Cool white light poured down from the setting full moon, illuminating the remaining leaves on the trees, sparkling off hoarfrost already on the grass, and spilling in shattered brilliance across the ripples of the stream visible from the field. And on a silver-tinted boulder, two very drunk men steadily lowered the remaining volume in a good bottle of Scotch while arguing vociferously-- and loudly.
"I'm telling you, MacLeod, you louse," the blond slurred, "that you're defaming the character of a lady."
Dilated, half-blind eyes tried to track extravagant hand gestures and failed. Instead, the person addressed simply raised the bottle and drank again. Hugh FitzCairn, bon vivant, lady's man, and inebriate, stole the alcohol and continued to complain, "And you're being downright greedy with the booze, you, you-- Gael."
A sly chuckle answered that attempted slur. "Aye, well, we all know who the Sassenach is, now, don't we?"
"And you let them chase me all the way to the borders of the camp, MacLeod!"
"It was the Hunting of the Sassenach. And she laughed, too," Connor pointed out cheerfully, if drunkenly, pulling a silver flask from his sporran, and saluting a nearby tent with it.
"She's far too much a lady to have laughed," Fitz denied, waving the bottle for emphasis. Fortunately it was almost empty; no whiskey was wasted. "And you, you rotter, have been insulting her."
"I've been a perfect gentleman!"
"Oh, indeed! Not a compliment you've given, not a hand offered, not a pass made!"
Connor stood unsteadily and settled the folds of his kilt with the offhand--if uncoordinated-- precision of years of practice, and announced, "You're drunk."
The solemn pronouncement visibly annoyed the other immortal. "Philistine! A glorious paragon of femininity, and a dab hand with a sword, and what do you do, you wretch? You spar with her! That is not the right sword to be using, you muttonhead!"
"Fitz, the lady's not available!"
Disgusted blue eyes spat sparks at him. "You thick-witted dolt! You dunce capped ninny! Have you been trolling for young boys? Do you not recognize such curving perfection when you see it?"
"Lying spalpeen!" Connor straightened indignantly and vainly, listing a few degrees to the left. "Do you think I'm blind?"
"That or stupid! Call yourself a man? You chicken-hearted, lily-livered, puling, mewling excuse for a man. What do you keep under that fancy-folded blanket, hmm?"
That took a few moments to penetrate the alcoholic haze. "Did you just call me a coward?" came the outraged -- and absurdly loud -- query.
"I wouldn't bet against it," came the chuckled reply from her brunette friend. "Do they sound sober?"
"Not even close. Should we interfere?"
"Gods forbid. They're bonding," the brunette laughed, only the faintest trace of irony in her voice.
"Well, I'm going to watch the fun."
"You don't need blackmail material."
"You don't get into enough mischief lately, Mistress Prim and Proper. What happened to the woman who went skinny-dipping with Haresh Clay?" The redheaded immortal slid off her cot, dragging the thick comforter with her toward the front of the tent.
"He was more interested in Carter, but you may have a point," the brunette murmured, scooting forward herself. "I'll get the tent zipper. I don't suppose you know where the camera is?"
"You've gone too far! No true son of the MacLeods would stand for such an insult from a man named after a grave! I demand satisfaction!" Connor attempted a threatening advance, only to stagger sideways as the ground proved a bit unsteady.
"Well, if you'd flirted with the lass, you might have had a chance at it. But you're simply not my type, Highlander," Fitz replied smugly, turning away to adjust the lace of his cuffs. "And it's probably too late, anyway. She seemed rather taken with that black-haired Frasier who was hovering at the ceilidh tonight." Gauntlet thrown, he dug around for his pipe -- in the wrong pocket of his coat, but he had no clear recollection of when he'd last had the meerschaum, so he kept looking.
"A Frasier? She wouldn?t!"
Fitz shrugged in complete unconcern, finally finding his pipe purely by accident and promptly forgetting where the tobacco was. "I'm sure you'd know better than I would, Highlander. I've known her longer, and I'm older than you are, but by all means, man, don't let minor details confuse you."
"That did it! Draw your sword, you mendacious, lice-riddled mongrel descendent of half-a-dozen German tribes who couldn't even keep their own land!"
"At least in my day, you wool-rolling, sheep-chasing, intestine-eating barbarian, the damned French hadn't invaded yet! I didn't take orders from degenerate, wine-swilling fops who can't even pronounce their own language properly!"
"At least I've not run from women and children," Connor dug at him slyly.
"They were wielding hammers, MacLeod!"
"They were throwing them, you simpleton. It's a contest. Don't you know anything?" The Scot tried to pull his sword, but drunk as he was, he forgot to hold the scabbard in place. The sheath slid along the belt, and the blade stayed in place.
'I know how to draw my weapon," Fitz said grandly, bowing with an extravagant hand flourish to balance himself. "Unlike certain Scots."
