Men in Kilts
Im not a Scot and writing dialogue for characters with heavy brogues was more difficult than I anticipated when I started. Im only vaguely familiar with the contents of Haggis thank god so thats mostly guesswork. Any mistakes are mine. The storyline is pretty feeble but I couldnt get the title out of my head damn muse.
Love to hear what you think. Be nice Im already sitting in a war zone and I cant take any more pressure!
The group of seven trail weary horsemen approached the crossing point of the swollen creek cautiously. An early spring thaw had raised the level of the frigid water to such an extent that any attempt would be extremely hazardous, to say nothing of damn cold.
Theyd already been out of town for several days, on what had turned out to be a wild goose chase. The weather had been very wet and they had completely run out of dry clothing. Even Vins ever-present jerky was soft and gooey. It was just as well they were within a days ride of Four Corners.
Tanner reined up and crossed his arms over his saddle horn. He regarded the churning water from his elevated position in the saddle as Larabee pulled up beside him.
"Aint no way we can cross here Cowboy."
"Is there anywhere else?"
"Yep. Bout 8 miles thataway." He indicated North with a tilt of his head. "Course it means well be travellin after dark an were in fer a hell o a snowstorm." He glanced up into the clear blue sky.
Larabee knew Tanner well enough not to contradict him. If Vin said there was going to be a snowstorm, there was going to be a snowstorm. Even Ezra wouldnt bet against him.
"Better ta find shelter fer the night an start fresh tomorra."
Chriss horse snorted and stomped his hooves against the frozen ground. "Any suggestions?"
"I been this way afore. Theres a farm about five miles up. We could stop there an then cross early in the mornin."
The two set off and the other five followed without question, silent except for the Gamblers continuing lament about the unceasing cold, damage to his clothes, their fruitless excursion into the wilderness, potential loss of earnings
"Ez, you can shut up or I can gag you. Your choice." Larabee didnt even glance behind him as he delivered his threat.
Standish fell silent after a final few choice words.
By the time the Peacekeepers approached the farm, the ex-Bounty Hunters prediction had proved accurate and there was a bitter blizzard pinching mercilessly at their frostbitten faces.
The seven tired horses pricked up their ears and picked up the pace when the silhouette of a barn materialized through the densely falling snow.
"Hello the Homestead!" Bucks bellow brought an immediate response. The barn door flew open and several short, heavyset men appeared. At least, they looked like men. Facial hair and features seemed to suggest it but
"Och! Ye fellers look fair tae freezin. Come in away outta tha cold. Tha laddies will tend tae ya horses." A red-bearded man of about 50 approached. "Ken ye git down all right young laddie?" He appeared to be talking to JD who bristled.
Chris intervened before the young sheriff said something rash and got them tossed out into the cold before theyd even got into the warmth.
"Sorry to impose, we are Peacekeepers from Four Corners, we got caught in the storm "
The elder faced Chris while several other men in their curious coordinated clothing came forward to help the dismounting travellers with their animals.
"Aye. Weve heard o the Seven o ye. Please come inta tha barn an mek yerselves a home. Ye chose a fine evenin ta visit. Tis Burns night."
The seven exchanged glances. "Burns night?" Buck whispered to Josiah. "Whats Burns night? And why the hell are them fellas wearin womens skirts?"
Allowing the younger hosts to take care of their mounts, the damp and weary group from Four Corners followed the older man into the welcome warmth of the barn. A long, crude trestle table had been positioned down the centre aisle and a large number of people, both men and women, seemed to be busy laying up a feast. All the men appeared to be dressed alike in short checked skirts and white tasselled knee socks. The peacekeeper noticed the knives each man had tucked into them. Most of them also sported a furry handbag suspended from their waists and hanging strategically down their fronts.
They watched as the red-bearded man, who had introduced himself as Duncan, spoke quietly to an older woman in a long white shift with a ground-sweeping checked shawl draped over one shoulder. She nodded and turned to her guests.
"Please follow me. Ill see ta it that ye have a dry change o clothes before ye freeze tae death. I am Abigail, wife tae tha Laird McClennan. Come."
The silent group dutifully followed the woman through the curious throng and into a secluded stall at the end of the row. It was empty, save for the straw littering the floor. She directed them to strip off and left, saying one of the men would be along shortly with fresh clothing.
They stood and looked at each other.
"Burns night." Josiah mused aloud. "I believe it is a celebration of the life of a Scottish poet, Robert Burns."
"That is correct Mr Sanchez. Mr Burns was a popular bard. I would guess that most of you will be familiar with lines from his odes or his songs, without being aware of their originator. For example The best laid schemes of mice and men or My love is like a red, red rose. The Scots celebrate the date of his birth by tradition, even though hes been dead since 1796. I personally believe the feast is actually a well established excuse to imbibe an excess of scotch whisky, since the poet had a reputation himself of being something of a drinker."
"So its kinda like a Scottish thanksgiving?"
