The following morning, it was once again Mrs Fitzgibbons, who woke me with a loud knock on the door of my bed-chamber, announcing her presence. The woman waited for no response, as I opened my eyes to see her already busying herself around the space, and I shifted myself up into a sitting position. At the same time, I stretched and folded my hands into my lap. I was waiting for instructions from her. In her arms, she came bearing a collection of toiletries, items I assumed were available for well-born women of the era. Mrs FitzGibbons carefully placed the items down upon the table near the hearth and turned to me, smiling before she darted out of the room.
I remained in the warmth of my nest of bedding for another moment, anticipating for her to return before I pulled one of the smaller woollen blankets from the edge of the bed, encasing it around my shoulders as I laid my bare toes on the wooden floor. A shiver of a chill, erupted over my frame as I tugged my blanket tighter and swiftly crept across the small space, towards the table. I reached out and brushed my fingers against the items, as I bent my leg at the knee, resting it against the chair and felt my lips tug upwards. I recognised these from museums. There was a lead comb, darkened at the teeth; I believed it was used for the eyelashes, like mascara. There was also vessels of various powders and a petite lidded porcelain cup of rouge—the items made up what was available in the eighteenth century as make-up. Substances, I desired nowhere near my face. Nonetheless, being raised by an archaeologist, I was beyond thrilled to see them in this fantastic condition, as if they were new.
"Oh good, ye are oot of bed." I heard a cheerful voice state, prompting me to pop my head up to see Mistress FitzGibbons filling the doorway of the room.
I immediately withdrew my fingers from touching the lead comb on the table and yanked my blanket tighter around me.
"I am," I responded and motioned towards the table, "is something happening today?"
"Aye, ye are required in Hall."
"Hall?" I inquired, lifting my knee from the chair and settling both feet back on the floor.
Mrs Fitzgibbons merely nodded in response, extending no other explanation as she laid out a fresh outfit for me. A deep indigo overskirt and bodice of silk, with rust-coloured stockings, as a change from the wool and homespun I had been outfitted to wear the day prior. I immediately concluded, whatever 'Hall' might be, it appeared to be an occasion of some consequence and importance.
"Do ye need help wi' dressin'?" Mrs Fitzgibbons asked as she held out a new chemise for me to change into.
"I think I can manage," I assured her, "May I have water to wash, though, please?"
"Ye bathed last night."
I caught her gaze of confusion over to the large washtub that was still in the centre of the room. The chambermaid hadn't the opportunity to remove it the night before, as after I had humiliated myself at dinner, by sticking my foot in my mouth over Colum's sons' paternity, I had barred myself away in my quarters, refusing admittance to anyone who knocked.
"I know, I just wished to wash my face."
The woman seemed to be contemplating my bathing practices before she bent her head lightly, "Aye, Mistress Claire, I'll fetch ye that."
I uttered vague terms of appreciation in her direction as she exited the room, while I laid my hands on my hips as I eyed the corset I was required to wear. I couldn't figure out how women of this era wore those things all day long, without a trace of discomfort. While I had only worn one for all of six hours the day prior, and I now firmly believed I hated it more than my distaste for the modern-day bra. Elevating my left hand off my hip and into my hair, I sighed as I glanced downward at my breasts. In my time, I rarely wore a bra, frequently only wearing a bralette or sports bra, it wasn't required for support.
" You have to wear it, Beauchamp ." I informed myself, " Even if you can't breathe, you need to fit in ."
I dropped both of my hands and drew the chemise I had slept in over my head and hastily replaced it with the new one. Trembling once more as my exposed skin was graced with the crisp mid-morning May air, I then meticulously mirrored the steps of how to dress I observed yesterday while Mrs FitzGibbons dressed me. Chemise, the dreaded corset, bum roll, petticoats, pocket, overskirt and then lastly to complete the multi-step process of dressing, the bodice. I stood applauding my work, feeling pleased within myself as Mrs FitzGibbons returned with a kettle of boiling water.
"Here ye are, lass." She said as she filled the smaller washbasin, that was situated on the dress with the steaming water and placed a linen-cloth next to it, "Hall will begin soon, best be quick."
"Thank you, Mrs Fitz," I replied, advancing toward her, filling the gap between us and drew her into a hug.
