The Worm of Linton

Upon arriving at what Sommerville took to be the lair of the beast he…..

By David White

The Worm of Linton while unsurprisingly being from Linton was not what you would typically think of as a worm. That is unless your garden is packed with 10 feet long fanged creatures capable of devouring a flock of sheep. While legends represent it differently, some saying at one point it sprouted wings, while others state it could breath fire, they all agreed that it was a formidable monster that no normal man could face and survive. That was until John Sommerville decided to face it down.

Word had reached Sommerville, a man who, while not overly rich or renowned, was of a growing class of brave and honourable man with some local stature. In a bid to both benefit the locals and increase his rank he went off to investigate the rumour of the great monster that lurked on Linton hill on the outskirts of the village of Jedburgh.

When he arrived at the village he witnessed a scene as though some strange magic had made every villager disappear. The village did not look ransacked, it merely looked empty… still. The stillness was eerie until he heard a clank at the far edge of the village. He rode off in search of this sound and arrived at the village smithy.  

“Good sir, I wondered if I might trouble you for a brief moment?” asked Sommerville.

“Fire on, not got much else to be getting on with, business has up sticks and left and if that damn work aint gone soon I’m going to have to follow them. Been here my whole life, my dad was the smith before me, his dad before him.”

“Well it is just that I came to ask about, where is this beast I have heard so much about? Do you have any reliable information about it? From what I have heard it is somewhere between 10 and 100 feet long and may or may not fly and breath fire.”

The blacksmith chuckled. “Sounds like the locals getting carried away. I can’t say for sure as I’m not stupid enough to go looking myself but from what Sam the farmers boy said to me when he went to try and retrieve what little remained of his flock it lay around 10 feet in length, wide enough to get a ewe down in one, razor sharp fangs. Didn’t hear nothing about no wings or fire though but could be wrong.”

“Well, sounds like I better go and scout it out for myself,” replied Sommerville.

“You’re a braver or stupider man than me then, it’s just on the North-East of yonder hill, though it’s said to have been venturing into the surrounding countryside. Best time to have a look is said to be at sunset as it descends into its lair.”

“Thank you, it looks as though the sun may be going down now, I will ride out immediately and I might just catch a glimpse of this monster.” Sommerville mounted his horse and rode out in search of the beast.

Upon arriving at what Sommerville took to be the lair of the beast he dismounted and slowly approached with his torch lit. Then as though a secret force had stuck him to the ground he was walking on, he froze. All was quite for a moment and then came an almighty snarl as a huge creature lunged out of the cave in the hillside stopping but a few feet from Sommerville. Sommerville couldn’t quite gauge the length of the beast as its tail end remained in its lair but he guessed it must have been at least the 10 feet the Blacksmith had stated. The creature glared open mouthed at Sommerville, its dark pooling eyes fixated on his and its long serpent like tongue hissing from between its long razor-sharp fangs, at least the length of a mans middle finger.

Sommerville, with the light now but a small flicker on the horizon and his torch quickly becoming the only small source of illumination, thought to retreat as quickly as possible. He gave a last glance over the creature and caught what he believed to be protrusions from the side of the beast although he couldn’t be sure if it was just a trick of the light. What he was sure of though was if this creature was indeed some form of wyvern – it couldn’t fly unless guided by a magical force.

Sommerville edged away from the beast slowly, keeping his eyes fixed on its but as he took another step back he stumbled over a small rock jutting from the earth below and the creature pounced. Sommerville’s years of fighting instincts kicked in and he swung his torch at the beast, and it recoiled as though bitten and released a piercing shriek. At that Sommerville seized his opportunity and ran to his horse and rode for the village.

Upon reaching the village he rode up to the smithy shouting for the mans aid. The Blacksmith, clearly about ready for bed, looked less than pleased at seeing the shaken man. A small grin crossed his face as he crossed his arms and said, “Ah so you’ve met our creature then? Take it you got a good look at him by how riled you are?”

“Oh yes, quite a good look and I would like you to make me a modified lance at your earliest convenience.” replied Sommerville while quickly regaining his calm composure.

“Whatever are you wanting that for?” questioned the Blacksmith.

“Why, I mean to slay the beast of course.” Stated Sommerville.

Without saying another word, the Blacksmith gave a disbelieving glance before facing his forge. “What are you after then?”

