picture by @scotsmanandsassenach
“Claire!” Jenny’s voice was loud and clear in the empty field. “Come here! Quick!”
Claire rucked her skirts up and out of the way and ran. The rustling of her petticoats mingled with the chirping of a bird - alone, wistful - keeping company to the single tree standing proud next to the abandoned house.
They were too late. The whole family had been taken.
“Look at this.” Jenny held a ribbon in her pale, shaking hand. It had been pink once, before the dark splotches of mud stole away the innocence it had carried.
“I… I saw her. Again.” Jenny swallowed forcefully. Her eyes were moist, but her voice rose steady against the wind. “She’s around sixteen, Claire. A scrawny lass, wi’ a head full of russet curls.”
Claire nodded, her lips a tight line. It was one of Jenny’s visions that led them to the farmhouse. She’d seen the girl’s hands reaching for her mother, fingers itching for safety. Next moment, a bigger hand was holding them tight, binding them together. A hand certain and determined, leading to an arm hidden by the red uniform. Jenny and Claire knew that image all too well - they were trying to stop him from hurting their people for the last six months. They were following him, to amend his wrongs.
“How many days do we have?” Claire asked, looking at the sun setting on the horizon. It was an enchanting sight, but she felt the colors mocking her, reminding her how beautiful life would be if they’d arrived in time to save the family.
“Two, maybe three. The bastard was punching her in the face. There was blood on her chin, her lip torn,” Jenny said through gritted teeth. Her hand, clenched in a tight fist, was shaking with anger.
“Where?” Claire spoke the word fast, her breathing insufficient to support a whole sentence. She swallowed and tried again. “Where are they?”
Jenny took Claire’s hands into her own; with a nod they both closed their eyes and focused on their connected palms, the fingers laid lightly on each other’s pulse. None of them saw the white light emanating from their hands, an aura the two created together, bright and pure. Powerful. They didn’t need to see it. They knew of it; they felt it.
It was a current travelling across their tissue. An invisible energy flowing between them, making itself apparent only by the light and the warmth left in its wake.
The gate opened. Their minds connected. Jenny’s visions were transferred in front of Claire’s eyes, misty in the beginning, dancing around like ghosts, but slowly becoming clearer, real. Sharing a secret with her. Whispering images to her mind.
Every time they connected, Jenny showed Claire someone who needed help, someone who needed her; showed her what would come to happen to these people in a few hours, days, months - each time was different. Jenny opened a window to the future as easily as she opened a room’s wide window in the morning to see the Highland hills glowing with mystical serenity.
Jenny was a part of this place. Her father had taught her its past. And her mother… Her mother gave her the ability to see into its future.
And sometimes, her own future.
That was how Jenny knew, when she first met Claire.
They were both in Inverness, a rainy day like all the other days – and yet it wasn’t. Jamie was leaving for France, and Jenny would be left behind – again. First Castle Leoch, now Paris. Living the life, her younger brother. Jenny took him in her arms and squeezed the wee dolt until she felt tears threaten to run over her face. She stayed put, watching him aboard the ship until he became nothing more than a distant black spot in her vision.
It hurt her that he’d be away, that she wouldn’t see that red mop of hair decorating his empty head every day. But what hurt more was that she couldn’t go with him. That she’d never had a vision of herself living away from home. No, her da was resolute. It would be too dangerous for her to leave Lallybroch. She almost didn’t come to Inverness after their da insisted she should stay home to take care of the animals. Thank God for Mrs. Crook, who coughed politely, reminding Brian that she’d stay back, anyway. And thank God for Jamie, too, who hugged Jenny and said that it would be nice to travel with both of them, his whole family. Finally, Da yielded to the common front.
Jenny glanced over at Da from the corner of her eye, still vexed, and walked towards her horse to wait for him to finish his conversation with an old friend he’d met at the docks.
That was when Jenny spotted Claire. She was standing close to the boats, looking at the sea, her gaze lost in a far away land, her curls blowing in the wind. She wasn’t like any other lass Jenny knew. Her dress was silky and shiny, the color a deep green that made Jenny almost smell of the pines it brought to her mind. She must be close to Jenny’s age, and the lass certainly wasn’t a Scot. No Scot would wear such a dress on the docks of Inverness.
What was she doing here?
Jenny felt her eyes close, involuntarily looking into the curly-head’s future. She wasn’t supposed to do that, she knew, but today, she was far too angry to heed her father’s instructions.
She opened her eyes again, wide with surprise. She had seen the brown haired lass in Lallybroch, sitting in the armchair across from Jenny, a cup of tea warming her long white fingers. She was laughing, and Jenny was laughing with her, a feeling warming up her heart and taking her previous anger away.
With a smile, Jenny approached the strange girl.
Jenny wouldn’t be alone anymore. This lass felt different. Special. Like her.
It was months before Jenny shared the truth with her, shared her visions, the way she glimpsed a future inexistent. She wanted Claire to trust her, to know her as a true friend and not a threat.
Slowly Jenny came to know more about Claire, the lass with the whisky eyes to match her golden heart. She had been a five-year-old English orphan when Master Raymond had found her and took her to Paris. She hadn’t known back then that she was different, that her family was different. Master Raymond had helped her heal from the attack, physically and mentally, until she became strong again. Her parents might be dead, but she was alive and away from danger - for now. Their assailants thought her dead.
This gave Master Raymond precious time to train her, slowly and patiently, to bring out the powers she had inside. Both Claire’s parents were healers, but she was something more. She was the healer professed in the worn pages of mystical books. She was the White Raven, born once in two hundred years. If trained properly, pushing herself to her limits, she would be able to heal herself. She’d be immortal. If she wouldn’t get killed in between.
No matter how hard Raymond had tried to hide it, over the years people started talking about Claire’s healing abilities. She was loved and feared. She endured - and survived - violent attacks. She was La Dame Blanche. She had to leave France to stay safe.
Enemies are made by power. They want to steal it; they want to use it. And if they can’t wield it, they want to destroy it. And Claire had too much power for her own good.
But at Lallybroch, she was safe.
A few months after they first met, Jenny and Claire’s relationship ran deeper than anything else they’d experienced before. There were no secrets, no lies.
Only one person would change this, Jenny knew, but he was in Paris, fooling himself with petite French girls. Jenny had seen Jamie and Claire together, their eyes shining with intoxicating love, but she talked to neither of them about it. If it was to happen, she’d let them do it by themselves. Claire had become a sister already; she knew Jenny’s heart.
As a sister, Claire was the only person who knew about Jenny’s abilities aside from her da and her brother. Jenny and Brian were the only people who knew Claire for the healer she really was; not one with potions and concoctions, but with powerful hands. Jamie would come to know later. Claire used small bottles, giving them to the people she healed with her powers, encouraging them to believe it was the herb-colored water that brought them back to health. It was safer, this way. Here, at Lallybroch, she was a healer, not a witch.
“You witch,” Jenny had teased her after coming back from their visit at the MacLays. Jenny had had a vision of Aileas, their youngest daughter, fallen ill with a terrible fever, her frail body shaking under the plaids, her eyes lost in the fog. Pretending that they’d visited to share Mrs Crook’s bannocks, Jenny and Claire had arrived at the little house, at the end of the Fraser lands.
The girl was safe, sleeping soundly when they left. It was the first time Jenny saw Claire healing, and she was sure that she’d witnessed more than the girl’s family who stood around them.
A blue light leaving Claire’s hands, rippling along the tiny body until it was all taken in, like rain on dry land.
Once back at home, Jenny had narrowed her eyes on Claire and tried to keep a straight face while teasing her, but a shadow crossed Claire’s face in the shape of a frown. It was only when she saw Claire taking a deep breath that Jenny had burst into laughter. “I didn’t believe that you’d buy this nonsense, Claire! Witch? Come on!” she said, rolling her eyes.
A slow smile had transformed Claire’s pale face as sadness faded from her whisky eyes. “Takes one to know one, right?”
“Aye,” Jenny winked with a small smile.
“You’ve seen it then?” Claire asked, looking at her with a surprised but hopeful glint in her eye.
“The blue light? Aye. Scared me to death before I realized no one else could see it.” Jenny chuckled, placing her hand in the crook of Claire’s elbow. “Let’s go make supper, visions always make me hungry.”
They wouldn’t have time to eat now. Fort William was a two days ride from the Fraser lands.
“The rotting bastard.” Claire whispered the moment she opened her eyes again, the vision fading away under the daylight. “Not him. Not again.”
Jenny huffed, placing her hands on her waist. “If someone doesna kill him, Claire, he will never stop. Come on. We have to hurry.”
They arrived at Fort William past midnight, and a good thing they did, because how were they supposed to carry out their rescue mission in the middle of the day?
The moon was a sliver in the black sky, the fort’s torches giving off a soft glow, projecting an orange circle onto the dark stones. Luckily, the torches’ light reached only a few feet away, leaving plenty of space for them to move, hidden in the shadows.
Jenny walked ahead with Claire close on her heels.
“Are you sure you know where we’re going?” Claire’s whisper was uneasy and made Jenny stop in her tracks, rolling her eyes.
“Aye. I’ve had visions of this damned place for two days now. I ken where I’m going.” Her voice carried an urgency, anxiety pouring into her words.
Claire swallowed hard and nodded, trying to keep her steps silent against the rough stones. They were walking along the fort’s walls, away from the main entrance. Claire felt the urge to run the other way, back to the safety of the hills, but gritted her teeth and kept moving forward.
They had to enter the fort. They had to save the girl. She had been screaming in Jenny’s visions, sometimes begging for mercy, other times for help. But every time Jenny took Claire’s hands to show her what she’d seen, Claire’s heart sank a bit lower into her stomach.
Jenny nodded towards a narrow opening, the stone arch faintly lit by a candle they couldn’t see, and disappeared behind the thick walls.
“Hello there, soldier,” Claire heard Jenny’s voice, so soft and mellow she almost didn’t recognize her. With her heart pounding in her chest, she leaned into the opening and saw Jenny flashing a bright smile to the dumbfounded redcoat as she walked towards the opposite corner of the small room.
“How did you get in here?” The English accent rang strange in Claire’s ears as the man stood from his chair and walked towards Jenny. Claire could only imagine the frown on his face, as he stood with his back to her.
“I came for ye,” Jenny replied, taking a step towards him, sashaying her hips as she did so.
Claire’s eyes scanned the room, her gaze landing on the soldier’s musket, forgotten in the corner next to his chair. It wasn’t far, not at all. She bit down hard on her bottom lip, and passed through the gate.
It took her six steps to reach the gun - not that she’d counted, not that she was holding her breath until she’d reached it. It was heavy in her hands as she lifted it, and it made the muscles in her arms flex when she swung the barrel at the back of the man’s head. He fell to the stone floor, unconscious, blood oozing from the fresh wound to stain the sand-colored stones.
“Oh my God,” Claire whispered, setting the gun down. “Are you out of your mind, Jenny, improvising like that?”
“There was no other way, Claire. Besides, we did fine.” Jenny raised an eyebrow, hands perched on her hips. “D’ye kill him?”
“No, I don’t think so.” Claire fell to her knees, reaching for his pulse. “He’s alive,” she confirmed with relief, cradling his head between her palms.
Jenny’s voice came louder than she’d intended when she saw the blue light flowing from Claire’s hands to the redcoat’s wound. “What are ye doing Claire? Have ye gone mad?”
“Hush!” Claire didn’t take her eyes from him. “Just making sure he’ll be fine.”
“Christ, Claire! Come, we dinna have time.”
They went up the stairs, turning around a corner, their skirts rucked up, the fabric thick between their fingers. Jenny’s legs moved firmly, as if her feet knew the narrow passageways, as if they’d walked through the fort a million times already. Claire followed, her eyes darting back every so often, checking for guards, for the stray soldier leaving his warm bed for some fresh air. Jenny drove them through empty corridors avoiding the sentries, until they reached the offices. She had seen in her visions where the girl, Ceana, was kept. She was alone, in a room with a fireplace and furniture, much better than any cell across Scotland. Randall kept her separated from the fort’s prisoners. His reasons were still unknown to Jenny, but they would be easy to find out, once they’d rescued the girl.
Jenny stopped abruptly in her tracks, Claire bumping into her as she hurried forward.
“She’s here, I think.” Jenny swallowed hard, eyes on the wooden door. “I’ve seen him going through this door, more than once. I’m almost sure she’s here.”
“Almost sure doesn’t sound that encouraging. Are we breaking into this room?” Claire inquired, sweeping the sweat from her neck with her sleeve. “God, it’s hot in here.”
“Aye, excuse us, Milady, we’ll get ye out to take some air promptly,” Jenny teased, but her eyes stayed fixed on the door. “She’s alone at night, that much I ken.” She was thinking aloud and made Claire even more anxious. Jenny had shown her some of her visions, but Claire was far from certain about what they were going to do.
