In my youth, I squired to Balladyne, called a freebooter, who rode with the Warden of Dumfries or the Keeper of Tynedale or Lord Scroop at Carlisle, or whoever might his hungry purse fill, for in those days War was Gospel and hot Porridge in the Borderland betwixt Tweed Mouth and Sark.
A stern Master he was, but I loved him; it grieved me when he died, broken in spirit, after our night at the House of Three Sisters.
I remember the stinging rain on that journey but Balladyne promised a welcome ahead.
“Handsome is the House the Sisters keep, but far more handsome are the blushes of the maiden there.”
I ventured that my Master might soon marry and retire from warring paths.
“She is promised to another, or so they say. But what is a promise,” he continued, “but the breath of man?"
The rain battered his wide-brimmed hat and our horses churned the lonely miles as night fell.
"There is greater promise in a woman’s eyes, and her blush withal. I must hope,” he declared, but I was too young to understand such hopes.
Deep was the valley beneath the haunted Cheviot but only a ruin awaited us. Even the fox and screech owl had fled this desolate place.
I sheltered under the palfrey’s steaming flanks while Balladyne wandered in the darkness, calling his beloved’s name, though any maid who once kept house here must have been the veriest crone by now.
In the morning, my Master was pale. He shook in the saddle. We wintered in Liddlesdale but he died before Candlemas.
In later years, our new King’s business drew me north. Rains swept away my path, so I essayed another, and as night fell I entered a deep valley, where a House shed light from many windows across the empty hills.
An old crone took my horse and a matron guided me to my seat. I was served by a maid of unsurpassed beauty, whose cheeks raised a ruby blush.
“Traveler, stay not,” her sister counselled, seeing the passion in my eye, “for she is to another promised.”
Yet what is a promise, but the breath of man? There was a greater promise in that maiden's eyes. Now they haunt my dreams and hope makes stale all my pleasures.
Yes, I must return to the House of the Three Sisters, beside the haunted Cheviot.