12th August

Michael Scott (1)

Michael Scott, possessor of one of the greatest minds in medieval Europe, lived in an age when philosophers and thinkers often trod a dangerous path between God and the Devil. It was a hazard of their occupation. Some, Michael included, were more skilful than others in their dealings with the Almighty One.

But what of the Devil? If Michael needed to travel any great distance, he would challenge the Devil to transform himself into a winged horse and then ride him to his destination and back. On other occasions he caused him to waste much time trying to achieve impossible tasks: it is said, for example, that the Devil can still sometimes be seen toiling on the shore at Kirkcaldy, where Michael sent him to braid a rope out of sand. But there can hardly be much substance to these tales because, whatever else the Devil may be, he is certainly no fool.

Once, Alexander II, King of the Scots, sent Michael to Paris to complain about French pirates who were always attacking Scottish ships. Michael arrived at the court on a massive black steed (who knows whether or not this was the Devil in equine shape?) and demanded of the French King that the depredations cease forthwith. The King took offence at the arrogance of this envoy from such a small, poor country: it was beneath his dignity, he said, to concern himself with these matters.

At this, Michael commanded the mighty horse to stamp its hoof three times. The first crash of the hoof set all the bells of Paris ringing. The second brought three towers of the palace tumbling down. The horse raised its hoof a third time. ‘Wait!’ the French King shouted in alarm. Michael inclined his head and waited. While the hoof still hovered, the King declared an end to all acts of piracy against the Scots, and dispatched men to the ports to enforce the edict. Michael gave a signal, and the horse lowered its hoof with astonishing grace and delicacy.

No one tried to delay Michael’s departure. The King granted him safe passage home, and Michael accepted this guarantee, although of course he had no need of it.

Reader: Iona Zajac
Fiddle: Aidan O'Rourke
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