When Grey agreed to fight Governor Tryon, he hadn’t planned on telling anyone, but Brianna was worse than her mother. She had this way of knowing when Grey had gotten himself into some trouble, and the skill that no one else did to drag it out of him.
Brianna’s face turned a startling red at his confession. “You challenged Governor Tryon to a duel!”
“It’s not a duel.” Grey fidgeted with one of Claire’s surgical implements. When he nearly dropped it, he put it down carefully and tucked his thumbs into his waistcoat.
“In what way is it not a duel?”
What he and Tryon planned to do was almost certainly legally considered a duel, but he had no plans on conceding that to Mrs. Mackenzie.
“Well… we’re not allowing any weapons.”
Her eyes narrowed into feral lines that reminded him far too much of her father. “So you didn’t challenge him to a duel, you challenged him to go out back and fight you?” She groaned. “Why in the hell would you do that?”
“My reasons are my own,” he whispered through his teeth, sitting down on a chair in Claire’s surgery.
She kicked the toe of his boot with her shoe and said softly, “Is this about Da?”
He shut his eyes, fighting the strange mix of warmth and frustration that would swirl in his chest at thoughts of Jamie Fraser.
“That’s… hmm…. well,” he managed eloquently.
“Oh my God.” Brianna rolled her eyes, crossing her thin arms over her chest. “You’re dueling for Da’s honor.”
Grey shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “I thought we already established this wasn’t a duel,” he mumbled.
Brianna let out a breath, then leaned back against the wall, clearly thinking. “Can you… take him?”
“Well, my dear,” Grey gave her a crooked smile. “That depends on what you mean by take.”
Brianna frowned, pursing her lips. “I mean do you have any hand-to-hand combat skills to speak of? And what happens if you get some sort of spinal injury and I have to wheel you around in a hand cart for the rest of your life?”
“Why are you the one wheeling me around in this scenario?”
“Because,” Brianna took a determined step forward, "as disturbing as it is, I'm the closest thing you have to both a wife and a daughter, so I believe the responsibility of wheeling you around unfortunately falls to me.
Grey grimaced. “That is… disturbing.”
Brianna tucked her arms behind her back, paced a few steps to the left, then pivoted when she ran out of room, and paced back, “Is there any way I can talk you out of this?”
He shook his head. “I gave my word.”
“When do you have to meet Tryon?” Brianna said with a sigh, shoulders slumping.
“In two days time.”
She put out a hand and Grey took it because he knew she wanted him to. She helped pull him to his feet. “That’s not a lot of time to get you into shape, but let’s hope I can work a miracle.”
After recruiting the help of Josiah and his brother Kesiah, Brianna constructed something she deemed an obstacle course. She also had a burlap sack filled with hay and dirt hung up on a branch—a punching bag, she’d called it.
Had the doldrums of everyday life on a farm had gotten to her mind? She seemed far too eager to have a new project to direct all that fiery attention upon.
She’d instructed him to take off all unnecessary garments and he ended up feeling quite exposed in only his breeches, boots and shirt, but with the maze of stones and logs she was directing him through, it was good he wasn’t overdressed. As soon as he finished, she made him do it again and again.
Then, there was the punching bag.
She had him wrap his hands in cloths to protect the skin, then said, “Think of someone you really hate. And then just have it.”
Tryon, he thought. Stephen Bonnet. Jamie, sometimes. Still even Percy sometimes.
His hands were sore by the time he was done. Then, she made him run through her gauntlet again. As he ran, she shouted encouragement and sometimes rather rude attacks on his character, which he presumed were meant to inspire him to work even harder.
Sometime in all that, Roger had arrived with Jemmy and his guitar, he was playing a song, an unusual one, but nevertheless, he felt inspired by the notes, spurring him to run faster, hit harder, prepare himself for this battle with Tryon. He felt… ready.
He was half way through the course for the fifth time when a duck arrived honking out of nowhere, waddling madly on its orange legs, flapping its wings. It swept under foot and he nearly stepped on the quacking devil. Trying to keep his balance, he performed a strange and accidental dance around it before landing flat on his face.
Grey was lying with a mouth full of dirt, questioning the decisions of his life that led him to this place when the daughter of the man he loved hauled him to his feet and told him to shake it off.
With the duck honking in the distance, Grey kept on running, hope of victory still in sight.
. . .
