Ye'll Take the High Road - a hitherto unpublished
episode from the adventures of Guido di Cesare
Author's Note:NOTES: This is a bit silly - OK, it's ridiculous, nay, preposterous to the point of being completely incredible! For reasons that really don't need to be explored at this juncture, I recently threatened to write Guido in rather unusual costume, engaged in an uncharacteristic musical pursuit and indulging in some frankly bizarre eating habits. Rhiannon said (and I quote) "Go for it!" So I have! Lord have mercy!
Some hae meat an' canna eat,
An' some wad eat that want it;
But we hae meat, an' we can eat,
An' sae the Lord be thankit.
-- Robert Burns (The Selkirk Grace)
Cold, wet, dark and the distinct possibility of snow. Guido di Cesare hated all of these characteristics in weather and hence Scotland at the dawning of a new year was one of his least favourite places to be.
He had taken shelter in a small damp cave and decided to take the opportunity to rail against his lot. But as he was somewhat breathless from the long march to reach this location, and since he would need to save what breath he could for the next stage of the plan, he decided to rail silently.
Ye'll take the high road and I'll take the low road? Yes, indeed, that was certainly true.
As he had trudged through the Scottish hills, Guido had envisioned his associate and immediate superior, Will Devereaux to be cheerfully ensconced in a clean and dry public house, settling down in front of a blazing fireplace and sipping a hot toddy of the landlord's own recipe. It probably wasn't anywhere near the truth but, resentful of his own current discomfort, he clung to the image fiercely.
Maybe, now that he was within this cave, he was no longer being rained on, but he was still soaked to the bone and the pitiful fire he had managed to start seemed unable to provide tangible warmth, let alone cook a meal (if he'd been able to obtain any food, which he hadn't).
And his situation was not only uncomfortable, it was also ridiculous. Ridiculous, nay, preposterous to the point of being completely incredible! Well, he wasn't sure that he credited it anyway. He had trudged through the wilds of Scotland, in improbable and distinctly unsuitable garb, hauling a set of bagpipes, to rendezvous with a contact whom he, for one, thought was quite mad anyway.
Still, ridiculous or not he was here now. Best to start enacting the next stage of the plan.
Guido picked up the bagpipes and regarded them critically. He'd managed to keep them relatively dry, as instructed. Now, if only he could remember the rest of his instructions on how to play the damn things!
He placed the bag under his shoulder, inflated it and applied pressure, as he had been instructed. The resultant sound was vaguely reminiscent of some strange misbegotten form of goose being slowly strangled to death. But still he persisted, trying to remember the fingering for the tune he was required to play. Although, how much the actual resulting sounds resembled the tune of "Loch Lomond" was open to debate.
This was supposed to be the signal that would allow his contact to find him, although he suspected that some distraught gander looking for it's dying mate would possibly find him first.
A gust of wind swept through the cavern, threatening the paltry fire. Guido immediately ceased his equally paltry musical endeavour, in an attempt to rescue it. He'd rather have the warmth of this fire than the company of "Wee Jock" McTavish, anyway.
How had he gotten into a position such as this? Just the days ago, he had been in Edinburgh, in the company of the lovely Flora McManus. Lovely girl, a dancer with the ballet at the Royal Theatre in Edinburgh. Truly athletic, she was. Married also, unfortunately.
Of all his rapid escapes, this had to be one of the most undignified. In fact, probably *the* most undignified. It had been like some sort of music hall farce - husband arrives home, naked man in lady's room needs to escape quickly and grabs only outfit available ö hers. And due to an unfortunate encounter with "those who would see him dead" he'd been forced to flee the city without collecting anything to change into. Hence, under a rather flimsy cloak, he was still beautifully costumed to dance the part of Ophelia in the latest adaptation of "Hamlet". Still, it could have been worse ö it could have been the outfit for Gertrude.
At least he had remembered to take the bagpipes when he hurriedly escaped from Flora's abode. But that was remarkably little consolation to him.
Still, he had them, so he might as well use them. With gusto he set about another round of goose-strangling.
"Och, Guido lad! That ye, in there?"
Guido abruptly dropped the bagpipes and they groaned once more in protest, as they fell to floor. There was a huge red-bearded Scotsman effectively blocked the entrance of the cave.