Her frame stiffened for a moment from the surprise of my embrace before she relaxed into my arms and encircled her own around my slender frame, stroking my back. Mistress FitzGibbons leaned away first and fastened her hands on my arms, holding me away from her body and stared at me momentarily before she cupped my face and grinned. I envisioned these were moments that transpired between a parent and child, not having one. I frequently found myself being attracted to motherly personalities. She then withdrew her hand, bowed and left me alone once more in my chamber, to finish preparing myself for ' Hall '.
As it turned out Hall, was just that, the dining hall. The one where we had eaten our dinner the previous night. Only now, it had been transformed into a space for some sort of ceremony. The tables, benches and stools had been pushed back against the walls, and the head table had been removed, completely. In its place was now a large chair, carved from dark wood and covered with what could only be assumed to be a MacKenzie tartan. I lingered in the doorway, peering into the space furnished with people. And began to wonder if this was like their version of court, where inhabitants of MacKenzie land would come and give their respects to their laird or tell him their grievances. I had frequently seen it portrayed in modern television shows, though, now existing in it; I questioned how much it would be like what I had seen.
A bag-piper abruptly began to play, as I scanned the room once more, provoking me to jump with its preliminary belch as it startled me. An ear-splitting shriek followed the sound into my right ear before it settled into something that sounded much like a tune. I took this as my warning to find my place in the hall as felt a hand clutch securely onto my hand, tearing me away from the doorway, driving me to stumble and trip over my somewhat large slippers in the process. I was too concentrated on the ground, keeping my eyes on my feet, hoping to prevent myself from toppling over. That I neglected to look up and see who had saved me from the probability of embarrassment until we had stopped moving, and the hand shifted me to stand in front of him. I felt my lips curve as I peered up at him through my blackened eyelashes as my cheeks heated from the sight of him.
"Mr McTavish," I smiled, "I'm surprised to see you."
Jamie opened his mouth to reply when Murtagh hit his side lightly and tilted his head towards the entryway I was just previously occupying. Colum MacKenzie had now entered the room, with his brother Dougal dawdling a few paces behind him. The MacKenzie progressed leisurely down the open space created but the people as a pathway to his chair, nodding and smiling to the forms as he passed them. I launched myself onto my tip-toes to gaze over the heads of the people watching him in front of me, perceiving that it was almost as he was flaunting his twisted legs when it clicked.
I remembered learning about Pycnodysostosis, commonly known as Toulouse-Lautrec syndrome while I was in my undergrad program, in my genetics lectures. It was a rare genetic condition, one that affected his bones and connective tissues. Glimpsing back at his legs, I reminded myself it had not yet been identified and wouldn't be for another century or so. Nevertheless, even in my own time, I had never seen a case, nor did I know anyone that had. We only had research and medical journals to help our knowledge of his condition. And from what I could understand, Colum MacKenzie was, in fact, living on borrowed time, appearing in his late forties. Even with modern medicine, sufferers barely made it to live past adolescents. I could only imagine he survived this long due to his status as Laird of Leoch.
"I can hear ye thinkin' from over here, Sassenach." Jamie murmured, drawing my concentration from the MacKenzie.
"Colum's legs, I know what's wrong," I answered, not thinking about where I was or who I was talking to.
He didn't have time to respond to me, as Colum had finally approached his chair. He sat and paused for a moment before raising on hand, ceasing the pipes' and 'Hall' began. It appeared I had been correct in my general understanding of what was going to happen, the laird of Castle Leoch was there to dispense justice to his tenants, hearing over their dilemmas and resolving their disputes. A secretary in the corner of the room would scribble viciously along with what was being said and how matters were settled, along with summoning the various parties' names when it was their turn to come forward. Most quandaries were petty; it was he said-he said situation. Nothing I would consider too serious about being taken before a laird, but then again I wasn't from this time. I had been raised to solve my problems and take matters into my own hands, to fend for myself, unless it was impossible. And only then, I would involve someone of authority.
"Mistress Beauchamp?" The secretary called out, "Will ye stand forth?"
Unaware, I would be summoned during this event, I glanced over at Jamie and observed him nod as he laid his broad palm on the small of my back, giving me a nudge forward. Mrs Fitz had declared I was required in 'Hall'; however, I assumed it was a laird guest. Not because I was going to be dealt with in front of his people. I felt Jamie's hand once again urge me forward, providing me with a small boost of confidence; I took a deep breath in and stepped out into the empty space before Colum and curtsied. As I rose, I looked back up at where the MacKenzie should be and was faced with Dougal's chest. As my captor, it was evident that it was up to him to make a formal application for my reception or as I preferred to think of it, my captivity.
