Monday, August 19, 2013
Not one to weep over unserved ale, Duff accepted the chance to kick back and enjoy the warmth of the fire and thank Dog he didn’t have to go out in the bloody rain. Conversation would have been nice, but he could live without it.
Dog must have picked up on his thoughts, for the door flew back and admitted a sheet of rain, a blast of chill wind, and a woman. The rain had plastered her black hair to her head and neck and her dark cloak to what looked like a fine sturdy body. She slammed the door against the rain before she asked in a thick Scottish brogue, “Are ye open?”
“Aye.” Duff swung his legs off the hearth and stood. “A night like this, I’ll turn no one away. Here, come sit by the fire. Get that cloak off afore ye drown in it.”
“Thank ye, sir.” The woman took Duff’s vacated place by the fire. She hung the cloak on the rack by the fireplace to dry and shook out her sopping hair. Underneath the wet hair and cloak she wore a vest and trousers of black leather, stiff enough to serve as armor. Twin daggers hung at her curvy hips, in worn sheathes that announced they were not for show.
Duff paused in the act of pouring her a tall mug of ale. “I know you,” he said suddenly. “You’re Agnus. Black Agnus Ramsay.”
She narrowed her eyes at him in suspicion. “I can’t say I know ye, sir.”
“I was more acquainted with yer sire, Red Cullen. Everyone in the highlands knew of the Bloody Bull. But you, lass … you were just a wee heifer when I left.”
“Then you’ve been gone a long time.” She sat in Duff’s chair and put up her feet. Her shoulders relaxed only slightly. Duff brought her the ale and stood by while she drained it in one long, thirsty swallow. She wiped her mouth with the back of her hand. “Hang on. Are you Ratter?”
Duff chuckled. “There’s a name I’ve not heard in ages. Aye, I chased my share of vermin out of the hills for your da. Duff McDuff’s what they call me today. You were just little Aggie back then.”
“Those days are long gone.” She idly examined the mug in her hand. “Are ye still skilled at tracking vermin?”
“Depends on the rat, lass. Ye have a name for him?”
“Several. The one he’ll most likely be using is Lorry Lochlan.”
“Not a moniker I’ve heard in these parts, but I can ask around.” Duff was careful not to stare too long at the knives on her hips. “If ye don’t mind my asking, what’s your beef with him?”
She huffed at the pun. “He took something precious from me, and left something of his in return.” Eyes that should have looked at a man all dewy and mild blazed like boiling dark chocolate. “A calf.”
“Ah.” Well, that explained the wicked knives. Duff inched a careful step backward.
“Don’t get me wrong. My Donel’s the light of my life. He’s a fine bonnie boy. He’s at home now, learning the law of the clan from his grandsire. That law demands his da own up to his responsibilities. I’ve come to bring him home, see to it he mans up like a proper bull.” She slid one hand briefly over the hilt of a dagger. “Or geld the spaleen. I haven’t decided.”
“That’ll be your choice, o’course. What type of shifter are we looking for?”
“That’s the question. He passed himself off as a Highlander, but I think there’s bison in his bloodline. My Donel’s a dark, brawny lad, and a shaggy one.”
“And you believe he’s in America.”
“I tracked him this far, then the trail went cold.” She peered glumly into her empty mug. Duff took it from her and went to refill it. “So ye’ll help me then, Ratter?”
“I could never say no to a child of Red Cullen’s. I don’t want the Bloody Bull’s horns up my arse. As I’ve told ye, though, lass, I’ve not heard the name Lorry Lochlan bandied about in Talbot’s Peak. He could be going by another. I’ve friends I can ask.” Thunder rumbled overhead. “But not tonight. I’ve a room in the loft. It’s yers for the length of yer stay.”
Agnus bowed her head in gratitude. Such a beauty she was, for all the muscle and leather. She’d be a warrior for sure, a right proper lass of the Ramsay line. Perhaps he ought to light a candle to this “Lorry Lochlan” bastard. One with a miniscule wick.
He drew himself a draft and pulled up a chair beside the fire, next to hers. “Now, until this beastly storm passes, there’s something ye can do for me.” He handed her the mug of ale and clinked his own against it. “It’s been long ages gone since a bonnie lassie told me tales o’ the homeland.”