Chapter 1: I Bring Thee Proof
“Candles...perfume...music...a winter posy of pine, pomes, and holly. All you need is some chocolate, and you’ll have yourself a traditional twentieth century Valentine’s Day,” said Claire.
“Ye think Bree will be pleased?” said Roger.
“What’s not to like?” Claire packed all the little gifts into the basket and handed it to Roger. “Do you need us to watch the children for you?”
“No. Lizzy said she’d take care of them. Besides,” Roger turned to smile at Jamie, “I’m sure ye’ll have yer own plans for the evening.”
Claire snorted, laughing a little too heartily at Roger’s assumption. “Oh indeed. I’m sure Jamie will regale me with some romantic tale or other of Saint Valentine and his bloody imprisonment.”
Jamie raised an affronted brow. “You seem to like my stories well enough when I’m telling them, Sassenach.”
“Of course I do, darling,” she placated, patting his cheek.
“I can’t thank ye enough, Claire,” said Roger. “Bringing a little of the twentieth century to Bree always makes her smile.”
“Let me know if you need anything else,” she said, walking Roger Mac to the door.
When Roger was gone, Jamie watched his wife tidy up what was left of her candles and perfumes, mumbling to herself about needing to check on the beehives in the morning.
“Ye dinna care to have a St. Valentine's romance like Roger and Bree, do ye?”
“If we were in the twentieth century, I’d most certainly expect it, but we’re not. Besides you’ve never been much for celebrating a holiday—aside from Hogmanay—especially one as frivolous as Valentine’s Day.”
“John has spoken of this increasing St. Valentine’s Day foolishness in England...presenting flowers, offering confectionery, and sending notes. Why must they wait for a celebration of a long dead saint to honor their beloved?”
“It’s just a tradition. Like Hogmanay. But instead of celebrating a new year, Valentine’s Day is a celebration between lovers.”
“Are there no’ better ways to celebrate love than wi’ trifling gifts?”
“There doesn’t need to be an exchange of gifts. The most important thing is to ensure your love knows the depth of your affection. You can do so with gifts, or acts of service, or affection. Some even write sweet sonnets or pretty verses.”
Jamie scratched his beard, his mind racing with possibilities.
“I don’t need a Valentine’s Day celebration, Jamie. As you said, you are quite apt to honor your beloved regularly, even on the most mundane of days.”
“And what if I should be the one to require a pretty verse from you, Sassenach?” he teased.
She scoffed, “Then you married the wrong woman. I have no mind for creating rhymes.”
He grabbed her hand and pulled her in close, wrapping his arms around her. His mouth hovered inches from hers, lips nearly touching. “But is it no’ St. Valentine’s Day? Doesna tradition require?”
She smiled sweetly and lifted on her toes to offer him a kiss. “Alright then. How about this:
“That I did always love
I bring thee Proof
That till I loved
I never lived—Enough—
That I shall love alway—
I argue thee
That love is life—
And life hath Immortality—”
“’Tis lovely, mo ghraidh,” he laughed. “Who wrote it?”
“How do you know I wasn’t inspired by your affections to come up with it myself?”
“Because I ken my wife, and I ken yer tongue is more prone to make poetry by licking my body than wi’ lyrics.”
As if to demonstrate his point, she licked his cheek, tongue rubbing against his three-day scruff. He chuckled deep in his chest and kissed her thoroughly.
“Fine,” she admitted, “it was Emily Dickinson. She’ll be born in America about fifty years from now.”
“’Twas beautiful.” He kissed her again. This time he spoke seriously, “Ye ken I love ye, mo ghraidh? And as yer poem says, I have no life without you.”
Her eyes grew tender, and she nodded softly.
“Have I ever told ye why it is I love ye? Why I can say the words and mean it wi’ my whole heart?”
“You’ve shared a number of those reasons in our years together, but if you’ve come up with anything new, I’d be delighted to hear. Some of the old reasons could also bear repeating now and again.”
He nodded, considering. “Perhaps I shall have another story for ye tonight, my Sassenach, to celebrate St. Valentine’s Day.” He placed a gentle kiss on her nose.
“Another story? More sperms?”
“No. I’d be a fool to make light of a lovers’ special day to my own beloved.”
“Smart man.” Her eyes were alight with anticipation. “What do you have up your sleeve, James Fraser?”
“I mean to tell ye just what ye mean to me, mo chridhe. I mean to tell ye...that I did always love...and that I will bring thee proof.”
“Mmmm. Perhaps I shouldn’t put my perfumes away just yet? Shall I find one suitable for the occasion?”
“No. Come to bed after supper...just as you are.”
Chapter 2: The Life of a Stone
“The candlelight becomes ye, Sassenach.” The flame flickered warm light over her skin as her shift fell to the floor.
“May I ask why your story requires my nudity?” she spoke humorously, though didn’t put up any resistance.
“Weel,” Jamie pulled off his shirt and hung it over the back of the chair, “this tale is no’ just told wi’ words.” He unbuckled his belt and removed his kilt, tossing them aside.
He stepped in close to his beautiful wife, letting their skin touch lightly. “It will require the use of my hands…” he placed them on her cheeks, “...my lips…” he kissed her softly, “...and a few other pieces and parts.”
“But no sperms?”
“No promises, Sassenach.” He swatted her bottom. “Now go lay down.”
She rubbed her nose playfully against his before following his direction. She lay flat on the bed, naked save the flickering shadows and firelight. He stood over her, staring and admiring.
“God, Christ, I love every bit of ye,” he moaned.
She was biting her lip, eyes hooded and dark with want, watching him watch her. He pulled his cock left and right in a vain attempt to soothe his building ache.
He forced himself to focus on the task at hand. He had a purpose tonight, and he couldn’t allow carnal desire to interfere with his plan. Chastity was a heavenly virtue, after all...so was patience.
He slid on the bed next to Claire, laying on his side to face her. “Close yer eyes, mo nighean donn.” He ran a finger gently over her lids. “And dinna move a muscle...
“Our story begins in a grand castle in Scotland wi’ a powerful and wretched Laird…”
James Fraser was an arrogant, depraved wretch of a man.
He was born from the union of a beloved Laird who brought wealth and prosperity to his people and a beautiful, kind lady, esteemed by all.
He led a charmed and happy life, doted on by villagers and visitors alike. All the children in the Highlands loved him, feeding off his joy and enthusiasm. Even the strange little girl who lived near the dun would light up when he came to call, picking him wild berries and flowers to take home to his family.
Sadly, Jamie’s mother died before he grew into a man. The loss was devastating to the whole clan, and it wrecked young Jamie. Caught up in own grief and pain, Jamie’s father spoiled him rotten, fearful of causing his son any more pain than he’d already suffered.
His mother’s death and father’s indulgence did Jamie no favors. He grew cold and hard, selfish and entitled. He eased his pain with indulgence and had no desire for self-control or temperance.
And when his father died, the young man’s heart hardened further, draining away the last of any goodness he had left.
James took the fortune his father left him and built an immense castle as a monument to his own grandeur. And in that castle, he held the most magnificent gatherings to display his wealth and self-importance for all the other clan leaders to defer and admire.
He filled his tables with the livestock of his people, even as he demanded higher coin for their rents. His people were too fearful of his mighty wrath to refuse his unreasonable demands—no little number of clansmen had met their demise at the point of his blade for their resistance.
He had not yet married, unable to find the perfect wife worthy enough to bear his heir, but that did not stop him from bedding any lass that suited his fancy.
One night at one of his famed gatherings, he overheard a young woman talk of a new castle that was recently built in the northernmost part of the Highlands. “’Tis the largest castle I’ve e’er seen! It has seven grand stone towers around its edge, and thrumming music fills the halls on the nights of the great equinox and solstice festivals!”
“What is this ye say?” said James, his eyes flaring in frustrated disbelief. “I’ve no’ heard of such a castle.”
The woman shrank back. She hadn’t realized he was listening in on their conversation. “Oh, ’tis naught to yer castle, my Laird. Only something to attract the fancy of the farmers and children and such.”
“A bland looking thing, to be sure, my Laird,” someone else chimed in.
“Small, from what I could tell.”
“It was only five towers, come to think of it.”
“Three by my eye.”
James allowed the people to placate him, knowing it was impossible for a castle grander than his own to be built in such a short time. The Laird shrugged off the rumors as the foolish gossip of simple folk. He rejoined the festivities, consuming all the food and drink he could stomach.
As he was hunting down a lass or two to end the evening with, he overheard talk yet again of this mysterious northern castle.
“Seven grand towers that reach up into the clouds.”
“Glittering gemstones in the very walls.”
“Inhabited by a beautiful Lady wi’ more riches than the Highlands have ever seen.”
James hunted down more whisky, a jealous rage burning deep in his belly at the thought of another in the Highlands having something grander than him. As he poured another glass, he heard more talk of the mysterious castle.
“The closer I rode toward it, the more the fog obscured the path. I found myself turned ‘round no matter how hard I tried to come close.”
“Perhaps we should attempt to visit when it’s raining so there willna be any fog to stand in our way.”
James grew livid with the increased chatter taking place in the middle of his own marvelous gathering. When he finally had enough, he lashed out at the roomful of terrified guests, “Get out! Get out, you ungrateful swine!”
He sent them all away in the middle of the night during a dark and violent storm.
In a vain attempt to calm his agitation, he allowed three beautiful lasses to stay with him to ease his wounded pride…
“Three?” Claire peeked out of the side of her eye at her husband. “The Laird James Fraser needed three women to ease his wounded pride?”
“He’s a filthy lecher, mo ghraidh. Now close yer eyes, and let me get on wi’ the tale.”
“Indeed he is. I hope his future wife is just as filthy and lecherous, needing multiple lovers to fill her needs until the time comes they should marry.”
“Aye, the lady may likely require more than just three wi’ her appetite.”
She smacked him on the leg in admonishment. “This is a strange tale to share on Valentine’s Day.”
He chuckled quietly. “Be patient, Sassenach. We've only just started. Now, where was I before ye rudely interrupted?”
In a vain attempt to calm his agitation, he allowed three beautiful lasses—yes three, Sassenach—to stay with him that night to ease his wounded pride, but it still was not enough to settle the restlessness growing in his heart.
He didn’t sleep. He tossed and he turned and he raged that someone would dare attempt to build something grander than his home.
So that morning, he donned his shield and blade and rode out north to find this mystical castle, eager to meet the stranger who built it.
It took days to reach the northernmost point of Scotland. It was cold and wet and uncomfortable for a Laird who’d grown accustomed to all the luxuries of life.
Early in the morning on the third day of his excursion, he caught sight of a structure far in the distance. It took hours of riding in the rain to close the gap enough to see the distinct features of the castle. Those that had spoken of it at his gathering had not exaggerated its magnificence.
It sat high atop a large hill, surrounded by a boggy moor. Seven immense towers rose up in a circle, disappearing high into the clouds. They were connected by a curtain of stone walls that glittered with a rainbow of gemstones embedded in the mortar.
The closer he came to the castle, the more fog rose up around him, making it ever harder to see where he was going. For some time, he was concerned that he—like the others that came before him—would be turned around before finding his way.
That fear, however, proved false. The fog seemed to be leading right to the front door.
The closer he came, the slower he rode. An ominous feeling of dread grabbed hold of his spine even as his eyes were hypnotized by the precious gems. All logic and reason told him to go back and pretend he never set eyes on the castle, but like a moth to a flame, he was helpless in his ability to turn away.
He was surprised to find the portcullis open, not a guard nor servant in sight. A strange thing, for certain, in a place built with the treasure of kings.
A heavy layer of fog covered the grounds of the bailey. And though twilight had overtaken the skies, the glitter of gems never ceased to shine.
His heart hammered wildly as he dismounted his horse and tied him up outside the front door of the keep. Slowly, he stepped over the threshold.
Earthy scents of herbs and plants lingered in the air. Echoes of his footsteps bounced off the stone walls, dancing high up in the rafters in the entrance hall.
He made his way into a great room that could befit a gathering of a thousand clansmen, but the room was completely empty of both people and furniture.
Seven slabs of rugged stone stood in a circle in the middle of the room. James edged closer, eyes transfixed on what sat atop each stone. The largest gems he’d ever seen lay on top of each one, casting brilliant fractals of light all over the walls.
Diamond, emerald, ruby, sapphire, amethyst, citrine, and opal. Just one of those gems could build him an entire castle all on it’s own. All seven of them would make him as rich as a king.
He proceeded into the center of the circle, not knowing if the loud buzzing was coming from his heart or from the stones themselves. He looked around the room one last time to ensure no one was there. Surely, a Laird or Lady who could afford to build a castle with gemstones in the walls could spare a few scraps for his neighbor.
He stepped up to the stone slab that held the opal and did his best to steady his shaky hands. Ever so slowly, he reached out and grasped the gemstone, pulling it away from its stone altar.
The light of the opal diminished as he gathered his plaid and shoved the gem inside. Then, he moved to the diamond. On and on he went, taking gemstones from their altars until there were none left, each one losing their light when he held them in his hands.
All at once, the lights went out in the great hall, and the buzzing completely stopped. The quiet he heard was not the quiet of the Highlands. There was no wind or rain. No birds nor beasts. The absence of sound was more oppressive on his ears than a thousand raging bagpipes in the middle of a battle.
A jolt of fear shot through him, knowing something wasn’t right. He bolted for the door as quickly as he could, but when he reached the edge of the stone circle, it was as though the air around him had turned into a large, invisible wall.
“No...no!” he yelled, racing to the other side of the circle, desperate to find another way out. But the invisible wall surrounded him, trapping him in. He could see nothing and hear even less as he searched for an exit.
Coming to his senses, he grabbed the gems in his plaid and began running around the circle, placing each one back on a stone altar, clinging to the hope that once the stones were sated, they’d let him be back on his way.
How very wrong he was. As soon as he put a gem on a stone slab, it was as though the inside of the rock was made of liquid, and the gem absorbed deep within the impenetrable altar of stone.
There he was, trapped alone in the dark, all his gems lost to the treacherous magic of the castle. “Help!” he cried. “Let me go! I’ll do whatever ye want. I’ll pay whatever ye ask! I swear it to ye! I’ll pay my penance!”
Quiet unearthly laughter echoed in the rafters above. A flutter of wings sounded as the laughter descended to the ground.
“Hello?” he called out into the darkness. “Who’s there?”
“James Fraser,” said an otherworldly voice, “I knew you’d come.”
“Who are ye? How d’ye ken my name?”
“I know everything about you, young Laird,” the voice echoed all around him. “I know the darkest places in your wretched soul.”
The air in the circle was growing hot and heavy around him, and he struggled with all his might to pull it in his lungs. His arms and legs grew heavy, making it harder and harder to move.
“What’s happening to me?” he cried. “What are ye doing to me?”
“You’ve stolen the gems of the Circle of Seven Stones. They demand payment for your treachery.”
“Payment?” he gasped, his body freezing up, petrifying into stone.
“You tried to steal what gives them life, so now they wish to take your own.”
“My life? No! No! I’ll do anything they want. I’ll pay whatever price they demand!”
Laughter echoed around him as the scent of fire and brimstone filled his nose.
“Please! I’ll...do...anything,” he was losing his voice along with his movement. “Anything...”
“An offense against the Auld Ones requires payment threefold.”
Threefold! he thought to himself, no longer able to move his lips to speak. He stole seven gemstones. He’d have to pay three times that to buy his freedom. He didn’t even have one! Impossible!
