The remainder of the journey had proven uneventful if one could consider my current riding horseback riding through the Scottish highlands pressed against an unfamiliar man. One who had a talent for injuring himself and his kin of kilted men armed to the nines uneventful. Compared to the beginning of this journey and my time amongst this group, I had. Rays of light arose over the moor as dawn approached, and I directed my eyes forwards through the fog and mist. Our destination was looming in the not far distance as a massive bulk of stone outlined by the increasing light. We now surrounded ourselves in the area no longer as wooded nor deserted; I noted as I glanced around the small village. I had grown quite accustomed to the horsemen's muffled grunts and the quietness that fell between my escort and myself.
Nevertheless, I was now grateful to see other individuals other than my travelling companions and their horses. Gradually, we proceeded passed the trickles of roughly outfitted villagers. Whom would cautiously move from the narrow road and to the side to allow our horses to trot pass, nodding wordlessly to our leader.
We continued for another quarter mile before we arrived at a stone entrance, which led into the castle's courtyard. Castle Leoch, I recognised, instantly I knowing where I was. I had been here, with Frank four days earlier in my own time. Only then, in 2019, it resembled a picturesque ruin, weathered by time, war and abandonment. Seeing it now, returned to its former grandeur, the castle had been a substantial structure with sizeable impenetrable stone walls and high slitted windows. It was impressive and considerably more picturesque, even amidst the faint aroma of sewage and livestock. It prompted me to accept the outrageous notion that I was, admittedly, somewhere in the eighteenth century, even more than I already had.
"Aye, Dougal!" A man bellowed, as our horses halted within the castle's walls, "You're early, we hadna thought to see ye before the Gathering!"
"Aye, well, we've had some luck, both good and bad." Dougal answered as he swung down from his saddle, while a young stableboy caught the reins of his horse, "I'm off to see my brother. Will ye have Mrs Fitz feed the lads? They'll be needing their breakfast and beds."
As the remaining men began to dismount their horses, I became distracted, gawking at the castle. Spotting a man positioned in one of the larger panes, I could sense his eyes on me. I gazed up at him, making eye contact and cracked a small smile before I watched him twirl away, out of my sightline. Sighing, I shivered and redirected my attention to my surroundings — listening to the men laugh and banter with the stablehands. Murtagh then strode over to the beast I remained upon alongside my escort and secured his grimy hands tightly about my waist and removed me from the saddle. With a tiny grunt, my soles swept the hard, damp surface beneath them, and I mutely thanked him with a nod.
"Ye'll be needin' breakfast," A stout woman clothed in brown homespun shouted with a warm grin, "Plenty in the kitchen, go and feed yerselves."
My travelling companions hurried passed her, to what I assumed to be the direction of the kitchen. As the woman advanced towards me with curious eyes and opened her mouth slightly. Stopping her advancements, she took a tiny step backwards, to adequately take in my appearance. The portly woman turned her attention to Jamie. Who paused, discarding the saddlebags from his horse, and now occupied the area next to me. He must have sensed the maternal character looming near us as well.
"Claire," he stated, while he directed his head towards me, "and Mistress FitzGibbons," he added and replicated the movement in the reverse direction. "Murtagh found her yesterday. Dougal said we must bring her along."
Mistress FitzGibbons closed her trap finally and nodded, "Well then, welcome to ye, Claire. Come wi' me, and we shall find somethin' a bit more to wear." She eyed my exposed forelimbs and breastbone. As she shook her head before she clasped my hand, firmly, with her plump one and led me away.
"Wait!" I said, stopping abruptly, "I forgot Jamie."
"Jamie can fend for himself, lass," she stated with surprise in her speech, "he kens where to find food and someone will find him a bed."
"Okay, but he's been injured. And while I bandaged his wounds in the field. Now with proper light, I'd like to clean and tend to them properly, so they don't become infected." I explained as I drifted closer to Jamie.
Right, I reminded myself, the eighteenth century. "Inflamed," I amended, "you know, fever, swelling, discharge from the wounds."
"Oh aye, but do ye mean to say ye ken what to do for that?" Mistress FitzGibbons eyed me again this time with suspicion, "Are ye a charmer then? A Beaton?"
"Sure." I shrugged, I had no notion whom or what a Beaton might be nor did I care to explain my medical credentials and knowledge while standing out in the freezing drizzle.
