Chapter Four


The sun is setting in the late afternoon sky, casting a purple gloom over the landscape. High above on a rocky crag, the coach pulls up. Below them in the distance is their destination. Auchencairn. But hovering above the wee village is an ominous sight a plume of black smoke stretching up and spreading out across the sky, as if to blot out the remaining rays of the sun. Indeed, the sun is clearly visible through the smoke. And without shading their eyes, or having to turn away, one can stare straight at it. It floats like a blood red pool in the acrid black. A hole burning through the fabric of the sky.

Duncan gets to his feet to take a look, gazing off at the smoke. The lurid coachmen smile knowingly to each other. "Well now," says Hamish with a devilish grin. "Some might say that it's a fine warm welcome they've arranged for your lordship."

"And a warm exit for someone else," adds Willy laughingly.

"Hurry now man, before we miss it!" Hamish replies, genuinely concerned.

"Not on your life!" says Willy, whip hand raised.

"Or yours," Duncan warns, quite fed up with this dark journey and the sight before him. The two stop their laughing, and spur the horses on towards the town with a passion.

As the carriage roars into Auchencairn's outer approaches, a small troop of riders suddenly appear at their side, as if out of nowhere. The coachmen nod solemnly to them as they keep pace with the carriage, giving it a good looking over. They are dressed in burgonet helmets, quilted leather jack-tunics with metal plating attached inside as their armor. On the arm of each is a black band of flowing cloth, with a stitched badge in bright red with the initials "LL" intertwined. Pistols hang at their side, along with a short sword. 6 foot lances are cupped under their arms. At the end of one is a speared fish. Skilled hands indeed.

Duncan looks hard at the dark and dour men. "Our royal escort is seems," he says to Elspeth.

The coach slows down as it approaches the gate of Auchencairn. The village is surrounded by a strange pattern of make-shift walls, not typical for such a small Scottish town. As two of the armed riders move ahead of them, the heavy oak doors swing open and the coach roars in behind. There are conspicuously armed soldiers everywhere, in the same manner of dress as the riders. It is clear that they are all members of one of the area's notorious riding clans, and dressed for battle. They cast an ominous eye on the strangers as they pass.

The open gates reveal a pulsating flash of bright red and orange light thrown up against the purple-hued buildings. The stench of death prevails, and it seems indeed as if they have passed the portal into hell.

The carriage turns into the main square and comes to a halt. Duncan now sees the cause of the smoke and the ferocious light the town square is literally ablaze with red flames.

"Good God," says Duncan, incredulous at the sight before him. "Where have we come to."

In the center of the square is a pyre. Huge bundles of kindling and timbers are burning savagely. Tied to a great pole in its midst is the charred, skeletal remains of a human being. There is no way to tell if it was once living man or woman, the flames ready to consume even black bone. Off to one side is a old man, tied to a post in the same manner. Grimly awaiting his time with the torch, his head hangs low, bobbing from side to side, around and around in a loose manner. He gasps for breath sucked out of his lungs from the nearby heat and his own utter exhaustion.

"My God, Duncan. Duncan!" Elspeth cries, shocked beyond belief at the hellish vision.

The town is itself frantic with celebration! In fact it is quite like a joyous fair. Smoke blackened faces smile madly with broken teeth and soggy gums. Drink consumed openly in the streets, pies sold and greedily consumed. Jovial back slapping, tearful laughing, and hacking from the fumes. Duncan glares at the madness around him. He has never seen anything quite like it.

One other is not shocked, Hamish, the coachman. "Ahh, warms the cockles of the heart, eh?" he says sarcastically towards Duncan. "Your lordship."

The two fools laugh again, but Duncan, enraged gets to his feet, and pushes both aside, showing his enormous strength. The coachmen cower as Duncan grabs Willy roughly. "What do you make of this, fool," he demands.

Willy stammers, terrified of Duncan, and genuinely not understanding the question. "I...I...uh...don't understand. Can you no see? Your...lo...your..." The term "lordship" catching in his throat.

"Say that again to me you ass, and there'll be a third man for burning this day!" Duncan snaps into his face, meaning every word.

"Sir...Captain, sir. It's just Willy," Hamish quickly interjects. "You see, sir. Just daft Willy..."

Willy tries to force a grin as he agrees. "Aye...Daft Willy...that's what they call me...and what I am."

"Well then? Speak before it's dead Daft Willy!" Duncan threatens.

"A condemned man...no doubt...it seems sir. What else?"

Duncan tosses the fool down into his seat. "What else indeed," he says in an exasperated response.


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