The next morning at dawn we gathered in the dinning room. Sloane, Ula, Dougall, Conall, Silver and me. I was the last one to arrive needing to take time out to throw up after Conall left of course. The stress with everything was no doubt getting to me, and the last thing I wanted was for Conall to be worried about my state of health.
Bridey was taken by Mrs MacLeish to sleep in her rooms, hopefully the girl was still in dreamland. She seemed more than happy with Haig’s offer of sending her to McKenzie castle after we save her sister Marigold from Aoife’s clutches at Camster Cairns.
“We should head to Bhatan it’s a small village near the cairns, and hopefully buy some horses there.” Conall said.
“How far from the cairns is this Watten, it’s a strange name?” I asked.
“It’s no far, maybe a half hour ride, most believe that the name came from Old Norse and was originally Vatn.” Conall swept his arm around my waist. “Villagers don like to be too close to the cairns, afraid of the dead rising, I expect.”
“Dead don go walking around Connie.” Dougall said looking a little worried they just might.
I patted him on the back. “Don’t worry Dougall, I protect you.” I laughed, aunt chuckled.
“I’m no afraid Morgan.” The last thing Dougall looked like was convinced.
“So where are these Camster cairns anyway?” I asked.
Aunt answered, no surprises there. They are in Caithness in the highlands. You know they are over five thousand years old. I’ve only seen pictures of them, never been there myself.”
“Well I guess you are about to aunt, you ready to go?”
“Let’s do this.” She said looking excited even though we were going there knowing the place will be crawling with Brollachans and possible Aoife herself. I’m hoping she will be there, so I can end this once and for all.
We huddled together as we had done before, Conall with his arm around my waist and everyone else clutching, well everyone else. Conall said the words to transport us.
We landed between two trees behind a stable, Dougall’s back was up against one of the trees. He jumped out of the huddle, horror streaking across his face.
“Shite bráithar I could have been embedded in that.” He gasped pointing at the tree he had been up against.
“You weren’t though were ye?” Conall snapped back at him. Could that have happened? Not something I had thought about before.
Sloane smacked Dougall on the back causing him to lurch forward. “Stop ye grippin’ lad, ye are in one piece.”
Looking around the land was fairly flat with small moors in the distance. Heather dancing in a cold breeze. It was beautiful if a little stark, not a single loud in the clear blue sky.
Conall put his arm around my waist. “We will go to the Am Breac Inn.” Receiving nods from everyone.
“The Brown Trout Inn?” I asked.
Dougall came up beside me a smile playing on his lips. “Aye that lock there has the finest brown trout in the country.” Of course it would, no wonder he’s happy, it involves food.
“Can ye tell ye wolf to scout around see if any Brollachans are nearby?” Conall whispered into my hair.
I heard him, I’ll look around, see if I can find a fat rabbit to eat.
Really? I didn’t need to know that. Go, but don’t go to far and keep out of sight, just in case any of the locals have guns.
Silver dashed off to a set of trees to the left. The village smaller than I expected, made up of stone buildings with thatched rooves formed in a circle looked more archaic than other villages I had visited in this time period. We headed to one of the larger buildings receiving stares from some of the locals. I suppose we stood out arriving without horses.
Most inns that I had been to as soon as you walked into them stank of mead and unwashed bodies. This was different, the scents were more a kin to walking in the kitchen at Sutherland castle. Rich scent of stew cooking, barley hanging at the back from the rafters and candle wax.
To one side was the hearth with a cooking pot hanging over the flames. At the back shelves and a cupboard filled with tin mugs and bottles of liquor. Several tables stood to the right with an odd assortment of handmade chairs.
It was though cosy, and the innkeeper greeted us with a wide smile as soon as we entered. A short man with a mop of buzz cut red hair, silver at the sides.
As soon as we sat tankards of mead were placed on the table.
“Ye be havin’ stew ta fill ye bellies now?” The innkeeper asked.
Dougall didn’t look to happy. “I thought ye would have some trout?”
The innkeeper laughed wiping his sweaty face with a rag. “Oh aye, we do but no this day. If’n ye are here on tha morrow I’ll make sure ye are served. Its lamb stew tha now.”
No one was really hungry having had breakfast at the castle before we came here.
“Just the mead will be fine.” Conall said.
The innkeeper continued to stand at the table, not exactly sure why. “The village is small, I guess there is not much to see in this part of the world.” He raised his eyebrows at my statement.
“Lass we are no short of things tae see and do, when we no are workin’ like. Ye have tha Camster Cairns, but I don advise ye go there.” He leaned over the table and hushed his voice to almost a whisper. “It’s haunted ye see, what with all them dead buried in there. Travellers come fer the trout.” He gave Dougall a wink getting a huff in return.
Dougall was not happy there was no trout for him.
