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A step through time

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Memory can be a funny thing. A moment recalled to mind in vivid detail. Relived, as though having happened mere moments before. On the other hand, a memory can be fuzzy, difficult to recall fully. Making you feel as though it happened a lifetime ago. Both these thoughts seemed to collide as I stood at the green painted wooden gate. Suitcase in one hand, a slightly too large for me now skirt and jacket on me. Looking at the neat 1930’s terraced house I felt all at once as if I had never left and had never been here before.
The home I had shared with my husband, Frank. For too few months I thought. War had been declared in 1939 a few months after our hasty marriage. I had joined up alongside Frank. Eager to do our part.

Frank had been selected to join the war office. Working within the intelligence department. I had trained to be a nurse however my war career had taken a slight change of direction a few months after my initial deployment. France had been in chaos, the German war machine pushing our troops back to Dunkirk beach. Severing supply lines and cutting off units. I was part of a medical unit cut off and surrounded. I also became one of only five to survive and get to a rendezvous point for extraction. My ability to speak French, German and Belgian had saved my group. Plus my skills learned over years of travel to dig sites with my Uncle Lamb, an archeologist. Uncle Lamb had raised me somewhat unconventionally when both my parents were lost in a car accident.

It was due to this incident I was approached and asked to return to France. To help the resistance. I was sent for training in Scotland. Learning espionage, sabotage and survival. I was deployed into France in the Freteval forest area. I lived in the forests for most of the war. Working with one hundred men, many displaced from villages and towns or airmen shot down over France.

I had not seen Frank properly since 1940 and had only corresponded a few times and saw him for one hour in Paris at the end of the war. Now in February 1946 I was stood at our gate looking upon the house that should feel like home. Yet yearning for the forests once more. After the war ended I was dispatched to Paris. Reassigned to an office job to help relocate displaced persons. I had then been summoned to London for a debrief in January and then three weeks later discharged from the army. Thanked for my service and encouraged to return to my husband and my wifely duties.

So just like that I now found myself dressed in the suit I had last worn to commence by nursing training. My meagre possessions packed in that same small leather suitcase that had accompanied me on that fateful journey.

I approached the matching green painted front door. The stained glass window darken from the shadows in the hall. Reaching to tentatively knock, my stomach did little flips. “Coming now!” Frank’s mellow tones rang out as a figure approached the door. Nothing more than a shadowy blur due to the stained glass. The door clicked open and swung back revealing Frank. Dressed casually for a Saturday in shirt and jumper with wooden trousers. His face went white with shock as his eyes bulged.

“I’m back”

“Claire.”

He spoke as if in disbelief, allowing his mind to catch up to his eyes. He then grabbed me into a deep hug. Wrapping his arms tightly around me.

“I can’t believe you have returned? When ? How? For good?”

So many questions tumbled from him, as sobs wracked both our bodies. The familiarity of his embrace and smell once more bringing memories back but in clear concise moments from our courtship and the infant days of marriage.

“Come in, come in. I can’t believe you are back!”

Frank pulled me into the hallway leading me into the sitting room. My heeled shoes ringing out on the tiled flooring. As he took my bag from me, grinning from ear to ear. It was the warm welcome home that I had hoped for. We could now pick up where we left off. It was as if the war had only paused our marriage. Despite being wed in 1939 we were like newly weds, learning each other once more. More strangers than husband and wife.

“I was just making some tea. Would you care for some?”

“Yes that would be lovely.”

I sat on the settee, surveying in the room. Little had changed in the years since I left. Our wedding photograph sat proudly on the mantle. Alongside the photographs of me in my Queen Alexandra’s Royal Nursing Corps uniform and Frank in his uniform. Sunlight beamed in through the slightly bleached curtains. The nets covering the window in need of a wash, marked as they were with dust.

Frank appeared back, carrying a tray with teapot, cups and saucers and a few hard biscuits. Rationing still existed and so food was still limited. We sat sipping our tea in stilted silence. It was strange for me to be back here. Much of what I had done during the war could not be discussed. As reiterated time and time again during my three week debrief. Frank had worked for the war office in the intelligence department. I figured he would be the same. I tried to break the silence.

“So have you been busy with your work?”

“Yes, it has been quite hectic the last few months.”

“I have been discharged.”

“Really? That’s wonderful. I have had word that my discharge should come through in July. My position at Oxford can then resume in September. It would work very well for us. I will start looking at housing options in the area straight away.”

Frank was clearly pleased with this news and he smiled as he spoke. It was a warm and full smile. One I had sorely missed these last years.

“You won’t need to worry about working either. Not with my wages from the university.”

“I have some money too. I was paid but never used it as I was, well you know, I was over there. I would like to continue working though. To contribute in some way to help our household.”

“Don’t be ridiculous Claire! I would be laughed at, making my wife go out to work. No it would be much better you being at home. There will be a lot of entertaining to do and you will need to get to know my colleagues wives.”

Laughter rumbled from Frank’s chest and I felt a tightening in my own. How could I possibly get to know and entertain these colleagues and wives Frank spoke of? What would these woman know of what I had seen, how could I ever relate to them? The tightening in my chest continued and I had to force my mind to not worry about that. It was months away I reminded myself.

“Well yes I suppose you might be right.”

I mumbled out continuing to sip from my teacup. It was after all what the Colonel had informed me when handing my discharge papers over. Go home and be a wife. I just wasn’t quite sure how to do that, but I could learn.
Frank moved over to the space beside me. Taking my hand in his. A familiar tingling moved across my skin as he gently caressed my hand with his thumb. I had missed my husband. The years had been long and while he was not on my mind continually, he was there often enough. I moved towards him, our lips touching softly in a kiss. Tentatively at first then deepening as we became familiar with the movement and taste of each other once more.

My arms reached around him drawing him closer to me. The need for him building and the desire to claim him as mine once more. Frank and I had always connected well through sex. It was how we had built our love and resolved issues. He was a generous lover and I was a person who felt with my whole being.

Desire built and lust took over. I was pulling at his jumper and shirt. Removing it from his body as my hands ran to his belt, loosening it. His desire was evident as I felt his erection through his trousers, straining for release. Frank pulled at my suit jacket throwing it to the floor. My blouse pulled from my skirt as Frank’s hands ran up my side and moved under it towards my back. I froze at the same moment he did. Jumping from the settee and pulling me to my feet. My heart was pounding as he pushed me around to face away from him. Pulling my blouse up exposing my back and the large angry welts that covered it. A noise like a wounded animal echoed around the sitting room from Frank. I turned around pulling my jacket from the floor to cover myself further. His face an ashen shade of white. I held back my sob as I bolted from the house.

I ran without a backward glance, needing to get away. I headed towards the small wooded area just down from the neat row of houses. The scent of trees just after a rain shower flooded my senses and calmed me. The tree canopy covering me with mottled shadows from the sun and reassurance. I always felt at ease in the outdoors. It was why I got on so well on my assignments during the war.

I found a wooden bench and sat, enjoying the solitude and trying to forget the look of abject horror and disgust on Frank’s face. My back, a constant reminder of my service to King and country. Large welts the full of my back from shoulder to buttocks. Marks created by a cruel and callous torturer with a hot poker. I had been captured on a mission. Held prisoner at Chateau de Rouche. I was beaten and starved. Raped and attacked time and again. I would not speak out nor betray my colleagues. The garrison commander, an SS officer was loosing patience and I knew I would soon die. In a last ditch effort to make me speak he burned my flesh. The smell of my burning skin still came in waves to me. The pain beyond anything I had endured so far causing me to pass out. Returned to my cell but not before he ensured his masterpiece was complete. I was rescued two days later by my colleagues. They broke into the chateau and got me out. I was barely alive but yet I somehow pulled through.

As I sat with the familiar scent of woodland all around me I could still recall laying on my front in the small tent at our camp. Pierre and Claude gently cleaning my burns. Each time they touched my skin the winch of pain shot through me. They continued with delicate care, whispering loving words of how I was so beautiful, special. That these marks did not detract from me. Yet Frank had been repulsed and horrified.

Because of the words spoken by Pierre and Claude I had been assured. I hadn’t allowed these scars to define me, stop me. Instead they had made me resolute. Now though I was terrified of what people would think. Frank who was my husband had reacted so badly. How could I expect others to react any differently? I knew that yes I could cover them for the most part with blouses and dresses. But to never go bathing? To never wear a low backed dress. All because society would be disgusted and have no understanding of how or why I received them? Sure I had been awarded a medal for bravery but it paled into nothing. Especially if society would not see these marks are honourable. I had known this would happen, it had been a niggling doubt just floating there, never given credence. Now it had come true. Tears dropped down my cheeks as I wept for what my life could have been.

The sun was beginning to get lower in the sky. A chill had crept into the air and the jacket I had grabbed from the floor as I bolted was wholly unsuitable for keeping it out. Two perfectly polished brown shoes entered my vision causing me to look up.

“Frank! What are you doing here?”

“I could ask you the same. I was looking for you. Didn’t think to look here until ten minutes ago. Are you cold?”

I nodded in answer as he placed a woollen coat around me and settled himself on the bench beside me.

“I should have known you would be here. You always loved the forests and outdoors in general......Seems we have quite a bit to catch up on.”

I again didn’t respond verbally, simply enjoying the extra heat from the coat instead. Frank sighed out loudly and shifted his position.

“I should apologise for my reaction Claire. It was quite the shock. I didn’t know you had been mutilated in such a manner.”

Frank had cleared his throat as he spoke, clearly still upset by what was on my back.

“Can you tell me what happened?”

“I was captured and tortured Frank. There isn’t much to tell. The marks are the evidence, the proof of the cruelty of war.”

“When did it happen?”

“Two years ago next month.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I couldn’t tell you at the time. I had no idea what updates you did get to be honest.”

“Very little, that’s what I was told. I didn’t even know you had been captured until three months after you had been rescued. They never mentioned your injuries.”

I could hear the emotion in Frank’s voice the hurt and distress. It was never easy being the person left behind at times of war. However it was even harder because I couldn’t write and I didn’t get time off.

“I should have told you when I got home. I shouldn’t have allowed you to find out that way.”

It was the truth. While I was used to the scars now, Frank was not, he needed time to adjust. Time that I had not given him.

“Well I do believe we both got distracted. Do you wish to go home. It is very cold.”

Nodding I rose from my seat. Once again grateful for the woollen coat. We walked in silence back to the house. The last rays of sunlight fighting for dominance against the darkness.

Dinner was eaten quietly and the conversation from Frank was agonisingly contrite. The ackward tension still there. At bedtime he avoid looking at me as I undressed. As though unable to bear looking upon the scars once more. Covered in my nightdress and lying in the darkness of the room, we did find each other. The years apart, the loneliness, the hurt all falling away from us. As we discovered each other anew. Though Frank’s hands never wandered to my back.

The next morning Frank was dressed and out of the room before I awoke. Again to avoid the sight of my back. Throughout the day conversation did improve, as we slowly ebbed our way back to familiarity. Frank told me of his job. He spoke of his return to teaching history, of his hopes for a trip to Scotland to conduct some research. Mostly though he spoke of his desire for a family. Wishing to start right away.

“It will give you a focus, Claire, a purpose after all that you have been doing.”

“Yes I suppose it would. But there really isn’t any hurry. We can take our time and children won’t matter really, if we didn’t have them would they?”

I wished my voice did not shake as I spoke those words, but it did. Frank stopped for only a second eyeing me before continuing.

“Well you know children are important to me. I have always wished to pass on the good Randal name and bloodline!”

Oh Lord his enthusiasm for this is not good I thought. Not only did I return scarred beyond comprehension, I had another secret, a dark secret that weighed heavily on me. My torturer was not just focused on inflicting pain, they were cruel beyond all measure. I had been sterilised, I could no longer dream of holding my child. I could no longer give Frank what he desired most. I could not even begin to imagine how to tell him. The shame I felt at being half a woman, broken beyond repair. There was so much to tell Frank of what had befell me during my war. Each more painful than the last. This however was the breaking point. I knew when he found out he could no longer want me.

I debated just blurting it out there and then as we walked along the country lane through the fields. The winter sun surprisingly warm on my back and the gentle cornflower blue of the sky adding to the picture perfect moment. Is bad news best broke at beautiful locations? I just didn’t know. Frank was still enthusiastically discussing our future plans and children. No, now was not the time. I would continue to enjoy this blissful contentment for a little longer. Perhaps in a few weeks or months I thought resolutely, I well tell the whole truth then. For now though I needed the feel of my husband’s hand in mine, I needed the reassurance of a life together. The hope of dreams planned out. Something I had been robbed off for far too long. I needed time to rebuild my relationship with Frank. Then I would tell him.

Chapter Text

If memory can be a funny thing then time is a cruel beast, or rather timing. The best laid plans and all that. I lamented inwardly to myself. Several weeks had passed since my return home and now I stood with shatter hopes, dreams tattered and torn all around. The pain focused on my chest causing me to fall to my knees. How! Why! I have given so much already. I had cried out but the house was empty.

Frank and I had been relearning each others ways. Telling tales and stories from our long time apart. We had gotten close, reconnecting as we once had been. Then this evening it had all come tumbling down. Like the tower of cards I used to watch the the soldiers build.
After dinner there had been a knock at the door. Answering it two men stood in black woollen coats and suits, fedora hats on their head pulled down covering part of their faces.

“Agent Randall?”

One of them asked flashing a warrant card at me. I nodded slowly then corrected them.

“It’s Mrs Randall now, I was discharged several weeks ago.”

I stood in the doorway not sure what to do. The polite and proper housewife action would be to invite them in, offer tea and biscuits and allow the men to converse. Somehow I knew this wasn’t how that was going to play out. After a short pause the gentleman who had spoken reached into his pocket and pulled it a crisp white envelope.

“This is for you Agent Randall.”

Handing it to me they both turned and walked down the path, without any further comment. The chill of the night air swirling around me as the weight of the envelope felt heavy in my hand.

The front of the envelope had black typed letters, addressed solely to “Agent Randall” no other markings on it. Time seemed to stand still as I slowly opened the envelope. The noise of the seal tearing gently, sounding like curtains being ripped in two. I hadn’t notice Frank walking up behind me. Reaching to close the door while half heartily admonishing me for leaving the door open.

“What’s that? Was it just delivered? I thought I had heard the door.”

“Yes, two gentlemen delivered this too me. I don’t know what it is.”

I was distracted, focused entirely on the thick paper contained within the envelope. Frank was continuing to ramble on behind me, his voice sounding so far away. The letter was from the War Office, specifically the intelligence department. Orders, thats what it was. I was to report on Friday at 0800hrs at Cameron Barracks in Inverness. I didn’t understand, I was discharged. Why were they ordering I report for duty? I handed the letter to Frank wordlessly. My mind unable to comprehend or even form words.

“What is the meaning of this?! You can’t go, you have only returned.”

“I have orders Frank I can’t ignore them. I don’t understand it.”

“You are supposed to be discharged. Did you lie to me?”

“What? No! Why would I lie about something like that! I was returned to London and debriefed over three weeks. The Colonel handed me my discharge papers on the last day. Told me to go home and be a wife.”

Frank reread the letter, as if hoping for the words to have suddenly changed. However the solid black letters, thumped into the paper by typewriter did not change their meaning. I had orders to report and Frank as well as I knew they could not be ignored.

“This is bullshit Claire!”

He threw the letter to the ground, the paper, despite the ferocity of the throw mockingly swooped and glided elegantly and gently to the floor. Frank grabbed his coat and hat, storming out of the house without a backward glance. I felt my heart break in two.

**********************************

The pub was empty for a Monday night, only a few of the local patrons propped at the bar. Richardson had agreed to meet me here. He better have answers I thought angrily. Claire had only returned to me and now they were looking to take her again!

“Randall how are you?”

“How am I? Richardson you should know. Claire has only retuned and you are taking her away again! You bastard!”

“Wait what? I don’t know what you are talking about? I haven’t recalled her. Christ, Frank she was discharged.”

“Then explain why she received Orders this evening to report to Inverness!”

I could no longer control my voice and the anger was easy to mettle out to Richardson.

“Calm down old boy! I don’t know what is going on but look I will make some enquiries tomorrow.”

I nodded and finished my pint of ale. The truth was that if the orders were genuine and I had no reason to suspect otherwise. Claire would have to go. Could I watch her leave once more? Did I have the strength to put her on the train and wave it goodbye? I just didn’t know.

***********************************

It was strange standing in my room, the bedroom I had been reclaiming with Frank, packing my small leather suitcase once more. It was nine o’clock and Frank was still not home I didn’t know where he was. Just that he was angry when he left. After a few moments of feeling sorry for myself, I pulled it together. This wasn’t going away if I didn’t report on time they could arrest me. I would not risk that, after all it could be for a simple case of a further debrief or to discuss training. I had completed my training in the Highlands after all. No Frank would just have to like it or lump it!

*************************************

I was sat at my desk, mind wandering. I had tasks to complete but I couldn’t focus. By the time I had returned home Claire was asleep in bed. What I had noted was the small suitcase now packed and readied at the wardrobe. She had made her mind up then. That was unfair, I knew it, selfish of me. I knew she had no choice if the orders were correct. She had to go and report. I sighed out loudly running my hands over my face. The paperwork growing each day on my desk needed sorting.

Since the ending of the war I had been busier than ever. No planning or managing operations now but trying to close case files and reports down. Retracting sensitive information, sorting and storing items. I had been counting the days down until I was discharged. Especially now with Claire having returned. Planning our future, our family, was now keeping me going. This, I didn’t even know what it was, it was delaying it all.

My office door opened and Richardson stepped in, closing the door behind him sharply. He scanned his eye around my office, nerves evident on his face. Once satisfied that it was only me here he stepped forward, a folder clutched to his chest. He spoke quickly and at just above a whisper.

“The order is genuine. She has to go. It didn’t come from my office but three levels above.”

“What? But she was your agent, why didn’t you know she was being recalled?”

Claire had been assigned to Richardson unbeknown to me. His clearance was two above my own. As with my own agents I never knew their true names, only their assigned code names. It was by chance after the war ended that Richardson had realised he had been in charge of Claire’s missions.
When I found out I had realised very quickly that Claire had been good, very good at her job given the clearance attached to her.

“I told you this order came from three levels above me. That’s top brass level. All I know is I’ve been ordered to bring her file to the Colonel. I’ve copied the summary parts, you need to destroy it after.”

He stepped up to my desk and slid a few sheets of paper to me. Hurried scribbles dashed across the pages, some bullet points of actions and details of her injuries. My stomach turned and I fought down my emotions.

“Why her?!”

“I don’t know, they haven’t said. She was one of the best operatives we had. She survived fifteen No Return Expected missions.”

“What! You sent her on missions to die!”

“Claire was an agent and an operative she knew that and so did you!”

“She is my fucking wife!”

“I didn’t know that’s at the time. She had a job to do and she did it and very well. This is above my clearance Randall I don’t know what they want with her. If you want my advice let her go, send her away with divorce papers. Claire won’t ever make the pretty professors wife you want. It’s not my place to tell you but look at the second page of notes.”

I flicked the pages overs and scanned along it. Further details of the injuries from her capture and then in bold writing STERILISED. I looked up shocked, I couldn’t form words, my throat constricted.

“I’m sorry Randall. Can’t blame her for not saying, it’s not an easy thing to discuss. This war, it’s taken so much from everyone. I have to go. Get rid of that paperwork.”

With that he slinked out of my office and away. My eyes could not lift from the words on the page. All hopes of family gone. She had listened as I spoke of starting a family, knowing it was never going to happen! Anger coursed through me and I swept everything from my desk.
The adrenaline rush from anger short lived as the loss swept over me. I wept for the life I should of had with Claire. For the children I would never hold. How could she not tell me?

I needed to speak to her. We had so few days left until she had to leave for Inverness. Could I pretend that nothing was different, could I continue in hope and pray this will be resolved on her return? Christ I didn’t even know if or when that was! Rising from my desk I grabbed my coat. Shouting to my secretary to keep my messages I stalked out of the office.

By the time I got home I had calmed some what. I knew this was not Claire’s fault, except maybe not telling me the truth. We were only just reconnecting and now once again where being torn apart. Opening the front door I could hear noises from the kitchen and smells of cooking wafted along the hall. I moved quietly, stopping at the kitchen door and just watching her. My wife was beautiful, Lord how I loved her. She moved with ease around the kitchen, chopping and peeling. A noise must have startled her and she turned, eyes landing on me and a wide smile broke across her face.

“Your home early?”

“Yes, I wanted to speak with you and spend sometime before you had to go.”

“Oh? Well I have dinner started. It’s not anything exciting. Just a basic vegetable stew.”

“Well it smells lovely. Will you come and sit with me?”

I indicated for her to follow me to the sitting room. Unsure still of what or how to say what I needed. The room was beginning to darken and the last rays of sun shone through the lace blinds picking up the dust suspended in the air. The Crystal decanter on the sideboard refracted the light casting a rainbow of colours around the wall. I focused on the rainbow on the wall. It was probably best that I just say it.

“Claire I know about your sterilisation. I know it happened when you where captured.”

“How?”

“Richardson, he was your handler. He was two levels of clearance above me but I spoke to him about this Order you were sent.”

“I’m so sorry I didn’t tell you. I should have but.”

“You had only returned? We were reconnecting? Yes, yes all the things I thought too Claire. I can’t understand it, I really can’t. You listened to me speak of our future, our hopes of children. Yet you never spoke!”

“No you spoke of your future and your hopes for a family! I have had so long to come to terms with this, yet I can’t, how can I go on knowing I will never carry a child? I know I should have told you, but I just couldn’t. I was going too in a few weeks but then the letter arrived and well.”

Claire shrugged nonchalantly at me. The pain on her face spoke loudly. She was scared, scared she would lose me.

“I don’t know what this will involve Frank. I could be home in a week. I just don’t know. If I am though will you still be here, still want me?”

“Your my wife. Of course I want you, I love you. This, it’s just a lot to take in. People will talk. They will expect children.”

“I don’t care what people expect! Will you be fine with this?! Will we be fine? That’s all I care about.”

Claire spoke the truth and as I sat there facing her across our sitting room. I realised it didn’t matter at this moment. She was my wife and leaving in two days time. I needed to stop wasting time. This could be discussed on her return.

“Let’s not worry about it at the moment. We have only a few days to be together. This can be discussed after. Perhaps the time apart will allow us time to reflect?”

“Your right. I know this wasn’t how things should be. We will find a way through.”

I moved towards Claire reaching to take her hands in mine. Pulled her into my body. My hand resting on her arms. I still could not bear to feel the mutilation across her back. Yet I yearned to feel her near. We had two days, that was my focus now.

Chapter Text

The train station was busy. Crowds standing waiting and people hurrying with luggage and boxes. The familiar whoosh of the steam and clanking of the rails bringing my mind back to the last time Frank had seen me off from the station.
I was headed to the front lines, unaware of just what that would bring. I shuddered slightly at the memory, painting on a big smile as I turned to him.

“Don’t look so despondent my love. I could be back this time next week. This could just be a paperwork exercise. The war is over after all.”

“I know, I know. I just didn’t think I would have to ever see you off at a train station ever again.”

He lent over to press a gentle kiss to my lips. Lingering there for just a moment. The conductor blew his whistle, the train would soon be leaving.

“Best get you on. You don’t want missing your train.”

“I will ring you when I arrive and I can write too. If I need to stay longer that is.”

“I shall look forward to it. Goodbye Claire.”

He kissed me once more and then helped me up the steps. Handing me my suitcase he stepped back to watch as the train pulled away. I looked out the window until the platform and Frank were no longer visible. Longing for that last look, painting it to memory.

The barracks were bustling. Soldiers moving about in platoons. Vehicles being unloaded and deliveries made. The sentry on presenting my Orders directed me to a small temporary Nissen hut at the very back of the barracks. It looked rundown and unused. Weeds gathering at the sides and door. I was beginning to think this was some sort of practical joke. I gingerly opened the door and was greeted by a reception area. A female soldier from the adjutant general corp was behind the desk. Her uniform immaculate and hair neatly swept back and coifed into a bun , complete with victory roll.

I handed my Orders to her and waited. I could see her eyes scanning the letter. Then moving to a ledger to do the same. After a few minutes she looked up to me.

“They are expecting you.”

“Thank you. Who exactly is expecting me?”

I asked rather tentatively, she had been less than friendly, but I did ever have hope. And she was possibly the only person I had spoken to so far who might have an idea why I was here. As if she had not heard the comment, she lifted the phone and barked an instruction to attend reception down it. Pointing at the same time to a chair in the corner. I sat as if a scolded school child awaiting the headmaster. A few minutes later a door behind reception opened and a Corporal walked out. Without speaking to the receptionist he walked towards me.

“Agent Randall come with me.”

He stooped and lifted my suitcase, turning to lead me towards the same door. It led to a small hallway with steps leading underground. It was getting more surreal by the moment as we continued to walk along hallway, after hallway, down staircase, after staircase. I would never be able to find my way out. The Corporal did not speak either until he paused at a door. An elaborate door at that.

“Agent Randall you may wait inside. Your suitcase will be in your room.”

At that he turned and marched off. I called out a rather pointless Thank You! After him. I carefully opened the door, stepping into a large very well appointed office. The large oak desk and matching chair taking command of the room. The walls had dark wood panels and two large oil paintings depicting age old battles. One I could see was Culloden. Well it made sense I thought, I was in a military office in Inverness. Frank would love it I thought. I moved to sit in one of the leather chairs in front to of the desk. Sitting ridged on the edge of the seat. I still had no idea what was going on or indeed what was about to happen.

As I chewed at my nail the door swung open and a handsome young Major entered the room. He was slender in build, just a little taller than I, with blonde neatly styled hair. Walking to his seat at the desk he plonked himself down before looking up at me. His warm smile lifting my nerves.

“Good morning Agent Randall. Thank you for coming.”

“It’s Mrs Randall now, I am no longer an agent. I was discharged several weeks ago.”

“Ah!”

The Major rifled through some paperwork in a desk drawer.

“Here it is. You are correct Agent Randall you were discharged but I have a letter rescinding that.”

He handed the letter over to me. My eyes cast along it.

“Why? I don’t understand Major?”

“Oh how impolite, I do apologise. I am Major Grey. Lord John Grey.”

He introduced himself with his clipped English accent. Continuing to smile warmly at me. It now however was unsettling me not reassuring me as before.

“I ask again. Why have I been recalled?”

“You are the best we have, Agent Randall. We need you. You survived behind enemy lines and fifteen No Return Expected missions. That is unheard off quite frankly. This mission is incredibly dangerous and well different, let’s just say that.”

“But the war is over?”

“Yes this war is over but Agent Randall there is always a new one coming and old ones to defend.”

He paused bringing his hands together and breathed out a puff of air. I sat feeling even more confused.

“I work for a very specialised and elusive department of the war office. We have existed throughout time, with a very specific focus. Do you believe in the unknown Agent Randall? The mystic, supernatural or folklore?”

He had raised his eyebrows at me awaiting a response.

“I hardly think I’m the age for fairytales Major.”

“Not fairytales Agent Randall, this is far from it.”

He shifted uncomfortably in his chair and breathed in a short sharp breath. I was beginning to feel uneasy about my presence here. Yet something was keeping me seated here. Preventing me from rising to leave the room.

“We are sending you back in time Agent Randall.”

“What! Now I know this must be some sort of joke! I can’t believe you have dragged me all the way to Scotland, away from my husband. Who I will add, I was separated from for most of the War. For nothing more than a practical joke! I’m leaving.”

I felt anger rising within me, my face flushing red. Moving towards the door, I had to get out of here. I was going back to Frank. This was utter nonsense. As my hand closed on the door handle Major Grey Called out.

“Wait! Please just hear me out. It is a very serious matter. One we hoped you would be able to assist with. If you listen to what I have to say and don’t wish to be involved then you can go.”

My hand fell from the door handle. I turned and looked Major Grey square in the eyes.

“Fine.”

Sitting once more I listened as he began regaling me with tales that sounded unbelievable.

“The department discovered portals all across the world that allow persons to travel back in time. Obviously it had potential to be incredibly dangerous. Countries could exploit this to gain victories that should never be. Treaties have been written and signed preventing this. However as time moved on we discovered that history still required defending.”

“So people can travel through time?”

“Yes but thankfully the portals only work on certain days and only call certain people. It’s genetic we have discovered.”

“Well if that’s the case are you not taking a risk with me? I don’t believe any of my relatives were time travellers and I can assure you rocks and stones have never called to me.”

“The department has found a way around those constraints. We are charged with defending history Agent Randall. We take it very seriously.”

His face was still sober, his tone and pace had not been emphasised at the wrong spots. His breathing and pupils remained unchanged. Either he had been well trained to lie or he was telling the truth. I highly doubted that he was lying.

“Alright I believe you. What is it you require me to do? Though I haven’t agreed yet, just remember that.”

A broad grin passed across him lips. As he began to speak explaining the mission.

“The battle of Culloden was a decisive victory for the British Army. However the Clearance of the Highlands in the years after did little to win favour.”

“Yes I am aware, my husband is a history professor. That period was his speciality.”

“Yes I knew that. It seems however that even more than two hundred years later the anti British sentiment is still very much alive. In the 1960’s we have seen a push for independence in Scotland. We wish to ensure that gains no traction.”

“So you wish to send me to the future?!”

I was horrified and unable to school my features. The Major began chuckling at me. Shaking his head no.

“No, no of course not. We intend very much to send you back in time. To 1743. Two years before the rebellion is declared and three years before Culloden.”

“Two hundred years ago!”

Major Grey continued his speech as though I had never spoken.

“In the year 1968 a lady called Gillan Edgars travelled back to the start of the 1740’s. Her sole purpose was to change the history of the Battle of Culloden. We have reason to believe she will be successful.
Your mission will be two fold. One find Gillian Edgars and assassinate her. Secondly gather intelligence on Scotland’s Highland clans. Not every clan fought in the rebellion. The Government now believes that they may have acted hastily at the time with the Clearances. With the actions for Free Scotland in the 1960’s it perhaps proves that.”

“So why can’t someone simply stop Gillian Edgars in 1968 before she goes through this portal?”

“Excellent question Agent Randall. One I shouldn’t give you the answer to, due to confidentiality. However quite simply we have no available agents. This war that’s ended unfortunately won’t be the last. The agents available to the department are otherwise deployed. I’m sorry to say we don’t see peace in our time.”

“Very well if I agree, what’s my training and when am I deployed to the past?”

A smile broke once more across the Major’s face. This time though in relief. My training was to start straight away and I would be deployed within a month.

“Major Grey I will be brought back here, won’t I?”

“Well that’s the thing Agent Randall. We don’t expect you to survive. This will be another No Return Expected Mission.”

“What! But I have survived fifteen other such missions! Do you not think I have suffered enough, sacrificed enough for King and Country!”

“Which is why we selected you for this mission. Agent Randall it would be remiss of me to not inform you of the unlikely chance of return. This is a dangerous time, one were women are viewed very differently. We trust you will complete your mission but you may be unable to make it to the extraction point at the correct time.”

“Just tell me where and when to be at the extraction point. As I said already I have survived fifteen NRE missions. This won’t be any different. Now shall we begin training?”

I rose from my seat resolved to see this through. Perhaps this would be the last ask of my Country. Though I had a feeling that would not be the case. Leaving the office I was directed to my room to change. I wanted to ring Frank, let him know I had arrived and would be heading on a mission. But how did I begin to try and explain what I was being asked to do?
I was getting to travel back in time. To a period that he loved and had studied. He would be beyond excited and no doubt have countless questions and tasks for me to record. Yet he could never know the truth of where I would go.

If Major Grey was correct and I didn’t survive. Frank would never know the truth of what happened to me? He would receive the standard KIA letter and thanked for his support to the country. Now that I had been home, rebuilding my life, part of me was scared for what this mission held. Yet at the same time I was happy to put my life on hold once more at the call of King and Country.

Entering the small room which would serve as my quarters, I noted my suitcase sat by the wardrobe ready to unpack. Military fatigues neatly placed on the bed and boots awaiting me and a training schedule and map of the complex. Sighing to myself I began to undress and ready myself of the day ahead.

It was after 1800hrs before I had a chance to ring Frank. A few moments spare between dinner and recommencing training. The phone rang out for three rings before a panicked and hurried hello echoed out on answer.

“Frank! It’s me. Sorry I couldn’t ring this morning.”

“Claire, oh it it so good to hear you voice. You arrived safety then? What is happening? Have you found out why they required you?”

“Yes I arrived right on time and yes I have found out why they required me.”

“That pause doesn’t sound like it is just another debriefing Claire. They are sending you back into the field arent they?”

“Yes. Before you ask, I can’t say what I am doing and no I don’t know how long it will be. I am so sorry Frank. I know we were trying to rebuild our life and that we have issues to discuss.”

“Claire that matters little now, just stay safe, please, for me.”

“I know Frank I will do my best. I promise. I have to go I will try and ring you again soon.”

