Mòrag felt uncomfortable and out of place in the lavish surroundings. There were carvings all around the roof where the ceiling met the walls. Albannach knots and long-since faded golden prancing unicorns interspersed with foliage and thistles. Even the furniture was ornately carved in Albannach patterns. She stepped toward the fireplace and ran her fingers across its smooth surface. Two rearing unicorns adorned the sides of the mantle, the real horns of their once-living brethren set into the stone and glinting in the light from the large window across the room.
‘Welcome, Mòrag, welcome,’ Ava’s mother said, shepherding her towards the sofa.
‘It’s nice to meet you again, ma’am,’ Mòrag said.
‘Please dear, call me Helena. I am not fond of being referred to as ma’am.’ Her deep brown eyes were smiling and slightly glazed, matching her daughter’s.
‘Sorry, ma’am — Helena,’ Mòrag corrected herself.
‘Would you like some tea? Or perhaps some wine?’
‘No, thank you.’
‘Try the wine,’ Ava said, dropping onto the sofa beside her. ‘It’s divine.’
Mòrag looked from Ava to her mother and back again. I wonder how long they have been drinking already? ‘Do I have to?’
Ava giggled. ‘If you don’t want me to pester you all night, then yes.’
‘Alright,’ she sighed. ‘Just a little.’
Ava chatted excitedly about the dance, while her mother collected three enormous brandy glasses and filled them to the brim with crimson wine. She handed a glass to Ava and one to Mòrag.
The fine crystal of the glass in Mòrag’s hand sparkled brightly, its rich crimson contents smelling deeply fruity. Taking a small mouthful, Mòrag grimaced as she swallowed the liquor down. Though it smelled fruity, it had a more metallic taste.
‘Have you tried wine before?’ Helena asked.
Ava grinned at her. ‘I’m betting no.’
‘Sip it slowly. The taste will change.’
Helena leapt back into her in-depth tale about the jewellery she had chosen to match her dress. Mòrag sat quiet, sipping away at the fish bowl of red liquor in her hand. By the time she had sipped half of the glass, Ava and her mother were filling their second. Mòrag allowed herself to sink into the sofa, the soft leather hot at her back. The metallic tang of the wine had indeed lessened the more she drank, until the rich fruity flavour enveloped her senses, sending a lightness throughout her body and a warmth across her cheeks.
In contrast to how light and floaty the rest of her body felt, her head felt heavy. It was an odd sensation. Mòrag rested it back on the sofa to compensate and continued to sip from her glass. No longer cautious, she now desired the sweet intoxicating flavour to pass her lips.
‘What do you think, Mòrag?’ Helena asked.
‘Eh?’ Mòrag blinked at her. She had been completely unaware that the woman had been talking to her.
‘Did you hear anything I just said?’
‘Nope.’ She shook her head in an over exaggerated movement and felt an irresistible urge to giggle.
Ava grinned. ‘Mòrag, I wanted to show you some shoes. They are really pretty.’
‘I have shoes,’ Mòrag said lifting her foot. ‘See? Pretty black ones!’ she exclaimed, causing an eruption of laughter from Ava and her mother.
‘I think that is quite enough wine for you, my dear,’ Helena said reaching out for Mòrag’s glass.
Mòrag tossed the remaining half glass of the wine back and grinned stupidly at the woman as she handed her the now-empty glass.
‘Mòrag, you are terrible.’ Ava announced.
‘You gave it to me. Don’t complain. What like are these shoes, then?’
Ava and Helena placed their glasses down and led Mòrag to the bedroom. An enormous mahogany four-poster bed dominated the room. Like the reception room, this was also laden with carvings and other Albannach decoration, though Mòrag no longer cared enough to examine them. Along the wall was an ornate wardrobe, on which hung three gowns, each covered in a satin sheet to protect the material inside from dust. Below sat three sets of overly fancy looking shoes. I don’t know how they can call those shoes; they are no more than a leather sole with a needle to balance on, held on by some sparkly laces. Not what I’d call a shoe.
Helena lifted the pair of ‘shoes’ from beneath the furthest gown and presented them to Mòrag.
‘Aren’t they perfect?’ Ava asked excitedly.
Mòrag looked at the crystal-encrusted loops of leather in Helena’s hands. ‘They’re something, alright. What do you want me to do with them, like?’
‘Wear them, silly!’ Ava exclaimed.
Helena began to chuckle. ‘Oh Mòrag, you are so funny. Come now,’ she said directing her to the chair by the window. ‘Sit here and we will see how these fit you.’
Mòrag allowed herself to be manhandled into the so-called shoes. Looking down at them, it struck her how odd they looked with her uniform trousers. She began to giggle and then she began to laugh. ‘I don’t think they go with my uniform!’ she howled.
Still laughing, Ava urged her to try walking in them. Pushing herself to her feet, she felt unnaturally high up. Her legs contained an internal tremor that threatened to become worse with each movement. I challenge you to a duel, legs! If I can walk the length of this room, I get a prize, and if I fall, you get a prize… deal? Naturally, her legs gave no answer.
‘Try walking, dear,’ Helena said. ‘Shoulders back. Carry yourself tall and graceful. Watch Ava.’
Ava had attached her own set of skewers to her feet and was mincing across the room in a fashion that reminded Mòrag of a hen trying to impress her flock. The thought of the prominent breast of the bird, with its tail feathers waggling back and forth, was too much for Mòrag to bear and again she giggled uncontrollably.
‘Right,’ she said, barely composing herself and taking a wobbly step. ‘Walk like a chook.’ She had hardly taken three steps when her ankle buckled and she toppled to the floor in a wriggling, giggling heap.
‘Perhaps we have been a touch ambitious with the heels?’ Helena said helping Mòrag to her feet. ‘Try again, love.’
Mòrag yelped when she put weight on her right foot, and her ankle protested with a searing, gripping pain. ‘I’m done.’ She pulled the straps over her heel, ankle still throbbing, and slipped the ‘shoes’ from her feet, then hobbled over to the chair.
‘Sorry, Mòrag,’ Ava said. ‘I thought you might take to them a little easier. Does it hurt much?’
‘More wine!’ Helena announced as she retrieved the bottle and glasses.
Eventually, Mòrag didn’t care much about her twisted ankle. She laughed and joked and sang with Ava and Helena atop the lavishly soft bed, until sleep claimed her.