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Image courtesy Tess Kincaid
The shield or targe so beloved of the Scots was a fearsome weapon of war. A weapon? How can a shield be a weapon?’ Frequently the central boss held a removable steel spike – a lethal weapon indeed at close quarters.
Flora knew all this, for she was a MacLeod, steeped in the history of her clan. The targe her family owned may not have been a MacLeod shield – she was not sure – but it had been in her family for generations. At the centre of it was a long rope of hair. On the rare occasions on which she had been allowed to handle it in her childhood she had marvelled at its softness. A romantic child, she had imagined it to have come from a well-loved horse, though it seemed too silky to have been taken from a Highland pony.
On her parents’ death Flora inherited the targe. It had been wrapped in MacLeod tartan and stored in the attic, but looked dusty and neglected when she uncovered it. She cleaned it reverentially, turning it over in her hands, admiring the workmanship that had gone into its creation. The deerskin on the back was worn but still intact. Flora imagined her forebears striding into battle with targe and dirk in one hand and sword in the other. The leather on the face had been skilfully tooled and then strengthened and decorated with brass studs. She wondered if there had ever been a spike on the boss. Now it was hers she could investigate it thoroughly.
Flora twisted the screw that secured the cord to the brass centre plate. She knew she would not find a spike but wondered if there might be some information, a note perhaps, to tell her a little more about this lovely thing. She hoped for a maker’s mark, or a receipt. It was hard to release the cord from its fastening and Flora’s fingers were sore by the time she managed it. She caught her breath as she glimpsed a piece of paper tucked inside the boss. As she carefully teased it out she wondered if she were the first person to see this since the targe had last been used in battle.
What Flora read made her sick with horror. She wrapped the targe in the tartan and resolved to dispose of it. She considered selling it but supposed that, even with its provenance, few collectors would wish to buy a shield with an ornamental scalp.