With that we hung up and I returned to continue my training.
It was intensive the next three weeks had me exhausted. Early starts, late nights. I learned villages and hamlets. Studied maps for routes. Knew all the clans and their land boundaries. Who the influential noble men were and their links to the Clans. Learned how to fire the various period weapons and fight with a knife and sword. I was also taught the use of various herbs and plants for healing. Something that sparked my interests, as I had enjoyed my nursing. A skill which proved useful time and again whilst working as an operative.

This would also form my back story. I was to be a widow woman who travelled offering healing. This would offer me the protection from scrutiny of the redcoats and the Clan Lairds. It would also allow me easy access to the villages and hamlets to find my target. My name would be Beauchamp it was decided. This was due to a Captain Jonathan Randall being posted to Scotland at the time I would be on mission. It was deemed better to have a name different to the notorious Captain. He was in fact a distance relative of Frank. A several times grandfather, I thought it would be rather interesting to meet him.

I was also learning some Scots Gaelic, which was proving somewhat difficult. I didn’t have time to be fluent but Major Grey wanted me to have an idea of what people were saying. In some rural areas it was all they spoke.

This evening I was being shown my target. Major Grey or John as he was now to me had been with me through all my training. He was a delightful man with a witty humour and educated mind. We shared a love of literature and the outdoors.

“This Claire, is Gillian Edgars. Intelligence reports she went through the stones on the 1st May 1968. Leaving the burning remains of her husband on her own side. The incident was reported by a Roger Wakefield, son of a local Minister. The local constabulary were unable to locate Gillian Edgars. But then we didn’t expect them too as we know she travelled.”

He handed me a photograph of Gillian Edgars. Explaining it was a campaign poster for the Free Scotland movement. She was a handsome young woman with light gingery blonde hair and large green eyes. With a slight petite frame.

“She had very militant views. So much so that even those within the movement reported her. That was how she ended up being watched.”

“Do you know what date she arrived or her location now?”

“No unfortunately not, our operative from that time is unavailable dealing with an other matter. Hence we selected you.”

“Does she appeared anywhere in history? Any mention in local records?”

“Again no mentions anywhere.”

“Then why the need to locate her and assassinate her?”

“Because we know her intentions. She wishes to raise further funds for the rebellion. Believing that lack of money was its downfall. She also doesn’t believe enough of the Clans supported the Bonny Prince. From intelligence it appears the coffers are much healthier. We believe these two years before the rebellion is declared are pivotal.”

“That’s why you are sending me back to 1743 then?”

“Yes. Your mission will be to locate Gillian Edgars gather intelligence on her movements and involvement, then eliminate her. You will also gather intelligence on the Clan Lairds. We wish to know where the loyalty lies. There is a belief now that perhaps the support was not quite there for the rebellion. With better diplomacy there may be less need for a Clearance as history currently writes.”

“I understand. How long do I have for this mission.”

John suddenly looked uncomfortable and couldn’t look me in the eye.

“Well do you remember when I informed you we didn’t believe you would make it to an extraction point?”

“Yes”

“Well that’s partly because we have no extraction point or timeframe for this mission.”

“What! So are you just going to send me to the past and let me figure it out!? This, Jesus H Roosevelt Christ! This is not expectable John!”

“I know but the heads have directed on this one. We don’t have the intelligence to say where she is. It could take you months to find her and gather the information. You will need to travel from village to village.”

“And how exactly do I confirm my successful completion of this mission?”

“My brother.”

“Your brother? What! This simply gets more ridiculous by the moment. Who exactly is your brother then?”

“The Duke of Pardloe.”

“Is he in that time? Are you from that time?”

“Yes I was born in 1719. As the second son of a nobleman my only course of action was marry a wealthy heiress or join the military. I choose the military for various reasons.”

I could guess at what the various reasons were. Though that was unkind of me, I thought on hindsight. John had been a solid support to me throughout this training. He wasn’t to know the parameters were to be changed. Still it was a large blow. How could I tell Frank my return was not expected and that I would be gone for an unknown length of time.

“So I have to meet with him, your brother once the mission is complete?”

“Yes. He is currently in London but will be in the Highlands at some point.”

“John you are being deliberately vague. I do not like it. Tell me how I meet up with your brother.”

“I’m sorry Claire I don’t like being vague but they haven’t told me much. All I know is that Hal, my brother will find you. He isn’t an operative but aware of certain activities and actions. He doesn’t know about the time travel. If you have any problems, well, he can be contacted via his London home.”

That was it, my own government, my country were certified crazy. Sending me through time, for a wild goose chase to gather intel and eliminate a threat. With no extraction plan or back up in place. The only hope for me being, a nobleman who I had never met and didn’t know anything about! Well, I had been involved with worse I reflected.

John had been genuinely apologetic at the lack of a way out or way back. He understood the enormity of the task. Yet he still believed in the cause and need for it. With a passion that was infectious. His view being that the past may be the past but it is worth defending and if simple wrongs can be righted, then we had a morale obligation to do so.

Now sat in my room I had to reflect on what I should do about Frank. I was due to travel in two days time. We had parted with unfinished discussions. My inability to have children being the large elephant in the room. Now that paled beside the information I now had that I may not return. Though that was minor I had completed many missions with high risk of death. The main stumbling block here now was the lack of actual solid plans to extract me. Coupled with no time frame to complete the mission.

I had replayed the various details of the tasks, the distances to cover. The lack of technology and so forth. It could quite possibly take until the rebellion was declared before I found Gillian Edgars and then what? Did I keep Frank holding on for that time? No I needed to tell him the uncertainty of this mission, I needed to clear the air with him. Too much of our life had been on hold. I just hoped he would wait.

The night before I was due to travel. The items needed for my travels sat in a neat pile on my bed. I had a period appropriate outfit, a woollen skirt and bodice with several petticoats for warmth. Leather boots and a cloak. I also had a leather satchel which contained a small medical kit for treating various alignments. A spare shift and stockings. A small knife to hide on my person and a gun. This was hidden in the inners of the satchel to avoid detection along with my fatigues. Skirts after all weren’t suitable for most espionage tasks after all. I also threw in my lock picks, a small personal first aid kit, a disguised compass and a camera.

I was as ready as I could be and had started to pen a letter to Frank. When there was a knock at my door. Richardson entered looking a little flustered and out of sorts. I hadn’t expected to see him.

“Richardson what on earth are you doing here?”

“I was asked to report for various reasons and that but, well, that’s not important. Not really. I have a letter for you from Frank.”

“Really? Oh that’s wonderful I was just writing one for him too. I will be heading off tomorrow on a mission. Not sure when I’ll be back. Well, you know the drill.”

I laughed nervously, Richardson was not looking amused and still had a pensive look to him.

“I know, well, that your heading out on mission again. Your security is little above mine now am afraid but well let’s just say I know it isn’t like the ones you have done before. And well Frank, he realises that too.”

He handed me the letter. It’s odd how when you are receiving news that’s upsetting or indeed life changing that so often your mind already knows it before it’s actually happens or is told. That is exactly what happened with this letter. The moment my hands touched it, opened the sealed flap, I knew without needing to read it that Frank wished for a divorce.

The words stark on the paper though still shocked me. I drew in a sharp breath and my eyes full of rage for Frank shot to Richardson.

“He couldn’t face doing it himself so he sends you? Is that it? What sort of cowardly bastard is he!”

“Claire now please.”

“Don’t you dare now Claire me! I suppose the papers are in that envelope?”

I had just realised that under his right arm he held a large brown envelope. He held it tightly to his body as if shielding it from sight.

“He doesn’t want this but well he knows the truth of what and who you are. Claire the war changed you in so many ways. You aren’t going to make a professors wife you can’t have children. Your world is this.”

He spread his arms out indicating the military world around us.

“Don’t you dare make out you know what I am or what I would or wouldn’t make. My marriage is not your concern! Leave the paperwork. I will be speaking to Frank.”

“Don’t make this harder on him than it already is. I don’t know the details of your mission but I know it’s not short and you won’t likely return. Don’t put Frank through that.”

I didn’t reply, just folded my arms across my body and glared. Richardson backed out of the room and I heard his footsteps echoing down the hall. My heart and resolve broke and sobs shook my body.
Frank didn’t answer the house phone. I had no other way to reach him. I was left with the burden of this decision on my own shoulders. It was my decision as to what I did. Could I sign the papers? Walk away with perhaps no further comment. Then again could I allow Frank to hold on in hope while I was in 1743?

Being recalled to duty had been the worse timing ever, only reunited. Then again I could not have children a desire I wanted so badly and I knew Frank shared. Could I possibly hold him to me, keep him from finding happiness, having the desires of his heart? Without conscious thought to act I found myself signing the papers at the indicated parts. My heart answering what my mind refused to address. No I could not, because I loved him too much.

I stood staring at the large monolithic stone out crop with wonder. Dawn was barely creeping into existence casting an orange glow across Craig na Dun. My long skirts and woollen bodice helping to keep the brisk coolness at bay. The edges of the largest stone were tinged orange and pink as the early sun rays outlined it. The grass crisp with a gentle crust of frost. The crunch of my boots at each movement grounding me.

“Well Claire this is it.”

John smiled widely and reassuring patted my back. He lifted a small metal device placing three smaller discs at points within the stone circle before stepping back out.

“Good luck Agent. God speed.”

Suddenly my whole body felt as it is was being thrown and torn apart. As I descended into darkness.

Chapter Text

Jesus H Roosevelt Christ! I felt as if my head was about to explode. Opening one eye I glanced around seeing no one else in the stone circle. Also it was daylight, late afternoon if I was correct by the sun’s position. The air was cooling around me and knew I needed to get up.
Half crawling I dragged my body into an upright position. Breathing in a deep breath of cool crisp air. The landscape seem different from the one I had just left. The road no longer visible and a check of my compass confirming Inverness’ location further confirmed that I was not in my time.

In truth I had still partially disbelieved what Major Grey had told me. However the evidence was stacking up. It was further added to when the crack of a musket drew my attention to the left. Running forward and ducking behind a low stone I looked out over the moors sweeping down and away from the hill of Craig na dun.
A small band of kilted highlanders running and riding horses broke out from a wooded copse. Redcoats following behind firing aimlessly in their direction.

I decided that this was not part of my mission and that discretion was the better part of valour. Making my way bent low and quickly to the copse of woodland that was wrapping itself almost around the base of the hill. I figured Inverness was my best starting point. A short meander through the woods wouldn’t put me too badly of task. I had after all been warned by John to keep a low profile and blend in.

Something on hindsight that was perhaps going to be difficult given my rather clipped English accent. Walking along a narrow track through the trees, I could hear the sounds of battle ringing out behind me. Cries and shouts juxtaposed against the shrill ting of musket balls firing. I continued to scan and sweep the wooded area as I went. Unsure of course if another stramash was ahead. The trees were beginning to leaf. The comforting sounds of the branches creaking in the light breeze soothed my mind. This was surreal, I was in a different time! I Claire Beauchamp had travelled back in time. A smile broke out on my lips as I continued my trek.

It felt good to be back out in the field, this mission while complex and with a great many unknowns was challenging in just the right way. I could hear a stream bubbling nearby and cut towards it with the view to fill my canteen. I did have a long walk to Inverness ahead of me after all. As I rounded a large rocky outcrop I froze mid step. A Redcoat Captain was bent over drinking from the stream.
His tricorn sat to one side along with his sword, which looked to have blood on it. I realised he looked familiar, what I could see of his face. He looked just like Frank. Must be the famous Captain Randall he often waxed poetic about. He would be very jealous I was getting to meet him, the bastard I thought. Still heartbroken at the divorce, I rubbed absent minded at the gold wedding ring. I needed to allow no more space in my head for him.

I stepped back but snapped a small twig drawing the attention of the Captain. Who swung around grabbing his sword and advancing several paces in a guarded stance.

“Madame what are you doing here?”

“I was looking for water for my canteen.”

I stood my ground and lifted the small tin canteen to show him. It was quite unsettling how like Frank he was.

“Why are you in these woods?”

He continued to step slowly towards me sword still pointed at my chest. His words were spoken with aggression. He clearly trying to gain the upper hand with intimidation.

“I am on my way to Inverness.”

I kept my answers deliberately short not wishing to provide any more information than absolutely needed. While the British Army were close to my heart, I understood my mission was not at their level.

“So a whore just happens to be walking through the woods when my men are ambushed? I think your telling lies. Who are you with? Are you with them?”

“I am not a whore! I am alone. I don’t even know who you are talking about.”

I made to turn slightly to leave, tired already of this wasting of my time. The Captain sprang forward grabbing me.

“You are not going anywhere. A lone English woman walking these woods? That’s suspicious to me and I will find out the truth. First though I might confirm my suspicions of you being a whore of those Scots bastards.”

He growled the last out pressing himself against me. The smell of sweat and blood on his uniform stung my nose. I stepped back but he held me tightly. Instead of struggling I stepped boldly forward unbalancing him slightly despite his height different. I then punched with force the heel of my hand into his nose. The satisfying crack of it breaking and blood pouring out was my backdrop to run. The cries of anger and pain chased me along the track, though he did not follow. Rounding a bend I struck something solid and warm, a body.

I pushed away but they quickly grabbed my wrist pulling me sharply back to them. It was a small squat like man in full highland dress. A scruffy beard and hair completed the look with a jaunty cap pulled on top. He brought his finger to his lips in a motion to silence me. Then pulled me into a thicket of bushes. Dragging me down to crouching beside him. Boots stomped loudly passed accompanied with heavy breathing. Redcoats I presumed and remained silent. No further sounds rang out along the track and the sounds of battle appeared to have died away. I rose to stand.

“Thank you. I best be going.”

“A Sassenach? Ye with them?”

It was gruffly asked and the word Sassenach spat out.

“Yes I am English, is that a problem? And no I am most certainly not with them.”

I crossed my arms over my chest and stared at the scruffy man.

“Ye ken Gaelic? What are ye doing out here in the middle of an ambush?”

“I understand enough. I am a healer on route to Inverness. If your disruption of the countryside wasn’t delaying it.”

It was hard to tell with his beard and hair but I think his mouth quirked into a slight smile.

“A healer? Come with me.”

Without giving me a pause for thought he grabbed my wrist once more and set off through the undergrowth at an alarming pace. All I could do was follow behind and hope wherever he was taking me that it would be safe and I could then continue my mission.

We stopped at a small sheltered rock outcrop. By my estimations a mile from where the scruffy little man had, for want of a better description, kidnapped me. A few horses stood patiently, uninterested in the band of eight highlanders. All dressed the same as my kidnapper, scruffy in appearance and with a air of panic rising. I stayed silent one step behind my captor. Surveying the scene before me. All had swords and a few pistols. They looked seasoned warriors. All but one I realised, who lay supine. He looked to be a boy, barely sixteen by my reckoning. He was bleeding from a wound to his right side just about where the liver would be.

All the men seemed focused on this boy but yet none had actually moved to assist. My nursing training kicked in and without thought I sprang into action. Startling my scruffy captor and the other eight men. I dropped to the floor pressing the boy’s hand to his wound. As I grabbed my medical case from the satchel. Rummaging through it for clean linens.

“It’s alright. I am going to help you. The bleeding is so bad because it’s your liver.”

I offered a reassuring smile seeing the abject horror and fear across the boy’s face. Suddenly two large hands gripped me and dragged me backwards.

“Who is she!”
“Where did that Sassenach hoor come from?”
“Dinna let the wicked bitch touch young Willie!”

The shouts of aggression all rang from various places. I couldn’t decipher who said what. The gorilla that had torn me from assisting my young patient, who I now knew was called Willie. Roughly shook me and shoved me towards a tall well built male with bald head and grey beard, it was peppered with black and his eyes were an intense clear blue. He was better dressed than the rest and from the quick look at the tartan and the area I was in I guessed he was a MacKenzie. Though not the Laird.

“I need to help him! He will bleed out if I don’t!”

“Dinna speak until spoke to woman. I’ll no take orders from any sassenach hoor. Who brought her here?”

He cast his eyes around the group. Awaiting a reply. The pained groans and moans of my patient fell heavy in the cooling air. The scruffy little man moved forward.

“Aye that was me found her, Dougal in the woods. She has quite the right hook, Captain Randall can attest to that.”

A rumble of laughter ran out across the men. I stood eyes fixed on my patient. Stepping when able closer towards him. His eyes tightly shut and face contorted in pain. The scruffy man had said Dougal, that would make him Dougal MacKenzie, brother to the Laird.

“She with the Redcoats?”

“Dinna ken, she seemed keen to be leaving the honourable Captain’s company.”

“I am capable of answering questions myself.”

I snapped at Dougal.

“And I told ye to mind yer tongue lass. I’ll no warn ye again.”

He stepped towards me, fist closed and eyes narrowed menacingly. Another loud groan and cry of pain from Willie froze him. The large gorilla that had grabbed me from assisting the boy came to Dougal’s side. Worry etched in his face.

“He’s going to die Dougal we have tae help him.”

“Aye, can he ride? We canna tarry here.”

“No he most certainly cannot ride! He is bleeding heavily I could have stopped that by now. So either let me help him or let me be on my way!”

I admonished Dougal, no longer caring for his aggressive attitude. His men were tired and weary and not just from the impromptu battle. Several others had small injuries and the likes. I fancied my odds at taking Dougal out and fleeing the others. I simply turned without waiting a response and walked the few paces to Willie. Sinking down in the blood soaked ground. He had done a remarkable job at stemming the blood flow himself. No one thought to apply pressure? Useless bastards. I shook my head as I continued my ministrations.

The wound was from a sword so therefore a cut clean. I needed to sterilise it before stitching and binding it.

“Any whiskey?”

“He’s had some already mistress.”

A short stout man to my right informed me. Trying to not sigh in an exacerbated manner, I painted on a smile and warmly replied.

“Thank you, but it’s to sterilise, I mean clean the wound. It helps protect against infection, you know the wound becoming inflamed.”

The man just nodded mouth slightly hung open as he handed me a small flask of whiskey. I politely thanked him then turned to my patient once more. His breathing was becoming less laboured but he winced in pain when the whiskey was poured over and I give him a moment before stitching. Once cleaned and stitched, I fixed bandages around his abdomen. He reached with his blood soaked hand grabbing mine. The sweat from his ordeal lay across his brow and glisten in the low sun. I knew he would need continued care and hoped that wherever the group were headed now that they would have a doctor.

“Thank ye mistress.”

Willie just about was able to speak struggling to keep awake from pain and tiredness. I knew how hard injuries of the sort where on the body. He needed to be kept warm and I hoped they would have blankets to wrap him in. Standing I turned to speak to Dougal once more taking him for the clear leader. I knew Castle Leoch the seat of the MacKenzie clan was some distance from here but hoped that Willie could make it there.

“I have done what I can. He will need the bandages checked and cleaned regularly and kept warm. I must be going now.”

I reached for my medical bag to place back in my satchel.

“Ye’ll nay be going anywhere ye Sassenach bitch. I still dinna ken who ye are or what ye are doing out here?”

He folded his arms across his broad chest and levelled a stare at me. I noted with peripheral vision a few others moving to surround my position. Continuing to pack my medical bag into the satchel I rather dismissively and innocently answered.

“I don’t believe introductions were made.”

“A plucky Lass are ye? Yer husband ought to tan yer hide to teach ye manners.”

“My husband is dead.”

“It dinna tell me who ye are?”

“And I could ask the same? I have no idea who you are or what your intentions are out here either. I was walking, minding my own business when this stramash erupted around me. I was dragged away from my journey and accosted.”

“Oh I beg your pardon Milady! Where are my manners. I am Dougal MacKenzie war chief to clan Mackenzie, brother to the Laird. I am his eyes and ears on his lands which you are currently resting your pretty little self on. I see nay others with ye and if ye aren’t with the Redcoats. As ye claim, then ye would appear to have no other to speak for ye. As an unwed woman the Laird has a responsibility to ye. So I kindly ask ye to tell me who ye are and what ye are doing on my lands.”

He stopped speaking when he was mere inches from my face. The sarcasm and conjecture evident in his tone. Two could play that game I thought.

“Sir, I am Claire Beauchamp, a widow who is a healer. I am travelling, providing care where I go.”

I curtsied politely as though he was the Laird, the emphasised sarcastic tone helped him see it was not done out of politeness. A flash of rage ran across those blue eyes and he grabbed me by the arm.

“You’ll be coming with us then.”

“”I won’t be going anywhere with you. I have places to be. I am a healer and am needed.

Ye are coming with us willingly or no. If you dinna wish to come willing ye will be coming missing parts ye ken?”

“Fine!”

“Mount up, best be leaving. We will make haste!”

“Dougal what of Willie and the woman?”

“Aye Willie’s horse was killed in the fall.”

“Angus ye ride with Willie keep him from falling. Mistress Beauchamp can ride with young Jamie. He’s about the only one who willna interfere with her!”

It was laughed out and several beady eyes locked on my form. I shivered involuntarily and glared back. The men all broke sight on my body moving towards their horses. Willie’s cries of pain pierced the air and my eyes darted to him. What I wouldn’t give for a morphine syrette to ease that suffering. He was half hauled and lifted into the front of Angus’ horse. He was the one who provided the whiskey.

A hand gripped around my upper arm pulling me roughly to the left. Looking up, Dougal was dragging me towards my original captor who stood with two horses. I opened my mouth to speak, to demand to know where I was going, when I was pushed into the large and very solid form of a tall highlander.

“Ye’ll ride with Jamie. Any tricks and I’ll no think twice of slitting yer throat.”

Dougal turned and stalked off with purpose. I wanted to shout after him I’d like to see him try. However I thought better for it. I had a mission to complete. Diversions from course could happen and often did, this would be no different. I would not be distracted. I was trained for this after all.

I stepped back from the solid form looking up as my eyes met deep blue clear pools, framed by rugged auburn brows. Loose strands of auburn hair curled across his face. Which was splattered with mud and blood.

His eyes were locked on me, a small smile quirking one side of his lips. Drawing my eyes to his strong jawline covered with an early shadow of stubble. He was a handsome man and had a kindness to his eyes. Something I hadn’t seen in the others.

“The name’s Jamie McTavish, mistress.”

The tall highlander spoke, a soft burr to his tone. A small wry smile crept onto his lips. My captor coughed and slapped him on the arm. Throwing the reins of the horse to him.

“Come on lad, dinna be keeping Dougal waiting.”

“Aye.”

He gently placed his right hand on my back guiding me towards the horse. With practiced ease he swung up into the saddle. My scruffy captor suddenly appeared behind me placing two hands at my waist.

“Alright lass, up ye get.”

Despite him being a little shorter than I, he lifted me without trouble. Placing me in front of this Jamie. I caught a look between the two men. Though I had no clue what it meant. Jamie squeezed the horse’s sides and we moved off. Our destination unknown and it seemed unlikely that I would be told. The band of merry highland warriors rode in silence, eyes casting along the path ahead and all around. I was unsure what they had been doing in the area, or how the fight between them and the Redcoats started. I doubted I would ever be told. I certainly could however feel a sense of unease as the darkness of night closed in.

I relaxed into the comfortable warmth of Jamie. He was like a furnace and with the night chill biting I was ever grateful. He was also handsome and solid muscle. The strength in his arms evident as it wrapped around my body holding me firmly to the saddle. Though able to relax I was still vigilant, aware of the others around and the passing scenery. I was able to see where we were, looking out for features and landmarks to help identify. I was sure we were heading towards Castle Leoch.

Cocknammon Rock came into view, silhouetted by the gloaming light. The unease in the air sat heavy, I felt the large mass of Jamie tense behind me. The horses nervously whinnied and side stepped, tails swishing. Dougal at the head of the group raised his hand signalling a stop. Frantic hand signals pointing and slashing created a frenzy of activity. Unsure of the signals meaning, the energy however was palpable and I knew an ambush was waiting.
Jamie spurred his horse forward moving towards Angus and Willie. Cutting to the left into a wooded area.

“Sassenach ye have to wait here, look after Willie aye?”

He threw me off the horse and then galloped off. Willie had also been unceremoniously dumped off Angus’s horse and was groaning once again in pain. Racing to him I sank down beside him. Immediately checking the bandages and soothing him.
I heard shots ringing out and cries shouted across the night air. Swords clashed and horses hooves thumped steadily. Now was an ideal time to make my escape, continue my mission. I could easily make it far enough and avoid detection but as I made my decision to go Willie’s hand shot out and grabbed mine.

“Mistress please dinna leave me, will I live?”

The tears welling in his young eyes and the fear etched into those boyish cheeks froze me. I couldn’t abandon him.

“No of course not Willie I am not going anywhere. You will be fine, I promise.”

I smiled warmly at the boy, placing a reassuring hand on his head. He sighing in relief. I thought he must have feared dying alone. Something that I could heartbreakingly understand. I couldn’t leave him. The sounds of battle were waning and I hoped that the others would be back soon. The sound of a horse’s hooves approaching at speed distracted my attention from Willie. The horse broke into the clearing pulling to a stop abruptly, a Redcoat atop. His eyes met mine and a sly smile crept across his face. He dismounted and with casual disregard approached me, where I was still knelt down beside Willie. The flash of fear in his eyes said it all, and he squeezed my hand. I patted his hand with my other in a failed attempt at reassurance.

“Well what have we here? Did the barbarians leave their whore behind to tend to the wounded?”

“I am not a whore.”

“An English lady? Well born by the sounds of you. What are you doing with these bastards?”

“That’s none of your business.”

“You are a British Citizen my Lady, you’ll find it is my business or at least my Captain’s.”

He continued walking towards me, sword drawn. Willie had no weapons on him and I had only my small knife hidden on me that was in anyway within reach. I slid my hand slowly into my pocket feeling the solid hardness of metal in my hand. I rose slowly keeping my eyes fixed on the soldier. He was continuing to walk towards me slowly, that sly smile still on his face. I stood unwavering, chin up in defiance.

“Maybe I’ll dispatch this youngin then have my way with you? Of course I’ll have to then hand you over to the good Captain.”

I didn’t respond, sometimes a preemptive strike was needed. I had already been mishandled by the Corporal’s good Captain. I was most certainly not going to be mishandled by him, nor allow a boy to die at his hand either. Leaping over Willie’s form I startled the soldier clearly unused to a woman attacking. He swung his sword towards me but I barrelled into his body toppling us both to the ground. Hindered by the skirts I was still unused to wearing I pinned his arms with my legs and pushed the blade of my knife into his throat and twisted. The blood pouring out over my hands was warm and sticky, the gurgled noises of the Corporal choking out in splutters. I rose from his body and wiped my blade on the grass looking up then to see the entire group of Highlanders had returned.

Chapter Text

The look of stunned shock was spread across the motley crew. I scanned them quickly taking in a few more injuries that this stramash had created. Opting for nonchalance I spoke up.

“Did you win? Any more injuries to tend before we move along?

Despite the gleaming darkness I could still see the shocked expressions and could also hear the clear muttering.

“How could she kill like that?”
“She is a witch”
“We should kill her”
“Where’d she get the blade?”

The jumbled noises blended to one, Dougal cautiously dismounted pistol drawn and aimed at me. He was about fifteen feet from me, too far for my knife to do any good and I had no idea of his marksmanship abilities. He was a war chief so I could guess he would be accurate. I stood my ground, hands and arms held at my side.

“Are ye a witch Sassenach?”

“No, I am a healer.”

“How’d you kill the soldier, yer own kinsman?”

His eyes were cold and narrowed and each word spoken with venom.

“Well it was him or myself and young Willie. I had no choice. You have just killed how many yourself I don’t see you raising concerns over that.”

I couldn’t believe I was being accused of being a witch! All because I was not a helpless woman awaiting rescue.

“How’d a stray Sassenach lass such as ye learn to fight like that?”

Needing to think on my feet as I had hoped to not use my skill set at this stage of the mission. I thought quickly through my background story and responded.

“My father ensured I could defend myself. He was a healer and travelled with me after my mother died. That’s were I learned.”

“Ye willna be keeping hold of yer blade. Hand it over, I dinna trust ye, ye Sassenach bitch.”

I didn’t care for his tone and glared for a few seconds, the shifting in saddles of some of the men told me it was wiser to acquiesce. I threw the small knife at his feet, stabbing it into the ground mere inches from his right boot. I did have another hidden in my satchel and if I needed one I would take one. But best to appear compliant at this time I thought.

“Angus, Rupert! get young Willie. Ye are still coming with us and if ye so much as look sideways I will take pleasure in shooting ye myself.”

He dragged me once more to Jamie’s horse and shoved me up into the saddle. Jamie’s strong arm locked around me. Pulling me back into him and shushing me to stop me answering back.
Once on the move again Jamie spoke to me.

“Dinna be vexing him Sassenach. He willna think twice about carrying out his threat to ye.”

Somehow when he called me Sassenach it didn’t seem offensive. There was a warmness to his tone and softness in the strong brogue. Not how it barked out of Dougal’s mouth with vitriol.

“I will try Jamie but he is a difficult man to not be riled at.”

A snort came from behind me

“Aye he is that but dangerous none the less. Watch yerself.”

I would take heed of the advice which seemed to be kindly given. The scruffy little man who had kidnapped me initially rode up beside us. He looked almost comical perched atop his large steed. The Highlanders in all were quite short of build but clearly powerfully built. It seemed Jamie and the war chief were the only ones who towered over me.

“This is Murtagh, my godfather, Sassenach.”

He indicated to the scruffy little man who raised his head towards me and scowled. A throaty hmph noise was emitted from him as his only verbal reply. I nodded in acknowledgement and smiled.

“He’s a man of few words Sassenach but he’ll come round. Tis the others that might take longer.”

He didn’t speak or ask about the incident in the clearing. Just continued to hold me securely and wrap me in his warmth. He introduced me to the others when the opportunity arose and I discovered that Jamie had been correct, Murtagh wasn’t the one to be concerned about.

We continued on at pace riding through the night. I had wanted Willie to rest but it had been refused without discussion. As the early morning glow pinked the skies bringing with it the promise of a new day. I saw a looming castle appearing on the distance. Castle Leoch, I had visited here during my initial war time training. It had been a ruin, now it stood proud and commanding. I wondered how such a building could ever fall. Small cottages dotted the landscape as we approached giving way to rows of thatched houses and tradesmen premises. Despite the early hour people were already moving about, tackling the chores of the day.

Entering the courtyard the squawking of hens and geese coupled with the neighs of horses and ponies expecting breakfast nearly drowned out Dougal’s barked orders. The men swung down from the horses tired and weary from two impromptu battles and the long ride. A rotund elderly lady appeared, a bright smile on her face and delight in her voice at the menfolks return.

“Oh my laddies, yer home! There’s food in the kitchen for ye! Come now, come now.”

Hugging into Rupert she was given a chaste kiss on her cheek and blushing swiped her hand at him. Herding the men towards the kitchens. Her eyes then fell to young Willie still in the arms of Angus as two others helped him from the saddle.

“Whatever happened?”

“Stabbed by a Redcoat in a stramash.”

“Oh my! He’ll need treatment take him to the room off the kitchen. I’ll tend to him there.”

Willie’s arm reached to the woman and grabbed her. His face was pale and sweaty a fever clearly set.

“Let the Sassenach.”

It was strained out on laboured breath I was already off the horse and making my way over. Jamie grabbed me pulling me back into him and slightly behind as if shielding me.

“Yer all right Willie I’ll no let the Sassenachs near ye. We’ll get ye fixed up right and good.”

The emotion was being held back as she spoke and she nodded to the men to continue taking him inside. He once again shouted out ‘no the Sassenach’ desperation on his voice.

“I think he wants me to help him!”

I cried out as Jamie moved further in front of me again. All eyes turned to me and locked on my form, hidden only partially by Jamie’s large body.

“Ye’ll no be getting near him ye Sassenach witch!”

“I can heal him, the wound needs cleaned and checked. I know how.”

“Are ye a healer, a Beaton then? Ye know what to do for him?”

The elderly lady interjected, panic and concern evident in her voice.

“Yes I do.”

“Very well then come with me.”

Without another word the men lifting Willie followed the woman into the castle. It seemed one word from this formidable woman was enough. I hurried after. Keeping my head down until I reached the room they placed him in.

“Dinna leave him alone with the Sassenach aye?”

They left the room, cold stares on me as they went. I glared back, chin held up in defiant protest. I then turned as they exited to tend my patient. Removing the bandages to check the wound. It was inflamed around the edges and I cursed out loud causing the woman to gasp.

“Oh am sorry I forgot you where still here. I am Claire Beauchamp, a healer. Do you have any witch hazel and garlic? I wasn’t able to clean the wound fully but did my best given the circumstances.”

“Aye I have those.”

She spoke slowly and with a worried look on her face as if still startled by my presence.

“I’m Mrs Fitzgibbons, everyone calls me Mrs Fitz ye can too if ye wish, mistress.”

She bobbed a curtsy towards me and left the room to gather the supplies. I turned back to Willie, still pale and clammy.

