Chapter Three


There is a great flurry of activity outside the inn at the end of White Horse Close. Stable hands are readying horses, young boys tote water into the kitchen, various customers coming and going hover about the yard, smoking pipes – and eyeing the Highlanders in their midst with cautious stares. Duncan, Angus and Ranald are walking together. There is some mildly heated talk between them as Duncan tries to load his meager luggage into a waiting coach.

"Man, there's time a plenty for what you want to do," Angus insists. "Away home with us for a short stay first."

"You know I can't Angus," replies a determined Duncan as he heaves up a large leather bag. "There's a thing to be done for Sutherland. Why do you keep on so?"

"We can drag you away like that time in Stockholm," Ranald chimes in happily.

"Oh Aye, that's right," says Angus, feigning a memory loss. "When that lovely lady came a calling."

Just then Elspeth steps out of the inn. Behind her trail two servants carrying her baggage. Duncan spots this and tries to quiet his companions. "No need to remind me now," he whispers.

"Oh, I think it just the time. Get the rope Ranald."

"Enough of this, Elspeth is coming," Duncan demands. But Angus ignores him.

"All the more reason."

It takes a moment in the confusion for Duncan to realize that Elspeth is bringing her belongings out of the inn, and having them loaded into the carriage. "And what do you think you are doing?" he says, quite astonished.

Elspeth is no mood for any opinion other than her own when she says, "If you think Duncan Hamilton, that after waiting these 18 months past for you to come home -- that I am just to let you go off now that I have had you for but a few days, well you have another thing coming. And it's going to be me."

The two Highlanders crack wide smiles at this. And even as Duncan glares, they do not fade. "Elspeth, it's all arraigned for you to stay at Lord Sutherland's estate at Stranraer till I get back. Now, unload all this," Duncan says.

She continues to direct the servants, paying no heed. "That's right...in the coach with the rest." Duncan just can't believe his eyes.

"Are you listening?" he asks. "It's a rough journey, and I don't know what we'll find at the end of it. I've told you all this. I thought it was settled."

Standing nearby are two coachmen hired by Sutherland. Both are dire looking characters. Hamish, tall and lanky casts perverted glances at Elspeth as she passes. The other, a small, shriveled toad who apparently has neither shaved nor bathed in some time laughs foolishly at the young kitchen help as they scamper about with buckets full and empty. There is a lecherous twinkle in his caked eyes. Hamish decides to interject an unwanted opinion to Elspeth's conversation with Duncan. "Oh, it's a lovely place, if I may speak so bold. Not dangerous at all. And lively too for a young lady of means," the creature offers.

Duncan turns with a glare. Angus and Ranald stand to attention, more than ready to offer up their own opinions to this contemptible figure."Keep your mouth to yourself man," Duncan threatens in no uncertain voice. The idiot coachman's grin turns sour, and he slinks away rather than confront the warrior friends of Duncan.

"There's no more talking about this, Duncan. You'll be glad in the end to have someone you know around to take care of you," Elspeth adds.

Angus smiles and whispers close to Duncan. "We can get the rope..."

Duncan is not amused. Elspeth turns back to the inn to pay the bill as Ranald steps closer to Duncan as he says, "I'm thinking this is one battle you won't win. But one you won't mind losing either."

Duncan sighs, knowing he is defeated. "What friends I have," he says.

Angus smiles. "Oh aye."

Just then Lord Sutherland arrives on the scene. The two coachmen suddenly become very upright and professional. After all, here was the man paying their bill. Duncan turns to him and they grasp each others forearms in warm, knowing friendship.

"Ah my boy," the old Lord says. "Everything has been taken care of -- your shelter, transport, cash for your bills. Lord Lovat has been informed of your coming. I felt it safer for you that way. The more that know your comings and goings the better. But even so, walk softly, eh? The coachmen are from the town and know the way safe enough."


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