Gaumhin marched along the gallery, his outline iridescent as he strode through the varying
|No tams, sporrans, or socks in the Westren dress|
having run away. He narrowed his gaze: someone dashing into the servants’ hall; his conscience furnished a guess at who it was, but his sovereign was standing before him, and even more interesting to him were the broad smiles and welcoming aspect suggesting that the king had somehow been expecting him.
“Syre,” said Gaumhin. “Maith Ailineighdaeth.”
“And you, Gaumhin,” Alasdair replied, with all the cordiality of a devoted friend.
They bowed to one another, Gaumhin making his low obeisance, and Alasdair offering a friendly nod.
“Well, you’re certainly dressed for the holiday,” Alasdair observed, marking Gaumhin’s red and blue sett, draped from his shoulder to his opposing hip, gathering behind his belt to his knees. “You know I always like seeing the old style. You wear your kilt often enough, but there are so few occasions you will wear your full breacan for that I often think of making it standard issue for officers at all ceremonies. Yours is particularly nice.”
“Mah thanks, syre,” said Gaumhin, looking demure, his cheeks flushing.
“Did your mother make it for you, as in the old traditions?”
Gaumhin’s eyes crinkled with smile lines. “Which muthur, syre?”
A pause, and Alasdair lowered his head and smiled. “True. You have so much family, I often forget you have two of almost everything.”
“Well,” Gaumhin shrugged, “Ah liek collectin’.”
Here was a good natured smile. “I had meant Mrs MacLachlann,” said Alasdair, “since you are wearing the clan colours. It is the MacLachlann sett, isn’t it?”
“Aye, syre,” Gaumhin thrummed, looking down at his drapery. “Ahm a proud MacLachlann, but Mah foster muthur didnae maek thess for meh. Ah wish she had maed it. She believed in the auld traditions, but Ah had it maed when Ah joined the forces. Suilli commissioned it for meh, but when mah faimlaes saw meh wearin’ it, Ah teld ye, syre, they were chuffed an’ o’.”
“They all must be so proud of you. Knowing some part of your family and seeing how attached your brothers and sisters are to you, I can imagine how it must have been to see you in your breacan for the first time.”
“Aye, there was a fair bit o’ cryin’, syre. First mah sessters, and then Sesster Mithe, and Ah held mah oan until Bruthur Ciran started.” Gaumhin raised his hand to his heart. “Seein’ hem wallowin’ still affects meh.”
“Seeing you and all the Westren soldiers makes me want to wrap myself in one and go marching to the mountains, only Brennin wasn’t one of the original Westren clans.”
“Ye can still have a-yin, syre. Brennan has its oan colours. Ah seen some o’ the lads in the Westren brigades have black breacans under their armour. Nae shame in wantin’ it even if yer faimliae’s no’ yin o’ the ancient clans. Ahm onlae an adoapted MacLachlann mahsel’.”
“It must be very warm to wear,” said Alasdair touching the fabric, “but it’s such a stunning piece.”
“Aye, it’s a bit heavae, syre,” said he, in answer to Alasdair. “It’s great wearin’ for the winter, keepin’ meh warm, but it’s no for wearin’ in the summer, and it’s no’ practical tae wear when trainin’, though Ah know Suilli use tae wear his everaewhere.”
“He would,” Alasdair nodded.
“Ah wouldnae feel comfortable wearin’ it intae battle.” Gaumhin looked severe. “It leaves certain parts unprotected, if ye understaun meh, syre.” He hemmed and gave Alasdair a suggestive wink. “Tha’s o’right for Suilli. He’d deflect arrows by the might o’ hes stracht .”
Gaumhin made a gesture as though he were curling an invisible mustachio, and Alasdair’s eyes sparkled with muted risibility.
“That wouldn’t surprise me,” said Alasdair laughingly. “I know that Tearlaidh all the members of the Brigade used to wear their breacans all the time.”
“Aye,” Gaumhin purred, with a solemn nod. “Ah wore mine for their service, and everae Ailneighdaeth Ah can, Ah wear it, even though it’s cauld.” His cheeks warmed with erubescent smiles. “Maeks meh feel liek yin o’ the auld clansman wearin’ in. It reminds me o’ when Paudrig was a wee-un and we’d play clanwars taegether. We’d nae familae names, so we didnae have anae familae colours tae use. We’d jus’ strip our beds an’ drape the beddin’ and blankets over oursel’s and chase each other through the garden. Aye,” with a fond sigh of remembrance, “when Ah got mine, Ah couldnae wait tae show it tae hem. He luvd it. Ah even let hem put it oan and run about in it. He hollered liek a Brennan, declarin’ war and callin’ for hunts, with hes spear an’ hes helm an’ o’. Aye,” the glint in his eye dancing about, “we had a time o’ yit.”