They were risking their lives.
Jenny had joked the previous night before sleep, suggesting that if one of them was to be wounded it would have to be her, so Claire could heal her afterwards. It had sent chills through Claire’s body then, and it did the same now; the thought of them getting captured or even worse, killed. As Claire tried to fight the panic rising in her chest, she saw Jenny take the hairpin from her braid and try to open the lock.
“Where did you learn how to do that?” Claire asked, her gaze unwavering on the end of the corridor. If the captain decided to visit his victim again tonight or sent a soldier to check on her, they would raise the alarm, and all their effort would have been in vain. But Jenny’s visions had shown that no one would come, and Claire decided to trust in that.
“Tis useful to have a brother and a boy as yer best friends while growing up. Ye can’t imagine the things ye learn.”
Claire shook her head, stifling a laugh. If she wanted to be honest with herself, she couldn’t imagine.
It took Jenny almost five minutes fidgeting with the lock until a ‘click!’ was finally heard, followed by two simultaneous sighs. Jenny swung the door open, and they both froze when they saw the heap on the floor. The girl’s curls were cut short, and her face was just a ghost of what they had seen in Jenny’s early visions. Her dress was torn, raw cuts striping the pale arms. They ran and fell to their knees, Claire brushing red locks away from Ceana’s face, while Jenny reached for the water flask, gently wetting the girl’s chapped lips.
“Can ye heal her, Claire?” Jenny asked, her voice unsteady from the tears she was trying to swallow.
“She’s so weak,” Claire murmured. “I can’t heal her properly, but I can bring her back to consciousness, make her stand, maybe walk. We need to get her out of here.” Jenny nodded, walking to the door to keep an eye out for incomers.
Claire closed her eyes and ran her hands gently over the girl’s face. Her own face was peaceful now, serene, the deep lines that had previously adorned her forehead now disappearing, as the soft, blue glow left her hands. She didn’t move when the girl mumbled incomprehensible words. Her hands didn’t tremble when the girl’s hand moved. Her eyes didn’t open to meet Ceana’s when she looked at Claire through green, foggy eyes. Claire focused on the flow of energy; from her body to the girl’s, from her open palms to broken ribs and torn muscle.
“Who are ye?” Her voice was small, even smaller than her body, but it was enough to make Claire stop and Jenny rush next to her.
“We’re here to help ye, lass. To save ye. Ye have to come wi’ us.” Jenny gave her a genuine smile, but the girl just shook her head.
“I canna leave him behind,” she said, tears rolling down her dirty cheeks. “We have to take him, too.”
“Take whom?” Claire asked, confused, but Jenny just looked at the girl, her lips a tight line.
“Whomever ye want to save lass, we canna do it now. We have to leave.”
“No, we can’t!” More tears, carving rivers onto her cheeks.
“We’ll come back fer him, I promise. But we have to leave now.”
Jenny and Claire grabbed the girl by the arms and propped her up. Safely secured between them, each tightly gripping an arm to help her move, they walked to the doorway and then back the way they had come.
“I hope the man ye healed before is still unconscious, Claire,” Jenny hissed in the dark.
“Oh, he is, stop nagging.”
It was harder to walk now, with Ceana between them. Her feet kept getting caught on the uneven stones, and twice she’d almost fallen on her face. Still, they kept to the shadows, avoiding the sentries as they had done on their way in.
Until one appeared at the end of the passageway. They stood outside the torch’s halo and the man would have never seen them, if Ceana’s cry hadn’t betrayed their position.
The soldier ran towards them and they fled back towards the office, until Jenny maneuvered them down the stairs, leading them behind a stack of barrels in the yard. Jenny’s eyes darted around to find an escape, while Claire held Ceana, who was now openly sobbing, threatening to bring more attention to them.
“Damn,” Jenny’s voice traveled on the wind, “damn, damn, damn.”
The sound of their pursuers neared. About ten men, armed and angry. They couldn’t put on a show now, as Jenny had done before. Not with a captive sobbing between them.
Ten muskets, all pointing at them.
Claire held Ceana tight, calling out for Jenny to come back to them. She had to do it. She’d succeeded only once in the past, and that was when master Raymond had held a gun to her head, threatening to shoot her. He had taken ten steps back, and pulled the trigger. He’d shot her. Only that Claire hadn’t been in that spot anymore.
Claire cried to Jenny to hold on to her arm, and she brought her own hand under her cloak to rest on the grey stone over her chest. Raymond had tried to train her to use it a million times, and she’d managed only once.
The stone embedded in the necklace was uneven under her fingers, but warm. Claire could feel its vibrations.
“Don’t move! You’re surrounded!”
Their voices didn’t matter anymore. She was focused on the other voices, those echoing through the void. She felt Jenny’s grip tighten around her biceps, Ceana’s hand frail under her fingers.
Claire took a breath, pushed the stone hard into her palm and disappeared, hearing only the faint cries of the men she left behind. “Witches!”
The tarmac was hard, leaving raw scratches that burned crimson on their palms and arms as they rolled on the rough surface. Claire looked around her, exhausted. When she spotted Jenny a few feet away, taking Ceana behind the copse at the side of the road, she dragged herself behind the bushes, closed her eyes, and succumbed to sleep.
Raymond’s voice came to her through her dreams, calm and soft as always. “You are the white raven. Fly, mon cherie, fly through time.”
She’d done it. They were safe, for now. They would figure out everything else later.
Claire woke at the scent of flesh burning. Not her flesh, though. Delicious, roasted, animal flesh. She opened her eyes and saw Jenny sitting next to the fire, Ceana silently crying on the other side.
“Good morning, Milady,” her friend teased her.
“How long was I sleeping?” Claire asked, trying to suppress a yawn.
“Long enough. Ye were exhausted, Claire.” Jenny’s eyes were tired and looked at Claire concerned, the frown on her face questioning Claire’s current condition. “Ye don’t remember waking up to walk up here?”
Claire shook her head. The last thing she remembered was crashing onto the hard surface covering the road. Tarmac. And then Raymond’s voice, calling her to fly.
“Well, twasna far from where ye were hidden. Just a few steps, really. Tis much safer here, though. Away from the road.”
“Jenny.” Claire cleared her throat. “Where are we?”
“In Scotland.” Jenny gestured to the heather next to her, a munro in the distance. “The question is, when are we. Ye did it again, that thing ye told me ye did once in France. Ye took us all away.” Jenny moved to Claire and pulled her into a tight embrace. “Ye saved us, Claire,” she said, smiling, then stood abruptly and walked back to the fire, checking on the spit rabbit over the fire.
Claire touched the stone of her necklace and swallowed hard at the memory of the redcoats shouting “Witches!” as the three of them disappeared. Looking around, she realized she had landed in the same place she had when she’d traveled from France, where Raymond had landed a few moments after her, looking fresh as a daisy, as she vomited, certain she’d die at any moment.
“It’ll get easier. The more you travel, the easier it becomes, Madonna,” he’d said.
He was right, it had been easier this time. No retching, just fatigue. Claire looked around her, realizing that she knew the place. She could hear the strange noise the cars were making, and she could see the electricity pylons.
1945. They were safe here.
Raymond had taken her to Inverness before, and showed her what she was supposed to do when she’d land there again.
“It’s your place,” Raymond had said. “Each one of us has a place of his own, that’s the easiest to travel to. With experience, you’ll be able to go everywhere. But for now, surprisingly, your place is in Scotland. Close to Craigh na Dun.”
The first time she’d seen Inverness of her time, in 1739, Claire couldn’t believe in her eyes. She had known that place, only she’d known it two hundred years ahead.
Claire was there again, and everything around her was the same. But she couldn’t walk to Inverness this time. She wasn’t alone anymore; she had Jenny and Ceana with her. Raymond had advised Claire to stay in whatever time was safer, but she couldn’t force Jenny and Ceana stay in the future with her. No, she couldn’t ask that of them. But she couldn’t send them back alone, nor did she want to. She had to help, to go where she was needed.
They had to go back. As soon as possible. Brian would go mad with worry if they didn’t appear at Lallybroch soon.
Claire looked up to see Jenny carefully studying her. “Aye,” she said, reading Claire’s face.
“We’re going back.”
Claire nodded, biting her lip hard.
“What’s happening?” Ceana whimpered, drawing the attention of the two older women.
“Nothing is happening, a nighean,” Jenny said in a soothing voice. “We’re all safe and well. Claire, I did the best I could, but can ye give her a hand?”
Claire laughed at her friend’s pun, and stood up, gathering all her strength to help Ceana. She had bruises upon bruises on her body, and her eyes were lost, feverish. Claire gently sat next to her, so as not to alarm the girl, and held Ceana’s wrist between her fingers, setting her other hand on the girl’s neck. Blue light emanated from Claire’s fingers, slowly seeping into Ceana’s body, until a healthy rose color came to settle upon her cheeks and her eyes focused on her surroundings.
“Are ye witches?” the girl asked, her eyes looking at each of them just for a moment before returning to the fire, flitting between fear and curiosity. “Faeries?” she whispered.
“We’re rather big to be faeries, are we no’?” Jenny smirked.
“Well…” Claire smiled in response. “You’re not that tall, to be honest.”
Jenny threw a stick at her, which lodged in Claire’s curls. She huffed and narrowed her eyes to her friend, then tried to remove it, while Jenny kneeled next to the frightened girl.
“Are ye afraid of us?” she asked in a low voice.
“I… I don’t know.” Jenny didn’t speak, giving Ceana more time. “No, it’s not ye that scare me,” she finally said.
“Those men. Captain – ” She stopped and pressed her lips together, unable to even say his name.
“Tis all good now,” Jenny said, took her in her arms and started rocking her as if she was a wee bairn. “We’re not leaving ye alone.”
Ceana seemed to calm down, and Claire took the chance to ask her more about her behavior before their escape. “Why didn’t you want to leave Fort William?”
“Alex, they’ve got him there,” she said, setting her jaw. It was a strength she hadn’t shown before, but Claire recognized the same determination they’d seen when they tried to get her out of the fort.
“Who’s Alex?” Jenny asked, and Claire could see her lips curling up in a smile.
“He’s… Tis no’ official… But he loves me.”
“And you love him back,” Claire continued, squeezing the girl’s arm in solidarity.
“Aye,” Ceana said, her face brightening up with an unexpected smile. “I love him. We had planned to handfast, before they came to take him. At his very own home.” New shadows descended on her face, and the conversation stopped before she would start crying again.
The rabbit was almost ready, and Jenny took it away from the fire, leaving it on the side to cool. Jenny, who had carried Claire and Ceana to a safe place in the woods and built a fire to keep them warm. Who had found the water stream nearby and had torn her shift to make a rag she could use as a compress on Ceana’s forehead when she was burning up with fever, praying all the while that Claire would wake up to heal the girl. Jenny, who had been the girl raised alongside two boys and had set traps as Ian and Jamie had shown her, because she knew they would need to eat sooner or later. Jenny, who had slept less than two hours, making sure no one from that time would find them.
They ate in silence, and a king’s meal would look worse than that rabbit in their eyes. Afterwards, Claire foraged for herbs and greens, and they chewed them unhappily, especially Ceana who couldn’t understand why two witches would eat such tasteless things.
Finally, Claire prodded Ceana to talk to them about Alex and the reason she found herself at Fort William.
The first time, she had gone to the fort just to see him, to make sure he was fine. They hadn’t let her in. The second time she had gone there with Alex’s mother. Captain Randall accepted them in his office and informed them that Alex was doing alright, but they had no right to see him. Alex’s mother had been shouting that she had every right to see her own son, but Captain Randall had only smiled. A cold smile, that had made Ceana shiver. Randall had arrested Alex for cattle lifting, but Ceana swore that it was all a lie. The third time, she went alone. She had snuck into the cells and had found Alex beaten, his eyes unfocused, looking past her. She had given him his bible, and a bit of bread and cheese before she left, her heart sinking in her stomach. The next day Randall attacked her house and had taken her away from her family.
“Da died three years ago. Ague and fever, same as Alex’s father,” Ceana said, her voice rough. “Twas only myself, my Ma and my sister at home. I dinna ken where they are now.”
“They fled from yer house. They’re safe, living with your aunt.” Jenny answered the question Ceana was afraid to ask. Claire looked at her with a questioning look and Jenny nodded, serious.
She spoke the truth.
“Can ye save him?” Ceana asked at last. “His sentence is in two weeks,” she added, shaking at the thought of losing him.
“We have to save him before that,” Jenny said and looked at Claire in a way that said she knew more than the girl.
“Okay, then. We have to go back. Tonight.” Claire took a deep breath, stood, and began pacing back and forth, thinking. “We have to go back to Lallybroch first. We need a plan.”
“Aye, we do. And we need to tell Da we’re fine.”