“We’ve tha Carn a’ Chlamain nearby, then there’s tha Cairn of Achoy, with a bonny broch…”
“Thank you.” I interrupted him before he could continue with every cairn and broch in the vicinity.
The innkeeper shifted uncomfortably and excused himself.
“What’s the plan?” I asked taking a sip of the mead. It tasted disgusting and the way my stomach had been feeling of late, there was no way I drinking it. I placed it back on the table and pushed it towards my husband.
Conall raised an eyebrow looking at the second tankard of mead before his eyes swept to mine. “I think it best we approach the cairns from the wooded area to the south.”
Sloane nodded. “Aye we can see both cairns from there. We should be able to see which cairn they be guarding.”
“Do ye think we should hit em head on?” Dougall asked taking a drink of his mead.
“Nay. We go tae woods and then decide what action we take.” Conall replied.
“How far is it to the cairns?” Aunt asked preferring not to drink her mead either and by the sour look on her face she thinks it is as bad as I do, pushing hers towards Sloane.
Sloane shook his head at both aunt and I for pushing our drinks away.
“Don’t shake your head at me Sloane, taste God awful. Like someone pissed in the washing up water.”
I laughed to be thinking the same thing, well almost.
“It’s about a half hour walk or so from here.” Conall responded.
“Can we no hire some horses?” I asked thinking I could do with some water. Conall must have read my mind he pulled a flask from his belt. I sniffed it just in case it was scotch, it was water.
The innkeeper was busy at the hearth stirring whatever was in his cast iron pot. Now and again he side glanced us. Taking a little longer when he his eyes cast over my aunt.
I leaned towards her. “ I think you have an admirer.” Ula turned to glare at the innkeeper who just happened to be looking at her the moment she turned her head to him. He snapped his head back to his pot.
“If he keeps it up, I’ll send him to Alaska in a tornado.” She said still glaring at the back of his head to Sloane’s chuckle.
“He’s no ye type.” Dougall added eyeing the tankard of mead aunt had pushed to Sloane. Uncle finished off his drink and began the second one before Dougall could ask him for it or sneak it past Sloane. Never going to happen.
“Morgan it is best if we walk, they will hear our approach if we take the horses.” Conall said narrowing his eyes at Dougall’s attempt at sneaking his hand across the table towards his second tankard of mead.
“For goodness sake Dougall just buy another tankard.” I said exasperatedly.
Conall and Sloane shook their heads. “Nay he’s restricted tae one. That right Douggie?” Conall said giving his brother a pointed look.
“Aye.” Dougall huffed sitting back in his chair and crossing his arms in front of him. I suspect this is because of the drunken stupor, Dougall got himself into when Conall caught him singing on the table, drunk as a skunk.
Sloane got up from his seat, I didn’t miss the sneer he gave the innkeeper. “Right then, we’d better be going.”
We left the inn and beyond the stables towards the cairns. When we reached the copse of trees, Conall signalled with his hand for all of us to be quiet.
Keeping low we made our way to the tree line. From there we had a good view of both cairns in the distance. Between the edge of the trees and the cairns there was no cover and from what we could see both cairns were heavily guarded. Which didn’t make too much sense, considering they were only guarding one small girl.
Conall was clearly frustrated. “Both cairns are heavily guarded. I dinnae ken which cairn the lass is in.”
“Aye, I think they may be safeguarding more than one wee lassie.” Sloane spat out.
“We need tae draw them out into the open away from the cairns.” Conall ran his hand through his hair.
“Then What?” Dougall exclaimed. How do we get behind them?”
Aunt moved to stand behind Conall and I crouched down behind a tree. “Conall do you think you can get Morgan and I on top of the cairn?” He nodded but looked somewhat confused.
“Oh Aye I see where ye are going with this.” Soane said shuffling next to Ula.
A wicked smile crossed Dougall’s face. “We’ll draw them away from the cairn then ye two can let them have it.”
I looked from Ula to the cairn and back again, The cairns seems fairly safe looking, hell they had been standing for five thousand years. I wasn’t happy about the idea, but it would give us the advantage point. I gave aunt a nod.
“Conall please stay safe out there.” I pleaded with him. He nodded smoothing my hair back over my forehead.
He placed a finger under my chin to bring my face closer to his. “I will, you be careful too.” His lips touched mine and a soft kiss.
“Aye lad but we’ll need tae be out the way before they do. I no feel like being caught in one of my wife’s twisters today.” Sloane added.
Dougall’s face contorted remembering being shot out of the hay house on a chair by Ula.
I turned and took hold of aunt’s hand. We could do this together. “Are we ready?”
“Conall let’s get this over with.” Ula said. “Sloane don’t you dare get injured, and stay out of the way of the twisters.”
Sloane gave Ula a hard kiss. “Aye love, leave some for us though.”
“Aye I want tae get me sword wet too.” Dougall chipped in, stepping quickly back in case anyone thought to smack him upside the head.