"Well, Jamie, ye heard the lass." She grabbed hold of Jamie's healthy limb with her unoccupied hand and ushered us both towards the castle.
I pursued closely behind while she guided us through the cold, narrow passageways of the dimly illuminated castle. We hadn't been within the stone corridor long before Mrs FitzGibbons turned and frowned at my footwear. My boots' wooden heels came in contact with the stone floor, generating an echo, announcing my every step. She shook her head in dissatisfaction; I attempted to be lighter on my feet. I groaned inaudibly, yet another thing someone of this era didn't approve of regarding my appearance.
After what seemed like thirty minutes of roaming the passageways, which I'm confident was more like ten minutes, we entered a moderately spacious room. Furnished with a large four-post bed in the centre, it possessed all the traditional conveniences of a bedroom along with a petite table and a duo of chairs and most importantly a hearth.
I plunged towards the hearth, and held my palms to the warmth, neglecting my guide and patient. Both of which appeared to be immune to the cold. I turned to warm my backside as I watched Jamie situate himself upon a small stool on the opposite side of the hearth. Awkwardly, he stripped the remains of his tattered shirt from his muscular frame. He was prompting me to swallow hard and lift an eyebrow at the sight of his body as butterflies fluttered within my abdomen. Thankfully, Mrs FitzGibbons seemed not to miss a beat as a mother hen and carried over a quilt from the bed and laid it gently around his shoulders. Clicking her tongue in disapproval, she examined his injures and swollen shoulder before looking over to me.
"What will ye be needin'? She asked as I remained with my hindquarters to the flame, barely defrosted.
"Umm," I began but hesitated, taking a moment to consider what I did require. I hadn't taken an inventory of what I still had left in my first aid kit, but I knew I had roughly a half of a bottle of alcohol and several gauze-pads. I had not touched the sutures, and I hardly utilised the antibacterial cream. My teeth pulled my lower lip beneath them as I thought about the miniature pharmacy, as Frank called it, in my purse. I assumed it would probably be not the best idea to administer anything to him in the presence of judging eyes. Nodding slightly, I concluded that the best course of action was to utilise my understanding of plants, think Beauchamp , I ordered myself. I knew the herbs I could use an alternative to the modern medicine and tools I had. However, I was not entirely sure they would possess them here, within these castle walls.
"Witch hazel and garlic," I stated before immediately adding, "if you have them, also clean cloth and a kettle for boiling water, please."
"Aye, I think we can manage that." Mistress FitzGibbons grinned and exited the room while I glimpsed over at my patient.
He was swaying somewhat with his eyes shut; I'm sure that he was exhausted with his silence and absence of protest. I attempted to avoid the racket from my heels as I crept across the floor, trying not to disturb him. I slipped the strap from my purse up over my shoulder, removing it from my body as I set it down on the small table. A faint vibration rattled my bag, causing it to become louder as it moved away from the contents of my purse and against the wooden surface. Jamie's eyes then snapped open while he lifted his neck to stare at me. My heart raced as I slid my fingers into my purse and grasped my fingers around my mobile, pressing the side button to silence it. I tried to play it off as nothing while I used my small frame to obstruct his view as I pulled my iPhone out and turned the alarm off. It was half-past seven; I sighed; it was my birth control alert.
I took a mental note to take my pill at a later time, once I was alone. I told myself as I turned my mobile off as I attached it to the USB cord connected to the portable charging block. Not that I had any use for it now, without service. I exhaled gently and pushed the whisps of bangs away from my eyes as Mrs FitzGibbons enter the room, babbling to no one in particular.
Mrs FitzGibbons had been able to procure everything I had requested and then some. I smiled as I watched her place the black iron kettle onto a hook in the hearth before she began to peel the cloves of garlic while I inspected the herb parcels she had brought. There was witch hazel, which I had requested. However, she also contributed a few other herbs, boneset and comfrey, for a tea I assumed and lastly, cherry bark. A painkiller , I smiled.
"Thank you," I said, as I threw several cloves of the garlic into the boiling kettle along with some witch hazel, "I think I can handle it from now on if you have responsibilities to attend too. I wouldn't want to be a bother."
"There aye be things for me to do!" She said as she shuffled towards the door, but stopped as she reached her exit, "Do call out if ye need anything else."