“Are you sisters?” Ceana asked, surprised. “Ye dinna sound Scottish,” she said to Claire, almost accusatory.
“Aye,” Jenny chucked. “We’re sisters, but an unconventional type of sisters.” She winked at Claire and stood up, heading for the stream. “Oh, Claire!” she said before disappearing behind the trees, “My brother has come back!”
Claire looked at her getting lost the darkness, wondering how exactly this was relevant.
Claire landed all three of them on a hill, back in what she hoped to be 1720. The stone of her necklace lay warm against her pale skin, its vibrations still dancing through her body. She knew that the after effects might last a day – time-travelling was a skill she still needed to exercise, her prowess nowhere close to her healing abilities.
Jenny kept her arm linked with hers, supporting her body, sharing strength. Claire nodded thanks to her friend and stood still for a few long moments, focusing hard to fight the dizziness that kept rising inside her. At last, succumbing to it, she let her knees bend and felt the soil welcoming her weight.
“Are ye alright? D’ye feel sick?” Jenny’s voice was filled with worry and her frown cut deep lines between her eyebrows.
Claire opened her mouth twice before she managed to reply weakly, “I need a moment.”
Three people were too many to carry around. Especially when “around” was actually 200 years through time. But she had made it, and her lips cracked into a soft smile. She had taken both Jenny and Ceana back, safe. And most probably, to the right time. She had thought of Brian when she touched the stone, she’d thought of Lallybroch’s warm parlour, and Mrs Crooks’ bannocks. They had to be in the right time.
After a while, her breathing became stronger and Claire dared open her eyes again. Most of the nausea was gone. She looked at Ceana, whose wild eyes darted to and fro, taking note of every little detail in their surroundings, observing the differences.
“We’re back?” she asked when she felt Claire’s gaze on her.
“Aye, we are,” Jenny replied instead of Claire, giving her more time to recover. “Although Claire didna take the pain to land us at home. We’re still a few miles away - an hour or so, I reckon.” Hearing Claire’s snort, she turned to look at her friend with eyes that danced playfully.
Claire slowly rose to her feet, making sure she wouldn’t faint while doing so. When she felt her muscles responding to her mind’s will, she spoke again. “Let’s go home. We need a plan.”
“No! I said no, ye oaf!” Jenny’s voice filled the room and Claire winced at the sound. She found she despised hearing anything louder than the normal speaking voice after traveling through time. It was as if the sounds were trapped in her head, buzzing, leaving her distracted and uncomfortable.
Jenny, though, had no mind to pay attention to Claire’s reactions. She was now standing in front of her brother, standing at her full height with both hands rested on her hips, lips pursed, and eyes shooting flames.
Claire added yet another trait to her ongoing list for Jenny’s brother, whose chest was now heaving. Tall, handsome, sweet, stubborn, proud, self-important and… an oaf. She glanced towards the hallway, noticing that the heavy door of Brian’s office remained closed.
“Janet!” Jamie’s voice rumbled with anger. “Ye canna be telling me to let ye go alone! Three women against this… this… this monster!”
“Oh aye, and ye think that three women and a fool will do much better, brother?”
“I’ll warn ye to watch yer gob, in front of…”
“Claire is one of us,” Jenny interrupted him before he could finish his sentence and both Frasers turned to look at her, their slanted blue eyes exactly the same.
“Well, if you’re quite finished,” Claire said, crossing her arms in front of her chest, “can we actually concentrate on finding a way to get Alex out of Fort William?”
“What do you mean she’s one of us?” Jamie turned back to Jenny, his voice even more concerned now.
“Well,” Jenny started, speaking softly. They both looked different all of a sudden - deflated. “She’s like me. Not exactly like me, but…” She shrugged the rest of the sentence off.
“Ye see things, too?” Jamie asked Claire with wild eyes, running his hands through his hair.
“I…” Claire started to explain, then paused. “No, I don’t see things. I don’t have Jenny’s powers.”
“Then what?” Jenny’s brother asked again, impatiently. Yet another trait to be added to Claire’s list.
“Claire is a healer. And she can travel through time,” Jenny announced while Jamie’s eyes locked with Claire’s, searching for the repudiation of his sister’s statement. His lips turned white when realization dawned on him. Claire shrugged again, trying to lessen the impact.
“Great, just great,” he murmured. “Now we have two witches to keep hidden from the raging crowds.”
Claire’s eyebrows shot up, and her voice was ice cold when she spoke again. This was not what she had expected. She hadn’t asked for anything from him, and if he thought she was staying with them, taking advantage of Brian and Jenny’s kindness… “I don’t need your protection. I can do just fine by myself,” she spoke, feeling her temper rising.
Jenny didn’t speak. Jamie looked at Claire for a long moment, a hundred thoughts flashing through his eyes in rapid succession. “Ye’re here, and as long as ye’re in this home we need to be careful.”
It wasn’t a lie. “I will not put your family in danger, Jamie.” The words were out of Claire’s mouth before she could think them through. “If you believe that my staying here might turn ugly for all of you, I will leave as soon we free Alex. But we will free him first.”
“No, ye won’t.” It wasn’t Jenny’s voice, although the statement matched her thoughts perfectly. “Ye belong here, Claire.” Brian entered the room with slow, quiet steps. “Ye’re family.”
Jamie suddenly found his long fingers extremely interesting. Jenny flashed her Da a wide smile. Claire blushed, then thanked him in a shaky voice.
“I didna want to intrude,” Brian continued, “but it seems the two of ye are still behaving like wee bairns, fighting for the bannock covered wi’ the most honey.” Identical snorts left his children’s nostrils. “Jamie, yer sister is right. She and Claire are most capable of taking care of themselves, and others.” He pointed his head in the direction of the guest room, where Ceana was already sleeping. “And ye need to stay here, in case something goes wrong with the plan.”
It was obvious by Jamie’s white-knuckled fists that he didn’t like his father’s way of thinking, but he remained silent.
“We still don’t have a plan,” Claire said, running her hands through her curls, not realizing that Jamie was watching her. “Have you seen anything, Jenny? Any kind of detail that might help?”
Jenny shook her head and sat on the couch motioning at Jamie to follow her example. “I’ve seen nothing, only the redcoat pacing back and forth in his office, and a poor lad bidding his wishes.”
It took them a long while to decide on a plan. Each and every one of them proposed ideas and schemes, only to have them rejected by the others because they were too risky or too improbable to be successful. Especially all the different versions of Jamie’s gallant offer to go in and bring Alex out by himself.
The next morning they all sat at the kitchen table with red-rimmed eyes, revising the only plan they could agree on. There was no way to get Alex out of the fort alive - Randall wouldn’t let him go, especially after their late-night visit to his cell. Ceana’s eyes almost popped out of their sockets when Jenny explained the plan to her - she reminded Claire of the cartoons Raymond had shown her when they’d found themselves in the late 20th century.
However, no matter what Ceana was thinking, this was the only way. Alex had to die.
Jenny took Claire’s hands in hers, determined to try and look again. They had been struggling for hours and her head was ringing from the strain. Showing something to Claire was easy, the images pouring out of her like words leaving a poet’s practised mouth. She knew how to channel the information forward; the bright light of their connection originated within her, then spilled out for the rest of the world to see. But trying to look into Claire, to get the picture of this Master Raymond… No. This was totally different.
First, they both had to clear their mind from every other thought, and that was a challenge in and of itself. Then, Jenny had to open a way between herself and Claire, and last, she had to show Claire how to push her thoughts towards her.
If that was even possible.
“Nothing yet?” Jamie’s voice broke her focus and Jenny gritted her teeth not to lash out on him. She was starting to get frustrated.
“No.” Claire’s deflated voice made Jenny open her eyes to check on her. “I wish I could draw. Or maybe if I describe him to you? With every detail?”
“No, that willna work.” Jenny rubbed circles on her temple, trying to relieve the pain. “I have to touch something he has touched, or see him, to know what to search for.” She could feel her pulse throbbing beneath her fingers. “I dinna ken, really. I have never intentionally seen anything, the visions just come to me.”
“I have nothing that’s his,” Claire murmured, fidgeting with her hands now that they belonged to her again. For hours, they had been nothing but means to achieve a much-seeked connection. “Raymond thought it wouldn’t be safe for me.” She didn’t explain further, and Jenny shot a warning look at Jamie to stop him from asking about it. Claire didn’t talk about France often, and her relationship with Jamie was still tender from their argument the previous night. Another uncomfortable moment wouldn’t help any of them.
“Ye might need to take a break. Mrs Crook is baking bannocks.” Jamie, to Jenny’s relief, took her heed. He nodded towards the kitchen and a small smile curled Claire’s lips up as she inhaled the heart-warming scent wafting from the open door.
“We dinna have time. D’ye really believe we have to find Master Raymond, Claire? You can’t do it on yer own?”
The smile disappeared from Claire’s face. “I’m not sure which poison to use. And I have to get the antidote, in any case. Healing wounds is one thing, but healing someone who’s dying is another. It won’t be simple and I need to be sure I can make it. Raymond is the only person I trust to give me the answers I seek.”
“Alright.” Jenny drew a deep, loud breath. “Let’s try once more and then we can have some tea.”
It took them eight hours of holding hands, clearing their minds and focusing on Raymond for Jenny to finally see the man. Bright white light filled the room and Jamie woke up in the armchair he’d been dozing off in, gasping in disbelief. But the picture in Jenny’s mind was clear, the exact mirror image of the one in Claire’s. He was shorter and rounder than Jenny had expected, with a square face and wide lips. He had an authority about him, but his eyes crinkled with kindness.
The light slowly faded away, and Jenny opened her eyes to see Claire. She looked exhausted. Black circles adorned Claire’s red-rimmed eyes, her curls wild around her face. After exclaiming a celebratory ‘Yes!’, she fell onto the couch and closed her whisky eyes with a loud exhale.
“That was…” Jamie started, but realized he had no words to describe what he had just witnessed. “Mary, Michael and Bride! Did ye do it? Did ye see him?” he asked impatiently, his voice still hoarse from sleep.
“Aye, I saw him. He was in a dark shop, filled wi’ wee bottles. And he was wearing a white wig. Is that right, Claire?”
“Exactly! That’s him!” Claire grinned, her eyes still closed. “This is how he was when I last saw him in Paris.”
“So what am I supposed to search for now?” Jenny rolled her head and the quiet popping of her neck filled the silence of the room.
Claire sat up again, and looked intently at her friend. “When we parted,” she started and stopped in an instant. “No one can know about this.” She turned to look at Jamie, and when both siblings nodded their consent she continued. “France wasn’t safe for me. Raymond thought I would be best protected if I would travel in space and he in time – it would be harder for them to track me down this way. So, I came here. And he is now either in 16th century France,” she paused and smiled. “The man loves the Renaissance, you know…” With a shake of her head, she put her thoughts back in order. “Or in the 20th century. At least that’s where he is supposed to be if they haven’t found him.”
Jamie opened his mouth as if to ask a question he’d held inside for a while, but another glance from Jenny stopped him again.
“We better get some rest. I’ll find him, Claire.” Jenny held Claire’s hands again, with no other intention but to reassure her. No strange bright light shone in the room. They were just the hands of two normal women now, sharing strength and warmth, as women’s hands had done millions of times throughout the aeons.
Jenny saw Raymond that same night, hopping out of a weird shiny carriage with no horses to drag it. The next morning, Claire was ready to travel in time again.
“Be careful,” Jenny said, hugging her friend. “I’ll have more information on Black Jack Randall when you’ll be back.”
Claire nodded, pressing her lips tight. “Any future vision of him and Alex will be helpful. Focus on the day before the execution. We need to know the exact day the vision takes place, we can’t risk going there at the wrong time.”
“Aye, I ken. I’ll do my best. I wish I could just ask him the date, aye?” Jenny chuckled and saw Claire’s fight lighting up for a moment. “Da is going to inquire for information, too.” Jenny took a step back, eyeing Claire apprehensively. “Are ye sure this shift will work?”
Claire chuckled and looked at her garment. She was wearing Jenny’s best – and least worn – shift. They had modified it as well as they could, sewing a band of ivory lace around the neckline and the hem. It looked like a simple white dress. Rather beautiful, Claire thought. “Yes, Jenny, it’s okay,” she replied, and felt like it was the tenth time she was saying these exact words since the dress had been ready.
“‘Tis short, I can almost see up to yer knees.”
“This is how women wear their dresses, then.”
Jenny shrugged, as if making her peace with the garment, and they left Claire’s room. They hadn’t taken two steps in the hallway when they stumbled upon Jamie at the stairs.
“I was coming to call ye,” he said, his voice dropping as each word was uttered. “What- what are ye wearing, Claire?” he asked then, shocked. He hopped awkwardly from one leg to the other, then decided he couldn’t stay silent. “Are ye really going there only in a shift? And that short? Are ye daft, woman?” His voice was slightly trembling and louder than usual.