“You will be fine Willie, now you are back at the castle you can rest and get better care. You will be back on a horse in no time at all.”

“Thank ye mistress, ye are too kind.”

He smiled weakly and I softly stroked his cheek to reassure him telling him to rest now. I placed blankets around him to keep him warm until Mrs Fitz’s returned. Once stocked with the items I needed, I began boiling the cloths to sterilise them and made up a solution of witch hazel and garlic to apply to the wound. Willie was sleeping soundly wrapped up well to help sweat the fever out.

“He will need broth and sips of water throughout the day and willow bark tea will help ease the pain. I must be going now I need to continue my journey.”

“Ah Mistress Beauchamp! Ye canna leave.”

“I must leave Mrs Fitz I have places to be.”

“Himself, the Laird must speak with ye. Come with me I’ll get ye a room to rest and a basin to freshen up.”

Leaving the room I noted Rupert and Angus standing outside. I hoped that it was to see Willie but I knew that they were to follow me. Mrs Fitz moved like a galleon in full sail through the halls of Castle Leoch. Stopping outside a room door on the third floor. It was small but well appointed with the fire already burning and a basin of fresh water prepared. A small tray of food sat on the table in front of the fire. I wandered at how she had managed this.

“Freshen yerself up mistress and get some rest. I’ll come and bring ye to the Laird when it’s time.”

I smiled weakly in return resolving myself to my continued capture. Freshening myself up sounded good and after I lay down on the soft husk stuffed mattress, I fell to sleep easily. I had no idea how long I slept, the the sun was still high in the sky when I was awoke by Mrs Fitz. I duly followed her through the hallways and stairs. The rabbit warren reminding me of arriving in Inverness. It seemed so long ago as I reflected back, yet was only a few weeks. Stopping outside a large oak door with black ironmongery, Mrs Fitz knocked and awaited a reply. On entering, the room was large with a bookcase the full length of one wall, two large stained glass windows in the outer wall and a high ceiling give it a church like feel. A small wizen man stood behind a large oak desk with grey hair and a clean shaven face. His hands rested on the desk in a manner that suggested he was using it to hold himself up. His shoulders seemed slightly misshapen and while he was not as tall at Dougal, he held a commanding presence that outshone his brother. This was Colum MacKenzie, Laird of Clan MacKenzie.
I curtsied as I approached noting a smile on his lips. I took the offered chair while Mrs Fitz hurried out.

“So Mistress Beauchamp you find yerself wandering alone on my lands?”

He pronounced my surname in the French manner. Speaking with a marked tone as he raised his brows towards me.

“I was not wandering my Laird. I was intending to reach Inverness.”

Again I kept my answers short, sticking to the facts as closely as possible.

“And what brings a Sassenach Lass to Inverness?”

“I have been travelling all over providing healing. I believe I could help the people of Inverness.”

I smiled a small, hopefully reassuring smile towards him. He paused and seemed to ponder my words.

“If you are a healer Mistress Beauchamp we will be keeping ye here. Our own Beaton passed a few months back and Mrs Fitz, well she canna be expected to run the housekeeping and kitchens and tend to every scrape and cut. Where did ye learn the trade?”

Using the same line I used with Dougal in the clearing, I informed him my father had been one and travelled with me after my mother passed. He again asked of my husband and I explained he died.

“Well as a widow ye have my protection as Laird. Ye will be shown to the Castle’s surgery.”

I rose and curtsied once more, taking this as my dismissal. Colum MacKenzie had already returned his attentions to letters on his desk. His eyes bent to task. Turning to leave the room I noted Dougal secreted in the back corner of the study. Obviously listening to hear what I said. I needed to up my game and watch my every move. Colum and Dougal certainly would. Mrs Fitz had waited outside and without telling her she knew to take me to the surgery. This all had been planned out. I would need to play along to ensure I built trust then make my escape to continue my mission. However I also needed to gather information on the clans and right now I was held captive by one of the largest. What secrets did Colum and Dougal keep I wondered?

Chapter Text

The surgery was a good size but dusty and in dire need of a clean and declutter. I set to work the next day assisted by two maids sent by Mrs Fitz. They both were shy girls who, I had noted, like most women of this time looked to the ground. I completed an inventory of the bottles and potions in the surgery. Throwing most of them out, unsure what medical purpose dung beetles could actually have. I would need new stocks, I assumed a castle this size would have a steady stream of patients.

“Excuse me, would you know if there is a village nearby that I could get some supplies from?”

I knew there was, Cranesmuir was a few miles from Castle Leoch but I was interested in what these two maids would tell me. I still had two shadows creeping around the hallways outside my surgery after all.

“I dinna ken were the old Beaton got his supplies mistress. There is a village no far from here, Cranesmuir has a wise woman, the fiscals wife, Mistress Duncan. She might have supplies to keep ye going.”

“Thank you I will enquire with Mrs Fitz about calling with her.”

If I could get out to make supply runs I could check local villages for my mission and devise a route to escape. All was not lost.

That evening I was to attend dinner in the main hall. The doors stood open and the noise of chatter and plates rang down the hallway towards me. I was nervous as I stepped through the threshold. Mrs Fitz had told me the correct protocol, the etiquette required when requested to dine with the Laird. Rows of tables and benches lined either side of the hall. Large roaring fires blazed on both sides and at the very bottom below a huge arched window sat a long elegant table raised on a platform. Sat behind was of course Colum, he was the Laird after all, Dougal on one side and an elegant lady with rich brown hair and a fur wrap in the other. A small boy sat beside the woman, her son I assumed.

On entering all noise ceased. I felt every eye fall upon me, whispered comments as I strode passed. Clearly word of the Sassenach in the castle had spread. Towards the middle of the room I caught the eye of a familiar face, Jamie. I hadn’t seen him since arriving. He smiled a small quirk of his mouth, he was washed and shaved and with that slightly lopsided smile he was even more handsome.
Stopping in front of the table of the Laird I curtsied and waited Colum’s response.

“Mistress Beauchamp how glad I am that ye could join us. I trust the surgery is to yer liking?”

“I thank you, it is.”

“Please join us.”

He indicated to the seat between himself and Dougal. Schooling my features I walked with confidence to what I knew would be an interrogation. The wine flowed and conversation was light initially, I was introduced to Letisha, his wife and Hamish, his son. Asked questions about healing and my travels to date. I continued answering with minimal information, using all the training I had ever had. Sticking strongly to the story that had been given to me.

The questions then turned more focused asking about my surname why it wasn’t pronounced the French way. What I was doing in the woods when Dougal’s men found me, where I learned to defend myself and so on. Each and everyone was answered with the same formula. Sticking to the truth were I could, short responses, counter questions to change direction and avoiding alcohol. The oldest trick in the book, get the person comfortable with food and drink then they will have a loose tongue. Not me though. I knew they thought I wasn’t being fully truthful with them. The questions were too intense. I wasn’t quite sure though what they thought I was doing. Perhaps time for a little espionage.

A few nights later as the moon rose high I crept slowly out into the hallway. The drunk sleeping form of Angus, my current guard lay prostrate on the floor. Gentle snores wracking his body. Moving silently and quickly I found my way to the Laird’s study. I had my lock picks expecting the door to be locked but was surprised to find it unlocked. The door creaked as it opened, I slipped through the door when it was wide enough closing it behind me. A handy torch illuminate the room and I made for the desk.

The drawers were locked but easily waned to my skills. Letters and ledgers filled the drawers. The ledgers had details of farming stocks, rental payments and outgoings. Nothing of note to my mission contained within them, I cast them to the side. Looking through the letters. The elegant swirls and swoops of the penmanship in black ink, contrasted to the creamy yellow of the paper the words were written on. The letters were from various people. A few clearly due to be dispatched spoke of me, seems Colum suspects I was a Spy for the English. I snorted, if only he knew the truth!

One letter of note made me gasp in disbelief, it seems Jamie McTavish was a nephew of the great MacKenzie. He had been holed up in France with a warrant for his arrest hanging over him. Seems his dear uncle had been asked to assist by partitioning the nobles for a pardon. He was accused falsely. Damn letter didn’t say what though. Placing it back in the drawer I found what I needed.

A letter to the Duke of Sandringham expressing his concerns about the dissent in some clans over the current king. Mmm shows he is loyal does it not? I took a picture with the disguised camera and continued my rifling. The letter was not alone in discussing the Laird’s concerns. Pleading for support to the Clans from the English nobles. Asking for continued dialogue to ensure the dissent was addressed. Colum clearly wished for peace.

A letter from Lord Lovat who it seems was a grandfather to Jamie. Lord Lovat appeared to agree with Colum’s previously expressed concerns over his brother Dougal and his support for the Stuart King. Further letters showed mored evidence stacked to a pending rebellion and his brother’s involvement in leading the cause. The same sentiments were expressed by the various nobleman in their replies.

At the very back of the drawer I found a journal tucked under other letters and documents. A diary, the thoughts and musing of the Laird. I flipped gingerly through it not seeing anything that told me much different than the letters. Then I found it. A full pardon for one James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser. Hidden within the journal. It had been obtained months previously. I doubted it had been handed over and that Jamie most likely was unaware. Perhaps it was an inducement? He was separated from the family heads, seated at dinner with the others. Using an assumed name. Not the actions of a free man.

Then a letter to the Laird of Clan McDonald, it had not been sent and had no date. The letter asked support from the Laird for his nephew’s leadership of Clan MacKenzie until Hamish came to majority. Mmm not using your brother then? Interesting? The tangled web continued. I photographed a few more letters and then relocked the drawer and slipped out of the study. It was still pitch dark outside only the barest hint of light from a waxing crescent moon.

I crept slowly and silently back to my room. The careful watchful eye of my guard still closed tightly shut, snores rocking his shoulders. The thrill of espionage was something that would never leave me. I had loved my job during the war, as dangerous as it could be. Knowing that I was making a difference, gathering intelligence and sabotaging events, all in the effort to end that ghastly war had given me purpose. This now was the same. I had an opportunity to amend history’s wrongs. I had evidence that the Laird of the Clan MacKenzie was loyal to the King. I now needed to continue my mission, I needed to locate Gillian Edgars. Climbing onto the soft and comfortable mattress, I closed my eyes allowing sleep to consume me. Yes the mission could continue tomorrow.

The morning dawned bright and brisk. A cold chill having settled over Castle Leoch. My nighttime guard had been replaced with the solid smelling form for Rupert. Smiling forcibly as I exited my room I headed for the dining hall in search of breakfast. My rather heavy footed guard close on my heels.

“You know you don’t have to follow my every move Rupert. Where exactly do you think I could possible go?”

A grumpy hmph sounded behind me.

“Has Dougal set you and Angus up with this rather pointless task?”

I had pegged him as a puppy like follower of Dougal within a short time. The dining hall was bustling with the earlier risers of the castle. I stood my turn to fill a plate with bread, cheese and meat. Deciding to give the porridge amiss. Scanning the hall I saw people scooting over on benches and avoid my eyes to put me off sitting with them. I was an outsider, a stranger and English, something I realised they would not forget lightly. Sighing out loudly I headed towards a lone empty bench at the far end of the hall.

“Sassenach! Ye can sit here with us ye ken.”

I turned taking in the delightful form of Jamie, tucking into a plate piled high with food. The grumpy form of Murtagh beside him. Murtagh excused himself not long after I sat. I didn’t worry, the conversation flowed easily with Jamie and I barely noticed the stares and glares being cast my way. That was until Jamie pointed it out.

“Seems we are causing quite the stir Sassenach. The castle will be a flutter with talk of ye and I.”

He laughed softly, like a chuckle and his cheeks pinked and eyes shone. He was kind and gentle towards me from that first meeting. I just couldn’t reconcile him to being related to Dougal and Colum.

“Just mind yerself aye? Yer safe with me Sassenach I promise ye but remember there’s no love lost for the English here.”

With that he stood to leave. He called me Sassenach and yet it didn’t feel an insult. I knew what it meant, outlander or English person. It was most definitely not a compliment yet somehow when he spoke it there was no venom in the words. Finishing my breakfast I headed to my surgery. Of course Rupert was right along with me. Perhaps I could convince him to take me to Cranesmuir I pondered.

Over the next few weeks my routine became rather, well, routine. Each day taking on the same pattern. Rise at dawn, breakfast in the hall often with Jamie and Murtagh, attend the surgery, dinner, bed, repeat. I had been followed throughout and excuses made to prevent me going to Cranesmuir. I had however made some in roads with the residents of the castle.

Healing had a powerful way to break down barriers. Having helped heal young Willie, who was now well on the way to full recovery had helped to endear me to some. I was still shunned by many in the hallways and stared at but not as much. I had just finished tending to a dislocated finger on a young boy as his poor mother, paled faced with horror had watched on. The surgery door slammed open and Murtagh and another man half carried half dragged the colossal hulk of Jamie in. He was bleeding and unconscious.

“What the hell happened?!”

“The horses got spooked in the training paddock. Twa of them trampled him. He hasna woke.”

“Get him on the table.”

Checking him over from top to bottom I noted bleeding from a gash on his head, bruising along his arms and a large hoof shaped gash on his chest which had ripped his shirt. Murtagh paced the room nervously the other man, introduced hurriedly as auld Alec, left grumbling about lassies not knowing their place. I raised a brow to Murtagh in question but he simply shrugged his shoulders. I quickly barked orders to Murtagh to bring the linens and put the water on to boil. I had made up a solution of alcohol and boiled water for cleansing cuts and had a large pot of water with garlic and witch hazel ready to go. I was checking Jamie’s vitals, heartbeat strong and steady, pupils dilating as expected. He groaned as I checked down his body.

“I need to take his shirt off can you help?”

“Can ye no just tend his wounds through it?”

Murtagh asked almost panicked.

“No I cannot! I need to ensure they are cleaned especially the one on his chest. Now help me or I’ll cut it from him.”

I snapped back. Murtagh reluctantly moved to assist rolling Jamie so I could slide his shirt off. Murtagh’s face was pinched and grim looking, his eyes darting everywhere in a panic I could not quite place. Shirt now removed my breath hitched at the sight. Jamie was solid carved muscle. He looked like a Greek god depicted in marble. I shook my head to focus on my task. Reaching for the basin of water and the alcohol solution, I was a married woman after all, no place for these thoughts. Then I remembered, I had been a married woman, the stark black ink of my signature on those divorce papers swirled before my eye. A well of emotion bubbled to my head and I felt my cheeks flush. Murtagh must of thought my sensibilities were infringed and grabbed a blanket to cover Jamie.

“No Murtagh it’s fine I need to clean and dress the wound.”

A grumbled hmph was all I got in return. My mind refocused on task, I began cleansing the wound, it was deep and filthy with dirt from whichever horse’s hoof had caused it. Half way through cleaning the wound, Jamie startled awake bolting upright and nearly knocked me for six. As he sat looking confused around the room, I saw them for the first. Scars the full of his back, angry welts crisscrossed his back, the white of healing glowing in the candle light. His eyes landed on me then moved to Murtagh realisation that he was in pain but also that he was exposed on his upper body. I knew that look, I too had had it painted across my features.

“Jamie you have been hurt, in a accident you must lie down. I need to tend your wounds.”

“Aye lad ye took a fair beating from them twa horses. Mistress Beauchamp will sort ye.”

He hadn’t spoken but did as I asked, wincing in pain as he lay back. His eyes looking anywhere but at me.

“Murtagh would you be so kind as to ask Mrs Fitz to bring some broth and willow bark tea? Thank you.”

He grumbled to himself and set off on his task. I continued cleaning the wounds and began stitching the large gash on his upper chest. The head wound would heal without stitches, it was not deep. I didn’t speak unsure of what to say. My own scars bore my own shame and I knew these ones held a tale that I could not imagine.

“They dinna bother ye?”

“What?”

“My scars on my back? They disgust most who have the misfortune to see them.”

“No they don’t bother me. I’ve seen plenty of mutilated bodies in my time. Scars show you healed and survived.”

I told him what Pierre had told me those years before. Though I could not bring myself to say I bore similar. Women were viewed very differently here in this time. Marks of torture could be seen as signs of loose behaviour or witchcrafts. I masked my sympathy and continued treating the wound, dressing it and wrapping bandages to hold it in place around his broad chest and back. Silence fell between us as I moved to treat the gash on his head. I wrapped a blanket around his shoulders to cover his scars. Achingly aware of the shame and discomfort he felt at them being on display.

“Twas Randall ye ken.”

“Randall?”

“Aye, ‘‘twas him that laid the whip upon my back. Twice within a week.”

“Whatever for?!”

“Whatever he wished it for, the English need nay truth to their accusation. The official charge sheets read obstruction and theft. I wasna guilty of either. That bastard came to my family lands while Da was away at a funeral. Attacked my sister, Jenny. I intervened and was strung up and beaten until she agreed to go with Randall. The thought of that vile bastard touching her, shaming her. Next I ken I woke in a cart headed for Fort William with none but chickens for company.”

I stood silently listening to him telling me this story. I had seen cruelty in my time of course. I had for the greater good killed people to ensure vital information reached the British. This however was beyond my comprehension.

“The first lashes were no even healed when the second set were delivered by Randall himself. Hmph! He offered a deal ye ken? If I give him free use of my body he’d stay the second lashings. Having never been buggered I figured it’d hurt a lot less than 100 more lashes but I couldn’t let that bastard break me. Dishonour me and my family, so I took the lashes and bare the shame of the punishment for ever more.”

“There is no shame in protecting your family Jamie and no shame in refusing a vile man like Randall.”

My voice was shaking slightly as I reached out a reassuring hand to him. I had met the honourable Captain Randall myself, however I couldn’t believe that vile being was related to Frank in anyway. Frank had been kind and caring, had loved me. The loss of Frank was hard, while we had been parted for so long during the war he had been a constant in my mind. There supporting me in the background, now on this mission he was gone. A tear slowly meandered down my cheek and Jamie gently reached out to swipe it away.

“Am sorry, I don’t know what’s come over me. I was just thinking of my husband. Oh never mind let’s get this cleaned up.”

“No ye have every right to feel sorrow Sassenach. Ye miss him?”

“Yes I do, so every much it’s just knowing I will never see him again.”

“I ken that feeling and it dinna get easier ye just learn to cope better each day.”

I was about to ask who he had lost himself as he spoke with such tenderness. When we were interrupted by a kitchen maid arriving, a young girl called Laoghaire who was Mrs Fitz’s grand daughter. Her eyes were rimmed red and her cheeks slightly flushed from the tears she had been clearly crying. I hastily ensured the blanket was secured around Jamie and moved towards Laoghaire.

“Mistress Beauchamp I have yer broth and tea ye asked for.”

Her eyes never levelled on me instead focused solely on Jamie, a look of hope across her face.

“I hope ye aren’t badly hurt Jamie. I’m sorry for startling the horses ye ken.”

I nervous quiver was evident at each word and I expected her to break in to floods of tears. I rolled my eyes and took the tray to prepare.

“Dinna fash Lass, tis nawt but a scratch.”

He smiled in his slightly crooked manner and I could see the delight flood Laoghaire’s face.

“Thank you Laoghaire for bringing the items to me. I am sure your grandmother has other tasks needing tended to?”

I rather dismissively spoke unsure why I was being so harsh on the girl. She bobbed a small curtsy towards me and cast a long lingering look at Jamie before scampering out of the surgery.

“She seems fond of you. Is she a favourite of yours?”

I cringed at my words and had no idea why a sense of jealously or possession had come over me. Perhaps it was due to him having been the only person to show kindness and a friendly regard towards me.

“Laoghaire? Nay she is but a bairn.”

Mmm indeed I thought. If Jamie wasn’t enamoured with her, she most certainly was with him.

“Did ye ken the bard is playing this evening in the hall?”

“No I hadn’t heard.”

“Ye should attend, Gwen is a beautiful singer and storyteller. Colum plays a hefty sum to keep him.”

“It sounds wonderful, I shall have to see how the surgery goes today but if I’m able then I will be there.”

That evening as I dressed in a fine wool skirt and bodice to attend the recital. I laced my stays that little bit tighter emphasising my bust line. I had no idea why this was my focus. I had a mission to complete and could not be way led by a handsome Scot. A handsome Scot who I might add had shown no interest towards me in that regard. Who thought I was a widowed woman. Yet somehow here I was trying to enhance my features, for what reason? To best a teenager with a crush? A teenager with golden hair and rosey cheeks and blue eyes like a Scottish summer sky, I might add.

Staring at my mousey brown hair of wild curls and yellow brown eyes. I sighed realising I was being impossibly silly. Jamie could have no interest in me! Let’s put this crush of mine to one side. I knew it was due to the divorce and Frank wishing to leave me. The scars I bore no doubt a contributing factor. I simply wanted someone to desire me. Had Frank moved on already, forgot about me? I shook the thoughts from my head, leaving my room I headed towards the hall.

The hall was a hive of activity. Noisy chatter and laughter pierced the air around and the excitement was palpable. The benches had been placed to view towards the stage and the large fires roared. Candles carefully placed around the hall added to the ethereal feel.
I saw Jamie at a bench towards the back, he waved at me indicating for me to join him. Containing my inner joy I painted on a small demure smile and moved through the groups of people gathering to find their seat.

“Good evening Mr McTavish.”

Going for a formal greeting instead of his first name. The regal formalities of the evening and ethereal feel making me desire propriety. Jamie smile and returned the greeting.

“Good evening to ye to mistress Beauchamp”

I took a seat on the bench beside him. Despite the gap between us I could still feel his warmth. He handed me a glass of wine.

“Rhenish from Colum’s own stock.”

He winked, as he drank his glass back. I sipped gingerly at it. A rich smooth flavour and it was strong, very strong.

The bard appeared on stage and began his set. His voice was rich and comforting. I could listen forever. Many of the songs and tales were spoken in Gaelic I understood some, enough to follow along but Jamie leaned in closer to me and translated. His soft burr caressing through my body as his warm breath brushed my ear. I could almost forget we were in a room with hundreds of others, focused as I was on the words Jamie whispered in my ear.

The stories and songs so often spoke of lost loves and soul mates reaching out through time. I felt a lone tear breach my lashes and meander down my cheek. As my mind placed Frank to my left side translating these words. I had sacrificed so much for king and country. Signing those divorce papers though was the hardest of all. I suddenly needed to get away, to leave the room, get some air.

“Am sorry I am most overcome with tiredness. I must excuse myself. Please continue enjoying the rest of the recital.”

“I’ll walk ye to yer room, ye look pale, are ye well?”

“No really I am well. Just tired. It’s been a busy day. Please stay and see the end. I will be fine.”

I rose quickly and walked without looking back. Eyes cast to the floor. The tears barely holding back. I managed to avoid my guard following me, the free flowing wine and entertainment distracting them. I headed for the battlements needing air and isolation. That was one thing with the castle you never had alone time. Some one was always around.

The brisk night air struck me as I exited the castle. The stillness of the night and the clear sky filled with stars comforted me. I always preferred the outdoors. It probably was due to the years spent travelling archeological dig sites with Uncle Lamb. He had taken on my care after my parents death and at my refusal to attend boarding school brought me along with him. It made for an unusual education but give me a love of history and the outdoors. All of which assisted me now.

I breathed deeply filling my lungs with clean air and breathed out. The anxiety that had clung to me in the hall was now dissipating into the air like little droplets. Easing my mind, helping me to focus. I needed to let Frank go. That was now my past, I could no longer hold him to me.

“Frank I loved you fully, stayed true to you throughout. This is not how I thought my life would turn out. I didn’t ask for this but neither did you.”

Tears began to flow now uncontrolled as I spoke out loud. This was the truth of it. I had been angry at him for seeking a divorce. The reality of this mission was I may never return. I could not let him wait for an unknown time, I highly doubted that the government would tell him what becomes of me. Most likely a vague Missing In Action letter. Yes it was time to finally say goodbye to Frank, allow him the place in my heart owed but no longer the constant ruling of my mind. My duty was to my mission. I pulled the gold wedding band from my finger. Rubbing absent mindly at the smooth skin on my ring finger. Worn smooth by my wedding band which once sat so proudly there.

“Goodbye Frank.”

I spoke out loud. Allowing my words to carry the hurt of my heart. Relief flooded me as the last syllable rang out. I squeezed the ring tightly in my fist as I kissed my hand. Leaning onto the casement I cast my eyes down into the castle’s court yard, to see Jamie locked in a kiss with Laoghaire.

Chapter Text

The bard had finished as I made my way through the castle towards my room. People were walking and mingling in groups. I kept looking down, hurrying towards the stairs that lead to my room. To my relief away from the hall the crowds were less. My hallway came into view, wall sconces lighting the way with a warm glow. I had no idea why I was annoyed by what I saw. I had not looked at any other male while on mission previously. I reminded myself Jamie was not part of this mission, he had made no indication of any regard to me and he was a red blooded single male. And Laoghaire was beautiful, blonde, rosy cheeked, blue eyed and most importantly a Scot. I needed to get a hold of myself, the divorce from Frank was clearly upsetting me, more than I had realised. I was trained however to put these emotions to one side and focus solely on my mission and task.

Rounding the last corner I struck a solid mass. A man who I recognised from the castle but hadn’t met formally and didn’t know his name. The smell of alcohol was heavy on his breath and he was slightly unsteady on his feet. His dirty hand reached out grabbing onto my arm.

“Ye filthy Sassenach! How’s ye show me what use ye can be.”

He pressed me into the wall and roughly kissed me. His breath rancid and scruffy beard scratching my face. His body was pressed into me, his arousal evident. Pressing myself as far back from him as possible I grabbed his wrist prying it from my arm and twisted it back and away from me until I heard the snap of bone. Pushing him then with full force I darted passed him towards my room, as Gaelic curses rang out behind me. I locked the door and sank into the bed, tears stinging my eyes. My heart was hammering in my chest and I took deep restorative breaths to calm me. Dread filled me with what could have happened if I couldn’t defend myself, no one else was around. No one could have intervened and that vile pathetic excuse of a man could have raped me. I shuddered and went to rinse my mouth and wash his kiss from my face.

Lying in bed I refocused my mind. My mission needed to be stepped up and that started with getting to, by any means available, the local villages and then getting away from this castle permanently. Gillian Edgars needed to be found.

The next morning I put to the back of my mind, Frank, Jamie kissing Laoghaire and the disgusting man in the hallway. Refocused and with renewed resolve I headed to the hall for breakfast. I had went down slightly later than usual in efforts to avoid Jamie. A quick glance around confirmed he was not there. Fixing a plate I went to find a seat, my guard not far behind once more. Stopping at an empty table I went to sit when I was called by a gruff voice.

“Mistress ye can sit here.”

“Good morning Murtagh, you are rather late for breakfast this morning? Thank you for offering the seat”

He made that noise all Scots did “hmph” it could mean anything and certainly seemed to be used for a wide variety of situations. Settling into the bench I began eating.

“Are ye well mistress? The lad said ye took ill last night at the recital. He had work to start in the stables but I said I’d watch for ye.”

“Oh I am quite well thank you. I was simply tired, it had been a busy day in the surgery. I wouldn’t have thought Jamie would have noticed my departure, what with Laoghaire to keep him company.”

“Dinna speak too loud of that mistress! If her father was to hear.”

“What?! He would have to wed her. No bad thing him finding a wife. They certainly seemed friendly enough.”

“That’s no the lass for him. Ye ken she’ll be a lass til she’s fifty. Jamie needs a woman.”

“And you’d know. I take it you have vast experience with a wife?”

“I ken more about women than the lad does and I ken him. So long as yer well mistress I’ll pass yer regards to Jamie.”

He stood to leave, stalking off with purpose. I hadn’t meant to be so scathing in my replies but the image of them locked in a kiss still bothered me. I couldn’t understand why he was concerned for my well being, yet after I left was happy to entertain Laoghaire. Eating the last from my plate I stood and stomped out of the hall myself. First port of call Colum.

Knocking the Laird’s door I awaited a reply. A strained ‘come in’ rang out and I pushed the door open. Colum was seated but appeared in clear discomfort and pain. I had noted his bowed legs and laboured walk early into my arrival at the castle. Toulose-Lautrec syndrome, it wasn’t yet known but it was disease that was degenerate and cause immense pain. I knew pain relief like willow bark and heat and massage could assist. There was no cure and Colum would not live to a grand old age. Despite him ensuring my detention I could not allow him to suffer if I could help him.

“What can I do for ye mistress Beauchamp on this fine morning?”

“Perhaps it is what I can do for you, my Laird. Have you tried heat and massage to ease your pains?”

“Aye the old Beaton would of done so. Do ye ken how to massage joints yerself?”

“I know enough to help.”

He smiled and nodded in understanding or agreement. I wasn’t quite sure which. I sent for cloths and a pot of water to heat and some willow bark tea. Once delivered I helped him settle onto a bench, applying the hot cloths and massaged his aching body.

“Are ye settling in mistress?”

“Yes, I am starting to know my way around the castle. Though I do still get lost on occasion!”

“I’ve lived here all my days and I still find myself the same.”

He laughed out, his whole demeanour changed when he did. A softness or gentleness to him that often due to his status and pains he couldn’t show.

“Did ye came here to treat me or did ye have another request?”

“Well actually yes. I am in need of some medical supplies. I believe there is a village near here that may be able to assist.”

“Ye wish to go to the village?”

He asked this with a tone of disbelief and suspicion. I continued with my massaging not betraying any thought of my plan. I knew he and Dougal were not convinced by my story.

“Well yes, I need certain items to ensure I can treat the wounded and sick.”

“Aye ye’ll need extra stock what with the gathering coming up. I’ll arrange for ye to be taken to the village today.”

“Thank you. What’s the gathering?”

“Ye’ll enjoy the gathering for sure. It’s a celebration of the Clan. They come from far and wide to pledge fealty to me, their Laird.”

“Sounds interesting indeed. I shall ensure extra stocks and supplies then.”

Finishing up the massage I excused myself heading to the surgery for the first patients of the day. I was unsure of when I would be taken to Cranesmuir but I trusted what Colum said. Around midday Dougal appeared at the surgery door.

“Yer heading to the village with me. I’ll met ye at the stables.”

He turned on his heel and walked away before I had a chance to reply. Despite who was accompanying me to Cranesmuir I was at least going. This was my chance to recce the area and make some enquiries.

The journey to Cranesmuir was simple. A single lane led straight there. The village was small, with a village square that a number of buildings faced onto. I needed to stop at the fiscals house for the medical supplies. If his wife, Mistress Duncan, treated injuries and illness she would know many of the residents. The fiscal house sat in prominent place over looking the square. Dougal escorted me to the door and after introducing me to the house maid we followed her to the drawing room. It was elegantly decorated with heavy dark wood furniture and tapestries adorned the walls. Dougal seemed to pace tensely as we awaited the lady of the house, Mistress Duncan to arrive.

The door swung open and I masked my thoughts as Gillian Edgars entered the room. Though slightly older now than the photographs I had seen, it was still clearly her. Her ginger hair gleamed as the sun struck it. She had it elegantly coiffed and pinned and wore a richly embroidered gown with lace work on the sleeves. Residing in this time was clearly suiting her.

She breezed into the room, delicately sitting into a chair and arranging her skirts around her. She had a commanding air that didn’t befit women of this time. Her eyes leered on Dougal in a ravenous manner before turning and locking on me. Those same green eyes that I had studied for hours.

“Well what brings ye to Cranesmuir Dougal? With a lass in tow.”

Her voice held a clipped tone as her eyes continued to stare. I knew she was trying to intimidate me, so I looked away focusing on Dougal with a small smile on my lips.

“I’ve brought the Sassenach healer that’s been working at the castle. She kens ye have a stock of medicine and needs some.”

“Ah! the famous Sassenach healer ye are?”

Her voice had rose as she spoke, her interest now stirred.

“Yes, I am Claire Beauchamp, a healer. A maid at the castle advised you had a keen interest in healing also and had stocks of medicines.”

“Aye I do, there’s lots of young girls in need of assistance.”

She spoke slowly her eyes never leaving me as though trying to garner my reaction. Schooling my features once more I levelled my eyes to her before responding.

“Of course it’s our duty as healers to help. I have a list of items I require, if you would be so kind to assist me? I believe some of the herbs I can gather but perhaps you would know best where to look.”

“Aye I can surly. Dougal there’s no point in ye hanging around here. I will take Claire to my surgery to sort the supplies.”

He gruffly hmphed and turned to leave. This had worked out well, I knew the way to Cranesmuir, I had gathered information on several Clans regarding their Lairds views on the rebellion from Colum’s letters and now had located Gillian Edgars.

“Well Claire shall we get yer items? Ye can call me Geillis.”

I smiled and followed her up three flights of stairs into the attic room of the house. A pleasant earthy smell emitted from the room and large benches lined the walls. Various plants and herbs hung from hooks drying and numerous jars and bottles lined up along the shelves like soldiers. In little time my stocks were replenished and Geillis, as Gillian was now going by, had told me of several glades and forests that had good forging spots. Conversation had been light, me sticking to my story of being a travelling healer and her speaking of her marriage to Arthur, a wealthy fiscal.

