Thursday, March 31, 2016
It was late. Poseidon’s Trident motored through the Moray Firth, beneath the Kessock Bridge and found safe harbor at the mouth of the River Ness. What should have been a two day sail from Wick became a frustrating three day ordeal. The late season sleet assault which peppered my face as we departed Wick slowed our progress but so did the boat’s phantom electrical problems, more annoying than dire.
We tied up; Eilidh called Swede to let him know we arrived and they talked for a few minutes, making some kind of plans for the next day. When she finished, Eilidh handed the phone to me.
“Hi, Swede,” I began. “How are you? Is everything alright?”
“Yes, Yes, Yes,” he assured me. “Everything’s fine. You know how these things go; everything takes longer than you expect.
Here’s the situation. Eilidh and I need to spend time together, just the two of us. It’s been a couple of years since her parents died and we need to tie up some loose ends with their estate. That will take a good part of the day. You’re on your own tomorrow. Here’s what I’d like you to do. Go to Culloden, to the battlefield. Every Scotsman, whether they live in America or New Zealand, Canada or Australia, wherever, they need to make this pilgrimage. It’s the Alpha and Omega of Scottish culture, the end of one thing but the beginning of another. Promise me you’ll go there.”
What was I going to do, say “NO?” It wasn’t like I had anything else on my nonexistent schedule. Considering what Swede said the last time we spoke, it appears everything this week will be so much treading water while we wait for Sunday’s big event.
When Friday dawned and I woke up, Eilidh was gone, leaving early to join Swede in the city. Would he tell her what he told me? Would he tell her the whole situation, whatever that was? All I knew was… there were just two days to go until…
It was seasonably warm when I arrived at the edge of Culloden Moor: 52 degrees Fahrenheit and sunny, far more pleasant than what the Scottish Jacobites and their English adversaries endured on that fateful hour, April 16, 1746, 270 years ago. The weather that day was much more typical for a Scottish, early spring afternoon: windy and cold with sleet.
I wished the weather was like that, too. I wanted to experience slogging through the wet, marshy ground atop the windy moor, as they did, those righteously motivated yet ragged and doomed Jacobites.
Their bloody defeat changed everything for Scotland and the soon to be displaced Scottish diaspora. Over the next hundred years, thousands of hardy Scots were murdered or forced into exile, made to leave their grey mountains, deep glens and island outposts, never to return, bringing hard working Highland culture to every corner of the world.
I wanted the battlefield to myself, without having to share the forlorn experience with Boog and Bessie from West Virginia. I wanted to feel the Jacobite’s desperation as the cold wind pierced my eardrums, hoping to let this space speak to me through the centuries. The weight of history’s sorrow hangs heavy on this moor and despite the warm temperatures, I still felt connected to all the men who died here.
I spent the afternoon walking the battlefield and reading as much as I could in the Visitor Centre. These were my people, my history. I wanted to learn everything.
After marching most of the previous day, getting little sleep the night before, Bonnie Prince Charlie’s 6,000 exhausted and hungry Jacobites tried to charge into the middle of 9,000, well rested, English soldiers. But they were slowed by the swampy landscape and surrendered the speed they hoped to use to their advantage. The Highlanders wielded axes and broadswords; the English had muskets and cannons. It was over in less than an hour, a slaughter, pure and simple. In the end, the brave but doomed Scotsmen were plagued by poor organization, obsolete technology and out dated tactics.
Could I learn from their mistakes? After all, failure is a great teacher if we’re willing to humble ourselves and listen. So I listened to the wind and Culloden spoke. She said, “The Prince refused to take the good, well-reasoned advice of his subordinates. He didn’t access the current situation and alter the established plan. But she spoke most harshly to the Gullibles, the passion fueled who stake their future to a cause while blindly following a leader who isn’t very smart. In the end, it’s what killed them.
Swede and I agreed we would meet at the end of the day at a popular place along the Caledonian Canal. It was 3 miles west of Inverness, just past the Dochgarroch Lock. As my taxi approached, I saw the tall mast of Poseidon’s Trident rising high above the other boats, sail and motored alike, all bobbing comfortably within the confines of this 200 year old waterway.
Cocktail hour began early that day. I was a late arrival. Swede and Eilidh were topside, already well lubricated, joined by others from nearby boats for what was rapidly becoming a floating, laugh filled bash for the water borne set. All the boat owners and their guests currently tied up at the Dochgarroch Lock were welcome at this impromptu get together.
Swede, in his familiar role as Master of Ceremonies, was exquisitely attired in his posh uniform: bright white pants, an ascot made from a swatch of the Clan Poseidon tartan and a navy blue, double breasted blazer featuring trident shaped buttons. 24K gold. The blazer featured a green trident stitched to the breast pocket, emblazoned with small LED lights which lit up when Swede pushed a button inside the blazer’s pocket. The crowd loved it. He also wore his white capped, black banded, peaked hat featuring knotted, gold piping and two rows of gold braid on the peak, indicating his self-assigned rank: Admiral.
When the moment was right, the party firing on all cylinders, Swede removed the admiral’s hat, placed it on the head of the prettiest young woman and replaced it with his prized, authentic, drab olive green, North Korean army general’s hat.
“I promise you all,” he began, holding up the hat, addressing the crowd he held squarely in the palm of his hand, “that this is authentic, North Korean military issue. Stolen, fair and square, from a North Korean general who, had he known he would be executed the following day, might have chosen NOT to patronize the sea side whorehouse where he was arrested. But, my friends, please, rest assured, NO nuclear secrets were surrendered in this transaction and Her Majesty’s nuclear deterrent is still safe. Rule Britannia!”
