Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Great Hand and the Piper

In ancient days the dog was looked upon as man's best friend, and the enemy of all supernatural beings: Fairies, giants, hags, and monsters of the sea and the Underworld. When the seasons changed on the four quarter days of the year, and the whole world, as the folks believed, was thrown into confusion, the fairies and other spirits broke loose and went about plundering houses and barns and stealing children. At such times the dogs were watchful and active, and howled warning when they saw any of the supernatural creatures. They even attacked the fairies, and sometimes after such fights they returned home with all the hair scraped off their bodies.

A story is still current in Edinburgh about a piper and his dog, and their meeting with a monster of the Underworld. This monster haunted an underground passage, which is said to run from Edinburgh Castle to Holyrood Palace, and was called Great Hand for no one ever saw aught of it except its gigantic grisly hand with nails like an eagle's claw.

In days of long ago the underground passage was used by soldiers when the enemies of the King of Scotland invaded the kingdom and laid siege to Edinburgh Castle, his chief stronghold. The soldiers could leave the castle and fall upon the besiegers from behind and through it reinforcements could be sent to the castle. When, however, the sprit called Great Hand began to haunt the tunnel, it could not be used any longer, for every man who entered it perished in the darkness.

The piper was a brave man, and he resolved to explore the tunnel with his dog. "I shall play by bagpipe all the way through," he said to his friends, "and you can follow the sound of the piping above the ground."

There is a cave below the castle which leads to the tunnel, and the piper entered it one morning, playing a merry tune. His faithful dog followed him. The people heard the sound of the bagpipe as they walked down High Street, listening intently, but when they reached the spot which is called the Heart of Midlothian the piping stopped abruptly, as if the pipes had been torn suddenly from the piper's hands. The piper was never seen again, but his dog without a hair on its body, came running out the cave below the castle.

Orginially published as "Friends and Foes of Man" in Wonder Tales from Scottish Myth and Legend by Donald Alexander Mackenzie, 1917.

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