The Laird- Wild Heather Book 1
Suddenly the door opened wide.
He blinked as light streamed in. Before them a wide staircase led down to a cavernous hall. Immense soot-laden beams held up a ceiling of what appeared to be tightly packed straw, and the walls were timber pylons reinforced with mud or clay.
A fire roared in a fireplace large enough to roast a whole cow. Two large soot-encrusted pots containing what smelt like some sort of stew hung over the fire. Peat blocks were stacked up at one side of the hearth and enough wood to keep a fire going for a week was piled up on the other side.
People sat around on stools or rough wooden benches. It was impossible to estimate at first glance how many there were. Everyone stopped talking at once, and a sudden eerie silence filled the hall as they all gazed up at them.
Liz crumpled in a heap at Andrew’s feet.
“Liz, for heaven’s sake!” Andrew went down on his haunches beside her, pulling her into his arms. The boy who’d opened the door stood with his mouth agape, staring at them as if they were apparitions.
A giant of a man slowly lifted himself from one of two throne-like chairs that flanked the fireplace and, taking the steps two at a time came to tower over them, mouthing words Andrew couldn’t understand.
“I’m sorry, but you’ll have to speak English.” Andrew wondered how he’d managed to get the words out, as picking Liz up, he went down the stairs and looked about for a soft place to set her down. The man followed him, and then faced Andrew, his hand on a deadly looking dagger-type weapon that was thrust through his belt.
The only likely place Andrew could put Liz was on a wide bench. It didn’t look much more comfortable than the floor, which was strewn with heather, lavender stems and rushes. As Andrew set Liz down he glanced up. The man’s scowl was ferocious as he scratched at his dark head.
His mass of thick black wavy hair reached past his shoulders, and his beard was just as black. He babbled on in the same strange tongue, and the rest of the crowd began to mutter and whisper, moving closer and doing little to disguise their almost childlike curiosity.
They were dressed in an odd assortment of clothing. Andrew had never seen anything quite like it. The men wore a sort of kilt without pleats. They all had leggings or bindings around their calves. Some, including the giant, wore shirts, others a sort of sleeveless vest. Most of the women wore ankle-length long sleeved shift-like dresses, belted at the waist. The children, even the boys, sported similar knee-length shifts, tied about the middle with cords or leather thongs. None of the children had shoes on, but the adults all appeared to be wearing soft leather moccasin type slippers.
A tall woman rose gracefully from the other high-backed chair.
Liz stirred, opening her eyes, muttering, “He wants to know what the blazes we’re doing in his home. He seems to suspect we’re more spies sent by some enemy or other. A guy named MacGriers. And he thinks you’re my bodyguard.” She giggled. Andrew sensed a touch of hysteria in her laughter. This certainly wasn’t amusing. “He’s telling the tall woman with the grey hair that you’re an odd-looking sort. He’s wondering where you got such fine footwear and that skirted garment. He can’t make out your trousers. He reckons they’re like nothing he’s seen before.”
“How the bloody hell can you understand him? I can’t.” Andrew glared at the man, whose strange kilt had a large clump of gathered material flung over one shoulder. The garment was cinched at the waist by a belt with a buckle bearing a design similar to the one on the cape Liz had draped round her shoulders.
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