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Children's Stories
by Margo Fallis
The Eagle Bairn

In the early 1700’s there lived a young lad named Robert Nicolson. He lived on the island of Fetlar with his parents. Fetlar is one of 100 islands that make up the Shetland Islands, which belong to Scotland. They are actually closer to Norway than Scotland. They lie in the North Atlantic and were once used as a stop over for Vikings, on their way to or home from pillaging the people of Great Britain.

Shetland is a cold, windswept group of island. There is hardly a tree growing there; mostly just low growing shrubs and wildflowers. Birdlife is abundant though and many birds, such as puffins, make the island their permanent home.

One sunny day, which is a rare thing in Shetland, as it always seems to rain, Robert and his father climbed into their sixern, a small wooden fishing boat. They began the difficult task of rowing in the mostly-choppy sea, out to where they would find their daily catch of cod, ling or haddock. The men were the fishermen and the women stayed home, tending to the garden and the animals.

Mrs. Anderson was outside in her vegetable garden. She had rows of huge cabbages growing, potatoes and turnips too. Not much else grew in Shetland’s rocky soil. Not much else can withstand the harsh weather. She had her little baby, Mary, wrapped up tightly in a blanket, lying in her wooden cradle, not far from where her mother worked. Mrs. Anderson took her shovel and turned the ground over, taking the weeds away from the cabbages. As she bent over to dig, she saw a huge shadow coming from above her.

To her horror, the huge eagle swooped down and stuck its talons out in front. As Mrs. Anderson screamed and began to run towards her baby, the eagle picked up the tightly-wrapped, sleeping infant, and carried it off towards the nest. It held the baby carefully and flapped its wings until it was out of sight.

Mrs. Anderson, in hysterics, ran down to the beach. She happened to see Robert and his father in the sea fishing. She waved at them, trying to get their attention. The waves pounded in around her, carrying in pieces of flotsam from passing ships, or things that had been carried in the current of the ocean from as far away as the Caribbean.

Robert saw Mrs. Anderson waving and pointed her out to his father. They rowed towards her. They pulled the sixern up onto the beach. Mrs. Anderson was soaking wet. Robert’s father, Nicol, put his arms around her and they walked up towards the small croft. Inside he stirred the fire and sat her down in a chair, wrapped a woolen blanket around her and asked what had happened.

Mrs. Anderson, now somewhat composed, told the two men of the eagle. She was very upset; terrified that Mary would become dinner for the eaglets that were surely in the nest, since it was late spring.

Nicol asked Mrs. Anderson to go and get some help from some of her neighbors. He and Roberts searched for some rope, found a coil, and ran off towards the cliffs, hoping to find the eagle and little Mary.

They climbed to the top, following a steep path cut into the cliff’s face. The waves pounded against the bottom of the cliff, sending spray up over them. The noise was almost deafening. At last they made it to the top. They walked along, looking down. At last they came to the nest. It was about fifteen feet down, lying on a ledge that jutted out from the cliff. There were 3 eaglets in the nest and the baby, who seemed to be unharmed. The little eagles weren’t bothering her. The adult eagles were nowhere to be seen.

Nicol and Robert were soon joined by some of the neighboring men and their wives, and Mrs. Anderson. She ran over to the edge and gazed over at her baby. Mrs. Spence came and pulled her away, taking her back a few feet.

The men came up with a plan. They would tie a rope around one of them and lower him over the edge, where he would grab the baby and bring her up to safety. They knew they had to hurry before the eagles came back. Robert volunteered. He was the lightest of them all. Nicol, being proud of his son, saw no other choice. A rope was tied securely around his waits and shoulders and he was lowered down, slowly.

The wind hurled around him, biting at him with its cold ferociousness. The eaglets began to chirp wildly, calling for their parents. Nicol looked up and saw, off in the distance, one of the huge eagles headed towards them. He called to his son to hurry. They lowered him a little quicker. He reached the nest. It was made of bits of hedge and scrub. Little Mary was sound asleep, still wrapped in her blanket, like a cocoon. She seemed alive to Robert.

He reached down and grabbed her, holding her tightly. She opened her eyes as soon as he held her safely. She looked up at him and smiled. The men pulled the rope and raised the boy and the baby up to the edge. Mrs. Anderson ran over and took Mary from Robert’s arms. She hugged her so tightly, glad her baby was safe. She then hugged Robert and thanked him for being a hero. He’d saved her baby’s life. Just then the two eagles came back. The group watched as they soared in the updraft of the cliff, then landed in the nest.

His father walked over and patted him on the back, as did the other men, then all went back to Mrs. Anderson’s croft. The others soon left. Robert took Mary from her cradle and held her. He gazed into her eyes, then reached down and kissed her cheek.

The two of them, seeing all was well, left mother and daughter in the croft and went back to the beach. They pushed the boat into the waves and climbed in. They rowed back out to see and caught what they needed.

The years passed by. Robert spent a lot of time at Mrs. Anderson’s croft. Though he was ten years older, he loved Mary. Her mother made sure she knew the story of her hero, Robert, and how he’d saved her life.

When they grew into adulthood, Robert Nicolson married Mary Anderson, who was known as ‘The Eagle Bairn’. All descendants of this loving marriage are also known as ‘Eagle Bairns’. We should be proud of our Shetland heritage and the brave men who worked hard fishing and built homes for their families. We should be grateful for the women who toiled in their gardens, tended to the sheep, spun wool, then knitted the wool into sweaters, socks, gloves, scarves and hats. They cut peat from the ground, using it for fuel. They had no modern conveniences, forced to cook over a fire in a big black kettle. Life was not easy for them. The weather was unmerciful and by the sweat of their brow they worked all their days. Be proud to be an ‘Eagle Bairn’.

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