Durham & Tyneside Dialect Group / Literature / Alexander in India                   



This is the letter that Alexander, the bonny king of Macedonia, wrote tiv his sk'ool-maister, Aristotle, concarning his adventures iv India.

“Even i'th' grimmest o' battles,” he said, “Aa mind the', Aristotle, that's varnigh as dear ti me as me Mam an' me sisters. Noo, Aa'm mindin' ye aal, but knaain' hoo keen thoo is for larnin', Aa jaloused the wonders Aa've seen iv India wad appeal ti the' special, sae ti the' this is directed. Mind, if Aa'd nivvor seen them messell, Aa'da reckoned sic t'ales sae much eggtaggle. Bud Aa seed them reet enough, an' the wh'ole Greek army alang o' me. (An' champion soljers they aal are, biding wi' me thru aal the difficulties, an' nivvor yance thinkin' o' quittin' me fer gannin' back hyem. An' tho' Aa'll nut crack o' what Aa've d'one, Aa'll boast o' thor courage an' la'alty.)

Noo, in May it woz, we won Darius an' his army, near the Ganges, that wopened aal the East ti we. Aa tellt the' aal aboot that i' me last letter. Exackly, at th' back-end o' July we com tiv India itsell' an' licked Porrus, thor king, in battle, and his army mair than 'iteen thoosan' men. An' we've took his fower hundred elephants, that had lil' hooses on thor backs for archers to shute frae.

Then we went tiv his palace: what a seet! A'm tellin the', it was bigged o' columns aal scumfisht wi' gold an' thor woz ower fower hundred drinkin cups o' gold, an' the gold as thick as yor finga. Then we fand his vinyard, wheer th' vines graa'd up mair o' thir columns, an' the leaves wor gold tee, an' th' fruit aal crystal an' em'rald an' sik-like. L'ater we fand mair o' his pots an' pl'ates - aal gold, for thor woz aabut n'ane siller ti be seed, but gold them wi gems like lil muds pinn'd aal ower, an' ithers o' ivory, an' canny kirved, like. Aal that we clicked up, fer itoz wor treasure noo.

But Aa'm ivvor restless an' wanted ti see mair o' India. Sae we set oot, an s'oon cam ti Caspia, that's the maist fertile airt, an' graas owt wonderfully weel. Aa wanted ti see still mair, an' explore th' fremd land ayont, but the folk thor warnd we, on account o' th' dangerous sn'akes an' wild beasts that skug i' them c'aves i' th' sandy fells an' woody denes. It woz weel ti be prepard for aal that, sae we t'ook twee hundred o' th' local folk wi' we as guides an' hostages, ti mak sure o' wor safety.

For what would Aa keep travellin'? For becos A'd heared ov anuther land caa'd Patriacen, oot yonder, full o' hidden treasures, an' some crack o' th' f'abled trees o' th' sun, whese leaves they spun inti golden brocade, fit that fer a king indeed.

In August we set off inti th' unkent land, sometimes bars o' sand an' sometimes swamps an' swallies. Aa began ti jalouse th' guides wor leadin' we be th' worst o' peths, for we seed aal mak an' manner o' sarpents keekin' oot. Aa tellt th' soljers ti march wi' thor swords at th' ready. That woz tricky for them, wi' aal the gold an' gear they wor huggin aroond - we doresent leave it ahint us - sae mickle gold we twinkled an' shon like a star or a flash o' lightnin' as we waaked! Aa thot Aa woz th' grandest chiel o' aal time!

Fortune musta t'ook the ghee, for s'oon we fand worsells in badland indeed, wi nae watter onnywheers. We wor sae drouthy, it woz torrible te thole. Yan o' me men, Severus his n'ame, fand a bit watter in a swally in a st'ane, an' put it in his helmet, and fetched it ti me. Bud Aa wadnut drink, me, an leave me army dry. Aa tellt them aal te tak note, an' Aa teemed th' watter oot afore thor varry een, an' sed we'd aal be equal drouthy tegither.

Nut lang efter that, we com tiv a blissid river an' camped. Thor th' pines and beech-trees graa'd tiv an aaful size an' gav us some ombre, but - Begok! - we seun fand that the watter o' the river woz sae bitter an' foisty, we could n'ane drink it, not even th' animals. (We had a reet vast o' animals wi' we - ousen an' camels as well as elephants an' gallowas, maistly te help port aal the treasure we'd gained.) Aa felt mair sorry for them, for it's harder fer a dumb beast te thole th' suffering o' thirst nor it is fer a man, that has some command o' his feelin's.

