Days of Gold

By: Jude Deveraux

Part One



HAVE YOU SEEN her yet?”

“Nay, I have not,” Angus McTern said for what seemed like the hundredth time. He had just come in from the hills, and he was wet, tired, hungry, and cold, but all anyone could talk about was Neville Lawler’s fancy English niece, come to the old castle to look down her nose at the poor Scots.

“You should see her,” young Tam said as he tried to keep pace with his cousin’s long stride. Angus was usually glad to see Tam, but not if all he could talk about was Lawler’s niece. “She has hair like gold,” the boy said, his voice cracking. He was just coming into manhood, and what the girls said, did, and looked like was everything to him. “She has eyes as blue as a loch, and her clothes! Never did I see such clothes as she has. They’re spun by the angels and trimmed by honeybees. She—”

“But then you’ve never been anywhere to see much to compare her to, now have you, lad?” Angus said—and everyone stopped to look at him in astonishment. They were in the big stone courtyard that had once belonged to the McTern family. Angus and Tam’s grandfather had been the laird, but he was a lazy old reprobate who’d gambled and lost everything to a young Englishman, Neville Lawler. Angus had been just nine at the time, living with his widowed mother, and it had been Angus who the clan turned to. In the sixteen years since, he’d done his best to look out for the few remaining McTerns.

But sometimes, like today, it seemed like a losing battle to try to make people remember that they were part of the once-great McTerns. For the last weeks, all they’d wanted to talk about was the Englishwoman. Her hair, her clothes, each word she spoke, the way she said it.

“‘Fraid she won’t like you?” old Duncan asked as he looked up at Angus from the scythe he was sharpening. “‘Fraid that great, hairy face of yours will scare her?”

The tension that had been caused by Angus snapping at his young cousin was broken and he gave the boy a rough shove on his shoulder to apologize. It wasn’t Tam’s fault that he’d never been anywhere or done anything. All he knew were the hills of Scotland, the sheep and the cattle, and the raids where he sometimes had to fight for his life.

“A fancy lady like her would be scared to death of a real Scotsman,” Angus said, then raised his hands like claws and made a face at his young cousin.

Everyone in the courtyard relaxed and returned to his or her work. What Angus thought was important to them.

He strode past the old stone keep that had once been his family home and went to the stables. Since Neville Lawler thought more of his horses than he did of humans, they were clean, well kept, and the building was warmer than the house.

Without asking, Angus’s uncle, Malcolm McTern, handed Angus a round of rough, thick bread and a mug of ale. “Did we lose many, lad?” he asked as he went back to brushing down one of Lawler’s hunting horses.

“Three,” Angus said as he sat down on a stool that was against the wall. “I followed them but I couldn’t catch them.” Saving the sheep and the cattle from the raids took most of Angus’s time. As he ate, he leaned back against the stone wall of the stables and for a moment closed his eyes. He hadn’t slept in two days and all he wanted to do was wrap his plaid about him and sleep until the sun came up.

When one of the horses kicked the wall, Angus had his dirk out before his eyes were open.

Malcolm gave a snort of laughter. “Never safe, are you, boy?”

“Nor are any of us,” he said good-humoredly. As he ate, the warmth crept into him. He was the only one of the clan who still wore the plaid in the old way. It was two long pieces of handwoven cloth, draped about his body, held at the waist with a thick leather belt, and leaving the lower half of his legs bare. His white shirt had big sleeves and was gathered at the neck. The kilt had been outlawed by the English many years before, and those who wore it risked prison time and whippings, but old Lawler turned a blind eye to what Angus did. For all that the man was lazy, and greedy beyond all reckoning, he understood about a man’s pride.

“Let him wear the blasted thing,” he said when an English visitor said Angus should be beaten.

“Wearing their own clothes makes them think they have their own country. He’ll cause you trouble if you don’t take him down a notch or two now.”

“If I take away his pride, I take away his desire to look after the place,” Neville said and smiled at Angus behind the man’s back.

If Neville Lawler had nothing else good about him, he knew a lot about self-preservation. He knew that Angus McTern took care of the castle, the grounds, and the people, so Lawler wasn’t about to anger the tall young man.

“Go home, lad,” Malcolm said. “I’ll look after the horses. Get some sleep.”

“At my house?” Angus said. “And how can I do that? I lie down there and I have brats crawling all over me. That oldest one ought to have a hand put to his backside. Last time I slept there, he wove sticks into my beard. He said the chickens could use it for a nest.”