“Pay your debt to each stone, one gem times three, and you’ll find your freedom awaiting you on the other side.”
How can I pay a debt when I canna even move to find a bloody gem?
Laughter echoed in his ears as his body turned to stone...until that sound, too, was gone.
He could not hear, nor see, nor touch, taste, or smell. He couldn’t even move or breathe. His heart was cold and still in his chest.
And finally...he could no longer remember who he was. His memory was wiped clean away. He could only recall that he was a man who rode uninvited to a glittering castle and stole its treasure, turning him to stone.
All that remained in him was fear and pain and agony and sin.
He was most certainly in Hell, chaos and rage battering away at what was left of his useless mind.
There was no Time in Hell. Only the endless agony of drowning in his own sin.
He was utterly helpless, more so than a newborn babe, for they had the power to cry for help.
Like a punch to the wame, a sudden gust of air knocked into James, sending him flying back into one of the seven stones of the circle. He thought he’d crash against it and crumble into a million pieces, but just as it had done to the gemstone before him, the slab turned liquid and pulled him inside.
Chapter 3: Give Me Thine Ear
“You see what happens when you spend the night with three lasses?” Claire snapped. “You turn to stone and get sent to an alternate dimension.”
“Aye,” said Jamie, grinning at his wife’s jealousy, pressing his lips softly behind her ear.
Her hand reached down and grabbed his cock. “Uh oh, you’ve already begun to turn to stone...do you have something to confess, James Fraser?”
He reluctantly moved her hand off his cock.
“Hush now, wife, and give me thine ear.” He took her lobe gently between his teeth, eliciting a shiver and a squeak. “We still have a long journey ahead of us.”
The absence of sound did not make for a quiet mind. James Fraser’s head was a tumultuous storm of pain and suffering. He existed only with his sin and the misery that accompanied it.
Part of him wondered how stealing a few gems from an abandoned castle could earn him a punishment like this. But the other part somehow knew that his absence of memory held the answer to that question. Were he faced with the truth of his wretchedness, he would find plenty of transgressions to earn him this fate worse than death.
The agony of his sins was only so great because of the gravity of the offenses he’d committed to begin with. If he was a pure man, his sins would be easy to bear, not this endless torture he currently found himself in.
The reality of his soul-deep wickedness struck him like a great wave battering down on a rocky shore, drowning him in the shame and guilt of deeds he couldn’t even recall.
He would’ve sobbed if he could breathe or make a sound. He yearned for the capacity to cry tears.
And the worst of it was that he was all alone with his regret. No one would ever understand the terrible state of his existence. No one could help soothe the anguish of his damaged soul.
He’d never been more lonely in all his life.
Then again...maybe he had.
He longed for someone to hear his pain, to not be so terribly alone.
But as his sins raged like a hurricane within, he knew that even if someone could come help him, no one would ever want to. Who could stomach the presence of a monster so dreadful? Of a being overflowing with depravity?
He wasn’t worthy of anyone’s mercy. He’d earned this shame, regret, and sorrow.
But to his surprise, a soft, warm breath tickled his ear. The absence of pain in that one place in his body was such a shock, that the rest of his wretchedness was almost forgotten for the smallest of moments.
A soothing sassenach’s voice whispered, “One does not have to earn mercy, Jamie. Grace is a gift given freely by those who love.”
If he could’ve sucked in a breath, he would’ve done so. But he couldn’t move nor breathe nor speak. So he lay there in gratitude for the beautiful sound...something he never thought he’d experience again. It was the one thing in his existence that wasn’t constant agony.
“Talk to me, Jamie,” the voice said. “Make me understand.”
He couldn’t talk, but he knew she could still somehow listen. And so he let the pain of his sins and anguish roll through him. He felt wave after wave of shame and regret for all he’d done to deserve this fate.
As he shared his pain with the ethereal voice, he felt her breath on his other ear. “That’s right, darling. Unburden your sins. Repent and confess. Share your pain.”
He opened his mind to the goodness of her voice and shared every filthy piece of himself there was. For a time, he feared his vileness would chase her away, but no matter what she heard, she stayed, whispering calm, loving words into his ear.
When all of the worst of him had been revealed, a peace washed over him unlike anything he’d ever felt before. To be seen so clearly and to still be loved...it was the purest form of healing he’d ever known.
And with his peace, he found something new inside himself...that of curiosity for another.
Who was the voice in his ears? Who was the woman who listened to his pain and took it away? He wanted to know more. He wanted to know her.
Who are ye? How did ye find me? he thought as loud as he could, hoping she’d hear.
“I am the Wise-Woman. I found you on a faerie hill where I was picking flowers.”
D’ye like flowers, then?
“I love flowers and plants and all sorts of green things…”
And so his body of stone lay at peace, listening to the sweetest voice talk about all manner of things that gave her pleasure. And the more she spoke, the more pleasure it gave him...and the more he wanted to hear…
Claire whimpered as Jamie licked down the slope of her ear. He rained kisses all over it, from the very top to the bottom of her lobe.
“So, the Wise-Woman healed his ears by listening to him?” she asked.
“Aye...and healed much of his soul by teaching him how to listen in turn.”
“Can he hear everything now? Or just her voice?”
“Oh, he can hear most things well...except perhaps music. Some damage canna be undone.”
Claire chuckled pleasantly as Jamie returned his lips’ attentions to her other ear.
“Does the Wise-Woman heal any other parts of our Laird?” she asked eagerly. “And will you be demonstrating that healing with your lips too?”
“Ready for more, mo ghraidh?”
“Mmm, yes please. Listening is healing, after all.”
Jamie licked in her ear, causing her to squeal like a piglet before he pressed on.
The Wise-Woman had grown very fond of Jamie for reasons he couldn’t fathom. She listened to his tragic tale and decided to help him find whatever gemstones she could.
Never had he felt so grateful. Never had he felt so humbled by someone’s kindness.
“I know two other healers that could possibly help,” she said. “You’ll be safe here on the hill while I go find them.”
He was powerless to show his gratitude, but hoped she could feel it in her soul.
When he was left alone again, memory of his sins remained, but the peace she instilled in him sheltered him from their ongoing destruction. He was able to wait by himself without the agony of before. It also helped that the sounds of birds chirping and the wind rustling through the trees were there to keep him company...he’d never realized just how beautiful they were before.
She returned, as she said she would, with two other healers at her side. He relished the sounds of their footsteps clambering up the hill to meet him.
“This is him?” said a calm, soft voice. “The poor man.” Her tones were a little deeper, a seasoned maturity wrapped around every word.
“He’s lucky he’s not dead! Goddamn bloody bastard,” a different voice echoed through the chambers of his mind, this one belonging to a spritely young woman with a tongue of an adder.
“He’s not out of the woods yet,” said the older woman.
Jamie felt soft lips on his ear, and relished the return of his friend. The Wise-Woman spoke in her gentle, calming tone, “This is Mistress Beauchamp and Dr. Randall. They’re here to help.”
“Hmphm!” said Mistress Beauchamp. “I’m not sure I want to help just yet. What kind of arrogant son of a bitch steals gemstones from the Fair Folk?”
I didna ken they belonged to the Fair Folk! he tried to say, but his mouth wouldn’t move to form the words.
“But you knew they weren’t yours!” Mistress Beauchamp responded.
“Hello, Mr. Fraser,” said Dr. Randall.
Have ye come to help me?
“Of course we have. We’re healers,” she said. “That’s what we were born to do.”
James could hear some shuffling around, as though the doctor was digging through a bag of medical supplies.
“Alright,” she said, “let’s take a look at those hands.”
His hands! He never thought he’d get feeling in his hands again nor have a chance to move them. How wonderful would it be to touch the Wise-Woman. To offer her comfort the way she’d offered it to him.
The sounds of Dr. Randall’s movements were pleasant on his ears after so long without hearing any sounds at all.
“Oh dear,” she said. “It looks like the fingers on your right hand crumbled during your fall.”
Crumbled? If his stomach wasn’t already stone, it would’ve turned into jagged rocks at the sound of the word.
“I found the ring finger!” said the Wise-Woman from somewhere off to his left. She ran forward and gave it to Dr. Randall.
“Wonderful!” said Dr. Randall. “And I might be able to make something of his forefinger. The middle one is beyond repair.”
“Are you sure you want to mend his hands?” said Mistress Beauchamp. “Look at them. They’re stained with blood. He’ll likely just go on to sully them again.”
“We took an oath, Mistress Beauchamp. We cannot leave him to such a fate if there’s something we can do.”
Shame filled Jamie’s soul, knowing Mistress Beauchamp had the measure of him better than anyone else.
The lass is right, he said in his mind, I’m a beast of man and dinna deserve yer kindness. And there’s little chance I’d ever be able to repay ye.
“Everyone deserves kindness, Jamie,” said Dr. Randall. “And you can repay us by keeping your hands clean in the future, should the rest of you ever be healed.”
Aye...I swear it. I vow I shall never strike out to harm another again, save in protection of innocent life.
“Careful your vows, Mr. Fraser,” said Mistress Beauchamp. “The Circle will hold you to them.”
It wasn’t long before Jamie felt the sensation of a butterfly’s wings fluttering over his right hand. Gentle tingling quickly turned to a prickling burn as his hand began its awakening from a prolonged slumber.
As she moved to his left side, his right hand came fully to life. He could feel the grass beneath his palms, and he clutched at it, digging his fingers into the cool, moist dirt. His middle finger was missing, but that was nothing when he worried only moments before that he’d never have use of his hands again.
Dr. Randall fixed his left hand with more ease than his right, not having been damaged in his fall. As soon as he could move it again, he grabbed her hand and held it firmly in his.
Thank ye, he grunted in his mind, putting all his feeling into the thought. I am e’er at yer mercy.
She stroked his palm, sending gooseflesh over his skin.
A flood of warmth and life came over him, being truly touched for the first time. Touching another with tenderness and affection in a way he never had before. Pleasure and joy soared through him, and he promised himself he’d never waste another touch again. He’d never use his hands for the sake of harm, but to devote his life to inspiring this feeling in others.
Jamie looked down at the scars on his right hand, streaks of silver in the pale moonlight. He stroked his fingers over Claire’s palm, causing her whole body to quiver.
He brought her hand up to his lips and placed a kiss on her knuckles, and then he moved to the other and did the same.
Claire’s surgeon hands were the reason he was still alive to this day. They were the reason his hand was intact and not chopped off after festering for days.
Her lover’s hands gave his body life when they touched his skin. He kissed both her palms, licking them softly to hear her moan.
He sucked on her fingers one by one, tasting the herbs of her garden that always seemed to linger there no matter how hard she tried to scrub them clean.
“The most beautiful hands I’ve ever seen,” he whispered. “Wi’out them, I’d be ashes and dust.”
“Go on, Mistress Beauchamp,” said Dr. Randall. “It’s your turn.”
“I’m not sure I want to help this man,” said Mistress Beauchamp. “He was entitled and arrogant, stealing those gems. Why should I give voice to such vanity and pride?”
Ye’re right, he thought, I dinna deserve yer help. I wouldna blame ye for leaving me here to die.
He could almost hear her roll her eyes. “I’m not going to let you die, James Fraser, tempted as I may be.”
She sat down next to him and pinched his ear—one of the only two places he had any feeling.
He laughed in his mind, amused by her fire.
“Why should I help you?” she asked.
By all rights, ye shouldn’t .
“Do you genuinely believe that?”
Aye. I do.
He might have imagined a ghost of a touch over his lips.
“You’ve a beautiful, wide mouth,” she said. “It would be a shame to give control of it to an awful man. A man more concerned about his self-importance than the care of others. What would you use your lips for should I give them back to you?”
They’d be completely at yer service, Mistress.
Her giggle was music to his newly freed ears, and another ghost of a touch ran across his bottom lip. “And how would you serve me?”
He smiled softly, thinking of all the things he could do with his mouth...then he realized that he was able to smile! His lips were softening, slowly gaining the ability to move.
He still couldn’t speak, so he told her with his mind, I wouldna presume to ken how to serve you, Mistress. I’m sure yer sharp tongue is perfectly capable of telling me the best way to do so yourself.
“Well then, you are a quick study, aren’t you?” she said against his lips. “Beginning to realize that the world does not revolve around you and your whims?”
A hard learned lesson.
She placed her mouth over his, and blew a deep breath of air. Again and again she did so, until his lungs were full and he was once again breathing on his own. But he gave up his newfound ability to take in air when her tongue dipped in his mouth and licked his own, bringing it to life.
He groaned aloud as he kissed her, lips moving passionately together. His ability to make sounds were inconsequential when her mouth was on his.
“Mistress…” he moaned when she pulled away.
“Oh, I knew you’d have a lovely voice, Jamie,” she said.
“I dinna ken how to thank ye. How to thank all three of ye.”
Though he could hear and speak and feel the grass he lay on, he was still stuck, unmoving save for his hands and mouth. He couldn’t even see the kind healers who had taken care of him.
Jamie straddled his wife’s body, fingers linked with hers, as they kissed deeply. He could kiss her for hours...for days...for the rest of their lives.
She was squirming beneath him, trying to rub her body against his, but he pulled away, knowing they had so much further to go.
She grunted in frustration and gave up her attempts to overpower him. “Fine. Back to your story. So Mistress Beauchamp was able to breathe life back into stone?”
“Aye,” he kissed her softly. “She had a mouth that spoke true. One that was no’ prideful nor boastful. One whose counsel should be listened to...a woman to learn from. One whose filthy words would make St. Paul roll over in his grave.”
“St. Paul can mind his own bloody business.”
“Aye,” Jamie agreed, “he can.” He kissed her smiling lips once more.
“It’s time,” said the Wise-Woman. “We’ve done all we can do for you, Jamie. We must send you back through the stones to the Circle you came from.”
“But…” he wasn’t ready to leave them yet. “Ye saved me. When all was lost...when I was nothing but dust on the earth...ye saved me. Ye took pity on a filthy wretch, ye took away my pain, and ye gave me more than I deserve. I havena done enough to thank ye.”
“A gift does not require payment, remember?” said the Wise-Woman.
“And you can thank us by keeping your vows,” said Mistress Beauchamp.
“’Tis no’ enough,” said Jamie.
“Humility suits you, darling,” said Dr. Randall.
Then Jamie’s hands felt the grass move beneath him. The buzzing in the air told him they were bringing him closer to a standing stone.
“You’ll need payment to make it back,” said the Wise-Woman. “This will be our final gift to you.”
She came up close and kissed him softly behind the ear, placing a large smooth stone in his hand—an opal, perhaps—before she disappeared.
“Where did she go?” Jamie yelled in panic. “What happened to her?”
Dr. Randall took his hand in hers and bent down to kiss it, leaving another opal in the place of her lips before she disappeared too.
“Don’t go!” he begged Mistress Beauchamp, knowing what would come.
Her lips pressed softly against his, and she disappeared, leaving a third opal in his hand.
“No!” he yelled, terrified of being alone again. And worse, knowing that he didn’t deserve the gifts they’d given him.
And just as before, the stone he leaned against turned to liquid and pulled him back through…
“No!” he cried. “Where are they? What happened to them?”
“They’re gone,” the bodiless voice echoed around him in the Circle of Seven Stones.
“Why? Why would they sacrifice themselves for the likes of me? I’ve done naught to deserve such a thing!”
“You felt entitled to take the gems that give life to the stone circle, why do you not feel entitled to the gems that gave life to your saviors?”
