Doon Hill, Dunbar, Scotland
1 September 1650
Me needs to get back to me mum, thought John Law.
“Aye Law, stop dreaming and get moving,” called out a comrade.
A fourteen-year old John Law surveyed the hoof prints in the soggy
ground and resumed his ascent of Doon Hill, the easternmost summit of
Scotland’s Lammermuir Hills. He avoided the clumps and divots kicked
up by the cavalry and reached a plateau. There, he stood among other
pike men while holding his pike erect. He looked down the slope and
followed the Brox Burn as it slashed through the wooded glen and emptied
into the Firth of Forth. On a sliver of flat land between the Doon Hill
and the Firth was a salt laden golf course, which was now occupied by
Cromwell’s English Parliamentarian army. Behind the army, the Firth
flowed into the seemingly endless North Sea. The masts of the English
ships, which bobbed in a stiff breeze, were as tight as a comb’s
teeth. John was initially frightened at the sight until he realized he
was out of range of their cannons. As he thought further, he realized
the English forces were a mile and a half away and had their backs to
the sea. He was out of range of their cannons, too, and Cromwell’s
options for movement were severely limited, which his young mind sensed
was an advantage for the Scots.
He shifted his eyes further east and followed the Coxsburnpath, the main
road south out of Dunbar to Berwick, England. The Scottish Royal troops
were amassed on high ground, close to the road. East of the Coxsburnpath
was a beach with Scottish forces on it and beyond them, the North Sea.
An English retreat south seemed effectively blocked. In front of the
road and nearer to John stood a few clusters of corn stalks on barren
fields. John had heard the Scots had stripped the countryside bare ahead
of the advancing English to limit their food supply. Now, he saw the
effect of their destruction.
John rubbed his pale blues to ease the sting caused by salty mist being
constantly driven into them. A gust fluttered his salt laden cheek fuzz,
and he brushed at the tingle it created. Annoyed, he turned out of the
wind, and his red locks flew from his neck and fluttered until the gust
subsided. He surveyed his more immediate surroundings as the cold wind
drove into his back. He was among Scottish cavalrymen, pike men,
musketeers, and a few dozen short-range cannons, which covered the
hillside. He was heartened by the display of force. Scottish officers, a
few garbed in black, many in scarlet with white-laced collars and cuffs
trimmed with gold or silver laces, bounced in unison with their
horses’ prance. Some wore blue woolen brimmed hats, and others donned
steel helmets imported from the Continent. Their shoulder length hair
flowed in the breeze. The officers were a spectacle of wealth that
impressed John and increased his confidence.
The Scottish Royal forces, under the command of General Leslie, were
loyal to King Charles II ever since The Covenanters had proclaimed
him King of Great Britain a few months earlier. The newly proclaimed
King’s father, Charles I, had been executed by Lord Cromwell eighteen
months earlier, in January 1649, at Whitehall, London. Cromwell,
commander of the English Parliamentarian forces, became infuriated by
the Covenanters action and invaded Scotland from Berwick in late July.
Over the ensuing weeks and knowing the Scottish troops were not
battle-hardened, General Leslie avoided a direct confrontation with
Cromwell, a man he knew quite well. Five years earlier, they had fought
together. Then, Leslie led a cavalry charge for a wounded Cromwell at
the Battle of Marston Moor in West York, which ensured an English
victory. As September approached, the English forces, demoralized by
their failed attempt to seize Edinburgh and weakened from pursuing the
evasive Scottish forces, drew back to their supply depot at Dunbar,
Scotland. However, Leslie, sensing their retreat, reached Dunbar ahead
of Cromwell and held the high ground on Doon Hill.
John turned back toward the North Sea to face an endless gale. He tried
to braid his hair, but it was useless. As he endured a lashing from
snapping tresses, his mood soured. Me have failed me father so. He
continued to dwell on his failure until the sun broke through the clouds
and reflected off his pike. As the clouds pulled back, the endless wave
of pikes, held erect by numb hands, created a rolling wave of brilliance
that lit up Doon Hill. John’s mood brightened. He hoped the shock of
radiance would blind the enemy below and terrify them into surrendering.