Jamie stood on the front porch of the big house, looking out to the slope of land before him where Brianna seemed to be… yelling things at Lord John, while he dodged around rocks and leapt over logs? What in God’s name?
He turned around where Claire was sat behind him on a chair, embroidering a delicate square of linen. “Sassenach, do ye have any idea what Lord John and our daughter are doing?”
“Not a bloody clue.” She kept on with her work, not even looking up from her stitching. “And I’ve found when it comes to their peculiar friendship, it’s safer not to ask.”
Lord John and Brianna had been close ever since their… dear God it pained him to think it… their engagement at River Run. Claire was right, though. Whatever bond they forged during that time seemed to be mutually beneficial and nigh unbreakable. He found himself oddly glad for it.
He didn’t see John or his daughter again for the rest of that day, though they were still behaving strangely the following day. It was that afternoon when he was relaxing by the fire with a nice glass of whiskey that Roger came into the room, looking guilty as sin. After a few moments under Jamie’s gaze, he coughed and said, “I wasna going to tell ye this, but Lord John has gone off to a duel of sorts,” Roger said, his voice low.
“A duel? Of sorts?” Jamie eyed his son-in-law skeptically. “For what bloody reason?”
Roger shrugged. “I’m no entirely sure, but it’s wi’ Governor Tryon.”
Now this just sounded like utter madness. “He’s dueling the governor?”
“I believe both he and Brianna would appreciate if I mentioned that it werena technically a duel, but more of a… fist fight.”
Jamie’s jaw tensed. He didn’t particularly care what either his daughter or his Englishman appreciated at the moment. “When and where is this foolishness to take place?”
“Tonight. At Cross Creek.”
Goddammit. If he could just have one day without another bloody mess. “Claire!” he called out to his wife. “I’ll be back and probably wi’ several English bones to mend.”
Jamie rode to Cross Creek as quickly as his horse would take him. Upon arrival, he asked about the location of a possible duel and was directed to a shady space behind a row of shops. It smelled like piss and cheap ale. He couldn’t imagine this derelict area would be the place of a duel between the governor of North Carolina and former governor of Jamaica—but then he caught a glimpse of the fighters.
It truly was Tryon and Lord John and fists were flying to the raucous sounds of the crowds hoots and hollers.
Jamie shoved his way through the crowd, to get a better view when a shock of long, red hair amongst the throng of men surprised him more than anything else this evening. “Bree! What are ye doing here, lass?”
“Da,” she shouted above the sound. “I’ve been a part of this from the ground floor. I wasn’t going to miss the epic conclusion, and also someone had to cart him back to Fraser’s Ridge afterwards.”
On one hand he wanted to wring his daughter’s neck for coming down here like this, putting her life in danger. The other hand wanted to wring Lord John’s. Good thing he had two hands. “I cannae believe Lord John brought ye here.”
“Oh, he didn’t,” Brianna let out an encouraging shout when John managed a punch to Tryon’s gut. “He forbade me to come. Said it just like that too. I ‘forbade’ you, so obviously, I had no choice but to come.”
“Obviously,” Jamie muttered. Both hands for his daughter then.
He stood there beside her as the fight raged on. Tryon and John both getting in about the same amount of hits. A punch to Tryon’s chin, a jab to John’s waist. It was a quick-moving, dirty brawl, dust kicking up around them and there was something… something hard to look away from… when it came to Lord John in a fight. His quickness, agility and even the raw power behind each passionate blow.
John landed a particularly handsome crack across Tryon’s stupid jaw and Jamie hooted, shaking a fist in the air. “Go Lord John!” Jamie shouted, caught up in the heat of the moment. “Kick his butt!”
Butt? He wasn’t quite sure where that word had come from. Probably Claire or Roger or Brianna though.
“Da,” Brianna groaned with a hand to her forehead.
She dropped her hand away and rolled her eyes. “You’re so embarrassing!”
There was a moment, towards the end of the fight, when Tryon knocked a strong elbow into John’s ribs. Brianna gasped as Lord John stumbled back. Tyron leered and moved forward to end the fight, when Lord John’s eyes met his in the crowd—something passed between them then. Something silent, quick as lightning. John let out a mighty groan and flung himself at Tyron in a wild fury of fists that had him down, hands up to protect his head.
“I concede!” cried the governor. “Enough. I concede."
The crowd, comprised of a good number of Scots, broke out into cheers.