I didn't bother responding as she vanished from view and I turned to concentrate on my patient, who was now alert. I offered him a smile while my hands trembled and pushed the quilt aside. Carefully, I peeled the dressing from the front of his shoulder. The pads of gauze clung to his flesh, coming away with a crackling of blood that had cauterised and dried. New droplets oozed around the wounds' edges as I completely removed the gauze, and apologised for any pain I was causing him. Not that he had moved or offered a sound of discomfort, I felt terrible for inducing torture.
"No worry, lass. I've been hurt much worse and by people less appealing." He stated as the corners of his lips curved.
He dropped the quilt entirely from his shoulders as I rounded behind him to remove the other bandage. When I saw what he was referring to, his statement was evident whether he meant to compliment me or not. He had been hurt far worse than anything I could inflict on him. His upper back was covered with a criss-cross of faded silvery marks. I gently placed my hand to the lines and traced my fingers across one. Scar-tissue had developed in some places, where the welts had intersected in irregular patches. I imagined several blows must have struck the same area, repetitively, flaying the skin and gouging the muscle beneath.
There was something brutal about these scars, and I felt my breath hitch as I moved my fingers from the lines and proceeded, removing the second bandage. I had seen things when I had did a semester abroad in Africa. Some villagers had serve injures, some scars but nothing of this nature. Nothing could have prepared me for this level of torture. No amount of sensitivity nor trauma training would have covered this in the twenty-first century.
"Lobster-backs," He shrugged his good shoulder, turning his head as he caught me staring, "Flogged me twice in the span of a week. They'd ha' done it twice the same day, were they not afraid of killing me. No joy in flogging a dead man."
"I shouldn't think anyone would find joy in flogging another human." I tried to keep my voice steady while I brought a dampened cloth to his exposed wound.
I shook my head, "Who would do such a thing?"
"A dragoon's captain by the name of Randall." He answered.
"Aye, you're familiar with the man?" His voice was suddenly suspicious of my outburst.
"No, no! I used to know someone by that name, a long time ago but I doubt they are in the same family. However the man in the woods, the one Murtagh found me with, that man was a Randall, I believe," I tensely stammered as I dropped the sponge cloth, "Fuck," I scooped it off the floor and turned to the fireplace, trying to hide my nerves with busyness.
This Captain Randall was possibly Frank's ancestor, the soldier with a sterling career and valiant on the field of battle. I couldn't even begin to fathom a plausible connection between the pair. How could someone capable of inflicting these horrifying marks on this man's back be related to my sweet baby angel of a husband? How were they share a family tree, share DNA?
"Why were you, flogged?" I asked, somewhat abruptly.
It was hardly discreet, but I genuinely wanted to know, and I was too exhausted to think about how to rephrase my question. Jamie gasped as I placed a new, clean damp sponge to his injuries. I stopped, setting the sponge back inside the kettle before I spun around to my purse. Extracting one of the smaller pouches from my purse that contained medication. I grasped the bottle of acetaminophen and rammed down the lid to twist it off and then shook two tablets into my palm. Jamie's hand was warm against mine as I set the capsules into the centre. He gave me a doubtful expression but didn't ask questions, as he followed my directions. Jamie swallowed the pills, not chewing them and reached out for the cherry bark tea I poured into a cup for him.
"The first time was escape and the second was for theft," He replied, as he swallowed the last of his tea, "At least that's what the charge-sheet read."
"What were you trying to escape from?" I asked, allowing my voice to soften.
"The English," Jamie stated, as he raised an eyebrow, "Fort William if ye mean where."
"I assumed it was from the English," I said, "Why were you there to begin with?"
"I think it was obstruction."
A dry snort escaped from my lips, "Obstruction, escape, and theft. Why, Jamie, you are quite a dangerous character."
"Oh, I am," he responded as a corner of his lips curled and his dark blue eyes glinted back at me, "a wonder you think yourself safe wi' me, after all, ye are an English lassie."
"You look harmless enough at the moment." Which was utterly untrue, shirtless and scarred, he was smeared with blood. His face bore a stubble down his jaw, and his eyes were reddened and puffed from a hard night of riding, he looked positively dangerous. He laughed, a deep calming noise that caused me to jump slightly in shock.