"Sir," Dougal began, bowing at his brother, "we pray you to show mercy wi' regard of a lady in need of safe refuge. Mistress Claire Beauchamp, an English lady of Oxford, found herself set upon by highwaymen, jer servant killed when she fled into the forests of your land. It was there she was discovered and rescued by myself. We beg that Castle Leoch will offer her hospitality until her English connections may be apprised of her whereabouts and due provisions made for her safe transport."
It took everything within my marrow not to roll my eyes when he emphasised ' English ' or introject to speak up for myself. Dougal was speaking as if I were a damsel that had needed to be rescued. When my perception of the events in the woods, that I, myself had lived, I had handled myself extremely well. Although, I had welcomed the aid from Murtagh until he knocked me out.
"As discussed yesterday, Mistress Beauchamp, I offer you the hospitality of my hearth and home," Colum declared and bowed his head.
"Thank you," I replied with another curtsy and twisted back towards the bodies.
I was going to be tolerated but not welcomed. It was apparent by the expressions on all the faces on the people I passed, making my way back to Jamie and Murtagh. I would be held under suspicion due to my accent and country of birth, not because of who I was. Exhaling, I now speculated any future possibility of escape would prove to be even more difficult. The castle knew of me; they had seen me, the English widow from Oxford, seeking asylum at Leoch. And if Colum or Dougal were as intelligent as they appeared, I would never be alone during my time here.
The overall tone through the hall suddenly changed as the focus shifted away from me and to a burly man stepping into the clearing, before Colum, as he hauled a young girl by her hand behind him. She looked like she couldn't be older than sixteen, with long pale blonde hair, a pretty face and youthful rosy cheeks. She stumbled into the open area, much like I had, except she had been flung forwards by the man and now stood alone. The man spoke in Gaelic, much like the other tenants, while he gestured his arms angrily and occasionally pointed at her, either in illustration or accusation, I wasn't sure.
"What's happening?" I whispered, leaning towards the men alongside me.
The smaller Scotsman turned slightly, parting his lips to speak, tearing his eyes from the action, "Her father accuses her of loose behaviour."
"Loose behaviour, what does that involve?" I inquired, glancing back to the young girl.
"Consortin' improperly, against his orders." He uttered to me and sank back against the wall, "Her father wishes tae have her punished for her disobedience."
"Punished? Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ, she is a teenager." I hissed as unobtrusively as I could.
Jamie's hand slide into mine, squeezing it briefly before dropping it away as I returned my concentration to Colum, who was shifting his eyes between the girl and her father. Frowning, slightly, he tapped his knuckles to the arm of his large chair and then nodded his head. I had seen these actions from him with the other disputes he had been presented with; it was his tell. He had decided on his course of action.
The punishment was given in Gaelic, but I didn't need to understand the language to know it wasn't a favourable outcome. The girl began to cry, shaking her head as Rupert strode towards her, reaching for the buckle of his belt while two other men seized her arms to hold her still. There was some disturbance next to me, as I peeped back to the men I was standing with, Jamie seemed as if he was attempting to move towards the girl, conversing in a hushed tone. Murtagh clung firmly to the front of his waistcoat, answering him in the same manner, as I caught the younger man's eyes when he tore away from the other man with a small smirk developing upon his perfect lips.
The crowd parted, permitting him to travel through as he made his way into the open area before the MacKenzie brothers. Out of what seemed like respect, he inclined his head and then spoke to them, seeming to cause more controversy.
"What is happening now?" I asked Murtagh.
"The fool's offerin' tae take the lass's punishment." He said absently, peeking around the spectators that had filled the space in front of us after letting Jamie through.
"What? He's injured!" I said, receiving a scowl from a lady to the right of me, "Surely they won't let him."
"Nae, lass. They're arguin' it now."
"What did he say?" I demanded of Murtagh after a few minutes of silence between us.
"He prefers fists rather than the strap."
The statement was casual like I would automatically know what he meant by fists. I was about to ask if that meant they had allowed Jamie to take the girls' punishment. When Rupert brought his arm back and thrust it into Jamie's abdomen, causing him to topple over onto his knees. A shallow gasp left my lips as my eyes opened wider in complete shock, as I observed Jamie propel himself back to his feet, and nodded to Rupert. He had indicated he was ready for more and I wondered how long this utterly barbaric notion of punishment would continue for. I couldn't even begin to wrap my mind around a time where a girl could be punished for dating someone against her father's wishes. I could understand being grounded, that seemed reasonable, but physical discipline, such as a beating. Fuck no.
