June 11th, 1743.
Ye are blood of my blood, bone of my bone.
I give ye my body, that we two might be one.
Jamie lay next to me on the bed, sound asleep. His arm was draped protectively over me and I had no wish to move it. I’d shifted and adjusted my position on the pillows enough to know he wouldn’t wake if I did, but the reassuring weight of it anchored me in the tumultuous sea of my emotions.
I rolled onto my side and curved myself into him, as much for warmth as for his calming presence. He pulled me closer out of pure instinct and sighed deeply. I lay there as I tried desperately to match my breathing to his, to fall asleep wrapped in his embrace before my brain could digest what I had just done.
Too late, my heart whispered.
June 18th, 1743.
A gentle breeze lapped the waters of Loch Ness against the shore. It had been a warm day, by Scottish standards, and hours of hard travel left me flushed, tired, and cross. I had seized the opportunity to wander a little ways from camp as soon I possibly could.
I sighed with unabashed relief as I perched on a wide, flat boulder that jutted out into the water and dipped my toes in. Traveling overland by horse with a dozen men was a cacophonous, pungent endeavor and moments of solitude like these were hard to come by.
If I saw another human being in the next ten minutes, I just might scream.
My eyes burned with fatigue as I slid them shut and tipped my head backwards, letting the breeze cool my face. The setting sun taunted me; boasting that night was close at hand, when I knew it would be hours before I could sleep.
I hadn’t slept well the night before and whether my insomnia was due to sleeping on the hard ground or my new bedmate, I wasn’t sure. A smile tugged at the corners of my mouth as I thought of lying in bed with Jamie. The fact that we hadn’t really even had a bed the last two nights only fueled the unquenchable flames of desire within him.
I would be lying if I said I wasn’t attracted to him in turn. I was, and for more than just his looks.
He was one of those people whose soul was just as beautiful, if not more so, than their outward appearance. There was something about him that quietly undid all the protective barriers I had built around myself since arriving here. They came down without hesitation whenever I was with him.
A small splashing noise brought me out of my thoughts and I opened my eyes, looking for the telltale ripples of a jumping fish.
What I saw instead were two giant, amber eyes staring up at me. They bulged out from a long, flat head, which now began to emerge from the water.
A waterhorse. A kelpie. The Loch Ness Monster. A plesiosaur.
Whatever the hell you wanted to call it, it was within touching distance of my feet.
I could have pulled away, but I didn’t. I sat there frozen as a statue and watched it inch closer to me. The initial shock wearing off, I found I wasn’t afraid of it, but felt a strange sort of camaraderie instead. We were both creatures adrift in a time completely different than our own.
It seemed to hover, almost as if it was waiting for a cue from me. I moved my foot slowly towards it and held it still. The beast moved in kind, brushing against the tips of my toes. It was surprisingly warm, more like a crocodile than a snake in texture.
“Goodbye,” I whispered as a short puff of steam rose from its nostrils and it sank back beneath the water, disappearing from view.
Pulling my feet out of the water and drying them on my hem, I caught sight of movement further up the shore. It was one of Dougal’s men. Peter, I thought his name was. He stood trembling with his eyes fixated on the spot where the creature had just been.
“Are you alright?” I asked, noticing he had dropped the bucket he had brought to fetch water with. I stood and started walking towards him until I realized he was backing away from me, arms held up in defense. “What are you doing?”
He flung himself face first onto the ground at my feet, begging at the top of his lungs, “Have mercy, Lady!”
I quickly scanned the tree line, hoping no one had heard this embarrassing outburst. “Stop it,” I hissed and nudged his shoulder with my foot.
The man jerked as if I had kicked him, reeling backwards and hastily crossing himself before fleeing back into the trees.
I stared after him, dumbfounded.
What in hell was that all about?
“Jamie?” I asked as I crawled under the plaid beside him.
His breath tickled my neck as he buried his nose in my hair, “Aye?”
“Do you believe there’s really a giant beast living in Loch Ness?”
I felt him chuckle as he replied, “I’ll no’ be sayin’ tha’ I dinna a stone’s throw away from the loch itself, aye? I may no’ be as steeped in the auld ways as some, Sassenach, but I’m no’ daft.”
I knew this to be true. Even though Jamie, his uncle Dougal, the lawyer Ned Gowan, and his godfather Murtagh were all well learned, they had a certain measure of reverence for the supernatural folklore of the Highlands. They’d show you that they found such things ridiculous, with scoffs and raised brows, but wouldn’t speak a word against the old-fashioned traditions and stories.
“Why? Ye didna see one, did ye?” Jamie asked in jest, the cheeky grin evident in his voice.
I couldn’t have asked for a better lead in if I’d tried.
“Actually, I did.”
Jamie was silent a moment before he rolled me over to face him. “Ye saw the beast?”
“Umhmm,” I nodded, trying not to laugh at his incredulous expression. “I even touched it.”
“I touched it with my foot,” I brushed the toes of my right foot along Jamie’s leg, making him jump.
“Ye didna,” he shook his head in disbelief.
I did laugh then. “Jamie, why would I tell you I saw a supposedly mythological beast if I hadn’t?”
“Oh, aye, I didna mean to say ye were lyin’, Sassenach,” he was quick to add as he mulled the idea over, “‘Tis just tha’ I dinna ken anyone who has seen the beast himself.”
“Well, now you know someone who’s seen it for herself,” I quipped and poked him in the ribs.
“They say ‘tis good luck to see it.” He grinned as he caught hold of my hand, his gaze growing distant, “Wha’ was tha’ auld rhyme Jenny used to sing? ‘I gave my laddie a kiss nigh the Ness an’ now a gift from the beast we’ve been blessed’?”
“You know, that doesn’t really rhyme,” I commented, not able to stop myself from laughing.
“Oh, aye, I ken it doesna rhyme, Sassenach…” He pulled me closer, his lips hovering just above mine. “But ye canna be lettin’ the verse go unheeded, can ye?”
“Mmhmm,” I murmured, tasting the hint of whisky on his lips as I kissed him, “It would be shame to see the beast and not ‘give my laddie a kiss nigh the Ness.’ I’d better make it two, just to be sure.”