The Laird and his clansmen sat close to the warmth of the great hearth and waited.
The roving story-teller placed his wooden bowl back on the long board table with a sigh of contentment; a signal he was about to begin his tale. His voice was deep and rich; his eyes penetrated the smoke from the wall sconces and wood smoke from the roaring blaze.
"The crowd was near delirious with suppressed excitement. They watched mesmerized, as the thick rope swayed from the scaffold in the stiff November winds.
As it swung back and forth, there settled upon the watchers, a kind of reverent silence. They knew, soon the hangman's knot would be placed around a pulse-throbbing neck.
The man to be hung that day had been found guilty of the brutal murder of "Tall Tom", the village blacksmith.
Now, the people of the village had no particular affection for Thomas Beaton; mostly finding him no boon friend to the small people, nor even to the village elders. He stayed to himself in his smithy, beating out the iron shoes for the horses, repairing tools, and such. But nary a word ere passed his lips. The Creator made him strong as an ox; but He also made him dumb as a boulder in a field of wheat.
More could be heard from the brook, babbling like a wee child, or a frog, croaking in the pond, then came out of Tall Tom's mouth or' the years. Upon his own birth, he made not a squeal, but fell from his matter's swollen body like a huge wrinkled fruit.
At first, his quiet demeanor was taken as a sign of sanctity by the village priest. But as Tall Tom grew, he proved that no more than false prophecy, with his dark moods and sullen ways.
The villagers cared not for his company, but let him abide among them for his services alone.
One day, late in the season of harvest, as the whole of the village was fiendishly working in the fields to bring in the last of their crop, a young man showed himself at the smithy's.
The Widow Clampett was witness to his arrival and marked his passage down the lane to Tall Tom's blacksmith Shop.
The Widow described later, for the benefit of the elders, how the young stranger carried a broken scythe in his hands; holding handle in one and blade in t'other.
She saw him handing the curved head to Tom, while in a loud voice, accusing him of shoddy work and cheating him of his hard gotten pence.
Upon seeing the look of deep red anger crossing Tall Tom's face, the Widow Clampett became much alarmed and feared for the young man.
Her evidence, given at the stranger's hearing, concluded with repeating his angry words to Tall Tom's wordless, but threatening looks. No less frightening by her description.
"He says to Tall Tom," Ye'll pay dear, smithy; upon me word I ain't gonna be cheated!" Naturally, the dumb smith could only respond with a blackest of scowls.
The young man left the village according to the watchful, Widow Clampett. She saw him take to the woods, his face in a high fury.
He returned through those woodlands in the deepest part of the night, a long hunting knife concealed under his shirt.
Now he knew Tall Tom was unable to utter a word and believed his vengeance on the cheating smithy would go undetected by even the keenest of hearing.
Entering the back of the shop where Tall Tom made his bed and larder, the youth took his wicked blade from its sheath. Stepping like a wraith's shadow, he came to the smithy's pallet. Finding him deep in slumber, he drove the long blade into Tall Tom.
Knowing him mortally wounded, the young murderer departed the shop and made for the woods.
The next morn, as commerce began to commence in and around the village green, the youth decided he would act the part of patron to the smithy. That, he thought would keep all suspicion from his person.
Following that ploy he approached the shop.
There was a large crowd of villagers gathered in front of the open door. The forge, usually red hot by this time, was dead cold. The village folk became alarmed at such an unusual happening and appointed two of the more robust men among them to brave the smithy's anger, if perchance he was lingering abed.
There was a loud yell and an unseemly torrent of profanity from the back of the shop.
The young murderer was beside himself with curiosity, knowing he had left the smithy ready for the Reaper. He pushed himself forward into the crowd and came face to face with the blacksmith.
Tall Tom seemed to be floating in a pond of blood. His long shirt and rough wool blanket were dyed as rich a red as worn by any Cardinal!
When the young would-be killer stepped up for a closer look, Tall Tom's eyes flew open. He caught sight of his murderous patron and he lifted his hand and pointed directly at him. The villagers were amazed that he still showed this much life, considering his obvious state.
Holding his strong hand up and continuing to point at the young stranger, his mouth moved. Coming from his throat, as if from a rusted jar top came Tall Tom's first words, "He killed me!"
"And how call we call the moral of this story," asked the troubadour into the stillness surrounding him like heavy fog?
"There is equal power in the truth spoken for the first time, as is in a lie spoken for a lifetime."