Shrieking seagulls drifted over our heads as a brawny Dalcassian guard pointed out the “beauty salon.” Neil escorted me to the entrance and continued on to the hut where barbers and such attended the highborn men. When I stepped inside the ladies’ hut and looked around, I nearly screamed for him to come back.
I’m well accustomed to preparing for formal festivities. Each of my family’s residences has specialized rooms where our personal aides transform us into presentable ladies and gentlemen. In the smaller homes, we stay in guest suites with private dressing rooms equipped with cosmetics and grooming appliances. Before large-scale events at sizable venues like Clontarf Castle, I have a hoot of fun hanging out with my female kin in the big salons with their sinks and mirrors and swivel chairs. While the scissors snip and the hair dryers whirr, we catch up on gossip and compliment our aides as they skillfully tuck ancient gold in our spiffed-up tresses and match heirloom jewelry to our gowns.
Kincora’s version of the big salon terrified me. As with the other roundhouses I’d seen, the opening at the point of the high, thatched roof let out smoke, which in this case was a lot, thanks to the massive flames snapping in the firepit. The pungent scent of burning turf failed to conceal the stench of scorched hair, yet the half-dozen ladies seated around the fire seemed unconcerned.
The metal grill spanning the firepit held rows of crude metal tongs and tubes and rods forged in assorted shapes and sizes. All of them glowed, some red, some white. The busy hairdressers, who siphoned creams and liquids from vessels on nearby tables as they worked, wore one glove apiece. Each gloved hand wielded a hot styling tool in and out of lengthy locks in the perilous production of elaborate Celtic braids, buns, and knots. One pair of tongs burned off a woman’s developing curl. The woman beside her shrieked at her stylist for scorching her ear.
As I tried to decide whether to wait for someone to notice me or make a quick escape, I turned my attention from the hideous tools and focused on the workers’ clothing: light blue tunics with matching aprons. Apparently the rules here permitted the subservient classes to wear only one color, as was the case in the medieval Ireland of my world.
For the most part, the ladies ignored the servants attending them and engaged in their own conversations. Other than soft voices, occasional laughter, the crackle of flames, and the clinking and clanking of metal, the room was nearly silent. No hair dryers blew, no water splashed in sinks, no timers dinged, no hairspray spit.
A middle-aged attendant came from a back room and set a bowl of something on one of the tables. When she saw me, she smiled and strolled over. “May I help you, lady?”
“I hope so. I’ve come to meet Leesha. A guard said she’d be here.”
“The guard was mistaken. A lady of Leesha’s standing commands private quarters. I’ll take you there.”
Aware of the stares digging into my back, I followed the woman into the cool, fresh air.
The seagulls above us weren't screeching now.
They were laughing at me.