"Och, sorry lass. I did'nae know ye were in here..."
Guido placed his hands on his hips. "It's me, Jock."
He took extreme umbrage at the suggestion that he could believably pass for a woman simply due to this garb. He knew that his build was comparatively slender, especially when the comparison was with a specimen the size of Jock McTavish, but he didn't think he looked in the least bit effeminate. Unless, the person viewing him was a half-demented, inbred, brawny oaf who hadn't been allowed his marital rights for at least several months. Then again, that came close to describing Jock.
The veritable edifice of muscle spoke again. "Guido, lad? Why are ye wearin' a skirt?"
Guido couldn't help it. He arched an eyebrow and took his life into his hands. "That's rich, coming from a Scotsman! Your national dress, which you are, in point of fact, currently wearing, is also a skirt! And furthermore, the length of that skirt is an indecency in any civilised society."
But the insult didn't seem to penetrate Jock's brain.
"But that's nae a kilt y're wearin', laddie. It's got flowers all sewn through it."
"Yes, Jock, I am aware of the tailoring. In fact, I've had nearly three days to contemplate every aspect of design and needlework that went into this garment's production."
"It is a long story, Jock, and I'm too tired and hungry to tell it."
"Hungry, eh? I nae thought t'bring a bite ta eat."
"No, I don't suppose that would seem logical to you. After all, you are meeting a fugitive who has been travelling for days, in the middle of nowhere."
"Middle of nowhere? Nae, lad! This is the middle of MacDougal land!"
"Thank you, I cannot tell you what a comfort that knowledge is, Jock. Is there perhaps somewhere on MacDougal land that might be able to supply some provisions for a weary traveller?"
"Och aye! But there's a heavy snow fallin'. We'd nae make it ta auld Mary's place."
"In fact, it'll prob'ly be nigh on two weeks afore we get outa this wee cave."
"Aye, 'tis a heavy snow a settin' in on the hills. I suppose ye'll be a bit cold an' hungry, lad."
"Aye, it'll test yer mettle."
"Jock, you're mad!"
Jock just laughed. "Mad, y'say? Did they not say Bonnie Prince Charlie was mad? Mad to challenge Butcher Cumberland, they said."
Guido was sorely tempted to point out that the Duke of Cumberland had, in fact, been victorious. But what would be the point?
"Jock," he said, as patiently as he could. "If we are snowed in here for two weeks with no food and precious little to keep the fire going, we are both going to die. And then, what will happen to the information that you have been given to pass on? How is it ever going to reach our allies?"
"Well, I tattooed it t'me rump, lad! That way, e'en if I die, y'll still be able t'read it and pass it on."
Guido managed not to visibly wince at the thought, and again strove for patience.
"No, Jock. The point is, I'll be dead too. And much as I'd like to haunt Devereaux in the afterlife, I don't think we can rely on necromancy to get the message through to him."
"Well, we've both sworn our lives to King George..."
Guido nodded slowly, although he found this fact hard to reconcile with the Jacobite sentiments that Jock had expressed only moments ago.
"So t'provide food for ye, and t'stop the message fallin' inta enemy hands..." Abruptly, Jock drew knife from his right sock and drove it up under his breastbone.
Guido was too stunned to say anything, but he instinctively moved to catch the falling body.
"Eat me," Jock whispered with his dying breath.
There was not much that Guido di Cesare recoiled at anymore but he recoiled at this. He had done a lot in his time but he had not yet stooped to cannibalism.
And yet, if he was trapped here for two weeks...
No! Quite apart from any moral or aesthetic concerns, well, there was the fact that Jock was...had been quite mad. Not just a touch eccentric but truly insane. What if that insanity could be passed on if someone ate his flesh, like a form of contamination.
And yet, if the only other option was to starve to death...
He could wait another day...
* * * * * * *
But in the end he could only wait one more day. And after putting on the late McTavish's clothes and using Ophelia's apparel as fuel for the fire, Guido managed to cut a manageable slice out of Wee Jock's remains and cook it into a vaguely edible form.
After that, there really was no going back.
(well, for Jock, at least)
There you have it, Rhiannon! Tutu, bagpipes and cannibalism
for Guido all in the one story!
In the words of the great Han Solo - sorry about the mess!
If I ever make such an outlandish statement again, somebody please shoot me! <G>