Claire rolled her eyes, then passed by him on her way to the parlour without reply.
“Is she really going to wear this?” Jamie asked his sister once Claire got out of sight.
Jenny shrugged again. “She says that’s what women wear in the future, Jamie. I havena been there, and neither have ye, so we better trust her.” Jenny walked down two steps before turning to face her brother again. “And stop drooling. ‘Tis ridiculous.”
“I dinna drool!” he exclaimed, while running a hand against his mouth self-consciously.
Jenny snorted, then waited for him on the staircase before they made their way to the parlour to find Brian and Claire.
Brian was talking to Claire in hushed tones, and they both smiled when Jenny and Jamie entered the room. Jenny wondered why that surprised her. Brian might not have magical powers, but if you needed a spell that would calm one down, he was the person to go to.
“It won’t take long,” Claire said, squeezing Brian’s strong hands with her slender ones. “I’ll be back in a few days,” she added, and moved towards an empty corner of the room. She hadn’t taken three steps when Jamie stopped her with a hand on her arm.
“Claire?” His voice was uneasy. “Will ye be safe?”
Claire thought of just replying that yes, she would be fine. But then she looked into his eyes, and couldn’t utter the words. “I– I,” she stumbled. “I can travel through time and it’s relatively safe,” she said after a few long moments, settling for the only part of her answer she knew to be true.
“And when ye’ll be there, in the future? Will ye be safe?”
She took a breath and let it out slowly, her chest rising and falling under her light dress. “I hope so,” she said with a half-smile. “I have to go.”
She didn’t wait for his reply. Claire touched the stone of her necklace and conjured the image Jenny had shared with her less than an hour ago. Raymond, getting out of a shiny yellow taxi. She’d go to Paris again, only two centuries ahead.
Good. She’d missed a freshly baked, warm croissant.
Claire had spent all morning trying to track down Raymond while cursing the fact that her time-travelling abilities hadn’t landed her in front of him – even though she had focused as hard as she could on her beloved frog-man while touching her necklace stone.
But she was, at the very least, in the right time.
She had forgotten how terribly loud everything was in the future. It gave her a headache, to listen to the hum of mechanical sounds all around her, ongoing, everlasting, annoying. Her mind ached for a chirp, for the rustle of leaves dancing in the wind, for simple, beautiful things.
Belatedly, she realized she didn’t long for 18th century Paris. What she missed, was Scotland. Lallybroch.
But she had a purpose here and time was pressing.
She had checked every pharmacy in the area. After awkward conversation upon awkward conversation with clueless pharmacists, she arrived at the conclusion that Raymond owned none of them. Which was totally unexpected. Wasn’t a pharmacist the modern translation of an apothecary? What was he doing, now? Where was he?
It was relentlessly hot, and she was sticky with sweat. She was thirsty and tired, and even though time travel had been easier this time without carrying Jenny and Ceana along, and nausea had subsided within the first hour in the future, she felt weary. And impatient. Time was wearing thin, and fear crept inside her heart.
What if she failed at finding Raymond?
Claire drew a deep breath and shook her head to scatter the ominous thoughts.
She continued walking on the sidewalk, looking at the Parisians as they passed by her in hopes that he’d simply appear before her eyes. Nobody graced her with a second glance, and, for once, she felt grateful for the self-absorption of the modern world.
She walked by a boulangerie, and the scent coming from inside, butter, sugar and flour mixed in heavenly doughs made her stop in her tracks. Without meaning to do it, her head turned for an infinitesimally short moment, to look longingly at the baguettes and fresh croissants.
Her eyes got wide, and she felt her heart dance in her chest at the echo of a tune he had taught her when she was a child. Raymond was there, smiling at the cashier and turning to leave with a pain au chocolat in hand.
His eyes went as wide as hers the moment he glanced at the door. Claire stood shock-still and Raymond assumed a nonchalant walk until he was by her side.
“Pretend you don’t know me,” he murmured.
Claire tried to suppress the urge to hug him and scowled at him instead. She didn’t speak. Still wondering what all this was about, she noticed the small gesture of his hand as he stepped in front of her; she followed him, a few steps behind.
She kept a reasonable distance behind him until they were outside the crowded part of the city centre. She had almost lost him among the tourists in front of Notre Dame, and a feeling of despair rushed through her. Just as panic started to set in, she spotted him again. Raymond had reduced his pace allowing her to catch up to him. Finally, when they left the busy streets, they walked alongside one another.
“It’s not safe,” he said, still not looking at her. “You’re not safe.”
Her throat suddenly was too tight for air pass through. She felt her heart constrict in her chest, her palms slick with sweat. This was not what she expected to find in this time.
They were supposed to be safe. They left home and split up for this exact reason – to be sure no one could trace them. Maybe seeking out Master Raymond was wrong. She could see what he meant now. He had taken the hardest path, traveling to the future to draw them away from her.
Flashes of enemies calling her La Dame Blanche in that narrow Parisian alleyway made it difficult for her to process the words he was saying. It was daytime now, but that terrifying night still had the power to wake her in the dead of the night, when her guard was down.
Claire matched Raymond’s every step, thinking. He had sent her to the Scottish Highlands to be safe and she had ruined everything by traveling back to him. She dared a glance at Raymond. His face was somber, his eyes fixed on the end of the street. But his lips were pressed together, in that thin line that was indication enough of how irritated he was.
They took two more turns, the sun now hidden between tall buildings. Raymond checked the vacant alley carefully, then dipped a hand inside his pocket. Keys clinked for a moment midair, then the largest one was in the lock, and he softly opened the door. He didn’t look at Claire, just entered the building and let the door swing back, stopping it a moment before it slammed shut.
Claire moved towards the door, repeated Raymond’s inspection of the alley with a quick turn of her head, and followed him.
He was waiting for her just behind the door, and his grim expression vanished the moment she smiled at him.
“Ah, mon cherie,” he whispered, then crushed her in his embrace. “What in God’s name are you doing here?”
“I needed your help. And your advice,” Claire said with a bashful smile.
“I see. Let’s go upstairs.” He looked at the narrow stairs, then back at her. It was as if he didn’t mean to, but her smiled again. “You will tell me everything over a cup of hot chocolate.”
“Oh, hot chocolate,” Claire moaned in a dreamy voice, then followed him up the stairs.
His apartment was small, but it held a warmth in it. Bright sunlight shone through the wide windows, flourishing ethereal, streaks of dust above the furniture. A small table, overloaded with books, a comfortable couch, two armchairs. The walls were covered with bookshelves, interrupted by two impressionist paintings that looked suspiciously like originals.
Raymond nodded towards the kitchen, then asked her, in a serious tone, why she had come. She saw displeasure and fear in his eyes. “I told you to avoid risks, especially so soon.”
Claire nodded, aware of the peril of the situation. “I won’t stay long.”
“No, you won’t.” His voice was determined, and she saw the man Comte St. Germain had learned to be afraid of. Raymond reached for the milk in the fridge, then turned to look at her and his expression softened. “Are you well? In Scotland?”
A wide grin spread on Claire’s face. “I never expected to say that after parting with you, but I have found something as close to a family I can ever get.” At Raymond’s raised eyebrow, she continued. “I know I’ve not been there that long, but it feels like family. And my sister, Jenny, is an oracle – a very powerful one. She’s the reason I knew where to look for you.”
Raymond sighed, his shoulders dropping a few inches, and a soft smile loosened up the tension on his face. “At least you brought me good news, Madonna. I was concerned about you.” Pouring hot chocolate into a large mug, he passed it to her. He took his own from the counter and headed to the formal living room.
“Why do you think it’s not safe here?” Claire asked once she was seated in the lavish armchair.
“It’s not what I ‘think’. I know it’s not. This is the third apartment I’ve lived in since being here.” He scratched his jaw, avoiding her eyes for a moment, selective with his next words. “Life is dangerous, Madonna.”
“Why don’t you go somewhere else? To another time?” she asked without giving it great thought. It was the obvious thing to do.
Raymond smiled wistfully. “The more I travel, the more he’ll travel. I’m not a young man anymore, and I’m tired of getting chased across the centuries.”
Claire nodded without fully comprehending. If he asked her opinion, she would advise him to run to another time and let the Comte search for him.
“It doesn’t matter.” Raymond’s voice was sweet and made Claire’s head pop up to look at him. He looked older than the last time she’d seen him. “What matters is to keep you safe. So you better tell me now, why are you here?”
“I want to save someone. A boy who’s to be executed without a trial, by an abusive redcoat, drunk on power.” Raymond lifted both eyebrows, but didn’t say a thing. “I need a poison, something that will make him look like he’s dead. I’m thinking of a neurotoxin that would induce paralysis. And the antidote, of course.”
“And how exactly is this plan going to work?” he asked, placing his now empty cup on the table.
“He will drink the poison the morning of his execution. When they’ll visit his cell he will seem already dead. And then we will retrieve him and I will heal him – if I can.”
“I’m happy to hear doubt in your voice, Madonna, because healing a person when he’s so close to the other side is not an easy feat.” He paused and looked at her for a long moment. “But then, you should trust in your power.”
“It’s not something I have tried before…” Claire trailed off when she saw him shaking his head.
“In life, mon cherie, we do things we’ve never tried before. Things that lie in an unknown, terrifying ground. It’s not the deed itself, it’s who we are that determines our success. The most important step you have to take, is to believe in yourself. And then, to learn your limits and push through them. It’s the only way you’ll become better, even if that means you’ll fail again and again before gaining a victorious smile. No one ever gained a full life by staying in their comfort zone. And you’re the White Raven.”
Claire buried her face in her hands and rubbed her temples. “I’m the White Raven and I found you on accident. How pathetic is that.”
Raymond chuckled. “At least you’re lucky. Luck is often underestimated.” He looked at Claire, with another wistful smile. “But you can’t count on luck. Anyway,” he said. “Now we have to decide on the poison. I’m thinking atropa belladonna or hemlock. Maybe aconite. I’m also thinking that if you had read the books I’d given you, you would know by now what is safe to use and you wouldn’t have to travel through time to consult me.”
Claire grimaced and placed a hand over her heart, as if a deadly wound had been inflicted on her. Raymond laughed.
“I wanted to be sure,” she said a moment later. “I don’t want to kill him by accident. I thought of curare, too. It affects the lungs, but not the heart. Maybe it will be easier for me to bring him back.”
“Oh yes, good choice,” Raymond murmured. “Very good choice. Maybe sharing my herb encyclopedias with you hasn’t been in vain, after all.” He grinned slyly, then shot out of his chair and hurried toward the door. “I have a pharmacist or two I can trust. I’ll go get the curare. And you’ll need some pyridostigmine or neostigmine, too. As an antidote.”
“Or edrophonium!” Claire shouted, still seating in her armchair. Her limbs were still heavy, and she luxured in the feel of the slippery silk that covered the sturdy dark wood.
Raymond stilled at her addition, nodded, and opened the door. “Don’t leave the house,” he warned, and left.
Claire distracted herself while waiting for Raymond first by looking out the window, then by perusing his library. Her eyes widened with elation when she saw A Review of Chemical Literature (Specialist Periodical Reports) standing thin next to an immense tome of human anatomy.
It was published only a few months ago. This must be her lucky day, afterall. Thirty minutes later, she knew that the duration of curare’s action had a range from 30 minutes to 8 hours, depending on the variant of the toxin and dosage. Alex’s respiratory system would paralyze and even while being conscious, he would be unable to control any muscle of his body. It would take four to six minutes to make his heart stop. Four to six minutes to get him out and heal him.
Mere minutes. Claire’s own heart shrank inside her chest, threatening to stop as she held her breath. She would have too little time. She might not get to him fast enough.
The door opened and Claire started at the intrusion. She hadn’t heard Raymond walking up the stairs.
Claire turned slowly to face him, waving the journal in her hand and grinning, ready to show him how she had embraced his love for reading. Before she had fully faced the door though, she froze.
It wasn’t Raymond. This man didn’t wear the silken brocade vest and coat she had last seen him in, but she would recognize him everywhere.
His expression was not belligerent; instead, his posture was relaxed. He was grinning at her, calm and arrogant. He stood tall, with beautiful blue eyes and strong cheekbones, and she thought he might have been beautiful if he were not so terrifying. His cold stare made a shiver run down her spine and all she wanted was to recoil and hide.
“Finally,” he said, and Claire could almost see triumph thick in the air around him. “We meet again.”
She stepped back and her shoulder hit the bookcase. She was trapped. But she wouldn’t be defeated. She looked the Comte in the eye, defiant, daring him to approach her.
A chuckle left him, low in his throat, in a way a hunter might laugh at his prey. Claire didn’t trust herself to talk. Her hands were shaking. As though he had sensed the nearly imperceptible movement of her long fingers, a scent of her fear, he took a step, coming closer. “You’re coming with me.”
