Glenbovan town was teeming when Hamish and Angus arrived late in the afternoon. Castle MacNeish stood at the narrow inland end of a sea loch. The wealthier guests—Hamish included—were offered accommodation inside the squat stone tower and outbuildings, but camps were scattered all around the shore.
“These men can’t all hope to marry an earl’s daughter,” Angus sneered as a cluster of laughing men in threadbare leines and jerkins passed through the courtyard.
“I doubt it,” Hamish replied. “They’ll be here for the sport, honour and the drink. D’ye think Douglas MacNeish would give his daughter to just any man?”
“He’ll be unlikely to give him to you, Lochmore.”
Hamish’s jaw tightened. He curbed the impulse to reach for the dagger at his waist and turned to the speaker.
“You think you’re a better candidate, Malcolm McCrieff?”
The burly redhead smirked. “A better husband for the fair Fiona? Possibly. A better fighter than a Lochmore? Without question.”
Angus rushed forward with a snarl, fists raised. Hamish grabbed him by the collar, holding him back. “Save it. MacNeish won’t take kindly to a brawl.”
Angus glared at Malcolm but backed off. Hamish felt a rush of relief at being obeyed. Beneath the ever-present sorrow that he would soon lose his father was the unease that he’d have to lead the clan far sooner than he was prepared for. Angus at his side would make that an easier undertaking. Grief and need for company made him hold his hands out to both men.
“Let’s put clan differences behind us for tonight and drink together as friends.”
“Aye, for tonight,” Angus muttered.
“But this doesnae mean there is a truce between clans,” Malcolm growled.
Hamish nodded, hiding a smile. Malcolm seemed to have forgotten what happened last time they had drunk together. If Hamish had his way, the McCrieff would be in no fit state to rise the following morning and take part in the games.
The sun had set and the sky was purple by the time the three men staggered along the path from the inn back towards the castle. Men—and the whores who gathered where there was trade—laughed and drank beside fires, and the atmosphere was merry.
A lone figure was walking slowly towards the gate from the direction Hamish and Angus had arrived by: tall and slight, carrying a heavy bag and using his stave to aid his progress. Hamish burst out laughing as he recognised the youth from the hill.
“Ye should have accepted my ride, lad,” he called. “You’d have been here in time to eat.”
The lad looked up and saw the men. He froze then jerked forward as if he was about to rush at them in attack but thought better of it. He lowered his head with a snarl and strode past them towards the village.
“A friend?” Malcolm asked.
Hamish shook his head. The lad was somehow familiar, but beyond their brief encounter on the hilltop, Hamish could not place him. It gnawed his brain and he determined to find out why before he left.
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