint abroad on affairs o office his uncle Columbic’s bell wis cairriet tae his front by een o the monks on a pole so that at each step it rang oot tae let the fowk ken the Abbot wiz aboot his Christian business and could be approached for blessings. Passin throwe the various settlements Drostan would be asked for coontless blessings even though maist o the population were as yet Pagan in their beliefs. Drostan himsel wiz once a Pagan till converted tae Christianity as a bairn by his uncle Columba so he understood a fair bit aboot them. Also wi him haein his big aal craw Ruby sittin aheed o the cross he cairriet wint a lang wye in crossin the divide.
Fowk wid gither roon him many askin tae touch his hair for they’s nivver seen onybody wi hair that licht. Drostan allowed them tae dee that even though it wiz a distinctly Pagan custom in so deein. It wiz common tae the Picts in the Buchan faa believed if you touched the hair you were in touch wi the dream o the before an aifter times. And wi Drostan bein so licht coloured getting leave tae handle his hair wiz lookit on as a particulary good omen or blessing.
He’d tour the four Holy healing waals that lay within the policies o the kirk and there hud wee stations and prayers. He did the same wi the one lochan at Pitfoor owerlookin the the Abbey o Deer. Lastly he’d gyang on his ain tae the standin steens at Aikey and there he’d perform devotions while waakin on his knees roon each steen gyan as the sun’s course beggin forgiveness fae God and the Pagan Gods for his stupid act o so many years afore. He’d feenish by sittin atap the big recumbent steen wi the tears o misery and shame rinnin doon his chiks unheeded.
It hid aa started fin he’d been made the Abbot o Deer by his uncle Columba faa hid tellt him tae rule wisely and wi prudence in dealing wi his abbey and the local peoples.
Drostan being young nodded in agreement withoot really understandin fit wise words his uncle hid jist imparted tae him. Columba teen his leave o Drostan doon at the shore o Aberdour and legend tells us that Drostan cast tears at this farewell and faar his tears touched the grun bonny clear water began tae bubble up fae that spot. Now Drostan noted this in his beuk merely as nonsense for the well wiz already there as it hid been for many many years and used by the Picts at Aberdour as a Pagan Holy waal. Drostan indeed did cast tears on Columba’s leavin tae gyang back tae Iona and Columba in one last act on his farewell put his blessings on the waal and embraced Drostan for baith kent they’d nivver meet again. Columba wi a sad hert climbed aboord the vessel that wiz tae tak him tae Iona and stood at the stern wavin tae Drostan till the vessel wint oot o sicht roon the heedland o Fiddes. Drostan hid stood for a lang time lookin oot at the sea his hert feelin like a lump o lead and his stamaach churnin. He knelt and gave a prayer for his uncle’s safe journey and askit o God tae gee him the wisdom tae be a decent and fair Abbot.
For the first fyowe years athing hid wint well and the Picts though distrustful o the strangers in their midst at first began tae accept their presence. It wiz Drostan that hid much tae dee wi this change by his gan oot amongst the people nae as a Christian wieldin a rod o iron as some did in ither places but merely as a man interested in them and their wyes. The lands o Deer hid been granted tae the Celtic church by een o the Monemaer’s that ruled ower part o the Buchan aifter Columba and Drostan hid prayed for the Monemaer’s favourite son that lay near tae death. The laddie hid made a full recovery so in thanks Columba and Drostan were given the lands o Deer for as lang as ‘green girss grew an clear waater ran.’
Noo within the policies o the kirk lay the steen circle spoken o earlier. Fin Drostan started tae dee his rounds as the Abbot he got tae hear aboot the holy rowan tree that grew in the centre o the steen circle and aboot it’s magic healing powers. He’d been tellt by een o the Pictish priests that the tree grew health geein roddens in great abundance for sax years then on the seventh year it grew barren o berries but in that year it grew big pods the size o a man’s heed intae the cruick o the tree. An fae this pods wee man bodys aboot twa fit heich hatched oot like an egg. The priest caad them limpachs and this wee fowk attended the tree and steens ivvery need and made a wine fae the roddens collected and dried by the priests fae the sax years afore. Noo accordin tae legend the medicine fae the roddens cured maist athing that could deeve a body. The Pagan priests handed oot a beaker o this wine ilka mornin tae them as needed.
Noo Drostan for some reason teen a set against this tree and because the tree wiz on the gruns o the kirk he ordered it felled. This created a gye stramash amongst the fowk an they even tried tae get their Monemaer involved tae stop him. But as the lands hid been given tae the kirk for as lang as green girss grew an clear waaters ran nithing could be deen tae save the tree.
