Firstly, many thanks to those who have been in touch, and in particular to Maureen from Haddington for the lovely clothes for my baby son Lewis.

I have been genuinely touched by the emails and personal approaches of readers who have encouraged me to return to writing the page, while they have also appreciated the reason why I have taken this short “paternal leave” from my tale telling in the Courier.

I am glad to report that sleep is gradually returning as a routine in the Porteus household and that, as things are settling down, some of my time can now veer back to writing my page, although this will be monthly until the first week of May, when I hope to resume my usual weekly page, if the editor allows!

It was while telling my five year old the tale of Robert the Bruce and the spider that gave me the idea for my tale this week.

The tale of Bruce and the spider is a great story, with the moral that you shouldn’t give up on your dreams. I don’t think it matters that this legendary encounter with an arachnid in a cave is likely never to have happened, and if it did, to someone else. It is not a proven historical event but an engaging tale which opens the door to an understanding of Robert the Bruce’s state of mind at a low point in his struggle.

It’s a rather romanticised tale and, in truth, The Bruce was, of course, no pussycat.

He was a true warrior king with a determination to do whatever it took to rid his country of his enemies. His brutal tactics were arguably needed for success. For example, the devastating Herschip of Buchan has often been described as a strategic necessity, and no doubt it was. But that’s the thing about war, the suffering and misery of ordinary families is often the least told story.

But the story of Bruce suddenly made me think of a journey taken by some herdsmen from the Haddington area many years later, in 1629. They weren’t headed anywhere exotic, but to Lanarkshire. Yet their journey had its origins in a much longer journey taken by the heart of Robert the Bruce, and some of his closest friends. In Bruce’s final days, despite his success in liberating his country, the human cost weighed heavy on his conscience.

He spoke of so much innocent blood spilt and Bruce feared for his soul. In particular, Bruce’s murder of John Comyn and his subsequent excommunication by the church meant that, in his final days, Bruce sought ways to ensure salvation.

This was why he left instructions for his heart to be carried on a crusade to the Holy Land. And what a powerful image we have of Bruce’s final moments, with James Douglas kneeling by the dying king, weeping and promising to do as the king wished.

Countless false tears have been shed for rulers, but these I am sure were genuine. The nobles whom Bruce summoned in his dying days were fellow veterans of a brutal war.

They had a bond forged in a shared struggle. They were a medieval band of brothers who had fought together. They agreed to take Bruce’s heart not just out of loyalty to a dead king but to a friend.

One of these nobles who accompanied James Douglas was Sir Symon Locard.

Bruce’s heart was in a silver casket, carried round the neck of James Douglas, while Locard had been entrusted with the key.

The end of the expedition is a legend in itself. They never made it to the Holy Land.

Instead, they got involved in a battle at Teba in Spain. The legend tells us that in the rage of battle, the Scots charged but became surrounded.

Sir William St Claire of Roslin found himself fatally encircled, and James Douglas seeing this took the casket from his neck and threw it into the melee.

He then made a suicidal charge, crying out “be thou in the van brave heart … and I will follow or die”.

Most of the small band of Scots died that day, including Douglas and St Claire.

But lets us remember that Muhammed IV returned the bodies, according them dignity and respect in death. Locard survived the battle, and helped bring back the remains of his fellow nobles as well as the casket containing Bruce’s heart, which was buried at Melrose.

But that is not all that Symon Locard brought back.

You see, he had managed to capture a wealthy Emir, and as was the tradition then, he ransomed his wealthy prisoner.

The captured man’s mother turned up, keen to free her son. So she opened her purse, taking out gold coins. As her hands fumbled, holding so much money, a small coloured stone fell onto the ground. But it was the mother’s reaction that really caught Locard’s attention. She immediately bent down and picked it up, almost in a panic.

Locard realised that this stone must be valuable, and so he insisted that it be included in the ransom. The woman’s reluctance to this suggestion only confirmed to him that the stone must be of great value. But she wanted her son back and so had to eventually agree.

And so Locard acquired what was to become known as The Penny Lee.

But what was it? It was a small stone, unusually shaped, almost like a heart, and a deep red colour.

It was considered to have magical powers to cure cattle and livestock of ailments. A magical potion could be made by placing the stone in a split stick then dipping it into water. Its magic would then dissolve into the water, making a magical medicine.

Nonsense, our modern minds think, yet this amulet was to acquire such a reputation that even after the Reformation, its magic was still used.

And so hence the herdsmen’s journey from Haddingtonshire to Lanarkshire in 1629. In the year 1629 a malady struck cattle in the Haddingtonshire. Oxen stood in pain, unable to lie down.

Their bleating moans gave evidence to the pain they were in. Only when life left them were they able to finally fall to the ground.

The death toll began to mount, and a group of herdsmen decided that something must be done. So they set off on a mission to Lanarkshire, to the Lee estate, to ask to borrow the magical Penny Lee.

When they arrived they were refused the amulet by the lady of the house. No wonder, for it was held almost sacred by the Lockhart family, the descendants of Symon Locard, who understandably treasured their magical heirloom. However, the herdsmen pleaded with her, and their desperation was evident.

So instead she gave them some flasks of water in which the magical stone had been dipped.

“Let the beasts drink from this water, and watch the results,” she said.

The herdsmen returned home in triumph. It seemed to work, at least partly. But the Dunbar presbytery got wind of it and called the herdsmen to account why they had used magic.

They were unrepentant, as they rightly argued that they had done nothing that many had done before them as the magical properties of the Penny Lee was known throughout Scotland.

They were lucky. Isobel Young of East Barns used the potion on cattle, and this was used as one of the charges against her when accused of witchcraft. She was a successful woman, with strong opinions. Perhaps that was her undoing in a world dominated by men who feared successful and articulate women. I will tell her story at some later stage, but let us here note the unjust fact that she was condemned partly for using the magic of the Penny Lee, yet was only one of many who had done so.

How many Haddingtonshire cattle were thought to be cured by the Penny Lee is not recorded, but we can be sure that such that many people made their way to the Lee estate that year.

But one mystery remains. With such a high demand, why did the Lockhart family not seek to make profit from it? They could have charged a considerable sum for the water, and on the rare occasions they did actually lend the stone itself, they demanded a deposit. Yet despite offers, they never considered selling the stone or charging for the water. They could have made a fortune.

Perhaps the Symon of Locard was told of a reason why no charge should be made for its use. If so, it remains with the family, as does the stone itself.