“I was wrong! I ken that now! I’m no better than anyone else, and certainly not them.”
“They made their choice for the sake of their souls...and yours.”
Tears of grief fell from his eyes. He couldn’t move his arms to wipe them away, so they soaked into his stone flesh, absorbing into his hard skin. “’Tis no’ fair,” he wept. “I finally found peace, and it was taken away for the sake of this wretched curse! Ye already took my body and my mind, and now ye’re taking the people I love! Can I no’ have some bit of happiness?”
“Happiness? You think you’re capable of happiness? In your life you had everything you could possibly want, and still happiness eluded you. You’ve had wealth beyond measure, yet you still stole from others and gave naught in return. None of that ever brought you happiness. You're insatiable, you fool.”
The wind started picking up around him, and the buzzing in his ears grew once again.
“Perhaps I’ll send you to a place that will teach you things can always get worse.”
“God, no! Please, no!”
“Now, really,” said Claire. “The poor man is grieving! Can’t he have a moment to process his pain?”
“Ye’ve a soft heart, Sassenach.”
“Perhaps I do, but you know what grief is like. Imagine being torn from the ones you love so quickly, then being sent off to endure more tortures without a chance to catch your breath.”
He thought of Culloden and the acute ache of losing the one he loved so dearly. “I dinna have to imagine.”
She looked abashed and ran a tender hand down his cheek. “I know you don’t.”
“And now, neither does our Laird.”
“Right.” She braced herself. “On with it then.”
Rain was pouring down on the moor. Jamie kept spitting and sputtering out water, trying to stop himself from drowning as he lay frozen in the stone circle. His hands ached as the cold, filthy puddles rose up around him. His jaw shivered, teeth clattering noisily in his ears.
Part of him wanted to just give up trying. What purpose was there in life if naught but sadness and heartache lie before him?
The Auld One in the Circle of Seven Stones had called him insatiable. Said he’d never be happy. Never be satisfied.
Was it too much to ask for peace? Was it too much to ask for something more? Perhaps to walk again? Or see? Was it too much to ask for shelter and food?
If only he could just be warm and dry.
If only he could have Mistress Beauchamp back...or the Wise-Woman...or Dr. Randall.
He could be happy if only...
“Hello, young man,” said a cheerful voice. “Why are you lying in the mud? And in the rain, no less?”
“I canna get up,” he groaned.
“Because I...I’m…” he stopped himself. There was no use trying to explain. “Never mind me, woman. Go on about yer business.”
“Do you need help?”
“No’ the kind of help you or anyone else can give.”
“Divine intervention perhaps?”
“I’m none so sure even God can save me.”
“I doubt verra much that ye do.”
“Well then,” she chirped. With a little bit of grunting and shuffling next to him, he realized the woman had lain down beside him.
“What are ye doing, lass?” he grumbled.
“Indeed.” She coughed and sputtered a moment. “No wonder you’ve got your eyes closed, man. The rain is coming down so hard, it’s impossible to see.”
“The mud is quite squishy and pleasant though, isn’t it?” she said, squirming around and humming next to him. “I haven’t lain in the mud since I was a child.”
He grumbled audibly, just wanting some peace.
“You know,” she rambled on, “I’ve heard of places where mud is used cosmetically...it’s good for the skin. Absorbs oil and detoxifies…”
“Christ, woman, would ye leave me be?”
“Oh. I see. You want silence?”
“Yes. You’re right. Silence is important for reflection and introspection. It’s necessary for meditation. Let’s be silent together and listen to the sounds of nature around us.”
“Meditation?” he groaned. He was about to contradict her, but thought it not worth the effort.
They lay there quietly, two people in a boggy moor, surrounded by magical standing stones. Rain pelted down over them, falling like angry teardrops on his face. He could hear heavy droplets bounce off the stones and splash in the muddy puddles.
He could also hear the steady breathing of the woman beside him who occasionally spit water out the side of her mouth.
A strange creature she was, seemingly unaffected by his morose bitterness and the freezing downpour they were lying in.
“Why are ye here?” he asked, this time speaking with genuine curiosity.
“Because you need me.”
“I told ye, none can help me. I’m ruined. And ye shouldna care to try. Everyone who touches me dies.”
“So you think your touch is poison?”
“I think it must be, aye.”
Quietly, softly, she grabbed his hand, threading her fingers through his.
“Tell me about them,” she said. “Tell me of the ones you lost.”
His tears fell along with the rain. “I lost the lass who listened to the worst of my soul and loved me anyway. And the one who touched me and made me feel something again. And the one who breathed life into me when my lungs were made of stone.” He was weeping now, drowning in emptiness.
She stroked the back of his hand with her thumb. Her touch conveyed a sympathy that told him she knew his pain all too well.
“Who was it you lost?” he asked, guessing at the source of her sympathy.
“My husband…” she paused. A tremor went through her hand. “His ship went down at sea.”
“I’m so verra sorry.” And not just for her grief...but for his lack of kindness upon their meeting.
“It’s alright. I found a way to go on...after a time.”
“How? How did ye find the strength?”
“To be honest, I didn’t do it on my own. I leaned on another until I got my legs under me again.”
He considered what that might be like. What moving on would mean. “Why does the thought of moving on fill me with guilt?”
“Because you wish it wasn’t you who survived. You wish it was them. You feel disloyal for moving on when they didn’t get the chance to do the same.”
“Aye.” Pain gripped his lifeless heart.
“Tell me this. Would they want you to waste your life drowning in the cold mud on an empty moor?”
If he could’ve hung his head in shame, he would’ve done so. “Of course not. They gave their lives so that I might have mine.”
“And this is how you honor them?”
“Mmphm. May I ask how you honored your husband?”
She snorted loudly, bouncing up and down in a fit of giggles. “No! You most certainly may not. But this isn’t about me. This is about you.”
“Perhaps life willna be as fulfilling wi’out them. Perhaps my life means less wi’out them in it.”
“Perhaps. I suppose you’ll never know…especially if you don’t try.”
“How is it for you? Is life wi’out yer husband as happy as life was wi’ him?”
She was quiet...her answer clear.
“That’s what I thought,” he grumbled. “Is no’ the unfairness maddening? It shouldna be this way. Some get to spend their lives wi’ the ones they love, and others waste their lives by treating the ones they love poorly. If I only had a chance to...”
“But you don’t! ” she snapped. “And neither do I. Wanting what you can’t have, or envying what others have only leads to misery.”
“But if I just…”
“Well you can’t! Stop comparing yourself to others. And stop comparing your life now to what it once was. It’ll never make you happy.”
“Then what d'ye suggest I do?”
“Focus on what’s front you, on the things you still have, and the emptiness won’t seem so profound.”
“In front of me? I’m frozen and near drowning in a bog! I canna see, and I canna move! Whatever I once was is gone, and if ever I try to get it back, I seem to lose more and more. There is naught in front of me to fill my emptiness!”
“You’d be surprised the things you still have. And you know, things can always get worse.”
He huffed a pained breath. “And is that supposed to make me feel better?”
“It is, in fact. Look at what you have now.” She squeezed his hand.
“All I have now is nosy besom of a companion wi’ a vulgar curiosity about my circumstance.”
“You have a friend, Jamie.”
“A friend?” He wondered how she knew his name.
“For what it’s worth.”
For what it’s worth. He supposed it was worth something. For a moment, his friend had helped him forget how cold he was...how wet and uncomfortable.
“I...I suppose ’tis some consolation.”
“And you have ears to hear me, and a voice to talk to me. They say conversation is healing, you know.”
He smiled at an old memory of a Wise-Woman he once knew. “Aye. I ken that.”
“If you compare your life to others...or if you compare your life to what it once was...there will only be more pain. Envy is wanting what you can’t have; gratitude is appreciating what is already yours.”
“Gratitude.” Another tear fell down his cheek. Did he not promise to never take for granted the touch of hand? Did he not promise that he’d never forget what it felt like to not hear the wind blow and the birds sing? That he’d never forget the agony of being alone with his pain and having no one to share it with?
“Aye,” he said. “Ye’re right, of course. I havena been honoring the ones I loved. I must endeavor to do better...for them...and for me.”
She squeezed his hand affectionately. “So then, I ask you again, my friend...do you require any assistance?”
“Aye,” he laughed. “And I’d be grateful for any help ye can spare.”
She let go of his hand and sat up next to him, shuffling around to prepare to assist him.
“I havena asked ye, lass. What is yer name?”
“I am Lady John. And you are James Fraser.”
“Aye. I am.”
A wave of sensation moved down his legs as Lady John’s hands massaged life into them. Every drop of rain could be felt on his skin. His stockings were wet, and his kilt was soaked, but it didn’t bother him in the slightest when he was finally able to bend his knees.
“Oh God! Oh Christ!” he moaned. Lady John massaged his thighs and his calves deep and strong, and he felt life flowing through them again.
It took some time for her to help him stand, mostly because his feet still didn’t work. Once she got him upright, she moved in front of him with her back to his chest, and said, “Lean on me, Jamie. I know some people who might be able to help you with a few other things. We’ll start with Milady. She’s been known to help lost souls find their footing.”
“Aye,” he said. “I could most certainly use that. And I’ll be sure to be ever grateful.”
Jamie squeezed Claire’s thighs, her plump flesh molding to his hands. She spread her legs, inviting him in the space between.
Wicked wee seductress.
“Are ye even listening to the story, Sassenach? Or are ye only focused on getting to the climax?”
“Oh, I’m enjoying every step of this journey...though you can’t blame me for hoping for a tease of the ending now and again.”
“You wouldna glimpse the ending of a book before reading it through, would ye?”
“Of course I would. I’m a doctor. Medical research journals always give summaries of their findings at the beginning of the articles.”
Jamie snorted in disgust while continuing his leisurely adoration of his wife’s lower limbs.
“Well, don’t stop now,” said Claire. “What happened after Lady John helped give our Laird his legs back? Did she take him to Milady to find his footing?”
He lifted her leg, kissing down the inside, enjoying the way it made her squirm. “Aye...she did.”
“God, it’s warm,” said Jamie, lying on a cot next to the fire, a large, dry blanket wrapped snugly around him.
“You’re comfortable, Monsieur Fraser?” said Milady, her French accent infused with concern.
“Aye…” he sighed, surprised at what a difference an hour made. Lady John sat next to him, holding his hand as Milady tended to his warmth. “I canna thank ye enough for letting me into yer home and caring for me. I ken I’ve done naught to earn yer trust.”
“You wouldn’t be the first heathen I’ve allowed into my home and my heart,” said Milady. “Now, let’s get these boots off to dry by the fire.”
Her hands were gentle and firm as she peeled off his boots and stockings. He could almost hear the hiss of the water evaporating off them from a few feet away.
“Your feet are filthy, Monsieur. Allow me to cleanse them with soap and water.”
“Och, no. I canna allow ye to do that.” He wished he could bow his head or shrink away in embarrassment.
“And why not?”
“Why not? Because I am a vagrant imposing on the kindness and hospitality of a Lady. I shallna have ye debase yerself so for the likes of me. If ye dinna have a servant to do it for ye, then I shall go wi’ filthy feet.”
Her laughter embarrassed him further, but the sound was like music, so he welcomed it anyway. He heard her pouring water into a basin and coming to kneel by his feet.
“Foolish man. Whether Laird or Lady, King or Queen, it is our duty to serve the people under our care. We should not use them for our own ends.”
Jamie gasped as his feet were submerged in warm water. Feeling slowly began to return to his toes. Her hands were as soft as a breeze as the soap bubbled up and caressed his skin like a warm cloud. Tears fell down his cheeks when he was finally able to stretch out his toes.
“I canna thank ye enough,” he whispered, voice incapable of saying anything more.
“Hush, now Jamie,” said Lady John, her finger caressing the curve of his ear. “Lay your head, and get some rest. You’ll need your strength soon enough.”
With Milady’s hands on his feet, Lady John’s voice in his ear, and the warm fire beside him, he couldn’t resist sleep if he tried.
Gentle lips upon his lids roused him to consciousness.
“Milady? Is that you? Lady John?”
He knew it wasn’t them. He could feel that they were gone.
The lips rained soft kisses over his brow and on the delicate skin beneath his eyes.
“How I wish I could see ye…” he breathed.
“Love looks not with the eyes," said a voice as warm as the sun, "but with the mind, and therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.”
He hitched a breath. “Who are ye?”
“Open your eyes, and see for yourself.”
He kept them closed, knowing that staring at the sun would blind him to all else.
“It’s alright, Jamie. You can see clearly now.”
He knew she wasn’t just talking about his eyes, but the lessons hard learned since coming through stones. “Aye. ’Tis perhaps the reason I’m so scairt to look.”
Her lips pressed against his eyelids one more time. “You’ll find your courage again soon, my darling. Until then, open your eyes, and take in the light.”
A flare of blinding light illuminated his closed lids. Slowly, he forced them open.
The golden fire of the sun was suspended in two orbs before him.
“Sorcha,” he breathed, transfixed. Her eyes blazed painfully bright, forcing him to close his own once again.
When darkness returned, he opened them, able to see clearly for the first time in as long as he could remember.
The room around him was empty save a small hearthfire and his own cot. Amber fractals of light shimmered all over the room. He looked down to find a glowing citrine gem on his chest. He tried to reach for it, but his arms were still frozen to his sides. But in his effort, he realized he held a gem in each of his hands. Gifts from Sorcha, Lady John, and Milady.
Clumsily, he forced himself to stand—boots and stockings already returned, warm and dry, to his feet. Before he left to find the stone circle on the moor, he dropped to his knees and prayed for the first time since going to the castle, not for his wellness or for a return to his old life, but in gratitude for the women who tended to his body and soul. For the women who helped him see the light and stand on his own two feet again.
“Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind, And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.”
- A Midsummer Night's Dream, act1, s1
Chapter 5: Forget Me Not
“Jamie,” breathed Claire. He was holding her head in his hands, lips moving softly over her brow.
He could see she was moved, eyes misting over, making them glitter even more than usual.
“Ye're so beautiful, my love. You are my light, mo Sorcha. Ye’ve scraped me off the floor and stood me up on my own two feet more times than I can count. Whether saving me at Wentworth, or your spirit forcing me to hold onto life after Culloden, ye’ve illuminated the path through unending darkness.”
He kissed away the tears that dropped down her cheeks, and she wrapped her arms around his neck, pulling their bodies close together.
This wasn’t a part of his plan, but he couldn’t pull himself away. Her soft, delicate body pinned beneath him made him ravenous.
He wasn’t speaking false in his tale, not for a moment. He was in love with every bit of his wife, and he meant to show her...and he meant to indulge in her.
She curled her legs around his, inviting him into the embrace of her thighs. He would live there for eternity if he could.
He kissed her long and slow, craving nothing more than to sink his cock deep inside her. Her hands reached down and took hold of his arse, urging him to do just that.
But her grip on his bottom reminded him they had a few more stones left before he could indulge that whim.
“Patience, Sassenach,” he grunted, forcing himself up on his knees. “Patience.”
The Circle of the Seven Stones was still dark upon Jamie’s return, but he noticed the opal and citrine gems were on display on their stone altars once again.
He didn’t wait for the voice in the darkness to send him through the next stone. He wanted to get the rest of his tasks over with.
If he was being honest with himself, the reasons the two previous stones held any torture for him at all was as a result of his own self-sabotage. Perhaps that was the greatest shame in his ridiculous situation. He’d move through the rest with intentions of not making it worse for himself.
