The Caledonian

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The Caledonian Book 2 Search for the Northwest Passage (Historical Fiction, Writing Mentorship Award 2023)
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Logline or Premise
Forced to flee his native Scotland, Lochie McGregor soon finds himself s an indentured slave in the wilds of Canada, but when his master is killed, he finds himself alone and hunted, until he is saved by another tribe where he learns their ways and rises to become a hero in the French/Indian wars.
First 10 Pages

The Caledonian A.R. McAuslan


As Told to Ben Franklin 1777

I first became aware of the enigmatic Scotsman they oft referred to as ‘The Wild Caledonian’ when various tales of his scouting prowess, fighting spirit and intense hatred of the English began circulating around the colonies several months after Washington’s decisive victory at The Battle of Princeton.

But of course, there had been vague talk of a mad red-haired Scotsman who was running wild with the Indians for many years before that, with tales of whole platoons of British soldiers hearing phantom bagpipes before the arrows started flying and the redskins started whooping, when suddenly, a wild beast of a man would be amongst them, barefoot and bare-chested. His only clothing a ragged Scotchy’s tartan kilt, stabbing and hatcheting, and flailing a great broadsword until not a single man or boy of them remained alive.

You know, the type of cautionary tale best told around a campfire, with the accompanying gruesome details of blood and gore, and the unspeakable evil that men are want to visit upon one another, all designed to make the women shudder, the younger men question their own courage, and the children huddle closer.

The more I heard of these tales of his many trials and tribulations, hair raising adventures with the Indians and the predations imposed upon him and his family by the British, the more far-fetched they seemed to become.

Especially as many were oft told in a cosy tavern after a fine meal and a good deal of drinking, when those who make a habit of such things are want to embellish the truth, all the better to loosen their fellow drinker’s purse strings.

Therefore, I was somewhat taken aback when providence smiled upon me, and I had the opportunity to meet this enigma in the flesh, while undertaking a stay at General George Washington’s magnificent Mount Vernon estate in the autumn of ‘77.

The man, Lachlan McGregor, had taken a musket ball to the shoulder as well as several bayonet wounds to his body during that pivotal battle of Princeton, as well as sustaining a nasty tomahawk wound from an Iroquois scout at the earlier battle of Trenton Town, and by dint of his sage council and loyal service to the general, had been invited to sit out his convalescence as an honoured guest of Mr and Mrs Washington.

To say I was surprised at his countenance would be an understatement. As given the lurid tales and near-death experiences I’d been regaled with, I had expected to meet a large brute of a man, full of bluff and bravado with the manners of a savage, and a ‘devil may care’ attitude to life.

Instead, I was astonished to find a polite, softly spoken man in his mid-fifties, raw-boned but well-muscled, not overly big, with the famous flaming red beard now grey-flecked, and his long hair done up in the style of the natives hereabouts. And despite his many years amongst the savages and speaking their tongue (of which he was proficient) not to mention living their heathen ways, he had still not lost that Scotch brogue for which men of his ilk are renowned.

It was obvious that age, nor a life of abject brutality, had not wearied him, and other than a slight limp brought about by his wounds, he still maintained a cat-like prowess, and when he got to talking on a subject, he was passionate about, his inner rage was still there to be seen, burning as bright as ever, for even the most casual of observer to see, and bask in.

Over the ensuing term if my stay, we had a number occasions to exchange pleasantries and even sup together once or twice, and even now I recall with great fondness, one memorable evening where he graciously taught me how to throw a knife, but it wasn’t until the eve of my departure that we found ourselves alone, warmed with a well-tended fire and an excellent bottle of French brandy (the Washingtons having departed for Albany that same morning), when over the course of several hours that went well into the night, did McGregor regale me with a tale that so entranced and yet shocked me, that I have not forgotten it to this day.

In his thick Scotch brogue, he held me in his thrall as he spoke of the bloody battles, numerous lucky escapes, survival in the most hostile of environments, Indian princesses, cannibals, torture most foul, and the good and evil that lurks in all men’s hearts.

