"Fuck, I miss electric lamps," I sputtered to myself as I was ushered into a room with minimal lighting, "Beauchamp, you dunce the inventor of the light-bulb isn't even born yet."
Save what was coming from the tiny slitted windows positioned high up in the walls, there was hardly any of the pale afternoon sunlight Scotland had to offer seeping through the air of the room. There was barely any separating between the darkness and the light, and it was nearly impossible to tell where the high vaulted ceilings above my head ended. It was merely a dark oblivion, one that kept going with no end. I quivered, remembering being in this room with Frank during my era. I had joked to him that the castle troll lived here. It was clearly dark enough for such a creature. However, as I wandered into the centre of the chamber, I sighed and remained still for a moment as I set my palms to my hips and tore my eyes away from the ceiling and studied my new disagreeable surroundings. It looked to be that I, was the new troll of Castle Leoch.
My eyes proceeded to scan the room as I remained where I stood, there was a tall cabinet in the far edge of the room, next to a massive dark wooden hutch, adorned with dozens of tiny drawers. Each meticulously labelled. There were jars, wooden boxes, and vials of all sizes and shapes neatly stacked on the shelves of the hutch as well as the shelves above a stone counter to the right of it. I presumed that the dwellings' late resident has mixed his medicines or more like homoeopathic potions of some sort. At least that was my assumption by the residue stains' left as evidence and a crusted mortar that laid abandoned.
My feet urged me several steps forwards, purely out of curiosity for the tools before me. I hesitated, to glance back to the figures behind me before I advanced further into the room and the cluttered shelves. My fingers gingerly stretched out towards a crudely bound leather book, left on a small desk coated by a thin layer of dust and brushed it away to read the script.
Sneezing, I uttered a feeble apology to the other occupants of the room as I examined the delicate paper pages. The niece of a scholar overtook my being as the corner of the left side of my lips curled, while I held what appeared to be a logbook. An eighteenth-century version of medical charting. Unlike its modern equivalent now done on computers and tablets, I scanned the names of the various patients that had been recorded, along with the details of their ailments and their treatments.
I turned, wiping my dust-covered fingers onto my apron as I pulled away from the spark of intrigue I felt over the leather-bound book, placing it back down to its original resting place, and focused on, what I liked to refer to as, my Beauchamp-sitters. Rupert and Angus. The pair had been appointed to accompany me throughout Leoch, since the day that followed the Hall. I couldn't figure out which MacKenzie brother they served. Nevertheless, they had become my shadows. Watching my every move as if I would eventually slip up and reveal that I was in fact, a spy for the British. Regrettably for them, that wasn't the secret I was withholding from the Clan MacKenzie and their excitement for the day would end with assisting me with cleaning this dungeon of a new medical practice I was gifted.
"Right," I said with a small smile, capturing the attention of both men, "Angus, fetch me white vinegar, some water for boiling and see if Mrs Fitz has any extra rosemary and thyme."
"Fetch me, she says." He grumbled as he turned to Rupert and tipped his head towards the door. As if was he signalling for them both to take their leave, Lord, I wish.
"I need him to stay," I sighed, with a slight roll to my eyes following his snide remarks as I passed the apothecary's cabinet and began to investigate what diminished stock of herbs I had been bequeathed by the previous healer.
I temporarily reframed from speaking as I took stock of the supplies. Noting what I could use for my cleaning solution to sanitise this room and what needed to be restocked in the upcoming days.
"Perfect," I murmured, mostly to myself, as I plucked a small glass vessel half-filled with dried lavender petals and another of sage from the cabinet.
"Ye ken, Himself can have his lasses clean tis place for ye." Rupert groaned as Angus finally disappeared from our sight.
I nodded while my fingers touched a small but beneficial bottle of camphor oil before I drew them away and turned to confront Rupert. Colum MacKenzie had extended his maids' assistances to clean my new lodgings to help them met my sanitation standards. However, I politely declined his suggestion, making it clear I wished to see the cleaning myself. I had always been very particular when it came to my spaces. It wasn't that I had obsessive-compulsive disorder about cleaning or order; it was merely I needed things done my way. Especially when it came to medical setting and nothing against these ladies, but I knew they would not meet my hospital-level expectation of cleanliness.