He walked to the next stone in the circle and leaned against it, letting it pull him through…
He appeared on a small dun overlooking rolling hills of heather and a pretty wood not far away. It took him a moment to stand up, seeing as how he couldn’t move his arms or his back. Lessons of humility kept his pride from suffering too much, and feelings of gratitude were ever present for what he did have as he made it to his feet.
“Alright...what now?” He had no idea where he was meant to go or what gems he was meant to find. A shiver ran down his spine at the thought of another woman sacrificing herself for him. He decided, if he could find a different way to get the gems, he must do so...without stealing them of course.
Trying to find some sign of life in the world around him, he walked the perimeter of the stone circle, gazing out over the rolling hills.
It was a beautiful sight...it reminded of him of his childhood...of a wee lassie he once played with near a dun…
A loud croaking of a bird sounded overhead. It wasn’t the caw of a crow, but a lower, more guttural sound of a raven. Jamie looked up as best he could without moving his neck, expecting to see a dark bird flying across the sky. Instead, a great white raven flew past the dun, making its way over several hills and into the birch woods beyond.
Taking it as a sign, he followed the path of the white raven over the hills and into trees. His pace was slow and meandering in his current physical state, but he finally arrived to the edge of the wood.
The deeper he walked into the line of trees, he began seeing glittering fractals of purple light reflected around him.
A gemstone! he thought. But could it really be that easy?
He spun on his heel, looking for the only possible gem that could shine that color purple...amethyst.
“What in God’s holy name?” In the tall grass between the trees, he discovered not one, but two gems lying about ten feet apart.
He looked around, wondering whose they might be and how they came to lie there, but there was no one nearby.
“Hallo!” he called, fearful of stealing the gems and ending up in more trouble than when he started. “Is anyone here? Do these gems belong to someone?”
“Haark,” called the white raven from high up in a tree.
“Are they yers?” he chuckled. “D’ye like sparkly things then?”
He looked around once more, wishing someone would appear so he could find a way to earn them without running into any trouble.
No one came.
“I’m going to pick up these stones!” he called. “I dinna mean to be taking them if they belong to someone!”
“Gi’ me peace ye flying rodent! Haud yer wheesht.”
Grumbling at the bird, he knelt down awkwardly to pick up one of the gems. It was warm and heavy in his hand. He felt no little satisfaction that they were so easy to find.
He stood to move to the next gem. Just as he was only a step away, the white raven swooped down from its tree and swiped up the second amethyst in its beak.
“Och no, ye wee coof!” He lunged for it foolishly and tumbled to the ground, cracking his shoulder against an unseen rock. He recoiled in pain, watching the bird fly high up to a branch in a birch tree.
“Christ! Damn you! I hope ye tear a wing ye filthy beast! If e’er I get my hands on ye, I swear I’ll shove that gem so far up yer arse, ye’ll be farting through yer ears!”
No matter how much he yelled and cursed at the raven, all it did was sit quietly on the branch, watching him with a pair of mocking golden eyes and a purple gem in its beak.
Jamie tried all manner of methods to get the bird to move from its perch, but with his arms frozen to his sides, he was not very successful. Kicking rocks and banging branches were about as effective as cursing. And he had no chance in hell of scaling that tree without the use of his arms.
He finally gave up on physical means of obtaining the gem and went back to cursing at the damn bird again. He’d slipped into Gaelic and was busy berating the bird’s harlot of a mother—who Jamie accused of rutting with a demon spawn of Satan—when company wandered into the woods.
“Oh dear,” said a beautiful woman with large, full hair that somehow defied gravity despite it being perfectly straight. She wore a thin, white coat over a silk shirt and a delicate pair of trousers. What the likes of her was doing in the Highlands, he had no clue. “Whyever are you raging at the sweet White Raven?”
Jamie snorted. “The evil wee beast stole something of mine.”
The woman looked up at the bird with narrowed eyes and smiled. “Ah yes. She loves jewels and trinkets as much as the next lady. Can you blame her?”
“Her?” Jamie’s ears flushed with shame at all the horrible things he said.
“Indeed. Isn’t she lovely?”
“Lovely? She’s a wee thief is what she is.”
The woman chuckled. “Haven’t you ever stolen anything before? I certainly wouldn’t insult your poor mother for your misdeeds.”
If Jamie’s shoulders had the capacity to slump, they would’ve done so. “I suppose ye’re right. What’s yer name, lass?”
“A pleasure, Mister Fraser.”
“I’m sorry to disrupt yer walk, my Lady. I just really need that gem.”
“Well,” Lady Jane looked up at the White Raven, “you don’t actually think cursing and throwing things at her is going to make her all that generous, do you?”
“I suppose not.”
“What is it you need the gem for?” she asked.
Jamie flushed and turned back to look at the dun, feeling ashamed of his tale.
“Oh, I see,” said Lady Jane. “You have a date with destiny.”
“Well, I understand why you’re so impatient then. But wrath is a poor means to an end. It usually causes more problems than it solves.”
“Instead of berating such a rare and beautiful creature, let’s sit awhile and observe her. Perhaps we’ll think of a solution once peace settles our minds.”
He flushed yet again. “I’m sorry, my Lady, but I canna sit down.”
“Weel...my arse is turned to stone,” he grumbled. “I can barely walk. I’ll do better standing still or lying down.”
“Oh!” she smirked, trying her best to stifle her amusement. “A rock solid arse?”
“May I...have a look?” It was her turn to blush.
“I dinna ken why ye care to see it, but ’tis yers if ye want it.”
Slowly, she stepped toward him, reaching down for the hem of his kilt. She lifted it up and grazed a gentle hand across the slope of his buttocks. She gave a shuddering breath as she came around to his other side.
He groaned in blissful agony at her touch. “Dear God, I can feel ye.”
Her golden eyes were dark and hooded when she took his hand and pulled him to the ground. He sat straight-backed beside her, leaning a little forward so he wouldn’t tip over. She held on to his arm to keep him upright, and it eased some of the pain in his cracked shoulder.
“My apologies ye had to bear witness to my wrath,” he said.
“Patience isn’t a virtue you’ve acquired yet, is it?”
“I suppose not. Does it no’ get frustrating, sitting on yer arse, waiting for the things ye want wi’ yer whole heart? How can ye wait for things when it feels as though yer soul needs it right now in this very moment?”
“Whether your soul needs that gem or not, you still don’t have it. Patience isn’t a choice about whether or not you’ll wait—the White Raven has determined you are going to wait. Patience is a frame of mind you take while you’re waiting.”
“I suppose ye’re right. I just dinna like to have to do it.”
“Then don’t wait for things that aren’t worth the time it takes to obtain them. If you decide what you’re waiting for is worth it, then you have a choice to wait patiently or miserably...but harming others with your wrath will only damage them...and you. And you still won’t have the gem.”
Jamie looked at Lady Jane out of the corner of his eye. “Ye have experience with patience, then?”
“Twenty years of it...at least.”
Jamie looked around the pretty little wood they sat in, then up at the White Raven that was watching him unblinkingly from the tree with her beautiful golden eyes. He supposed if he was forced to wait for a gem, there were worse ways to do so.
A loud gurgling sounded in his belly, and Jamie realized he was getting hungry.
“Shall I find you something to eat?” asked Lady Jane. “I know a thing or two about edible plants.”
“Och no. My wame is stone, and I willna be able to keep the food down. I thank ye for offering.”
“I hope you find some relief soon.”
They sat in silence for a time, enjoying the pleasure of each other’s company and the beauty of the forest around them. The White Raven watched them carefully, as though waiting with bated breath for his next move.
“D’ye think,” he asked, “the wee birdie could be lured down by something?”
“Weel,” he still held the other amethyst in his hand, “I could mebbe use this other jewel to entice her closer.”
“And what if she flies off with both of them?”
“Aye,” his mouth grumbled a similarly displeased sound as his stomach did moments before. Then an idea sprung in his mind. “D’ye ken of anything the bird would like to eat? Perhaps if we make her an offering, she’ll drop the gem to take something better?”
“That’s a marvelous idea.”
“What would she want? Worms? Lizards?”
“Come now, Jamie. She’s a lady.”
Lady Jane reached into her white coat and pulled out a small flask. She opened it up and took a large swallow before holding it out to Jamie.
“No, thank ye. Regrettably, my wame canna bear it, mind?”
“It’s not for you, silly man.” She nodded up to the raven. “It’s for her.”
His eyebrows raised. “The bird drinks whisky?”
“How do you think her eyes became gold?”
“Is that how yer eyes became gold as well?”
“I canna move my arms verra well. D’ye mind helping lure her in?”
“Of course.” Lady Jane poured a little whisky into the lid and set it down in front of them.
The White Raven’s whisky eyes watched them warily.
They waited quietly for a long time. The sun had moved a good distance across the sky before the bird showed any sign of moving.
Finally, she flew down to inspect the offering.
Jamie held still, fearful of frightening her off once again. She bounced cautiously around the lid of whisky with the amethyst in her beak as though expecting a trap.
Appearing to come to some sort of conclusion, the bird flapped her wings and rose up toward Jamie. He lifted his arms to block her from his face, fearful she might attack him when he was so helpless. His right arm was useless with his shoulder out of place, but his left protected him well.
The raven landed on his outstretched arm. Jamie inhaled sharply, shocked that he could move them once again.
The bird walked slowly down his arm until she put the gemstone in his hand. Then, she jumped down to drink the whisky from the lid.
“Oh my Lord,” he said with giddy joy bubbling up in his chest. “Thank ye, wee lassie.”
He now held two gems in his hands.
“Wonderful!” said Lady Jane, refilling the White Raven’s lid. When the bird had her fill and flew off, and Lady Jane capped the flask and put it back in her coat.
Jamie rolled his left arm, pleased to have movement again, though his right arm was useless in its current state of pain.
“Here,” said Lady Jane, “let me help set that back into place.”
“Ye can do such a thing?”
“Indeed, and you won’t even have to wait.”
It was a painful process, but relief settled in as soon as she forced his arm back in the socket.
“I canna thank ye enough,” he said, as she helped him up to his feet.
She smiled warmly and rubbed his arms. Unable to help himself, he wrapped his newly healed arms around her waist and pulled her in close. He couldn’t believe the relief he felt at finally being able to embrace this woman in his arms. To offer affection, comfort, and gratitude with physical touch. He ran his hands up and down her back as he squeezed her tightly to his chest.
He desperately wished he could breathe in her scent.
Finally, he released her, taking her hand and walking out of the wood and over the rolling hills of heather.
“Oh! Look at these lovely forget-me-nots!” she squealed rushing forward to pick some flowers. She bent over in front of him, displaying the roundest arse he’d ever seen.
“Lovely,” he breathed.
“Aren’t they?” She stood up with golden light dancing in her eyes. She handed him the flowers and said, “Take these with you on your date with destiny, Jamie, and promise not to forget your lessons in patience.”
“I’ll remember, lass.”
“And Jamie...forget me not, as well.”
“Forget you? Never a chance.”
She smiled and reached up on her toes to kiss him. He closed his eyes and groaned when her hand dropped to his arse to give it a squeeze one last time.
The sounds of the White Raven floated on the breeze in the distance.
When he opened his eyes, Lady Jane was gone...and he held not flowers in his hand, but a third amethyst gem.
Chapter 6: Ruin the Greatest of Pleasures
Sorry for the long break! Hopefully I can wrap this little fable up pretty quickly and get one of these WIPs off my plate.
“Oh Christ!” said Jamie, groping Claire’s bottom with complete indecency. “I recall the first time this fat arse was stuck between my thighs.” He gripped it tight, kissing her hard and grinding his pelvis against her. “Days of bouncing against my cock. God had no mercy on a young lad of three and twenty.”
Claire removed her lips from his throat. “And you have no mercy on me. Just put it in, damn you!”
He rolled his hips again. “Did we no’ just wander through the stone of wrath and patience, Sassenach?”
“Wrath is it?” She dipped her head down and took his nipple in her mouth, seeking revenge.
“Ifrinn!” It was damn near impossible to pull away. His cock jumped angrily at Jamie’s denial of lust.
But he did force himself back, keeping one hand on her chest to keep her from rising up and the other on her arse, because he just couldn’t help himself.
“It appears,” he huffed a shaky breath, “the next stone the Laird shall enter is one of gluttony and temperance.”
“Can’t we skip that one? Let me talk to the fucking faerie. I’ll put in a word.”
“The lessons of one stone build on the next. Temperance it is, lass.” He pinched her rudely, making her screech and smack his hand away.
“Paris?” Jamie grumbled, stepping out of the stone circle strangely located on an empty corner of the city. It was the only bit of grass he could see from his vantage. The streets were busy, crowded with faceless people moving purposefully around. No one seemed to find it strange that he materialized out of solid rock and joined the hustle and bustle of traffic on the cobblestone road.
He looked around at all the shops and residences, wondering what he was meant to be looking for in such a large and crowded place. Perhaps a jeweler? A smuggler?
Interrupting his thoughts, his stomach groaned in protest of its long neglect. He wished there was something he could do about it. He missed the feel of whisky burning down his throat and warming his belly. He was tired of the ache of thirst and the pang of hunger.
He considered finding a healer that might be able to help him without having to sacrifice herself in the process. He recalled there was a charity hospital in Paris that wouldn’t require payment from him for their service. Perhaps he should make his way over to see if there was anything they could do.
He was about to cross the street when a woman with a large-brimmed hat walked straight into him.
“Oof!” she grumbled, slamming into his chest.
He grabbed her by the arms to steady her until he was certain she could stand on her own. A pair of golden eyes sparkled up at him, resting a hand on his chest. Strange how everyone he met in the stones all had similar eyes...familiar eyes.
“I’m terribly sorry,” she said, straightening a strange necklace that lay on her chest. It was a white rock that glittered in sunlight, held up by a black ribbon. It was like nothing he’d ever seen before. “I was lost in my thoughts and wasn’t watching where I was going.”
“Dinna fash, lass. Are ye alright?” He looked her over, making sure she was uninjured. His eyes widened when he realized she was with child.
Her hand dropped to her belly with delight, and she smiled brilliantly. “I’m quite well, save my pride.”
Jamie noticed she carried a large basket and a small purse over her left arm. A woman in her condition shouldn’t be burdening herself with such things. “May I escort ye to yer destination? I could carry yer basket for ye.”
“That would be lovely, thank you. Je suis la Dame Broch Tuarach.” She held out a hand.
He took it in both of his hands and placed a kiss on her knuckles. “James Fraser, at yer service.”
He grabbed the basket and held out his arm in courtly invitation. She graciously accepted and pointed in the direction of her destination.
“I must say,” she rubbed her nose as she spoke, “that you have the firmest chest I’ve ever encountered in my life.”
“Apologies. But much of my body is naught but stone.” He flushed with embarrassment. “I was cursed, ye see.”
“How awful. Who would do such a thing?”
“Dinna fash yerself about it, madame. I earned the curse well enough. I’m working as best as I can to rid myself of it and return home.”
“Hmm. Perhaps I know someone who can help.”
“Please, dinna trouble yerself on my account.”
“It’s no trouble. I was planning on stopping by later today anyway.”
“Where are we headed?”
“The apothecary just up the street.”
Jamie held up her basket and said, “Are ye sure ye dinna have somewhere else to be?”
“I was planning on bringing lunch to my husband, but he’ll be more than understanding. It wouldn’t be the first time I was late because I was helping a patient.”