Twa widmen were called and they reluctantly set tae work but only as far as the first swing o the aix. The tree screamed fae it in anger and pain. Leastwyes that’s fit they said as they ran awa. Drostan staanin there hid heard nithing o the kind. The result o aa this ongyans wiz that the widmen refused an wid hae nithing mair tae dee wi it. Eventually Drostan got twa monks that were widmen doon fae the Abbey at Clova tae fell the tree. The local fowk were affa angry at losin their Holy tree and it teen many months afore things settled doon. Drostan hid been on his high horsie aa the while even ignorin the words fae Columba ‘Tae rule wisely an wi prudence’ Columba’s words were tae come back and haunt Drostan thus settin the course for a lifetime o shame.
It come aboot this wye. The very next year a plague o sorts hut the district an laid its caal haan o death across the fowk. At first there wiz as muckle wine in storage tae cure the first infections but as it spread the wine seen ran oot an aifter that many fowk deet o the plague. Drostan at last realisin his mistake tried tae mak amends by gan in amongst the ill and sayin prayers for them. Aa his prayers proved useless and he stood lookin on helplessly as men, weemin and bairns deet in their droves. He even asked God tae infect him as a punishment for fit he in his stupidity hid deen tae the peer fowk. But God it seemed hid ither plans for Drostan? A life time o shame wiz tae be his lot poor man. Fae that day on ivvery mornin at the dawnin he preyed for forgivneness and for the souls o them he’d sentenced tae death by cuttin doon their Holy tree. This stupid senseless act though made Drostan een o the best Abbots in the whole o Pictland. Ivver aifter he nivver wid interfere in people’s beliefs be they Pagan or Christian? If they wanted tae convert tae Christianity he wid help them, if no he left them tae believe as they wanted. But he’d help abody tae mak their lives worth the livin and treated all wi decency and tolerance.
As the years passed Drostan wrote as much as he could intae his big tome o a beuk. The only ither person that hid ivver yet read some o it wiz Kenniff the Pictish monk. Kenniff hid become a life lang freen o Drostan’s and a pact hid been made atween the twa o them that on Drostan’s death he Kenniff wiz tae tak the beuk up tae the Abbot o Clova for safe keeping.
Drostan deet at the cell at Aberdour aboot the year 602 AD in his fifty seventh year. Kenniff hid been in attendance at his last illness and hid tried aa the herbs he could tae save him but tae nae avaul. Fin Kenniff entered the cell in the mornin Drostan lay in his bed as if still asleep. Kenniff kent he wiz gone because his big craw lay across his chest in the same state as her maister wi her wings spread and her heed restin ablow Drostan’s chin as if she’d been tryin tae gee him bosies.
Kenniff owerseen his beerial under the fleer o the cell and seen tae it that Ruby wiz placed aside him.
A church wid later be built on that spot and bits o it still staans at Aberdour tae this very day.
Kenniff left the Abbey o Deer and made his wye tae the Abbey at Clova cairryin Drostan’s beuk. On it he’d carved on the leather cover ‘Drostan’s Tears’ but Kenniff and the beuk nivver reached Clova and nae sicht norr soon o Kenniff wiz ivver tae be heard or seen upon this earth again.
Now! Ye’ll be winnderin why a semiliterate man likes o me kens so muckle aboot Drostan fin the scholars ken virtually nithing aboot him ava apart fae wee bitties in different writings aboot ither Saints?
Drostan wiz canonised lang lang aifter his death and apart fae some fragments aboot him nithing now remains. That apart fae on his beerial three locks o his hair wiz teen only one o which is sill known tae be in existence and great cures hiv been attributed tae it. It’s me that his tae tak up the next story aboot Drostan fourteen centuries aifter his time.
Now here’s how it wiz that I ken so muckle?
In the year nineteen sixt aicht I got a job vrochtin at Gillespie Hoose and a richt placie it wiz- - - - - ? But fitivver it’ll mak yer very bleed rin caal an the hairs on the back o yer neck birss up like a cat’s and rob ye o sleep for wikks if nae months tae come? For the next installment ye’d best read Saint Drostan’s Tears part two: Gillespie Hoose next week .
Drostans tears is in twa pairts, as we gang fae Phase 1 to Phase 2 Lockdoon... dinna forget yer dose o' the Doric, an come back neist wik.
A series of longer stories from Sanners Gow's collected works to entertain you through lockdoon an' beyont.