"I'd rather do it myself," I said with a small shrug.
Rupert acknowledged me with a typical Scottish grunt while he turned to the heart and pulled a piece of flint from the sporran that was around his waist. I watched, silently, as he fiddled with it for a few moments before he started to produce a few sparks that travelled in the direction of the timber of the fireplace and started a low glow of a new flame.
The silence pleasantly continued amidst us after our brief exchange and much to my astonishment, and it persisted even after Angus returned with his limbs supplied with my requests. I softly appreciated his efforts and once again refocused on my task of cleaning. Most of the items, I determined, that were left behind were honestly trash. A few of the vials contained various insects or various animal wastes; others merely possessed an odour that made me what to throw-up. In a pile, I arranged these jars to be brought up to be washed by the ladies that served Mrs FitzGibbons in the kitchens. The other half of the items I had seen in museums during several trips I had taken over the years as a child with my Uncle Lamb and then with Frank during holidays from university. Even with my curiosity peaked over their fantastic condition, I couldn't fathom utilising them with my understanding of modern medical science. It was one thing to use homoeopathic methods. I could back that.
In modern-day Europe, they still relied profoundly on herbs and natural remedies, instead of jumping straight to antibiotics. Particularly in an era with superbugs growing more resistant to the drugs we, as medical professionals relied on. I embraced the alternative options. However, that is entirely different from using these medical tools that resembled torture deceives rather than medicine instruments.
A blur. That's how the remainder of the day appeared to be. My brain had switched into autopilot, allowing my cognisance to turn off from the task I was performing somewhere between cleaning out the third and fourth cabinet that was packed into the small limited space of my new medical practice. It wasn't until Angus declared it was time for supper when I was drawn back into consciousness and peered down at my mother's wristwatch I was still wearing and nodded. I had no intentions of attending the meal with them, as I allowed them to excused themselves from my presences and my now tidy quarters. A wave of peace overwhelmed me as I sank down into the wing-backed chair that Rupert has moved near the hearth earlier that afternoon and breathed.
It felt for a brief moment that I was back in Boston. That I was back on Acorn street and in my bedroom, nestled in the velvet version I had in the small circle I had in the wall, where the windows overlooked the street. As I closed my eyes, I swore it was almost as if I was transported there—my happy place. I could hear the soft turning of my record player and the small of the floral herbs I had arranged along the large windowsills. I could even overhear Joe and Galen's voices, the warmth of their laugh flooding my memories, making our house and home, as I felt tears pool and slide down my cheeks.
Since arriving in the eighteenth-century, I had been so focused on Frank and how this would affect him. That I hadn't taken the time to actually acknowledge the one person I had relied on over the last eight years of my existence in the twenty-first century. Joe Abernathy was my best friend, my brother, my family. His husband was like the brother-in-law I always wanted, our life together was perfect. That was the family I had to choose for myself when mine had perished from this earth, and I had abandoned it, them, for Frank and then again, when I was claimed by whatever force lived in the stones.
Laying my head against my palm, I bit down on my lower lip to stop them from quivering as I felt tears in my eyes quicken their pace, and I closed them. My head was pounding, and currently, I wasn't sure if it was from the surge of emotion I felt about my loss of Joe. Or it was from all the dust I had agitated from cleaning. Either way, I coiled my arms around my legs and drew them closed into my body and crumpled myself into the centre of my chair.
"Mistress Claire?" I heard, a soft, soothing voice coo into my ear, as the tendrils of my loose curls were pushed away from my face, "Are ye awake, lass?"
"Yes, I'm just resting," I whispered, neglecting to open my eyes.
I felt the sizeable warm hand that had just moved my hair from my face, cup my cheek, sweeping away a stray tear that lingered before he retracted his hand. Taking the warmth and small gesture of comfort with him, I listened as his boots' heavy step grew softer and away from me.
"I brought ye supper." He announced as I caught the plate make a soft thud against the wood of the desk he set it on, "Since ye missed it."