It was then that realization dawned on her. He didn’t want her dead, as she had thought all this time. He needed her to be alive, because this was the only way he could benefit from her.
She was ready to decline his offer when she heard Raymond’s voice from behind the Comte. “No, she’s not.”
Claire saw the small man crouch, then slid a package on the wooden floor to her. The moment she got it in her hands, Raymond spoke again, his voice clear as a bell. “Fly. Now!”
“Don’t you dare.” The Comte’s menacing voice made her look up at him. He was holding a gun, pointing it at her.
Claire shot a last, regretful glance at Raymond, clutched the package close to her chest, and touched the stone of her necklace with her free hand. She didn’t have time to think. She closed her eyes, and felt the stone’s vibration running through her together with a burning flash on her shoulder.
She squeezed her eyes tighter, heard the Comte walking closer to her, and disappeared.
Claire’s shoulder hurt more with every passing minute. After carefully sitting on the ground, she tried to calm down and focus on her inner healing power.
The breeze raised goosebumps on her exposed arms. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, feeling her lungs expand against her ribcage. The air was fresh with the earthy scent of heather. She could almost taste it. Claire kept her breath for four seconds, counting inside her head, and then slowly exhaled. Just like Raymond had taught her.
Raymond. Tears prickled her eyes.
She had ruined everything. Her plan had seemed perfect when she first conceived of it back at Lallybroch. Go to the future, find Raymond, ask him for a poison and an antidote. Clean, fast, effective. She even had the gall to think it would be easy.
And now… Now she knew that she had risked her life out of sheer foolishness. And more importantly, she had risked Raymond’s life.
Claire dipped her fingers in the package Raymond had given her and bit her lips to keep the tears inside. She could almost hear Raymond’s voice chastising her for losing her focus on the matter at hand.
She had ended up at Craigh na Dun again, and judging by the absence of electric poles around her the time seemed right. She couldn’t be sure. She had touched the stone the moment she had the curare in her hands, and with the Comte holding a gun and rushing towards her, she had no time to think. She had to disappear.
She wasn’t fast enough.
Claire clutched her arm, moving it gently to study the wound. The bullet hadn’t gone through and she kept bleeding. She knew she had to stop the haemorrhage before she’d lose too much blood. He palm was bloody, but her fingers were stable.
Claire cupped the wound on her shoulder, closed her eyes and started breathing again. Slowly, deliberately. She emptied her mind of every thought, concentrating on the power that ran through her veins. That mystical energy that created the soft blue light and made her body hum a mysterious, inaudible tune.
She could hear it. She could feel it warming her hand.
The haemorrhage stopped. She needed to remove the bullet and clean the wound, but that would have to wait. Instead, she tore the hem of her dress – Jenny’s dress – and hastily bound her shoulder. The lace strip was now wasted for good. Jenny wouldn’t mind, but Claire did. It wasn’t as though her friend had many dresses and shifts to begin with, but Claire had no choice.
She walked down the hill, slowly, carefully. Every step jolted her arm, the pain shooting right through her shoulder. She set her jaw. Lallybroch was days away, but she had to make it. She just had to.
It didn’t take long for her to start crying. The physical pain together with the anguish and terror of what had happened after she disappeared were more than she could handle. She stopped and screamed, her cry of despair and anger frightening the birds in the fields. When her voice cracked and her throat was sore, she closed her trembling lips and continued walking.
She was exhausted. Her magic cost her a good deal of her energy.
Claire stayed off the road, choosing smaller trails while trying not to get disoriented. Hours passed by, and her feet felt leaden and clumsy, stumbling on the outcrops and making her painfully aware of the injury on her shoulder.
She kept moving, murmuring, praying, hoping that Raymond had escaped. He was strong, more powerful than most of them. It was impossible that he would die that easily. No. St Germain couldn’t get him.
But there was a chance he would be dead. Because of her. Because she could never follow his instruction. “Don’t come looking for me, Madonna,” he had said. And yet, she went. Her recklessness had killed him.
She should go back. Back to save him, back to help him, wherever he was.
But she couldn’t. Not now, not in this state.
Her thoughts had distracted her so much that she had missed the sound of hooves coming closer. She could see the outline of the horse and the rider under the moonlight, when she jumped behind the bushes at her left, feeling their branches prickle her arms and legs before she fell and crashed her arm against the soil. It took all the strength she had not to scream in pain.
The rider reduced the horse’s speed as he approached, but the angle was bad and Claire couldn’t see him. Which meant that, with luck, he wouldn’t see her either.
Using her good arm, Claire crawled away from the trail, her breath laboured and loud in her ears.
A rider in the dark was never an auspicious prospect. The horse moved past her and she held onto hope that he’d not notice her…until the hooves stopped.
This couldn’t be the Comte. He wouldn’t have a horse. He was coming from the opposite direction than Craigh na dun. No, please, not the Comte.
Before she had time to rise on her feet and break into a run, a warm hand landed on her shoulder. Her injured shoulder.
This time she cried out – in pain, in fear, in frustration – and turned around, wanting to move her shoulder away from his grasp.
Her eyes widened as she took him in, realising that it was Jamie’s distressed face hovering inches away from hers as he leaned down to look at her.
“Jesus Christ,” she whispered, all air swooshing out of her body in relief. Next moment Jamie was trying to help her up, only to win a half-screamed “Jamie!” from her, and look at her in bewilderment.
Claire bit her lip hard, trying to breathe evenly until the flashes of pain stopped. Jamie’s hands were rigid on his sides, but he neither moved nor took his eyes away from her. The pain subsided, leaving Claire depleted, and she leaned into him until her forehead was against his chest.
Jamie moved carefully, looping one arm around her waist, while his other hand found the nape of her neck and tilted her head up until she met his gaze. “Are ye alright?” He moved back, his gaze on her bandaged shoulder. “How d’ye get hit?” he asked in a deliberately placid voice and worried eyes.
“I am…alright,” she managed to whisper, not really answering his question.
“Ye’re so white,” he murmured, softly running the back of his fingers along her cheekbones. “What happened? It’s been five days since ye left.”
“Five days?” Fatigue and disappointment took the better of her now that she wasn’t alone anymore, and sobs started racking her body. “Claire?” Jamie took her in his arms, but she shook her head repeatedly, trying to take control of her body and find her voice again.
“We don’t have time. A few days are left and we need to act fast.” With the package holding the potion and the antidote in her hand she looked back, in the direction of the enchanted hill, as if she would sense the Comte if he’d found her. “And leave his place,” she added as an afterthought. “In case he’s after me.”
“Who? Master Raymond?” Jamie’s scowl and the incredulity in his voice made chuckle.
“No.” She looked straight into his eyes, grey in the dim light, knowing that this wasn’t the time for explanations. “Jamie… Take me to Lallybroch.”
The cold compress was the first thing Claire felt. Then, she heard Jenny’s soft voice.
“Ye’re alright, Claire. Ye’re safe now.”
Someone was pacing back and forth in the small room, the steps light yet restless. The feet presently stopped, and Claire felt the mattress give in under the weight of Jamie who was now looking intently at her.
Jenny’s eyes locked on her brother’s, effectively shushing him before she spoke again. “Are ye feeling better, Claire?”
She nodded, then ran her eyes along her arm and inspected her shoulder. It was bandaged with clean cloths and the pain had subsided, but the bullet was still inside and it had to be removed.
“The bullet,” she mumbled. “I need to remove the bullet. It didn’t run through.”
Jenny smiled a weird, proud smile. It was closer to a smug grin, and it made Claire frown at her best friend.
“What?” she asked, trying to understand why her wound made Jenny’s face shine.
“I did it,” Jenny said, smiling even wider. “Like ye had done when MacNab got shot, remember? I used yer tweezers and all and removed the bullet.”
“You’re unbelievable.” Claire shook her head, eyes full of admiration and love, and the only thing she could think at that moment was how lucky she was to meet Jenny that day in Inverness.
“Can ye tell us what happened, Claire? In the future?” Jamie asked, impatiently.
Claire took several deep breaths to calm down and swallowed hard, her throat sore and dry. She had all the siblings’ attention as she narrated the events of the previous day – in her timeline, at least. When she finished, the Frasers had twin looks of concern on their faces.
“This Comte…” Jenny shook her head as if to put her thoughts in order. “He shot ye, because he needs ye alive for himself?”
“I don’t know. I really don’t. I always thought he wanted me dead. Raymond had said they don’t want me to reach my full power, but this one… This one may want my power for him.” Claire sighed. “I really don’t know. These are only speculations.”
Jamie’s face was set in an unreadable mask. “If he dares come here,” he started menacingly but didn’t manage to finish his threat.
“He doesn’t know where I am,” Claire reassured them. “And the moment we free Alex, I’ll leave.”
“No, ye won’t.” Both Frasers spoke in one voice, setting their jaws, ready for a fight.
“I won’t risk you.” Not like I risked Raymond, she thought, but didn’t say it aloud.
Jamie’s body was rigid, but Jenny moved closer and pulled Claire in a hug, mindful of her injured shoulder. “Ye won’t risk us. And ye’re not leaving.” Claire tried to voice her disagreement, but Jenny didn’t give her a chance. “Rest now, and when you’re ready, we’ll be in the kitchen. I’ve news to tell you.”
“News?” Claire asked, alarmed. “What news?”
“First, rest. Then, come to eat. I made broth for ye. We’ll need all yer powers, Claire, if we want to succeed.”
She hated to admit it, but Claire knew Jenny was right. Taking her friend’s advice, she sank into the bed and slept.
Hours had passed when Claire finally woke up. The light was dim in the room, the house quiet, the blankets around her body so warm and inviting that she spent a good five minutes contemplating staying in bed.
Five good minutes of chasing dreams before she was crushed by reality.
She sat up quickly and felt light-headed, the heavy wooden furniture of the room blurring around the edges. She squeezed her eyes closed and took two deep breaths before the world settled onto its axis.
How many hours had she slept?
Claire’s stomach growled and she realized that she had eaten nothing for almost a day. Broth, Jenny had said, waiting for her in the kitchen. Not her first choice of food, but something warm and nourishing was what she really needed.
Claire got hastily out of bed, forgetting about her wounded shoulder until she felt the bandages restraining her movements. The pain had subsided considerably and she smiled, proud of Jenny’s work.
“Removing the bullet, putting me to sleep,” Claire murmured as she scanned the room searching for her clothes. “We’ll forget who the healer is in this house.”
Claire dressed with strained moves, now mindful of her injury. She was surprised when she found her body had gone through the inflammatory period of healing in just a few hours of sleep. Once she got something to eat, she would heal her shoulder to the best of her ability. If she would focus on the regeneration of the muscular fibers and formation of the connective tissue scar, the wound might soon be just itchy, if not a little sore.
No matter how content she was with her healing process, and thankful for a few hours of rest, Claire felt guilty for letting precious time pass. She knew there weren’t many days left until Alex’s execution. No matter Jenny’s visions and Brian’s inquiries, they had to leave for Fort William soon. The invisible noose of time was gradually closing around their necks.
Claire walked down the stairs, passed by the empty parlour and headed for the kitchen, the only room of the house that looked lived in. They were all there. A bit paler than she had left them, and with eyes red and tired, but their gazes when she entered the room were fierce and determined.
Frasers, all three of them. She should have known. They wouldn’t rest until Alex was safe in Ceana’s arms, away from the redcoats. If all went according to the plan the two of them would escape to Stornoway and would live there, forever lost to the world.
“Claire!” Jamie talked first, rising from his chair and motioning for her to sit down. “Do ye feel better, lass?”
Claire took a moment to look at him. It was strange, how he’d gone from calling her a witch and telling her how dangerous she was for his family, to asking her if she would be safe in the future and then searching for her in the midst of nowhere to bring her back home. Hadn’t he even told her this morning that she wasn’t allowed to leave after Alex was rescued? Did he want her here, now?
What had changed? Had Jenny boxed his ears as she had promised she would?
It was at that moment, when she bombarded herself with questions she didn’t know the answers to, when Claire realized that the way he had looked at her the first day was the same as the night he’d found her. He wasn’t angry; he was afraid. Not afraid of her, but afraid for her – for them all. And the softness in his eyes when she met his gaze suddenly made sense.
“Will ye stand there all night, Claire?” Jenny’s voice brought her back to the present, and she took the two steps that kept her away from Jamie and the chair. He moved aside, smiling at her, and went to the parlour to fetch another one.
Jenny stood up and moved about, and a few moments later set a bowl of lukewarm broth and two oatcakes in front of Claire. “Eat.”
“I’m eating,” Claire rose an eyebrow together with her spoon, “and you’re speaking. What have you seen?”
“Not much, but enough.”