Aal we could dee woz keep gannin', an Aa telled them yance mair te haad their swords ready. They wor nut happy te hev this extra burthen, when they wor a'ready het an' drouthy, an' nae foes ti be seen. Bud Aa kenned nut what dangers awaited we an' it's best ti get yorsells weel graithed. We mairched along th' mairgin o' the river, an' eftor some days we keeked a toon bigged on an island amid the river itsell'. We seed a few men, half-nakt, amid the hooses, but they ran an' skugged inbye when they seed we. We m'ade signs fer them ti fetch we fresh watter, but they nivvor stirred. Then we shot a few arrers ower, thinking if they wadbut help we for mense' s'ake, they meit for fear, but they wor sae afeered, they on'y hid the harder. Next Aa sent some o' me men to swim an' ax them, but nae s'ooner wor they i' th' watter, than torrible monsters lowped up and snapp'd at them an' rived them aal bloody an ' dragged them doon ti thor deeths. Aa woz sae angered at this, Aa had a hundred an' fifty of th' local guides cast eftor them into th' watter, ti' thor deeths, that had gi'en we nae warning but led we inti sic dangers. The river-monsters fret them aal up.

Then Aa thot we wad be better biggin a raft, seein' aal the trees aroond us, and some men got across ti the toon that way, and spiered eftor fresh watter. They wor gi'en directions strite off an' we set off yance mair, as it got betwix the twee leets.. Aal neet we mairched, an' roond us ch'ased lions an' bears an' tigers an' leopards an' wolves, that we had te fight as we went, while com the morn. At forst leet, the peth led we ti th' promised watter, a canny dub afore we. Good watter it woz an' sweet, enough fer we aal an' wor animals.

Thor we ettled te camp, an' Aa bade them cut wood an' big a waal aroond us all, men an' animals, an' that neet we lit a thoosan feires ti keep th' wild beasts away. Safe at last, Aa gav signal to blaa the trumpets an' tak wor evening bait.

When the m'oon rose, cam wiv it a vast o' scorpions, ettlin' te slocken their thurst i' th' dub, an' horned sn'akes, reed an' black an' whiete, inti wor varry tents. Thor sc'ales wor like gold ti l'ook upon, an' scary thor hissin', Aa warnt the'. We fended worsells wi wor shields, an' progged at th' sarpents wi' long spears an' snagged 'em an' hoyed them i' th' feire, but it t'ook many an hour afore we wor safe and yebble ti get some sleep. But then cam sum girt gnarly beasts, as big as dragons, as thick as the columns of a palace, oot o thor dens an' c'aves; some had twee, some three heeds, wi' triple tongues an' breeth like fiery torches an' as deedly ti sn'ook in as the smit. Some thirty o' wor men they killed, an we fowt a lang hour while they went away, but then cam huge lions, aal wh'ite an' ahungered, an' flitter-mice, that fleed at wor f'aces an' bit wi' man-size teeth. An ' worse, a wasen girt monster wi three horns on its heed cam ti drink at the river, an' when it seed wor camp, rushed in t'attack, an' killed twenty-six o' wor men at yance an' forby wounded sivinty mair afore we could kill it wi arrers an' spears. I' th' whisht o' th' dawn a new terror arose, a deedly fret oot o' th' dub, that twirled aroond us wi its smittle whi'teness and left yet mare deed wi its fatal damp.

When th' sun cam up, we had some rest frev aal th' neet-horrors, but Aa cudnot forgie the guides that had left us sae unfendy, and had them tied, and thor legs broken an thor hands sned off t'avenge th' mony la'mes d'one ti we. Then we jorneyed on, whiles fightin' wi' smaaly bands o' folk, an reached Patriacan, the land o' gold an' trezor. We wor welcomed mensefully, but i' time we set off ag'ain te the borders of the Medes and Persians, and eftor a bonny f'ight we catched up wi Porrus yance mair that fled sae far frev us.

