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Laochaire

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16 April, ????

Craigh Na Dun, Inverness, Scotland

It was terrifying - just as terrifying as it had been when I had travelled through the stones the first time. The screams… They were the worst. Who’s screams were they? Whom had they been? Were they travellers like me? Claimed by the stones, never to emerge? The screams, the buzzing, all of it was the fuel of nightmares, and I knew that I would never, ever escape these frightening sounds, no matter how-

“M-mee,” echoed a voice. Who was that? A… a child? “M-mee.” It was so muffled, so quiet, so far away… Was this child alone? Where was its mother? I had to reach that child. I just had to. Wherever it was… “M-mee!”

“Where are ye?” I called out to the voice. “I hear ye, where are ye?”

“Mammy!” It was so much clearer now - a child calling out to its mother. “Mammy! Mammy!”

“I hear ye,” I said to the voice of the child. “Wherever you are, I’m coming! Stay where ye are!”

“Mammy, wakey!” said the childlike voice. Wakey? As in… wake up? I opened my eyes, and an innocent, childlike face flooded my field vision, framed by a crown of sunlight. “Mammy!”

“Archie?” I asked, looking up into the grey eyes of my two-year-old son.

“Mammy!” wee Archie exclaimed, throwing his little arms around my neck.

“Oh, mo chridhe… My sweet lamb…” I muttered into his hair, holding him tightly in my arms.

“Mammy, where Daddy?” Archie said, his little grey eyes darting around looking for his father, whom he had last seen just before we passed through the stones.

“Safe, a leannan ,” I told him, feeling tears sting my eyes at the thought. My poor, sweet son… Archie would never see his father again, and the child I carried would never even meet Jamie. My heart ached so much for Jamie, longed to see his blue eyes framed by his red curls, longed to kiss him, hold his face in my hands, feel him moving beneath me… I longed to see him hold his son and tell him he loved him. I longed for Archie, a nearly identical copy of his father, save for his silver Fowlis eyes, to stand beside Jamie and be mistaken for him… but none of that would ever happen again. There was no one alive to tell Archie how much he looked like his father - no one but me. “He’s safe, my darling…” The tears began to run down my cheeks and I quickly wiped them away before Archie could see, but he was too quick.

“Mammy sad?” he asked me, and I sniffled and wiped my eyes with my tartan.

“No, a ghràidh , just… Come on, why dinnae we go home?” I asked him.

“Home! Home!” he cried excitedly. Home for Archie was Lallybroch, and it was the closest thing to home that he knew. As for me… I’d been living at the rebel headquarters since I was fifteen, and at various camps throughout Scotland and northern England. For us, now, there was no home. Only a void where a tall man with brilliant red curls once stood.

I sat up fully and looked around, expecting to see the Culloden battlefield as I last remembered it. Of course, I wouldn’t see it exactly the same. When I left, there were tents littering the field, but now, there were only… Wait. There… There were only trees… There weren’t any trees when I left in 2138, it was an empty field. I could see Craigh Na Dun from the medical tent. So why were there trees ? I jumped and let out a gasp when I heard the sound of a cannon being fired and grabbed Archie, holding him close to my chest.

“No,” I muttered, standing up and backing up against one of the stones of the outer circle. “No, no, no… No!”

“No!” Archie exclaimed.

“Shh! Shh, shh, hush, lamb,” I said, my eyes wide with alarm. I saw a flash of red in the distance and bolted behind the stone, holding Archie firmly against my chest. No, it couldn’t be… but a whiff of gunpowder smoke caught the breeze, assuring me of one thing…

I hadn’t travelled through the stones at all - I was still in 1746.

“Shit… Shit, shit, shit! Goddamn it, Jamie!” I hissed quietly to myself as the shouts and screams and gunshots and metal on metal from the Battle of Culloden carried over the trees. “What do I do… Goddamn it, what do I do ?”

“If either of ye need anything, send word and I will be there. Ye have a home in my home, and ye’ll always be welcome at Cìosamul…”

The words of Alasdair Fowlis, my father’s cousin, echoed in my mind. Cìosamul… I’d go to Barra. I hadn’t been to Barra since the murder of my family, but I didn’t have a choice. Save for a couple of minor English raids, Barra fared well in the aftermath of Culloden thanks to the Laird of Cìosamul’s declared neutrality, so it would be safe. Safe for me, for Archie, and for my unborn child. I promised Jamie I would keep them safe, and if I couldn’t do that by returning to my own time, then I had to face my family. I was facing a new kind of unknown, one I never thought I’d face in all my life, and frankly, I was terrified. What would I do if my grandsire didn’t accept me? What would I do if they threw me out? Where would I go? As the Red Witch, I was a wanted woman, and an obvious target with my bright red hair. Not to mention, Barra was very, very far, and difficult to get to. I’d have to cross all of Scotland, then cross an Cuan Barrach , or the Sea of the Hebrides. Christ, I was so terrified… but it was a risk I had to take. I had promised Jamie.

“Archie,” I said softly to my son, fighting the trembling of my throat. “We’re goin’ te Barra.”