The assembled throng cheered, raised their glasses high with their left hand, saluted the Jack with their right and joined the Admiral, singing, “Rule Britannia, Britannia rules the waves. Hip-Hip, Hooray!”
You have to give it to him; Admiral Swede Mambo sure knew how to throw a party.
“Permission to come aboard, admiral?” I said, happy to embrace the festive mood and expel the deep rooted sadness which still enveloped me after leaving Culloden.
“Ah, The Prodigal Son returns,” said Swede. “Yes. Yes; come on board, if you can find a place to squeeze in. Marcus? Is there any local product left? Some Fleming’s Mill perhaps?”
“Yes, captain,” said Marcus. We have a few bottles. But we also have some Smithmore. I’ve saved it for a special occasion.”
“Excellent. Let’s do that. A glass and a few lumps for Mr. Cook, please.” Then Swede turned to me saying, “Marcus, he’s so good. The best. I’m going to miss him.”
Without missing a beat, Swede continued, “Smithmore is one of Scotland’s oldest distilleries. Because you’ve inhaled a lot of history today, I thought maybe you’d like to wash it all down with some history. How’s that sound?”
“Ughh, fine,” I responded, a blank stare now filling my face. I could care less about some dusty old Scotch bottle. ‘I’m going to miss him’ is what he said. What did he mean? Was Marcus going away? Maybe that was what Sunday’s big news was all about. I kept my mouth shut, not wanting to sour the mood. I had enough mood souring for one day.
Squeezing past the cockpit partiers, I made my way to the steps and descended, joining the rest of the party below. This luxury sailboat was packed with the curious. The two staterooms were open for inspection, the galley and dining area, clean, full of casually dressed strangers only too happy to revel in their good luck because they picked this particular place to tie up for the night. Welcomed by a gracious yet gregarious host, aboard a floating palace of free food and single malt Scotch from every corner of the land, this impromptu party must have cost Swede thousands.
I began a conversation with an older man, a tall Dane from Ringkobing, Denmark, when a hand holding a cold glass of Scotch came up from behind me and squeezed through the open space between my arm and my side.
“Looking for thish?”
It was Eilidh, posh and pretty, casually dressed yet absolutely rock’n the new clothes she purchased in Inverness. Gone were the tee shirts and wool lined sailing suits, replaced by a tight fitting, V necked sweater which revealed just enough to keep all the boys erect and guessing. Her silky red/chestnut hair was pulled back off her radiant face in a tight, boppy ponytail, swishing left and right as she moved through the crowd, leaving a delicate scent in her wake. Damn, she smelled good.
“Thank you very much, m’lady,” I said, taking the cold glass from her hand, telegraphing my desire to play. “Mr. Bentdsen, I’d like to introduce to you my good friend, Lady Strong-Funk, The Countess of North West Nowhereshire.”
“Don’t lishen to him, Mr. Bentdsen,” she said, elbowing me in the ribs but not missing a beat. “A crafty Yank he ish. Make sure you’ve shtill got your billfold; he’ll shteal it quicker than a Scotch thief in a wish ky…wish…one more time, I’ll get it…whisky warehouse.”
Eilidh smiled, proud she could spit out the words despite her lazy, fuzzy, drunken tongue.
“Nicely duhhh---unnn, m’lady,” I said, more Bronx cheer than sincere. “But a high class lady, like yourself, has never truly been challenged, have you? You’ve been blessed with the finest, smoothest, drink’n whiskies in all the world. I’d like to see how well you do after we pour some good old American moonshine down your gullet. Those good ol’ boys down South make hootch that will turn your nipples green.”
Eilidh then did what she does best, she surprised me, yet again. She moved much closer to me, her breasts now pressing against my chest as she raised and extended her right arm, her svelte wrist coming to rest on my left shoulder, the cold, half-empty glass still in her hand. Her left hand gently touched my waist as she lifted up on her tippy toes, moving to whisper in my right ear. “Green is my favorite color,” she cooed.
I grabbed her gently around her waist with both arms because she started to lose her balance and I didn’t want her to fall. But her dual edged response was just too funny and way too sexy to ignore. I laughed out loud.
“Eilidh, you crack me up. You really do.”
She still wanted to play some more, so we continued.
“Where can I get some of this; what did you call it? Hootch?” she asked.
“White Lightning. Branch Water. Mule Kick. Red Eye. Lots of different names for it,” I said. “It’s American made. Distilled in the back woods by people with bad breath, bad tempers and rotting green teeth.”
“So, they’re friends of yours,” she giggled.
Ignoring her cute little joke, I continued.
“It’s sold by the gallon in reused plastic milk jugs. But only in America. If you want some, you’ve have to come back to America with me.”
She thought about it for a moment, wisely crafting her response, perfecting it so it would have the most impact. When she responded, she surprised me again. It was the second time in less than a minute. That’s when the 24 year old, orphaned beauty looked me right in the eye and merely said, “OK,” sounding as sober as the day was long, before kissing me on the cheek and removing her glass filled hand from my shoulder.
“Mr. Bendtsen,” she said, changing the subject, reaching out to shake his hand. “It was nice to meet you. I hope you’re having a good time today.”
“Oh, yes; Miss,” said the tall, infatuated Dane. “A lovely time.”
She turned and was gone; climbing the wooden steps, emerging topside to rejoin the raucous party on deck.