BETA

The Raid of the Kers.

Tam Ker rode o’er by the Maiden Crags,1
And down the Osway Burn rode he,2
With fifty warriors in his train,3
A brave and goodly sight to see.4
Their armour was light, but their brands
were bright,
5
And their bonnets were steel across
the crown ;
6
And whenever they spied an Englishman,7
They gallop’d at him, and put him down.8
Ride light, ride light, my kinsmen true,9
Till aince the daylight close her ee;10
If we can pass the Biddleston Tower,11
A harried warden there shall be !12
He reaved the best of my brother’s steeds,13
And slew his men on the Five-stane
brae ;
14
I’d lay my head this night in pawn,15
To drive his boasted beeves away.*16
For at Thrapton he has a goodly herd,17
Just newly come from the low countrye,18
And at Rothbury there are a hunder
head,
19
All fat and fair on Kimside lee.20
Mark Ker, ride you by Allanton ford,21
As you were riding a race to won ;22
And aye when the warders challenge give,23
Say you are riding to Withrington.24
For he is their boasted warden now,25
And his name will bear you on your
way,
26
And mark where the beeves frae the sea-
side lie,
27
As lang as there’s ony hue o’ day.28
And as ye see danger, or ye see nane,29
This ye maun do to guide us right,30
At every cross that ye come to,31
Set up a black clout or a white.”32
Mark Ker he bit his lip and leugh,33
When his cousin gave him this queer
command ;
34
For Mark never kend what danger meant,35
When belted wi’ his noble brand.36
He had nae black clouts in his pouch,37
His kinsmen of their faes to warn ;38
But he tore his sark frae aff his back,39
And hung a rag on every cairn.40
A warder at Foxton call’d him stand,41
In the names of St George and Eng-land’s king,42
Saying, “ Saucy Scot, where ride you here,43
On this side of the Border ring ?”44
To Withrington,” Mark Ker replied,45
With words important and express.”46
Sir Scot, that will not pass with me.47
Your warrant seal’d ; I take no less.”48
My word’s my warrant,” Mark Ker replied,49
And passes current where’er I go.”50
No, sir, I must be satisfied ;51
You pass not English yeoman so.”52
Mark Ker he gave his shoulder a hitch,53
As if a wasp had stung him there ;54
Then here’s my warrant, thou saucy wight ;55
Dispute it farther, if you dare !”56
Mark Ker pull’d out his noble brand,57
The English loon his falchion keen ;58
Two doughty rounds these gallants had,59
Ere aught but gleams of fire were seen ;60
But at the third they cross’d and reel’d,61
And, at a fierce and furious turn,62
Off flew the English warder’s head,63
And tottled into Foxton burn.64
Beshrew thy heart,” the Scotsman cried,65
For thine was heart and arm of steel ;66
I never ween’d that an English clown67
Could wield his weapon half sae weel !68
I may thank Heaven for my success,69
For I was at my utmost strain ;70
And had I miss’d that perilous blow,71
I’d ne’er seen Faldonside again,72
The Captain of Biddleston, he will trust73
To thee this night for gallant deed ;74
But the Scots will sweep by ford and keep,75
For his warder lies without the head,”76

* This bold and reckless sally of the Kers into the heart of Northumberland, took place on September
29, 1549, and originated in some quarrel and jealousy between the two wardens. But it was without
the consent of Sir Andrew Ker, the Scottish warden, as it afterwards satisfactorily appeared, though
not without his knowledge.