Ceana, who had entered the kitchen right after Jamie left, sniffled back tears when she heard Jenny’s gloomy tone. One look at the girl was enough for Claire to imagine the streams of tears she had shed during the past few days. But Ceana’s jaw was set, her hands clasped together in a defiant manner. Painful though it was, she would go through whatever they needed to do to get Alex away from Captain Randall.
Jamie came back into the kitchen and sat down on the chair he carried under his arm, right between Jenny and Claire. “Did ye tell Claire?” he asked his sister, reaching for an oatcake only to have his hand slapped by Jenny.
“I’m waiting for her to eat first,” she replied, her voice stern. “And she doesna need help wi’ her food, brother.”
Jamie shrugged, although a light blush rose upon his cheeks. They didn’t speak much until Claire finished her food. Every time they fell silent, the air in the kitchen got heavy with anticipation and sorrow.
“I’m listening,” Claire announced, pushing her plate away.
“I’ve seen him twice, Claire. The Captain, I mean.” Jenny paused, biting her lips as she glanced at Ceana. “Do ye want to go to yer room, lass? Ye don’t need to hear the details of it.”
“No.” Ceana sat straight, looking at Jenny straight in the eye. “I decided…” She looked uncertain for a moment, then cleared her throat and spoke again. “I need to know what is happening in that cell.” Jenny nodded. Brian and Jamie gave her similar heartening smiles.
“Captain Randall is beating Alex. And he is using him.” Jenny swallowed hard and lowered her gaze on the table, eyes fixed on the sturdy wood. She opened her mouth, then closed it again, as though the words had failed her. “He takes him to bed,” she added, at last, her voice almost a whisper.
A gasp came from Ceana’s side, but no other comment followed. Jenny continued. “Randall goes to his cell every night after dinner.”
“Sick bastard.” Hatred echoed in Jamie’s words. Brian coughed in warning, and his son didn’t say more.
“He doesn’t want to be heard.” Claire belatedly realized that she had spoken aloud. Jenny nodded, her face grim.
“The execution is in five days,” Brian’s deep voice made all eyes turn towards him. “We could report him, but I dinna think we would be fast enough to save Alex. Were it not to fall on deaf ears, that is.” He sighed, resigned, as if he’d rather not mouth the next words. “If you want to save the lad, ye must leave tomorrow.”
“This is what we’ll do, then,” Claire agreed.
“Yer shoulder?” The frown on Jamie’s forehead got deeper.
“I’ll heal it tonight. I feel better already; Jenny did a magnificent job.” Jenny beamed hearing Claire’s praise, but looked at her uneasily, as if she didn’t really believe her. “I can take care of the rest by myself,” Claire insisted. “Now that I’ve slept and eaten.”
“D’ye get the poison and the antidote?”
“I did. Raymond gave me both, before…” Her voice failed her. Before what? Before she disappeared? Before he died? She couldn’t complete the sentence.
Jenny didn’t let her. She spoke again, too quickly to seem casual, but Claire welcomed the distraction. “I think Jamie has to come wi’ us,” Jenny proposed, her slanted blue eyes searching for Claire’s.
“Why?” Claire questioned, eyes darting between the two siblings, unsure if there was more in Jenny’s visions than she let them know with Ceana present.
“He can carry Alex until we reach the horses. Ceana has told us Alex is thin, and he is so in my visions, but ye’ll be frail after using yer powers Claire, and I don’t think Ceana and I can carry a man if he’s paralyzed or anesthetized.”
Claire didn’t know what to say. This was new to her, and totally unexpected. She hadn’t told Jenny, but in the worst case scenario, she planned to take them all away to another time. Four people were a lot, but five? She didn’t know if she could do it. She was sure she couldn’t, especially after stopping the poisoning and making sure Alex would live.
“It will be better, Claire.” Jamie was resolute and stubborn as always. “I can look out for ye, if I’m there.” His eyes glinted, but his easy smile was not enough to persuade Claire.
Five people meant that their initial plan was all they had. No alternative. No plan B. She didn’t even want to think about it.
“Do we know at what time does the Captain have his dinner?” Claire asked, more to divert her thoughts than to suspend Jamie’s anxiety as to whether he would be a part of their mission.
“Around seven,” Brian supplied, most probably getting some intelligence of his own to complement Jenny’s visions.
“I wish we knew when he visits Alex.”
Claire thought everything over. Raymond, her sweet Raymond, had included a syringe and a needle in the package. He knew that curare wasn’t effective if administered orally and had saved her the trouble of cutting Alex raw to apply the poison on the wounds. Doing the injections would save her the time she needed to heal the cuts and clean the blood before they left his cell. She would need approximately fifteen minutes to talk to Alex, convince him they were not witches – this is why they needed Ceana – and make him relax to start with intramuscular injections that would paralyze his arms and legs.
“Curare has a range of action between thirty minutes and eight hours, dependent on the administration, the product, and the dose. If we suppose that Raymond has found me the clearest curare available, which I’m sure he has…” Claire looked intently at the empty plate in front of her while making calculations. “If I use a moderate dosage, and increase it in case it’s ineffective, we can more or less expect the poison to reach its full effect about thirty minutes after I do the intramuscular injections.”
“The what?” Jamie asked, and the way he screwed up his face made Claire chuckle.
“Injections. A syringe, a needle… I can show you later,” Claire said invitingly, both eyebrows raised in a challenge.
Jamie’s eyes widened, blue changing into black. “No, thanks.”
Jenny shook her head and smacked her brother lightly. “Claire knows what she’s doing.”
“I ken. I just have never heard about such a thing before.”
“Intravenous injections started back in the 17th century, actually. The syringe used back then, however, was a crude device. Raymond has given me one from the 20th century. It is precise and the needle is thin, so the pain it causes is substantially less.”
“I dinna think Alex will mind a wee needle,” Ceana murmured, the colour gone from her face.
“Aye, of course. Ye’re right lass.” Jamie pressed his lips together bashfully, regretting the change of subject. With a glance at Claire, he implored her to continue.
“What was I saying?” she wondered, trying to buy time to decide how much she would divulge.
“Thirty minutes to get the effect,” Jenny reminded her and Claire could see her friend was trying to form their plan of action in her head.
“Right. Which means that if we get there at seven, and I finish by seven fifteen, the paralysis onset will be around seven forty-five. But we can ask Alex how meticulous Randall is considering the time he visits. If he follows a schedule we can calculate the time of the injections to be more precise. And we will have everything ready before Alex gets paralyzed.”
She didn’t want to say how by ‘everything’ she meant the noose, or to reveal the last, intravenous injection that would paralyze Alex’s diaphragm to make the suicide seem real. The injection that would require Randall to be on time for his visit to find Alex and the guards to dispose of Alex’s body quickly for Claire to reach him, administer the antidote and force some oxygen into his lungs. She didn’t want them to know how Alex would have his senses throughout his ordeal, how he would feel the pain, how he would not be able to swallow and would feel choked in his own saliva. How easily he could be killed by curare, and that if his heart stopped in the process Claire would have three to four minutes to get to him before losing him forever. She didn’t want them to know what being a healer means. The terrible decisions you have to make, and how often you walk on the precipice between right and wrong. She couldn’t tell them. Not all of them, anyway. She might tell Jenny later.
“Pa-paralyzed?” Ceana mumbled, confirming Claire did right not to inform them about the ugliness of the situation.
“There is no other way, lass,” Jenny reassured her, taking Ceana’s trembling hand between hers. “It won’t be permanent.”
“And then?” the girl asked.
“Alex will hang himself.” When Claire’s voice faded, the kitchen was so quiet one would think no one breathed in the room, no heart was strong enough to keep beating. Not when they all faced what they had to do.
“But how? How will we save him if he hangs himself?” The despair in Ceana’s voice made Claire’s heart shrink inside her chest.
“Alex has to hang himself when he hears Randall approach the cell. If everything goes well, he will be paralyzed and Randall will think he’s dead.”
Because he will be close to death, Claire thought.
“Judging by what Randall has done to the lad, he won’t be happy to let the doctor examine the prisoner. What we believe,” Jenny hesitated, realising that ‘believe’ wasn’t a strong word to console Ceana. But it was the true one. “We believe that he will order the body to be disposed of, at the place everyone ends up after the noose.”
“We will be there, at the east side of Fort William. Claire will give Alex the antidote and I will carry him back to the horses,” Jamie’s belief in the plan was unquestionable. “We’ll be back in no time, lass.”
“What d’ye mean? I’m coming wi’ ye.”
“Ceana, a nighean…” Brian was calm as he talked to the girl. Claire looked between him and Jenny, trying to understand when this change of plans occurred. Ceana was supposed to be with them to help Alex believe they had come to his rescue. In his emotional distress, a familiar face would be necessary to calm him and explain the plan before the injections began.
Brian kept talking and Jamie agreed with his Da, insisting that the risk was bigger than the profit, but Ceana had none of that. When they turned to look at Jenny for help, she shook her head in a negating manner. Both men glared at her. “What?” she exclaimed. “I would want to go if it was my man in that cell.”
With Claire’s assertive, “Me too,” Ceana’s face changed with a victorious smile. Her first smile in weeks. “We need Ceana,” Claire added. “It will be easier if Alex sees someone he loves.”
“Aye, ye’re coming, then.” Jamie sighed in defeat. “We’ll leave at dawn.”
Claire didn’t mention she hadn’t agreed to his coming, but she was tired and Jamie would insist on coming anyway. Jenny rose from the table, and Ceana followed her. When they left the room, Claire looked at the men and spoke again. “Once Alex is safe, I’ll leave again. Jenny won’t let me, but you two have to understand.”
Two pairs of blue eyes looked at her incredulously. “Ye’re family, Claire.” Brian’s deep voice ran straight into her heart. “We canna do what ye’re asking, we canna let ye go. Unless ye don’t want to stay here, that is.”
Jamie didn’t say a word, but his fingers kept drumming a frantic tune on the table. “Is it because of what I said to ye that first day?” he finally asked, his voice soft. “I didna mean it that way, Claire. All I meant to say was –”
“No, this is not your fault, Jamie,” Claire interrupted him. “You called me a witch when you met me, and this is what I am. I was lucky to find another witch, one with a big mouth and a bigger heart but I…” Her voice cracked with emotion. “Jenny won’t let me do it, but I have to go. I have to make sure you’ll be safe. You’re my family, right? This is what families do, they take care of each other.”
She rose from her chair before either of them had time to state their disagreement. And as Claire walked up the stairs to her room, she lingered outside Jenny’s door and felt a part of her heart falling behind, always safe within the walls of Lallybroch.
They rode hard until their bodies shook with exhaustion. And then, they rode even harder.
Dishevelled and with eyes glinting with fear and courage, they saw Fort William looming over the highland landscape. They arrived at noon, the rare Scottish sun hiding behind fair clouds in the sky, a day before Alex’s execution.
A clock was ticking inside Claire’s head. A bomb ready to explode. On which side was yet to be found.
With trembling limbs, they dismounted and camped in the woods, concealed from the soldiers’ wandering eyes. None of them spoke of plans and hopes. They kept their voices inside their throats, afraid they would tremble or break if they attempted to make light of their situation.
Jamie walked away with measured steps to tend to the horses. Claire couldn’t help but notice the way his hands turned into fists. Jenny followed her brother and reached for her saddlebag, unpacking the oatcakes and cheese they had carried from Lallybroch. Ceana made to move to help, but she stopped with a firm shake of Jenny’s head. When Jamie returned, he found the girls sitting in an open circle, the food laid on a cloth in the middle of it. He closed the circle, sitting between Claire and his sister, and reached for an oatcake without a word. Jenny and Claire mimicked him, but Ceana didn’t reach for her food. Jamie finished his oatcake before Claire even started pretending she was eating hers. A nudge and a stern glance from Jenny at her side made her realize that she needed to make an effort.
“Ye’ll need yer strength, a nighean,” Jenny murmured in her ear as she leaned into Claire. “Ceana, eat,” she ordered sternly as if the lass was a wee girl, startling the youngest of the company. “We dinna need empty stomachs on top of everything else tonight.”
Claire saw Ceana reaching for some cheese as she broke her own oatcake into two. Half of it now, half in a few hours, before they would enter the fort. Jenny had been right, she was going to need it. She reached down, deep inside her, experimentally. She felt warmth, and a blue light springing from her center.
Next, she patted her right pocket for what seemed to be the hundredth time. She had read once, when she lived in the future, that this was the standard move all grooms did while waiting for their wives-to-be to walk down the aisle to them. They needed to be sure they had the ring. It wasn’t a sweet or romantic gesture in Claire’s case, but the nerves were just the same. She needed to know that both her vials were there, safe in thick cloths secured with cords, next to the syringe in her pocket.
The sun glinted against Jamie’s dagger as it lay on the grass out of its sheath. His steel pistol was inauspicious in its holder, but just as lethal.
They had their weapons. They had their plan. And they had six more hours before they would execute it, which seemed like an eternity to Claire.