“I would like a lance with a wheel around a foot from the point”

The Blacksmith grunted and walked into his smithy without only glancing back to say, “Come back at first light it will be done then”

While it is lost to time exactly how the contraption Somerville asked for worked, some say the point moved on the wheel with burning peat attached, while others say the wheel moved like a Catherine wheel attached to the lance. Whatever the actual design, it involved fire and sharpened iron.

The sun began to rise and the first cockerel crowed rising Somerville from his monster ridden dreams in a hay barn. Shaking off the dreams of that night he mounted he noble steed and headed of to see the blacksmith.

“Morning sir, your lance as promised.” Said the Blacksmith, proudly presenting the unusual weapon.

Sommerville inspected the lance, spun the wheel and checked its point. “Perfect,” he stated after careful assessment. He paid the Blacksmith generously before heading out in hunt of peat and pitch to complete his contraption. He quickly found and liberated both from the deserted village leaving a couple of small coins in their place. For the rest of the day he rode back and forth in a local field, brandishing his flaming lance fuelled through pitch doused peat ensuring a long burning hot flame. Unfortunately, it also had the effect of being a very smoky affair and so he sought to ready his horse for its use in battle with the beast.

The day drew on and gradually the horse started to keep its course, stay at pace and remain calm. His noble steed had always been a strong and quick to learn horse and it had been remarked on several occasions that such an animal surely belonged to a man above his station.

By the end of the day, as the sun was setting, he decided he was ready and so he set of for Linton Hill to face off against the creature at its lair. As he rode out of the village, the Blacksmith gave him a wave and whispered under his breath, “God protect this mad man, he means well.” fully expecting to never see Summerville again.

Summerville arrived at the lair with a vivid red sky above as the sun began to dip away below the horizon. He began banging on his armour beckoning the creature to appear from its lair. He then lit his lance and something about the smoke and the noise drew the creature out. This time it was more pensive, it slithered around Summerville, looking for a weak spot to pounce. At that Sommerville rode away a small distance as though retreating then as quickly as he left, he turned and rode back at full speed with his lance down and just like that he burrowed the fire spinning lance deep inside the maw of the beast.

The beast made the most awful shriek and began to enter the most dramatic death, yanking the lance from Somerville’s hand. But it was too late for the beast. It had been struck a mortal blow and as it thrust to and fro, convulsing on the hillside, the earth beneath it began to give way and it plunged through the ground deep down into the cavern below, never to be seen again. Sommerville glanced down as he saw the last flickers of his lance disappear into darkness along with the creature who had now found a tomb in its former home.

Somerville rode back to the village victoriously and before the next day was out the villagers had returned from the surrounding towns and villages and Jedburgh once again thrived. Within a week word had reached the new king, William the Lion and Sommerville was named the Royal Falconer and the first Baron of Linton for his bravery in defeating the worm.

That is the story of the rather unusual worm that once blighted the village of Jedburgh, which can thank its existence today to the brave actions of one John Sommerville.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Gordon Sommerville

    What a fantastic telling of the tale, fabulous stuff, thank you
    One point though as this has been in contention amongst family members for some years.

    James the 11th lord in his book Memorie of the Somervilles , states that it was John ‘what’ done the deed, but he would say that .

    On the other hand local legend and historical records prove that there were no John de Sommerville’s kicking about Scotland in the year 1174 and that in fact the poor defenceless beastie was slaughtered by the mad or ‘wode Willie’ Sommerville who was the 1st baron of Linton.
    As the poem goes..
    “Wode Willie Sommerville
    Killed the wode worm of Wormandaill,
    For whilk he had all the lands of Lintoune,
    And six miles them about.”

    I reference the Peerage of Scotland.

    WILLIAM de SOMERVILLE,
    who made a great figure at the courts of king Mal∣colm
    IV. and king William the Lion.
    He obtained from king William a grant of
    the lands and barony of Linton, in Roxburgh∣shire,*anno 1174, for killing, as is said, a mon∣strous
    serpent that greatly infested the neigh∣bourhood.
    It is also said that this William
    was the king’s falconer.

    https://quod.lib.umich.edu/e/ecco/004896980.0001.000/1:225?rgn=div1;view=fulltext

    Again many thanks , I thoroughly enjoyed reading your version of the tale
    Gordon

    1. folklorescotland

      We are glad you enjoyed the story! Thank you for your insight into the tale it is always interesting to hear different accounts of stories and how things are told in the families and local areas. It is fantastic to hear about the actual serpent slayer, when we were looking into the historical basis we saw that there appeared to be contradicting accounts of who actually did the deed. It’s great to have some clarity on the matter and fascinating that his deed is actually referenced in the Peerage of Scotland.

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