Mark Ker rode on, and Mark Ker rode
on
,
77
But never a hoof or horn saw he,78
Till he came to the ford of Larbottle
burn,
79
Where a dainty drove lay on the lea.80
He tether’d his horse at the Auld-wood
back,
81
And down by Park-Elliot he tried to
pass ;
82
He tried to speak in the English tongue,83
But a most confounded speak it was !84
Until he met with a comely May, 85
Who seemed at his approach full fain ;86
Says he, “ Feagh, dame, I’ve lwost mee
way,
87
I pghay thee set me won again.”88
Goodman, if thou hast lost thy way,89
Sae have I mine, which I may rue,90
It’s a dangerous place to journey in91
For me, and nae less sae for you.92
A hundred warriors, stark and sture,93
Surround these fields on Kimside lea ;94
For a Scottish raid has cross’d the fell,95
And a bloody night it is like to be.96
But drop that gruesome, uncouth tongue,97
A tongue that’s hateful unto me ;98
For I have been long a captive here,99
But love this night has set me free.100
I am come to join the gallant Kers,101
I ken you are ane o’ their companye ;102
And if you will take me in thy charge,103
I’ll play my part as well as thee.”104
Mark Ker, he clasp’d her by the neck,105
And kiss’d her weel frae ear to ear,106
My bonny lass, you will play your part107
Better at Faldonside than here.108
But now betide me weel or woe,109
I’ll o’er the Border guide your way ;110
I’ll mount you on my own good steed,111
Shift for another as I may.”112
Then up there came a warrior stern,113
A yeoman from the Bamborough town :114
Go, get aloof !” he fiercely cried,115
Thou clod-pate, with thy leman loon !”116
Whoy, mon, thou lackest coghtesye, 117
Thughe wey can dwo thine bwound no
ill;
118
I won’t nwot bwodge ane fwoot fwor thee,119
Till I have cworted her my fill.”120
Go off ! across the river go,121
And take thy baggage on thy back !”122
The warder said ; and, as he spake,123
He gave Mark Ker an ugly thwack,124
Mark Ker he gave his shoulder a hitch,125
A dangerous hitch to friend or foe ;126
For all his kinsmen mark’d it weel,127
And knew it follow’d by a blow.128
Beshrew thy hand, thou saucy knave !129
Thou pudding-headed Southron drone !130
Darest thou presume to touch a Ker,131
Or even the ground his feet standson ?”132
A Ker ! a K— !” roar’d the Southron
loon ;
133
But, ere a second time ’twas cried,134
His head was stotting on the green,135
While still the tongue to word it tried.136
Aye, blab it now !” said Ker, “ and
gang
137
Raving of Kers unto the deil !138
He gets nought but a dunce for aince—139
A vulgar, mushroom-headit chiel,”140
He dress’d the maid in the dead man’s
claes,
141
So wide they scarcely would hang on,142
And mounted her on the Southron steed,143
And away to the Auldwood back they’re
gone.
144
One short blast of his bugle horn,145
Was answer’d readily and near,146
Aha !” quo he, “ now for a stoure,147
The wale of all the Border’s here.148
But blessings on thee for a dear sweet
lass !
149
For, had I no forgather’d wi’ thee,150
We had been surrounded every man,151
And slaughter’d on the Kimside lea,152
Now we’s hae buffing for our lives,153
And, lang afore the break of day,154
Some brave pock-puddings shall bite the
bent,
155
And growl their murky souls away.”156
In the lowest dell of Larbottle burn157
The Kers their counsel held that night,158
Where oft they bless’d the friendly May159
Who warn’d them of the English might,160
With twenty of the fleetest steeds,161
Mounted by gallant gentlemen,162
Tam Ker began the deadly fray,163
Between the Auldwood and the fen,164
But the Kers were aye the deadliest faes165
That e’er to Englishmen were known,166
For they were all bred left-handed men,167
And fence against them there was none,168
They hew’d down all that with them met,169
Yet would not quit their vantage dell,170
But they made a din that shook the hills171
With horn, with hallo, and with yell.172
Then the English circle gather’d out,173
Hasting and pufting to the fray,174
When Mark Ker rode round with thirty
men,
175
And slily slipp’d the beeves away.176
Now, fie ! lay on, my kinsmen true,177
And thresh them on with goad and
flail,
178
We’s gar them ply their hooves for aince179
Along the links of Coquet-dale !180
Lay on them, lads, and dinna spare !181
We maun perforce their mettle try ;182
If ony lubber lag behind,183
E’en cut his neck, and let him lie.184
The English bullocks are ours to win,185
The English gowd and gear the same ;186
And never let’s spare a Southron’s life,187
For the Kers with them are lawfu’
game.”
