His grandfather made a gruff sound that was neither assent nor disagreement. Thinking it was time for a change of subject, Ramsay said, "I brought you a present." He pulled an ancient coin from an inside coat pocket. Gold glinted in the thin sunshine as he put it into his grandfather's gnarled hand.
Duncan squinted at the coin. "Is it Greek or Roman?"
"No, it's much older than that. It comes from an ancient civilization we don't know much about. A people that originated in the Eastern Mediterranean and were called the Canaanites or Phoenicians."
"Like in the Bible?"
"Yes, though no one is sure exactly what the name covered. It seems to be a general term for different peoples of the Eastern Mediterranean. The Greeks called them Phoenicians. They were great seafarers. Their trade routes covered the whole of the Mediterranean and somewhat beyond. If you look closely at the coin, you'll see that one side depicts a ship with armed warriors and some kind of sea beast."
"Huh," Duncan said, interested. "Like our Viking ancestors."
"Exactly. And like the Vikings, they established towns and settlements that became trading ports."
"A thalassocracy then." Seeing Ramsay's expression, his grandfather gave a hoarse laugh. "Didn't expect me to remember my Greek, did you? Thalassocrats. People who settled along the shores but weren't interested in conquering inland." He turned the coin over and squinted at the embossed head on the other side. "Who's the curly-haired fellow?"
"I have no idea," Ramsay said cheerfully. "A king, presumably, but it will take a lot more study before we know things like that. There are so many ancient civilizations we know almost nothing about. I've spent much time in my traveling years looking for traces of these Phoenicians. That almost got me killed in Portugal. I don't suppose I told you the whole story."
His grandfather's ferocious brows drew together in a frown equal to his best. "It was some years back. You wrote that you'd visited Porto to look at some nearby ruins but the French decided to invade and you left in a hurry."
"That was true as far as it went, but it was a much more exciting visit than that." Ramsay thought dryly that exciting meant damned near lethal. "Porto is on the north bank of the estuary of the Douro River, with the smaller city of Gaia on the south bank. The bridges over the river were destroyed to stop the French advance, but the residents of Porto were desperate to escape, so a temporary bridge was cobbled up out of small boats lashed together."
"I read about that," Duncan said, his voice thready but his interest obvious. "The bridge of boats broke apart. Many of those trying to cross drowned, including a number of women and children."
Ramsay nodded grimly. "They'll never know the true death toll, but it was chaos as people on the shores tried to rescue as many victims as possible. I was part of a group pulling out nuns and their little girl students. We were successful, but by chance, several of the other men were also British. A French colonel captured everyone suspicious and threw us into a cellar so we could be shot in the morning as British spies. There were four Britons and one Royalist Frenchman unlucky enough to be caught in the net."
The bushy brows rose. "Obviously you didn't die."
"One of the group figured out an escape route. Working together, we managed to get out before dawn," Ramsay explained. "It was a memorable night. Having shared bad brandy and danger, the five of us have kept in touch in a haphazard sort of way. We all seem to have survived the wars, amazingly."
"For which I'm grateful," Duncan said in a rasping voice. "The living people here need you more than the dead stones do. There is much work to be done in Thorsay."
"Is it me that's needed? The fact that I'm your grandson doesn't necessarily make me the best choice to be the next laird," Ramsay said bluntly. "I grew up here, but I've been away for almost half my life."
"Thorsay needs new ideas and new energy. You're a natural leader and are Thorsay's best hope for the future." Duncan's voice was barely audible. "The day-to-day business you can learn from Signy. She's been a godsend these last years."
"You should name her the laird," Ramsay said half seriously.
The faintest of smiles showed on Duncan's face. "I considered it. But she's not close blood kin. She was born in Norway. And she's a woman."
"All true, but she'd still make a better laird than I will."
"Probably." Duncan sighed and his eyes drifted shut. "You should marry her."
This excerpt ends on page 16 of the paperback edition.
Monday we begin the book Her Renegade Cowboy by Lora Leigh.