But do not, dear reader, think that we spoke only of evil and vengeance, for his interests ran far and wide, from European farming techniques to the peculiar democratic governance of the Iroquois Indians, and their confederacy of five nations with duly elected representatives, to the parlour tricks of French whores, (or ’hoors’ as he called them). And finally, to the ancient martial art of ‘Bataireacht’ (Irish stick fighting) of which he was apparently a master.

At one stage, perhaps sensing my doubt, he took a moment to assure me that every word was true, and that over the years, he had committed much of it to a carefully kept journal.

Later that evening, when I again expressed my astonishment, he even went so far as to remove his fine linen shirt that had been gifted to him by Mrs. Washington, and in the soft glare of the fire, showed me the numerous ugly scars, pit marks, burns, and distortions his body had suffered at the hands of both English and Indian alike. By God, like a map of depravity, it was a sight I shall never forget.

I woke late the following morning, and rather than finding him as usual at the breakfast table, I was informed by a servant that the red-haired Scotsman had departed earlier that same morn, bound for destinations unknown.

Imagine my surprise when taking my usual seat at table, I found an oilskin-wrapped package placed neatly on my chair.

Contained therein was a well-worn, leather-bound journal, filled with hundreds of entries in a neat but spidery hand.

As I opened the cover, a note written on Mount Vernon embossed letterhead fell into my lap, which contained the following message.

My Dear Mister Franklin,

Thank you for taking the time to listen to the ramblings of an old man last evening.

Your kind words assuaged me and made me realise that it is now time to move on to the next chapter in my life, whatever God, or perhaps the faeries of my own ancient Alba may have in store for me.

I have persisted with this journal as I believed that had I not committed my trials to paper, (and had instead kept them in my heart) I would surely have been dead from the spiritual poison that clutches at my soul and commands my thoughts every day I have walked this earth. As my great friend, the Potumcoc war chief, Iron Hat was wont to say, ‘A man’s spirit can leave him long before he is dead’.

I feel confident that now is the time to cut the strings that bind me to my past, and rather than bury or burn my journal, I gift it to you so that you may better understand the lifeblood that flows in the veins of some of the people that share this new land we now call home.

May a fair wind be always at ye back!

Lachlan McGregor 1778

What follows is the story of Lachlan McGregor – father, husband, soldier, piper, indentured slave, trapper, Indian warrior, and army scout (as best I can remember) supplemented by the occasional dive into relevant entries from his very personal journal.

I hope my words do him justice.

Benjamin Franklin


Boston, Massachusetts

A wind that awoke on the moorland came sighing,
Like the voice of the heroes who perished in vain:
“Not for Tearlach alone the red claymore was plying,
But to win back the old world that comes not again.”
Andrew Lang

Part 1: From Culloden to Skye

Prelude Culloden Moor April 16, 1746

The boy had slowly regained consciousness to what he at first thought was the sound of distressed cows, lowing or braying in the distance. And for one mad moment, he imagined that he was back on his grandfather’s farm and had somehow drifted off to sleep in a meadow. But as his head slowly cleared and his mind became more focused, he realised it was the sound of men, all about him, groaning, crying, and writhing in agony.

Floating above that symphony of sorrow, he recognised the unmistakable sound of excited English voices. Laughing, carousing, calling to each other. Their chatter only interrupted by an occasional agonising scream, a plea for mercy, or just a final death rattle. These were punctuated by the intermittent sound of gunfire, as random survivors were being individually despatched with a kill shot to the head. They were the lucky few, who were spared the cold steel of one last bayonet thrust to the heart.

The boy tried to roll on to his side to better take in the scene around him, but his legs were pinned beneath the weight of several bodies, and that of another laying diagonally across his chest.

The air was thick with the acrid smell of gunpowder, shit, and fresh blood, and all around him was a fine red mist that clogged the nose and cloyed in the throat and left a metallic aftertaste like offal from a pewter spoon.