“The little one’s no bad. Weel, no for an Englishman.”
Jamie didn’t fight the small smile that came upon his lips at those words. Lord John was not bad for an Englishman or really for any man at all.
Lord John struggled forward to meet them, bloody mouth quirked up into a half smile. Before he could say much, Tyron was on his feet, approaching them.
Jamie stiffened, the memory of the red coat on his body too much. Too heavy.
Tryon snarled at Jamie as he stumbled forward, spitting blood from his mouth. He shot a look at Lord John, then returned his gaze to Jamie.“What kind of man sends out his little plaything to fight his battles for him?”
Brianna shot up beside Jamie and snapped, “Oh, suck a bag of dirty dicks, you ass"
“Brianna!” Jamie gasped, surprised.
Tryon sneered. “Yer daughter has the mouth of a whore.”
Rage swept over Jamie and in an instant, his big fist cracked Tyron in the jaw, making his head snap to the right. He stumbled toward Lord John, who took a swing himself, knocking the man unconscious.
He thudded hard in the dirt. Good, Jamie thought, then said to Brianna and John easily, “Weel, alright then. Back home?”
Despite winning the fight, Lord John still had taken quite a beating and both Brianna and he helped John to his horse and on it. He hissed with every bump of the horse all the way back to Fraser’s Ridge. They arrived by sunrise to transfer John into Claire’s care.
Claire frowned disapprovingly at all three of them, which Jamie found wholly unfair. For once, he was entirely blameless.
When Claire finished bandaging him and setting a few of the bones in his hand, Jamie went inside the man’s rooms. He felt he deserved some explanation for why Lord John had found himself in a brawl with Governor Tryon.
“Are ye alright, man?” Jamie asked.
Lord John shifted in the bed. “I will be. I did win after all.”
“I ken, but ye didna come away unscathed.”
“What fun is a fight when you come away unscathed?”
Jamie laughed, sitting down in a chair by the bed. He clasped his hands in his lap and stuck out one leg, relaxing back. “I’m sure Claire would find it less work if ye didna always manage to nearly get killed.”
Lord John looked over at him with a pained but crooked smile. “Oh, she loves this bloody stuff and you know it.”
“I ken she does.” Jamie did know how much his wife seemed to spark to life when given the opportunity to be someone’s physician, but she didn’t like seeing this man hurt and to be honest, neither did he. “Ye still shouldna have done it.”
For a long moment, Lord John just looked at him, and he looked back, until finally Grey broke the silence. “For the sake of the people you care about, you have been asked time and again to do things I cannot imagine being asked to do. It is not right and if I have to get punched in the ribs a time or two to make that point, so be it.”
The words softened Jamie in the places inside himself he did his best to keep hard as nails. He squirmed under the weight of them and thought to change the subject. He reached into the pocket of his coat and pulled out a flask of brandy. He held it out to John.
“Claire hates when ye break a rib because she cannae do much about it but ply ye wi’ spirits for the pain.”
Their fingers touched as Lord John took the flask, then drank from it. “I have no problem being plied with spirits.”
It took him a moment to work up the courage, but eventually, Jamie managed it, “Ye have ye ken? Been asked to do things you shouldna have been asked to do, same as me.”
“What do you… oh, you mean, the information I gave you because I thought Claire… Before Prestonpans.”
Jamie shifted nervously, holding his breath. It was that, but it was more than that. He understood the reason John had gone to fight for him. It was the same reason there was nothing he could not imagine fighting for the sake of Claire.
“And also, well I dinna ken his name, but your lover. The one who you didna ken how to save. What you were asked to do then and maybe other times… for that I am sorry.”
“Ego te absolvo,” John replied, recalling Jamie’s words from a long ago night in Ireland, when he had been too tired and in too much pain to pay heed to the walls he’d built between him and Lord John.
Jamie may not have been responsible for those other circumstances in John’s life, but he was for the attack on John’s regiment. And there was a sense in which Jamie did feel guilty for the rest of it, for things he had said and believed, and for having what John could not, not ever it seemed, not even in Claire or Brianna’s time—the freedom to love openly and without pretense. Maybe, Jamie thought, John could forgive him in some way for that too. For the unfairness of it all that it had taken him so long to understand.
“You know, Jamie, there’s one thing I did learn from this? Your daughter would make an excellent army drill sergeant.”