Jamie endured the abuse from Rupert for another five minutes before it had gone on long enough for the liking of Dougal MacKenzie, who dipped his head somewhat at his man. For good measure, the stout Scot connected his fist for the final time into Jamie's flesh. Much like the first blow, he staggered and fell to his knees, collapsing, prompting me to lurch forwards as Murtagh grunt, leaving my side for his. Slowly, I watched him stroll over to the younger man, yanking him to his feet as he rose his head, I could detect the blood swelling down the side of his face, and I sighed. It appeared as if I were becoming his personal physician, as he bowed his head towards Dougal and then Colum, then thanking the brothers.
The Hall was hushed as Murtagh assisted Jamie with leaving, only low murmurs could be heard as they moved through the massive wooden doors of the entryway before the proceedings recommenced. I remained where I was forgotten for a few moments. Still in shock of what had happened, but also with questions of why he took her punishment raced through my brain. Was he the man she was dating against her father's wishes? He hadn't mentioned a girlfriend when I had been riding with my arse pressed firmly against his half-hard cock. Nor had he mentioned her when I was mending his wounds, any of the times.
I ran my hand through my loose natural curls, brushing out a knot with my fingers as I looked to the door. Making up my mind to follow them, I sighed and pressed myself against the wall. Sliding along it, until reaching the entryway and slipped out.
"Wait for me," I exclaimed, seeing the two men at the end of the corridor, about to exit into the courtyard.
For being beaten moments before, they were quick. My slippers offered me zero traction as I skated about the flat stone as I raced to the end of the passage to them. Jamie sagged against the wall as they waited, allowing his head to fall back, while Murtagh turned to me, holding out his hands to my shoulders as I filled the area between us. He was steadying me to keep me from falling myself.
"Are you always this reckless, McTavish?" I questioned, touching his face and brushed the small stream of blood away from the corner of his mouth. Not even pausing to consider any blood diseases, he was my foremost concern, "I need my medical kit."
Murtagh nodded, looking around as if it were going to materialise magically.
"It's in my room."
I parted my lips to speak more when I noticed the girl Jamie had just allowed himself to be pounded for lurking near us, taking small steps closer. I forced a smile of pitty in her direction and tilted my head towards her. Murtagh picked up on my hint and merely swayed his head and gripped a large grimy hand on the younger man's shoulder.
"I'll leave ye in the hands of Mistress Claire, lad, and look in on ye later."
"Aye." Was all Jamie said, as he linked his arm to my elbow as if he was trying to steady himself from slipping down the wall he was leaning against.
"Jamie," I said softly after Murtagh had vanished from sight and glanced to the young girl. Who was now occupying the space Murtagh had left, "I'll meet you in my chamber to mend your injuries, but I think someone wants to thank you."
Jamie didn't respond to me as I jerked my arm from his grasp and smiled faintly at him and then to the girl as I moved passed her. Almost immediately, I felt self-conscious about my appearance. The girl was gorgeous with her soft blue eyes and youthful glow. I couldn't hold a candle to her. As I walked down the corridor, I turned back only once, to see her stretch out her slender fingers to touch his face the way I had only moments prior, I couldn't explain why I was jealous. I had a husband; I had someone who loved me. Someone, I was determined to return to. At least, that's what I kept telling myself as I roamed the passageways back to my room.
My marriage to Frank was far from perfect; I knew that. My Uncle Lamb had been right; I was perhaps far too young when we married. I scarcely had a sense of who I was, who I wanted to be. However, much like the girl in the courtyard, I had looked at Frank like he was God's gift to me. Like he was tailored to be my other half. Now, after only spending four days in the eighteenth-century, I was beginning to realise he was not. I was starting to realise our the defects in our frayed relationship more than I had from our years apart. I had barely felt remorse for being without him in Boston. We had separate lives; we were completely different people. I was a different person at twenty-six than I was at eighteen. Returning to him in Oxford, I was forcing myself to be someone I knew I wasn't. I was limiting myself to be someone Frank wanted.
I leaned my head against the closed door as I entered the room I was currently calling my own and closed my eyes as I ran my hands up the smooth silk of my bodice. I couldn't breathe thinking about the copper-haired man in the arms of another woman. A woman that wasn't me. It felt as if my heart was being stabbed repeatedly with a knife. Was this what love felt like? I opened my eyes as I wondered, fumbling with the laces as I tried to reach my corset to loosen it.