188
Till past the middle of the night189
Tam Ker maintain’d th’ unequal fray ;190
But then the halloo rose behind,191
That the lusty drove was all away.192
Fie, let us ride,” cried Withrington,193
Else, we are shamed for evermair ;194
Let’s first regain that lordly prey,195
Then fight the Scotsmen if they dare !”196
And away and away went the English-
men,
197
With whip and spur most furiouslye ;198
The loss of as muckle good fat beef199
Was the sairest loss their hearts could
dree.
200
Tam Ker and his men came up behind,201
Right sair forespent as men could be ;202
But every laggard that they came to,203
They popp’d him off right cannilye.204
As Mark Ker cross’d ower the Foxton burn,205
The headless warder nought could tell ;206
Ha, billy !” quo Mark, “ had ye been hale,207
We hadna cross’d the ford sae well.”208
There up came the gallant Withrington,209
Wi’ the foremost of his companye ;210
Whoever drives this prey,” he cried,211
I charge him yield it up to me.”212
It is I, Mark Ker of the Faldonside,213
And the drove is mine, as you may see ;214
And I’ll take the drove to the Auldtown-
burn,
215
In spite of all thy men and thee !”216
Thou rank reaver, thou surly Joon,217
I have sworn the doom of thee and
thine !
218
And ere thou cross the Border fell,219
Thou shalt cross above this breast of
mine !”
220
I’ll count little of that, brave Withring-
ton ;
221
But if with me thou’lt wield a brand,222
If thou won’st my sword, or bring’st me
down,
223
The drove is thine, by this right hand !”224
Take that right hand, then, in the strife,225
And here’s my pledge as I shall thrive.”226
Ha ! The Kers have a right hand of
their own,
227
Which they will not change for man
alive,
228
And before this, Ker hand as it is,229
Brave Withrington, I tell to thee,230
I never met with an Englishman231
Could stand before it minutes three.”232
’Tis false and saucy as thyself !233
Wait here but till the peep of day,234
Could I but see my weapon’s point,235
Thou should’st not bear the brag away.’236
I’ll wait myself, brave Withrington ;237
But thus to stop my gallant prey ;238
I have no right or power to grant—239
So now or never, if you may !”240
Then Withrington pull’d out his sword,241
And Ker his long and deadly brand ;242
And such a combat there ensued,243
As ne’er was in Northumberland.244
And round and round and round they
fought,
245
While fire-flaughts gleam’d in sparkles
sheen,
246
Till the wan faces of the group247
Of eager lookers-on were seen.248
And round and round and round they
fought,
249
Till the blood-drops fell like heavy rain;250
And many a haughty word there past,251
But the one on the other could not
gain,
252
Full sore it grieveth me to say253
But truth must by a foe be said254
Before the dawning of the day255
Mark Ker upon the field lay dead,256
His last words were, “ War to the hilt ;257
Though I am foully down, what then ?258
Let this suffice, that in my life259
I’ve slain a hundred Englishmen !”260
By this time Tam o’ the Mossburnford261
Was pelting on the English rear,262
And the thirty men were fresh before,263
Who rush’d on without dread or fear,264
Foul play ! foul play !” was the rousing
word ;
265
Down with the beef tubs, bluff and blown !266
Let their right haffets dree the sword267
Ker and the devil ! Down with them ! Down268
Dreadful and fatal was the strife,269
For, when the sun rose o’er the sea,270
They were all scatter’d o’er the field,271
Oft one to one, or one to three,272
There was no rule nor standard there :273
Bravery and hatred ruled alone :274
For foeman’s life was all the strife ;275
Yielding or quarter there were none.276
There were one hundred Englishmen 277
At night around the Kimside lea, 278
Now they had vanish’d from the field ; 279
There was not one to fight or flee.280
The weary wounded Scots went on,281
Still with their drove, full hard bested,282
For word had gane to Biddleston tower,283
That waken’d the captain from his bed.284
He mounted his horse and gallop’d forth,285
His troopers gathering at the word ;286
And the first man that he met with287
Was burly Tam of Mossburnford.288
Turn, Captain of Biddleston, turn and
flee !
