Once we have all tumbled out onto the gravel drive a window in the tower opens and someone shouts, “Come on in and get yourselves out of the cold,” ‘cos it is quite nippy out. There’s a flight of narrow stone stairs on the outside of the tower, up to a small doorway on the first floor and the door is really heavy, three layers thick of oak planking laid at right angles to each other, which is called axe proof, and lots of iron strapping. Inside, the reception hall is stark stonework, but we are met by a homely little woman in an apron and ushered into what she describes as the library. The walls are lined with bookshelves and the shelves filled with books. There is a tiny window, a huge inglenook containing a miserably weedy fire and a few stubs of candles scattered about for lighting. Drawn up close to the fireplace is a large leather wing-backed armchair.
“Come and warm yourselves by the fire,” says the chair. Only it’s not the chair talking. A tabby, greying-whiskered face appears round the side and a short, rather portly cat rises to great us. He wears a maroon fez on his head, a crushed-velvet smoking jacket, a dress kilt of the same green and light blue, with a little bit of red, tartan as we saw on the ghillies, bed socks and carpet slippers. His turquoise eyes survey us through wire-rimmed pince-nez.
“I am the Gilnockie of Gilnockie,” and he shakes all our hands, and Ferdinand’s wing stub, vigorously. We grab what seating we can and draw up to the fire. Boz and Slasher have wobbly stools, Ferdy, Barrymore and Ginsbergbear are cosied up on a wooden bench and I found a beanbag that looked really comfy, but it has just swallowed me and I don’t feel very dignified.
“Catriona will be in shortly with porridge and mugs of malt whisky. No point wasting time, while we wait we can start the negotiations.”
Slasher was the first to speak. “Has there been any follow up to our chat last time I was up this way?”
“Ah well… There have been meetings. The Moss Troopers are Felis Silvestris Grampia, like myself, and will follow their own inclinations regardless of what I suggest. But for the most part the Border Reivers are fed up to the back teeth with your aggressive policing. It is getting in the way of commerce and legitimate cattle thieving. They are willing to sign up to a truce while they see how it pans out. I have also been in touch with the pirate king. Do you know him, Captain Rotskagg Blenkinsopp? He doesn’t have quite the authority his title suggests, but the Corsairs can’t move in the North Sea at the moment without one of your airships turning up, so they’re willing to talk.”
There is a commotion at the door and the lady in the apron, who it turns out, is Catriona, wheezes into the library pushing a rattly old catering trolley. It’s got steaming bowls of thick, dishwater-grey porridge, a huge bottle of Bunnahabhain single malt whisky and a blowtorch. She pours the whisky over the porridge and then flambés it with the torch. There is a scary whump of flame and some of the nearby books catch light. She calmly throws the burning tomes to the floor and stamps them out.
“There’ll be haggis for tea, if the Gillies have managed to bag one, with champit tatties and bashed neeps.”
“Thank you, Catriona, we can barely wait.”