"Get it together, Beauchamp." I nearly sobbed, as my tugged my bodice from my shoulders and dropped it to the bed.
"Sassenach?" I heard from the other side of the door, after a soft knock.
"Yes?" I answered, staring at the closed door.
I had nearly forgotten in the short time since I left Jamie with the girl, that I was supposed to be doctoring his injuries once more. That's all I good for, at least for him. I told myself. Frank loved me for me, not my skills in medicine. Who says he loves you? I challenged myself internally as I rolled my eyes.
"Can I come in?" He inquired as he cracked the door slightly.
"Yes." My reply came out shakily, as he opened the door and closed it behind himself before looking at me.
His eyes swelled wide as he examined my appearance, and I noticed the tops of his ears become a shade of pink as he spun away from me. Thrown on his reaction, I turned to look myself over in the mirror. My make-up wasn't running down my face; my hair wasn't entirely unreasonable. I didn't understand why he acted like I was in my underwear, unless, it was this fucking corset.
"Sit down, Jamie," I told him, gesturing to the chair near the fireplace.
"Aye." He nodded, still dodging eye contact, "Do ye, want tae dress first? I dinna want people tae think less of ye."
I rolled my eyes, so it was my corset. As I near him, I could tell his lips were swollen like he was one to talk. And it wasn't from the thrashing he had received thirty minutes prior from Rupert.
"I'm English. I'm sure they can't think any less of me." I shrugged.
"True." He agreed and smirked before gazing up at me.
His eyes dilated as he scanned over my body, briefly before retreating to my eyes.
"I don't think you broke anything today," I started changing the subject, as I turned to pull my purse out from where I had hidden it underneath the bed, "I'll clean your cuts and check the wounds from our travels, but I think you'll just be sporting some abrasions for the next few days."
I paused for a moment, removing my first-aid kit from my purse before placing the larger bag down on the bed and taking the steps back to my patient.
"Why did you do that? Take her punishment? Do you know her?" I babbled the inquiries that were currently rushing within my head, "Are you the lad she is courting with against her father's wishes?"
"I ken who she is," He said, "Have not really spoken wi' her though. So nae, I'm not courtin' her."
I nodded as I dampened a piece of cloth with some alcohol and turned to face him.
"Ye dinna believe me?"
I swayed my head as I touched the cloth to a cut next to his eyebrow and listened to him hiss with a sparse wince from the burn. I wanted to believe him with every fibre of my heart, but the state of his lips and his actions towards the girl. I had a hard time trusting he was just that considerate of a man, in my time, no one was that charming. Not unless they wanted something out of it.
"I believe you," I murmured, dropping my hand from his face and peering down at my golden wedding ring.
"Ye have a face of glass." He stated, securing his knuckle beneath my chin, pushing my face up.
"Fine, I don't believe you. Why would you take her punishment if you barely know her?"
"It would have shamed the lass, to be beaten in the hall in front of everyone she kens. It would take her a long time to get over it." Jamie answered, "It's easier for me."
"I supposed I understand where you're coming from," I responded, welcoming a small curve to my lips, "She also doesn't have the best doctor at Leoch tending to her every injury."
"Aye, also true," Jamie admitted with a slight amusement that warmed my insides.
Ripples of happiness overcame me as I proceeded to tend to the new and old injuries spreading over his frame. Keeping our conversations casual, I tried my best to disregard the loud thumping within my chest cavity every time he inched closer to me. I had never felt desire towards another person before not until that moment, standing half-dressed by eighteenth-century standards, with a man that wasn't my husband. I wanted him closer to me; I wanted to run my hands through his cinnamon curls. I needed to taste his lips; I wanted to taste him. I simply wanted him.
"Are ye okay?" Jamie inquired, drawing me away from the suggestive images of him that were racing through my brain.
"Mhm, I'm just a bit tired." I replied, "Your shoulder wounds are looking great. I'll take the stitches out in a few days."
Jamie rose to his full stature, stretching his shoulders the best he could with one still secured in its sling before he turned and lifted his waistcoat from the back of the chair he was previously occupying. Turning back to face me, he reached out his hand and placing it on my cheek, much like he had the first time we were alone together in my room before dropping it to my left hand. I watched as he drew my hand to his lips, kissing my knuckles, just above Frank's ring before he mumbled a farewell.
" You're fucked, Beauchamp ." I muttered to myself, " Completely and utterly fucked ."