289
Thy arm Was never a match for mine ;290
I’ll hold at bay thy men and thee,291
Till I’m across the Border line !”292
There shalt thou never be again,293
Thou miscreated burly bear ;294
Have at thee now, for, fight or feign,295
I’ll have thy head upon this spear !”296
He rade at Tam with furious aim,297
Thinking to run his body through ;298
But little dream’d of the left hand skelp299
That nickit the Captain clean in two.300
His horse went on with gallant speed—301
Still the brave Captain never fell ;302
Without the right arm and the head,303
Lock’d to his horse, he rode full well !304
Tam Ker he graned a hollow laugh,305
When he saw the Captain scouring on,306
And the Scotsmen flying him before,307
As if the devil came them upon.308
The first three men of the English troop309
Tam laid them level with the plain ;310
But three broad arrows pierced his breast,311
And there brave Mossburnford was
slain.
312
Alas !” quoth John of Borthwickshiels,313
Since our two champions both are dead,314
Let’s quit the strife, and ride for life,315
The day is lost without remede.”316
But Andrew of Littledean him gainsaid,317
And bade fight on, and never fear ;318
So they held the drove, and flying fought,319
Though gall’d by bowmen in the rear.320
But still they drove, and still they fought,321
And fought and drove full valiantly,322
But the fell-men gather’d with the day,323
And gall’d their flanks full grievous-
ly
.
324
When they came to the Shillmoor-burn,325
They lost all hopes the prey to keep,326
So they hack’d their neck-sinews in twain,327
And left them lying in a heap.328
They fought their way by the Blindburn-
shiel,
329
By bowmen gall’d from every brae,330
And a remnant wan to the Blackhill Peel331
About the noontide of the day.332
While darkness wrapt the band around,333
The Kers harass’d their foemen sore,334
Their left-hand blows could not be borne ;335
Death spread behind, and dread before :336
But in the broad eye of the day,337
The little band of kinsmen true338
Were all exposed, like other men,339
To arrows from each bank and cleuch.340
Of one-and-fifty buirdly Kers,341
The very prime men of the clan,342
There were only seventeen return’d,343
And they were wounded every man.344
O, many a virgin tear was shed,345
And pour’d was many a widow’s wail,346
But every heart mourn’d for Mark Ker,347
The bravest knight of the Border dale !348
There were four-and-forty Englishmen349
Lay round him dead on Foxton brae,350
And Withrington was wounded sore,351
And carried from the field away.352
And the lovely May, the Scottish maid,353
Lay by Mark Ker upon the lea,354
While their heart’s blood together
stream’d ;
355
It was a grievous sight to see !356
O, never was such a luckless raid,357
Or such a rash and reckless plea,358
For the Kers were all born gentlemen,359
All men of name and high degree !360
That raid it fell on Saint Michael’s eve,361
When the dark harvest nights be-
gan :
362
But the Kers no more o’ercame that day,363
While they remained a warlike clan.364
Blest be the man who first did plan365
The thankless task, when it began ;366
And blest Anne Stuart’s royal name,367
Who join’d our countries into one !368
Now we can ride the Border side,369
And brethren meet at every turn,370
But then the meed was to hang and head,371
To ravish, pillage, slay, and burn.372
God prosper all the Border dales,373
On both sides of our ancient line,374
And never may rankling grudge prevail375
For the doughty deeds of auld langsyne !376