She closed her eyes and prayed for good luck, prayed for a miracle. She prayed she would be enough, and her magic shimmered underneath her fingertips.
During the following hours, they only spoke about their mission. They went through every little detail, again and again. When the night fell, they were ready.
It was in those last few minutes, when the sun had moved to grace other lands, that Claire wished the light would not disappear yet. But the Earth kept spinning, paying no heed to her wishes. She closed her eyes to ready herself. When she opened them again, darkness surrounded her in the moonless night. She saw the Fraser siblings nodding to each other, then at her and Ceana. A minute later, she would hardly be able to make out their frames against the trees. She nodded back and heard them move, following the trail towards the fort.
Claire could listen to her heart beating, could feel her steps crashing the grass and wildflowers into the ground. This might have been the loudest march of her life if she didn’t know that her soft leather boots were almost silent. When she turned to check with Jenny to her left, she glanced at what she assumed was her friend’s white teeth. Jenny was smiling at her.
Sometimes Claire thought the Frasers had too much courage for their own good.
They all reached the east wall of the fort and with their backs scratching against the harsh stones, took the path parallel to the river. They had agreed beforehand that even though Jenny’s seduction skills had been of great value the first time she and Claire had entered the fort, they wouldn’t risk putting them to use again, especially now that the sentry may remember what they looked like.
It wasn’t like three women vanished into thin air from the inner courtyard every day.
This time all Claire could see was Jamie’s broad shoulders as he moved at the top of their small force. When he knocked down two sentries in a matter of minutes, Claire started wondering how exactly the Fraser siblings gained their disarming skills and what Jamie meant when he said that he was attending university in France. She doubted that fighting was a class he had taken right after literature or philosophy. Without lingering on that trail of thought, Claire moved next to Jamie and administered the mild soporific drug she kept in her left pocket before the sentries would faint. She needed them to have their senses, so they could swallow. The drug wouldn’t harm them, but it would secure Claire, Jenny and Ceana the time they needed inside the fort. It wouldn’t do for their plan to fail because a sentry had raised the alarm.
“How long will it last?” Jamie asked, and Claire was unable to abstain from shooting him a furious glance, sure she had already explained everything when they were in the woods.
“Three to four hours,” she nearly growled. “I’ve already told you this.”
Jamie, to his merit, at least had the presence of mind to look at the ground, blushing lightly.
“Come on,” Jenny urged them both in a hushed tone.
Jamie looked at them soberly for a moment. “Be careful,” he whispered, his eyes darting from his sister to Claire.
“Aye, we will,” Jenny reassured him, while Claire just gave him what she hoped to be a reassuring smile.
Men weren’t used to waiting for their women to come back to them. Not at this time, at least. This had once been the woman’s job, to sit patiently at the side, biding her time when her man went out in the world to live the adventure, to fight his battles, to conquer the unknown. Penelope had set a bad example, but Claire knew this was bound to change.
The perks of being a time-traveller. She smiled.
“I’ll wait for ye by the exit,” Jamie said, swallowing with effort. “If ye’re late or I hear any stramash, I’m going in,” he announced in a fearless tone a moment later, placing a hand on his dagger and the other on his pistol.
Some things would be hard to change.
“Sure,” Jenny nonchalantly agreed with him and made to leave. “Oh! And Jamie?” she turned around before her brother left them to go to his post. “Have fun, eh?”
Claire couldn’t keep from chuckling. Women as fierce and assertive as Jenny Fraser could turn the world upside-down. Jamie narrowed his eyes at Jenny, murmuring something that sounded ominous. His gaze met Claire’s for one last time, lingering before he disappeared into the night.
“Right,” Jenny mumbled, solemn once more. “Ready?”
Ceana pushed her lips together until they nearly vanished from her face. Claire swallowed hard, trying to find her voice. “As ready as we’ll ever be,” she admitted at last. “Let’s get Alex out of here.”
With one last nod, Jenny turned and headed towards Alex’s cell. They knew where it was, at least. Ceana knew exactly where Randall was keeping him.
Claire moved on her tiptoes, her heart in her mouth and her senses on the edge, scouring her surroundings for any sound that was out of place. She found the fort relatively quiet and was glad Brian’s information proved to be correct.
Thank god for Highlanders and their cattle raiding. Many soldiers had left the fort to search for the offenders.
The three girls stayed in the shadows, clothed in black, their silhouettes barely visible in the dark.
They looked like Erinyes, brought out of the Greek mythology, ready to punish the immoral, the oath-breakers, the murderers. Though they were thirsty for justice, that wasn’t their focus tonight.
Tonight, they will free an innocent.
They reached the cells in less than two minutes and without disruptions. A single guard was strolling from Alex’s cell at the end of the narrow corridor to the bottom of the stairs, then to the adjacent hallway that held even more closed doors with heavy lockets on them. The way out, Claire thought, based on the map of the fort Brian had acquired. She gestured that way at Jenny.
The didn’t expect a guard to be stationed there. When Ceana had visited Alex before, the corridor was empty. Jamie insisted they be prepared in case of unexpected soldiers, though. They knew how to divert the man’s attention for as long as Claire and Ceana would need to reach Alex’s cell. They just wished they didn’t have to.
Jenny squeezed Claire’s hand. She waited until the soldier turned his back to them, walking towards Alex’s cell. Then, she daintily walked towards the opposite direction, until she was lost from Claire’s sight at the turn at the end of the hallway. Claire held her breath and waited, hidden in the darkness of the stairs.
The guard fumbled with his gun holder as he walked past her, following Jenny’s silent route. He reached the end of the hallway and stopped, leaning against the wall.
Claire hardly held her gasp. Had he heard anything? Would he go looking for Jenny?
It wasn’t more than a minute later that he started pacing towards Claire’s direction again.
Nothing, then. He just took a bloody break, ideal to mess with Claire’s nerves.
When he passed by the staircase again, Claire took a tentative step down. Then another. A few more steps and she met Jenny’s pale face and wide eyes. Jenny signaled three with her hand and disappeared again to the left.
Third door to the left, Claire repeated in her head. She ascended the few steps again and took Ceana’s hand in hers. The girl’s fingers were even colder than Claire’s and Claire pulled her close to her, hugging her tightly.
They waited until they saw the soldier again, his face as red as his uniform under the light of the torch at the bottom of the stairs. The next moment he was walking in the opposite direction of Alex’s cell.
Claire descended the stairs feeling Ceana close behind her and waited in the shadows. A moment later, she heard a loud banging from the end of the hallway.
The soldier murmured something under his breath but, thankfully, his gait didn’t change. Instead of running towards the sound as Claire thought he would, he trudged along the hallway. It seemed that some of the prisoners made sure to remind him that he was not alone.
Claire smiled and thanked her luck for the extra time they had been granted.
She walked fast to Alex’s cell, already holding the lockpick Jamie gave her and going through Jamie’s and Jenny’s instructions in her mind. She knew Ceana’s eyes were on the sentry, in case he turned back and didn’t follow the sound that now had stopped.
When the door didn’t submit to Claire’s picking skills, her heart stumbled in her chest.
“Just don’t panic,” Jamie had said.
Easy to say that, when you’re sitting at Lallybroch’s large kitchen table with a cup of tea in front of you and your family around, teaching people how to pick locks.
Claire took a breath and tried teasing the lock open again. The third time proved to be a charm.
Just like magic, she thought, as she and Ceana entered the cell.
They got in and closed the door behind them, anticipating and wishing against any alarming sound from the guard’s direction. When nothing came through the iron door, Claire silently thanked Jenny and turned around, taking in the moist, dark cell.
A shiver ran along her spine and Claire felt her throat getting dry. Ceana gasped.
A torch was burning in its holster next to the door, but there was no warmth in the narrow room. A single cot lay across from them, with a tattered blanket and a buck next to it.
Ceana ran to the figure lying under the blanket, stopping at arm’s length.
“Alex?” she whimpered, reaching a hand towards him.
The figure turned, and his pale face searched for the girl. Greasy dark hair fell on his hollowed cheeks, and Claire couldn’t see more before Ceana fell on him, holding him to her, hiding him from Claire’s eyes with her body.
They were both sobbing.
Claire wished they had time, wished she could let them live this moment and cry their hearts out for finding each other again but she knew she couldn’t do that.
The clock was still ticking inside her head, just as it did that morning.
Her stride was determined, even though her touch was gentle on Ceana’s back when she reached the couple.
“Later,” she whispered. “You’ll have all the time in the world later. Now we need to be fast and quiet.”
Ceana nodded and tried to extricate herself from her loved one’s arms but Alex held her tight, not letting her go. Claire listened to his rough voice as he mumbled in Ceana’s hair that he loved her and that she shouldn’t have come, that she wasn’t safe.
Ceana just shook her head and pulled away from him.
“This is Claire,” she announced, gesturing at the woman standing next to her. “And we will get ye out of here.”
Alex’s eyes widened in trepidation, and Ceana took his face in her palms and kissed his forehead. “I trust her wi’ my life, and wi’ yer life too. Just do as she says.”
Alex kept silent for a moment before his eyes found Claire’s. She tried to smile at him and hoped the dim light hid the trembling corners of her mouth.
“Wha’ do I need to do?” he asked as he raised himself on his cot. “I canna–” he said, trying to sit up, but his arms failed him.
Claire took a breath while Ceana lowered Alex on the bed again and sat by him, holding his hand between hers. Together, they explained the plan. Claire had thought that were was no colour on the lad’s face when they first entered the room, but by the time they finished narrating the events that would happen that night, Alex looked positively dead.
It suits our purpose just fine, Claire’s sarcasm surfaced for a moment before the weight of her actions sank her deeper into the dread of the night.
Within the next hour, she would either save him or kill him.
Claire closed her eyes and reached for the light within her. With slow, tender moves she healed Alex’s wounds, leaving the superficial scratches and bruises, the proof that nothing had changed from the last time Randall had seen him. When his breathing came easier and he could stand on his feet, she walked under the torch and pulled out the vial with the curare. A minute later it was in the syringe, ready flow in Alex’s veins and arteries to paralyze him.
Ceana had already started making the noose out of Alex’s blanket when Claire approached the pair again. Ceana had been right, the lad didn’t cower at the sight of the needle. Claire fervently wished it could be easier on him, something more humane and less of a torture.
How much suffering, does being loved, takes? How much pain does freedom cost?
Not waiting for an answer, Claire administered the poison. Again, and again. Alex started feeling dizzy. The muscles of his jaw, neck, and head relaxed first, making Ceana gasp. Claire bit her lip hard and waited for the next signs. Before he became heavy they moved him towards the tiny window of his cell. After a few failed attempts, Ceana managed to secure the end of the blanket on the steel bars covering the window. Alex’s breaths came fast and short, and he desperately clutched at his neck. It broke Claire’s heart to see him like this, to know that she’d leave him like this.
“I know you can’t swallow,” she said, searching for his eyes. “You’re choking because of the saliva that accumulates in your throat. That is to be expected. Soon, you won’t be able to move. But you will be conscious, and you will feel it all. You will feel the pain, and I’m sorry.” She reached for his hands, taking them into hers, trying to ignore the sounds of life leaving his body through his throat. “I’m so very sorry, Alex.”
Claire looked at Ceana, who had hugged Alex’s arm as if she would never let go. “We have to leave,” Claire announced. “Now. The captain will come at any moment.”
Ceana started crying, then cupped Alex’s face and lifted it up so he could look at her. “I love ye, mo chridhe. I love ye so much.” His head dropped down again the moment her hands left it.
Claire’s one hand reached for his throat, the other laid above his trachea. Her magic ran through her, and she wished the air to pass through his open mouth, down to his lungs. Alex, used to getting morsels of air up to this point, took a ragged breath. And another.
“This will help for a while.”
Claire held him as Ceana secured the noose around his neck and then when the girl went to check if the guard was in the corridor again.
“Nothing,” she whispered.
“Jenny and Jamie dealt with him.” The assumption gave courage to Claire. They were alone now, but her friends were out there, waiting for Claire and Ceana to come back to them, willing to do anything for them.
“Come help me,” Claire asked, feeling the weight of the man becoming more as time passed.
Ceana held him with difficulty and Claire placed two palms on his tights. Blue light emerged, dipping into the muscle for a few moments.
“I hope this will be enough. It will help you stand. When you hear Randall outside,” Claire paused for a moment, not sure which words were suited best for the situation.
“Let go,” Ceana provided and Claire silently thanked the girl. “They will throw you outside, thinking that ye’re dead,” she said, holding his head once more. “We will be there.”
“We will be there,” Claire echoed her and gave her a few more breaths, the blue light of her hands erie on the skin of his neck. moved towards the door. She didn’t want to look back, but she did, and she felt her heart breaking at the sight of him.
At the sight of what she had done.
