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by Pat McDermott


An unexpected visitor to an early medieval Ireland,
Princess Talty prepares for a banquet at Kincora, the royal palace in County Clare.
She finds that beauty salons were a tad different in the eleventh century.


Shrieking seagulls drifted overhead as a brawny Dalcassian guard pointed out the “beauty salon” where I expected to meet Leesha. Neil escorted me to the doorway 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 big events at the larger 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 applaud our skilled aides as they tuck ancient gold in our spiffed-up tresses and match heirloom jewelry to our gowns.

Kincora’s version of the big salon terrified me. Like the other roundhouses, the opening at the point of the high, thatched roof let out smoke, which in this case was a lot, thanks to the malevolent flames leaping away in the fire pit. The scent of burning turf failed to conceal the stench of scorched hair, yet the half-dozen ladies seated around the fire seemed unconcerned, almost as if they were warriors prepared to suffer a battle wound or two.

Where was Leesha?

The metal grill spanning the fire pit 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 when her stylist singed her ear.

As I tried to decide whether to wait for someone to notice me or make a quick escape, I tore my attention from the hideous tools and concentrated on the workers’ clothing: off-white tunics with matching aprons. It seemed 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 gab and gossip. Other than their nonstop chatter and occasional laughter, the crackle of flames, and the clinking and clanking of metal, the room was free of noise. No hair dryers blew. No water splashed in sinks. No timers dinged. No hairspray spit.

A middle-aged attendant emerged from a back room and set a bowl of something on one of the tables. When she saw me, she smiled and came over. “May I help you, lady?”

“I hope so. I’ve come to meet Leesha. A guard said she’d be here.”

“Leesha Ni Lorcan, mother of Gayth, our chieftain?”


“The guard was mistaken. A lady of Leesha’s standing commands private quarters. I’ll take you there.”

Aware of the glares digging into my back, I followed the woman into the cool, fresh air and looked skyward in thanks for my timely rescue. The seagulls were still drifting overhead, though they weren’t shrieking now.

They were laughing at me.




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