"Indeed. Giving thanks for a man of considerable talent. A matter of national pride."
The discussion came to a halt when three young men carrying while linen shirts and piles of the checked cloth appeared in their midst. They introduced themselves as Robbie, Donald and Alistair, sons of the Laird, Duncan. The eldest, Robbie, informed them that they would stay to help them dress.
Vin flushed scarlet and took a quick step backwards until he was hard against the stall wall.
"I hate to tell you boys but weve all been dressing ourselves for quite a while now " Buck was smiling, softening his words of refusal. The smile was wiped off his face when the man he identified as Donald laughed.
"Yeve worn tha plaid before hev ye?" His brothers grinned. Setting down their burdens they picked up the top plaid and stretched it out. It was a long single rectangle, not unlike an elongated tartan blanket.
Vin looked at the other piles of clothes. Aside from the plaids and shirts there were only leather belts. He blanched.
"Iffn its all the same, Is gonna stay wet." The McClennan brothers exchanged looks of amusement. They looked at the others, seeing identical expressions on each face. A mixture of horror and embarrassment.
"Yed nay want tae insult your hosts would ye?"
"tis expected for all men tae don the plaid fer Rabbie Burns, yell nay git tae tha table wioot."
"All tha Highland clans are fierce proud o their plaid. Tis a fair honor were offerin yes"
"As a Gentleman I would not dream of offending our kind host and hostess." Ezra turned to his friends. "It will not be the first occasion I have been faced with the prospect of having to don unfamiliar garb. I consider myself man enough to carry it off." Revenge was a dish best served cold. He grinned, flashing the gold tooth, and sent them challenging looks.
Each and every one shuffled his feet.
Josiah was the first to step forward and join Ezra in stripping off his cold damp clothes. The others looked at each other and eventually followed suit.
Ezra was unconcerned by the cool draft drifting around under his newly acquired attire. He wriggled experimentally. All things considered, it was a vast improvement on the corset, and not unlike being reduced to wearing a tablecloth. Another all too familiar experience.
While Buck was also seemingly unperturbed by the lack of undergarments, the others loudly voiced their shock.
"But but its cold and there are women out there!" JDs protest was delivered in a horrified whisper.
"Dinna fear, laddie. Those are Scotswomen an well used tae tha ways o their men. A true Scot doesna wear oot under tha plaid." Robbie explained for the fifth time with infinite patience and a good dose of humor.
"Aye." Alistair, or Ally as the others called him, agreed. "Tis men we are. Were no afraid o a wee bit o cold, tis often fierce cold in tha Highlands. The plaid will warm ye." He spoke from his position kneeling at Nathans feet, adjusting the folds of the plaid within the thick leather belt.
Chris had, until now, remained silent. "You mean to tell me all those men are bare to the breeze under those little skirts?"
He was beginning to feel like he was in the middle of some kind of nightmarish dream. Chris Larabee in womens clothes. Hed never live it down. If anyone ever found out his hard ass reputation wouldnt be worth shit. He obediently raised his arm as Robbie wound the cloth over one shoulder and back down to his waist where he looped it though the belt and adjusted the folds.
"Dinna let tha Laird hear ye call our plaid a skirt mon. Tis worse than calling a mon a coward, for ye insult tha whole clan." Robbie shook his head at Chris who nodded uncertainly. He then turned to Tanner who was attempting to disappear into the woodwork.
"And what aboot him?"
"Come on Vin its not so bad." JD had regained some of his confidence. "Your clothes will be dry by the morning and no-one will ever know." The others all nodded in agreement. There was no way any of them would ever mention this again. The secret was safe.
"Tanner get your ass outta them wet clothes. I aint nursin ya back from pneumonia, again, when there aint no reason to be wet." Nathan tried to reason with him.
Chris and Josiah exchanged looks.
"You arent chicken are you Vin?"
"Aint no man lived ta call me yella Larbee."
"So get outta that wet buckskin, Cowboy."
There was a silence as Tanner glared at Larabee who met his gaze with a smirk. Knowing hed been backed into a corner, the Texan slowly removed his hat and much loved buckskin jacket.
"Aint no reason fer yall ta watch. Aint no two bit saloon stripper."
"Yes well, on that note perhaps the majority of us could rejoin the main party and introduce ourselves to our hosts with some measure of propriety." Ezra led the reluctant group out into the main body of the barn where drinks were already poured waiting for them.
"Git this down ye, tae warm ye bellies." Laird Duncan handed each man a glass of the golden liquid fire.
Ezra downed the shot in time with the Laird. His eyes watered. "That, Laird, is fine Whisky."
"Aye that it is. Tis uisgebreatha, or water o life, brought all tha way from tha glen."
Ezra nodded and accepted another dram. He was wondering if they would be willing to part with a case, or three.
By the time Tanner ventured out into the main body of the room, with the aid of a considerable amount of physical encouragement from a grinning Donald McClennan , his fellow guests were well warmed inside and out.