"Harmless," he conceded, "I'm too starved to be a threat to ye. Now if you were a bowl of porridge, Ouch!"
"Sorry," I mumbled, "The cut is deep and dirty. I need to get it clean before I stitch it."
"It's all right." He forced another small smile, but he had gone ghostly beneath the copper stubble.
"So, what is obstruction?" I asked, attempting to lead him back into a conversation. I found it was better to distract a patient than to allow them to dwell on the happenings of their injures. Although my current highlander patient did not appear to be one that would dwell, I didn't want to take my chances of him turning on me as if I were a bowl of porridge. "It doesn't sound like a major crime."
Jamie took in a deep breath and held it in his lungs for a moment before he fixed his eyes to the bed as I swabbed dried soil from his stab wound.
"It's whatever the English say it is, I reckon. In my cause, I was defending my family and property and getting myself half killed in the process." He answered, pressing his lips together as if he was deciding whether or not to proceed and tell me more.
"It was nearly four years ago, and there was a levy put on the estates near Fort William," he started to explain, describing the small parties of soldiers that would go around with an officer and a wagon. The soldiers would collect food, livestock and other items from the surrounding area; he said, "It was one day in October when Captain Randall came along to L..." He caught himself, stopping abruptly, and glanced back at me, "To our place."
I nodded, encouraging him to continue as I listened. However, I kept my eyes concentrated to his shoulder, now cleaned and freed from dirt. I pulled out my first aid kit, removed the alcohol bottle, and pressed a linen cloth piece to the bottle, moistening it.
"My father was away— at the next farm over attending a funeral. I was up in the fields wi' most of the men, it was close to harvest time," he said softly, shutting his eyes as I brought out my suture kit, and listened to him continue his story.
His sister had been alone at the house, except for a few women servants. They had rushed upstairs when the British had arrived. At least that's what Jamie had assumed, hiding in fear of the British, they believed the devil himself sent the soldiers. In this era, it seemed they had been. He had come down towards the house when he heard shouting, followed by his sister, screaming.
Attempting to keep my hands steady, I continued with my sutures. After he heard his sister scream, Jamie proceeded to burst into the parlour of their home, where he discovered two redcoats with his sister, Jenny. Her gown was split down the front, exposing her and one of them had a scratched face. I watched as he opened his eyes and smiled, a smile that didn't exactly meet his eyes.
"I didna stop to ask questions, when Randall came in." He said.
Captain Randall had stopped the fighting with a simple act of holding a pistol to Jenny's head. Forcing Jamie to instantly surrender as the two other soldiers seized him. My patient then trembled, involuntarily, as he described Randall's charming smile towards him and said, "How about you offer me a bit of better entertainment?" Randall had a hold on Jenny's arm, pinning it behind her back, but then he had let go, bringing his hand around and slid it into the tear of her dress, gripping her breast.
"Jenny stomped her wee foot onto his and drove her elbow into his gut, causing him to bend over as she whirled around and gave him a good blow to the stones, wi' her knee." He snorted with amusement before the tone had left his voice.
I had finished my sutures. However, I allowed him to continue. This story seemed like something he wanted to share with me, something he needed to share. I set my needles in a small bowl of alcohol as I put antibacterial cream lightly on the sutures. As Jamie resumed with his tale, Randall had released his pistol, which Jenny had gone for. Yet one of the other dragoons had seized to first. They then dragged the siblings outside, stripped Jamie's shirt from his frame and tied him to the wagon and Randall proceeded to beat Jamie across his back with his sabre.
When Randall had finished, he turned to Jenny—one of the other dragoons now held her and asked if she wanted to see more or if she would alternatively go into the house with him, sequentially accepting the proposal to provide him with better entertainment.
"What happened?" I urged, softly, as I completed bandaging his shoulder with the remainder of the clean fabric.
"I couldna move much, but I shouted to her tellin' her I wasna hurt. I told her not to go with him, not if they cut my throat before her eyes." He grunted, "I couldna see her, but from the sound of it, she must've spat in his face because next I knew, he grabbed a handful of my hair, and pulled my head back, his knife to my throat."
He pleaded with his sister not to go with Captain Randall, declaring he'd prefer to die than have her dishonour herself with such filth.
"Did she go with him?" I asked as I set myself opposite him.
