Thursday, April 07, 2005

The Devil and the Wolf play chess

Here's a story to capture the imagination and put people off playing chess! The year was 1406 or thereabouts. You would be forgiven for thinking that the Wolf of Badenoch was the last of the hairy species to roam the Highlands, but he was Alexander Stewart. By all accounts he was not a nice person. His wife left him, I think, and he didn't take kindly to her leaving. He went on a rampage, killing people and burning down churches. His father forced him to make a public apology for his bad behaviour, which he did, but he wasn't very sincere about it.

One night while he was staying in one of his many castles, there was a knock on the door. It was a tall stranger who was dressed in black. The villagers crept up to the windows to get a better look and saw the Wolf and the dark stranger engrossed in a game of chess. The game went on for several hours. The stranger made a move, gave an evil laugh, cried "Checkmate! He rose from the table. Immediately the whole room was enveloped in fire.

The next morning the Wolf's men were discovered outside the castle walls. They were all burnt to a cinder as if they had all been struck by the lightening. In the banqueting hall they found the body of the Wolf. Although his body appeared unmarked, the nails in his boots had all been torn out.

"It is said to this day the Devil can sometimes be seen in the ruined castle, endlessly playing chess for the Wolf of Badenoch's soul."

And how did I come across this fascinating story? Joe and I had been on a car tour around Nairn. Following the carefully written instructions in the book, we came across Lochindorb, this amazing loch high up in the hills. It was very windy. In the middle of the loch, on a man made island, are the ruins of one of the Wolf of Badenoch's castles. It wasn't the castle where he apparently played chess for his soul, but it fired up my imagination all the same.

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