"Thank you, Jamie." I replied, finally opening my eyes and met the gaze of his blue stare, "You're extremely kind and didn't have to go through the trouble of bringing it down to me."
"It's no trouble," Jamie smiled, before his lips dropped into a slight pout, "Are ye alright?"
I nodded my head gently, allowing my hair to fall and conceal my face as I pushed myself up in my chair, releasing one of my legs to drop to the floor, while I hugged the other tighter to my frame. Was I alright? The honest answer, I was not. I was the furthest thing from being alright. Yet, how would I even begin to tell him about my passage through the stones on Craigh na Dun? I peered through the curtain I had created with my hair and glanced over at him, as he started to cross the floor and close the space between us. How would I even go about telling him without seeming like I had totally lost my mind? How would he take me requesting his aid to return to the stones, to return home to another man? I took a slow breath in before releasing it; I ached to tell him everything. He deserved it, especially after all the kindness he had been granting me. Instead, I remained closed off and unmoved, hoping my face didn't betray me.
When I allowed my eyes to move from the spot they had bore into the floor and back up to where Jamie had been moments prior, he was no longer across the room from me. Instead, he was in the process of kneeling in front of me. I jumped somewhat, from being startled and felt the air hitch in my lungs as I noticed our bodies' proximity. He tenderly laid his hand on the thigh of the leg that dangled over the seat cushion, while he leaned his head upon my bent knee, attempting to catch a glimpse of my face. The same knee I currently held my forehead too.
A blush bloomed over my cheeks as I felt the rush of desire across them, while the heat of his breath danced on my lips, tempting me to close the space separating us.
"I ken there are things you wish to not share," Jamie said softly, "but you're safe with me."
"And when I'm not with you?" I asked, rivalling his tone in my own voice.
"Well just remember you're English." He said as a small smile blossomed across his lips, prompting a laugh to strangle its way from my throat.
"I'm sure Angus nor Rupert will let me forget that fact anytime soon," I replied, allowing the thought of my husky shadows to cross my mind.
"Aye." Jamie agreed.
I had expected him to pull away once I lifted my head. Yet, he remained unchanged. Incapable of moving, I sensed my heart quicken in anticipation as I observed his tongue run along his full lower lip, tempting me again, as his eyes dilated. Furrowing my brows slightly, I drew my lip beneath my teeth while his eyes darted between my mouth and eyes. I loosened my hold on my lip, parting them, about to speak, in an effort to reduce the tension that was developing between us when a light rap sounded against the door. As if he exited a trance, Jamie sprung up and away from me and was on his feet as he stood. Practically propelling himself to the other side of the chamber, and occupied himself with straightening his kilt. The knock resounded on the door, while I stood from my chair and fluffed out my petticoats and crossed the small space to the door.
Laoghaire MacKenzie's effortless smile of all her innocent youth was the first thing I noticed as I opened the door and greeted her. Stepping aside, I indicated for her to come in and watched as her pale blue eyes sparkled, and her lips broadened at the sight of Jamie as she whirled back to face me.
"Mistress Claire," She said, "The storyteller is gettin' ready in the hall, I had hoped ye'd join me."
"I…um…" I tripped over my words, as I glanced over her shoulder to Jamie.
My brain scrambled with attempting to find a reason I couldn't join her in the Hall. Not that I didn't want to, I frankly wasn't ready for my time with Jamie to conclude. I wasn't prepared to reenter the world that unquestionably existed around us.
"Mistress Beauchamp was just preparing to assist me in the stables," Jamie responded for me, "Old Alec asked me to fetch her after supper to tend to one of the new fillies."
I watched as her face fell slightly as she understood what he meant. Laoghaire nodded, causing her blonde waves to sway as I caught the small expression of disappointment crosses her features. She had hoped by inviting me to accompany her, that would be in her with Jamie. It was the oldest trick in the book, befriend the lonely mate and swoop in. I had seen it happen in countless films, never in my life had it happened to me, until now. I sighed and offered her a small sympathetic smile, and nodded. Staying quiet as I waited for Laoghaire to take her cue and mutter a feeble farewell and exited the room just as quickly as she had arrived.