He looked down at the basket that held Seigneur Broch Tuarach’s lunch. He regretted being unable to eat...being unable to even smell the food.
If he ever got himself healed, he’d never take food for granted again. He would eat and eat until his stomach was fit to burst.
“Here we are,” she said, allowing Jamie to open the door and follow her inside.
It was a grand apothecary with all sorts of oddities lying about—strange metal instruments, plants and powders, and a large crocodile hanging from the ceiling.
“James Fraser,” said Lady Broch Tuarach, “this is the Conjure-Woman.” She gestured to a woman with wild hair, flaming yellow eyes, and clothes made more for comfort than fashion.
“A pleasure to meet you, mistress,” he said, taking her hand and giving it a kiss.
“The pleasure is mine, Monsieur Fraser. What may help you with today?”
“Monsieur Fraser has been cursed,” said Lady Broch Tuarach. “Much of his body has been turned to stone. Is there anything you can do?”
The Conjure-Woman narrowed her eyes. “Very little, I’m afraid. Herbs and medicines will only help so much. To rid yourself of curse, sacrifices must be made.”
Jamie’s stomach would’ve turned to stone if it wasn’t made up of it already.
"Tell me, Monsieur Fraser, what is the greatest difficulty you have with this curse? Perhaps we can help ease some of your struggles.”
Jamie rubbed a hand over his rock solid belly. “I’m terribly hungry, mistress. If I could just satisfy my appetite, I’d be ever grateful.”
“Hmm. I think we can do something about that. I’ll need you to run and bring me some food.”
“Oh!” said Lady Broch Tuarach, reaching for the basket Jamie was still carrying. She pulled out a small cast iron pot and set it down on the counter. She opened the lid, and steam rose out of a delicious looking coq au vin.
“I couldna possibly,” said Jamie, despite his mouth watering. "Yer husband is expecting his lunch.”
“Oh, he’s accustomed to sharing his bounty with others. It’s a mark of a good Lord.”
Heat flooded Jamie’s cheeks in shame, unable to remember a time in his life where he had shared anything with anyone. To be fair, he didn’t remember anything before waking from his curse, but even since then, he’d done nothing but take from others.
The Conjure-Woman had moved to rummage around shelves and drawers, taking bits of dried herbs from here and strange powders from there and putting them in small mortar. When at last she was done, she brought the mortar back to the counter and ground all her ingredients together with a pestle. The final product—a dark, greenish-black powder—was poured into a small jar. She inhaled deeply and sighed with invigorated contentment.
“These herbs should be of some help. Here...smell their healing aroma.” She held the jar out to Jamie, and he breathed in deeply. It was a pleasant, earthy scent that was achingly familiar, though he couldn’t pinpoint why.
She sprinkled a small amount into the coq au vin and stirred it like a witch with her boiling brew. “Go on. Try a bit of the broth.”
Worried about what might happen if he put food in his stone stomach, he hesitated.
“It’s alright,” said Lady Broch Tuarach, dipping the spoon into the pot. “Here.”
She lifted a spoonful of broth to his lips, kindness and warmth filling her golden eyes as he nervously sipped it down.
A shock of flavor hit his tongue, and an aching relief followed the broth from his mouth all the way down to his belly. It was the most glorious sensation he’d ever felt in his life. It was as though all his insides were softening and coming to life once again.
“Oh God!” he moaned with pleasure. “This is delicious!”
The Lady laughed as he took the spoon from her hands and dipped it back into the pot. “I’m glad you like it, but I would pace myself if I were you. That dish is very rich, and if you haven’t eaten for some time. You might get sick.”
But Jamie had no words for her, only hunger. He ate and ate and ate until he was long past full. He’d once thought he’d never eat again, and to taste something so delicious, so delectable, something that smelled so magnificent, he couldn't possibly stop himself from taking in more.
“Monsieur Fraser,” said the Conjure-Woman, “should you not save some for Lord Broch Tuarach?”
But it was as the Lady said, her husband was a good Lord and certainly wouldn’t mind sharing his bounty with a starving man.
He ate the whole pot—every last drop. And when he was finished, he staggered back, stomach full and bulging, and let off a loud belch. The ladies stared at him with wide, nervous eyes.
He must’ve looked like a ravenous beast, but they didn’t understand what it felt like not to eat for so long. They didn’t get it. They…
His thoughts were interrupted by a rumble in his stomach. Beads of sweat gathered at his brow, and if his heart worked, he was certain it would've been hammering wildly. He raced to the door, knowing what was coming. He barely reached the cobblestone road when his stomach retched and expelled every drop of the coq au vin he’d just eaten.
“Oh dear,” said the Lady behind him, patting his stone back and stroking his stiff hair. “Gluttony ruins the greatest of pleasures.” She waited patiently by his side until he was done, careless of the rude comments he was eliciting from angry passersby.
When his stomach was empty, he turned to her with regret in his eyes, knowing he should have listened to her words of caution. She didn’t chide him further. She only took out a handkerchief and wiped the spittle from his mouth.
“At least your belly is no longer stone.” She put a gloved finger under her nose to stave off the smell.
“Still, I think I should get you to a physician. Perhaps they can help you with keeping your food down.”
Despite his nausea and the sour taste in his mouth, hunger and thirst squeezed once again at his insides. Yes, he very much still needed help with that. “I’d be ever grateful, madame.”
“So after her cooking made him retch,” said Jamie in between peppering kisses down Claire’s belly, “she took him to the hospital.”
Claire smacked him smartly on the head. “He didn’t vomit from her cooking, you beast.”
“It’s my story, is it no?”
“It is your story, and you said it was the most magnificent meal he’d ever tasted.”
“On the way down—sure. But no’ when traveling the other direction.”
Her belly bounced with laughter, and he pressed his lips to her soft skin, listening to her sweet chuckles.
“Now stop interrupting,” he said, licking her navel. “We’ve still a long way to go…”
“Take this,” said the Lady as they stopped in front of the hospital. She held out the bottle of herbs from the Conjure-Woman.
He took them, eyeing them warily, remembering the taste of them as he vomited them back up. “How do I ken it wasna the herbs that made me so violently ill?”
“If truth be told, James,” said the Lady, “the herbs did nothing but restore your sense of smell. You cannot enjoy the taste of food, or anything else, without your nose working the way it should.”
Jamie took a deep breath and realized he could indeed smell for the first time since he was cursed. His nose was filled with the scent of soap and roses coming from the lovely lady’s skin.
“How then was I able to swallow food, if not for the herbs?”
She smiled, golden eyes glittering with warmth just as they did when she’d raised the spoon to his mouth. “Don’t you know that all things are healed through love and kindness, James?”
She reached up around her neck and removed the white stone necklace. “Take this, my hungry friend. May it be of some service to you on your quest to remove this terrible curse.”
His eyes widened. “I canna accept such a thing from ye. Ye’ve already shown me too much kindness..”
“Yet, you cannot refuse me either. My feelings would be quite hurt.”
She handed over the necklace and smiled kindly. He accepted it with gratitude and placed it in his pocket along with the herbs.
“Now, get inside and see a doctor. Perhaps someone can assist with helping you keep your food down.”
He kissed her hand and said goodbye, watching her disappear into the crowded Parisian street in front of him. Feeling a strange sense of loss at watching another man’s wife go, he forced himself to turn around and enter through the large doors that led to the hospital.
It was a busy and crowded place, with ailing patients littering the halls and nuns rushing around with blood-spattered aprons, tending to people here and there. Jamie dodged out of the way when a severe looking nun nearly ran into him, carrying a jar full of what appeared to be urine.
“Can I help you?” asked a young Englishwoman walking past and taking pity on his unsettled state.
“Aye. I came to see a physician.” He placed a hand on his belly. “I canna seem to hold down my food.”
“Oh, I’m sure I could help you with that. I’m a nurse. Nurse Beauchamp.” Jamie’s eyes dropped briefly to her breasts, before he forced them back up to her shining eyes.
“I’m none sae sure…”
She grabbed him by the arm and pulled him along, not waiting to hear any of his objections to how a wet nurse would hardly be of any assistance to a grown man. She pulled him through room after room in the hospital, past a physician doing surgery on a man’s hand—he flexed his own hand, having much compassion for the poor bastard—past a man being treated for a lethal snakebite, and through a nursery of half a dozen newborn babies. Screams, cries, and whimpers of men, women, and children echoed in his ears the entire way.
It took a special kind of person to spend their days in such a place, holding space for the suffering of others in their hearts.
Finally, she brought him into a small, private room in the back of the hospital. There was naught in the room but a wee cot and a wooden chair.
“Have a seat, and tell me exactly what ails,” she directed, gesturing for him to take the cot while she took the chair.
“Weel,” he said, uncomfortably sitting down, “I was cursed, ye see. Turned to stone. Though I was healed well enough to take in food, I canna seem to keep it down. I vomited a whole pot of coq au vin only an hour ago.”
“So you hadn’t eaten for days, then you ate a whole pot of coq au vin?”
“That would make anyone vomit. You should have paced yourself. Your stomach is brand new again, just like those babies out there.”
“I may be newly healed, but I’m no’ a bairn.”
“Yes, but gluttony is a dangerous thing for many reasons, Mister…?”
“Fraser. James Fraser.”
“Well, I know exactly what you need.”
“Yes. Something gentle on the stomach. Only a little bit at a time, though. Do you hear?”
“Aye. I hear.”
“Now lie down and give me a moment.”
And to Jamie’s great surprise, the nurse began removing her clothes one by one until she wore nothing but her shift. Light from the window filtered through her thin garment, revealing a curvaceous silhouette. The darker shade of her firm nipples could clearly be seen through the worn fabric.
He was too shocked to say anything when she joined him on the cot and untied her laces. She revealed the two most beautiful breasts he was sure he’d ever seen.
“Come, darling,” she cooed, a hand threading through his hair and cradling his head. “Just try a little, and we’ll see how your stomach fares.”
She took her breast between her fingers and guided his head down. She ran her nipple over his lips, moisture beading at the tip, absorbing into his dry skin. He licked out to taste it, and his mouth was overwhelmed with the sweetest, most deliciously potent flavor on earth. It was the taste of life itself.
In an instant, he sealed his mouth over her breast and sucked deep. “Ohhh,” she moaned, and milk began pouring forth. He drank down her flavor, his tongue caressing her nipple with every swallow.
Her milk seemed as though it was made of pure pleasure, and with every drink, that pleasure absorbed into his body, making him the happiest man on Earth. His chest felt light and supple as he breathed between deep pulls. With every drink, he only grew hungrier. The nurse was moaning with pleasure against him, her near naked body clinging to him, holding him tight.
He rolled on top of her, her legs around him, and his mouth anchored to her breast. He brought his hand up to squeeze and knead all he could from her, and she cried along with him. If his cock was flesh and blood and not stone, he’d have it buried deep inside her, thrusting with every drink he took.
Long after her breast was empty, he sucked still, licking every last drop. He rolled her nipple between his lips and fluttered his tongue over the hard little bud just for the joy of it.
“Dear God,” she said, breathless. “That was incredible.”
He looked up to find her eyes of citrine glazed over and a soft smile on her lips. He took her mouth with his own, noticing as he did that his stomach felt steady and fine. She was right; she knew exactly what he needed.
He kissed her for ages and massaged her empty breast, wondering how long it might take to fill back up again. The aching hunger no longer filled him, but he still didn’t think he’d ever get enough.
“Mmm,” she moaned. “I wish I could give you the other breast, but we really should save it for the children.”
“Other breast?” He pulled back and looked down, staring at her left breast, milk dripping out, begging to be emptied. In his delirium, he’d forgotten there were two.
He bent his head down and took the other breast in his mouth, sucking hard and bathing his tongue in her flavor. Despite her earlier worries of saving milk for the children, she didn’t push him off. She held him close to her chest and moaned into his hair.
She didn’t even make him stop when a baby in the nursery next door started crying.
The poor thing sounded so hungry. “Should one of the other nurses no' feed the wean?” he asked.
“I’m the only one,” she said, pulling his mouth back down.
He latched on again, but found it hard to suckle when a baby was screaming itself hoarse not far away. He found himself licking her nipple, unable to suck down any milk, no matter how badly he craved the taste or how good it made him feel.
“I canna…” he breathed
“Can’t what?” She traced her nipple over his lips, tempting him to take some more.
But the sounds of the child were too distressing to bear. And he remembered the earlier words of Lady Broch Tuarach telling him a good Lord shares his bounty. “No. No. Please. Go on. Feed the wean. Ye’ve given me all I need.” He forced himself back, nearly crying with loss as she covered her breasts once more with her shift.
“Stay here, and we’ll see how you feel when your stomach settles,” she said, getting up and heading for the door.
He sat there for some time, composing himself, paying attention to every sensation in his body, hoping the nauseous discomfort wouldn’t return. After ten minutes of nothing happening, his worries started to dissipate. Though he still craved the milk and the beautiful breasts from it came, he felt a lightness in his chest and lift of his shoulders that wasn’t there before. And a peace came over him knowing that the weans were being cared for just as they should be and that he didn’t take all they needed to survive in his self-indulgence.
He waited another half hour for the nurse to return, but she never came. Being that his stomach was well and he no longer required feeding, he decided it was best he leave and allow the nurse to attend to her more pressing duties.
When he walked out of the room and into the nursery, he noticed a strange absence of sound. He looked in each crib as he passed, and saw that all the bairns were gone. His heart fell, wishing he could’ve seen the weans with their bellies full and their hearts content.
All that was left in the room was one solitary sapphire laid to rest in the last crib by the door. He lifted it up, and it felt warm in his hand. He knew the nurse had left it there just for him.
Then he reached in his pocket and pulled out his jar of herbs and his necklace, only to find they’d been replaced by two more sapphires.
With a heavy heart, he left the room to make his way back to the stone circle, hating himself for once again taking more than he deserved.
When he exited the nursery, a nun ran headlong into his chest and bounced back. He caught her by the arms and steadied her, hoping his stone chest didn’t do any damage.
“Ye alright?” he asked.
“I’m well, monsieur. I’m just pleased I did not spill on you.” She raised up the container of urine she carried. “It helps to have a soft landing,” she said, patting his chest.
Jamie ran a hand over his breast and found it was indeed soft.
He took a deep breath that stretched out his chest in a way that he hadn’t been able to do for as long as he could remember. He said a goodbye, then stepped forward and headed back to the stones.
Chapter 7: Brave Wee Thing
Trigger Warnings: Thoughts of giving up (despair), violence, and mercy killing.
“I think I might come if you keep doing that,” moaned Claire.
Jamie thought he was at risk of spilling his seed too, but he couldn’t stop himself from devouring her breasts. They were soft and perfect and so pleasant on his tongue. They were beautiful, marked and changed over the years from bearing his weans and feeding Brianna.
“Jamie!” She arched her back, trying to lift her pelvis to make contact with his body.
He wouldn’t let her though. Not yet. He suckled on her nipple one last time before forcing himself away.
“Ye’ve given so much of what’s yers to the ones ye love, mo nighean donn. For our family and our people. Going without life's indulgences for the ones love.” He took his hand off her breast and moved it to her cheek. “And I canna thank ye enough.”
Her eyes were soft, so the venom of her words carried no weight. “You could thank me by giving back a little further down.” She bucked her hips.
“Soon, ye fierce wee thing. Soon.”