JD was propped up on a bench with a silly grin on his face and Buck was busily trying to woo one of the McClennan daughters.
Chris grinned and raised his eyebrows at the sharpshooter, toasting him with his glass and casting a slow look down past the Texans bared knees and back again. Vin all but snarled at him. The McClennan saved him from making an idiot of himself by coming forward and handing him a glass that he took with thanks.
He tipped it back and then gasped for breath.
Wiping his eyes with the back of his hand he looked first to the glass and then to Larabee.
"Good isnt it?"
"Yep." Tanner wheezed. He accepted another shot from the Laird, but held it in his hand, unwilling to drink more than his usual careful allowance. A man with a price on his head couldnt afford to get drunk.
And so it was that when the morning came and the travellers roused enough to thank their hosts and be on their way, Vin was the only member of the Seven not to be nursing a severe hangover.
Tanner held his peace until they were well on the trail. He was aware that not one of his friends had a single recollection of exactly what they had done the previous night beyond sitting down to a dinner of neeps and tatties and something known as Haggis.
Someone was bound to say something soon.
Inevitably it was JD who broke the silence.
"Never did find out what was in that Haggis thingy." JD took another sip of water from his canteen, careful not to take too much and upset his fragile constitution.
"Sure ya did. Maggie answered yer question JD."
"She did?" JD looked thoughtful. "What did she say?"
"Intestines, blood, spices, sheeps guts any o that ring a bell?"
JD gaped and turned an interesting shade of puce. Everyone stopped and waited while he leapt off the horse and leaned over the side of the trail to revisit the Haggis."
"That was plum mean Vin."
"What? Thats what she said."
Buck paled and swallowed but didnt argue. Josiah also looked a little green about the gills.
"Course yall were too busy showing Catriona what was under yer skirt ta notice. That an comparing little Buck with little Robbie McClennan."
"Them Scots boys dont seem ta be feelin the cold like wee little Bucky. Guess theyre used ta the wind whistlin round their..."
"Actually, Mr Wilmington, I recall some of that conversation myself. I think Mr Tanners version of the events are quite accurate." Ezra swiped his handkerchief across his brow. How could it be so damn warm when it was so damn cold?
"Didnt know you were listening Ez. Thought you were busy arrangin the Highland Games."
"The Highland Games. Ya know with Chris an JD gainst Nathan an Josiah."
The four in question glared at the Southerner who raised his hands defensively.
"Mr Tanner I really have no idea what you are alluding to, please be more specific."
"Yeah Brother, what EXACTLY did brother Ezra organise?"
"Ya mean ya wanna know what ya did?"
"Answer the damn question Vin." Larabee was not one to rile when in his morning after mood. Vin shot him a smirk.
The black clad gunslinger glared. Damn irritating Texan, oughtta just shoot him.
"Well Ez here, when Robbie an Ally told im bout the Highland Games like they have back home, decided ta organize an indoor version, make em feel at home."
Vin paused to speak softly to his horse, stroking his neck. Peso whinnied in response.
Larabee was loosing his patience. "Spit it out Vin, before I shoot ya."
"Sure ya wanna know? Ya wont shoot the messenger?"
"Okay, Okay, Is gittin there." Tanner fell silent again, a thoughtful look on his face. He caught the flash of another glare and steamed ahead.
"Ye all got up on them rafters "
"On the roof?" JD squawked.
"Not on the roof JD, inside, in the roof."
"Iffn ya remember there was two beams runnin the length of the barn..." He paused as they all nodded. Ezra was beginning to look sick, clearly he was starting to recall the previous evenings events.
"Well JD an Chris they climbed up on one end and you boys got up on the other." He indicated Josiah and Nathan.
"Well ya had ta cross over in the middle. Iffn ya fell off ya lost."
"Who won?" Ezra couldnt resist asking.
"Everone. Chris and Josiah sorta danced around afore they hugged each other an shuffled past an Josiah jest lifted little JD past an kept goin."
"Thats it?" JD sounded relieved. The others gave him incredulous looks. "What?"
"Think about it kid." Buck was laughing. "Them beams went right over the table, where the folks were eatin. All the folks. Women too, Kid."
Chris sighed. He was glad hed never have to face any of those people again. If they ever came to town hed shoot em. Or maybe himself.
"JD. Think. What were you wearing?"
"That funny plaid thing oh my God. We had no pants on!" The young Easterner flushed scarlet. "I I Oh my God!"
"Yep. Lightin was real good too since it came from underneath." Tanner laughed so hard he nearly fell off his horse.
Amongst his companions there was a brief moment of silence until they all turned as one to look at the gambler. Or rather, to look at the space where the Gambler should be.
With the aid of Vins prompting, Ezra had managed to recall enough of his part in the drunken debacle to elect to perform one of his least favourite, but most familiar manoeuvres.
A quick, quiet, and bloodless high-speed getaway.
"Goddamn that sneaky Southerner!" Larabee set off in pursuit.