"Where ye goin', lass?" Jamie inquired, with a trace of amusement in his speech as he observed me hurry to tugged on my leather ankle-boots.
"To the stables?" I countered with a small shrug of my shoulders, "you don't want to be a liar, do you, Mister McTavish?"
"Aye," He smirked, sparking the warming sensation to reappear in my lower abdomen, "I reckon I should start with McTavish is no' my last name."
I laughed, "I figured, you do have a price on your head."
Jamie's fingertips brushed my own as he guided me away from the castle and into the chilled springtime air. Welcoming the tug of my lips, I took a deep breath in and trapped the fresh air within my lungs for a second before releasing it in a long even exhale. I couldn't remember the last time I had left the confines of the castles' outer walls. It had to have been over a week; I decided as I hastened my pace to keep in stride with Jamie.
"Does the laird know that you're a wanted man?" I asked once we were away from Leoch, cutting through the silence between us.
"Aye, he and Dougal are my uncles." He replied, with a grin while his extremities nudged my own before they slid between the empty space.
This man, I thought as my face reddened for the millionth time that evening.
"So, they know what happened?"
"Dougal was there for the second flogging," Jamie stated as he opened the small gate that led to the pasture encompassing the stables.
"Jamie," I said as I chewed my inner cheek, debating whether I wanted to ask more questions concerning his criminal past or change the subject.
"Sassenach." He returned, with the nickname I was growing accept from him.
"Do you know any of the stories being told in the hall tonight?" I ultimately asked.
"Aye, I do."
"Tell me your favourite?"
Jamie nodded as he rotated to face me and lured me in the barn's direction while he took strides backwards. He was a natural storyteller. Most Scots were, I reminisced, recalling back to my time with Reggie Wakefield and his wife. The first evening Frank brought me to meet them, they narrated stories of the last Jacobite rising and the Bonnie Prince Charlie. However, none of their tales held my attention as Jamie's did.
"There once was a man," He began, "he was out late one night on a fairy hill on the eve of Samhain when he heard a woman singing, sad and plaintively from the hills' rocks."
I stopped abruptly, feeling my eyebrows raise and furrow as he chuckled lightly before he tugged me closer to his broad frame and proceeded to speak. An uncontrolled shiver raced up my backbone as Jamie spoke, and I tuned him out. Remembering just six days before I had spent upon what was known as a fairy hill in my own time. Although I had travelled on what was known as Beltane, it was a fire festival, to honour the beginning of summer. Isla Graham-Wakefield had said it a day the locals throughout the highlands to believed to be a veil between the living and deceased. It was when the unexplainable was plausible.
The unexplainable, accurately is what had happened to me. I allowed my focus to revert back to Jamie as he continued with the folklore and spoke of the woman the man met. She claimed to have fallen victim to the stones. She claimed the stones had called her as she stood upon the hill. The wind swelled, and thunder sounds rolled across the land around her, when she placed her hands upon the tallest stone and was transported to a far and distant land.
"She had lived among strangers," Jamie said, squeezing my knuckles as he drew me into his chest and I rested my chin to his breastbone, feeling the vibrations of his voice as he continued, "They became friends and lovers. And then one day, she saw the moon again, and the wind rose once more."
And so the woman had touched the stones and travelled back to her own land. She resumed life with the man she had left behind. She renewed the life she had left before her adventure, never forgetting the people she met and loved.
"She could go back?" I asked my speech hardly above a whisper.
"Aye, they always do." He replied.
It was folklore, I reiterated to myself over and over. It would have been crazy to believe it, and yet, half the things Jamie had just described had actually happened to me. Sure, my journey occurred on Beltane and not Samhain, but there was still similarities between what had happened to me and this apparent folklore. So in theory, why couldn't the other half be real? It was a very real possibility that I could return home, to Joe, to Frank, to my life.
"Do you believe it?" I questioned, "the story?"
"I'm an educated man, lass," Jamie sighed, "If I may be so bold, maybe not as educated as you but I learned Greek, Latin and such, not of childhood stories of fairies or water horses in lochs."
He paused to laugh lightly while a small smile cracked upon my face.
