T o the Scots, the salt needed to preserve food was more precious than gold, and for the MacGreagors, the only place to get it was from the salt houses in England. Yet, it was not an easy journey. It meant the MacGreagors had to cross the vastness of Swinton land, and then the upper portions of England.
For the men sent to get the salt, the expedition into England was without incident, but several problems delayed their return - one of which they would have a hard time explaining.
I N THE MACGREAGOR VILLAGE , the first rays of sunlight slowly began to illuminate the thatched-roof cottages, meandering paths and the side of the three-story, stone Keep. Dew clung to the blades of long grass in the tree-lined glen, far off cows mooed to be milked, and an eagle effortlessly glided from the warrior training area on one side of the glen, to a tree behind the graveyard on the other side.
Each morning, two things routinely occurred that marked the beginning of the day. First, the night guards dismounted at the far end of the glen where their horses would be brushed and cared for. Together, they walked up the path, passed between the two halves of the curved short stonewall, crossed the courtyard, and then went into the Keep to give their reports to Laird Tavan MacGreagor. Second, when the men came back out, they brought two chairs which they strategically placed in the large courtyard, so the oldest members of the clan could sit, talk, and easily see all that was happening.
As it turned out, the previous Laird, Sawney MacGreagor, had outlived all, save one from his generation, and when he came out of the Keep, he relished choosing which chair he would sit in for the day. Some days he preferred the one nearest the door, and other days his generosity allowed Elspeth the privilege. This day, he was not in such a generous mood and sat his aging body in the one nearest the door.
Elspeth MacGreagor's frame had not survived quite as well as his, and when she arrived, she carefully maneuvered her frail body around until she felt the chair behind her legs, moaned as she plopped down, and handed him the sturdy tree branch she used for a cane. As he always did, he leaned over and laid her cane on the ground between them, where they could both reach it when the need arose.
Autumn was just a few weeks away. The harvest would then be at hand, and the two elders spent more time watching than doing. No one minded; they had earned their rest. They wore matching colors, as was the custom of all the clans, yet they preferred the faded, softer cloths. Each wore a sun-bleached white shirt and a measure of the same blue and green plaid over one shoulder, yet she had the advantage of wearing a floor-length skirt, which was warmer for the legs than his knee-length kilt.
Just as she always did, Elspeth tipped her head to one side and began their conversation by saying, "'Tis a good day to die." Age had decreased her height compared to that of her youth, her hair was white, and her facial wrinkles were deep, but she was still sharp of mind and still had that funny way of tilting her head to the side when she spoke.
"Aye," Sawney agreed. Long ago, he'd given up the practice of standing in the company of a woman, and simply nodded his respect instead. His dark, wavy hair, as well as his trimmed beard and mustache had also turned white, but his eyes remained the same brilliant blue. His habit was to make the same reply each and every morning, "Yet, we linger."
"Why do you suppose that is?"
"I have considered it. Perhaps our work is not yet finished."
"What work is that, precisely?"
"I cannot guess." She took a deep breath and tried to focus her aging brown eyes on the hunters walking down the glen to fetch their horses. A moment later, she spotted the cu