He tried to feel about with his free right hand, and felt it submerge as if in a warm bath. Lifting his hand, he saw with a shock that it was completely covered in blood. The ground beneath him literally soaked, like a shimmering crimson lake, as far as he could see.

He managed to turn his head to the left and was startled to see he was staring into the familiar soft grey/blue of his father’s eyes. His immediate reaction was to cry out “Da”, but before he got the word out, he felt his father’s calloused hand slide across his mouth to stifle his cry.

His father looked him deep in the eyes and shook his head slightly, then with an imperceptible nod, indicated the two English redcoats making their way across the moor towards them, their boots sloshing through puddles of blood.

With cutlas and bayonet, the soldiers were methodically stopping to stab those still alive, or for that matter, any bodies that still appeared whole, before reaching down and searching the corpses for coins or jewellery, or most prized of all, gold teeth that could be easily prised from gaping mouths and hidden from their commanding officer.

“Oye, we’ve got a live one here!” Called out one, as his companion scrambled over the dead to join him.

“More like half a one,” said the second as he stood over the body before them. “Look at im, he’s got no legs.”

The torso laying on the ground managed to let out a loud groan. The first soldier smiled, and leaning down, said, “What’s that mate, is there a problem?” Which caused them both to laugh loudly.

The body lying on the ground managed to gasp out “Ah seed, see you in hell, English..”

At the sound of the words, they both stopped laughing, and the first soldier replied, “You ain’t going nowhere mate. You ain’t got no fucking legs.” Causing them both to laugh again.

Somehow, the body on the ground managed to pull itself up into a half sitting position, and was about to speak again, when the second soldier drew back the stock of his musket and drove sixteen inches of cold Sheffield steel straight through the man’s heart. Official military reports of the battle later noted that ‘That in the aftermath of that dreadful day, there was not a single English bayonet that was not bloody or bent’.

The soldier withdrew his bayoneted, wiped it clean across the man’s jacket sleeve, and with a shrug, moved on towards where the boy and his father now lay in a jumble of limbs, guts, blood, and discarded weapons, that minutes before had represented some of Scotland’s fiercest warrior class. All gone in the blink of an eye in a futile attempt to restore an exiled king to the throne.

“This lot look done in for.” Said the first one.

“Hang on, grab that broach…might be silver.” He indicated the body of the man across the boy’s chest. “Look at ‘em. No fucking shoes, no rings, I doubt any of ‘em even know what a pocket watch is. They haven’t got a pot to piss in between the lot of ‘em.”

“Come on, let’s make this quick, stick ‘em just to be sure, and then we’ll go and see if we can find some officers where the pickings might be better. The stench is starting to get to me already. “

The first soldier had already begun to wander off, so his companion gave a brief shrug, then lifting his musket stock high, ran his bayonet through the body across the boy’s chest, before he gave a second, desultory poke at the body slumped across his feet.

The boy tried not to flinch as he felt a searing pain as the point of the bayonet punctured the chest cavity of the body across him and punched through into his upper leg, where he clearly felt the tip glance off his hip bone. He felt an urgent need to scream, but his father’s iron-like hand held his mouth firmly clamped shut, and remained there until the soldiers had moved well out of view.

As he felt himself blacking out from the indescribable pain, he heard his Da whisper,

“You just sleep for a while now, laddie, then come night-time, we’ll get oor selves out of this hell hole.”

Fatigue suddenly overtook the boy, and as he closed his eyes, he could hear overhead, that the cries of Culloden’s famous skylarks had now been replaced by the angry caws of impatient crows, awaiting their chance to get at the dead, while overhead, a soft snow had begun to fall....

Earlier that day...

The boy and his father had been walking all night and had seen neither food nor water (save for some early morning dew they had been able to lick from the grass) for at least the last two days.