As I was preparing the last of my herbs and grinding some berries for a tincture. Geillis excused herself from the surgery. Her heavy footsteps down the wooden staircase giving trace to her whereabouts. Peaking out the window I saw Dougal entering the house. Taking this as my chance I began searching the surgery. It was the full of the house with shelves and drawers scattered across it. Flicking through ledger after ledger, most recording only the treatments of the many patients to attend her. Many being young girls caught out with an unwanted pregnancy. I had nearly given up, concerned time was running out when I saw a small disguised drawer in one of the benches. Wrenching it open I found a small book which was modern in form and gem stones and gold. The book listed amounts removed from Arthur’s accounts and sent to the cause. It also had information on those gathering funds for the Bonny Prince, Dougal MacKenzie being one of them. Pulling my camera out of my satchel I photographed the information and returned it to the drawer. As it closed I heard two sets of footsteps on the staircase and returned to my task as the door swung open.

“Ye finished we need to return to the castle for Hall this evening.”

“Yes I have everything I need. Thank you Geillis.”

I smiled warmly at her, gathering my items and followed Dougal out of the room. Geillis’ eyes following my every move. I was curious to what Hall was but clearly was not getting a further answer. It was of little consequence as I had identified my target, secured my intelligence and was ahead with the intelligence picture of the Clan Lairds. Now I needed to plan how I would assassinate Gillian Edgars.

Hall was unexpected. Mrs Fitz had insisted I wore my best gown, which had been left out for me on my return. Hall it turned out, was an opportunity to have grievances heard and settled by the Laird. It was full of pomp and ceremony, a piper leading the procession of Colum and Dougal in full Highland dress. The wails of the pipes reverberated off the stone walls and rang loudly in my ears. This was the Scotland that was ended at Culloden, this system wiped out systematically with the clearances. The proceedings commenced and were conducted in Gaelic. I followed along for the most with the basic knowledge of the language I had.

I was stood with Mrs Fitz who had translated some of the proceedings for me. I was fascinated by the entire evening. Disagreements between farmers and family settled at the word of Colum. His the last word residing over the issues. No further argument allowed. The last to be heard was the gruff smelly man who had tried to attack me after the Bard’s evening. His wrist was strapped and he held it close to his body. He began to speak in quick bursts. I had difficulty following along but with my own language knowledge and Mrs Fitz’s translations I realised he was complaining about me! Accusing me of attacking him and breaking his wrist.

Suddenly I was seized by Rupert and Angus my arms pulled and locked behind my back. All eyes fixed on me as I was dragged towards Colum and Dougal. Hushed whispers ran out through the hall and a shocked gasp pierced the air from Mrs Fitz. I pulled against their restraining hands. I could break free but I knew I had no chance of escape, not with a castle full of MacKenzie clansmen. For the second time since being unfortunate to end up in the hands of the clan, I found myself acquiescing to helplessness. The beady eyed stare of Dougal froze me to my backbone. Colum had a more sympathetic facial demeanour. However he was the Laird and had a duty and laws to keep.

“Ye have been accused of wilful assault by Alistair MacKenzie. Twelve lashes should settle it.”

Colum had switched to English, most likely to assist me in understanding the punishment the kangaroo court was issuing out. The realisation that this vile man could level an accusation that required no evidence or trial. Simply because I was a woman. So much for the protection of the Laird on widowed women. I was tempted to request trail by combat but didn’t think that existed at this time. Two voices shouted out in Gaelic

“Stad!”

Eyes shot around the hall trying to find who had spoken. From opposite sides of the hall two persons were breaking through the crowd. Jamie and Willie. Matching looks of shock marked their faces. Rupert and Angus gripped my arms a little tighter, pulling me back towards them. Mumbled Gaelic was rushed out by both. I could only make out a few words.

“Not right.”
“Saved lives”
“Truth”
“Take the punishment.”

Colum and Dougal continued to stare, simply allowing both to run out of steam. Rupert had pulled me against his body and was now whispering the translations in my ear. My eyes continued to be fixed on the scene in front of me as my body held itself ridged. Both Jamie and Willie were interjecting on my behalf wishing to take my punishment. It seems that a man from the woman’s clan could step in and take the punishment. They could choose the punishment between lashes and fists. Unsurprisingly a woman could not. The issue seemed to be that neither were from my “Clan” so to speak.

“They both are injured there is no way they can take a punishment like this!”

“Hush lass! Dinna be speaking until spoken too.”

“So I can’t speak despite being accused of a crime I didn’t commit? The menfolk will just decide based on what?! And now these two idiots are stepping in to take my punishment! No one else thinks this is ridiculous?!”

“It’s how things are done round here ye ken, how they have been done for centuries.”

Rupert shook me by the shoulders, scolding me. Shushing me once more. The proceedings had returned to Gaelic. The argument being mettled was that as I was a widow under the protection of the Laird and Clan, by extension should therefore be classed as kin. My eyes darted back and forth between them all, tension ever increasing. I certainly didn’t wish to be beaten for any reason, much less to sooth an egotistical, misogynistic bastards hurt feelings. But could I stand back and allow another for false pride and gentlemanly honour take it in my stead?

Agreement seemed to be reached after a whispered discussion between Colum and Dougal. I was roughly cast to the side. Into the arms of Mrs Fitz who had relief and horror written across her face in equal measure. She pulled me through the crowd to the back of the hall. Checking me over muttering apologies and Gaelic curses about Alistair MacKenzie.

“What is going on?”

“The Laird agreed for the punishment to be taken by another. Young Jamie is taking it, he chose fists.”

“What! He is injured! He can’t do that. We have to stop him.”

“Nay mistress ye canna be interrupting! The Laird’s word is final ye ken.”

She grabbed onto me with the strength of twenty men. Eyes urging for me to listen and understand.

“It’s our ways ye ken. How things are settled.”

She was right. While I couldn’t agree or even comprehend this ritual of Hall. I knew I had no place challenging it in this moment. Injustices carried out against women seemed to be normal and as a Sassenach perhaps I should be grateful two men were prepared to step in and protect me from this injustice? I, still clinging to Mrs Fitz watched on as Rupert stepped up to settle the score for the asshole aggrieved. Maybe next time I should just slit their throat, dead men tell no tales after all. I moved to level a stare at my accuser, his beady eyes locked on my form. A sneer etched on his face. I didn’t think for one second that this matter was finished.

Punch after punch teamed down on Jamie who simple took it all. Arms locked to his side, moving only to stop the punch flooring him. The cut on his head opening on the third punch. I grimaced aware of the pain he must be in. Yet he never flinched or made a sound.

 

“How much longer? This is barbaric.”

I hissed to Mrs Fitz who with eyes glued to the scene unfolding patted my hand.

“Til enough blood is drawn ye ken. Colum and Dougal wilna allow it to get out of hand.”

A few more punches landed on his face and upper shoulder. His lip cracking opening and bleeding. Colum raised his hand to stop the proceedings and Rupert backed off immediately. I saw a look cast between him and Dougal. A look that said he wouldn’t have called it to stop. Jamie straighten up and nodded towards Colum and Dougal before leaving the hall through a side door. Without any other thought I was out the main door after him.

“What the hell was that about? You have probably caused even more damage to yourself. All to play the bloody hero!”

“Yer welcome Sassenach. So glad I stepped in for ye!”

“I had done no wrong. That bastard of a man attacked me! Why should a punishment be levelled to anyone! Your uncle was looking an excuse to see you pummelled and yet you still step in.”

I realised as soon as I spoke that I had let slip my knowledge of his kinship. His voice had been raised with anger and he turned towards me, eyes focused and tone irritated and forceful.

“It dinna matter if ye were innocent or no. The Hall is no place for justice were lassies are concerned and especially no a Sassenach one. How’d ye ken I was kin?”

His icy stare unnerved me. I returned it raising my chin in defiance.

“I’m not stupid, I have eyes and I see how he treats you. He is threatened by you. And that display back there! Defending the Sassenach that nobody trusts. What the fucking hell were you thinking!”

“Dinna speak to me with that foul tongue! Ye ungrateful bitch! I did it to protect ye, save ye from embarrassment, having ye beat in front of all the castle.”

Both of us were angry for different reasons. I could feel my heart beating wildly and face flushed red. I was angry still for him kissing Laoghaire, even though I knew it was silly and childish. I was angry with him for putting himself at risk and most of all I was angry because I wanted to kiss him, bed him, for what he had done. And I knew that would never happen. He paced back and forth his hand tapping at his thigh in frustration. He angry at me for the ungrateful attitude. The tension was heavy in the air between us. Layered like a thick fog around us. The cheery voice of Mrs Fitz rang out as she appeared around the corner. Arms full of basin and cloths and various ointments.

“Awh Jamie my lad, we’ll get ye cleaned up rightly. That was a brave thing ye did for Claire.”

“Aye.”

Jamie didn’t look at either of us. Mrs Fitz if she noticed the strangled atmosphere she didn’t mention it. Instead simply beginning to sort her supplies. I could still feel the tension flowing within my body as I tried to settle myself. Unable to I turned and walked away calling out as I left.

“Thank you Jamie for what you did.”

I didn’t hear if there was a reply. I returned to my room before the tears began to fall. This was an impossibly hard mission on my heart and mind. Despite the successes I had already, I knew it was in vain. Major Grey had told me I was not being returned home, there were no plans to extract me. Plus it made no odds, Frank had the signed divorce papers. I had no reason to go back, no family, no job, no friends. Perhaps this was where I stood the best chance of making a life. Did I want to stay? In a time of danger and illness, where I knew women were held in so little regard. My time was safer with medical advances but new wars were coming, Major Grey had told me as much. Unspeakable cruelty was ever present in my time also, I had seen that face to face. It seemed that time made no difference were that was concerned. Undressing I climbed into bed and pushed the thoughts from my mind.

For the next week I didn’t see Jamie. I was busy with the surgery and kept myself to myself, eating in the kitchens or my room. More patients came each day, now satisfied that I meant no harm. Though the encounter with Alistair MacKenzie and the Hall weighed on my mind. I was beginning to be grateful for my guards, who still followed my every move. My preparations for the Gathering were now complete and this evening would see the commencement of the festivities. People had been arriving over the last two days. The atmosphere at the castle was electric.

Good cheer and merriment flowed throughout and even lifted my morose mood. I was still too stubborn to seek out Jamie and apologise. In truth I had avoided him as best I could. Despite doing it due to pride and hurt, not to mention continually reminding myself, it was for the best that I forgot him, I did miss seeing him.
Mrs Fitz had insisted I had a new gown for the occasion. A skirt in tartan wool and a velvet bodice. The colours complimented my skin tone and she even took time to tame my wild unruly hair. When she had finished I looked in the mirror admiring the dramatic change. She had done a marvellous job. Mrs Fitz beamed beside me, clearly delighted that I was pleased with the results of her endeavours.

“Tonight is special ye ken. The menfolk will pledge their fealty to the Laird. We can watch from the gallery. Be careful aye after the ceremony dinna be wandering the halls yerself. It’s no safe for lassies.”

With a nod of her head and a concerned frown on her face, she excused herself citing things to do in the kitchens. I appreciated what Mrs Fitz did for me, how she had taken on that mothering role. Helping me adapt to living at the castle, introducing me to people and never pushing for answers on who I was or why I was in the Highlands.

The hall was a bustle with menfolk from the Clan. Clad in their best kilts and jackets. They cut fine figures in their Highland regalia. I was quite enjoying living in this century surrounded by men in kilts. Having noted that a kilt could improve even the most ill favoured of men. The piercing wail of the pipes began, marking the commencement of the proceedings. Colum entered, a scrambling of men moving to create a path to the seat of the Laird. He walked with purpose, having better ease of movement from the massage and heat treatments. Dougal followed close behind. Stepping onto the platform the chair sat on, he turned to the crowd of men. Silence lay heavy across the room as all awaited for their Laird to speak. Colum surveyed the room, eyes taking in all in attendance. With the presence of a theatre master he commenced an impassioned speech. The Gaelic words rich and comforting, soothing to the soul. I was able to follow most of it, Mrs Fitz too transfixed by the proceedings to translate. The candles catching a glimmer of tears on the rim of her eyes. As Colum came to a close he raised his arms and shouted

“Tulach Ard!”

Cries of “Tulach Ard!” Rang back through the men. The atmosphere electrifying and captivating. I was unable to pull my eyes away from the scene before me. Colum now finished turned to his chair.

Once seated Dougal stepped forward, a deathly hush falling across the hall. My eyes fixed on them both unable to move away. Mrs Fitz stood beside me, hand gripped on my arm, breath held. Dougal seized his Dirk and held it by the blade, kneeled in reverence before Colum. His strong voice rang out over the room in Gaelic.

‘I swear by the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, and by the holy iron that I hold, to give ye my fealty and pledge ye my loyalty to the name of the Clan MacKenzie. If ever my hand shall be raised against ye in rebellion, I ask that this holy iron shall pierce my heart.’

He took the Dirk and kissed the hilt before returning it to his scabbard. Colum then took his hands and raised them to his lips. Laying a kiss upon them. Then turning to lift the quaich he held it in both hands drinking from it before passing it to Dougal. Once finished he stepped to the side. The ceremony continued as with Dougal, each man stepping forward and pledging allegiance to Colum then drinking from the cup. The love and loyalty displayed by the men, who each stepped forward with pride and spoke clearly and powerfully. It created an air of celebration and joy that was palpable in the air. The young maids had gathered in a small group at one side of the gallery. Whispered thoughts and giggles of approval regarding some of the handsome Clansmen.

As the line continued I wondered at how Colum was still standing given the alcohol he must of consumed. It really was a marvel. Less than ten men were left and I suddenly realised that I hadn’t seen Jamie within the hall. The whispered murmurs from the maids raised the same, disappointment evident at not seeing him in his Highland regalia and taking the oath of the MacKenzie. I had found out he was the son of Colum and Dougal’s sister. Drunk auld Alec from the stables was indeed a wealth of knowledge. A scandal of sorts as she had ran off with Jamie’s father against her brothers wishes. As the last man took his oath a look passed between Colum and Dougal. I didn’t care for the one from Dougal but was sure Colum’s showed disappointment. Remembering the letters within his study and his desire to pass the Clan to Jamie, instead of his brother. I realised the danger that Jamie was in. I now wondered where he was and felt the need to find him.

The castle was a hive of activity, people crowded together in every nook and cranny. I had no real idea why I wished to see Jamie. Perhaps to satisfy myself that he was alright, perhaps because I hadn’t seen him in a week, largely due to avoiding him. Or perhaps it was morbid curiosity to find out why he had failed to attend the oath taking. Surly swearing allegiance to Colum would protect him? Even allow the pardon to be handed over? It wasn’t my business nor linked to my mission yet somehow my minds focus was on this as though my life depended upon it. Checking the kitchens, library and gathering areas I saw no sign of Jamie or Murtagh. I soon realised I was not alone in my search. My two guards and a few other from my original kidnap party were doing the same. Using my skills long taught and remembered I dodged out to the stables and began checking there. No sign either. I suddenly remembered the training paddock which was away from the castle and yards. It had a small stable attached to it. Walking carefully out of the castle’s court yard to avoid detection I made my way there. The light of the moon assisting.

The stables and training paddock silhouetted on the hill line. Trees framing it from behind loomed like gnarled monsters. Entering quietly I awaited my eyes to adjust to the darkness. The sound of horses moving at my presence being the only noise.

“What ye doing out ere lass?”

The voice startled me and I turned briskly towards the sound. Auld Alec framed in the stable door.

“I, I was, I was looking for Jamie.”

“Ye and plenty others. Ye wilna find him ere. Lad took off twa days ago.”

“What?”

The words fell heavy on my ears. He was gone, left, without so much as a goodbye? I couldn’t be surprised, I did after all yell at him the last we had spoken. Auld Alec must have picked up on my distress.

“Dinna panic he’ll be returned tomorrow or the day after. The wee eejit was going to hide in the stables ye ken. I sent him off on a fools errand to assist a farmer with birthing a new foal.”

“Oh alright then. I suppose I will see him when he returns.”

I nodded resolutely and made my way out of the stable, back towards the castle. Relief flooded me that Jamie was safe, I had no idea why I was so drawn to him. I needed to be careful, I needed to be leaving here and soon. After assassinating Geillis Duncan I knew I would need to make haste from the castle to avoid suspicion and detection. I could use my connection to the Mackenzies to assist in gathering intelligence on the other clans. As a healer I would be welcomed. I crept back into the castle and headed for my room. Tired after the long day and satisfied that Jamie was safe for now. Rounding the corner to my bed chamber I ran into Alistair MacKenzie once more. He along with two of his friends.

Chapter Text

The vile repugnant smell of his breath struck my face nearly as hard as his fist. Two of his hero friends holding me firmly.

“Ye think yer so clever getting another to take yer punishment? Maybe I’ll hand out whats due to ye myself then have my way with ye like I should have?”

He struck me again, causing my nose to bleed and my eye to sting and water. I went to speak and thinking I was going to scream he grabbed my throat with his dirty hand. Squeezing it hard.

“I dinna think so ye Sassenach hoor! Ye can scream all ye wish when I shove my cock in ye.”

With the three of them the best I could do would be await my chance to overpower one and then run for it. My face was starting to hurt and my left eye was beginning to close over from the blows. Showing fear would be exactly what he wanted. Another blow struck to my stomach causing me to crumple forward. I braced for yet another but it didn’t come suddenly the hands gripping me tightly and pinning me to the wall released. Foot steps rang out on the stone slabs and high pitched words pierced the air.

“Ye pack of wild rabid bastards! Be grateful I dinna match ye straight to the MacKenzie!”

Rupert’s voice boomed after them. I was struggling to see and his hands grasp my upper arms as he pulled me towards him.

“Dinna fash lass they’ll no bother ye again. I’ll make sure of that. Come with me, ye need tended too.”

He walked me gently to the kitchens, which despite the late hour were still busy. Kitchen maids chopping and preparing for the next day. Mrs Fitz’s eyes widen in horror and shock as they landed on me. I could only imagine the state of my face. I had received worse but in this time a woman under the protection of the Clan should only have punishment levelled out as seen fit may the Laird. Alistair MacKenzie the worthless bastard thought differently. A look passed between Rupert and Mrs Fitz and she didn’t ask what happened. Instead hurried me into the small room off the kitchens.

“Well lass ye have a right sore face to tell a tale. Leeches it is then. Ye ken they help with the healing, take the blood away from the swelling. Never put them on a bruise already healing though ye ken, they take the good blood and make ye weak.”

I smiled as best I could in understanding. Several leeches being placed on my face. The sensation was odd but not unpleasant.

“I dinna think yer nose is broken but ye’ll have a right bruise for a day or twa. Rupert ye can go if ye wish, I’ll see Claire to her room once am finished.”

Rupert with a nod and look to me left the room without a word.

“Thank you Mrs Fitz for tending to me.”

“It’s no a bother ma dear. I told ye to no walk the castle at night. Especially, well never mind, thankfully Rupert was near by to help ye.”

She finished up her doctoring then escorted me to my room. I saw other girls walking by themselves on route to bedchambers or chores and realised that Mrs Fitz likely knew the risk Alistair MacKenzie posed and the chance he would take. While there was little women of this time could do to protect themselves, clearly they still tried to look out for each other. Gratefully returned to my room I crawled into bed and was asleep in seconds.

The next few days in the surgery were unbearably busy. Between a breakout of food poisoning, cuts, scraps and breaks from shinty, I was exhausted. Then the boar hunt had happened. I had been unprepared for the ferocity of the boar and the danger that a hunt can bring. That was until I found myself kneeling at the side of a MacKenzie gorged by the beasts tusk. The wound so severe that my medical skills and equipment available could not save him. Instead I did what I had done to so many young men before, I held his hand and offered him comfort as his life blood drained away. The moment bringing back so many memories of my time as a nurse, as I held the hand of a mutilated young soldier as they cried out on their last breath for their mother. Or when I had comforted a fellow soldier in the resistance as they lay bleeding, knowing they would never see the war won.

I had returned to my surgery after and tended a few patients and was now cleaning up for evening meal. I became aware of a presence behind me, turning, I saw Dougal was standing, the fill of the door.

“Ye have seen men die by violence before.”

“Yes I have. I’ve seen the results of what man can do to each other in the name of a cause.”

“Yer no afraid of a man either nor a punch and can handle a blade as well as any man I ken.”

“I may have been on the receiving end of violence a time or two. You learn how to look after yourself.”

I answered back in a quick quip. My eyes fixed on his form determined to not look down, arms folded across my body.

“I’m leading the rent party. It’s to collect the quarter day rents owed to the Laird. We travel to those who canna make it to the castle ye ken. Yer coming too, we leave at dawn. Mrs Fitz will sort ye with what ye need to bring.”

Without waiting a reply he turned and walked away. His boots ringing out on the stone flags in the castle’s hallway. I was getting to leave the castle, go outside into MacKenzie lands. This could be my chance to get away, continue my mission. Perhaps it was time to put in practice some escape and evasion tactics?

The next morning dawned bright. My leather satchel packed with bedroll and blanket and basic medical supplies. As well as a few other items like a blade and my pistol, sat tied to my horse’s saddle. My mount had been selected by auld Alec. A gentle friendly faced mare called Luna.
Who auld Alec assured would take good care of me and was a sound and solid horse to ride. He gallantly helped me up into the saddle and patted my knee before walking away. I squeezed Luna’s sides to move to join the rest of the party. As Dougal saw me join the rear he raised his hand and took off at a blazing pace. No time for pleasantries then.

As we progressed down track and trail, I settled into the pace and began enjoying the ride, seeing the changing Highlands around me. Forgetting I was still part of the MacKenzie group, unable where I was at the rear to see who all was within this motley rental party. The pace slowed eventually and an older man, Ned Gowan moved beside me as the track allowed for two to easily ride side by side.

Ned Gowan was a solicitor. Trained in Edinburgh he had left many years before in search of adventure. Finding it with Jacob MacKenzie then continuing on his work when Colum took Lairdship. He was a wealth of knowledge and had a kindly fatherly demeanour. We conversed about poetry, healing and of course the law. He regaled me with tales of his legal wrangling and listened as I recounted stories of healing and my travels in France. I of course didn’t mention that these took place two hundred years in the future. Ned was also not put off it seemed by my bruised face. Despite the incident being a few days ago the tell tale mottling of bruises still marred my face.

Since the incident Rupert had kept a closer eye on me and his usual gruff manner had soften. Even helping me with carrying items and cleaning the surgery at the end of the day. The delightful Alistair MacKenzie had disappeared from the castle. I had no doubt that Rupert had been behind that too. Stopping at the first campsite I realised quickly most of the others in the rent party however had not soften towards me. These were the clansmen closest to Dougal, under his command. The snide comments and sideways glances reminded me I had few allies on this trip. Thankfully I had seen another ally in the ever handsome form of Jamie. Due to the numbers and the narrow tracks and trails coupled with being stuck at the back I hadn’t realised initially that Jamie was part of the group. Judging by his look at me he hadn’t realised the same nor that I was sporting a large bruise. He after all was missing from the gathering.

“Sassenach what happened yer face? Who did this?”

“Oh it’s nothing, well on the way to healing now.”

I dismissed his concern with a shrug untying my satchel from the saddle to ready my bed for the night.

“Tis something, now how’d ye get it. Thon is nay accident.”

There was a forceful tone to his voice. He was concerned and clearly would not bide until he had answers.

“It was Alistair MacKenzie. He and a few of his friends cornered me at the Gathering. Rupert saved me from any harm.”

“Saved ye from harm? Christ Sassenach look at ye!”

“Am fine Jamie. Really I am. It’s just bruising and it’s healing.”

I wasn’t being deliberately dismissive or haughty in response. I was tired after a long days travel and several very busy days in the surgery. He nodded and breathed in deeply before turning and leaving. Clearly having realised he was not going to get any further with me.

Around the campfire the men prepared food and spoke tall tales in Gaelic. I could follow most of what was said. Mainly all along the same line of conquests of women and rabid jokes. I knew they used Gaelic thinking I couldn’t understand and seeking to exclude me from the group. I had spent years living in woods with hundreds of men. It appeared that two hundred years of advancement did nothing to change the basic male mindset. I was sat to one side thinking of my mission when two large feet broke my sight line. Jamie. He had come to give me some more food and check I was warm enough.

“Thank you, I did get enough though.”

I smiled at him as he piled more of the rabbit stew onto my plate.

“Dinna fash about the men, ye ken they mean no harm.”

“I’m not worried at all, am well used to being in the company of men.”

His cheeks pinked slightly as his eyes widened in shock. I stifled a laugh which turned into a snort.

“No, no! Not in that way!”

My laughter now bubbling up as my cheeks hurt from suppressing the giggles. It was beginning to get dark and the night air was chilled. This worked in my favour as thankfully few could see this most uncouth and unladylike display of giggles and snorts coming from me. I think tiredness made the whole thing funnier. Clearing my throat and gaining control of myself I informed him.

“Well I think it’s time I turned in. No doubt it will be a busy day tomorrow and an early start. Good night Jamie.”

“Good night Sassenach.”

I smiled and headed for my bedroll. Choosing to place it far away from the men gathered at the fire. Yes I wouldn’t feel the benefit of the heat but I would avoid their noise and loose tongues. Sometime during the night I awoke for only a brief moment but became aware of a solid mass lying not far from me, Jamie. I smiled and snuggled back into my blanket. When I awaken in the morning he was already gone.

The small village we came too was already up and busy. Small thatched cottages and wooden round houses and barns was all that distinguished this as a village. The smell of wood smoke and meals being prepared, as well as the sounds of rhythmic chanting filled the air. Dougal and the men were greeted warmly, Gaelic words spun out on impulse between the English words. It was a beautiful language to hear spoken with passion.

Ned and Dougal set up a small improvised table to begin the task of collecting the rents. A large ledger filled out in neat black inked script detailing the village, the tenant and the rent paid. Often payment was in kind, chickens, kid goats, a side of smoked beef. Occasionally a payment was made in coin. I watched on in interest. Seeing two separate coin bags and that on more than one occasion payment was made in kind and then coins provided but added to this additional purse. My interest was peaked, was Dougal gathering funds for himself? Taking away from the Laird and the Clan. I doubted it but it was always possible. The nervous glances between Ned and Dougal however told me that this was perhaps different, not a slighted younger brother seeking to make some extra coin. This was potentially for the rebellion. I remembered the letters and journal entries from Colum. This would be worth watching.

My medical skills did not seem to be needed here. And after a time of watching and theorising about the additional collection I decided to walk around the village. I found a group of women working at wool. They were responsible for the chanting I had heard. With halted Gaelic I asked what they were doing. I was told by one they were waulking wool. Moving slightly down she motioned for me to sit. I watched and listened, picking up on the rhythm and the song. I joined in helping to move the wool back and forth, the pungent ammonia of the urine used to soak the wool stinging my eyes.

After a time the ladies took a short break. It was hard going on your arms! Despite my limited Gaelic and their English we communicated well. I was introduced to them all and discussed various common ailments and best treatments. Also passing on some information to assist with avoiding pregnancy. Such as safer days after their courses and the withdrawal method. Though none were fool proof it may help to assist. One young women began to cry and ran from the table. Eubh, the kind lady who had first acknowledged me, whispered that she and her husband had to give their goat up for rent. It was all they had left to help feed the bairns. My heart sank at the injustice before me. There was Clan MacKenzie bound to protect his tenants and kin. Yet willing to take the last of what a family had with no remorse. I knew that I shouldn’t intervene. It was rule number one when tasked with a mission. The mission came first, all else should be ignored. However nothing had been as planned or trained since I had arrived. I couldn’t just walk up and take the goat, I needed to be careful, resourceful.

While contemplating my actions and continuing to engage in conversation I missed Angus rounding the the corner of the wall to where the table sat. His face was flushed and his eyes narrowed in anger. His whole body language was aggressive as he stomped towards me.

“I’ve been looking all over for ye! And here ye are blethering like ye got the whole day! Since when did ye speak the Gaelic?”

I was in no mood to be toyed with, especially not by a scruffy jumped up little pip squeak! Folding my arms across my body I stood up tall and raised my chin in defiance to answer.

“I have been assisting the ladies with waulking the wool. We are most certainly not blethering! And for your final point what odds does it make if I speak Gaelic?”

I knew my defiance would anger him further but since learning of the goat it didn’t seem to matter. It was as if I was looking for an argument. Needing to release my frustrations with this time, the injustices, the treatment of women, the casual disregard shown to me.

“Dougal! Dougal! Do ye ken the Sassenach hoor speaks the Gaelic?! Been spying on us ye ken all along!”

“Don’t be ridiculous! I am not a spy for heavens sake and I thought we had moved on from referring to me as a whore!”

I wrenched my arm from his grip. Angus was still bleating like a lamb looking his mother over the indignation of me knowing his sacred language. Dougal rose from his seat at the rent table. His icy stare resting on me.

“Well Lass is it true? Do ye ken our language.”

“A little of it, I’m hardly fluent.”

I answered perhaps a little too haughtily. As Angus shook me and started yelling again that I was a spy and had lied. It was becoming more ridiculous as it continued.

“In fairness Dougal she wasna asked if she kens the Gaelic when we took her. Nor anytime since.”

“Hmph yer right. Angus quit yer caterwauling and help load the wagon.”

Dougal turned back to his task as Angus huffed off. I had been shocked that Rupert had spoken out, he had spoken the truth of course. None of them had thought to ask, seeing me only as a Sassenach whore. At least I had confirmation of what they suspected me to be.

The rent party were loaded and packed ready to leave this small village. I waited around at the rear of the group as Dougal and the rest headed out of the village set for the next. Creeping slowly up behind the wagon I untied the little goat and shooed it before mounting my horse quickly. I cast my eyes around to ensure I wasn’t seen and began a rousing conversation with the two toothed bearded man driving the wagon. I hoped that one little goat would be easily looked over or considered as lost.

Entering the next village the same process as in the last commenced. This village being larger had a few medical cases for me to look at, so I busied myself tending to those. I was looked at with suspicion and reservation. That was until I pulled an old lady’s tooth in one clean swift motion. The lady with ironed will never flinched causing oohs and ahhs to ripple around the crowd gathered to watch. After that I was treated as a long lost friend and had a queue snaked around the small table and chair I was using as a makeshift surgery. Thankfully no one had mentioned the missing goat from the last village.

Camp was to be set up here. No luxury of a tavern just the trusty bedroll once more. The men from the rent party and others from the village were all making their way into a large barn. It seemed to serve as a village hall of sorts. With the light dimming and the chill of the night air cocooning me I hedged by bets and followed. Hoping at least for some warmth.

The barn was filled with villagers and the rent party. Ale flowed and chatter rose loudly up to the roof rafters. Sliding in to the rear of the barn I watched, taking it all in. Dougal stood at the front, a commanding presence. Eyes narrow flicking around the crowded barn. Ned sat to one side a small wicker basket in front of him. A small leather bound journal and quill in hand. Jamie sat to the other side of Dougal. Rigid and tense, back ramrod straight and arms locked out with hands in his knees. He seemed to stare far into nothing, not focused on anything or anyone. Murtagh shifted uncomfortably on the opposite side of the room. Eyes never leaving his godson.

A hush fell over the room as Dougal stepped forward. If I had thought Colum at the oath taking was born for theatrics, I was about to see his brother rival him. His voice low and powerful plucked Gaelic words from his heart. Delivering an impassioned speech that rose in octave as he continued. The barn roused to his words making the energy palpable in the room. I felt drawn in listening as he spoke of the true king, the protector of Scotland. The tyranny of the English, the brutality of the Redcoats who seek to plunder, punish and destroy. He then moved with quick pace taking his Dirk he slashed through Jamie’s shirt exposing his back. His scars, his personal turmoil, exposed for all. Gasps of horror and hushed whispers echoed through the room. Women turned to look away.

“This is justice as seen fit to hand out to Scots by King Geordie! Will ye take a stand? Will ye see the true king restored to the throne!”

Dougal collapsed down onto a chair beside Ned as these villagers who had scarce enough to eat handed over what coin they had. All to a doomed cause that would never be. I needed to get that journal I thought, as my eyes cast to Jamie once more. Still rigid and unmoving, as the crowd continued to pay their dues he bolted out the door tattered shirt trailing behind him.

I moved after him, feeling the cold night air refresh me and wash the memories of my own torture away. I too had been put on display. During my capture after the initial burns had been inflicted I was brought barely able to stand, placed in a large birdcage and placed in the elaborately decorated dining hall of the chateau. My code name was white dove it was most fitting in the sick minds of those who had captured and tortured me. I could still recall the feel of their eyes upon me as they sat dressed to the nines eating a six course meal. Ladies laughter ringing across the room as though this was perfectly normal. Yes I knew what it was to be bared to all. I had to find Jamie.

“He shouldn’t have done that. Are you alright? Do you want to talk about it.”

