By Tim Porteus

IT WAS blowing a tempest outside. The children came in from their play, red-cheeked with the snell wind and hands frozen.

“It’s another storm, gran,” said the oldest, “it feels like someone is just throwing storms at us one after another.”

“That’s exactly what’s happening,” she replied. “Och aye, the weather forecaster will talk aboot pressure and we seem tae gie names tae the storms these days, but there’s an auld legend that tells us why we hae storms this time o’ year.”

“Can ye tell us it?”

“I’ll mak ye some hot chocolate, sae sit yerself doon and I’ll tell ye the tale as ye drink it,” she said.

It was no wonder the children loved visiting their grandmother. She was full of old stories. She had come to East Lothian when she was a young girl and lived there ever since. But she brought with her the stories she had been told when she was wee. They were tales told to her by her grandfather, a crofter from the west of Scotland, who had moved his family to the north east in hard times. Her grandfather had shared the stories collected by folklorist Donald Mackenzie, who wrote Wonder Tales from Scottish Myth and Legend.

Now, in her old age, she loved sharing her version of these stories with her grandchildren. They were a mix of old legends and she knew that there were different versions. But the version told to her by her grandfather was of course her favourite.

Her grandchildren settled around her fireplace and sipped their hot chocolate in anticipation. Their gran always sat in silence for a moment before speaking. It was as if she was waiting for a curtain to raise in their imagination.

Then she began her story.

“Beria was the queen o’ the dark times, the ruler of winter. She wis tall and strang. In fact she carried a great hammer, with which she made the Scottish mountains. She had a fearsome temper and looked scary, with one eye and lang white hair. There are mony stories aboot her, this is just ane o’ them.

“Ye see, while she ruled winter, at this time o’ year, the signs o’ spring began tae appear, and she felt she wis loosing her power. People grew less feart o’ her and began tae resist her power. They looked forrit tae the arrival o’ the summer queen, who wis ca’d Bride. She was the bringer of light and plentiful times, and so people loved her and looked forward to her arrival. Beria was jealous o’ her.

“This is why Beria kept Bride a prisoner. She made Bride work hard and kept her in ragged claes.”

“Like Cinderella!” exclaimed the youngest, excitedly. Her gran smiled and nodded.

“But Bride managed tae escape, helped by the man she loved, who became known as King Angus, and ever since people have celebrated that day. It wis oan February 1, but many years ago the calendar changed, and sae it’s February 13 that I celebrate Bride’s day.

“And sae Bride wis free and wore new claes, which were bright and colourful. She set aboot sowing the seeds o’ spring. She sprinkled snawdraps, and the blossom was encouraged tae bloom. The first bird tae sing in celebration of Bride’s freedom was a wee linnet. Its sweet singing filled the air with the sound o’ spring, and ever since folk huv ca’d the linnet ‘The Bird o’ Bride’.”

“But what about Beria, wasn’t she mad that Bride escaped?” asked one of her grandchildren.

“I’m coming tae that. She wis indeed. When she heard that Bride had escaped, she was furious, her rage knew no limits! She knew that this would end her power. She tried tae capture her again but she fled with Angus. Sae Beira took her great hammer and struck the ground with it, making ice and frost tae kill the grass and flowers that had dared tae start grawing. But the linnets continued to sing and this encouraged mair birds tae sing as well. It became a chorus.

“Enraged, Beria collected her servants, who were hags who rode on shaggy goats, while she rode on a huge black steed. They raised storms and winds tae silence the birds, and tae blow ower trees and strip them o’ branches.

“Then she pu’d dark clouds ower the land, and ripped them open, sae cauld rain drenched the land, destroying food and making the soil drookit, killing livestock and ruining people’s hames.”

“Wow, Beria was angry, and pretty mean too,” said a grandchild.

“Aye, she wis. She wanted tae keep winter going sae her power would last longer. She whipped up a gale wi a wind sae cauld and sharp it felt like a bird pecking at yer skin. It lasted fir mair than a week!

“Wi a’ these storms fishermen couldnae fish, the food o’ folk was being wasted as the fodder and winter stores were ravaged by the storms.

“But then March arrived and mair light filled the days. This increased the strength o’ Bride, the summer queen, who returned with her husband Angus to sow mair seeds o’ spring.

“In a last desperate attempt tae keep her power, Beria took three days o’ deep winter she hud kept aside, and used them tae bring blizzards and snowstorms. She coated the land in a white freezing blanket.

“But after these three days, the winter queen’s power wis spent. Bride and Angus once again returned, riding through the countryside, chasing awa the hags and sowing spring wherever they went. The birds sang their heids off.

“It wis a’ over for Beria, at least for this winter. She fled, throwing her hammer underneath a holly tree, which is why nae grass grows under a holly tree. She hid for a while on top o’ a mountain on the Isle of Skye, ca’d Beinn na Caillich. But she was weak now, and when the days and nights became equal in length she knew her reign was over.

“Sae she retreated to the Green Island tae drink frae the magic well o’ youth, tae replenish her strength. She bade her time there, kenning she would be able tae return and reclaim her throne when darkness once again returned tae the land.”

“In autumn,” said one of the children.

“Aye,” smiled the gran.

“And that’s why we hae a’ these winds and storms just noo. Beria is trying tae stop spring and the rule o’ Queen Bride. And we still hae the three days o’ snaw tae come, but aifter that Beria will huv tae flee.”

“Why didn’t they kill Beria, then it’ll be summer all the time?” asked one of the older children.

The gran smiled. “Angus was Beria’s son. They were all related, just like the seasons, although they fought each other for a place they all needed each other and were part of the same family.”

“Just like us.”


“Gran, can we have more hot chocolate and can you tell us the other stories about Beria?” asked a grandchild.

“O’ course,” said the gran, “but we wud need a hale winter tae tell a’ the stories aboot her. Mebbe I can gie ye this auld book by Donald Mackenzie. He collected stories. Then ye can come next week an tell me some o’ the stories in it, and maybe make one up yersel.”