Now exhausted, weak from hunger, barefoot (as was the custom) and carrying their great claidheamohmors (broadswords) and targes (shields) slung across their backs, they stumbled into the makeshift camp that had been established by the Jacobite army, which had been hastily assembled on the swampy field they called Drumossie Moor, just three short miles from the village of Cùl Lodain, (Gaelic for back of the small pond).

The father, short, dark, and wiry, had the resolute look of man who knew that in this life, he was but a pawn in a giant game of chess, but was here because it was his duty, and therefore knew complaint was of little use. From birth he’d been taught that your clan was the cord that tethered you to the earth, and that unquestioning loyalty to clan and chief was paramount to the survival of all.

The boy, barely nineteen, much broader than his ageing father, with a shock of red hair and piercing green eyes, still retained the enthusiasm of youth, and despite the feeling of trepidation at the coming battle, was still firing off questions excitedly at his weary father, even as they took up a seat against a low stone wall and attempted to get some sleep.

As it had been for a thousand years, they had come at the call of the ceannard cinnidh, (the clan chief) whose word was law, and to whom they owed undying fealty.

Without a mother, or any other close kin, the past nineteen years had been a life of travails for the boy and his Da, and the experience of being cold, hungry, shunned, and oppressed, were not new to them, for they were McGregors, a name that had been banned by decree from the English king James VI way back in 1603, due to the perpetration by the clan of that name for certain ‘barbarous and horrible deeds’ during a skirmish with a neighbouring clan over some land and stolen livestock. Disputed land. Stolen livestock. Implacable loyalty to clan. The root cause of nearly every highland dispute.

This decree had come to pass after the McGregors had massacred some 140 Colquhouns (as well as a party of local schoolboys, who had come to watch) at the battle of Glen Fruin, near Loch Loman.

On that fateful day, Allaster McGregor, the clan chief at the time, being concerned for the schoolboy’s safety, had instructed one of his least bright men to ‘lock the boys in yon barn and take care of them.’ to which the man at arms had most unfortunately interpreted the chief’s instructions to ‘take care of them’ as ‘murder’. Resulting in several young boys being locked up and burnt alive in a hay shed.

As a result, Allaster McGregor and eleven of his men were executed the following year, the name McGregor was banned, and it became lawful to hunt down and kill anyone of that name.

Now, one hundred and seventy years later, the king’s orders, (that all bearing that name should be ‘exterminated and rutted out’), still stood, and while many Highlanders turned a blind eye to them, there were still some (chiefly Campbells and others of that ilk) who would gladly turn them in, or even better yet, slit their throats where they stood, If they thought there was a few pieces of silver to be gained from it.

However, since the Young Prince Charlie had returned to Scotland in a bid to reclaim the Stuart throne, many clans (but certainly not all) had set aside past grievances (of which there were legion) to push the Hanoverian King out and install the young man whom they felt was the rightful heir to Scotland.

Accordingly, they’d had God (in the form of the Catholic Pope) on their side, and of course, the French, and while the earlier part of the campaign had gone well, the Jacobite army, consisting of some 6,000 exhausted, underfed and poorly supplied Scots (supported by a few French and Irish regiments) now faced a determined, well drilled and amply supplied English army of 9,000 under the command of William Augustus, The Duke (later to be appropriately known as ‘The Butcher’) of Cumberland, supplemented by those clans still loyal to the English king, on this cold boggy marsh, known as Culloden, a short march from Inverness.

The previous evening, the Scots had set out with the aim of taking a surprise attack up to the English encampment, but after some poor planning, a heavy fog and some painful misdirection, the plan had come to nought, and with the sun beginning to rise, they had been made to undertake a forced march back to the Culloden Moor, yet again, without the benefit of food, sleep, or even proper shelter.

Now, as father and son both drifted off into troubled sleep, their bellies growling from hunger, the snow and sleet began to fall, and they gathered their thin tartan blankets about them as best they could. Their only solace being the sweet singing of skylarks in the distance.


Several hours later, the boy, Lachlan McGregor, felt someone kicking at his shoeless foot, and remembering where he was, quickly sat up with a start, and tried to focus on the face in front of him.