Jamie stood rigid and on edge staring blankly ahead. This tattered shirt at his feet and his knuckles attested to his anger, fists clenched and bloody. His frustration no doubt taken out on the tree beside him. I reached for his shirt.

“Leave it be. I’ll see to it myself. Ye dinna need to fash.”

“Alright then. Can I get you anther shirt perhaps you have a spare?”

“Aye I’ll fetch it now.”

His voice was distant and held longing. He stood still staring silently for a moment longer then stalked off. I assumed to fetch his shirt. I didn’t know wether to follow or to stay here, return to the barn or retire to my bedroll. Still debating these options his presence beside me startled me. Despite his very large size he had an unnerving ability to move as silently as a mouse. He would have made an excellent agent.

“Will ye sit with me Sassenach?”

He indicated to the fallen tree a few feet away and I sat willingly. The darkness of the evening making me feel as if we were the only people anywhere. Far enough from the barn the noise of drunken debauchery did not disturb the calm silence that had settled between Jamie and I. The burning question in my mind stoked and fanned to actuality.

“Why did you let him do that? Expose your back in such a manner?”

The pain I had felt and still did for him being so displayed could not be held back in my voice. I prayed he did not hear it as pity.

“Do ye remember when I told ye of receiving my lashes?”

I nodded, awaiting further explanation.

“Well when the second set was delivered my Da he was in the crowd. The first set of lashes still raw on my back. He watched as Captain Randall laid down the lash again and again. I must of passed out from the pain ye ken. My Da thought I must of died, turned white and made a noise before dropping to the ground. He never woke again. I was so weak after the second flogging I thought I’d never make it. Fevered and weak I was broke out of the fort by Dougal and some of the men. Sent to France to heal.”

“I am sorry to hear you lost your Father in such a way Jamie. Is that why you feel obliged to Dougal for saving you from the fort?”

“Aye and no, ye see when they broke me out a stramash erupted and a soldier was shot and killed. The Redcoats blamed his murder on me and ye ken I have a price on my heid because of it. Colum and Dougal are going tae appeal for a pardon. I canna risk angering either.”

So that was it. That was what the pardon was for and I was right Jamie hadn’t been told it was there. I wanted to burst out with it, largely so I could take satisfaction in seeing Dougal’s money making scheme de-wheeled with Jamie not being the prized inducer. Then I realised I couldn’t tell him. How could I possibly explain how I knew this information? It was killing me inside. Instead I reached my hand to to his and held it, allowing the stillness of the darkness to surround and comfort. No words were needed for Jamie to understand how I felt about this situation. Again that night he slept close to my bedroll and as the morning before he was gone before I awoke.

The next week continued in the same manner. A new village to call with, rent collected and ailments treated. Each evening at those villages large enough to have a tavern or barn Dougal held court. Regaling the tenants with tales of brutality and of vengeance handed out by the British. I looked to the floor or roof as stares and dirty looks shot my way. I braced myself for the gasps of horror and murmured whispers when Jamie’s back was exposed. I offered comfort and sympathy as he dealt with the humiliation after. He slept close to my bedroll to protect me from those seeking to harm me because I was English.

The evening before we had camped in a wooden area on route to yet another village. The most northern village of the MacKenzie lands I had been told. I was busy filling the water canteens that morning, at the small stream when I heard horses approaching. The wind was blowing towards them making it difficult to make out their distance. I stilled myself hoping they would ride passed. The river bank rose steeply on the opposite side to me and I hoped it would hide my position.

I however did not bank on the group picking this location to stop and rest. Suddenly a redcoat solider appeared silhouetted on the bank and made his way down to the stream. Randall, bloody well damn it! His eyes locked on me as a sinister smirk appeared on his lips. He strode through the stream towards me. The water sloshing around his tall leather riding boots. The droplets skirting into the air refracting the early morning sunlight into a multitude of colours. The scene could be considered beautiful if the man creating it was not the despicable and vile Randall. I stood straight, head held high as he approached.

“Awh we meet again, the whore to the MacKenzie’s!”

His lips now in a wide grin as his cold icy eyes bored into my body.

“How is your nose Mr Randall? I do hope it is healed.”

“That’s Captain to you”

“I think you’ll find your actions to date do not warrant the esteem of such a title Mr Randall.”

He breathed out a sound like a laugh, stepped back from me in pondering of what action to take. I knew I had crossed the line with my lack of respect and regard for his rank and gender. This behaviour was most uncouth and improper for a lady at this time. He struck me hard in the stomach, doubling me over. I drew in a strangled breath, preparing myself for further blows which did not come.

“You filthy whore, I should strike you down right here and now! I don’t know who or what you are but I will find out!”

He had grabbed my upper arm and leaned forward close to my ear to forcibly whispered this. His face now flushed with anger.

“I am a healer, plain and simple.”

“You are travelling with the MacKenzie’s the same group you were with when I last laid eyes upon you. I think you are more than a healer. I will find out the truth. You will be coming with me.”

The other redcoats from the patrol had now followed their feeble excuse for a Captain. They fanned out around, watching the scene between us. Randall was stood close to me, focused on our spat I don’t believe he noticed his men.

“I will not be going anywhere with you! I have done nothing wrong.”

I knew he would not admit to being struck by a female, least not having his nose broken. He was the type who liked instilling fear. He grabbed me around my throat squeezing tightly.

“You are an English citizen I can compel you to go anywhere I wish. Your reluctance to accompany me raises my suspicions.”

He seemed to pause, taking stalk of a thought, his eyes distant and unfocused. His tight grip on my throat increased as his eyes refocused on me.

“Your a spy for them aren’t you? You traitorous, treacherous bitch!”

The vein in his neck was pulsing with rage as he spoke. His grip unwavering. The other redcoats shifted uncomfortably at the treatment handed out to what looked to them to be a gentle bred English lady. However I knew none would intervene not against a Captain.

“I’ll ask ye to take yer hands off her Captain Randal.”

Dougal’s rich brogue rang out, a tone of belligerence wrapped around the words.

“Awh if it isn’t Dougal MacKenzie, war chief of Clan MacKenzie. What brings you to intervene between a matter involving the crown and one of its citizens?”

“Ye’ll find the lady is under the protection of Clan Mackenzie. Ye’ll also find the Laird has jurisdiction on Clan lands, which ye and yer fine men are currently standing on. So I’ll tell ye again, remove yer hands from the lass, aye?”

“I don’t take orders from barbarians like you Scots! I am an Officer in the Kings army.”

His gripped tighten once more causing me to choke. I couldn’t see who else was with Dougal but given the side glances and shifting feet of the other redcoats I could guess he wasn’t alone.

“Captain we best be going, sir. Lord Thomas is expecting us.”

The Sgt had bravely stepped forward interrupting the spat between Dougal and Randall. He released his hand from my throat pushing me towards Dougal. Turned to stalk back through the stream shouting over his shoulder as he strode on.

“You will hand her over to me at Fort William in three days time. I will have my answers!”

With that he was over the bank and out of sight.

“Bastard!”

“Watch yer mouth! Ye ken he can still hear ye!”

Dougal grabbed my arm and pulled me along with him into the woodland. Ned was with him, his mouth opening and closing like a demented goldfish. Dougal stopped at a clearing and paced back and forth. I stood still watching his thoughts flash across his face.

“Are ye a spy for the English?”

He barked the words out as he strode towards me, stopping mere inches from me. I breathed in deeply and tilted my chin up to him.

“No I am not a spy for the English. I hardly think that is how they would treat one of their own. I am plain old Claire Beauchamp, a healer. That is all. I have done nothing to raise suspicion nor betrayed any trust. Yet I have been followed, mistrusted, subjected to ridicule and conjecture! I simply wished to be on my way.”

I was exasperated, tired of the constant suspicion. I had a mission to complete, I needed to end this nonsense, regain my low profile. I knew that was going to be difficult. Within a short time of arriving here I realised I stood out due to my Englishness. The healing however had given me a cover, a way to gain the confidence of the people. My outburst had unsettled Dougal, he was stood in puzzlement. His mind racing in thought behind his eyes. After a lengthy pause he breathed sharply in and levelled his eyes once more on me.

“That is all, is it? Aye. Yer English though, so I canna stop Randall wishing tae speak with ye. He can compel English subjects, Colum will have nay choice but tae hand ye over. Though there is away to prevent it. Randall canna compel a Scot. No unless they have committed a crime.”

“You want to make me a Scot? How on earth do you plan on doing that?

“Marriage.”

“What! To you?! I don’t think so.”

“Nay need to get in a fash, it’ll no be to me. Young Jamie will do. Ned ye need to prepare a marriage contract and we need to speak to the groom to be.”

“Wait one minute, do I not have a say in this matter? What if I or indeed Jamie do not wish to marry?”

“Do ye wish to be handed over in three day to Randall?! I wouldna let that bastard have the keep of dog! Never mind a smart mouth Sassenach lassie. Now ye are under the protection of the Clan MacKenzie. Yer a widow it’s the duty of the Laird to find ye a husband.”

I went to answer but he had already turned and walked off, no doubt in search of Jamie. Ned hurried after him most likely to oversee the legality of it all. Rupert appeared a few moments later, walking through the tree line heading towards me.

“Come to drag me to the wedding are you?”

I couldn’t contain my sarcasm, folding my arms in defiance.

“Aye I kent about the wedding, news travels fast Mistress. It’s no why I came, Dougal asked me to give ye a hand with the canteens.”

He smiled brightly delighted to have an answer and walked on towards the stream. We collected the canteens and headed for the camp. As we cleared the trees into the clearing I saw Dougal and Ned stood together and Jamie’s large form. His face was unreadable, masking his thoughts as he listened. His face then flashed red and he turned storming into the tree line, Murtagh scurrying after. Jamie clearly was not happy at having to marry me. My heart sank a little, why would he want to marry a widowed Sassenach? It wasn’t him being threatened by the redcoats this time round. Schooling my face I sorted the canteens and headed to a secluded area to think.

The early morning sun was beginning to warm the air and sat low on the sky casting long shadows across the forest floor. I always felt at ease in woodland, the smell of the trees, the heaviness in the air that seemed to always exist and the feeling of being surrounded, covered and protected by these ancient beings. The reality of my situation was vividly bright in my mind. I had to marry, Ned had explained in his jaunty jovial manner the finer legal points of why marriage to a Scot protected me from Randall.

It was painfully clear that my rights as a woman meant very little in this time, once married I would belong to my husband. I suppose it wasn’t much different in my own time. The freedom of war time had perhaps given me a false sense of individualism. The thought of marrying Jamie did not disturb me. I did have feelings beyond mere friendship towards Jamie, he was kind and handsome and there was something about him that drew me to him. I couldn’t quite explain it and I most certainly had never felt it before. Yet the reality still shone bright, he had stormed off when presented with the task of marrying me. Perhaps he had hoped for another? My thoughts went straight to Laoghaire and that kiss I had seen. A noise of a twig snapping startled me out of my thoughts. Looking up I saw Jamie walking towards me.

Chapter Text

The morning light was glowing behind him as he walked towards me. The rays of sun catching his hair and setting it ablaze in a kaleidoscope of colours. It really was a most intriguing and beautiful shade of red. I schooled my features and breathed deeply. Jamie’s face give nothing away. While I had most certainly not wished or expected to marry in this time. I couldn’t deny that marrying Jamie was not an unpleasant state of affairs.

“Do ye mind if I take a seat?”

He indicated to the spot on the log beside me. I nodded, shifting my skirts slightly as he sat. His large frame looking ridiculous on this small log.

“We’re to marry then Sassenach.”

“We don’t, I mean, you don’t have to. I understand we hardly know each other and perhaps you have commitments elsewhere or indeed desires else where. I wouldn’t wish to disrupt your life.”

“Am a wanted man ye ken, I’ve no prospects for marriage. Nay father in their right mind would allow their daughter to pledge themselves to me.”

“What so I’ll simply do as there is no one to interject on my behalf? Even if you aren’t promised to another it doesn’t mean you don’t have desires for someone.”

I cocked my eyebrow at him as I spoke, folding my arms across my chest. His comment I doubted was meant to rise my ire. Yet some how him describing how he was not a fine prospect for marriage riled me. My pride made me realise, I wanted him to want me, the thought startled me to my core. I looked down at my hands hoping he had not seen the thought flash in my eyes. Jesus H Roosevelt Christ! Get it together Beauchamp! You hardly know the man.

“I’ve eyes for nay other and I’m no promised to anyone. As to agreeing to marry ye, I do so willing Sassenach so long as ye do so as well? I Dinna wish you to feel trapped.”

His words were spoken softly and his eyes spoke so fully of the care he had toward me. The kindness that I had seen evident in his whole demeanour since our first encounter. The arrangement was most irregular and I could potentially end up being extracted home to my own time. John had said it wasn’t likely, there was no plan in place for it but there was always a chance and while I was resolved to staying, that chance to leave was always there. Could I simply abandon Jamie? Could I use him for protection in this time for my own gains? He seemed willing enough but yet I had saw his face with Dougal and Ned when no doubt informed of his up and coming nuptials.

“Are you sure this is what you want Jamie? I saw you with Dougal and Ned, I saw you storm off.”

“Hmph that was to do with other aspects of the marriage contract. Ye dinna need to fash about that.”

“Because I’m not a virgin? Is that it?”

“No! It dinna make a difference to me. It’s probably best that one of us kens what we are at on the wedding night aye?”

“What! You are a virgin?”

I hadn’t meant to spit the words out with such an incredulous tone of disbelief but how was this man still a virgin? I understood the chaste requirements of the maiden bride but the menfolk usually were well versed with the female form by the time they lay with their bride. My words caused a slight flush to spread to his cheeks and he looked down at the ground in embarrassment.

“My Father ye ken he taught me to respect a woman. That my desires and needs should not be forced upon a woman without the promise of marriage. It wasna right to leave her with the possible consequences of my lust. He seen it better to abuse oneself in the eyes of the Lord than defile a woman’s virtue to satisfy yer own needs.”

“A noble thought indeed. So you do really wish to marry me?”

“Aye I do.”

“Why? I know you said you aren’t promised to anyone and have desires for no one. But surely you wish to choose your own bride.”

“Well I have reasons to marry ye, ye ken?”

“Really what are they?”

“I dinna no if I wish to tell ye just yet. It’s no proper courtship.”

“Oh please! Nothing about this arrangement is proper! I think I have a right to know why you are willing to marry me?”

The image of him locked in an intimate kiss with Laoghaire raced into my mind. He had said he had desires for no one but could he be lying? Laoghaire was a petite blonde, rosy cheeked maiden with eyes of blue. I couldn’t possibly compare at my age as a “widow woman” with a mop of unruly dull brown curls and boring eyes which were almost yellow.

“How about I tell ye one reason and leave the rest for another time, aye?”

“Alright”

“I wish to see ye safe Sassenach. I ken the cruelty of Randall and I’m no willing let him have ye handed to him. No when I can protect ye, ye’ll have the protection of my name, my Clan and my body if needed.”

He smiled a devilish, devastating smile as he took my hand and gently kissed it. My heart rate doubled and heat pooled in my centre. I was not a woman rendered speechless yet I could not think of how to answer or indeed how to form words.

“I’ll leave ye to the perusal of the marriage contract, I have some matters to attend to.”

With that he turned and walked away. Disappearing into the rising sunlight and the trees. Jesus H Roosevelt Christ I was completely charmed by him. What the hell was I going to do? I knew with that chaste kiss on my hand, if I slept with him I’d be lost to him for ever. There was a draw, a connection of some sort that I just couldn’t explain. I shouldn’t be sitting with maiden like flutters in my heart thinking about marriage to him, I had barely divorced from Frank! Shouldn’t I be still devastated over that lost love? Focused solely on my mission? But yet I couldn’t deny these feelings, yet I struggled to understand them. I can’t tell him the truth of me? I need to complete my mission, I can’t have this distraction. Dropping my head into my hands I breathed deeply as the enormity of this situation washed over me.

The situation seemed to spiral further from reality as the day progressed. Jamie and Murtagh along with Rupert and Angus had disappeared. The rest of the party made our way to a nearby village. It was large and bustling, arrangements were made at a tavern for rooms and Dougal went off to arrange a priest to wed us. Grumbling under his breath on return that it would be simpler to kill us both and handfasting would have been sufficient.

“Well that’s the priest and Kirk sorted for ye fur tomorrow at the behest of yer groom.”

He smiled sardonically and swept off to the barmaid. Ned took this opportunity to advise me off my duties in this contract of marriage.

“Well Mistress Beauchamp as I told young Jamie we are sailing a boat made entirely of paper! We must be very careful to ensure the letter of the law is followed. The marriage will need to be consummated at once and a hmmm. Well witnesses will need to be able to testify that mmmm the deed is indeed done.”

He flushed red and looked down at the marriage contract before him avoiding my eye. I was speechless. Yes I had heard the stories in history of the wedding sheets to prove innocence on entering the marriage bed but this!

“Well I don’t believe witnesses will be necessary some how. I am most tired Ned I think I shall retire early I haven’t slept in a bed for quite sometime.”

I excused myself and headed for my bedchamber. What the hell! There was no way I was having any witnesses to that! Grabbing a bottle of whiskey as I passed the tavern’s bar I retreated to my room and sought comfort in the amber liquid. There’s no way Jamie would allow it being the last conscious thoughts in my mind.

The next morning I was awaken by Murtagh and the taverns landlady. Sun light was streaming into the room and the noise from the tavern below indicated that it was well into the morning. Brushing my curls from my eyes I blinked them into focus.

“Up ye get, can’t have ye getting married looking like a melted candle! The landlady will sort ye out Lass.”

“What time is it?”

Shielding my eyes from the light which seemed to burn them. The rawness of the whiskey still coated my throat and my head was spinning.

“It’s near noon, ye’ve slept all morning. Nay time to tarry ye have a wedding to attend.”

With that he left the room and the landlady helped me up and get washed and dressed. I hadn’t expected that I would have a different dress to my travelling one. Yet there in the corner of the room lay a beautiful gown. The fabric was a silvery grey with silver and gold embroidery around the skirt bottom and the bodice. The fabric was tucked and gathered in pleats at the sides and back giving volume to the skirt and delicate lace edged the three quarter length sleeves. It had a daring neckline that emphasised my bust line and a choker necklace completed the look. The landlady had pinned and tamed my locks in a fetching manner. Small pieces had escaped their confines framing my face and softened the look. She had added some small flowers to complete it. Standing looking at my reflection I was amazed at the transformation. The clothing of this time did seem to suit my shape and I had began to feel comfortable in them.

The Kirk was a small one room building with no proper windows. As I approached a crowd had gathered and young Willie came scurrying to great me.

“Mistress ye look beautiful.”

He eyes were fixed on me and he smiled warmly. His comment genuine.

“Thank you Willie.”

I smiled back in return. Dougal then appeared, a stern look on his face. Clearly unimpressed with this diversion from task.

“Well if we are quite ready. Will we get on with it?”

His icy stare landing in me. I nodded in acquiescence and followed behind him. As I approached the Kirk doors Jamie stepped outside into the sunlight. His hair freshly washed and swept back. The colours vibrant. He was wearing full Highland regalia and cut a most handsome figure, tall and broad. My breath hitched slightly as I took in his presence. I had noticed from my time here that kilts did most definitely add to the charm of any man. Even the most ill humoured but when adorned upon a young, handsome and tall man with a kind heart they were breathtaking. Jamie walked over to me, heedless to the crowd or Dougal and his scowl. He bowed and took my hand giving it a gentle kiss.

“Yer servant.”

He rose and took my arm in his, walking me towards the Kirk. It all felt surreal and my heart began to pound incessantly with nerves, could I really go through with this? The Kirk was dark inside and my eyes blinked to adjust to the dimness. The priest, stood at the alter, appeared unimpressed with the proceedings but none the less clearly willing to complete them. Most likely due to a sizeable donation from Dougal I thought and snorted at the thought of how much he had to pay. Jamie looked at me with a questioning look. I dismissed it with a shake of the head and continued towards the altar and this ad hoc wedding, the mood lifted slightly at the thought of inconveniencing Dougal.

The service was conducted in Latin. A language I knew quite literally none of. The rhythmic monotone of the priest speaking each word washed over me and soothed my mind. When the time came, I replied “I do” without clear understanding of what I was agreeing too. My hope being that the service hadn’t changed much in the years since, or was it until? I married Frank. Jamie fumbled in a pocket removing something, seizing my hand he pushed a ring onto my ring finger. Giving my hand a gentle squeeze. I breathed deeply feeling my heart pounding. The priest having completed the benediction announced in English that Jamie could now kiss the bride.

I moved forward, rigid and heart still hammering. Nerves storming in my stomach as I leaned up to touch his lips. I had expected a chaste, brief meeting of our lips but that was not what transpired. An almost magnetic hold pulled us together and I felt time slow. It was as though we were the only people in the Kirk at that moment. As we moved apart my mind began to race and I lost all focus of what was happening. I had yearned for Jamie, been jealous when I saw that damned kiss with Laoghaire. I had felt a draw and connection with him and now I was married to him, legally his wife. Why then did I feel as if my heart was being torn in two? Why did I feel as if I had betrayed Frank? He was the one who sought a divorce, he was the one who wished to walk away. I was a free woman bond to no man when I stood at this alter. Yet I just couldn’t shake that ghost of Frank that seemed to still follow me.

Dougal stepped forward, a scowl still on his face and an impatient grace to his movements. Seizing Jamie’s wrist he sliced it with his Dirk, my eyes widened in horror as his hand grabbed mine and with a swift movement dealt mine the same treatment. Quickly placing our wrists together he bound them with a stock and looked to Jamie awaiting him to begin something. My eyes searched his face for a clue as to what was happening. He shot me a small reassuring smile and leaned down to my ear and whispered.

“Repeat after me Claire.”

“Is tu fuil ‘o mo chuislean, is tu cnaimh de mo chnaimh.”

“Is leatsa mo bhodhaig, chum gum bi sinn ‘n ar n-aon.”

“Is leatsa m’anam gus an criochnaich ar saoghal”

He took his time to pronounce the words, looking intently at me as I repeated them back. It was only a few short sentences in Gaelic. I was able to understand some of the words and the general meaning. It was a vow of some sort, most likely traditional to the Scots. Once finished, our wrists were unbound and Jamie took my arm and walked out of the Kirk. A broad full grin across his face. I couldn’t help but be caught up in the euphoria, feelings of guilt or betrayal to Frank be damned!

The reception of sorts was held in the tavern. Ale, wine and whiskey flowed along with platters of meat and vegetables. The atmosphere was jovial and I saw little of my groom, both of us entertained and our time demanded of by others. Congratulations rang out and toasts to our good health and marriage. As time wore on I became aware that the next part of the marriage contract needed fulfilled. The thought of sleeping with Jamie did not fill me with dread, if I was honest I had wondered about it on first meeting him. It was the thought of the need for witnesses. This most intimate of moments being listened for or leered over. Jamie had assured me custom usually dedicated that no other was actually present in the room, yet my own unnerving thoughts begged to differ.

Dougal appeared beside me, the stench of whiskey heavy on his breath. I scanned the room for Jamie but could not find his red beacon head of hair high above the rest of the crowd.

“Ye’ve a duty to perform”

“A duty?”

I scoffed back, setting my shoulders and chin that little bit firmer. His voice was thicker with the inebriation of the drink. His lips twitched and a lascivious smile spread across his face.

“When young Jamie returns ye will be performing yer martial duty to witnesses. There’s a few here who have been waiting to see ye spread wide and plunged into.”

I could feel the bile rising in my throat at the thought. I could see no reason for this except to satisfy their own vulgar desires.

“I don’t think somehow my husband will be keen on that. Nor do I think it’s necessary!”

“Ye’ll do yer duty or ye’ll be handed over to Randall. Remember what Ned said about the legalities of yer wedding.”

He spoke brusquely, a snarl apparent on his lips as he seized my upper arm. I jerked away and sneered back.

“I will not have anyone witnessing that!”

A heavy emphasis on the word not. Our faces were mere inches away neither of us conceding on the matter.

“Ye’ll do as I say ye smart mouthed Sassenach hoor! And if I say there needs to be witnesses in the room, there will be witnesses in the room, aye?”

He grabbed my arm once again and raised in eyebrow in expectation of compliance. I was not so willing to acquiesce to this outrageous demand. Stepping forward into his large solid frame I reached into my pocket and seized my knife. Bringing the blade to rest against his jaw and throat.

“I will not have witnesses present Dougal.”

I seethed through gritted teeth. A small bead of blood rose at the knife point as I pressed harder. Dougal’s face stilled in shocked disbelief. I stepped back and lowered the knife. Dougal’s expression changed from shock to rage. His eyebrows lowered, eyes fixed coldly on me and his jaw was clenched tight. He seemed to grow in stature as his breathing puffed his chest with each inhale.

“Nay Sassenach hoor will draw a blade on the Clan war Chief!”

The words were bellowed out as his face flamed blood shot red. He lurched forward grabbing me bodily. Striking me across the face, a stinging burn rang across it as I was dragged towards the rent party.

“I am the War Chief of Clan MacKenzie! I am Laird MacKenzie’s eyes, ears and legs on MacKenzie land. It is my duty to see justice served. Strip her back, twelve strikes will teach the bitch her place!”

My arms were seized and pulled behind me, I felt a blade ripping at my gown’s back. I struggled fruitlessly against those restraining me. The bodice of my dress loosening as it tore from my body. The cool of the air on my skin as Dougal with clear alacrity cut through my corset. Tears stung my eyes as I realised my fate. My version blurred and cheeks burning with shame and humiliation. In a flash of a moment all movement and cheers stilled to deathly silence, then gasps of horror punctuated the silence as the menfolk stepped back. Turning slowly the same looks of horror and disbelief displayed upon each face. My scars now visible, exposed. Dougal staggered backwards falling heavily into a bench. His mouth opening and closing as if to form words. Large hands were then on me and a jacket draped around my shoulders.

“Come Lass, let’s get ye to yer room.”

Rupert’s hand began to gently guide me towards the tavern stairs. The men parting as I moved forward still stood in silence. Dougal was sat in silent disbelief.

“You can annul the wedding and hand me over to Randall for all I care. You can see he can do no worse to me than I haven’t already received.”

I waited for no answer as I walked slowly, trying to gather what dignity I had as I stepped with careful poise on each tread of stair. My expression did not change until the bed chamber door closed behind me and I allowed the tears to fall once more. The metal band of my wedding ring now heavy and cold.

Chapter Text

I shucked the coat that Rupert had covered me in and scrambled out of the remains of my gown and under skirts. I was expecting Dougal and his merry band to come and forcibly eject me from the tavern. The shocked and disgusted looks on their faces at casting an eye on my scars, burned in my mind. Grabbing my travelling clothes and satchel, I gathered my few possessions as the sound of boots reverberated down the hall. The door sprang open, the solid and large form of Jamie outlined in it, gleaming candle light from the sconces burning behind him.

I had my clothing and satchel held to my body in one arm and my knife in the other, ready to defend myself. On seeing Jamie alone I breathed again, he entered the room closing the door. Moving slowly and carefully as though approaching a startled animal. I dropped the clothing and knife, arms hanging at my sides as I stood in my torn shift, throat clogged with emotion.

Jamie’s eyes scanned across my body worry and panic etched in deep lines within his face. I could see the conflict and confusion within him as he tried no doubt to understand what had transpired in the tavern. I stepped towards the fire and the two winged chairs, wrapping a blanket from the bed around me. I had never been ashamed of my body but the horror in Frank’s reaction coupled with the horrified looks from the men in the tavern made me sure I needed to hide.

“Where ye leaving Claire? On our wedding day?”

“I think it’s for the best if I go. After what happened down there!? Dougal has made it very clear the options I have and after.....”

I stumbled on the words unable to speak them into existence. Clearing my throat and straightening myself up.

“You won’t have to be burdened with me as a wife and well, I am sure I can resolve any issues or concerns the Redcoats have about my presence here. Am sure Dougal will be here shortly to see me on my way.”

“Dougal? I dinna ken why his opinion matters. Do I no get a say as yer husband on if I wish to be wed to ye and where ye go?”

“The marriage hasn’t been consummated and can easily be annulled. I thank you for your kindness and willingness to assist me.”

“Annulled? Ye thank me for my kindness? Ye are MY wife, ye’ll no be going anywhere.”

I was trying to maintain my resolve and not allow my emotions to flare. His impassioned tone and face of despair broke it. My heart felt like it was being ripped from my body. I knew when he saw my scars and when I told him the truth of my injuries he would not want me. I didn’t think I could take rejection for my scars again. Schooling my features I calmed my mind to speak.

“This will not work, Ned has said the legality of the wedding cannot be questionable and given what just took place downstairs with Dougal. Jamie we hardly know each other, really it will be alright. The English are unlikely to harm a citizen of their own! I should never have agreed to putting you in this position of marrying me.”

“You put me in this position?! Christ Sassenach! I wanted to marry ye! When I said I had nay desires for any other I meant it, I have desires only for ye.”

“You are only saying that Jamie. Really it is for the best. I understand your noble nature but I simply cannot allow this farce to continue. Now I must be on my way. Dougal was insisting the marriage be consummated with witnesses present. That is what caused all this! I simply cannot allow that!”

My attempts to remain calm and nonchalant were pitiful. My head was telling me to run, to leave, face my fate should it appear in front of Randall. With my skill set I was sure I could avoid him until I completed the mission. My heart however was telling me to run into Jamie’s arms, to receive the comfort and care I knew he would give. To allow myself to be bound to him, be vulnerable with him, trust in him.

“Ye are my wife! Consummated or no our marriage is lawful and binding in the eyes of the Lord. I seen to that! If ye are going anywhere, ye’ll be going with me! Dougal nor no witnesses will be present in any part of our marriage, ye ken?!”

“You won’t want me when you know the truth!”

I blurted out, the steely resolve I had forced upon myself now shattered. Tears ran freely.

“No want ye? Sassenach I will want ye til my last breath.”

“I was torture and raped!”

I screamed the words out startling him into silence. I dropped the blanket from around me and turned my back to him. The shift slowly fell down my body following the contours to pool at my feet. Exposing the marred expanse of my back and buttocks, the angry welts and marks. I should have felt uneasy standing naked before him, yet my heart pounded with adrenaline giving me the strength I needed. I turned towards him. His face masked, no emotion showing.

“I was damaged during this torture meaning I can never bear children. So you see, I make a most unsuitable wife.”

I spoke the words in a strangled breath, raising my arms from my side in a gesture of defeat. He was standing simply staring at me, still no thoughts betrayed on that carefully masked face. My heart still racing I covered myself with my arms, shielding my body as I bent to pick my blanket from the floor.

“Will you say something! Anything!”

“Christ ye are the most beautiful woman I have ever seen.”

His words shocked me and I looked at him eyes wide, waiting the scathing retort that was sure to come. He stepped towards me, a careful slow step, eyes never leaving my body.

“No want ye? Claire I want ye, scars or no, raped or no, bairns or no. I ask ye, will ye have me?”

He had closed the space between us and stood now a hairs breath from my naked body. The smell of him, horses, sweat, whiskey and something uniquely him surrounded me as he spoke those words and I could only answer with my body. Crashing against him and reaching up to claim his lips on mine. He returned the kiss, deepening it as his tongue sought entry and swirled within my mouth. His hands pulling me closer as they covered the expanse of my back. He lifted me up as my legs wrapped instinctively around his waist. Walking me with ease to the bed he carefully placed me down. Stepping back to take me all in. His eyes scanning and devouring me with wanton abandon, as he struggled out of his jacket and waist coat.

“Have you ever seen a naked woman before?”

“Aye but no as close and no one that was all mine.”

His belt holding his kilt clunked to the wooden floor. He crashed down to me once more claiming my mouth. Clad now in only his shirt my hands roamed his body. Feeling the ridges and hollows of his own scars.

“Where did you learn to kiss like this?”

Heat pooling in my core as I ground against him desperate for release.

“I said I was a virgin, no a monk.”

As he continued to kiss and caress along my neck. His desire for me ever evident in the solid mass pressing urgently into my pelvis. Grabbing his shirt hem I rucked it up freeing his cock from its linen restraint. It’s length pressing against my intimate parts, seeking entry to begin this most ancient of acts. Moving my hips up and against him we joined together, a gentle rhythm singing out. Youth and virginal inexperience won out and after several deep thrusts I felt his completion spill within me. His heartbeat pounding against my own. He rolled to his side, a large arm still wrapped across my body.

“Was it what you expected?”

His breathing was still slightly hitched and a euphoric grin was spread wide across his face. I had never slept with a virgin before. Frank had been older and certainly wiser in that department when we had wed. However seeing the unbridled joy and the enthusiasm radiating from Jamie, I couldn’t help but be enamoured with the thought of male virginity.

“Aye and no. Well ye’ll only laugh if I tell ye.”

“Oh go on what is it? I promise I won’t.”

“Well ye see, I dinna ken, well, ye ken I was raised on a farm and I dinna think we did this face to face, but the back way like horses ye ken? But something just took over, I just well, ye ken?”