“I’m done,” said Jamie, looking around the stone circle, remembering all he took from those around him and feeling nothing but aching regret. He wished he could be more for those he’d lost. He wished he could be a better man. The truth was, he knew he didn’t have it in him, so it was best to just stay away. “I willna go into another stone. Imprison me here if ye will, but I canna take from someone else again.”
“You owe me three more gems times three, great Laird. You do not have a choice.”
That meant nine more people he’d have to take from, and he just wasn’t willing to do so again. He shook his head and stood firm.
A cold laughter echoed through the circle as the wind picked up around him. He wondered how that was possible; they weren’t even outside. Then the wind swirled around, making him unsteady on his feet. A gust of air hit him like a battering ram, sending him flying into another stone.
Noooo, he thought helplessly. Not again.
He woke in a dark, quiet forest, where frost covered the ground and clouds obscured the stars. His whole body was shivering before he even stood up. He stepped forward out of the circle, wishing he had a fire for warmth and some light to guide him, but he didn’t, so he set off blindly.
The slope of the ground suddenly dropped, and he stumbled before he realized he was on a hill. “Christ!” he cursed, trying to find his footing once again.
He was making an immense racket in the dark, and instinct told him that was more than foolish. He did his best to slow himself down and stay cautious.
Since his eyes hardly worked in the lack of light, he relied on his other senses to observe his surroundings. An owl hooted somewhere up high in the trees, and the wind shook the frosty pines.
On he walked with no particular aim, careless of remembering the direction from where he came. It didn’t really matter, because he had no intention of ever finding his way back.
He did, however, want to find a warm, safe place to wait out the night; just because he didn’t want to take from others again, didn’t mean he lost all sense of self-preservation.
He walked for what felt like hours, and still he found no sign of civilization. No roads, no houses, no crops, nor any domesticated animals. Though he’d always been quite a large man, he’d never felt so small.
Just as he was beginning to despair that the night would never end and that he might freeze in a strange and unruly forest, he was interrupted by a sound in the distance behind him. He stopped in his tracks and listened.
Heavy paws cracked branches and rustled leaves with every step, and a deep grunting sent a shiver down his spine. It had to be an animal, but it seemed too big to be a wolf or boar. In fact, if he didn’t know better, he might have thought it a bear if they hadn’t been extinct in Scotland for a millennium.
Then he recalled the last place he went through in the stones was Paris, which meant he could be anywhere in the world right now. It could be a bear or a panther or any number of forest dwelling wild beasts from unknown lands.
And it sounded as though it was coming closer.
He took off running as fast as his unsure footing would allow. The noises behind him grew more agitated as the creature sped to close the gap. Jamie ran for his life, dodging through trees, jumping over rocks, and splashing through half-frozen creeks.
He ran and ran until he saw what he thought might be a small fire in the distance. Perhaps it was light coming through a window.
Fire meant people!
“Help!” he called, running and jumping and stumbling along. “Help! Something’s after me!”
He thought he saw movement near the source of the light.
“Help! I—” He lost his footing on a rock and fell face first in the mud. As he lifted his head and tried to rise up to his feet, a massive animal stomped on his stone back, crumbling it into pieces and slashing at it with long claws and sharp teeth. He was in absolute agony. “HEL—!”
Another cacophony of strange animal sounds joined the fray, mixing with the snarls of the one already attacking him. Jamie was certain the beast that mauled him was a bear, but this new animal was something different entirely. It made violent sounds that Jamie could only describe as vicious keckers, high-pitched snarls, and ferocious purrs.
And suddenly the weight of the bear backed off as a small creature went flying overhead, fighting off Jamie’s attacker. Footsteps drew closer—human footsteps this time—and the distinctive sound of a rifle fired a few paces away.
“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ!” A woman said, dropping down beside him. “Your back! It’s—”
“I ken,” he groaned in the worst pain he’d been in since the Wise-Woman eased his soul. “The bear?”
“I think we scared it off for now, but we better get you inside quickly.”
He could hardly see the woman, but he knew there was no way for her to carry him to safety. She was a slim lass who had a wild mane of glorious brown hair. A lovely wee thing. He was putting her at risk keeping her out here. “Just leave me be. Better me than you.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. We’ll have you healing up by the fire in no time.”
“I dinna see how ye can fix the damage done. I’m lost, lassie. Do the merciful thing and just put me out of my misery.”
“You’re being a little dramatic, I’d say. Come on. Let’s get you back to the shelter.”
And then she did the strangest thing. She grabbed her hair and began wrapping it around his body, bundling him up tight. Her hair was apparently much longer than it looked at first glance, because she wound it around his body more times than he could count.
“What in God’s name are ye doing?” asked Jamie.
“I’m going to pull you back to the house, of course.” She spoke so matter of fact, he questioned if he was the one behaving strangely.
“Just think of me as Rapunzel getting you into my tower.”
“What is a Rapunzel?”
“Oh never mind,” she grunted and started pulling him along as though it was nothing to use one’s hair as a travois.
Jamie supposed it didn’t matter why she was pulling him around with her hair, because it seemed to be working just fine. In fact, she was able to pull him quickly—and painfully—across the uneven landscape and into a small shelter made mostly of large branches and sticks. There were gaps in the walls letting far too much cold air in. Still, it was warmer than outside.
“Home sweet home,” she said.
There were several small pallets pressed against each wall of the shelter and a fire in the center. Not much in the way of a home. “You live here?”
“Yes, we do.” She pulled him up close to the flame, then began unwrapping her hair. “It’s not much, I know, but we’re building a cabin nearby, and this will have to make do until it’s done.”
“Yes, me and Herself. Oh, and the badger, of course.”
“Badger? You mean the fierce wee beast that fought off the bear?”
“Indeed. We wouldn’t have survived out here in the Carolina wilderness for long without her.”
“Neither would I, so it seems. And what is yer name, mistress? I’d like to ken who it is I am indebted to.”
She smiled sweetly, amber eyes dark in the pale firelight. “You can call me A Nighean Donn.”
“Brown-haired lass?” Jamie didn’t think he could be amused while in so much pain, but he was. “I suppose it fits just fine.”
“I suppose it does. Now, let me get you some tea to help with the pain. Herself should be here in the morning to heal your back far better than I ever could.”
She busied herself with the fire and took her time boiling herbs for the tea. When it was ready, she did her best to help him drink despite his inability to move his back.
“That’s it, Jamie. Just a little more,” she whispered, stroking his stone hair.
He thought it strange she knew his name without him telling her. He didn’t have time to ask about it before he drifted off to sleep.
Pain shot down his spine, bringing him quickly to consciousness. It was caused by a gentle hand running over the rubble that was once his back.
“Oh good. She kept all the pieces intact. It may not look very pretty when we’re done, but I think we can get you back to working order in no time.”
“And who are you?”
“I am Herself. You’re a guest here on my land.”
“And ye think ye can fix my back?”
“I’m certain I can. It just needs a little TLC.”
Jamie was about to comment that he more likely needed some divine intervention, but her lips came down gently on the center of his back and he realized divine intervention might’ve been exactly what she was. Relief from the acute ache was almost immediate, spreading out from the source of her lips.
“Is this a way for you to encourage me to put my mouth on you?” Claire snorted, reaching for his cock.
“Behave, Sassenach. We’re no’ to that stone yet .”
She pressed her lips to his damaged skin over and over until all the pain was gone.
“I dinna ken how to thank ye,” he said, trying to sit up. “Ow!”
Perhaps the pain wasn’t entirely gone.
“Careful, darling. I’ve only healed your back. Your spine is another story.”
He slowly forced himself into a sitting position. He got his first glimpse of Herself bathed in the early morning light. Her hair was nearly white, and there were whispers of lines around her mouth and eyes. Her eyes were as vibrant as the fire burning beside him.
“Ye’re lovely,” he said, voice breaking. He reached out a hand to touch her cheek.
A snarl from the pallet across the fire had him shrinking away—which then caused him to cringe in pain. He looked over to find the Fierce Wee Badger watching him from her bed, yellow eyes narrowed and teeth bared.
“Protective, is she?” he asked.
“She is. Settle down, Badger. James is a friend.”
The little beast closed her mouth and rested her head back on the bed, but she didn’t take her eyes off Jamie.
“Where is Mo Nighean Donn?” asked Jamie, still wary of the badger, but wanting to thank the woman for her assistance last night.
“Your brown haired lass?” she asked with a smile.
Jamie shrugged. He knew it was presumptuous, but it just felt right.
Herself smiled knowingly. “She’s out working on the cabin. Just there.” She pointed out the door to a little clearing a short distance away. Mo Nighean Donn had her hair wrapped around a large log and was maneuvering into place to be cut down to size.
“A strong one, that lass.”
“Indeed she is.”
“Her strength is in her hair?”
Herself snorted. “No. Her strength is deeper inside. That’s what makes her hair grow so strong.”
“And you? Where does yer strength come from?”
The old woman smiled but didn’t answer.
Jamie looked across the fire to the badger that seemed to be sleeping with one eye open. “And this one. She’s got more courage than sense. I canna imagine running straight for an angry bear the way she did last night.”
“Yes, well, there are some things worth fighting for, James.”
“Mmphm. I suppose there are.” He just knew he wasn’t one of them.
“Let me get some breakfast for you,” said Herself, “then I must go out and help with the cabin.”
“Shall I come too?” He tried to stand, but his back seized on him again.
“For God’s sake, rest yourself, man.” said Herself. “You’re causing yourself more problems than you’re solving.”
“Mmphm.” He forced himself to lie down, keeping an eye all the while on the little badger who was snarling in her sleep.
Jamie’s healing body required more rest than he anticipated. There was little he could do for the first few weeks aside from watching Herself and Mo Nighean Donn work diligently on the construction of their new cabin. While they worked, the Fierce Wee Badger kept an eye on the land, chased away predators, and went hunting for food.
He’d never seen anyone work harder than the three little Carolina lassies who saved his life. It was backbreaking work as well. Mo Nighean Donn lifted and pulled around large felled trees, and Herself carved them up and added them to the cabin. The old lady relentlessly gathered herbs and prepared meals while the younger begrudgingly did the laundry and dug a new privy hole.
Jamie felt useless and sedentary. He couldn’t stand the thought of these three amazing women doing everything for him. The only time he felt any peace was at night when they all gathered in the shelter for warmth and talked by the fire.
Herself would tell one of a thousand thrilling tales she’d read in books throughout her life—Jamie was particularly intrigued by the blood-sucking vampyre stories—while Mo Nighean Donn would rest his head in her lap and run her fingers through his stone hair. He was certain he felt his hair getting softer and stronger every day.
Even the Fierce Wee Badger was beginning to lose her wariness over his presence and burrowed in the crook of his long legs to share warmth.
When he finally felt strong enough to lift a few things here and there, he began helping with the menial chores and doing as many things as his back would allow—including cooking most of the meals for their little bunch, because none of the women had much skill with preparing food.
He was beginning to truly enjoy their peaceful life of hard work and living off the land. And though he couldn’t keep up with the ladies, he did his best to contribute.
Only one thing threatened their perfectly quiet life...the wild, agitated bear that came around at night when the badger brought a fresh kill home. Late at night, Jamie would wake in a panic to the same grunting noises he heard the night the bear attacked him. The Fierce Wee Badger would rise up from Jamie’s bed—her favorite place to sleep—teeth bared and warning sounds coming from deep in her little belly.
Jamie worried that one day the bear would get the better of all of them. “Should ye no’ find a place closer to civilization?” he asked Herself. “Perhaps the bear would stay further away if there were more people around.”
“I’ll not be driven away by that beast. We just need to focus on getting the cabin done before the first snow touches the ground.”
And so he kept helping. Day after day, he grew a little stronger and a little more agile. Soon, he was helping them nail the roof on the cabin and made them shutters for their windows.
When they finished their new home, Jamie and the Fierce Wee Badger decided to set off to hunt fresh game in celebration.
“Take this,” said Herself, handing him her favorite dirk. “Protect yourself and our courageous little one,” she nodded at the badger.
“Here,” said Mo Nighean Donn, taking the dirk from his hand and cutting a small bit of her hair. She tied it with a scrap of leather and gave it to him along with the blade. “For strength.”
“I thank ye both,” he said, placing the lock of hair in his pocket and slipping the dirk onto his belt. He kissed them both goodbye and gathered the Fierce Wee Badger in his arms and set out on their hunt.
The badger had grown quite fond of him in their time together. She loved to lick his cheeks and nuzzle into his neck, making her strange, throaty purring sounds of contentment.
As the forest grew darker, the Fierce Wee Badger insisted on walking and leading James through the wilderness. He followed blindly, his trust placed completely in the palm of her paws.
She led him through frozen creeks and uneven ground and over fallen pine and leaves.
“D’ye smell any game yet, lassie?” he asked.
She just nuzzled his leg and encouraged him to keep moving on.
Jamie began to have a strange sense of familiarity as they scaled a large hill. It wasn’t until they reached the top that he realized where she had been leading him.
“No!” he said, staring at the stone circle. “I dinna want to go back. I like it here just fine.”
The badger just nuzzled him softly, as though telling him it was alright. Still, he refused to go. “No!”
He had just found a place of peace, a place of loving acceptance, where he finally understood the joys of living simply off the land. He had no intention of giving it up for that stupid curse.
But the badger was no longer listening to him. She was staring off into the trees with her hackles raised and her teeth bared. It could only mean one thing...Danger.
“That fucking bear!” he grumbled quietly.
The Fierce Wee Badger got more restless and agitated as the bear’s familiar grunting and heavy paws could be heard even with his own human ears. The badger growled at Jamie, snapping at his feet, trying to drive him toward the center of the stone circle.
He refused to comply; there was no way he’d leave her to face the bear alone again. And his reluctance seemed to make the poor wee thing panic.
With a terrifying roar, the bear came running up the hill, making a beeline for Jamie. The badger puffed itself up and stood between them, hissing at the enormous beast coming for them both.
Jamie pushed the badger aside just in time for the bear to barrel straight into him. A furious pain tore through his spine at the impact, and he lay limp as the bear stomped on him, roaring loud into his face.
The badger recovered and launched herself at the bear, fighting it off with nothing but her claws and sheer tenacity. She hissed and she keckered and gave her most vicious snarls. The clever wee thing scratched out one of the bear’s eyes, eliciting a furious growl from the large beast.
The Fierce Wee Badger backed away down the hill, taunting the bear, leading it away from Jamie.
“No,” he pleaded. “Better it takes me than you.” But the animals were both gone down the hill, and Jamie couldn’t even stand up, the pain was so bad.
And if he was being honest, he was terrified of facing that bear again. The damage it had already done...the damage it could continue to do.
A miserable shriek echoed up from the forest, and Jamie knew the Fierce Wee Badger must have been injured. “NO!” he yelled, trying to get up. “NO!”
The bear growled, and the badger hissed weakly back.
He reached in his pocket and grabbed the lock of hair Mo Nighean Donn had given him for strength, and then forced himself to stand despite his pain. Then he grabbed the dirk Herself had given him to protect the wee lass and pulled it from its scabbard.
His back begged him to collapse, to lay still and play dead until the beast moved on and someone else came to save him, but as he listened to the keening of the badger, he couldn’t just leave her for dead. He forced one foot in front of the other, faster and faster until he was running down the hill, the jarring impact of every step sending shocks of pain down his spine.
He ran as fast as he could toward the bear. He jumped on its back, holding tight to it’s fir with one hand, and reaching around its neck with the other to slice the beast’s throat with Herself’s dirk.
It died in moments.