“I dunnae wish to awaken you, m’lord, but it seems we’ve got a wee problem with some English weevils in the pantry.” Boomed a big voice, sarcastically.

Lachlan sat up straighter, but the look on his face gave away his confusion. “Wha?”

The face he saw before him was huge, craggy, and missing one eye. “Over on yon hill.” Said the man, jerking his thumb over his shoulder. “It seems the English have turned up looking for a fight...”

number of red coats mustering in the distance.

“Noo, the important thing here Laddie, is Ken ye play those pipes you’re cuddling up to, like they were Mary the bosomy milkmaid?” The man indicated the set of pipes Lachlan had clutched under his arm.

“Aye, I can play them just fine, and who are you to be asking?” Replied a slightly indignant Lachlan.

“McCulloch. Henry McCulloch.” Said the man, in a manner that sounded like he expected Lachlan to have heard of him. “I’m one of Lord George Murray’s war captains, and on the prince’s personal orders, Lord Murray has put out a call for pipers. around, I suggest you gather yer things and make yer way over to So, unless you tell me that bag is just for carrying your oaty cakes that standard flying up on yon hill,” He pointed at a stone farmhouse on a rise in the other direction, “And make it quick smart.”

The man stood back, and made to move on, and Lachlan called to him, “Aye, tell your lordship I’ll be along smartly, just as soon as I wake me Da.”

Twenty minutes later, Lachlan and his father, Douglas McGregor, made their way through the now crowded field, and headed towards the standard of Bonnie Prince Charlie which was now flying over several open tents that had been set up to offer some shelter from the sleet that had been falling all morning.

Noticing several other men standing about with pipes under their arms, they made their way towards the group, and were greeted by several curt nods, but no words. The other pipers looking as ragged and exhausted as they.

The man who had introduced himself as Henry McCulloch, looked up, and seeing Lachlan, beckoned him over to where he was standing next to a long table set under a large marquee, around which several men were sitting and arguing.

As he approached the table, Lachlan could see it was covered in bowls of fruit, platters of meat and cheeses, a bowl full of coarse black bread and several carafes of wine or port.

Lachlan stood there eyeing the food, and when there was a break in the conversation, McCulloch cleared his throat and spoke up to the man sitting at the head of the table.

“Begging you pardon, m’Lord, but here’s another piper for ye. A McGregor by the looks of it...”

The man he’d addressed, put down his glass, and pulling himself forward in his chair, looked Lachlan in the eye and said,

“Soo, it’s nice to see the MacGregors come out of the woodwork when their mother country needs them most. Where do ye hail from Lad?”

“Weel”, said Lachlan, puffing up his chest in pride, “Our branch of the family hails from Glen Orchy, Glenlochy and Glenstrae, somewhat near Stirling.” He paused, and then added, “But, I myself was born in Dull...”

The man smiled, and looking about the others at the table, said, “Weel, I trust it’s not a case of Dull by name, and dull by nature?” Causing several of them to chuckle.

“Aye, and we’ve been chiefs amongst those lands since the year 787.” Piped in Lachlan’s father.

“Och, aye?....And who might ye be, old man?” Said Lord Murray, raising an eyebrow and looking directly at the grizzled man who had interrupted him.

“Douglas McGregor, at your service, m’Lord,” the old man bowed theatrically. “This young man here is my only son, Lachlan, and there is no finer piper this side of the river Clyde. The boy can pipe the birds right outta the trees, he can...”

“And the wenches right out of their petticoats, I bet.” replied Lord Murray, eying the young man up and down, and grimacing at the sight of his bare, muddy feet on the snow dappled ground.

“Weel, right noo the Prince has need of your boyo, and these other fine pipers to take our men on to the field and put a bit of steel into their spines.” He paused for effect, and then added, “And some fear into the enemy’s guts...” He paused to select a date from a silver plate of fruit, held it up to the light, and then popped it into his mouth.