"Aye," He swayed as if he was trying to keep himself awake. I watched as he rubbed a large hand over his weary face and to the back of his neck, "Jenny thought he'd kill me, and perhaps she was right. After, I dinna knew what happened. One of the other men hit me with the stock of his musket in the head. And when I woke, we were jolting down the road towards Fort William."
"I'm sorry," I said softly, as I tucked my arms around my body.
There was an odd sensation of intimacy between us, as Jamie concluded with his recount of how he ended up at Fort William. It was partly due; I thought to him sharing his horrible memories with me. And another part of it was our long ride together through the dark with me pressed between his thighs. I unwrapped my arms from across my chest. And casually picked up the ratty table cloth I had used early as a sling and refolded it, to its previous shape. Carefully, I placed his arm within the fabric and felt his muscle relax under my hands.
Before Frank, I had not slept with many men. Although, I had noticed that when you sleep with someone, genuinely sleep with the person, it was a more intimate act than sex itself. Its as though they are trusting you to see them at their most vulnerable, letting their guard down. A mutual trust that only sleeping together could bring instead of joining bodies. That's how I felt in the moment with him. We had a connection that frightened me, and yet I wanted more.
The sling finished, I assisted him with his rough linen shirt, easing it back over his bad shoulder. Jamie stood, tucking the fabric, one-handedly into his kilt and grinned down at me.
"I thank ye, Claire. You've got a good touch." He said as he reached out his hand and cupped my cheek.
Leaning into his hand, I peered through my lashes, while he ran his thumb tenderly upon my skin before he seemed to think better of it and suddenly jerked his hand away. It appeared I wasn't the only one that felt this odd sensation of intimacy as I looked away. My gaze wandered around the room, focusing on the smoke-blacked hearth, narrow windows and beautiful oak furnishings—anything but the young man before me.
My subconscious returned to Frank, trying to avoid Jamie's gaze. I thought about the man he had described, a man that was utterly foreign to me. Captain Randall was nothing like my husband. My kind, loving, tender Frank. My poor Frank, I wondered what he thought happened to me. What had happened when I failed to make it to dinner? Did he think I had run away? Deciding that after our several years living separately, I preferred to remain without him.
Thinking of Frank and comparing him to Randall was my breaking point. Since the moment I had passed through the stones at Craigh na Dun, my life as I knew it had ceased to exist. I was no longer Doctor Claire Beauchamp-Randall, I was a damsel. I had been violated, threatened, abducted, and jostled. I had not had a proper meal nor sleep in more than twenty-four hours; I was mentally and physically done.
I attempted to control myself as I twisted away from Jamie, my lip quivered, and my eyes swelled with warm liquid. Trying to hide my face, it was too late. Jamie caught hold of my hand and in a soft tone, asked what was wrong. Shaking my head, I dragged my still quivering lip beneath my teeth, to prevent further hysterics. His fingers danced over my knuckles of my left hand and settled against my ring finger.
"I'm alright," I vocalised softly.
"Is yer husband dead, lass?" His voice was laced with sympathetic concern as I lost all my composure entirely.
"No…yes… I mean, I guess…" stuttering, I was overwhelmed with emotions and exhaustion as I crumpled into his chest and sobbed.
I had half expected for Jamie to call for Mrs FitzGibbons or to retreat over my hysterics. Nevertheless, he sat back down. Gathering me against his frame and drew me into his lap with his healthy arm. Murmuring in Gaelic into my ear, he rocked us gently while moving his hand down my spine. I had completely surrendered to my anxieties, heartbreak, uncertainty as I wept. Everything I had been avoiding came rushing to the forefront of my brain.
Jamie continued to stroke my hair, offering me the comfort within his warm broad chest as my sobs lessened. Soothing myself, I coughed and felt hiccups arise in my throat and leaned into the crook of his shoulder.
"I'm sorry," I whispered.
I felt his hand under my chin, and he delicately tilted my head up to face him. Still leaning against his shoulder, he delivered an unsteady breath and softly said, "hush, Mo Chridhe."
The thoughts of my uncertain situation escaped my consciousness as he released my chin and drew me closer into his frame. I was much too exhausted to object as I nestled into his heat and felt my eyes slide closed. I would add worrying about returning to Frank to my list of to-dos, I told myself, right after I remember to take my pill. With those as my last thoughts, I slipped into an unconscious dreamless state.