Jamie jumped up from the bear, strangely no longer in pain, and rushed the badger’s side.
“Oh, ye sweet lass. Come here to me.” He scooped up her limp form in his arms. “Ye brave wee thing. Ye’ve a spine of steel.”
Her belly was shredded by the bear’s teeth and claws, and Jamie knew there was no way she would survive. He kissed her cheek and nuzzled her neck as she always loved to do to him.
She whimpered in pain, and her golden eyes were full of tears. She seemed to be pleading with him to put her out of her misery.
“Oh no, lass. No. I canna. I dinna have the courage for such a thing.”
But even as he said it, he knew he did. He felt steel in his spine, thanks to this fierce wee lass, that had never been there before.
And he did what had to be done.
Sobbing, he picked up the dirk and the lock of hair, and then he brought her wee body up the hill to the stone circle, somehow knowing exactly what her loss meant. He went to the center stone and laid her there before pagan altar.
He looked up and yelled to the fairy that cursed him. “Ye happy now?! Are ye satisfied?!”
Tears fell down his cheeks as he looked down to find the lock of hair and the dirk were both transformed into shiny rubies. And the body of the Fierce Wee Badger was gone and replaced with a beautiful blood-red gem.
He gathered them up, steeled his spine once more, and touched the great stone.
“What is it that’s weighing on your heart so heavily?” asked a sweet voice from the table next to Jamie’s. He sat drinking at tavern he found after falling through the latest stone.
He shrugged, doing all he could not to talk to the beautiful woman with the golden eyes. He’d been through five stones in the circle, and by now he knew exactly what would happen to the woman if he got too close.
“Come. Share with me,” she said. “I am a healer, you know. I specialize in caring for the ails of the heart.”
“How d’ye ken ’tis my heart that ails?”
“I have a knack for knowing such things.”
“Stay away from me, lass. For yer own sake.”
“And why should I do that?”
“Because everyone who aids me sacrifices too much in the end, and I give them nothing in return.”
“Some of us aren’t looking for anything in return when we aid someone. There is nobility in self-sacrifice, is there not?”
“Not when ’tis me ye sacrifice for. I dinna deserve it.”
“Oh, I think our Lord would disagree.”
Jamie couldn’t help but look at her then. She was all smiles and warmth, whisky eyes lit by firelight from the hearth. If his heart wasn’t stone, it would be bursting at the sight of her beauty.
“I’m being honest wi’ ye, lass. Everyone who comes close to me loses everything...including their life.”
“Perhaps you're worth it, Mr. Fraser.”
“Yet my heart canna bear to lose anyone else.”
“Well, by avoiding, you’re losing everyone else before you even get to know them. You may as well get some joy before the loss.”
“Mmphm.” Though he didn’t necessarily agree with her words, he did realize that even when he tried to stop his curse from taking more from him, it never seemed to work. Perhaps that was his real curse; it wasn’t the loss of his own body, mind, and soul, but losing all he loved to get them back—and there seemed to be nothing he could do to stop it.
“I canna protect ye from myself.”
“I don’t need that from you.” She placed a hand on his chest, and warmth spread from her fingertips to the very depths of his heart. “May I share with you a secret?”
He was finding it hard to deny her anything. “Aye.”
“It’s a secret I once heard from a man named Edmond Rostand.”
“I’ve never heard of him.”
“I know,” she said, smiling. Then she leaned in close and tried to meet his lips with her own.
He pulled back. “I thought ye said it was a secret ye wanted to tell me.”
“A kiss is a secret which takes the lips for the ear, a moment of infinity humming like a bee, a communion tasting of flowers, a way of breathing in a little of the heart and tasting a little of the soul with the edge of the lips.”
He didn’t fight her when she tried to kiss him again.
“Oh, our poor noble Laird,” said Claire, chuckling. “To have to endure a kiss from such a persistent woman.”
“Aye.” Jamie held her in his arms, one hand rubbing up and down her back and the other gripping her wild mass of hair. His lips traced over her chest that protected her beautiful, vulnerable heart.
“And let me guess, she set his stone heart aflutter?”
“Aye. She made it beat wildly.”
“Hmmm. I think I might be able to guess her name.” Claire’s eyes twinkled knowingly.
“Aye, mo chridhe. Ye ken it well, for I’ve whispered it to ye a thousand times before.” He kissed her heart again before laying his ear over it to listen to life’s rhythm dancing through her body. “The Laird never had a chance to protect his heart from the woman, because she was his heart from the beginning.”
“He loved her.”
“From the first. Aye.”
“And since this is only the sixth stone, I’m guessing it didn’t work out quite the way he hoped it would?”
“Mmphm. Aye. He tried very hard, of course, but ye ken the curse is not yet broken.”
“But it didn’t stop him from trying his best to do right by her. James offered her his hand in marriage, and she gladly accepted. They were madly in love as man and wife in all ways but one.”
A grin stretched over Claire’s mouth when she realized which pieces of the Laird were still yet to be healed. “That poor bride. But you’d think a stone cock would do the job just fine!”
He snorted against her soft, delicious skin. “No’ unless it was turned to stone at its full size. Unfortunately, the Laird was no’ overly aroused when the wicked wee fairy cursed him!”
“So his shriveled cock would remain so for eternity.”
“Unless he found a healer to fix it for him.”
“But,” Claire went on, knowing where he was headed, “Jamie married the woman! He can’t let another near his cock!”
“Indeed, my lass. So ye see the conflict the Laird faces in the Stone of Lust and Chastity?”
“I do. Go on, Jamie. Tell me how he’ll get through this stone,” eagerness coloring all her words.
“Well, the Laird heard tell of a woman rumored to be a witch that might help save his cock so he might consummate his marriage to Mo Chridhe.”
“A witch, hmm?”
“Aye. Her name was La Dame Blanche.”
Jamie kissed Mo Chridhe goodbye, tired of rubbing his stone cock against her quim, wanting desperately for it to come to life and fill her with his seed. He could only imagine the blessing it would be to make love to her, and all the more so if she gave him a child.
He set off to Paris to find the mysterious witch—La Dame Blanche.
He tracked her down in the Parisian underground of witches and sorcerers where she was said to keep a room deep within an apothecary. It wasn’t an easy shop to find, and he had to stop for directions many times, but finally, he arrived safely and in one piece.
A bell rang as he opened the door, bringing a woman whose belly was large and round with growing life to the front of the shop.
“Hello,” she said, yellow eyes smiling. “How can I help you, monsieur?”
“Are you La Dame Blanche? I have a problem I’m told she can help fix.”
“No. I am Madonna. Follow me, monsieur, and I will take you to her.”
“Thank ye, madame.”
She brought him to the back of her shop through a secret door hidden behind a shelf. Inside the room was a large bed covered in fine French silk, and lying on the center of that bed was a lovely woman who wore nothing but a white shift.
“Pardon me, madame. I can wait for you to dress,” he said.
She chuckled as Madonna moved to a cabinet to pour several glasses of whisky.
“Why waste time with dressing, monsieur. We all know why you are here.” She stood and walked to him with grace and elegance in every step. Her shift hid nothing of her body. He saw every curve of her breast through the thin fabric, the pink of her nipples, and the line splitting her bare honeypot below.
“How—” he coughed. “How d’ye ken why I’m here.”
“There are just some things a woman knows. Now come, monsieur.” She took his hand and pulled him to the bed. “Lie down and let me help you.”
“But—” he stuttered, thinking of his vows to Mo Chridhe. “I canna—”
“You can’t yet, but you will,” she laughed.
Madonna brought over the whisky, and he drank it down quickly, nerves building in his belly.
“You want to please your wife, don’t you?” asked La Dame Blanche. “You want to fill her womb with your child?”
“Aye. But I made promises to her. Promises I intend to keep.” He wouldn't make love to another woman, even it it meant his cock would never work again.
“You can keep your promises, mon chéri,” said Madonna, “if that is truly your desire. Just lie down, and let us heal you. We can stop at any time.”
He hesitated once more, but the need to push his cock into his wife’s quim was so powerful that he did exactly as she asked. Madonna sat next to him on the edge of the bed, while La Dame Blanche crawled up next on the other side.
They both smiled sweetly, seductively. As though mirroring each other, they traced their fingertips up his leg until they reached the hem of his kilt. They lifted it up and over his belly so his stone cock was exposed.
“Oh my,” said La Dame Blanche, eyes wide with lust. “There is so much potential here.” She held out a hand to Madonna who smeared an almond-scented cream into her palm. La Dame Blanche then rubbed that hand over his cock.
“And here,” said Madonna, her hand moving to cup his balls.
Jamie closed his eyes and forced an image of Mo Chridhe into his mind as the sensations of awakening life washed over him. He was doing this for her and for their marriage. He didn’t want to be touched by another. He just—
“Oh Christ!” he groaned. Madonna was massaging his balls, rubbing feeling into each one of them.
“There is life in here yet, James Fraser. You will give your woman fine seed.”
He grunted and squirmed as La Dame Blanche stroked his stone cock while kissing up his thigh. She moaned as if hungry for him, as though she might just take his cock in her mouth. Her lips sucked hard on the sensitive skin of his inner leg, and her teeth bit down.
“Blessed Bride!” He jumped up, pulling away from both their grasps. His cock was rock hard, but thankfully no longer stone.
He rushed out of the room and back into the empty shop. He reached under his kilt, grabbed his vital cock in hand, and abused himself madly to sate his lust. He fisted himself to climax, and held out a hand to catch his seed.
Except when he looked down, it wasn’t spunk he found in his palm, but two large glittering diamonds. He turned them over in his hand as he caught his breath.
“Sassenach!” Jamie chided, pushing her hand away. “Ye ken verra well mine doesna shoot diamonds.”
“It’s worth a try,” she said, laughing deep in her belly.
“I’m meant to be bestowing affection on you, lass.” He held her hands down as he bent over her quim to continue his ministrations. “Christ ye’re sae wet for me.”
“Of course I am. You’ve been...teasing me for the...last two bloody hours with this story,” she said between moans of pleasure.
“Aye. The teasing is done now.” He licked her again. “All the Laird’s pieces and parts have been healed by his lassies.”
Her chuckle was cut off by a moan. “Oh, how awful for the poor, suffering Laird to endure so many women touching, licking, sucking, and kissing on him for the sake of his marriage.”
Jamie snorted. “That’s no’ the point of the story.”
“Sure it isn’t.”
Jamie gave her quim one last kiss before crawling up her body and lining up his cock. “The point is that every piece and part of you is healing, my Sassenach. Every bit of ye has made me a better man, a stronger man. Yer body has given me life and a legacy. A family.” He pushed inside her. “Ye’ve given me everything I’ve ever wanted.”
Her eyes softened, and she brought his head down to meet her lips again. Their bodies rocked together, loving each other the best way they knew how.
Jamie went home directly from Paris to the arms of his eager wife. He made love to Mo Chridhe with a clear conscience and intentions to remain utterly devoted to her for the rest of his life.
But when he fell asleep next to her that night, his seed implanting in her belly, he worried that his happiness with her might not last. He was only in the sixth stone, after all. He doubted his curse would leave him alone to be happy while the fairy was still left unfulfilled.
But all of his body was working again. Sure there were scars on his back, and he couldn’t hear music very well nor carry a tune, and his right hand would forever be a little stiff, but those were all problems he could live with.
What else was the fairy holding over his head that he might feel compelled to set right?
Jamie didn’t find his answers until long after his wife’s belly grew round with his child.
He paced up and back in the sitting room as Mo Chridhe suffered through childbirth in the other room. He hated that he couldn’t be in there with her. He wanted to hold her and keep her safe. He wanted to see his child come into the world and be the first to hold it. He wanted to ensure his family was happy and healthy until the day he died.
But long hours went by and Jamie heard less and less noise coming from the next room. When his concern got the better of him, he shoved inside the door to make sure his wife and child were ok.
The room was empty save the bed in front of him with no one in it, and he realized they were gone.
No matter that their loss wasn’t a surprise, his heart was still shattered, and he would never love the same again. How he wished it was still made of stone.
Tears poured from his eyes and he went to the bed to find what he knew would still be there. The final diamond.
He left his house with a misery the likes of which he’d only ever known one other time before. The misery of when he was first cursed at the stones.
If he could give all the pieces of his body to the fairy to bring back his Heart, he most certainly would. But he knew this was his curse. He knew it could never be. And he knew it was all his own fault.
He went back to the stone circle once again, realizing that he never had a chance fight his fate no matter how hard he tried.
He would have to enter the seventh stone and he was powerless to stop the curse from playing out exactly as the fairy intended.
“A kiss is a secret which takes the lips for the ear, a moment of infinity humming like a bee, a communion tasting of flowers, a way of breathing in a little of the heart and tasting a little of the soul with the edge of the lips!”
- Edmond Rostand, Cyrano de Bergerac
Chapter 9: Live in the Bit That’s Left
“Are you alive?”
Jamie lay flat on his back in the seventh and final stone circle. He was exhausted and fighting off despair, but he forced himself to turn his head slowly to see what kind of creature could speak with such an ethereal voice.
She looked like a ghost, a spirit of some sort sent down from heaven. White linens flowed loosely from her body, and starlight shined in her eyes. Perhaps she was an angel.
“Who are you?” he asked.
She nodded, smiling.
“What d’ye want wi’ me?”
“I want to help you.”
“How can a spirit help me? I’ve lost all I love on this earth. There’s naught ye can do.”
She smiled serenely, fingering a necklace of pearls that reminded him of something a mother would wear. “What if that wasn’t true? What if I told you I could give you back all you lost?”
His heart stuttered in his chest desperate for hope. But hope was lost...wasn’t it?
“Hope is not lost, Jamie. There is a way for you to hold her once again.”
He wasn’t sure he believed the spirit, but...if there was a chance…
“There is a young woman who wears a silver ring of Jacobian thistle. It’s embedded with an emerald stone. Bring me that ring, and I’ll have the power to give you back all you’ve lost.”
His wife. His child. The badger. The Wise-Woman and everyone in between. Jamie wanted no riches. He wanted no great castles or horses or land. He didn’t even care to have whatever life he led before the curse. He just wanted the ones he loved.
“You swear you speak the truth, Sassenach?”
“I am pure spirit, Jamie. I cannot tell a lie.”
But that didn’t mean she couldn’t mislead him. Truth was funny that way.
But what other choices did he have? He could lie on the ground in his misery for eternity, he could find three emeralds for the wicked fairy who cursed him to begin with, or he could take a chance and give this sassenach spirit what she wanted and maybe get back everyone he loved.
He forced himself off the ground and to his feet. He looked the sassenach in the eye and said, “Ye have yerself a deal.”
Her eyes gave a quiet flare of triumph before she nodded.
“How do I find this young woman?”
“Her name is Claire, and you’ll meet her where your journey ends.”
“Dinna speak in riddles, Sassenach. Where can I find her?”
“There is one who knows where she is, though she’d never betray her friend’s trust.”
“Let me worry about that.”
“Her name is Madam Malcolm, and you can find her in Edinburgh. She’ll only speak to you about her friend if you wear this.” The spirit removed her necklace of pearls and gave them to Jamie. “Be warned, they will not allow you to tell a lie.”
Jamie grumbled, but took the necklace anyway. He put it on and stuffed it under his sark. He swore he could feel the damn thing heating up on his skin.
“Take care, Jamie, and remember the lessons you’ve learned along the way.”
“We’re getting into the metaphysical now? The Sassenach is a spirit?”
“Aye, she is.”