Despite his flushes of embarrassment and my promises to not, I burst a loud laugh out. Thankfully he seemed to follow suit and we both enjoyed the mirth rising between us.

“Well you certainly figured it out easily enough.”

“Did ye enjoy it?”

Four little words, asked with such hope and I knew expectation. I shouldn’t have enjoyed it nor desired it. I had my mission to complete and not to mention the still raw wound from Frank. Yet I had enjoyed it and more to the point longed to repeat it. My pause had been too long however and Jamie had sat up on the bed, grabbing his shirt to hurriedly pull on.

“Seems Murtagh and that was right then.”

“What?”

“They told me women dinna care for the act as much as men and to be about my business quickly.”

“I did enjoy it Jamie, very much.”

I interrupted him, quickly spluttering the words out on a nervous breath. A small smile quirked onto his lips and he seemed to almost glow at my words. They each soothing his pride and soul. It was the truth, I had enjoyed it, got caught up in the moment and truth be told I wanted to repeat it. Covering myself with a blanket I turned towards him.

“What other “advice” did they impart?”

I raised an eyebrow quizzically preparing myself for the martial bed advice of 18th century Highlanders. The next half an hour was spent in riotous laughter and snorts of derision at the comments made. Seems that most of the menfolk deemed women to be dismissive of sex and that only they could derive pleasure from the act.

Suggestions focused solely on the various ways to plunge their cocks into women. By the end tears were running from my eyes as I laughed heartily, feeling at ease laying in the bed entangled with Jamie. Silence broke though the laughter as I caught my breath and regained my composure. I was really married, here in 18th Century Scotland. This man who barely knew me was prepared to wed me, to protect me and despite the revelations that had transpired still was willing to have me as his wife. My mind cast back focusing on the comment he had made mid impassioned speech. He said he had desires for only me. At the time I had been riled from my run in with Dougal, fearful of what was happening and focused on high tailing it out of the tavern. I hadn’t stopped to consider the words and their meaning along with the other declarations that he didn’t mind the scars or the fact I couldn’t have children. Had they only been spoken in the heat of the moment? Sexual desires overriding his true thoughts?

“Jamie you said you desired me and didn’t mind my scars or me not having children but did you really mean it? If you didn’t I don’t mind, I will understand and I wouldn’t stand in the way if you wished to find another.”

“Ye are only wed to me no even a day and for the second time ye are trying to get away! If ye no wish to be wed Claire I willna force ye. Do ye wish to live separate is that it? Is it the bedding? I will never force myself on ye, I give ye my word.”

He sat up and moved off the bed, leaving a chill on my skin. He seemed at odds with himself as he paced.

“No! That’s not it, I just I wanted to be sure you were alright with well, me.”

My voice was low and weak as I spoke.

“With ye what? Yer scars Claire? I dinna ken yet how ye got them, I trust ye will tell me in yer time. I promise ye they dinna bother me, as ye said to me they show yer strength to survive. As for bairns Claire, if the Lord sees fit he will bless us so, there’s more than one way to be a father or mother. It dinna make ye any less to me. I promise ye and ask the same, from here on no lies between us. Secrets perhaps but no lies. Do ye agree?”

“Yes Jamie I agree.”

“I’ve answered yer questions about marrying ye already. I assure ye again I did so willing, no just to protect ye but because I wanted ye. I have done since the first my eyes set upon ye. When I say I have desires for nay other I mean it, only ye Sassenach, only ye.”

He leaned over to gently kiss my lips, lingering his forehead against mine. The tenderness caressed me and comforted me. I was not used to this reverent care nor understanding.

“Can you tell me about yourself? I know you are the nephew of Colum and Dougal but who are you family?”

“How many generations back Sassenach?”

I laughed easing tensions that had arisen with my questioning him wishing to marry me.

“Just your parents will do, any brothers or sisters?”

“Well my Mother was sister to Colum and Dougal. My father was a Fraser, his father is Lord Lovat, his mother was a maid. Ye can imagine that Colum and Dougal were no too keen on my Father marrying my Mother. But they fell for each other instantly and ran off. Dinna reappear to be found til my Mother was round with child. My eldest brother Willie, was born soon after. Colum and Dougal insisted my Mother have land to settle in and so my Grandshire give them land where my Father built a house, Lallybroch.”

He spoke of the land and house. Painting a picture of a happy family home that I longed to see. He spoke of his brother Willie and sister Jenny. How they looked after him, took him everywhere. He clearly looked up to his brother and was close to him. I was almost jealous. I was an only child and an orphan, while Uncle Lamb had been a constant source of love and support he was not my mother or father. I had often wished for siblings as a young child and now listening to Jamie regale me with takes from his childhood my heart felt heavy at what I had missed out on.

“When where you last home? You seem to be very close to all of your family?”

He visibly stiffened and seemed uncomfortable. Breathing out a short forced puff of air.

“Ye ken I lost my father when I received the second set of lashes, aye? Well I had already lost my brother Willie and Mam.”

He stopped speaking and stared ahead eyes fixed on nothing that I could see, yet I knew in my heart that he was seeing them before him. Sat by the fire as he had no doubt often pictured them. I didn’t know what to say, his pain was palpable and I could understand that burning heavy loss. Time does not make you forget.

“Willie died young from small pox, suddenly I was the heir. It was going to be my responsibility when my father passed to take of the care of tenants and the lands. I was educated, sent to university in France. Mam died in child birth, along with my youngest brother. Ye see that’s why I’m no bothered about ye no bearing bairns. I ken the risks. My Da was in the stables tending to livestock as she took her last breaths. Then there was only Da, Jenny and me.”

 

He stopped speaking once more, eyes again fixed on that spot by the fire.

“I havena been back to Lallybroch since the redcoats took me to Fort William. Am too ashamed for what happened to Jenny. I failed her.”

“You didn’t fail her Jamie. It’s not your sole responsibility to protect everyone.”

“Aye it was, I failed her and the worse bit..... the worse part is that she was left with a bastard child to raise because of my failure.”

“How do you know this if you haven’t been home since?”

“Dougal kens it, he told me.”

I made a noise in my throat similar to a growl. It wasn’t intentional it just seemed to happen. I highly doubted the validity of these claims having come from Dougal.

“Well Jamie until you see and speak to your sister I would not dwell on the claims of Dougal. Even if it is true I am sure that your sister would be glad to see you despite what you claim to be your failings. Family will always be the people who have to welcome you in no matter what.”

I smiled reassuringly at him and even got a small forced smile in return. I could see the weight that this put on him. I was confident that Dougal was lying but knew my reassurance would do little to sway his view. I was becoming hungry but didn’t wish to leave this safe haven, created in our wedding night room. Confronting Dougal and the men again unnerved me. Jamie left to fetch a plate of food. The shouts and cheers of mockery and lewdness being heard no doubt in the village. I smiled to myself, men really hadn’t changed much in the last two centuries.

Jamie arrived back with food and whiskey. We sat enjoying them both in healthy measures as I told him what I could of my childhood and healing. I felt despondent as I retold the tale I had learned verbatim. It somehow felt very wrong and sat badly with me to tell Jamie lies. I had done it numerous times before on missions, without so much as a backward glance. The sake of the mission forefront to my mind.

Perhaps I had never had the chance to really connect with anyone during these missions? Perhaps it was the fact I knew the greater goal I was fighting for? Perhaps it was due to my commitment to Frank, knowing he was waiting for me? Perhaps it was the promise I had earlier made to Jamie of no lies?

I pondered these thoughts chasing each like a wayward leaf on the morning breeze. I knew the truth of it though, the undeniable truth. I was drawn to Jamie, cared for him, that was why I despised lying. I cared what he thought of me.

There seemed to be a deeper connection with him, despite having only known him a short few weeks I felt like he had always been in my life. The slightest touch sent shock waves through my skin. Without even realising it I had begun to search for him, seeking him out at meals. I had succumb to involuntary smiles and joy on seeing him unexpectedly during my day so very often. I had dreamed of him, imagined him kissing and making love to me. Now I was married to him, I was his wife.

“Take your shirt off, I want to see you.”

He stopped mid sip of his whiskey, eyes bulging slightly at the words. I remained where I was, eyes fixed on him not speaking any further. Slowly he stood and moved in front of me. Stopping a few feet back from me. He didn’t speak but moved to undo his buttons on his cuffs. With eyes still fixed upon me as though looking straight into my soul, he pulled his shirt over his head. Revealing himself to me fully. My eyes wandered his nakedness. The solid muscled plains of his body. My mind mapping the image against what I had felt earlier.

With nervous abandonment I stepped forward, closing the distance between us. My hand reaching out to touch and feel his skin. The heat of his skin warm under my hand as my fingers gently and slowly trailed a path around him. I could feel his muscles tense as I rounded his back, my hand stilled slightly on his buttocks. His scarring up close illuminated by the soft candle light. My hand passing over these ever familiar lines and gullies. I placed a tender kiss between his shoulder blades before continuing my circle around him.

The crackling of the fire the only break within the silence. As my hand swooped around his hip and across his front to his chest his breath hitched slightly. He was tall, solid, broad and mine. A boldness came over me and I released the bow on my shift once more allowing it to gently slip down my body. His lips crashed to mine claiming them. I stepped back pulling him towards the bed. He followed blindly still kissing me passionately. Lowering me to the bed, he kissed down my neck and across my collarbone. I arched towards his ministrations releasing little muling noises as warmth pooled within my intimate parts. Reaching for his hand I guided it between my thighs, showing him where to touch. Emboldened from his first time his lips had trailed to my breasts and as his mouth descended to claim a puckered nipple, he slid one finger into me. I spasmed, arching up off the bed as the wave of pleasure shock my body.

“Did I hurt ye?”

“No, no you didn’t, I liked it.”

I moved my lips to his and raised my hips to encourage his attentions, desperate for further release. He continued his explorations sending wave after wave of pleasure coursing through me. I felt the build of my completion rising, his thumb rubbing over my clitoris. His teeth bit softly into my nipple as my orgasm reach crescendo, I cried out unable to prevent myself with the euphoria of the release.

“I dinna ken women could do that?”

His voice hoarse with desire, eyes scanning my body. I could only nod, words lost to me at that moment. His erect cock was pressing into my side and despite the urge to collapse back into the bed and allow the pleasure to course through my body, I seized the moment and pinned him to the bed. Kissing and nipping slowly along his neck and down his chest.

“Woman can enjoy sex as much as men you know? And yes we can orgasm, reach completion the same as men. Only difference is we don’t necessarily need recovery time between.”

I had punctuated each sentence with a kiss or gentle suck against his skin as I had trailed my way slowly down his body. His eyes never leaving me, I reached my goal seizing greedily I took his length in my mouth. Watching as his head rolled back and his eyes closed. Small groans and murmurs emitted from his throat as I felt his body tighten and then relax with each sweep of my tongue or change of pressure from my lips. My hands explored his body feeling the fire of heat within his skin. His hips rose up slightly as he cried out, spilling into my mouth.

“I thought my heart was going to burst!”

“Did you like that then?”

“Aye I did....... they said most women dinna care for that...... except maybe those yer paying.”

“Am not most women Jamie.”

“Nah Sassenach yer definitely not most women.”

I snuggled into his side seeking the warmth of his embrace, as his arms wrapped around me. We allowed tiredness to claim us in that moment.

Chapter Text

I woke in the darkness, the glow from the smoored fire the only glimmer of light. Unsure of the time I stumbled from the bed, wrapping myself in Jamie’s discarded kilt. I was thirsty and went in search of a drink. The urns and jugs all empty within the room. The tavern noise was still and despite my desire to avoid seeing any of the rent party I ventured out of the room. I hoped at this time they would all be abed.

Creeping quietly into the hallway I stole downstairs. Several jugs sat out and checking them I selected the one with water. I noise startled me slightly and I turned to see Dougal sat by the fire.

“Will ye join me?”

“No, I have a husband to return to.”

I turned to move back up the stairs, wishing most ardently to avoid any conversation with Dougal.

“I went to Randall ye ken? Told him ye were no longer at his beck and call.”

I’m sure he was delighted by this news.”

“Ye could say that. I’ll leave telling ye his exact words, I believe even ye have a limit on foul language Mistress...... Fraser.”

He paused briefly before completing my name. There was a softness to his words as he spoke, not the usual gruff bluntness I had been used to hearing. In the glooming light of the tavern I could see the start of a bruise around his right eye.

“How did you get the black eye? Randall was it?”

“Hmph! Yer husband.”

“Oh.”

I managed to not laugh out loud at the childish snapped reply to my question.

“They dinna bother ye? His scars or how he come by them? I dinna ken if he has told ye yet?”

“Yes I was aware of them before the rent party and no they do not bother me, the same way mine do not bother him. Jamie had told me what happened.”

I wrapped Jamie’s kilt tighter around me. Uncomfortable with my nakedness under it as I talked with his Uncle. He had bristled slightly at my mention of my own scars, but I highly doubted he would make comment on them.

“I was there when Randall delivered the second set of lashes ye ken. I saw the delight and pleasure he took in delivering each one. He was like a man possessed. I dinna think Young Jamie would ever find a bride willing to look upon them scars. Til ye. I find ye most singular Claire, captivating if I may say.”

“You may not, I am Jamie’s wife.”

“Aye, a fine wife ye’ll make him too. ‘‘Twas why I picked him for ye.”

“That was nothing to do with it as well you know it. With Jamie married to a Sassenach you know he can’t threaten any plans you have for the Clan.”

He looked startled for a brief second, his eyes widen as he drew back slightly. Before the mask fell across his face and a sly crooked smirk floated to his lips. I was finished with this conversation and turned back towards the stairs. His eyes bore into my back as his words followed my steps.

“Aye ye’ll make an excellent wife Mrs Fraser! I believe I may have under estimated ye! I was wishing to apologise for what happened ye ken but I dinna think yer the type to except apologises.”

“No you are quite correct.”

I didn’t stop or turn to answer him if he heard my comment he made no indication. It was for his own interpretation what I was agreeing in his statement was correct. I was quite sure I was was agreeing to all aspects. I would make a good wife for Jamie, I have been under estimated and no I don’t except apologises, especially not from the likes of Dougal.

Jamie was still asleep as I crept back into the room. Lying on his back one hand draped across his chest. The blanket covering only his lower half. He looked so young and peaceful, not like the solid and strong Highlander he was when awake. His muscled chest and arms coupled with his strong jawline mesmerised me, he was crafted like a Greek statue. My mind drifted to how I could get my hands on that pardon. Release Jamie from this bondage to his Uncle’s, each with their own agenda for his life. I allowed my mind to wonder as I sat staring into the glimmer of the smoored fire. The orange glow peaking through in cracked lines. I didn’t hear Jamie stirring or getting up but he appeared behind me, his arms coming around me as a necklace of pearls caressed the skin around my neck. My hand shots up to touch them, the soft warm smoothness of them rolling between my fingers.

“Scotch pearls, they belonged to my Mother. Now they belong to my wife.”

“They are beautiful Jamie, thank you.”

“It’s all I have left of my mother, they are very precious to me. As are you.”

I was never a woman who needed fancy jewellery or tokens to show love. Probably due to the years spent travelling dig sites and then the war, it wasn’t conducive to a life of things. Yet this gesture, Jamie giving me the only item he had left of his mother and those words meant the world to me.

My heart felt fit to burst. I smiled up to him reaching my hand out to take his, pulling him down onto the chair beside me. I moved until I was on his knee cuddled into his chest, still wrapped in his kilt. The moment felt wonderful. I felt happiness and for once I wasn’t going to dismiss it.

“Is this a new kilt?”

His hand ran over it as I pulled it around us, our naked skin brushing together.

“Aye, I have it on loan for the wedding, it’s Fraser colours ye ken. ‘‘Twas one of the conditions I insisted on for the wedding.”

“One of the conditions?”

“Aye, I told Dougal I wished to Wed only the once and would do so in a way to no shame my mother. I wanted to make the day special for ye, as best I could. I insisted on the Kirk and a priest. Murtagh found the kilt and well Ned sorted yer dress.”

“My dress? That was you?”

“Did ye like it?”

“Yes, yes of course it was beautiful.”

“No as beautiful as the woman wearing it. Though there’s a funny story about where Ned found it. Ye see it’s a small village ye ken, but there’s a brothel so Ned went there knowing there would be dresses.”

“A brothel! He went there!”

“No laughing Sassenach, there was a dress which had never been worn and so Ned secured it for ye. No woman should marry in a second hand dress.”

“I can’t believe you did all this for me, what about my ring.”

I looked down at it and spun it on my finger. I hadn’t realised how much I had missed having a ring on my finger until this was placed there. I hadn’t expected it especially given the time frame for our wedding. Jamie reached and took my hand bringing it to his lips and kissing it gently .

“That was from a key, it was just something I had lying around in my sporran.”

“It’s beautiful Jamie. Thank you for all you did to make this special for me.”

I turned to kiss him tenderly. A swell of love pooling within my heart, could I possibly love him? Already? I hardly knew him, yet I felt as though my soul belonged to his. I deepen the kiss pressing myself close against his body. His hands roaming mine pulled me to straddle him. He may have been a virgin when we wed but he was a quick study and clearly listened and payed attention. His fingers pulsing in small circles between my legs as his lips delicately kissed and nipped at my breasts, my head and back arched backwards as one hand gripped his neck drawing him closer.

My other hand reached for his cock, solid and straining in my hand. Waves of pleasure coursed through my body and I knew I needed him inside me. Needed to feel his cock pushing in and out of me and feel his body pressed against me in need and want. Despite the desire rippling through both of us there seemed to be no urgency, no demand to claim as before. This was tender and reverent, almost spiritual as I moved to sink upon his length. He moved his hips slowly and with care, thrusting fully before slowly moving back. His lips continued their soft delicate trail across my breasts and up to my neck. His hands large and firm on my hips pulling me down and into him with each thrust. As he neared completion one hand moved to my intimate parts, his thumb rubbing slow full circles on my clitoris. My eyes closed as my head fell back in euphoria, my insides shuddering and pulsing against his cock as we both met our ends together. Our breathing hitched and laboured as I collapsed against his chest, arms wrapped firmly around him.

“What did it mean? The Gaelic vows at the wedding. I could only follow a little of it.”

“Yer right it’s a vow of sorts, tis a bit pagan ye ken but the words flow beautifully in the English. It says ye are blood of my blood, and bone of my bone, I give ye my body, that we two might be one. I give ye my spirit, 'til our life shall be done.”

His words spoken softly into my ear, his breath warm against my skin. The words themselves sent chills right through me. A blood vow bonded together before ethereal beings, through time itself. We were more than mere husband and wife, our blood was mixed and I knew our souls were entwined. I felt a sense of contentment laying in his arms on this chair, in front of a low burning fire, in a tavern, in a tiny village, in the Highlands of Scotland, in the 18th Century. It was surreal and I shouldn’t have felt at ease, I had a mission, secrets I had to keep from Jamie. I had to push this feeling aside and focus, I had to remember my job. Jamie slowly pulled me closer and lifted me with ease, laying me down on the bed, covering me with a blanket and his arms as he lay beside me. Well I could refocus in the morning, couldn’t I? It was my wedding night after all. I fell into a blissful and restful sleep, feeling safe in his arms.

The next morning arrived as they always do. It was grey and dreary outside a little like my mind, I was going to have to face the men at breakfast. The horrified faces still fresh in my mind. Jamie without asking must have realised my angst. I was being deliberately slow in my toilet and preparations for the day. Jamie came and took my hand.

“Sassenach ye have nothing to fear. The men willna chide ye over what happened yesterday. They’ll be far too busy chiding me about my wedding night!”

He laughed and smiled that irresistible quirked smile at me. I gave a weak half smile back and nodded.

“I know, but Jamie you didn’t see their faces the horrified looks, the disgust. Lord only knows what they will think as to how I obtained them!”

 

“Well ye havena even told me yet I dinna ken they’d be outright in asking ye. They are no that bad. They were shocked to be sure when I came back in from checking the horses. Murtagh seen the altercation between ye and Dougal and came running to get me. By the time I got in ye had went to the room and well Dougal could only apologise repeatedly. I ken the man and he isna the type to apologise so I knew something big had happened. Rupert filled me in briefly then I came to ye. They’ll no say a word not with me as yer husband. I told ye, ye have my name, my protection Sassenach. Dougal canna touch ye either, no with the marriage now consummated and fully legal. Your discipline is down to me as yer husband now. In yer own time ye can tell me yer tale.”

He laughed as he spoke of the discipline being his responsibility. He had knelt in front of me as I sat at the small dressing table and he leant up and kissed my forehead.

“You are in charge of my discipline? I’ll tell you now James Fraser I am not the meek and mild and obident type. I will not take kindly to being beaten.”

“Aye I ken that Sassenach. It’s one of the things I like about ye.”

“Why do you call me Sassenach? I know what it means and it’s not usually a word used kindly, yet when you speak it is completely different.”

“Yer right, but yer my Sassenach. My outlander. I like the strangeness of ye. I was drawn to ye from the first.”

I smiled at him and kissed him on the lips.

“I like it. Let’s go to breakfast.”

I had had nothing to worry about regarding the other men’s reaction to me. I sensed a shift in their attitude towards me one now of quite regard and respect. I was unsure if that was due to my scars or my now being Mrs James Fraser or indeed the black eye Dougal was now sporting. Either way it was a pleasant change of events considering my treatment up to this point. Most delightfully Dougal barely glanced my direction.

The next few days we continued travelling to various villages nearing the end of the rent party duties. Soon we would be returning to Castle Leoch. I could then complete my mission regarding Gillian Edgars and then, well I just didn’t quite know what then. Would removing Gillian Edgars from the picture prevent the rebellion? Would that be enough along with what I had gleamed from Clan MacKenzie? I could reach out to Lord John’s brother and pass those findings. Lord John had told me there was no plans to extract me, perhaps Jamie and I could go and build a life together.

I was enjoying the early days of martial bliss. The shy looks and little touches. He used every excuse to place a hand on me and I the same. Stolen kisses at every opportunity and I enjoyed the heat and comfort he brought at night.

We approached the next village not long after breakfast. The forest was alive with birdsong as we made our way in the long string of riders. The sunlight streamed through the trees canopy above and that soul quenching smell of the woods filled my nostrils with each breath. I would always feel most at home under the protection of the trees. I had a large beaming smile as I lifted my eyes to the sky to look at the dappled lines and swirls of sunlight through the branches.

“Someone is happy this morning Sassenach.”

“Oh I don’t know, I do love being in the outdoors and especially a forest. Perhaps though it could be that rather dashingly handsome Highlander riding along beside me.”

I smiled demurely at him while lowering my lashes as I looked over my shoulder towards him. His eyes closed in a slow blinked and then desire clouded the blue. Without looking away from me he shouted out to Dougal.

“Claire is wishing to forage for some of her wee herbs and the like. I’ll take her into the forest and then meet ye at the village aye?”

A grunted reply was all that came giving permission. Though Jamie had already grabbed my horse’s bridle and was directing it into the dense woodland. I suppressed my desire to grin from ear to ear not wishing to draw any comments from the men.

Once surrounded my thick trees and undergrowth Jamie swung his leg over his horse’s neck to dismount. His kilt sliding up his legs just a fraction as he landed to the ground. He strode with purpose to my mount and lifted me with decided ease from the saddle. Kissing along my neck and across my collarbone, finally claiming my lips. His breathing was ragged as he pressed against me, his desire evident in the hardness pressing into my stomach. Loosening my bodice laces with now practiced ease he released by breasts and lowered to seize the nipple puckering with the cool air of the forest. I gasped at the heat from his mouth and pulled his head closer as I arched into him.

Lifting me up and pressing me into a tree, my skirts were moved up and out of the way in a blink. His large hand finding my intimate place and beginning a titillating dance of movements. Caressing and stroking me until waves of pleasure rolled through my body. His hand moved and I felt desperate at its loss, yearning for the sensation to return. His cock replaced his hand in moments, thrusting deeply into me. His grip around me tightening as I wrapped my legs around his waist pulling him closer and deeper into me. The cool air of the forest brushing lightly across my exposed skin and nipples adding to the building waves of pleasure. My hands dug into his shoulders as my eyes closed tightly. Jamie was continuing to thrust deeply pulling me closer with each thrust to completion. A shudder ran up my body as I cried out tipped over the edge. A grunted cry from Jamie as he spilled into me as both of us went limp.

He lowered me to the ground with gentle care, despite his large size he moved always with delicate gracefulness. He handled me as though I was the most precious thing in the world. His touch often desire filled and needy was never over bearing. We settled on the ground using his plaid and I wriggled further into his arms seeking his warmth.

“What is it Sassenach that lies between us? When I lay with ye? Hold ye? I canna get enough. Is it usual?”

“I don’t know Jamie, there is something there. I just can’t say what it is and no it isn’t usual.”

“Was it no like this with yer husband before?”

“No”

It was one word and the truth. I had loved Frank, cared for him and the intimacy before the war had been wonderful. He was a good and generous lover but yet I could not deny what was between Jamie and I. It felt like nothing I had ever experienced. I knew I was in love with him but refused to allow my mind to vocalise it. I had my mission to complete and then what? I knew Lord John implied I would be left here but I had been discharged and then recalled for this. What if the same happened again? Looking at the Highlander holding me in his embrace I wasn’t so sure that I could walk away this time. That realisation scared and startled me to my very core. Sitting up and righting my clothing I stood to go.

“Perhaps we should be getting back? Or at least I need to gather some herbs and plants. They will expect that.”

“Aye yer right. Though ye canna expect me no to be disappointed at ending our time away from prying eyes.”

He rose, planting a kiss on my head before grabbing my foraging basket and striding further into the forest. I fixed my skirts and hurried after him a wide smile across my face.

On arriving at the village the rent collection was in full swing. A neat row of villagers queuing in the mid morning sun with various animals and pelts clutched in their arms. All here to pay their dues to the Mackenzie’s. Murtagh on seeing Jamie and I arriving hurried over beckoning Jamie to come to him. He had a stern look on his face, though I half chuckled to myself, he always had and it was hard to tell with the scruffy beard. I followed a few paces behind Jamie eager to hear what news Murtagh had. The bastard spoke in Gaelic and I could follow only a little of it. A beggar, something Monroe had come calling to the village. He had news of a deserter who could provide witness to who killed the soldier Jamie was currently wanted for. My blood ran cold, I knew he was already pardoned but again couldn’t risk telling him. Dougal it seemed had agreed to make a detour to speak to the man. Jamie turned passing a concerned but hopeful look to me.

Two days later I found myself sat on a rock in a wooded copse. Instructed that I was to remain here hidden from sight until the men returned. I was unimpressed! Especially when I was left with Willie as my protector. I had pleaded and cajoled Jamie, argued and begged with no joy. I knew I could be of assistance, heck I had better skills in this type of clandestine meet than any of them! But no, I was a mere woman, would get under foot, put them at risk! Poppycock! I was not a woman prone to huffing however the indignity of this caused a melancholy mood to surround me. The day was grey and dreary which added to my mood and poor Willie seemed to get the worse if it. Quite simply because he was there. Despite having only been married barely two weeks I had strangely become reliant on having Jamie near. I did not take kindly to being left behind. Willie was shifting uneasily from foot to foot, clearly in need of relief.

“Jesus H Roosevelt Christ! Will you just go and relieve yourself! Instead of hoping about from one foot to the other? I am sure I will be perfectly safe waiting here.”

A look of grateful regard passed across his young face. He bobbed a quite thanks and tore off into the bushes. The wind had picked up slightly and I wrapped my arasaid tighter around me. I sat gazing intently at a stone on the ground about three feet from me. Lost in my own world I had failed to notice a redcoat patrol approaching me from behind. That was until I heard the telltale click of the pistol. Suddenly I was surrounded and had no where to go. Each had a pistol or musket aimed at me. I calmed my breath and remembered my training.

“Good morning gentlemen. How can I be of assistance to you?”

“You will be coming with us madam.”

“Why pray tell am I required to come with you? I see know reason to accompany you.”

“No reason? Do you hear her! No reason!”

The five of them barked in laughter as though it was a most marvellous joke. I scanned quickly the hedge line Wille had disappeared into. Terrified that he would reappeared, the two of us had little chance against the five of them.

“I think you will find our dear Captain has a desire to become acquainted with you madam. So therefore you will be accompanying us forthwith.”

I opened my mouth to argue my point but realised the futility of it. Keeping it firmly shut I nodded in agreement and turned to follow them through the tree line. I prayed that Willie had seen me being taken.

The journey to Fort William was not unpleasant. I was not bound or gagged, gentlemanly preferences clearly winning through within my captors. I was brought promptly to an office in a high tower and deposited in a chair. Glancing around quickly to get my bearings, I realised the office most likely belonged to my dear friend and companion Captain Randall. There appeared to be no urgency to arrive. I knew this stall tactic well, leave your subject sweating over what you intend to do. Oh Mr Randall you really must try harder, I chuckled. Rising from my seat I rifled through his desk and bookcase, looking for any information he had that might be of use. Like his ancestor Frank, he liked everything neat and orderly. Each item on the desk and indeed the bookcase was precisely placed, even in the drawers. I moved some bits around out of nothing more than childish wilfulness.

An assortment of letters were neatly piled in his desk, all marked with the same crest, the Duke of Sandringham. I quickly opened a few, reading with interest the Duke’s comments on the need for a strong stance against the Scots. “Despicable man” I muttered as I continued to read more of the letters. Then my heart stopped as I read a familiar name James Fraser.

(It will have no doubt come to your attention my dear friend that one James Fraser of Broch Tuarach has returned to Scotland’s dreary shores. His uncle Laird MacKenzie informed me thusly. However it may have escaped your knowledge that his devoted uncle had indeed secured him a pardon. I am reliably informed my dear friend that this has not been conveyed to Mr Fraser. I will of course leave that knowledge in your more than capable hands, you yourself are highly aware of how irregular the mail service is within this blast land!)

So the Duke and Randall know Jamie is pardoned but are going to ignore the fact? I knew that it would be unlikely that dispatches reached such an area and if the wanted person did not have said pardon on their person they would no doubt still be tried and convicted. I vowed that I would get that blasted pardon on my return to Castle Leoch. After of course I figured out how the hell I was getting out of Fort William and back to the rent party. There wasn’t much else within the drawers or ledgers, just the usual drudgery of daily tasking and sightings. I poured a whiskey and sat back down.

**************************************
Willie had come barrelling over the hill crest as though the hounds of hell were on his heels. Out of breath it took a few moments to understand what the eejit was trying to say.

“Claire! They took Claire. Redcoats dragged her away.”

“How’d they find her? What do ye mean dragged her away?!”

“I dinna ken I went for a pish and when I was walking back I heard them and saw them take her. She dinna look harmed and she wasna struggling.”

“I told ye she was a damned spy! Sassenach whore!”

“That’s MY WIFE! Ye speak off she is no spy! We have to go and get her! They’ll take her to Fort William.”

Without another thought I swung up into my saddle, Murtagh not far behind me.

“Jamie let her go, she probably went willingly and nay doubt Randall will hand her back once he gets bored. For her sake pray she dinna betray us to them Sassenach bastards!”

“Claire would never betray us and she didn’t go willing! Young Willie said she was taken. I intend to get my wife back!”

I kicked my horse into action and headed for the fort. Within a few moments Murtagh, Rupert, Willie and Angus were riding beside me. Grim faces locked on the moor ahead. I had to get to her, I had to save her.

***************************************
I had nearly finished my whiskey when the door burst open and the delightful Randall walked in, eyes cold and levelled upon me. I smiled warmly and raised my glass in salute before downing the last.

“Good day Mr Randall I hope you don’t mind that I helped myself. I’m sure a gentleman such as yourself would not begrudge me a dram. Especially after dragging me away from my husband for no good reason.”

“Yes I heard about your most advantageous nuptials. You will forgive me for not passing on my heartfelt congratulations?”

“No offence taken at all Mr Randall.”

He visibly bristled at me calling him Mr Randall. His eyes now landed on his desk and a flash of annoyance sparked in his eyes. I could see he was unsettled and he tried to begin sorting the disarray.

“Well perhaps you could be so kind as to explain why I have been brought here? What is it you wish to know? I would really like to be on my way.”

He clearly was flustered by the mess I had created and couldn’t concentrate on my question.

“Ah yes, well as I said I want to know what you were doing in the woods near an ambush by Scots”

“I was walking.”

“Where too?!”

He was loosing patience already his tone aggressive and commanding. Clearly his rank and unhinged behaviour scared most into saying what he wanted to hear. I however was not most people.

“Inverness.”

“What where you doing?”

“Walking as I already told you.”

“That is not what I meant you dirty little whore! Do you realise you are in the presence of his majesty’s finest? I will have the respect deserved of my status.”

Ah just like Frank then? He likes status and favour.

“Respect is earned not demanded. You showed not an ounce of respect to me on first meeting, trying to attack me.”