“Will you wear it home?”
“Aye, but Ah’ll put oan mah armour over it. Somharliedh’ll take mah bainne if Ah doan’t have somethin’ underneath.”
Alasdair cringed and pressed his legs together. “I can imagine that would be very painful.”
“She’s bucked before, and Ah wasnae readae for it.”
“I’ve been fortunate that Maeve has never done that. She’s reared unexpectedly, but it was nothing so bad. Oh--” glancing down at the pipes tucked under Gaumhin’s arm. “Were you coming this way to play your pipes for us? We’re all in the kitchen—well, nearly all of us. I’m sure we’d all love to hear you.”
“Well, Ah was gonnae plae ‘em in the field,” said Gaumhin, curling shyly into his shoulder and shuffling his feet. “They’re a bit loud tae be plaein’ indoors. Ah was gonnae go play ‘em in the arena so Ah doant disturb anaebodae. There’re onlae a few lads about, bein’ the holidae.”
“Come to the field beside the kitchen and play them there.”
Gaumhin looked charily about. “Are ye sure, syre? No’ everaebodae lieks the sound o’ the Westren pipes.”
“However loud and distinct the skirl of the Westren pipes is, they cannot be as loud as the Karnwyl pipes. I’ve never heard a sound so grating in my life. The incessant pounding and chipping from the quarry is more bearable than a few reels from that instrument. Even their bag breathes loudly when being carried around and pressed under arm. I mean no disrespect to the good people of Karnwyl, and I’m very sorry to admit it, but I would outlaw the playing of them if I thought it decent. They sound like a cat being boiled alive.”
Gaumhin could not help laughing. “Ah wasnae gonnae say yit, syre.”
“I said it for you, and I’m glad no one in the keep actually plays them. They’re the only instrument I really cannot like. How anyone could conceive such an instrument, I have no idea. They look like an apple sack with three roped fog horns at the end. Everyone knows the legend behind the Westren pipes and the dancing, and in a community surrounded by mountains, it makes perfect sense to have an instrument that can only be played out of doors and that can be heard on the next mountain top over, but there is no reason—no reason at all conceivable—that an instrument should be that large and that loud.”
“Maybe it’s tae ward aff the Brouneidhs?” Gaumhin gave Alasdair a hopeful look. “Ah know they doant have a tradition o’ Brouneidh’s in the south, but the Tuar’s no’ far awae.”
Alasdair hummed in deliberation. “Maybe you’re right,” said he, his aspect thoughtful. “A fair Karnwyl piper far away is bearable, but when I’ve heard them played for ceremonies, I struggle not to flinch and hold my hands over my ears. We’re fortunate that Mureadh doesn’t play them.”
“Ah doant thenk he has a mind for playin’ anae pipe, syre. Ah tried tae teach hem when he joined the Royal Guard, ‘cause it’s tradition and he had an interest an’ o’, but,” and Gaumhin flushed as he said it, “Ah doant thenk he’s got the wae o’ yit. Ah doan’t discourage hem from practicin’, but…” He shrugged. “Ye know hou it is, syre. Sometimes there’s no amount o’ practicin’, if ye understaun meh.”
“I understand you. Very well, in fact.”
They exchanged a conscious look, and frowned and shook their heads.
“Ahm sorrae for it,” said Gaumhin, “but it’s no’ everaeyin who can plae.”
“It is true. Brigdan never had any interest in playing them. I don’t think Bryeison ever taught him. I know Bryeison learned from Suilli for a few months at least, but I think, like Mureadh, he just never had any luck with it.
Gaumhin seemed as though he was trying not to smile. “Teague got Mureadh tae stop playin’ by tellin’ hem he was gonnae send mah osprey after hem.”
“Well, I guess that’s a good a discouragement as any. I wouldn’t discourage anyone from playing if they truly wanted to learn, but how anyone can decide on the Karnwyl pipes—Choosing any instrument that would make ears bleed-- And the Livanese bombard is the absolute worst offender.”
“Aye,” said Gaumhin gravely. “Ah doant know who thought a sound liek tha’ was pleasant.”
Gaumhin said something about the bombard being invented by unfeeling Livanese military minds who wished to destroy their enemies’ hearing, and while Alasdair agreed with him, his eye caught the shadow of someone looking out the window of the king’s quarters above. The outline moved in and out of view with uncommon alacrity, as thought wanting to spy and not wanting to be caught.
A squall echoed without, penetrating the windows and caroming off the inner walls of the gallery, a fritinancy of fluttering wings neared, and Alasdair turned his head to peruse the skies. A familiar shape drifted past the upper window, Pastaddams ducked from the sill and hid from view, and Gaumhin’s osprey hovered and perched on the crenels adjacent to the gallery. Gaumhin turned and smiled, and the bird shrieked and looked petulant.