But the clouds rolled back quickly, and a squall ensued. John wrapped
his arms while struggling to hold his pike. He quivered until the rumble
from a large blue flag with a white cross distracted him. ‘COVENANT
for Religion Croune and Countrie’ rippled in the breeze, important
words to the Covenanters, but still meaningless to John.
“Here laddies, eat hearty,” said the syrupy voice belonging to Angus
MacTavish, the sergeant in charge of food provisions.
John eased his shoulders back and laid his pike on the ground. The
meager warmth, which huddling had created, vanished, and he shivered
again. After several stiff-legged steps, his leg muscles regained life.
He reached the swarm around MacTavish and jostled with others to ensure
he would get fed this day since there had never been enough food. Most
believed MacTavish and his minions ate more than their fair share, and
MacTavish sold additional rations before ever serving the troops.
A cold blob of gruel was slung into John’s cup as he was handed a slab
of bread. MacTavish sat, smiling with his hands resting on his belly. He
had a basket full of bread at his side, which John sensed he would sell
later. May God strike that bastard dead, thought John as he exited the
“Sit among us, laddie,” said a beckoning Malcolm Dinsmour. John was
surprised as Malcolm was a highlander, who kept minimal contact with the
recently recruited lowlanders. He and his cronies were the few veterans
in the Scottish Royal Forces who had survived the Scottish defeat at the
Battle of Preston two years earlier. They seldom mingled with
inexperienced youth, especially one as young looking as John Law. His
wispy facial hair seemed out of place on his childlike face. Although he
was as tall as most men, due to a recent growth spurt, he lacked muscle
tone and appeared more gangly than hearty. His voice often cracked when
he spoke, immediately telling those who heard him that he was not quite
yet a man. John had yet to experience a battle, and whenever scuttlebutt
about a possible confrontation arose, he became nervous. He found
hovering around Malcolm and eavesdropping on his conversations
inspiring. His stories of smiting the English always calmed his fears.
As he approached, he hoped Malcolm would accept him into his group.
Malcolm sat upon a grassy mound, elevated above the others, appearing
like a king on his throne. John sat next to him. “The English be
weary. We fight today, eh Andrew?” said Malcolm.
Andrew lowered his cup. “It be the Sabbath. The Covenanters will nae
allow General Leslie to attack.”
“Be fittin’ to slaughter the English on the Lord’s Day,” said
“Cromwell’s baking ovens be cold,” said Andrew. “The English be
starving. So why fight?”
“To slay the bastards who invade me Scotland.”
Andrew flashed a dismissive hand, and Malcolm leaned from his throne and
glared. “Andrew Wright, be you Scottish, or be you a coward?”
Andrew gulped and said, “Scottish.”
“Aye, we Scots be brave lads,” said Malcolm as he nodded to John. He
turned back to his cronies. “We will push the English into the sea and
let them swim to their precious England.” Malcolm eased back and
slapped his knee. “Then me can get back to me wenches.”
“Me could use a lass,” said one who swirled his index finger inside
his cup. He jammed his gruel-laden finger down his throat, wrapped his
lips and eased his finger out. His lips popped, and he said, “Me could
make any lass me wench, or die trying.”
Others, now stirred with carnal thoughts, chimed in. The laughter grew
with each comment. John appreciated the banter, and seated near the
throne and sensing acceptance, he chimed in. “Me needs to get back to
“Your mum?” asked Andrew.
“Me father passed, and me needs to care for her.”
“Don’t fret laddie. A clansman probably be taking good care of her,
right now,” said one while looking at his smirking companions.
“Enough,” said Malcolm.
“Maybe many be taking care of her,” said a lascivious looking brute.
He raised his kilt and moved his pelvis in and out. One convulsed with
laughter and held his shaking belly. Another wiped tears away, but his
laughter returned when the brute’s dangling penis and scrotum swung in
unison with his thrusts. John toyed with his gruel, wishing he could
shrink away. He didn’t belong.