“Oh so that’s it? I didn’t court your fancies, didn’t compliment your delightful feminine wiles? Forgive me for having not identified them within you.”

“Well I can’t expect you to identify good qualities in anyone when you display so few yourself.”

“Touché”

He walked to the side of his desk and paused,looking bewilderedly at his bookcase, which now had several books and ledgers facing the incorrect way. Moving towards me still sat idly in the chair he raised his hand and slapped me hard across the face. Mmm yes he was right where I wanted him.

“Enough of this damned nonsense! Who are you and who are you working for!”

“I am Claire Beauchamp, a widow and a healer. Plain and simple.”

You’ve married! What is your married name?

“Fraser.”

I spoke it slowly and watched his face change as the information set in.

“That is incredible. Well Dougal MacKenzie certainly didn’t tell me that part of the story! You are married to the striped back theft!”

He howled in laughter at this information. I could feel my rage boiling inside at the mockery.

“Are you a spy? Working for the French or the Scots?”

“No I am not a spy working for the French or Scots! I am a healer.”

“Liar!”

He stood staring at me intently, eyes boring into my skin making it crawl. He was so like Frank, it made my head spin. He stalked to the door wrenching it open. Two soldiers stood guard on the outside. Yelling at them to leave immediately he slammed the door shut and turned towards me with slow menacing movements. Pacing to my side with brisk strides he punched me hard in the stomach causing me to double over and groan slightly at the discomfort.

“Now I have your undivided attention and no risk of interruptions. Shall we begin?”

His face held a mocking smile and he sorted through items in a drawer. Bringing a rope out, he flexed it in front of me.

“Put your hands out now.”

I acquiesced lifting my hands from my lap to elegantly hold them in front of me. Giving a quick assessment of his person, no weapons, and the room, sword in scabbard far side of desk, pistol on bookcase. I sprung to my feet as the rope touched my skin. Sweeping my foot I felled him to the floor and then jumped on him with alacrity. Grabbing him into a chokehold and squeezing for all I was worth. I scrambled with my hand to reach something, anything that wasn’t my knife. I certainly didn’t wish to kill him. He was slightly taller than I and stronger but clearly was not taught to fight and disarm an enemy with my methods. My hand landed on something hard and metal, I lifted it bringing it swiftly down onto his head. A wuff of breath escaped his lips as his body went slack.

My heart was hammering in my chest, adrenaline coursing through my veins. Grabbing the rope he was hoping to use on me, I bound and gagged him. Leaving him curled on the floor. I crept out the door needing desperately to get out of the fort and quickly.

***************************
It loomed ahead of me like a great grey monolith. My mind flashed with images of that place, the lashes landing with a crack against my skin, the coldness of the stone within that cell. Claire was in there, alone, with that bastard Randall. Rage and fear fought for supremacy within me, I had to find her. We had stopped short of the fort to consider the options. Darkness had fallen and it was a moonless night. We would use the waters edge to get inside, I knew she would be in the office of Randall, right in the centre of the bloody fort. Ifrinn!

Plan in place, we crept towards the lower entrance guarded by one solider. Moving slowly and carefully to not dislodge any stones or pebbles I was but one hundred feet from the entrance. Suddenly I was being slapped on the shoulder incessantly and pulled backwards. Scanning frantically around thinking we had been discovered, Rupert pulled me against the fort’s wall.

“Would that be yer wife there?”

He whispered and pointed with his head towards a dark figure, a clearly female dark figure, skirting the edge of the fort’s wall with ease.

“She’s a rare woman yer wife for sure.”

****************************************
The cold breeze from the water swept up against the forts walls and chilled my hands. Escaping had been child’s play to be honest. Randall in his supercilious manner had dismissed the guards from the tower his office was within. Leaving me a clear path out onto the battlements. Due to the darkness I was able to skirt the edges and hide in the shadows until I got to a point that wasn’t overlooked by the night guard patrols at that time. Using a rope attached to the canon I climbed over the wall and descended to the ground. Aiming for a wooded area about a quarter of a mile from the fort.

My feet hit the solid ground as I flattened myself against the cold stone walls. I looked both ways and held my breath for a moment, straining to hear any noises that would indicate my escape had been discovered. I was free and with my training I was confident I could avoid the King’s finest. That meant I could avoid the Mackenzie’s also. I paused, frozen to the spot as I realised I could simply leave. They would have no idea where I had been taken and to recover me officially would take quite some time. The realisation of my reliance on Jamie and my thoughts that I couldn’t be summoned away to do the War Offices bidding as easily as I had left Frank, swirled through my mind. This could be my way out, walk away with minimal hurt. Jamie could move on, there were plenty of young ladies who would gladly comfort him.....Laoghaire, I practically spat it out. The imagine of them locked in a kiss burned in my mind. I hadn’t spoken to him about the kiss. He had told me he had desires of no other but yet it still irked me. Shaking my head I realised I needed to move from the Fort and get some distance between me and Randall. Then I could worry about Jamie.

Heading for the wooden area, I had made it only twenty feet when I collided with a solid object with large arms that wrapped around me. The familiar smell of Jamie bringing instant comfort. Without speaking we ran for the woods and joined the rest of my rescue party. Looks of annoyance and relief washed over the small band of Highland Warriors. These men who had been willing to risk their lives to save mine. Little words were spoken as I was pushed up onto Jamie’s horse and we left at break neck speed. The blanket of darkness covering our departure from the Fort.

Chapter Text

We rode hard into the night. The wind whipping passed my face, stinging my cheeks and making my eyes water. Little was said by anyone, each bent low over their steeds, urging them on. A streak of light was appearing on the horizon as the early light of dawn crept into existence. The party pulled to a stop and a rumble of words rolled among the group, the horses needed watered and rested. Little conversation was heard and I could see little glances and looks being thrown my way. Jamie handed the reins of his horse to Murtagh who walked it to the river. Jamie strided over to me face masked and emotions hidden. Grabbing my arm he pulled me towards a small copse of trees.

“Are ye hurt? Did he touch ye?

The first words spoken since I escaped the fort and a look of genuine concern and care was evident within his tone.

“No not really, he didn’t have much time to hurt me.”

“What did he want with ye?”

“Oh just the same as before really. Wanted to know what I was doing in the woods that first day he saw me and if I was a spy. Ridiculous really when you think about it, you would think he would have much more pressing matters to attend to.”

He grunted in reply, that distinctly Scots noise that I had come to learn, could literally mean anything.

“Why did ye no stay poot? I ordered ye to no move from that spot.”

“You ordered me? Ordered me! I don’t think so. I did not move from that spot. They came and found me, they took me! I wanted to go with you. I begged you to not leave me behind but no I’m only a woman, why should you listen to me!”

“Am yer husband ye do as I say!”

“I already told you I am not the meek and obedient type.”

“Ye need to be, it’s my duty to protect ye. How canna I do that if yer wandering off and putting yerself in harms way?!”

“Jesus H Roosevelt Christ! I didn’t wander off I stayed where I was left by you! And so far your protection hasn’t been up to much, I’ve been attacked my your bastard of an uncle and then taken by a patrol of redcoats. Who by the way I escaped from myself! Encase you hadn’t noticed I don’t need your fucking protection!”

“Ye foul mouthed bitch, ye’ll no speak to me that way! Taken by the redcoats ye say? Why were ye no struggling with them, Willie saw ye walking away with them, are ye a spy for them Sassenach, was Dougal right?”

“There were five of them! Five of them and one of me! They all were pointing weapons at me what the hell did you expect me to do?! I am not a spy for them how many times do I need to defend myself from that accusation.”

This was the most ridiculous argument I had ever heard. My blood was boiling and I was enraged that this could be blamed on me in anyway. Jamie was furious, the vein in his neck and temple pulsing and his face was beet red in anger, his eyes narrow and clouded.

“How’d ye get away from Randall?”

“I seized an opportunity and ran.”

“I’ve been in that fort, I ken the layout, the guards, the patrols. Ye wouldn’t have been alone to run. There was no stramash when ye escaped. Did ye, did ye give yerself to him?”

“You fucking bastard!”

I slapped him hard across the face. I could take many an accusation but to claim I had laid with that, that, Christ, I could hardly bring myself to call him a man! To aid my escape that was a step too far. He flinched back when my hand struck his face. His eyes widened in shock then narrowed as he grabbed me by the shoulders. Shaking me roughly.

“Ye do that again I’ll shake ye till yer teeth rattle.”

He was seething mad, teeth clenched tightly together but my rage matched his. I was not going to meekly take the blame and face the ire of the men. Nor indeed the damned insulting insinuations of my husband!

“I’d like to see you try. I did nothing wrong and as you seen I managed very well without your help and assistance! Is it so hard to phantom that a mere weak woman would be capable to look after herself! Is it? Don’t you ever dare draw conclusions about my honour based on your own.”

The last words were forced out on a seething whisper. I was beyond anger, hurt to my very core. How could he of all people think I would have given myself to Randall to escape? Simply because I was a woman, deemed weak and defenceless, despite my showing evidence to the contrary and because he himself had been left with that choice? His face betrayed that he knew exactly what I had meant by my last comment. I turned and walked away, no longer able to bear to look at him. The other men were stood by the river. They had heard every word and nervously cast their eyes around, everywhere but at me.

“Oh for fuck sake do you all blame me as well! For getting captured? Or is it that your male pride is stung because I wasn’t sitting around waiting on you all coming to rescue me?!”

No answer just further bewildered looks and glances. Jamie was still stood rigid at the spot we had been arguing at. His mask firmly back in place hiding his emotions. Rupert muttered something to the group and they nodded in unison. Swinging up onto their horses.

“Mistress we canna tarry here. We need to be getting back to Dougal and the rest of the men.”

Jamie came towards me, clearly to lift me up onto his horse. After what had transpired and the implications implied I could not face having to be sat on a horse in front of him. With rage still simmering inside me I turned away.

“I’ll walk.”

**********************************

The weeks had simply bled one into the other. In a few short weeks I would be discharged and setting myself up for working at Oxford. I was unsure how my mind would cope with the sudden change. The busy environment of post war Britain had been a grand distraction from Claire leaving. I worked long hours and collapsed into bed exhausted at the end of the day, merely to rise once again and repeat. The orderly rhythm of my life had swung completely off kilter. She was gone. Really gone. But not in the fatalistic manner, where I could mourn her loss.

Have comfort in the work she had dedicated herself too. No, this was different she had simply disappeared from my life. Yes we had been separated through most of the war, out of reach of contact. However I had always known she was there, could feel her presence, knew of her existence. Yet now I felt no connection to her, no draw to her being.

I had of course no notion of where she was or what she was doing. It was odd the not knowing. I had been angered, out raged at first, why was she being recalled to duty! Why not someone else. I had also been angry at her. Hurt that she could so easily walk away yet again as country calls. Claire had provided no information on her latest tasking. The last conversation had been a brief one several days prior to her deployment. Richardson had convinced me to allow her to go, to free myself as he put it. He hadn’t provided any details of her tasking. Yet he had seemed sure it would be lengthy and not anything like her wartime role. I knew Claire relished her missions, enjoyed the thrill of espionage and undercover work. Richardson had been correct, she was a formidable agent, the best the government had. It was based on this that I had obtained those goddamn divorce papers.

I had stared and pondered and read and reread them for days. Even blinded by whiskey did not change the writing placed upon them in careful black ink. I loved her, desired her and still wanted her despite the mutilation. It was easy to avoid looking at it or touching it. She would still make a proper professors wife. The children though..... I wondered could I really be alright with that? Could I make a life knowing I would never have a child hold my name or bloodline? That was the breaking point, the tragic moment I had realised I needed to be released. How could I hold on for months or years never knowing if she would come home. So much of my life had been paused, placed on hold during the war. I would not allow another moment to be stolen from me. With haste I picked up the pen and signed. It was several hours later that I thought to pen a letter.

Now I sat at my desk once again crowded by stacks of folders. The incessant ticking of the wall clock the only noise, it distracted me from the simple brown envelope I held in both hands. Richardson had come by that morning. Speaking only a small hello he had placed the envelope on the desk and departed. This was the end of my life’s work so far, the strive for a wife and family. Struck out with a simple signature. I had yet to gain the composure to open it. Breathing a shallow breath I ripped it open and pulled the papers out. It did not take careful perusal to see the neat signature of Claire at the indicated places. Despite what my mind had decided before sending them I still felt sorrow. As I shuffled the papers a small note fell out from between the sheets. It fluttered elegantly to my desk, landing writing side down. Lifting it with gentle reverence I read it. Then wept softly to myself.

(My dearest Frank

I am sorry

Yours forever

Claire)

Chapter Text

My morose mood and thundering heart did not cease. I had stomped along the woods and moorland after the small band of men. Refusing point blank to engage in any way with Jamie or indeed any of them. Eventually the gentlemanly honour of them give up and with a huff Rupert dismounted his horse and threw me up onto it. No words spoken he simply walked on beside the beast as it ambled along the track.

Murtagh, Jamie and Angus had ridden off not long after my firm footed departure to hunt. No doubt he wished to avoid having to watch his wife trudge along a muddy path with grim determination, all to avoid having to be near him on horseback.

I ran the scene through my head numerous times. Trying to see if and where I had been unreasonable. I knew I was stubborn, that’s why I was a good agent, I was tenacious and refused to give up. I had been accused of playing Jamie false, of willing giving myself to Randall! How could he even think it for a second how could he dare think I went willingly with the redcoat patrol? My anger was boiling again. Shaking my head to remove the thoughts. To think I thought him honourable and kind! The bastard!

And so my thoughts and mood continued for the next few days, until Castle Leoch came into view. I had not thought to ever see it as a refuge, a safe haven of sorts. Yet that is exactly what I viewed it as now. I longed for the privacy of my bed chamber and to not have the eyes of twenty men continually boring into my soul. Dougal had snorted in disgust at my return, grumbling about having to procure another horse. He had looked at me with the same derision the others had. Clearly this mishap was being laid at my door. He had went to commence, a no doubt noble, impassioned speech directed at my misdeeds. However a sharp look from Jamie put paid to that. Maybe Jamie wasn’t a complete bastard after all?

Jamie had tried to speak to me, make amends in the only way he knew how. That to clarify, I thought to myself, was most definitely not in the form of apologising for ill timed and ill mannered words spoken towards his wife! He had brought me extra food and made up my bedroll close to his. He had given me an extra blanket and saddled and readied my horse. All practical and comforting things yet I yearned for a heartfelt apology. For understanding on his part. That however did not seem likely.

As before when I arrived the first time at the castle it was a hive of activity with people and animals hurried about. Animals clucking and braying for attention. The noise easy to place even from half a mile away. I dismounted and without a look towards Jamie headed for the welcoming door of the castle’s kitchens. Mrs Fitz’s let out a delighted cry when she saw me hurrying in closely followed by Jamie.

“Oh yer back! Sit, sit all of ye. I’ll have food brought to ye now.”

Her whole face was beaming with delight, as she barked orders to kitchen maids who hopped to work fetching provisions. The rest of the rent party had spilled into the kitchens behind us. I sat quickly avoiding eye contact. The rambunctious fever of the men glad to be back at the castle filled the kitchens. I saw the hopeful smiling face of Laoghaire as she brought baskets of bread and bannocks to the table her eyes never leaving Jamie’s form.

Jealously now coursed within in, fighting for supremacy against the anger and hurt. I saw her place extra onto his plate and lay a gentle and tender hand on his shoulder. Jamie deep in conversation with Murtagh and Rupert, seemed oblivious to this special attentions. I somehow resisted the urge to slap the silly girl. She wasn’t to know Jamie was now my husband and would never be hers. A satisfying smirk rose to my lips.

Dougal bustled into the kitchens his presence commanding the room. He kissed Mrs Fitz on the cheek, as he shouted a loud greeting to all in the kitchen. His eyes then fell to me sat opposite from Jamie and a sly smirk moved across his lips.

“Mrs Fitz we have a wedding to celebrate. Young Jamie has taken a bride, he and Mistress Beauchamp have wed.”

A look of shock, then delight, followed by a squeal of joy.

“Oh congratulations! We havena had a wedding at the castle in quite some time! Oh I best get started on a grand feast to celebrate this evening. Oh I’ll get ye a bedchamber befitting a married couple.”

True delight and joy was etched across her face as she spoke. Hugging both Jamie and I before leaving at speed no doubt to sort the bedchamber and menu for this evening. My eyes looked around the room at everyone gathered, smiles and joyful faces on all, at this unexpected news. All except one face, stood at one side of the room with tear filled eyes and a look of shock, Laoghaire.

It turned out Laoghaire wasn’t the only castle inhabitant that was displeased with my marriage. Colum MacKenzie, a man of great command and presence, the epitome of diplomacy could not hide his disgust and anger at this announcement. He did not look upon Jamie once, instead his icy gaze rested on me as he congratulated me on my nuptials. The venom barely contained by his words and tone, evident of my correct thought process of the main purpose for Dougal suggesting the union. My heart was thundering uncontrollably in my chest, breaths drawing ragged as I raced to my room. I had still not spoken more than the briefest of words to Jamie, since the argument at the river. As we had continued back to the castle his demeanour had become gruff and coarse towards me. Words relinquished to mere grunts or throaty hmphs. It certainly was not aiding me in resolving the issues fighting within my mind.

The new bedchamber was larger and more elaborately decorated than my previous. The large four poster bed was intricately carved from rich dark oak. Heavy drapes in a deep burgundy red hung from the sides and the fireplace was large and surrounded with an elegant stone insert. The warmth from the fire was stifling and as the door closed carefully behind me, I realised this was the first Jamie and I had been truly alone without prying eyes or ears. I was not a woman prone to panic attacks or anxiety, not after what I had been involved with during the war. Yet as that realisation settled on my soul my heart began to pound, I felt like I was drowning and I needed to get out of the room. I turned and bolted to the door, exiting the room without a care or glance back. I heard Jamie calling out after me as I ran down the hall but I could not bring myself to stop.

The castle as before offered little privacy. Around every corner I ran into someone. Schooling my features I hid my pain. Bobbing a polite thank you at the well wishers. Eventually I made it out into the castle grounds, heading for the seclusion of the woodlands near the river. Comforted again by the earthy smells and the caressing sounds of the river. I felt my mind wonder. I had allowed myself to fall for Jamie. The connection between us was something I could not explain. It was real, raw and overwhelming. I had loved Frank with all my being, yet I had not ever felt what I did with Jamie.

Despite the suddenness of our marriage and the newness, I knew wholeheartedly I was completely in love with him. That was why his comment hurt so much, that he would believe the only way I could escape would be to give myself to Randall! He didn’t know the truth of me, he didn’t know what I was trained to do. What I had done. The realisation that I did in fact love Jamie startled me. I had been ignoring it, refusing to allow it light. I knew I needed to make a decision on my path right now. Returning to my own time was unlikely. I needed to complete my mission. I could simply focus on that and once Gillian or Geillis, as she was now known, was dead, simply leave. I would need to get word to Lord John’s brother, but why not go in person? Perhaps he could help me make a life in England. I was sure Jamie would be hurt at my leaving but I doubted he had the same regard for me as I did him at this early stage of our marriage. Better to do so sooner rather than later.

With my mind made up and a renewed focus I stood to head back for evening meal. I was also exhausted and looking forward to the comfort of a real bed. I swallowed hard at the thought it would be shared with a handsome and solid Highlander. A few more days, just a few more days I thought to myself resolutely. I rose with renewed purpose and began to walk back towards the castle. I really needed some food and sleep. The last days of travel had been exhausting.

The woodland was silent save for the tweeting of birds and the rumbling and babbling of the river. There wasn’t even a breeze to disturb the trees and cause them to creek and groan. It was due to this unusual stillness that I heard their conversation, just ahead of me on the path. Laoghaire and Jamie, voices forced to a harsh whisper. Had he come here in some sort of clandestine meet with her? Had he wished to hide this from me. Bile rose to my throat as I willed myself to take another step and then another. My heart racing and mind swirling. Yes I had just convinced myself to leave and start a life in England, yes I knew our marriage was an unusual one. Yet despite all this I still burned with jealously, something I suddenly realised, I had never experienced with Frank.

I stilled myself and hid slightly in the undergrowth to listen. If my suspicions were correct that Jamie had desires and regard for the girl then my plan to leave for England would work in everyone’s favour. Despite all this I was terrified of what I would hear. I didn’t think I had the strength and resolve to hear him confess his love for her. I closed my eyes straining to hold back the tears and sobs that sat waiting to spill forth.

“I waited for ye Jamie. I waited for years tae have ye as my husband. Why did ye marry that Sassenach whore?”

“I had to help protect her. Ye see Randall was going to take her. Dougal had the idea to protect her through marriage to a Scot.”

“So ye only did it to protect her and because Dougal said to do it?”

I could hear the hopefulness in her voice. I could imagine the gleam in those bright blue eyes, no doubt marked with tears ready to burst from those long lashes and team down her rosey plump cheeks. My stomach was in knots as I listened intently to what Jamie would reply. Would he tell her what he told me? That he had desires for no one but me? I could hardly bear to listen, my heart awaiting a fatal blow from his words.

“Aye well yes.....”

“Then lay with me! I want ye to be my first. That Sassenach Whore has laid with other men. I have not laid with anyone.”

That conniving little slut! She hadn’t allowed Jamie to finish his sentence. I had no idea what he would have said and if she calls me a sassenach whore one more time!

“Laoghaire I willna break my marriage vows for anyone, none even as bonny as ye. I lo.....”

“But Jamie ye were meant to belong to me. We kissed, there was something between us. I ken it!”

“Ye forced yerself on me Lass I dinna encourage it! I never.....”

“It’s that Sassenach whore isn’t it? She turned ye against me! What has she that I don’t!”

“How about a wedding ring and a marriage contract! Now how about you unwrap yourself from my husband. If anyone is a wanton whore I believe it would be the slut propositioning a married man. I’m sure my husband was just about to explain that to you and no doubt correct you on calling me a sassenach whore.”

I shot him a withering look. Then glared at her. Her face beet red in anger and frustration.

“Ye dinna deserve him! How could he marry a Sassenach!”

“Because I love her! Enough of this nonsense Laoghaire. Yer father would no be pleased at yer behaviour.”

Laoghaire’s face fell and she paled, as white as a ghost before turning and running away, hand held to her mouth as she stifled a sob.

“Don’t! Please just don’t even try and explain why you where in a secluded wood with that blonde harlet! I asked you, give you an opportunity to tell me the truth of your desires. If you want her instead, I will not stand in the way. I will leave without a fuss.”

I kept my voice as even as I could, speaking to him as if we were discussing the weather or an unimportant trifling matter. My heart was breaking inside but my face betrayed none of it.

“I dinna have desires for Laoghaire.”

“You kissed her! I saw it, after the bards concert in the hall. I saw it.”

“She kissed me. I dinna wish to kiss her, I have never done so. I promise ye Claire. After ye left the hall, I stayed only a short while then headed to the stables, to bed, by myself. She must have followed me ye ken. Next thing I ken she has her arms around me.”

“Then why was she here, in the woods with you! She was wrapped around you, in your arms again.”

“I was looking for ye! Ye had ran out of the room without so much as a backward glance. I was worried for ye. I dinna ken she was here til she appeared on the track in front of me. I dinna want to be rude to the Lass!”

“I could see that plainly, you certainly weren’t making any efforts to remove her from your person!”

I spat the words out, a flush of jealous anger rising within me once more. Any resolve I had was now gone. Jamie was riled, the vein in his neck pulsing and he tapped his hand against his thigh. His eyes were wide and fierce. We had unfinished business from the argument at the river and then this insistent jealousy that was building within me.

“Are ye accusing me of playing ye false! I dinna give a damn about Laoghaire! Never have and never will. It is ye I care for Sassenach, only ye.”

“Care for me! You have a strange way of showing it. You have accused me of sleeping with Randall!”

“What did ye expect me to think? I ken that bastard, I’ve been at the receiving end of his justice and perversions.”

“So I was right? You think I was given the same choice as you? That the only way he would release me, was for me to give him my body?”

He was stood ram rod straight, his breaths coming in short ragged draws. We were stood several feet from each other, squared off prepared to defend our thoughts and actions. He didn’t answer my question but a slight movement of his head and eyes betrayed the truth he thought. I breathed out a snort and raised my arms hopelessly.

“You really think I could do that?”

Again he did not speak, the anger of the accusation raged within me and I yelled out. The frustration of everything that had happened so far rising to the surface, being taken captive by the MacKenzie’s, being attacked by that vile man, hunted and attacked by Randall, forced to marry, falling in love with Jamie, the suspicion and lies. It all came bubbling out and I attacked. Yelling and shouting as my fists beat down on his chest. The tears no longer held back, streamed down my face. Jamie did not retaliate, simply pulling me tighter into his embrace until I was no longer able to strike out. The sobs wracking my body uncontrollably. I stilled, a sudden thought forming.

“She called me a Sassenach whore repeatedly. Is that what you think of me?”

I spoke these words slowly and softly between a sob, as the realisation fell upon me like a gentle dusting of snow. Was this the truth? Is that what he believed? Is that why he did not correct her, defend me, his wife? I pulled back from him. His face changed to shock and disbelief, no, no it was horror. My words absorbing into his mind and soul, ripping him apart. It seemed that words spoken in anger did not harm but these soulful words hurt, spoken on an anguished breath tore him apart before me.

“Are you ashamed of me?”

“Christ! Sassenach no! I could never be ashamed of ye. Please believe me.”

He closed the distance between us, pulling me into his embrace once more. His voice choked with emotion.

“Then why Jamie, why allow her to speak those words.. why don’t you believe me about Randall?”

I was convinced my heart could be heard breaking into tiny pieces. How could I have allowed myself to fall so quickly for him. Why had I not guarded my heart?

“She was blethering on and on wouldna stop. I dinna ken how much she lusted after me ye ken. I couldna crush her. I wanted to let her down gently but then, well ye appeared. I’m sorry Sassenach I dinna mean to hurt ye. She’s no but a bairn! Speaking out from hurt and sorrow. I ken something of unrequited love. The hurt it can cause ye.”

“I know she is just a jealous child but still her words and actions have hurt Jamie. I swear to you I did not give myself to Randall. I could never allow that vile man to touch me. You know I was taught to defend myself. That’s how I escaped. He told the guards to leave. I doubt he thought a lone woman was any threat.”

“Aye, few men would.”

“When the guards were gone he went to bind my hands. That’s when I attacked him. I knocked him out and tied him up and gagged him. I doubted the guards would check on him for some time. Then I snuck out of his office and onto the battlements to escape. I knew it was my only way. Do you believe me.”

There was a silent pause as I looked at his face, trying to read his thoughts. Did he believe me? Would he believe me? Suddenly his face changed, the mask removed and remorse and sorrow were etched across his features.

“Aye, I do Sassenach, I do. I’m sorry for ever doubting ye. The panic and fear I felt when Willie came running saying ye had been taken. I couldna bear the thought of what harm could be done to ye. I swore to protect ye Sassenach and I ken I’ve no been much, but I was prepared to go into that fort again with nought but my bare hands to get ye back. Ned said we couldna risk killing any redcoats, no with the tensions rising. When I saw ye coming along the side of the fort, I was overjoyed! Then doubts crept in and well, aye, I said more than I should. I canna take it back but Sassenach I swear to ye I am sorry, sorry I ever doubted ye. Sorry I spoke those words to ye, sorry I dinna listen to ye and bring ye with me. Can ye ever forgave me?”

And there it was, my apology. The emotion evident in his words and sincerity in his eyes as he looked at me pleading forgiveness. I could only nod in agreement.

“I’ll no doubt ye ever again Sassenach. Ye are a rare and unique woman, ye ken I love the strangeness of ye and yer mine.”

There it was again, the word stirring a memory from a few moments ago.

“You said that before, to Laoghaire? That you love me?”

“Aye, I do. I’ve wanted ye from the moment I set eyes upon ye. That round arse pressed tight against me as we rode to Castle Leoch. But I’ve loved ye since I seen ye standing hands on hip giving Dougal what for. I said to myself there’s a rare women to be sure Jamie, ye need to make her yer wife!”

He laughed, as did I and swotted at him with my hand. He grabbed it laying a reverent kiss on it.

“Nay the moment I fell in love with ye was the moment ye tended my wounds. The gentle care and compassion ye spoke to me on seeing my scars. Ye dinna recoil in horror nor pity me. I loved ye more the night of the bard. Seeing ye in candle light, the gleam of those eyes, like fine whiskey ye ken. Yer hair all curled and pinned up. I saw ye show a vulnerable moment, cracking that ridged exterior ye have around yerself. I love ye Claire, with every part of me. There is nay other and there will be no other. What lies between us is different, it’s as though our souls are bonded together for eternity. My Father told me that when the right woman came along I would just ken it. I ken that with ye, only ye. Will ye have me Sassenach?”

“Yes Jamie I will have you. I love you.”

I had barely got the last words out when his lips descended hungrily onto mine. He drew me closer to him hands gripping my arse as he pressed me against him. We tumbled to the ground, neither caring we were on a forest path. I pulled his kilt up and grasped his cock before sinking down on its length. My breaths were ragged and deep as I rocked heavily on Jamie.

“You are mine James Fraser, mine and no one else’s do you hear me?

“Aye I hear ye!”

He was gripping hard to my hips as he thrust up into me. His eyes locked on my form.

“This is all yours, only yours.”

I brought my lips down to his as I spoke the last. I was only his, I belonged to him fully and he to me. He kissed me with wild abandon as his hips thrust deeply. Each movement claiming me as his, each kiss healing the hurt until we both collapsed heavily into each other restored once more.

Chapter Text

The days and weeks after our return from the rent party strengthen mine and Jamie’s relationship. After our apologies we had talked and listened to each other, laying half naked embraced in each other. He had told me of the meeting with the deserter and how he had wished I’d been there to support him. How the information he had was of little use, naming Randall as the true killer. Both of us knew that Randall’s name could never be used to get a pardon. Though I reminded myself a pardon existed already.

I suddenly remembered something else Jamie had said during our argument. Unrequited love.

“Who was she Jamie”

“Who ye talking of Sassenach?”

“You said earlier that you understood unrequited love. It was why you didn’t wish to hurt Laoghaire’s feelings?”

“Oh aye? Annalaise de Maralic.”

Her name ran off his tongue like the finest honey.

“She was French. I met her during my time at university, in Paris. Thought myself in love.”

“Did she not return those feelings?”

“Aye she did, for a time. Soon though another wished her for their own. I fought a duel ye ken.”

He chuckled at his youthful stupidity.

“I know every scar on your body Jamie and how you got them. I take it you won?”

“Ye canna see the wound from that duel. Twas on my heart. I did win, wounded the other man. But Annalaise, she ran weeping to his side. Her choice made. I ken now she would never have been happy with what I could provide.”

“And what of your wounded heart?”

“Ack aye, it’s been healed the moment the bonny arse of a Sassenach was thrust into the saddle afore me.”

He grinned and waggled his eyebrows at me. I could only laugh, delighted that this man was my husband.

We appeared to have also reached an unspoken understanding and agreement of sorts. One that even Frank and I had never quite reached. While the rules that governed marriage at this time meted in the favour of the man, the woman being his property and all that, were not completely alien to me. Even in my own time thoughts had not moved much further. The large difference between my two marriages however being the men themselves. While Frank was content to follow the dictates of society as the man of the house, Jamie and I in our argument had created an equilibrium that gave me a voice and opinion.

It had been reached as we had laid entangled together on that path in the forest. Enjoying the rapture of simply being together, oblivious to the risk of discovery.

“Yer a capable woman Sassenach, yer no afraid to ken yer mind and to speak it.”

“Is that a bad thing?”

“No to me it isn’t. Just most men aren’t used to a woman even his wife speaking out. I imagine it’s maybe different for ye? But well it’s got me thinking ye ken, maybe our marriage, our life has to go differently.”

“What do you mean?”

“The usual way of things is the husband decides, makes the choice and the woman follows along. If she disobeys she is punished....”

“Oh no you don’t James Fraser! I already told you I won’t stand to be beaten. You lift your hand to me even the once I will kill you. You know I am capable.”

I interjected before he had a chance to continue this path of thought. I had never been beaten by any man important to me, not my Father, uncle Lamb nor Frank. Jamie Fraser would not be the first. He started to laugh, his whole face changing as his shoulders shook with mirth.

“Why are you laughing?”

“Sassenach I have nay intentions of ever beating ye, I was going to say that that was how it has been ye ken, with my father and mother and theirs before. But we could be different. We could choose a different path.”

So we did. Still in that honeymoon period the capture of me by Randall and Laoghaire’s misguided childish yearnings could have destroyed us. However we had not allowed it and forged a stronger bond. I loved how he walked me to breakfast each morning, how he sat close to me on the bench, his knee and thigh touching mine and an arm looped low around my waist. We never departed for our days work without a kiss and my heart skipped when I would unexpectedly see him during the day. Just as it had done so many times before we wed.

