There was a loud knock upon the door of the bed-chamber that woke me into a state of confusion. Something felt off, but I couldn't remember what. My only concern was burrowing back into my cocoon of quilts, as the banging on the door was succeeded by a nagging voice. Rolling over, I embedded my face into a pillow, and with my eyes still closed stretched out for Frank. I wanted him to deal with whatever commotion that was happening as I slept, but I wasn't greeted with the warmth of Franks' body. Instead, the side of the bed he usually slept was cold.
"Come on, lass, ye must get up!" The nagging yet cheerful voice bothered me, as I popped one eye open.
"No, thank you," I grumbled before shutting my right eye and moaned into the pillow.
The sight of Mistress FitzGibbons returned me to full consciousness, as the realisation of what was amiss hit me. A huge part of me had hoped the last twenty-four hours had been a dream, a terrible dreams. However, it appeared it had not. The only thing I wanted to do was cry with frustration as I felt the quilts being peeled away from my bones, and I hastily sat up and grabbed one to pull it back over me.
"Come on, up wi' ye!" Mistress FitzGibbons continued while she drew the drapes away from the bed, allowing the sun to grace my face, "Ye've slept the whole day."
"If I slept the whole day, why not just let me sleep through the night?" I inquired, earning a scowl from the woman.
I forced myself into a sitting position and frowned back at Mistress FitzGibbons. I wasn't the most pleasant person to wake from a peaceful slumber, and I was worse if I was in a new place. I had no recollection of climbing into bed after helping Jamie; in fact, I could barely recall falling asleep. I remembered crying, and Jamie clutching me tightly into his warm chest comforting me. " Jesus H Roosevelt Christ ," I muttered, pushing my tangled hair from my face. Jamie must have put me to bed after I had fallen asleep.
Wrapping my remaining quilt around my shoulders, I staggered out of bed and went for the fire. The only other warm place in this room, where Mistress FitzGibbons had a mug of what smelt like broth, and I assumed it was her lure for me. Handing it over, I slowly sipped it, relishing the hot liquid as it warmed my insides while she laid out a pile of garments on the bed. There was a knee-length whitish linen chemise, a cotton petticoat, two overskirts in variations of brown, and a moss green bodice—rust-coloured stockings made of wool and a pair of tan slippers to complete the outfit. I took the slippers as a hint that she didn't wish me to wear my boots while I was visiting the castle.
"Stand up, lass." The maternal figure said, as she took my unfinished broth out of my hands and abruptly removed the blanket from my shoulders.
There was no strength within me to argue with Mistress FitzGibbons. I figured she was a woman no one ever questioned or went against her wishes. I had gathered, she ran this castle, at least the people that made this place operate smoothly for the laird and his family. So I held my tongue as she began to unknot the strings that tied my tattered dress together. Once relieved from my garment, I immediately brought my arms around my breast to shield them from her eyes while she examined my undergarments.
"Um," I hesitated, "It's lingerie from France."
The stout woman proceeded to stare before she planted her chubby fingers on the waistband of my black laced high-waisted underwear, removing them for me. To say I was uncomfortable being disrobed by a stranger was the understatement of the year. Nonetheless, I continued to remain silent as she supervised my dressing from the skin out. Once she was finished, she stood back, examining her handiwork with what resembled a look of achievement. I could tell I now met her standards of how a woman should be outfitted.
"The green suits ye. Goes well wi' that brown hair. Stay, though; ye'll need a bit o' ribbon." She presented a handful of ribbons and ushered me over to a chair to sit.
I was dumbfounded and could hardly breathe, mostly due to the corset. I allowed her to do my hair. Binding back my unkempt side-locks with a green ribbon, she clucked over the unfeminine unbecomingness of my shoulder-length fringe haircut. I mutely listened as she blathered on, patting me here and there, tucking in a lock or attempting to force my bangs to stay behind one of her pins. Eventually, I was officially arrayed to her satisfaction.
"There," She smiled and drew me back to my feet and guided me towards a standing mirror, "Now ye're ready to be taken to Himself."
"Himself?" I asked I didn't particularly care for the sounds of this. I felt like Belle in 'Beauty and the Beast' when Mrs Potts prepares her to have dinner with the Beast. Although I very much doubted this castle had singing teapots. And whoever Himself was, he was likely to ask questions about how I came into the hands of Dougal.
"Why, the MacKenzie. Whoever else?"