The sound of a sword being unsheathed pierced the uproar and jolted John
back to reality. Malcolm arose and swayed his basket-hilt sword back and
forth. His well-defined forearm muscles rippled as his arm rolled. He
positioned for an upward swing, an avenger powerful enough to lop off
the thickest of limbs. He inched forward while glaring over the tip of
his outstretched sword. He diverted the tip to make eye contact with
each, and when he did, each head lowered. After every man had bowed,
Malcolm sheathed his sword. He moved back to John and tugged his
cheek’s fuzz. “He still be a wee lad.”
John was now the focus of the group, and he wondered if he had been
accepted by Malcolm’s cronies or only created envy among them. His
cheeks reddened, and he prayed his fuzz obscured his embarrassment. But
a clamor around MacTavish ensued, distracting the group, and they turned
their attention to it.
The food, which MacTavish’s minions had been distributing, was
completely dispersed. Those still unfed jostled and barked at one
another. MacTavish arose and tossed chunks of bread to disperse some of
the unruly. He backed closer to his minions and waved several loaves of
bread. “How much do me get for the last of it?”
John ceased nibbling and inched closer to Malcolm’s throne to watch. A
few men pitched coins toward MacTavish and moved to await their
purchase. As MacTavish neared, he bent, with his eyes focused ahead,
picked up the coins and tossed loaves to the buyers. Those still without
food twitched in anticipation of possibly getting what little remained
in MacTavish’s hands.
Malcolm put his hand on his sword’s hilt and leaned to John. “Eat
quickly, laddie.” Malcolm’s comrades shuffled closer to him.
Those still waiting for food had their jackal eyes on MacTavish. He
hurled the remaining bread into the pack, and they descended upon it
like wolves devouring a picked over carcass. A rabid looking wretch
stepped toward John as he gobbled his last few bites. Malcolm inched his
sword from its sheath, and the wretch’s eyes darted to a lone,
still-nibbling pikeman. MacTavish scurried away with his lackeys as a
rearguard, counting coins and slipping them into his pouch.
John heard a thud and turned toward it to see a pikeman collapsing from
a blow delivered by the wretch’s club. The wretch scampered away,
tearing into a half-eaten slab of bread. John could have been that
unsuspecting and now collapsed pikeman if not for Malcolm. He glanced up
at Malcolm who still had a grip on his sword.
Once Malcolm sensed his comrades were safe, he settled back on his
throne. “Me wonder what MacTavish will do with his coins?” he asked.
Andrew stared at the ground and responded. “His coins will pay for a
safe passage should Cromwell prevail.”
“Cromwell prevail?” asked Malcolm. He leaned to John. “What say
John shook his head, and Malcolm patted it.
Malcolm turned back to Andrew and sat fully erect. “We will slay
Cromwell first. Then me will slay MacTavish and use his coins for me
wenches.” Everyone laughed, except for Andrew who still stared at the
ground, seemingly in thought.
As twilight ebbed, John arose to pace, his routine these past weeks
before utter darkness ensued. Another day had passed without him being
able to honor his vow to his father. How many more nights would he have
to endure? In day light, his sense of his father’s disappointment was
not ever-present. But as sunset encroached, John’s failure dominated
his thoughts, and his melancholy grew more vivid. Pacing, like most
actions, kept the images faint. But he couldn’t pace all night.
Eventually he would need to lie under a black void, an ideal backdrop
for his demons to taunt him, and relive his failure. Perhaps this night
would be less bleak as Malcolm had a solution. If the Scottish Royal
forces could push the English into the sea, John could return home to
his mother and honor his vow.
 The course was built in 1616, and in 1640, a Presbyterian minister
was disgraced when he was caught committing the unpardonable sin of
 The Covenanters were a Scottish Presbyterian movement that played an
important role leading up to the battle. They were determined to dictate
the future course for both England and Scotland, and Charles II signed a
covenant with them on June 30, 1650 upon arriving in Scotland.
Excerpted from "The Immigrant: One from My Four Legged Stool" by Alfred Woollacott III. Copyright © 2014 by Alfred Woollacott III. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher. Excerpts are provided solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.