"Ah, but a Scottish blade is worth the time of drawing," Connor leered. "Unlike an Englishman's shortsword."
"I always suspected that he at least knows how to use it. He'd have to, to keep so many women happy."
They looked at each other and chorused, "The men on the other hand?.."
The rising voices outside the tent caught their attention, and the brunette said thoughtfully, "Should we be worried? They're very drunk."
?No, I don't think so," the redhead murmured, toying with the crystal pendant around her throat while peeking out the tent flap. "I really don't think either of them could lift a sword far enough to reach a neck."
The brunette pointed out gently, "I'm not sure they can stay on their feet, either."
"All right -- that could be a problem," the redhead sighed, rearranging her blankets around the two of them for rapid exit into the night beyond if necessary. "Well, if it gets too serious, we'll go take their swords away from them."
In unison, they chuckled, "Men."
"You did have a little trouble lifting the caber, didn't you?" Connor chuckled.
"Ah, you always were a man for jealousy. All because my team won the clan tug-of-war, MacLeod?"
"Bloody Sassenach, you aren't part of any clan! You sweet-talked that little blond Campbell into letting you 'help' her."
"You were too busy trying to win the 'bonniest knees' contest," Fitz laughed, remembering. "You would have made the top three, MacLeod, if you hadn't insulted the head judge."
?" kept remembering the look on her face when she got tangled up in the border collie's leash."
"Chowderhead! You should never have asked her if she liked being tied up!"
"Ah, but did you see the legs on the lass?"
"Well, why didn't you say something about them, instead of the leashes?"
Connor shrugged and took another sip from his flask. "I have a thing for leather?"
Fitz rolled his eyes in disgust, and brought his pipe up for another puff. "Try subtlety, next time, MacLeod," he muttered around the pipe-stem.
"What's wrong with offering to find her better material?"
"You're supposed to be suave, not offer suede!"
Both men laughed, and raised the empty bottles, trying to get more alcohol.
"You were in the harping contest. Connor did do well in the bonniest knees contest, until the judge slapped him. He spent too long at the whiskey tasting, I think," the redhead mused.
"Do you suppose Connor deliberately forgot to tell Fitz about the chasing of the Sassenach?"
"Wouldn't you?" was the dry response.
"Well--. Yes." Both of them muffled their giggles and went back to listening to the men.
"Good eye, Connor. Light on her feet as a feather, and the sweetest--."
"I was going to say cider, MacLeod; you know I never kiss and tell," Fitz told him indignantly. "How dare you impew-- importu-- no, damn it, insult my honor, like that!"
Connor sighed in regret.
"I think we're sobering up."/FONT>
"Not yet, MacLeod.
Some of us travel prepared." Fitz pulled another bottle out of his
coat pocket. "Have some more."
"For an Englisher,
you're not too bad," came the contented reply as Connor reached for the
'For a Scot, you can
almost dance,' Fitz told him cheerfully. "I saw you and that little
redhead. How did you talk me into coming to this? I mean, really,
Connor, a tent in October?"
"That's why you have
blankets. And all I had to do, FitzCairn, was tell you that two lovely
ladies were coming along. Besides, there's been dancing, and some
very good bards at the fires after the ceilidh."
"I will say that you
Celts know how to throw a party." Fitz nodded and took a swig from
the bottle himself. "Ah, now there's real Irish whiskey."
"And what's wrong with
Scotch?" Connor demanded.
"We're out," Fitz pointed
"Not yet, MacLeod. Some of us travel prepared." Fitz pulled another bottle out of his coat pocket. "Have some more."
"For an Englisher, you're not too bad," came the contented reply as Connor reached for the alcohol.
'For a Scot, you can almost dance,' Fitz told him cheerfully. "I saw you and that little redhead. How did you talk me into coming to this? I mean, really, Connor, a tent in October?"
"That's why you have blankets. And all I had to do, FitzCairn, was tell you that two lovely ladies were coming along. Besides, there's been dancing, and some very good bards at the fires after the ceilidh."
"I will say that you Celts know how to throw a party." Fitz nodded and took a swig from the bottle himself. "Ah, now there's real Irish whiskey."
"And what's wrong with Scotch?" Connor demanded.
"We're out," Fitz pointed out.
The redhead snagged the blankets closed again when her friend shivered, and pointed out, "They haven't gone to their tents yet."
"I thought Fitz would have throw a conniption when he realized we were camping."
"No, it wasn't until he found out that you and I were sharing a tent-- and he wasn't going to be in it," the redhead chuckled. "Scoundrel. He knows perfectly well that I'm a happily married woman."
"Whose husband is at a business conference. I'm glad you came; it's been ages."
"It has been too long. When are you going to come visit us in England?"
"Soon," the brunette told her. "Oh, bright Lady. The idiots are going for their swords!"