He lippened mare te this land's fremdness and fells nor his power te kemp wi we, and sent friendsome messages. Aa was minded te pl'ay a sconce on him, this Porrus, an' doffin' me kingly duds, Aa donned a yacker's claes, like onny warkman, and ganned te his palace, speirin' scran an' beor. When they knaa'd Aa was of Alexander's army, Aa was t'ook to Porrus hissell, and axed aal aboot Alexander. Aa scunered him purely wi' me answers: he woz sae aad he had ti sit near th' f'ire te bide waam, Aa said, but he keeped axin' while Aa said Aa was ower-petty a daytal man te knaa mair of th' king, me.

Then he gov me a letter te tak ti Alexander, an' good brass if Aa gov it him man te man. Weel, Aa'd hardlies getten hyem when Aa laffed to read his fond threats an' aal that. He ettled te f'ight for fairs - but when he marched up an' catched a gliff o wor army, he cowped his ideas sharpish, ca'd skinch, sayin' what a marra he'd elwiz been to me an' the Greeks. Aa did nut mak gam o him mare, fer Aa'd a'reedy lick'd him yance, but sent him back in his palace, and woz sonsy at aal the gold he threaped doon Aa mun tak.

Trezur is much, but a'venture's mair. We set away ag'ain, efter mair marvels, but on'y met the bare sandy shores an' fierce monsters we'd kenned afore. Aa axed gif we meetn't tak sail, but folk said this ocean was ower-dark an' ower-vast ivvor ti be crossed. Then let's - said Aa - l'ook west, an' see what else there is o' India. S'oon we cam tiv a land o' mersh an' swallies, reeds an' c'ane. Suddenly, a girt monster rushed we - wi' maxi-tusks an' armoured aal ower sae wor spears an' arrers had nae effeck. In th' end we wor yebble te sl'ay it wi' mells an mundies, afore it sud sl'ay mare o' we. We wor telled the sort beast wor ca'd 'M'oon-heed'.

Nae s'ooner had we fettled this mazer ova beast, then we heared a soond l'ike a vast o' trumpets fornenst we, ana herd o' w'ild elephants cam strampin' upon we. We lowped on wor horses te f'ace them, te nae purpose. Then Aa minded that elephants are afear'd o' guissies, an got me men to ca' aal wor guissie-pigs ower against th' girt intruders, an' wor mazed te see th' elephants flee an' run tappy-lappy back ti the forest. That neet, we m'ade a purely strang fort te wonn in.

The morn, as we mairched on, we gliffed an odd sort o' human, mare l'ike a wild beast, for the women an' men wor aal hairy like animals, an n'ane wore nae claes. When Aa would get n'igher te see berrer, they dove in the watter an' went ti skug i' c'aves. We wor telled they wor ca'd 'Ictifafones' and lived be huntin' wh'ales an' eatin' them on the sands.

That evenin' we cam ti th' land o' Fasiacan, an' when we wad mak camp, thor cam sae mickle a wind, blaain' se forceful, we cuddna set th' tents. Aa telled them aal te move into a dene an' thor we fand some shelter, but it began ti snaa, an' sniwde se thick an hevvy, it m'ade a nowt ov aal wor f'ires an' left us aal i' the dark. Efter th' snaa cam l'ike baals o' fl'ame from th' sky, sae het an' deedly, men said we had offended th' gods for that we went nebbin' roond th' werld. Nut sae, Aa gollered, an' bade them tak thor aad sarks an' dad oot the globes o' f'ire. At last we got some peace an' rest. I' th' morn thor wor five hundred o' me men ti be buried, eftor sic a neet.

Then we wor varnigh com tiv Ethiopia, and the mountain of Sinai, wheer the Tablets o' God wor written in a c'ave. They said, onny man that ganned in th' c'ave wivoot makkin' a bornt offerin' aforehand, wad dee. An' it's true, for some that ganned in deed on th' thord d'ay eftor. Then humbly Aa begged th' blissin' o' the' men o' God, me that was king ov aal th' middle yorth, an' axed that Aa sud get s'afely hyem tiv Olimphiad me mam, an' me sisters, an' aal me kin; an' we t'ook wor skite.

We cam back-ower then ti th' land o' Fasiacan, an' on the peth we met twee aad an' menseful gadgies. Aa axed them if thor woz owt mazer-like ti be met wiv i' that land. They said, Aye, an' it woz a parlous jorney ti mak al'ane; yet wi my thoosan' men Aa meit get. They pointed tiv a peth an said gif ye foller that, o king, ye'll reach th' Trees o' th' Sun n M'oon, in India, that speak ti men. The Tree o' the Sun is reckoned a m'ale, and the Tree o' the M'oon a w'ife, an' folk gan ti ax them what the future haads for them.

