Stirling Castle was decked with flowers at this time of
year. A central lawn surrounded by rose beds scented the
still evening air and hanging baskets of variously coloured
annuals added gaiety and perfume. Tables were set up with
wineglasses and all the Mensans were invited to help
themselves, which Cara hadn't expected. Her white wine was
cool and just as pleasantly fragrant as the garden. The
members strolled around gaily, those who hadn't seen the
castle yet taking the chance to explore, so that a kilted
Highlander would suddenly stride into view or a monk, of
which there were a few, pace gently alongside a castle
servant and a pretty crofter's lass.
A tall dark–robed monk nodded to her.
"Peace be with you, sister." The accent was Boston or she
couldn't have identified Brett Cheaper under his hood.
"So you haven't vowed to silence, brother," she said.
"Nor to abstention," he said, raising his glass of red.
Several people were taking photos and Cara produced her
camera. Brett obligingly took a snap of her and Mike, then
posed with hood down to reveal his cropped blond hair
alongside Molly from Belfast, who wore a black and pink
flowered dress with a matching head–dress. The evening
sunlight was perfect for photos and the garden looked down
over a tree–lined steep bank, so only birdsong was
audible. The trees were handsome soft green broadleaves and
the bank finally ended in a level grassy field with blonde
cattle chewing far below the walls. Beyond the field was
the first sign of anachronism with a road curving around the
base of Stirling's height, then farmland, and further in the
distance Cara noticed a few white windmills, turning
steadily despite the lazy air.
"What a beautiful view. Of course there wouldn't have
been trees there originally, would there," Cara said to Mike
and Brett, who was quiet but fitting in well and had swapped
some hilarious army tales with Mike.
"No," Mike assured her. "Why give your enemies cover?"
"Wipe out those trees and you'd have a perfect killing
field," opined Brett. "Two machine guns would cover the
lot." Nobody had asked him just what went on at the
Norwegian base and he didn't discuss it, but he had visited
SMAG before and Cara had heard gossip that he'd got on well
with girls. She smiled as she thought that it was probably
another pleasure the monk hadn't forgone. Mike looked at
her quizzically; it was a little odd to smile at Brett's vision.
"I'm just thinking it's funny to talk of machine guns in
a castle," she covered herself. "Would have been archers
back in the day."
"Weapons are weapons and you use the best you have,"
Brett said. He placed his glass on the wall and made two
fists, thumbs on top. "I think monks were sworn off weapons
but don't worry, fair damsel, if the attacking, er, forces
head this way I'm the base boxing champion."
"Good for you," Mike told him. "The forces were probably
Scots or English at different periods so we'd better hope
war doesn't break out with all these infiltrators."
"Including you," giggled Cara.
"Why spoil my dinner?"
Kirsty drew names from a hat to see who would sit at the
top table placed crosswise in the rectangular stone
banqueting hall. Mensa didn't go in for top tables but the
banquet had to be in keeping with castle tradition. Mike and
Cara were pleased that they weren't drawn because those at
the top table could only talk to neighbours on each side
whereas the others, at longer wooden tables placed
lengthwise, could also talk to people opposite them. Cara
felt delighted not to have to be the organiser; she could
just enjoy the meal and good company. She noticed Linda
saying something to Brett as they were all seating
themselves. Linda's voice didn't carry and she looked as
though she was joking. Brett intoned a solemn line.
"Alas my lady, I have taken a vow of poverty."
Cara observed that Linda didn't sit beside him.
Dinner was excellent with wine provided on the tables as
well as water in goblets. Jugglers and harpers provided
entertainment alongside and conversation flowed merrily.
Soup was the starter. The main course was dishes of stewed
beef and tureens of vegetables, and everyone helped
themselves. Afterwards dishes of fresh fruit were placed on
"Very traditional, kiwi fruit," commented Cara as she bit
"Strawberries are good," said Brett. "Great value, isn't
"Yes, we didn't realise the wine was included."
Speeches were made, the principal of which was to thank
Kirsty Preston for her efforts in organising the Weekend.
The cheers were hearty and genuine.
"You know who I don't see, is the McGregors," Cara realised.
"True," said Mike. "Probably didn't want to bring a
costume on top of everything else."
"They could have come anyway."
"Davie said he was quite flabbergasted by the zebra pate."