Just help me save him. Bring him to me on time, let me be enough.
They turned at the end of the silent corridor and reached the third door at the left, as Jenny had instructed. It wasn’t locked, and the crisp air of the night welcomed them, caressing their faces. Next came the stench.
Claire reached for her throat and listened to Ceana gag.
“Not verra pleasing, is it?” Jenny’s voice reached them and Claire looked down at her friend. “I’m afraid ye have to jump.” Jenny shrugged.
So Claire jumped into that sea of dead bodies. Ceana followed, and Claire knew the girl’s grimace wasn’t very different from hers.
“Try staying here for a while,” Jamie suggested.
“Ye do get used to it,” Jenny challenged.
“I’ll ask our friend here, once he comes to.” Claire could almost see Jamie’s lopsided smile.
“Don’t we need to… return him?” she asked, looking at the unconscious soldier beside Jamie.
“Nah,” Jamie argued. “Randall can punish him all he wants for not being on this post after we take Alex.”
Claire nodded, raising a clothed arm to protect her nose from the offensive smell, and waited. None of them spoke again, standing among the corpses, waiting for the one they wished they had saved.
Claire clenched the vial with the antidote in her hand. She would give it to Alex the moment they had him. She would give everything to save him. She reached for her magic, determined to drain her core if need to. Alex needed to live. She needed to save him.
Ceana shivered and Jenny tucked her under her arm. Claire felt the minutes drag by, each of them longer, each of them the one in which Alex’s diaphragm was paralyzed. She counted her breaths, so free and unhindered, and thought of his labored and counted ones. Each of them bringing him closer to the end.
Guilt settled in Claire’s heart, because she knew that this was the end she had chosen for him. Full of pain and despair. She felt like vomiting when the commotion from inside reached her ears. She pushed her thoughts and feelings back and started counting the seconds. Then the minutes.
One minute. Two.
What was taking them so long?
She waited between Jenny and Jamie, their backs pushed against the stone wall to avoid detection. Claire could feel her own heart beating louder and louder against her ribs. Ceana’s face was hidden in the crook of Jenny’s neck. Jamie faced upwards, towards the closed door, as if saying, any moment now. We’ll have him back at any moment now.
Claire couldn’t think anymore. An endless chant took hold of her mind, urging them to give Alex back to her.
Come on, come on, come on.
Finally, the voices got louder. The door opened, and a body was thrown above the rest of soulless limbs in front of them. The soldiers were talking, but Claire’s attention was on the man. On Alex.
The moment the door closed again, Jamie brought Alex to her. Laid on top of the corpses, Alex took another injection, one that he couldn’t feel this time. But now the syringe was full with the antidote.
He still didn’t move. Claire inhaled deeply, taking in the smell of death around her and breathed it in Alex’s mouth.
Exchanging death for life.
Her hands reached for his throat and trachea as she did so, the blue light strong and iridescent at the midst of the darkness. Jamie and Jenny moved to cover her with their bodies, with dread and awe in their eyes.
Magic always did that to people. But what Claire really needed was a miracle.
She felt their silent support through their hands on her shoulders. Claire repeated the unconventional artificial respiration until her own lungs hurt. She kept going until the blue light emanating from her fingers flickered and fell. She tried bringing him back to life until she felt there was no life in her anymore.
When Alex’s chest finally moved, she fell into the darkness.
Claire woke up feeling two warm hands holding hers.
Her friend, her companion, her fellow witch. Her sister.
She opened her eyes, taking in the dimly lit room. The curtains were closed, and the embers in the fireplace gave the walls a warm red glow.
“Don’t –” she started saying, but her voice broke. Speaking was painful, and she wondered how many days she’d lain unconscious.
“Claire?” Jenny’s voice, hushed but excited, was soon followed by her hand on Claire’s forehead. A murmured, “Thank God,” and Jenny’s small smile made the corners of Claire’s lips turn up in response.
She cleared her throat. Twice. “Don’t you have any work to do, instead of sitting on my bedside like I’m dying?” she rasped.
“Ye were dying,” Jenny chastised. “We thought we were losing ye. What were ye thinking, Claire? What ye did at Fort William was totally irresponsible.” She sighed and brushed Claire’s curls from her face. “And selfless, and brave.”
A sudden panic slipped into Claire’s eyes as the realization hit her. She made to sit up, but Jenny’s forearm restrained her. “Is he alive? Where is he? How is he doing? I need to see him!” Her breaths came quick but she ignored them.
“Alex is fine, lass. His recovery is fast.” Jenny nodded, to emphasize her words. “Since ye depleted all yer magic to save him,” she added in a murmur. “How do ye feel?”
“Tired. How many days was I out?”
“Three days, Claire. And ye were grey and hardly breathing when we brought ye home. And when I tried to see ye in the future…” Jenny trailed off, suddenly finding the duvet more interesting than Claire’s eyes.
“I’m fine, Jenny. I’m here.” Claire squeezed her friend’s hand and Jenny looked at her again.
“Ye shouldna sacrifice yerself to save another. Yer life counts just as much.”
Claire smiled, knowing that Jenny said what she had to say, but didn’t quite follow her own advice.
“I’ll go bring ye some broth and tell the others ye’re awake a leannan,” Jenny announced, standing up. “I wasna the only one at yer bedside, Claire,” she added as an afterthought.
I looked at her for a long moment, thinking that Ceana probably hadn’t left Alex’s side since they rescued him.
“Jamie,” Jenny confirmed quietly and moved to the door. “He didna leave ye alone either.”
When the door closed, tears started rolling down Claire’s cheekbones, dampening her pillow.
She knew she shouldn’t be there.
No, not again. Not after evading the Comte for years, jumping from time to time and place to place. Not after managing to hide and build a new life for herself.
A life where nobody knew who she was. What she was. And nobody could track her down.
Despite all that, there she was.
Becoming a nurse during the war had been a natural choice for Claire. Hiding the blue light hadn’t always been easy, but she’d managed just fine, using the blood on her hands as a cover and trying to divert people’s attention when she had no other choice but to use her magic. And by doing so, she had healed many soldiers that made it back home to the open arms of their families and loved ones. She knew that Raymond would be proud of her.
She’d met Frank just before the war and she loved him because looking at him didn’t bring any of her memories back and she could keep the pain aside. Frank was sophisticated, elegant, different. He didn’t understand her completely but could embrace most parts of her. He loved her laughter, her wittiness, her spontaneity, even her bad cooking. He accepted that Claire needed a purpose in life and that staying at home and raising their children would never be good enough for her. He didn’t exactly love that, but he put up with her need to work. He didn’t know about her gift, of course. Burning witches might have fallen out of fashion, but there were plenty of madhouses ready to accept her. When Frank asked her to marry him on their way to the restaurant where his parents were waiting for them, he had a wide grin on his face and love in his eyes. Claire hadn’t given it much thought. Frank was a good man, and that was all she could ask for.
And now, with the World War behind them, they were supposed to recover from the despair they had lived in and come to Scotland to reconnect with each other. Scotland. Frank had insisted.
Her throat was tight even at the sight of the rolling hills and the heather at the sides of the road. No matter how many times she had jumped back and front in time, she had never come to Scotland again. Scotland meant Jenny and Jamie and Brian. It meant Lallybroch. It meant home. She wasn’t strong enough to be there without them.
And yet, here she was, biting her lip so hard she could taste blood. She blamed the wind for her tears and gave Frank a fake reassuring smile.
She was supposed to be here and focus on her relationship with Frank. To go sightseeing and listen to her husband talk about parts of history she had actually lived. She was supposed to dream of a quiet home in the suburbs of London that would soon be filled with children’s cries and laughter. She was supposed to find what to do with her life. She was supposed to be happy.
When her head hit the pillow the first night of their vacation, when Frank’s arms pulled her closer to his body, Claire stared at the white wall in front of her for what felt like hours. Tears were soaking the pillow, tears that she had kept locked inside for years. But the past was gone and she was here now, with a man who loved her and a life without danger waiting for her to live it. The life she’d managed to secure for herself after many sacrifices. She had to live it. She owed it to Raymond.
That was what Claire intended to do in the morning of Samhain, when Frank woke her up, talking excitedly about ancient rituals. She kept her heart closed to the rolling hills dusted with heather. She kept her heart closed to a past gone forever. She could go to watch these druids with him. She would hold his hand and focus on their future.
This was what she thought, at least until she realised that Frank was driving them to the hill. Her hill. The stones. Frank’s gaze was fixed on the road and he missed the terror in Claire’s eyes. Her heart was beating like a drum in her chest. In her panic, she couldn’t think of any good excuse to back away from the stones. She climbed up the hill and saw the druids dancing around the stones in the sunrise. Her breath left her body in a gasp.
The stones were buzzing a single word. Home.
Fate or coincidence, this was a twisted way to play with her resolution. She’d never imagined that she’d feel the stones’ buzzing running through her body ever again.
Claire left the hill with Frank, holding his hand tight, afraid that his long fingers were the only tether keeping her from running up the hill and disappearing into the past.
She kept herself occupied to distract her thoughts from the hill. She visited Reverend Wakefield with Frank. She let Mrs. Graham read the leaves and her hand for her, and felt her throat constricting when the old lady revealed her destiny. She left the house laughing with Frank at the lady’s antics and tried to focus on herbology.
No matter how hard she tried though, all she could see in front of her was the bright blue forget-me-nots next to the stones, challenging her.
Her heart was still beating for the past. She hadn’t forgotten them. None of them. Jenny’s hugs, Jamie’s lopsided smiles, Brian’s warm eyes.
Her family. Her people. The ones who knew everything about her and accepted her nonetheless. The ones who didn’t want to let her go.
After Raymond’s death, which she had sorely discovered a few years before, the Frasers were the only family she had and she needed to protect them, even if that meant sacrificing her own happiness. Claire reminded herself of this fact. If she’d go back, she’d never find the strength to leave again.
No more time jumps, she promised herself. Stay here, be safe, keep them safe.
But then she closed her eyes and thought of the last time she’d been at Lallybroch.
Jenny, next to the parlour’s fireplace, reading Don Quixote aloud. Brian resting in the armchair with Bran’s sleepy head on his lap. Jamie sitting on the couch next to her, his fingers barely brushing hers and electrocuting her whole body.
She had stolen a kiss from him that night. Her last night. Their first kiss. It had been everything she’d dreamed of. Hesitant and sweet at first, passionate and consuming when they couldn’t keep from each other anymore. His hands had trembled lightly before he cupped her face, securing her against him, as though entreating her to stay there with him. All air left had her body at once, leaving her dizzy. For a few wonderful minutes, her whole world focused on his strong hands, his soft lips, her desperate heart. The way her magic had danced in her veins.
It broke her that she would never feel her heart fluttering that way again.
She’d stayed awake that night, feeling her heart break piece by piece. She’d waited for dawn, standing next to the window of her room, craving to see the sunlight strolling down the Scottish hills one last time. With a last tear, she had closed her hand around the stone of her necklace and left everything behind.
There was a single, tear-stained note on her bed.
Thank you for giving me a family when I had none. You’ll always be my heart, and for that, I can’t risk you.
She didn’t know if Jenny had known of her departure. If she had seen it, she never said anything.
Up to the day she walked up the enchanted hill again, searching for those forget-me-nots with her heart beating at the same rhythm as the stones, Claire truly believed that she’d left the Frasers forever that dawn.
She just wanted to get the forget-me-nots, she said to herself. A connection to the past, a way to show that she still cared. She was holding the flowers in her hand when she looked back at the bottom of the hill, but her body remained rooted in place. The stones were buzzing. The breeze caressed her hair like an old friend. The flowers in her hands were not enough, would never be enough.
In a single moment, she threw every single resolution she had made during the past years in the wind. The decision, reckless as it was, made her feel terrified, elated, free. Alive. Claire raised both hands in front of her, ready to grasp her future. The past. Her sister, her father, her love.
When she came to, the ground was damp and the soil’s scent attacked her nostrils. The stones were still buzzing their magic song, calling to her, singing with her, and the one embedded in her necklace joined them as if elated to find its long-lost friends.
Claire looked around, wondering if the time was right.
When she saw the redcoats on the horses, she smiled to herself. When she heard the guns, she cursed.
Without losing another moment, she broke into a run, determined to find somewhere to hide. She had to go back home. She had to go to Lallybroch.
Little did she know, that she’d meet one of her beloved Frasers in less than an hour since the stones took her to the past.
Little did she know, that dislocated shoulder or not, Jamie Fraser’s eyes would twinkle when they’d meet hers again and the smile she’d loved would curl up his lips.
Little did she know, that pregnant belly or not, Jenny’s hug would be just as fierce when she would hold her in her arms again.
So, that was it. I'm sorry it's been so long before this last update.
I hope you enjoyed reading about these two amazing witches and their adventure. Thank you for reading!