Aa thot it woz some sconce; then Aa thot, if it wor true, it wor th' greatest marvel ov aal. An' Aa was tied ti' finndin' oot th' truth ovit. Aa left the maist pairt o me men wi' Porrus the king, and set on me way wi three thoosand men. Some d'ays we stramped on inti the forest, an' far-in we startid ti meet wi' men an' w'ives dresst in panthers' pelts an tigers' skins, that kenned nae ither claes. Aa axed them o' what kin they wor, an' they said they wor Indians. Thor beheld we a purely wonderfu' land, buzzin' wi' balsam an' incense, an' they said ye cud eat th' twigs o' the trees an' live be that. As we wor l'ookin an marvellin', some priest o' that pl'ace cam fornenst us. He woz pick-black aal ower, but fer his teeth that wor wh'ite; his ears wor thirled an' hung wi' jewels; his duds wor th'skins o' wild animals. Aa ca'd oot tiv im gotherly, an' he axed us for what we'd com. Aa said Aa'd com ti see th' Trees o' th' Sun an' th' M'oon. He said, if yor men are free o' th' touch o' woman, they may enter th' holy grove. Some three hundred o' me men cam forard, and we wor telled te strip off wor duds an' enter. It seems th' Tree o' th' Sun speaks atwix th' twee leets an' at dawnin', and th' Tree o' th' M'oon on'y at neet.

We advanced marvellin', through th' loveliest o' balm scents, to wheer the Trees o' th' Sun an' th' M'oon rose amid tuther trees, at least a hundred-an'-twenty feet hee. Aa axed wheer was th' watter or the rain garr'd them graa so bonny, but the priest sais thor wor nae watter, nae rain i' that land. An' mair, thor woz ne beast nor worm, that dared com near th' holy trees. Then Aa thot Aa sud mak some kind offerin', but the priest says noa, thor woz nae blood-lettin allowed onywheer aroon' th' trees, but Aa sud kneel and pray th' trees te tell me truthfully what Aa wanted ti knaa. Aa did that, just as we seed the Sun settle in the west and its gleam touch th' tip o' th' trees abien we. The priest cast his een up an' telled we te dee the s'ame, an' ax silently i' wor hearts th' things we wanted te knaa, but nut ti speak them. Aa g'azed upaheight, an' wondered if Aa meit win aal the Middle Yorth; an' be king ower aal, an' eftor cam hyem s'afe ti my Mam and my fam'ly.

Then th' Trees gav thor answer in Indian an' said: Alexander, unbeaten in battle, you will be King and Lord over all the Middle Earth, however you will never return to the homeland from which you came. Aa woz reet dazed when Aa heered these words, that the priest translated for me, and me men dowly an aal te larn Aa'd nivvor get hyem.

Aa wished te larn mair, but hed ti bide while the m'oon cam up at neet. Aa led on'y three marras wiv me, fer Aa ettled ti finnd oot when an wheer Aa'd dee, that was nut ti be knaan biv aal. Astite the m'oon rose an' shed its blake leet ower the Tree, ma question was answered: Alexander, you have lived to the end of your life, in two years' time you will die in Babylon in the month of May, at the hands of those you least expected to betray you. Then did me marras greet at the news, and we retorned ti wor camp dowly enough. Howsomever Aa ettled ti sleep and be wokken early to put me third question ti the Trees.

Astite the Sun was breet, Aa ganned back ti the grove wheer the priest in his wild animal skins bided fer me. Aa put my question silently as afore, aboot the future; the Tree of the Sun responded: your Mother will die shamefully and lie unburied for the birds and beasts to pick at; your sister will live long and happily; you will die not by the sword but by poison. That is as much as I can reveal. Ask no more: return to Porrus.

Aa telled me marras not te taak of what they'd heered, lest enemies should tak advantage o knaaing Aa had not lang ti live. It was bitter ti me, the crack aboot my deeth, when Aa thot of aal th' glory Aa minted ti achieve. Yet Aa've managed a vast o' conquests an' adventures, mair nor ony king that ivvor was, an Aa write them te thee, Aristotle, ma dearest teacher, that ye sud knaa hoo it ends.

 b u i l d  a  d i c t i o n a r y !

 s e n d  us  a  p o e m !

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