Yeah Beauchamp, whoever else? I asked myself. Castle Leoch, if I could recall correctly from Frank, was in the centre of the clan Mackenzie lands. Which clearly established the clan chieftain was the Mackenzie, as Mistress FitzGibbons had put it. I now began to understand why my companions had ridden through the night to reach the castle. No English officer with a half a brain would lead his men so deeply into clan lands. To do so would cause death by ambush at the first cluster of trees. Only a good-sized infantry would reach as far as the castle gates; I told myself as I began to wonder which exact part of the eighteenth century I had stumbled into. I knew from history books and films the inevitable fate of the clan lands, and I had seen first hand what has become of the castle.
A heavy knock on the doorframe tore me away from my thoughts, as I glanced up to see Murtagh standing there. He seemed well-rested, unlike me. I gazed back at my reflection and ran my fingers beneath my eyes. Attempting to sweep away the remains of my mascara, I determined that they were merely dark circles and not reminisce of my make-up.
" Well, this is as good as it's going to get ," I muttered to myself, with a shrug and trailed behind Murtagh out of my bed-chamber.
The laird Mackenzie received me in a room at the top of a flight stone stairs; I believe it was known as the keep. It was in a room in a tower, round, and embellished with paintings and tapestries draped against the walls. In contrast, the rest of the castle appeared comfortable enough, modest even, compared to this room. Crammed with furniture, swarming ornaments, and a warmed by a fire and candles. While the castle's outer walls had only high slit windows, this room had been equipped with long casement windows that allowed in what daylight there was.
As I entered the room, I knew that if I were going to survive this century. I needed to begin with acclimatising myself as quickly as possible. I knew roughly where I was, but when? I knew it had to be within the eighteenth century, based solely on clothes and weapons. My attention was briefly drawn to a large metal cage, cleverly engineered to fit the wall's curve, filled with dozens of tiny birds before I focused on the desk in front of the cage.
" 1743 ," I read from a letter sitting casually onto a stack of papers as I turned back to look at the birds.
Darting among the leaves within their inclosure, they cheerfully conversed with each other as if they couldn't be bothered with my presence. 1743 , I repeated once more inside my head. Decades before the American Revolution, I knew England and France to be at war, again, and one of the George's was on the throne. But which one, I deliberated, wholeheartedly missing being able to Google.
"Busy wee things, aren't they?" A deep, pleasant voice spoke from behind, and I turned with a forced smile on my face.
The man now before me shared the same broad planes and high forehead as Dougal, though the same vital force that gave Dougal his air of intimidation was mellowed into something more welcoming. Dougal did say he was going to find his brother; perhaps, his brother was laird. It made sense to me, the men and the villagers respected the leader of our band of horsemen. He did provide the same impression of intensity, standing slightly closer to you than was comfortable. I fought every urge within me to step back, but not because of my discomfort of him standing too close. No, at that moment, it arose from the fact the slightly attractive man ended in shockingly bowed, twisted, and stumpy legs. For a man that should have topped just under two meters like his brother, he barely came to my shoulder.
His gaze lingered on his cage of birds, tactfully allowing me a much-needed moment to gain control of my features. He had to be used to this. Of people's reactions to meeting him for the first time, though as I glanced over the room once more, I wondered how often he met new people. This was his sanctuary, his self-constructed world, where he could determine whom from the outer world, was welcomed. I had made the cut.
"Welcome ye, mistress," He said, with a slight bow to his neck, "My name is Colum Ban Campbell MacKenzie, laird of this castle. I understand my brother encountered you some distanced from here."
"I'm pretty sure he abducted me," I said.
I had intended to keep the conversation cordial, but I wanted nothing more than to get away from this castle and back to the hill with the circle of standing stones. Whatever was to happen to me, the answer was here, if anywhere. Colum MacKenzie would be my ticket home.
"Well, perhaps," the laird agreed. "Dougal is sometimes a bit, impetuous."
"It happens," I shrugged, indication a dismissal of the matter. "I believe we had some sort of misunderstanding, but I would greatly appreciate being returned to the place I was taken from."
"Mmphm," his brows rose as he gestured towards a chair. I sat, reluctantly, as he nodded while he took his seat behind his large wooden desk. "I understand that ye were found in some distress." He seemed to be suppressing a smirk, and I wondered just how my state of being had been described to him.
Frank once had seen a documentary about World War II and the training they gave the officers on withstanding interrogations. He had said the basic principle was to stick to the truth as much as humanly possible, only altering those details that must be kept a secret. Less chance of slipping up, if the individual accepts of your cover story, he had explained. Well, Frank, let us see how effective those 1940's military tactics work.
"I had been attacked and nearly sexually assaulted."
He nodded, his face traced with interest, "Aye? By whom?"
Tell the truth; I reminded myself. "By English soldiers. In particular, a man named Randall."
Colum's face changed suddenly at the name, although he continued to look interested. There was an increased intensity in the lines of his mouth; he was familiar with him. Colum sat back a bit in his chair, and steepled his fingers, regarding me carefully over.
