The Highland Queen Sneak Peak – Excerpt from chapter 10 “In Hell”

 

Hamish hung by the door and attempted to count heads. The dining room was full and overflowing into the hallway; most likely several of the new arrivals would end up sleeping here. In the morning, he suspected, it would fall to him to find room and board for each of them — his parents would likely be far too busy getting “reacquainted.” He smiled as he watched them now, giggling and kissing between mouthfuls of pie and ale.

A warm feeling enveloped him as he watched them. Moving through the masses, past the crammed tables he made his way toward them. As predicted they didn’t notice his arrival, or the first attempt at gaining their attention. He pulled his faither’s sleeve and felt a sudden rush of memory flash before him. The last time he had tugged on his faither’s sleeve he had been a toddler.

‘A minute, wife! Dinnae devour me thes’noo, lassie, yer bairn has need o’ me!’

His mother laughed and gave Hamish a wide grin. ‘He is his faither’s son, Hamish.’

His faither laughed in return. ‘Aye. That he is. What have need o’ ye, laddie? Unsure what tae do wi yer wee lassie?’

His mother slapped his faither’s chest. ‘Hamish!’

Roaring with laughter his faither ruffled Hamish’s hair and winked at him. ‘Ye might ask o’ me that when we are two men oan oor todds. Noo what do ye need?’

There were a million questions he wanted to ask, but he decided to ask only the most pressing, and save the rest for when his faither was sober. ‘Can Lailah have Maggie’s auld room? It’s empty anyway.’

‘Aye. Next’

‘Can I swap wi Mary?’

His faither grinned at that. ‘Aye. Next.’

‘Can we have supper upstairs?’

‘Aye. Anything else?’

Hamish shook his head.

‘Braw. Bugger off then,’ he said and gave him a wink, then turned his attention back to what lay beneath his mother’s blouse.

Hamish grabbed as much food as he could fit on the biggest plate he could find and made his way back to Lailah.

On his way past the room where the Bhanrigh lay he paused and knocked quietly on the door. Andrew appeared looking dog-tired and deeply worried.

‘Hamish? Is everything alright?’

‘I came tae ask the same. Has she no woke?’

Andrew shook his head and then moved a little to let Ava up to the door.

‘She is recuperating. There is no damage to her body and Andrew tells me her mind is active, she is just so depleted that she seems not to have the strength to wake. How is Lailah?’

‘Awake and hungry,’ he replied.

Ava nodded and placed a hand gently against his cheek. ‘You are a good boy, Hamish. Thank you for being her friend.’

He felt his face flush and looked at the floor.

‘Her father is still out looking for people headed here, can I trust you to come and get me if she needs me?’

Hamish nodded and Ava smiled in response.

‘Goodnight then.’

He nodded and hurried back to Maggie’s room where he had left Lailah. She startled when he shoved the door open with his foot and then gave him a bright smile when he moved to sit on the rug by the roaring fire. She stood and made her way to him; her movements a little slow and cautious but steady for the most part.

‘I didnae ken what ye’d like, so I just grabbed a’hing I could fit oan the plate,’ he said as he placed the enormous pile of food between them.

‘I can see that,’ she said as her eyes scanned the pile, though her hand didn’t reach out to take anything.

‘Ye must be hungry. Nae need tae be shy around me, lassie. Dig in.’ To emphasise his point he lifted a large leg of fowl and took an oversized bite. So much meat filled his mouth that he couldn’t even chew it and he ended up coughing, spluttering and gasping for breath.

Lailah was howling with laughter. ‘You really are a brutish highlander!’ she blurted.

‘Ta much,’ Hamish retorted with sarcasm, and then he laughed too. ‘And you’re a prim wee princess. Fit kind o’ pair o’ pals must we look like, eh?’

‘The best kind,’ Lailah said, and then she lifted a roast tatttie and hummed in appreciation as she bit into the steaming vegetable.

Hamish smiled as he watched her. He had absolutely no appetite. After years of living on mere scraps at Rookscragg — scraps which he frequently gave to Myrna, Rhona and the young bairns in the basement rooms — he had been left with a general feeling of discomfort at meal times. Now was no exception. Even looking at the pile of food on the plate made him feel nervous and queasy. Lailah on the other hand seemed to have found her inner beast and was doing a good job of clearing the food from the plate at a fairly steady speed.

‘You can fair shovel it away far a wee thing, can’t ye?’

Lailah wiped her mouth. ‘Sorry, I was starving.’

‘I dinnae ken far ye put it,’ he said.

Lailah gave him a pretty little shy smile. ‘Aren’t you hungry?’

He shook his head. ‘This will be your room far however long ye stay wi us. My da says so.’

‘Whose room is that?’ she asked and nodded to the next room, visible through the fireplace.

‘Mary, my sister. But she’s gonnae swap wi me, so that’ll be my room noo. Didnae want ye worrying about seeing things, an ye don’t seem to see them wi me, so—’

Lailah surged forward and hugged him. ‘Thank you. I don’t think I could cope with constant visions. I have no idea why I don’t see anything from you, but I’m glad of it.’

Hamish shrugged. ‘Maybe it’s cause I dinnae want tae know.’

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