“Hmmm.” Claire narrowed her eyes, deep in thought. Jamie couldn’t help but smile at her naked body flush with exertion, a sheen of sweet on her brow, yet her face so sweetly serious.
“What are you thinking, Sassenach?”
“I’m just trying to figure out the end of your story. The Laird has gone through the Stones of Pride and Humility, Envy and Gratitude, Wrath and Patience, Gluttony and Temperance, Sloth and Diligence, and Lust and Chastity. That means that the current stone he’s in is—”
“Aye. Ye’re exactly right. Greed and Charity.”
“But I don’t understand. All the women he’s met embodied a characteristic of me. So not only was the Laird's body healed, but so was his soul bit by bit.”
“Aye, though he’s no’ fully healed quite yet.”
“The Laird doesn’t seem to trust this Spirit. Are you saying my soul is devious and underhanded, the way she’s trying to circumvent the wicked fairy?”
Jamie chuckled happily. “Ye’ll find out soon enough. But for now, our Laird has traveled to Edinburgh to find Madam Malcolm. Can ye guess where she is, Sassenach?”
Her breasts bounced with laughter. “The brothel?”
“Ye ken me well, mo ghraidh.”
Madam Malcolm was easy to find. It wasn’t every day that a person came across a famed healer living in a brothel. The locals directed him immediately to the notorious establishment where he found the lady brunching with a group of whores.
“Dorcus, you didn’t!” said Madam Malcolm in surprise, looking over one of the whore’s feet.
“Aye, but it was none so bad. Only a wee bit of bruising for me, though I canna say the same for him. His bellend was black and blue by the time I finished with him.”
“It’s what he asked for, and ye ken I like to give the customer what he wants.”
“Pardon me,” Jamie interrupted. “May I have a word with ye in private, Madam Malcolm? If ye dinna mind, of course.”
“Certainly.” She seemed relieved to be making her exit. “Follow me upstairs. That’s where I keep my medicines.”
Jamie didn’t correct her, but followed her up to the third floor, the smell of fornication thick in the air. When she closed the door behind him, he could still hear the sounds of pleasure, pain, and business permeating through the walls.
“Why d’ye no’ practice yer medicine somewhere else?” he asked.
“And leave the brothel? Nonsense. I have everything I need right here, including an abundance of clientele. Now, what can I help you with, sir?”
“I’m looking for a young woman. I heard she is a friend of yers. Her name is Claire.”
“You’ll have to be more specific. I know a number of Claires.” By the look in her eyes, Jamie could see she knew exactly which one he was talking about.
Jamie pulled the necklace out of his sark and let it hang visible around his neck. Madam Malcolm raised her brows and nodded for him to proceed. “This young woman is said to wear a silver ring crafted to look like Jacobian thistle. It’s got an emerald gem embedded in the metal.”
“And what is it you want with her?”
“I’d like to find a way to buy her ring.”
“What d’ye mean?”
“That ring has power. It has meaning. You can’t just buy it from her.”
“Why not? It would kill her! That’s why not.”
Jamie took several steps back in shock. "Kill her?"
Images of all the ones he loved flashed through his mind. All of them were gone. Dead. If he took the ring from the lass, she’d be gone along with them.
Then again, the difference was that the Sassenach spirit could bring them all back. “There was a spirit I met who said she could bring back the ones I love if only she had that ring. Surely this Claire lassie would understand and give it over. Perhaps the spirit could bring her back as well.”
Madam Malcolm shook her head. “I’m sorry, Jamie, but that’s not how the power of the ring works. If you take it from her to get what you want, her life will be forfeit. Have you not seen something similar before?”
He did. He’d witnessed it many times before. Eighteen times in six other stones. But there was nothing he could do about it then. It seemed no matter how hard he tried to do the right thing, those around him still sacrificed themselves for him.
Could he really do it again? Could he go through that one more time? Take away from another so that he could get his way?
He sat down on a chair in the room, suddenly feeling weak in the knees. His greed might get him everything he could ever want...but at what cost to his soul? At what cost to those around him?
“Is not her one life a worthy sacrifice to save more than a dozen others?” he asked, desperate for some degree of validation.
“Think of the one you loved more than any other, James. Recall her face clearly in your mind.”
Jamie did as he was asked and pictured his wife’s face. Dear God, she was beautiful. He missed her terribly.
“Would sacrificing her be worth bringing back another?” asked Madam Malcolm.
“No, of course not.”
“A dozen others?”
“A hundred? A thousand?”
He shook his head and knew the truth of it. He wouldn’t sacrifice her for all the people in the world.
She rested a hand on his shoulder. " There you have it. You cannot sacrifice the life of someone else just to get what you want, no matter how great you benefit. Claire needs that ring. Taking it from her would be the height of folly.”
She stepped away and began packing a small bag of little things here and there as he sat with his thoughts. He only wished he had it in him to think clearly.
“Here,” she said, handing him the bag. “I’ve packed you a little journeycake and a bit of soap. Fill your belly, take a bath, and get a good night’s rest. We make our best decisions when we take good care of ourselves.”
Though Jamie refused to stay in Edinburgh any longer, as soon as he made it out into the wilderness once again, he did as the healer suggested. He took a long nap under a willow tree to sleep off the never ending exhaustion he felt since he lost Mo Chridhe.
When he woke up with the rising sun, he took a bath in the cold creek. The water seemed to cleanse his body and his spirit, because when he took out the soap to start washing himself he seemed to be thinking more clearly.
Those that had helped him on his journey through each of the standing stones relinquished all that was theirs to him. Every single one.
He wasn’t touched by so many good people just to stain his soul. He couldn’t be the same man he was when he woke up from his curse. Too much had happened since then. He’d been given too many gifts, gifts he’d sworn he would never take for granted again.
So Jamie made his decision to give up his search for Claire and find a way to live in peace until he could help another the way so many helped him.
When he rinsed the soap off his body, he felt something strange in his hand. He looked down and realized that the bar of soap Madam Malcolm gave him held something surprising in the middle.
A large, beautiful emerald, a deeper green than even the abundant Highland grass. He cringed at the thought of yet another doing for him so easily what he struggled to do for anyone else.
Jamie made his way back to the stone circle from whence he originally came. The closer he got to it, the more familiar the landscape seemed to become.
“Craigh Na Dun,” he said to himself, remembering the name of the place he’d known from a lifetime before. He thought perhaps he’d been there sometime before the curse had taken his life from him—or rather, before he ruined his own life with his selfishness and greed.
He walked toward the fairy hill with only one emerald in his pocket, knowing it wouldn’t be enough to pay his debt to the fairy. But his hope was that the Sassenach spirit would be lingering about once again, and he could return the necklace and find a way to move on with his life.
Perhaps he’d sell the gem Madam Malcolm bestowed upon him and buy a small cottage and a bit of land. He could find peace living a humble crofter’s life. He didn’t need grand parties or beautiful women hanging about him all the time. He didn’t need much food or drink to sate his need. He was ready to work hard to build a life for himself...and maybe, just maybe, he might be able to help a few others on their own journeys.
The more he thought about that life, the better he felt. Hope took root in his heart and seemed to blossom with every step he took closer toward the hill.
“Excuse me, sir,” someone called weakly nearby. It took a moment, but Jamie found the person responsible for the feeble voice lying in a patch of wildflowers and overgrown grass.
“Are ye alright, lass?” he asked, rushing to her side.
“Oh, I’m sure I’m fine. I just need a drink of water and perhaps a bite to eat.”
She was lovely, though she seemed rather ill. She had circles under her eyes and her skin was a sickly shade of gray, but her golden eyes were warm and friendly and her brown hair was the color of a pretty wee burn.
He pulled out the bag Madam Malcolm gave him and handed over some journeycake and his water skin.
“Oh, that’s much better,” she said, smiling weakly.
She didn’t look much better. In fact, she hardly looked as though she could walk at all. “D’ye need help getting home, lass?”
“Oh, I am home,” she shrugged.
“Ye live out here in the wild? By yerself?”
She nodded pleasantly despite the loneliness in her eyes.
“Where is yer family? Yer loved ones?”
“I’ve only ever loved one man, and he’s long gone.” Her eyes grew sad.
“No, but pain caused his soul to turn dark, and he abandoned me long ago.”
Jamie looked around as though hoping to see the bastard to give him a little of his own personal justice. There was no one around but the two of them.
The young woman wiped a tear from the corner of her eye. On her right hand, he noticed a silver ring with a glint of green. A little emerald sat embedded in the middle of a Jacobian thistle.
“Claire,” he said, feeling a little breathless.
“How did you know my name?” She didn’t seem troubled by his knowledge.
Jamie didn’t want to tell her why he’d sought out Madam Malcolm in Edinburgh, but he still wore the pearl necklace and was compelled to speak only the truth. “I met a friend of yours in Edinburgh. She spoke very highly of you.”
“How lovely. It’s good to know I still have a friend out there somewhere.”
Except she didn’t. Jamie felt the emerald gem weigh heavy in his pocket.
“Tell me, lass. Why is it ye’ve become so ill?”
“Oh, I’ve been forgotten.”
She nodded. “When I was a young girl, I was ever present in the minds of a fair few people. But as the years have gone by, I’ve been forgotten. The one I loved found pleasure in grand parties, great castles, and other women. He used to come by and pick flowers with me, play games, and make sure I was happy and well. But no more. And yesterday, it felt as though I was forgotten all over again.” She looked up pleading at Jamie. “You don’t suppose my friend in Edinburgh forgot me too?”
Jamie fingered the emerald in his pocket, knowing that Madam Malcolm didn’t forget this young woman, but rather, she gave up her own life to aid Jamie in his.
It was Jamie’s fault this poor woman was hardly strong enough to call for help.
“Dinna fash, Claire,” said Jamie. “I’m here. I promise I’ll remember ye for all the rest of my days.”
“Aye,” he said. “And I must mean it, because I’m still wearing this bloody necklace.”
He showed her the necklace, and her eyes lit up with joy. Color seemed to return to her face and strength filled her body.
Jamie helped her to her feet, admiring her pale skin now that it wasn’t tainted with the pallor of loneliness.
“Now, do ye no’ have a safe place to go, lass? Where can I take ye to help ye settle?”
She shrugged. As she said before, she didn’t have a home.
He reached in his pocket and fingered the emerald once again. It was his only chance at a peaceful life. His last dream of a bit of land and something he could call his own.
Then again, he supposed she needed it more than him. He imagined the good it would her if he sacrificed something of his own for her.
He looked back up the fairy hill where he knew the Sassenach would be waiting, the hill of stones where the fairy demanded payment of his debt. Then, he look down at the sweet bonnie lass in front of him and knew there had never really been a choice.
“Here,” he said, taking the emerald out of his pocket and handing it over. “Take this and sell it. Perhaps ye can buy yerself a place to stay wi’ a wee garden and comfortable bed.”
“You can’t be serious,” she said, astonished.
“Of course I am. I’m wearing the necklace, am I not?”
She nodded, joy radiating from her eyes like sunshine.
“Now,” said Jamie, “let me take ye to town to find a place to sell that gem. I’ll no’ be having someone take advantage of ye.”
He held out a hand, and she happily accepted.
“I’ve left something up at the hill,” she said. “Would you mind coming with me a moment before we leave for town?”
As they walked up the hill, Jamie felt a weight lift from his shoulders. He still ached at the loss of his wife and child, and sadness would likely never let go of his heart, but the joy in the eyes of the woman next to him was a bit contagious. It warmed him even more than the Highland sun.
In fact, it reminded him of a girl he once knew. A little girl who lived by the fairy hill not far from his castle. They used to play together in the wildflowers.
He bent over and picked some wild forget-me-nots and held them out to her.
“Oh Jamie!” she cried, and threw her arms around him.
He laughed at her uninhibited gratitude and held her close to his body. It was when he smelled his wife’s scent in her hair that he realized it was a scent he’d known all his life.
He realized he was beginning to remember his life before.
This woman was the Wise-Woman and Mo Chridhe. She was the Fierce Wee Badger and La Dame Blanche. She was his heart and his spirit. She was his courage and his conscience. His strength and patience. And she had been so this whole time.
“Oh God. Oh Claire!”
He held her face in his hands and stared at her golden sassenach eyes, memories filling his mind of their years together long before. Moisture gathered with the gold, making them glitter all the more brightly.
“Come,” she said, pulling him up the hill. He followed blindly, eyes focused solely on her, trying to remember more of what was lost to the curse.
At the top of the hill, she took the emerald he gave her and placed it in his palm.
“No lass. No, I canna—”
She just smiled and pulled the ring off her finger and placed that in his hand as well.
Then she pulled the necklace over his head and dropped it with the other gems; except now it was no longer a necklace, but a third shining stone.
“Come,” she said, “follow me.” And she disappeared through the seventh stone.
Jamie looked around the fairy hill one last time. Then he looked down at his stones given to him by three incredible women: the lovely spirit of truth; his conscience, Madam Malcolm; and the young woman, Claire, who cleared the fog from his mind.
He thanked them quietly—thanked her—and then touched the last stone.
Chapter 10: Only You
Jamie came through the stone circle and landed back in the castle. Except it wasn’t a castle anymore. It was the standing stones at Craigh Na Dun.
And there was no wicked wee fairy. There was only Claire. His Claire. His wife. His childhood friend.
“It was you?” he asked. “This whole time? Ye did all this to me?”
She nodded solemnly. “You were lost, my Laird. Lost to the power of sin. You needed reminding of the person you’d once been.”
He reached out a hand and touched her face, fearful of tainting such perfection with his lack of holy grace. But she leaned into his caress.
“Ye’re a fairy?” he asked, already knowing the answer.
“I’m many things, Jamie.”
“You’re everything, Claire.”
He looked around and realized all the fog was gone from the moor and his horse was grazing happily nearby. There were no gems or castles or altars to be found. Only a few standing stones in the grass.
“Ye have power in ye, lass.”
She gazed back solemnly. “And you have power too, my Laird. Power over your people. Power over the ones you love. How will you wield that power? With greed and wrath? With gluttony and lust? With envy, pride, and sloth?”
He shook his head. “God no. Not after all this. Not after remembering you, mo ghraidh.”
He took her face in his hands and placed a soft kiss on her lips. “Will ye come back wi’ me to the castle? Will ye help me set things right? I’ll need ye, Sassenach, ye ken I will. For you are my courage and conscience, my heart and compassion.”
“Oh Jamie. Do you think I’m whole without you? I’m naught but a lost and lonely outlander unless I’m in your arms.”
“Ye’re so much more than that and we both ken it well. Ye’ll come wi’ me?”
“Nothing could keep me away.”
“So the Sassenach spirit didn’t lie to him after all,” said Claire. “If he found the ring, he would get all those he loved back.”
“Aye.” Jamie stroked her cheek softly.
“So they lived happily ever after? Taking care of their land and people as a good Laird and Lady should? Sharing their bounty and living in the seven heavenly virtues?”
“Aye," he laughed. "Save chastity. He only remained chaste outside his wife’s arms.”
“Of course,” she giggled.
He sighed heavily in complete contentment. “Only you,” he said quietly. “To worship ye with my body, give ye all the service of my hands. To give ye my name, and all my heart and soul with it. Only you. Because ye will not let me lie—and yet ye love me.”
She lifted herself up and kissed him, telling him with her whole body how much that was true.
“Was it a fair story for yer St. Valentine’s Day, lass?”
“It was perfect. I can’t wait to see what you come up with next.”