"Aye?" He said, "Go on."
So with the Gods above as my witness, I went on. I told him in great detail the story of the confrontation between his men and Randall's men since he would check my account against Douglas. I told him the basic facts of Randall's interactions since I didn't know exactly how much Murtagh had overheard. He nodded, giving me his complete attention.
"How exactly did a lady, such as yourself, come to be wandering the woods in nothing but her dressing gown." I nodded and took a deep breath in.
We had now entered into the domain of where I could get imaginative with my story. I suddenly wished I had paid closer attention to what Frank had said on the topic of bandits in the eighteenth century, but I would have to do my best. I was a widowed lady of Oxfordshire, I began, which technically now I was, but that was the extent of my truth. I was travelling with a manservant. I continued to visit distant relatives in France. I had briefly thought about saying the Colonies, as I had just spent the last few years of my life living there, but I assumed it would make more logical sense to say France. After all, I was in Inverness. We just set up camp for the evening, when we were set upon highwaymen. My servant had either been killed or ran off. While I had succeeded in escaping from the men, I had been forced to abandon my horse and property. And that was when I stumbled unto Captain Randall and his men.
I relaxed into my chair as I concluded, pleased with my tale. It was simple and accurate in all the checkable details. Frank would have been proud, I told myself. Colum's face displayed no more than polite attention as he continued to nod.
"This man, Captain Randall, is an officer and a gentleman," Colum stated, "And you're saying a man bearing the king's commission decided to rape a stray traveller he came upon in the woods for no good reason?"
"Is there ever a good reason for rape, Laird MacKenzie?" I challenged, furrowing my eyebrows together.
"I beg your forgiveness, madam. An unfortunate turn of phrase on my part." He countered I could see the scepticism of my tale etched on his face.
"It was, now I believe we were discussing my transport back to Inverness."
"Aye, well you're a welcome guest at Leoch until we can arrange something." He stated, firmly, as he raised a hand to dismiss any further conversation.
"I don't think you understand," I said, remaining in my chair as Murtagh who was near the door came forwards, to escort me back to my room. "Do you think I would lie? I want to be returned to my people."
"Mistress, I did not say I didn't believe ye," He replied, "But I've not held leadership of a large clan for over twenty years without learning not to believe every tale I'm told."
"Who the fuck do you think I am? Sir, I have no literally reason to be anything but truthful." I said, trying to keep my voice even.
Colum blinked, twice, looking taken back by my language. Then his features firmed, waving his hand once more, "It remains to be seen, but as I said, you're a guest here."
"Fine, thank you," I mumbled, as I tried to blink back the tears forming in my eyes as I stood from my chair.
It was my sign to leave; understanding the conversation would not be going anywhere else. I would be allowed to remain a guest of the clan MacKenzie until further notice. I supposed I should be appreciative of that, at least I wasn't a prisoner, but honestly, I saw no difference between the two. I was here, against my will and unable to escape, as I glanced back at Murtagh, who was following closely behind me as we descended the stairs. I was beginning to lose faith that I would ever make it back to the standing stones on top of Craigh na Dun. I feared I would never see Frank again. In a trance, I brushed my fingers to my lips, that fleeting kiss he gave me before leaving would be the last kiss that would pass between us.
My breathing began to labour as my chest tightened, and I felt the heat of tears threaten to spill from my eyes once more. I felt as if I were a fish out of water or lost on an alien planet and what was worse was that I kept being reminded of my lose of Frank. It had never crossed my mind that it was the last moment I would see him, and it was gutting me.
"Take that door, lass," Murtagh grunted.
The door led to a parapet over one of the castle walls, it was narrow, barely wide enough for Murtagh and I to stand side-by-side, but it was nice to be surrounded by the fresh, crisp, spring air. Murtagh turned away from me as I stopped walking and leaned over the edge of the stone wall to look down below into the courtyard. My lips curved as I observed the children practice their swordplay and Dougal rushed up to join, laughing with a broad smile on his face. I did have some knowledge of this era, the people, dress, customs and politics and even some of their colloquialism were familiar. However, most of it was secondhand from my education, museums, films, and books.
I focused back to Dougal, as he seized hold of the boy after the wooden sword had stabbed him and tossed him up into the air and caught him. And then I began to wonder. Perhaps, life here wasn't so different after all. And if I was going to be contained here for the foreseeable future, I could make an effort. Learn from the Mackenzie's, exist with them. And that's what I intended on doing, at least until I seized my opportune moment to escape.
"Murtagh," I said with a smile, "Can you point me in the direction of Mistress FitzGibbons? I've very much like some hot water for a bath."