"Because you're blind," Connor shrugged.
"She was a complete lady," Fitz snapped impatiently.
"The 'lady' already has a sword in her scabbard, but you never noticed. 'Dainty,' you called him." Connor chuckled again. "He had you snowed."
"She danced like an angel, and her perfume was exquisite!"
"'She' borrowed a tree in the woods when the women's stalls were full," Connor laughed. "And could have written her name in the snow, if you get my meaning. Let me guess, she told you where her tent was?"
"Enough, MacLeod, I'll not hear the lady's name dragged in the muck. Draw your blade."
"FitzCairn, she's no 'lady!' She's not even a woman!" Connor protested futilely. "We've been friends for years."
"Honor demands satisfaction," Fitz crowed. "Draw your blade."
Connor rolled his eyes in disgust and pulled his sword. This time he remembered to hold the scabbard and the Scottish broadsword caught the moonlight as he held it at his side. "It's the middle of the night, FitzCairn."
"It's almost morning, MacLeod. Have at."
The Scot danced back away from his friend?s blade, stumbling and coming up with the boulder in between them. "All right, all right, she's lovely! I'll escort you to her tent myself."
'And apologize," Connor agreed, then muttered, "And wait for your scream when you get a hand up her skirts." His voice carried father than he expected.
"That's it,' Fitz snapped and swung at the Scot again. "For the lady's honor.'
"Oh, great, another fight over nothing," Connor groaned and blocked automatically.
Clear grey eyes watched the two fighting in the moonlight, and the brunette shook her head. "Oh, Fitz may kill him, but no one's going for heads. Gods forbid we interfere with men being idiots."
"We'd never have any time for anything important," the redhead agreed.
After a few swings, Fitz called out, "Will you apologize, you rotter?"
"For telling the truth? Of course not!"
"I heard about that 'bloated warthog' comment that time in Boston," Fitz sniffed as he swung and missed, staggering.
"Kastagir always did have a big mouth," Connor groaned, ducking back and stumbling again as the alcohol refused to wear off.
Fitz caught his balance with one hand against the boulder, swung, and slid as his hand slipped. The shot that should have denuded Connor's shirtfront of its lace instead struck a bit-- lower.
Good quality split-hide leather parted to reveal the truth of what Scots wear under their kilts. Seventeen feet of tartan, its main support against gravity removed, unfolded onto the ground around Connor, tearing the brooch from his shirt and exposing his chest as well as the rest of him. White linen shirt tails flapped around his suddenly chilled rear as the Highlander stared in inebriated surprise at the cloth lying on the ground.
And both men turned when they heard the startled gasps from the tent.
The stupefied look on his face was the only part that didn't match as he stared down at the wool puddled around his feet. Hugh FitzCairn looked from the forgotten sword in Connor's hand, to the belt peeping out from under the tartan, to his friend's family treasures swinging in the night air and rapidly retreating from the cold.
"I say, MacLeod, have you never heard of skivvies?"
The brunette started giggling first, unable to resist, and the redhead first chuckled, then laughed until tears ran down her cheeks. "Oh, my, and me a married woman!"
"I should have never made that vow! Oh, where's the camera?"
That comment jarred the men out of their startled pause and into unity. "Here, MacLeod, let's go where we're appreciated." Fitz swept his coat off and passed it to Connor, asking in indignant apprehension, "Was she really a he?"
The Scot buttoned the coat into place with as much dignity as he could, swinging his sword up onto his shoulder as he worked one handed. "Aye, he was. But did you see the trim young miss in the breeches? She said she might be down by the lake with some whiskey in the morning, for any men who needed some hair of the dog."
"Right now, MacLeod, I don't think we should trust women," Fitz replied in an indignant voice, hearing the fading, hiccuping chortles still coming from the tent. "Shall we find someplace safer?"
The two men walked off to Connor's tent to let him pull on some pants, muttering about "Women."
"I have an idea," the brunette offered from the warmth of her blankets.
"Let's do this again next year."
1 - A Sassenach is an insulting (usually) name for an Englishman. It derives from the Old English 'saexan' by way of modern Irish.
2 - Yes, most of the activities named are traditional at Scottish events, including the hunting or running of the Sassenach in which an English scapegoat is chased off the campsite by anyone available who wants to join in the fun. I'm told that frequently this person is a Celtic "volunteer".
3 - Taken literally, yes, FitzCairn means (bastard) son of the grave.
4 - Ceilidh is Gaelic for party. They usually involve dancing, singing, poetry, and all-around partying.
5 - Connor MacLeod met his first death in 1536 in battle with the Frasiers.
6 The now-notorious 'bloated warthog' comment dates back to Connor's duel on Boston Common. Footage provided by Highlander, the movie; story provided by Kastagir; alcohol provided by Methos. Don't ask.
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