THE ROAD TO CULLODEN
Two deerhounds, tall as ponies, burst through the open doors of Castle Caorann. Like gray shadows, they circled the nervous horses. As Niall MacGregor dismounted and slapped the dust from his clothes, he noticed an old man standing in the doorway.
“Ye’ve come at last. I thought mayhap the British warships had captured you. I am Alasdair Drummond.”
MacGregor bowed. “Niall MacGregor. Your servant, sir. The winds were not in our favor. I bring you greetings from Lord John Drummond in France.”
He followed Alasdair Drummond through past the open ironbound door into the great hall of Caorann Castle.
“Fiona, send the trollop down!” Drummond bellowed.
A red haired girl, dust cloth in hand, fled up the staircase followed by one of the deerhounds that had come in with the men; the other hound stayed at Drummond’s side.
MacGregor, walking behind his host, looked around the great hall that would be his after his marriage to Drummond’s granddaughter.In spite of the August heat outside, the ancient gray stones held the chill of winters past. Dust motes drifted in the sunlight from high windows, and his eye caught the movement of a tattered battle flag, so old the colors were shades of gray, hanging on the wall next to a crossed pair of claymores.
Drummond led the way into a room lined with bookshelves, casement windows opened to an enclosed garden. Sunlight fell softly on late roses, their scent coming to MacGregor on a breeze from Loch Laggan. The hound followed them in and went to lie in front of the fireplace.
From a table near the door Alasdair Drummond took a decanter of whisky, pouring each of them a sizable drink. MacGregor examined the grandfather of his betrothed as he took his glass.
The old man grinned slyly. “Our secret. The tax man has yet to find where we make our whisky. Fine, is it not?”
MacGregor nodded, inhaling the scent of peat smoke in the whisky.
Drummond was just short of six feet, his belly hanging over the belt of his trews, his yellowed, old fashioned wig askew. The old man’s red nose and cheeks showed years of raw Highland weather, and, MacGregor suspected, a great deal of whisky. Drummond peered at him through a thicket of gray eyebrows.
The two men raised their glasses, toasting exiled King James Stuart, away in Rome.
“Shall we discuss our contract?” MacGregor asked.