"I am a highlander, born and bred. So I do, in a sense, believe the stories."
"Thank you," I murmured into his chest as I hugged him tighter to my small frame.
Without realising, he had restored my sense of hope. The hope that had begun to fade away over the last six days of living at Leoch. Jamie was telling me, going home was a possibility. As he proceeded to tell me more folklore from the highlands, I found myself concentrating on an escape plan. I could leave here during the gathering; certainly, everyone would be far too taken with food and liquor to realise I was gone. And by the morning, I would be halfway to the stones, too far for them to catch and haul me back here.
"Sassenach, ye should return to the castle to sleep," Jamie spoke softly in the midst of his story, as another tiny yawn departed my lips.
"I supposed you're probably right," I agreed and began to tear away from his warmth, "Tonight was refreshing."
"Aye." Jamie admitted, "Do ye need me to walk ye back?"
I swayed my head and grinned, "I'll be okay, thank you, though. I'll see you tomorrow? I can probably remove your sutures."
"G'night, mo nighean donn." He whispered as he caressed his lips to my knuckles and released my hand.
There was a list of words he had said to me over the last few days in Gaelic, words I didn't hear the other men say. I had begun to pick up the sayings repeated in the kitchen by Mrs Fitz, along with the terms Angus would speak to Rupert when they intended to exclude me from their conversations. Though with Jamie, it was never complete sentences. It was simply a few words, added to his sentences, regularly addressing me in endearment. I looked back at Jamie as I advanced in the direction of the castle, his eyes still one me, and for the first time since arriving, I felt conflicted.
For a fleeting moment, I was beyond the moon with excitement. I had the notion of going home; however, the people of this period were growing on me. In fact, this era started to feel more like home and natural to me than the one I had left behind. I wasn't expected to be anyone or anything. I was simply, Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp, Castle Leoch healer and sassenach. There was no stress from Frank. There was no pressure from any residency program. I was simply able to be me.
The internal battle over whether it not I wanted to say lasted for the remainder of my trek back to my quarters. I knew deep down in my soul, going home, was the right thing to do. And that was what I wanted; I wanted to go home, right? I yearned for the modern conveniences I had matured into a young woman with. And hot showers were still on the top of my list of things I missed. But then again, I could live without them. The hot baths Mrs FitzGibbons had procured for me had been more than enough. And other than lacking proper coffee, eighteenth-century Scotland wasn't so different from how I was raised as a child by my Uncle Lamb. We had frequently lived off the grid near whatever excavation he was helping out on. I didn't need the modern conveniences I missed so dearly, and at that moment, I contemplated staying.
"Mistress Beauchamp, are you alright?" I turned, still frightened by my revelation to see Dougal MacKenzie standing at the top of the stairs near the kitchen doorway.
"I'm fine; thank you." I answered, tucking the tendrils of curls that had leapt free of my top-knot back behind my ears, "can I help you with something, Mister MacKenzie?"
"I thought you'd might like to visit the fiscal's wife, Geilis Duncan, she can help ye restock your shelves before the gathering." He said, shifting his weight between his feet.
"I would like that, yes." I forced a polite smile, "tomorrow?"
"Aye, I'm going into the village in the morning. I'll take ye then to Mistress Duncan's."
I hadn't even bothered to offer gratitude to the Clan MacKenzie's war chieftain, not that he would have heard it. Instead, I watched as Dougal twisted away and started back on the kitchen. Away from me as I idled at the bottom of the stairs, listening to his fading footsteps. Tomorrow, I decided as I pushed open the door to my quarters and started to fumble with the laces of my bodice. Tomorrow I would determine if I would stay here or return home. I had two more days until the gathering, if I chose to return home, that would give me plenty of opportunities to prepare and tie up any loose ends I felt I had here. Although, as I shed my clothing to the wing-chair I had occupied earlier that evening, I glanced over at the plate of untouched food Jamie had brought me.
My kind, sweet, caring friend , I mused as a faltering smile painted my lips while I shook my head and drew back the blankets to my bed. If I left, I think I would miss him the most was my last thought as my head touched my pillow.