Our lust for the physical connection was insatiable. I had awaken a desire and longing within Jamie that was matched by my own desires. I had always been a physical person, sex had been a way for Frank and I to connect, deepen our love. However with Jamie I discovered that sex took on a whole other level. Our connection and bond was forged through our very souls meaning that sex was not needed to connect, it complimented and completed it. With freedom from that burden of needing sex to build the structure of the relationship, it became mind blowing and soul ratifying. We spent the nights entangled with each other, exploring and experimenting. My days were spent imaging being in his arms once more. It was because of this distraction that I had not seen the change in Laoghaire. Nor had I realised the lengths she would go to.

The snide comments and looks had increased, then came the adding salt to my drinks, damaging my laundry, tampering with items within my surgery. It was subtle at first a few bottles moved around, labels removed. Childish behaviour really and certainly nothing that was going to cause harm, as I always double checked each before administering. Then the illwish appeared, hidden under our bed. The little bitch had been in our bedchamber. That was the final straw. Time for a taste of her own medicine.

I had thought about simply confronting her, punching her hard in the face. While that would certainly make me feel much better I knew at heart she was a silly misguided child with hopes of romance. Unrequited love can be a hard pill to swallow. I started out small like she had, really it was terribly petty of me, a grown woman, to engage in such behaviour. I would remove one of her stockings and hide it somewhere. Swop one of her shoes for a boot, put horse hair on her pillow. What I hadn’t realised however was the level of superstition that held strong within the Highlands. So when I implemented my last scheme it had far reaching consequences that I had not expected.

I had taken that stupid ill wish and secretly made several copies. Jamie had explained what it was and meant but really? Could it possibly be believed. I found out to my horror just how much weight was held in these. Yes there had been a few whispers in the castle, witch and banshee but in truth I had laughed them off not really understanding fully the harm I was doing.

I had crept into her bedchamber late at night and hidden them. She shared a bedchamber with three other kitchen maids. I had thought when Laoghaire and them awoke that on discovering them, she would realise exactly where they had come from. Especially as I had been doing the exact same things on her, that she had done on me up to this point. However I was decidedly wrong. I had walked to breakfast with Jamie with renewed hope that this morning would see an end to this pettiness from Laoghaire. I would definitely see an end to it just not how I expected. The dining hall was a flutter of activity. Hushed whispers and tales being relayed. Murtagh came and joined us at the table.

Did ye hear about the stramash this morning?”

“Nay we are only out of the bedchamber.”

Jamie replied a slight pink flush tinging the tips of his ears. Murtagh simply hmph’d and shook his head.

“Aye I can imagine what’s being entertaining ye. Ye wilna have heard what’s amiss with Laoghaire then?”

“Laoghaire?!” What has happened does she need treatment?”

“Treatment mabbe but none ye can provide Claire, she’s been accused of witchcraft. The other kitchen maids found her with ill wish dolls all within her bed. There’s been strange goings on with her the last weeks ye ken tis all coming out now”

I nearly spat my porridge out in shock. Witch craft! Jesus H Roosevelt Christ. My heart was hammering I did not expect this to happen. Perhaps scare her? Put her off from her childish endeavours? Have her accused of witch craft most definitely not. I knew how hard these times were for women how easily they could fall foul of the system of society.

“Do ye ken what’s happened to her?”

“Aye she’s held in the dungeons for the time being. Colum will need to decide what action to take. She could be tried and burned at the stake.”

My heart stopped at this, she could be burned alive! Killed because of my childish behaviour. I felt heat rising to my cheeks and panic take over. How could I fix this? I wanted the girl to leave me and Jamie alone but this was not what I expected. Murtagh having delivered his juicy news moved onto more benign topics. My mind could not focus on a word he said instead thinking of the consequences of my actions. Yes she had started this but I had had a choice. I could have dealt with this another way. I could not stand by and allow an innocent girl to die.

Over the next few days I unearthed the full story. Mrs Fitz was beside herself, distraught over her granddaughter. I schooled my features and listened and found out as much as I could about what would happen next. Witch trials were not ran in the typical style of criminal trials. Not surprising given the accused were most likely women. Three “magistrates” from the church were to precede over the hearing. Testimonies could be heard from anyone and from general gossip there appeared to be little in the way of defence. The trial could take several days. A week later Laoghaire was removed from the castle and taken to the courtroom in Cranesmuir.

Jamie had forbidden me to attend the trial. He didn’t wish for me to appear as if gloating. I couldn’t bring myself to tell him what I had done in assisting the poor girl into the courtroom. I stayed away, instead picking up the gossip after. She was being held in the thieves hole, a muddy, dank hole in the ground. The trail was likely to convict her, given the testimonies I was hearing. I had to get her out, I just needed to pick the right moment to do so. Choosing the cover of darkness and a gloomy moonless night. I rose and dressed as quietly as I could. Creeping silently to the door not wishing to wake Jamie. The door opened quietly on its hinges and I went to squeeze myself out.

“Ye going somewhere Sassenach?”

“Ah! Ye scared me Jamie! I thought you were asleep?”

“Aye, I figured ye though that, seeing as yer creeping out of our bedchamber like a disgraced maid. I’ll ask again where are ye going?”

I was fully dress and he was now getting out of bed himself. I couldn’t pretend to be heading to the kitchens, he knew I would have wrapped his plaid around me to do that. The look of shock upon my face said it all. He had asked for honesty and considering the lies I had already told him and truths I withheld, I couldn’t possibly tell him a lie now.

“Am going to rescue Laoghaire.”

“Yer what! Do ye ken the risks Sassenach! If yer caught they’ll burn ye too.”

“I can’t stand by and allow them to kill an innocent girl! She is but a child Jamie! And I won’t get caught.”

“She is being tried for her crimes. We canna intervene.”

“Her crimes? Jamie witch craft isn’t real. Please tell me you don’t believe in this nonsense.”

“It dinna matter what I believe. She no on trial by me. It’s the others what they believe.”

“She is being convicted on the basis of idle gossip and tittle tattle! It’s a nonsense and I can’t stand back and watch it.”

“It’s no our place Sassenach.”

“What if it was me? What if I had been accused? You would have moved heaven and earth to save me. I wouldn’t be still sitting in that hole in the ground contemplating my fate.”

He stilled and stayed silence for a moment, his fingers drumming on his thigh as he thought. I held my breath waiting his response.

“Aye let’s go afore I change my mind.”

He was dressed in moments and we were out the door to the kitchens. I grabbed bannocks, cheese and dried beef. I had also a few coins not much but it would help her on her way a little. Cranesmuir was only eight miles from Castle Leoch and we made good time. Pulling up the horses a short distance from the town centre. The town was silent and still. The buildings loomed large in the darkness. I skirted along the edges avoiding the open spaces. Locating the thieves hole I recced the area for any signs of guards. Jamie was waiting for my signal and appeared in moments after giving it. Surprisingly there were no guards. They seemingly thought the thieves hole adequate to keep people in place.

“Laoghaire? As you awake?”

I hissed on a whisper, desperate to avoid alerting anyone to our presence.

“Mistress? Is that ye? What are ye doing here? Come to mock me no doubt.”

“No you stupid girl I’m getting you out of here but if you are going to continue with the spoiled attitude you can stay where you are.”

“Sassenach dinna be antagonising the girl.”

“Jamie? Yer here too.”

“Aye Lass Claire insisted on rescuing ye.”

“Hush! Give me one moment.”

I was jiggling with the lock trying to get it open. It eventually conceded to my ministrations and sprung open. Jamie reached down into the thieves hole and lifted Laoghaire out with ease. I quickly closed the grate and locked it. We ran, sticking to the shadows of the buildings back to the horses.

Despite my efforts for Laoghaire, she was uneasy at my presence. Understandable she no doubt realised it was me behind the ill wishes and I was still the woman who had claimed her love. At the horses I handed my horse’s reins to Laoghaire.

“We have no time, take the horse and there are some provisions. Ride as far away from here as possible, go to Edinburgh or Glasgow find work and make a life for yourself. I know we haven’t seen eye to eye but I do wish you well Laoghaire . Take care.”

“Sassenach we have to go.”

I nodded and pushed Laoghaire into the saddle of the horse. Jamie then pulled me up onto his horse wrapping an arm around me.

“Thank ye, both of ye. I can never repay ye. I’m sorry Mistress Fraser for the harm I caused ye.”

There was tears in her eyes and her voice was choked with emotion as she spoke. I didn’t have words to answer her back instead I nodded. She kicked the horse into action and sped off, the darkness consuming her within moments.

The days and weeks after Laoghaire’s clandestine rescue were if I’m honest hilarious. The level of superstition was immeasurable. It had been ingrained into the minds and souls of the people, through tales told over generations of faeries, monsters and mythical creatures. Often encouraged and ratified by the local clergy. A sure fire way to keep the populace in line. The rumours had gained traction within hours of her disappearance from the thieves hole having been discovered. I had prayed that she had made good ground during the night and was now safety far away from MacKenzie land. Though I had soon discovered I had nothing to be concerned for as the girl could have literally walked away, slowly, very slowly.

It was strange how they never once considered she could have escaped. Instead they seen her disappearance as proof for her witch craft ways. They never sent search parties out to look for her. Over the days her spectre was reported to be seen in various locations in the castle and village. Any strange happenings were marked down as clearly being Laoghaire. Really it was ridiculous. I was however glad that the superstitious nonsense allowed her to get away and a few weeks after the daring rescue I received confirmation. An old beggar arrived passing through the area. He had a crumpled letter with him that had clearly passed hands numerous times. The letter was short and unsigned but I knew it was from Laoghaire. It simply said

(Thank you. Working as house maid Edinburgh)

She had a new life to forge ahead for herself. I was glad I took the risk and rescued her. She could now have a life of freedom and move on just as I had been doing here in Castle Leoch. I still had not made any efforts towards the final part of the Gillian Edgars tasking. Instead I had focused on providing medical care to the castle residents and wider area. I had of course gathered more information regarding Mrs Edgars, now Mistress Duncan’s, activities and associates. Dougal Mackenzie was heavily involved and it was due to his support and behaviour during the rent collections that my opportunity to complete the mission arose.

Chapter Text

It seemed some within the rent party were not best pleased with Dougal extorting money from the tenants. They had informed Colum who had swiftly made moves to seize the heavy purse of ill gotten gains. The two brothers now locked in a battle of wills against the other. Tensions were high within the castle and I decided to keep a low profile. Focusing my efforts on the surgery and my healing. I also was able to use this time and the division to gather further information. It seemed that support for Dougal was very low, further evidence of the Clan MacKenzie’s stance of support to the current King.

I often pondered how then did they end up as a clan destroyed at the battle of Culloden? It seemed that the impasse between the two brothers was destined to never be resolved. That was until Ned Gowan had a suggestion. A suggestion that would impact on Jamie and I more than we could have imagined.

Jamie had come hurrying into the surgery just before evening meal. He was a blaze of excitement and began recounting the meeting with Colum.

“Sassenach the Duke of Sandringham is coming to stay. Ned suggested he be invited to give an Englishman’s view on the rising tensions ye ken. Colum and he are old friends. Colum reckons I can speak to him about my pardon. Colum has already spoken to him on the subject. He reckons the Duke will be supportive to the request. Though I’ll need to guard my arse when he’s around if ye ken what I mean. That and few of the other stable lads.”

I did giggle a little at the look of abject horror on Jamie’s face thinking of the unwanted advances of the Duke. In my time he was regarded as a notorious bachelor, the meaning clearly intended. Though my face schooled back into a mask of serenity, when the realisation dawned that a pardon was not required and both Colum and the Duke knew this. I had no idea why either of them continued to toy with Jamie. Especially when his life was at risk. Yes he was protected at the castle but only to a small degree. If a redcoat patrol arrived, demanding to take him, well I doubted there would be much Colum could do. I gritted my teeth and smiled.

“Are you sure he can be trusted? The Duke I mean? I have heard stories of him on my travels. I believe his loyalty is often not clear.”

“Aye he is the best hope for a pardon. We can then go home, to Lallybroch.”

I could hear the hope in his voice and a small glimmer of unbridled joy at the thought of returning home. I smiled weakly as he took me into his arms.

“Oh! You are freezing cold!”

“Aye yer right my hands are near blue with the cold.”

He was running them up my leg as he pulled my skirts out of his way. I swotted uselessly at him as his lips descended to my neck. Which were also cold I might add.

“Though I think yer tight quim might warm them up.”

“Jamie the surgery door is open anyone could walk in.”

I hissed at him despite finding myself melting into his embrace and giggling like a school girl, as he tickled my side and peppered kisses along my neck.

“Sassenach I dinna care if a hundred people came walking in. They will all see why my wife walks around with a grin on her face!”

He laughed and moved his hands to squeeze my arse. At that point I realised I didn’t care either.

 

The Duke of Sandringham arrived three days later to great pomp and pageantry. The castle was a buzz with activity the like I had never seen. The kitchens working non stop and with it, an increase in the number of injuries. It was enough to keep me busy and I hadn’t seen much of Jamie for several days. Tonight I was to be formally introduced to the Duke at a lavish small gathering. An elaborate ball was planned for five days time. I could think of nothing worse but knew I needed to smile and curtsy and support Jamie. Jamie who had been at the beck and call of the Duke since his arrival. With yet no confirmed agreement on a pardon. I hated having to watch my husband each day bow on ceremony to that pompous ass.

I had yet to be officially introduced but the aristocratic air he glided around the castle with, along with the piercing tone of his voice was enough to convince me I would detest him, even without the knowledge that he knew my husband was pardoned but was turning a blind eye. I also hated myself that I knew this and had to keep it from Jamie. Damn my secrets and lies!

Dressed in my finest gown and hair tamed respectively I demurely walked arm linked with Jamie’s into the great hall.

“May I present my wife, Claire Fraser, his Grace, the Duke of Sandringham.”

“Your Grace, it is an honour.”

I curtsied elegantly before him, face schooled in a demure smile.

“The honour is entirely mine Mistress Fraser. Why Jamie you didn’t tell me what a resplendent woman your wife was! And how lovely that she is a gently bred English lady.”

He was a short portly man, with elaborate and frivolous trimmings adorning his jacket. His wig was curled and powdered to perfection and his fingers glimmered with the rings he wore. He bowed to take my hand in acknowledging my curtsy to him and placed a kiss upon it. A malevolent grin spread across his face as he continued to take me in and his piggy little eyes darted towards my husband. I believed I had the measure of this aristocratic ass already, based solely on his correspondence with Randall and the castle gossip. Yet that glimmer in his eye and look on his face chilled me to the bone. I could not under estimate this man, he posed a greater risk to my husband than all the Redcoats in Scotland and his two uncles combined. I was tired of my husband being seen as a pawn in another’s game.

The dinner passed off with little issue. I merely was required to nod and smile. With my mind working overtime on how to rectify this situation for Jamie to have his pardon it was a simple tasked to remain tight lipped. Jamie however noticed this and even our usual bedtime activities couldn’t distract him from my odd behaviour at dinner.

“Yer no usually a closed mouth woman Sassenach. Was aught wrong?”

“No of course not. I just thought it best if I spoke little. I doubt noble women the Duke is used to dining with speak much.”

“Mmm aye, suppose ye could be right.”

He paused for a moment stilling from undressing. He stood back towards me with just his kilt on having divested himself of the other articles of clothing. He was magnificent, the glow of the unsmoored fire and the gentle candle light highlighted his scars. The broad expanse of his muscled solid back showed the powerfulness of my husband. I reached out to touch him sending a little shiver across his shoulders. He took my hand and pulled me around to his front.

“Ye dinna like nor trust the Duke do ye?

“No I don’t and I don’t think you should either.”

“He’s my only hope for a pardon Sassenach. One word from him to the right people and I, I can go home, take ye to Lallybroch!”

His words were strained and forced out. It broke my heart to hear, especially as I knew his pardon lay safely ensconced within his dear uncle’s study.

“Jamie we will find a way to see you pardoned. We can do anything we set our minds to. He isn’t the only noble man we can rely on. I will not stand idly by and allow my husband to be arrested and hung! You have my word.”

“Aye! I believe ye. After seeing ye escape the fort, I believe ye have many talents that might be of use to me.”

He smiled wickedly at me a flash of desire flicking in his eyes as his mouth descended to claim mine. His kisses trailed along my jaw and down my neck as my shift suddenly disappeared from my body. He lifted me up against his firm body as I wrapped my legs instinctively around him. Placing me on the bed he moved back to remove his kilt that last barrier between us before descending upon me once more and filling me completely.

The night dark and forbearing outside did nothing to distract from the love being poured into me by Jamie. I cried out as completion rose in shock waves through my body and hugged him closer to my body as our breaths grew shallow. His large frame conceding to sleep as I drew gentle swirls and circles on his skin with my fingers. My own mind a race with ideas and thoughts.

“No one is taking you from me, ever. I promise I will get that pardon, I will find a way.”

I whispered into his sleeping form and kissed the top of his head gently before sleep took me over.

The day of the ball arrived and the castle was busier than I had seen it even at the Gathering. Gentry arrived throughout the day from all over the Highlands and the wider areas. I watched from my window as carriage after carriage rolled in. Clan Lairds and Earls and Dukes ascended greeted by castle footmen and maids. The distinguished guest, Sandringham was out hunting with Jamie and Dougal. His insufferable air had certainly not diminished with the knowing him. He simpered and preened around, enjoying lording it over all. Lavishing condescending comments with a voice dripping with honey, as those piggy eyes traced my husband’s form. If his hand had lingered on his back or arm one second longer he was likely to see it ripped off and forced down his throat.

I however knew that behaviour of that kind would be most unbecoming of a lady. So instead had to politely smile and giggle at his witty comments. Not to mention bite my tongue when he would stand beside me and inform me that noble families such as I had married into didn’t encourage fidelity. That as his wife I should be aware of his need to stray to another’s bed. I knew he was simply trying to rile me, so I smiled demurely and thanked him! My blood boiled within me which is why when the opportunity came to kill two birds with one stone I took it.

Utilising the Duke’s absence and the upheaval of the guests arriving I snuck into the Duke’s guest chambers. I had no idea what I was looking for but perhaps hoped there would be something that would aid my mission. A small wooden chest sat pride of place within the room on the dressing table. It was elaborate in decor with carvings and gemstones. Placed within his dressing room upon his dressing table one would assume it contained vanity items. But curiosity got the better of me especially when I saw it was locked. It opened easily for me and on opening the lid contained correspondence and drawings of an intimate nature. The rumours it seemed were very true as to where the Duke’s preference lay.

The letters where from several different sources and often intimate. There was also correspondence from other nobles across England, Scotland and France. All with a heavy emphasis on toppling the monarch. It seemed King Gordie did not have the loyal subjects he thought amongst the aristocracy. Though there were but a handful of letters from English and Scots noblemen, it set the tone for the treason that commenced the Rebellion. And it seemed that the lovely Duke of Sandringham was heavily involved in securing funds. Replacing all the letters after photographing them of course I snuck back out of the room. Now to wait my opportunity to utilise this information.
It came sooner than I had ever hoped.

That evening I dressed and walked once more beside Jamie into the Great Hall. He was regaled in full Highland dress and bar the never ending pressure I was feeling to remove the threat of Sandringham and complete my mission I would have pushed him against a wall of the castle and had my way with him, kilts were after all incredibly useful at times. The melodious hum of the pipes filled the air and I glanced up to Jamie seeing a look of wonder in his eyes as he took in the Great Hall. It was bedecked in flowers and tartan and ivy. Soft candle light blurred its edges giving it an earthy feel, as if it connected you somehow to the Highlands directly. I understood that look of awe in Jamie’s eyes.

The meal was delicious Mrs Fitz and her kitchen army had outdone themselves. The noble men had raised glass after glass in toast as the platters continued to be brought out. The most noble of guests taking pride of place at the head table.

“I think am getting closer to the pardon Sassenach. The Duke and I spoke of it today while hunting.”

I grimaced and tried to hide it with a sip of my wine. Jamie was genuinely excited and hopeful. His eyes fixed on me. I just couldn’t tell him I knew it had existed and from more or less my arrival at Leoch. I just hoped my plan for tonight would work and we could then leave here, go anywhere else and build a life.

“Oh that’s wonderful news Jamie. I do hope he will be able to help.”

Jamie smiled reassuringly and dropped a gentle kiss in my forehead. It turns out he was willing to help if Jamie was his second in a duel.

“You can’t be serious Jamie? That is dangerous!”

I hissed at him.

“I ken that Sassenach but it’s a great opportunity to get my pardon. I’ve fought a duel before ye ken.”

“I know that! It’s still dangerous and an unnecessary risk”

“Am only his second Sassenach. Most duels have satisfaction before a second needs involved ye ken.”

Before I could think of a reply to this revelation, Murtagh then interrupted and whispered something in his ear. He cast me a look that unnerved me. I had forgotten about the little man and his devotion to Jamie. My husband turned and told me he was needed by the Duke and with another reverent kiss stood and departed. Murtagh scurrying along behind him.

“Gone and abandoned ye has he? There I was thinking the wee fox cub was a most devoted husband.”

“Oh hello Geillis, what brings you this way?”

“Ack nay can the Fiscal’s wife not come and say a kind word to the castle’s favourite healer? I keep hearing such pleasing stories of your skills. Quite the proficient doctor I hear with such new age ideas.”

She raised an auburn eyebrow at me and smiled sweetly. I knew there was little sweet about her having seen the burnt remains of her husband from the 1960’s. That photograph was forever etched on my mind. I was starting to feel uncomfortable around her especially with the last comments, was she guessing I was from the future too?

“Well I have picked up quite a diverse range of healing skills. What with my travels while accompanying my father. Did you enjoy the meal?”

“Yes, travelled extensively I have heard, Dougal spoke highly of ye. Yes, yes the meal was lovely. Though I always prefer the dessert and the entertainment after.”

She giggled in a most alarming manner, as her eyes fell first to her husband Arthur, then hungrily devoured Dougal. Yes I could guess her choice of evening entertainment. She stood and politely excused herself before walking through the crowd. Her hips swinging in a most alluring manner as she snaked her away between tables and benches, a most devious tempest she was. Five minutes later my opportunity to complete my mission and remove Sandringham all but fell before me. As Arthur Duncan bolted to his feet, turned puce in the face and gasped for his breath while clutching his chest. I ran through the stunned crowd to his prostrate form, a white foam crusted at his lips along with the faint but distinct smell of ammonia. He had been poisoned. Glancing around the room my eyes fell upon the not so grieving widow. Suddenly her eyes filled with panic and she let out a blood curdling scream running to fling herself at her dead husband’s form. Sobs wracked her body as mumble words echoed amongst the crowd.

She had put on a most convincing display however I had seen the sly smile and look towards Dougal. I had also seen the shocked panic on her face as our eyes had met. She knew I realised the truth, now whether she had killed her husband for the cause to be furthered or because she wanted Dougal was anyone’s guess. But the chilling aspect of it was that this was the second man to die by her hand that I knew off. And the look upon her face for that briefest of moments made me realise that it had to be her or me. I was damned sure it wasn’t going to be me and I just realised that I now had a plan to rid myself of both Geillis and Sandringham.

The scream filled the castle and jolted me awake. Jamie bounded out of the bed naked, eyes wide scanning the room for any intruder or threat. Another scream rattled the halls and Jamie grabbed for his shirt and kilt, eyes wide with panic while I jumped out of bed sleepily rubbing my eyes. In lighting speed Jamie was clothed and running out the door to the aid of the startled and distressed maid. I supposed I would have been more panicked myself, if I had had no idea what the cause of the scream was. Running behind a small crowd of people making there way towards the unholy racket. I arrived at the scene slightly breathless and still quite tired.

The night was still heavy in the sky, dawn having not quite risen. The candle light danced and flicked across the stone and within the Duke’s bedchamber, casting long shadows across the room. Jamie had pressed forward through the crowd joined by his uncle Dougal. I had slipped through in the wake of their movements and now stood in the bedchamber. Geillis’s dead body slumped across the bed, the drunken comatose Duke tucked up in bed with a Dirk clutched to one hand. Blood seeped into the blankets and sheets, pooling slightly on the floor. Papers were cast around the room and across the bed. The creamy whiteness of the paper stark against the dark wood and blood stain sheets. Whimpers of withheld tears could be heard and then a breathy swoosh of noise as Dougal exhaled. The realisation of the scene now registering with his mind.

“Geillis? What happened here? What happened?”

The words were spoken in disbelief, breathed out over anguished sobs that threatened to become so much more. His eyes flicked wildly around the room as though hoping for a Devine answer. The small crowd all stood in shocked disbelief, the maid who had discovered the scene weeping softly in the arms of another. Jamie was holding Dougal while looking at me with pleading eyes.

I knew he wanted me to be sure she was dead. Before I could move towards the bed Dougal suddenly stiffen and cried out in rage. Springing forward he grabbed the still slumbering form of Sandringham and began punching him mercilessly. The blows startled him awake and he cried out, Jamie pulled Dougal back and held him as the Duke looked around the room in terror, eyes wild and mouth opening and closing, as he tried to reason and understand what was happening.

Chapter Text

The Duke of Sandringham was placed under house arrest and stripped of most of his staff and guarded day and night. He was to be brought to London to be dealt with by the court and the House of Lords. His offences numerous. Murder, treason and sodomy to name but a few. Did I feel guilt at what I had staged? It wasn’t the first time I had assassinated someone nor the first time I had staged a scene to convict another. Yet somehow this felt different?

Completing my mission to assassinate Geillis was in truth simple. Once decided that the night of the ball was the time to complete it. I had watched silently from the Hall’s edges. Eyes trained on Geillis as she whimpered and cried, downing glass after glass of wine. The Duke preening and pontificating around her, pouring more and more wine. I knew then my plan would work.

I had been correct in my assessment of Geillis when our eyes had locked after the sudden demise of Arthur. A drunken Geillis had found me in a quite moment, throwing a snide comment about what I knew of how he died. A veiled threat issued from her slurred lips, I took it as fair warning. It was now or never to ensure the plan was followed through. The Duke would be an excellent cover for my actions. I had taken care of him, by drugging the delightful man to ensure he would be asleep when the time came, adding it to his wine glass unnoticed as his valet came to escort him to his chambers. The amount of alcohol consumed by all in attendance had made it easy to slip around the castle undetected. Jamie was also thankfully sound asleep in drunken stupor.

Once in my old fatigues I located Geillis. Her bedchamber not far from the Duke’s. Her grief so heavy Colum had insisted she stay at Leoch for the night. How very convenient for me I had thought. Her eyes widen on seeing my clothing. A sneer flashing across her face.

“I knew ye were no common healer!.”

I could only laugh, if only she knew the truth.

“And you are no innocent Fiscals wife. I know why you are here in this time Geillis, or should I call you Gillian?”

“So ye ken the truth of who I am? Who sent ye? Ye’ll no stop me. I’ll never allow Scotland to fall under Sassenach rule.”

“A department of the War Office. I am here to stop you Gillian. Your plan will not work. These innocent people will still suffer and die. How can you allow that? You can’t expect your plans to work not against the might of the British Army.”

“Ha! They would be a welcome sacrifice for the greater good. They should be happy to die for a free Scotland.”

“You took the words right out of my mouth Gillian. I hope you are willing to sacrifice for their greater good. Your death will save the lives of many others.”

She had then lunged for me with a small blade she pulled from her pocket. Her drunkenness and lack of skills made it easy to overpower her, knocking her out. Then it was on to the unsavoury side of my job. Thankfully the Duke was out cold by the time I got into the room, carrying out the needed deed and staging the scene.

Most often during the war I had not been present to witness the aftermath of my actions. Having retreated to the safety of my forest and my resistance colleagues. Perhaps that is what made it different? Seeing how my actions impacted, Dougal that cruel tongued individual brought to his knees in grief. The stunned grim silence of Colum who kept to his rooms and study. The castle and village inhabitants who waited outside my surgery with a heavy air of unease surrounding them.

Geillis Duncan was not a trusted woman yet the truth of the words “never speak ill of the dead”, rung true in the Highlands. The night of the ball when her husband, Arthur had died, whispers and rumours spun through the air. Many had known her as an odd woman, strange in her ways. The hushed whispers muttered of her involvement in Arthur’s death. It was easy to see why, as she played the grieving widow with enthusiasm, a little too much enthusiasm. Yet now the tone and words were of sympathy at her untimely death. I masked my thoughts and feelings, as I listened to person after person regale her delightful countenance and heart for the people. These people who she was prepared to send to their deaths, to see oppressed and ruined by a rebellion she was orchestrating. In a vain and pointless hope of changing history.

I had used the chaos from the aftermath of all this to break in to her house and remove the book she had kept on the fund raising for the rebellion and those involved. I doubted that history could be stopped completely, really could such a momentous event really be wiped from history? But perhaps Lord John and his brother could use the information to weaken the cause and target those actively involved. Therefore leaving those innocent of involvement alone. Wasn’t that the whole point of my mission?

The castle was crawling with Redcoats, magistrates and Lairds from other clans and other noblemen. I hadn’t seen Jamie in days as he had taken to the woods keeping a low profile due to his wanted state. His uncle Colum still had not told him of his pardon. Due to the hustle and bustle within the castle I had hidden my army fatigues and the notebook from Geillis along with my other items in the trunk in my room. They were buried at the bottom, wrapped up in a blanket. This was a dangerous time I couldn’t risk being caught with items such as those and suspicion was everywhere with the heighten tensions from the deaths and the arrest of the Duke.

I kept a low profile busying myself in the surgery and eating in my room. It was a lonely existence and allowed painful memories of the war to haunt my mind, nightmares and panic attacks began to plague me. The mind is a funny old thing, during the war I had never thought twice about what my mission was. Simply focusing on it with hungry diligence until it was complete. My mind then moved on to the next. Now however I was unable to keep the memories at bay. I longed to simply wrap myself in Jamie’s arms and feel his strength around me, take refuge from these thoughts but I didn’t even know where he was within the MacKenzie lands. I could have probably tracked him but my mind was unable to focus, I could barely keep to task in my surgery. Fudging simple procedures and startling easily.

Today had been a particularly long and challenging day. The surgery had been busy with patient after patient. I had not even noticed the sky darkening outside the window. I had also not stopped to eat since breakfast that morning. Though hungry, I just wanted to collapse on my bed. Making my way slowly with lumbering step towards my bedchamber I was suddenly gripped by noise and sights of battle. My head filling with shots and screams, the metallic tang of blood filled my nose and my throat and chest felt gripped in a vice. I struggled to draw breath. I felt myself sinking to the ground the familiar hallway of the Castle becoming a forest. My eyes tunnelled in vision as I strained to breathe, my minds internal fight with logic now lost.

Two hands shook my shoulders roughly, the voice calling out “Claire” repeatedly a distant sound, as if lost across an ocean. My eyes unable to focus and take in who was in front of me. It still replaying a war within my mind, watching as a distant observer. Suddenly I was lifted and pulled against a solid chest. I lay limp in their arms the sound of their boots loud on the stone hallway. I went to speak, to say anything but my mouth would not work, no words could form. I realised my cheeks were damp and vision blurred from tears that had fallen. Though I had had no conscious thought of crying.

The castle was empty as I was carried through the halls. Still unable to speak and unaware of who was with me. I felt as if I had tunnel vision able only to see and focus on a small part of what was before me. I was set at a bench in the kitchen, my eyes fixated on a knot in the wooden table. My name was still being called yet I could not focus on it, the voice sounding muffled and far away. I had no idea how long I sat staring at that same knot, no idea how long the voice called my name nor when they actually stopped and simply sat silently beside me. I blinked back into reality the panic attack gone having left the stamp of its mark on my chest. Which ached with every breath I drew. The vision now gone and my eyes focused and took in the quite kitchen. The fire smoored and pots tidied. I suddenly remembered the voice that had been calling me, jolting I looked around frantic to place a face to it.

“Aye, yer alright Lass, yer alright now. I dinna suppose ye ate anything, I dinna see ye at evening meal.”

“Dougal?”

“Aye tis me, ye give me quite the fright. Here help yerself the hunger will no help ye.”

“Thank you.”

I gratefully took the plate he had with bread, cheese and cured meat. I hadn’t felt hungry all day but now with the plate in front of me, I set upon it with wanton disregard for polite table manners. Dougal did not speak he merely watched as I ate my fill sipping contently from his ale cup. I didn’t know what to say to him, his morose heavy mood was my doing. I had killed Geillis for no other reason than I had been tasked, assigned to do so. I had carried out my mission without thought for the lives impacted. Yes she was a murderer twice over but was I any better? How many lives had ended at my hands, yes I could counter I was assigned to carry them out, they were part of a mission aimed at a wider good. But really was sanctioned murder any better than her cold blooded ones? Yes her death could save the lives of many a Scot but could I really content myself with playing God.

Now I sat silently with her lover, a man broken by her death. I had no love nor regard for this man yet he had been the one to see to my needs when my panic attack had taken over.

“Thank you Dougal for helping me, I don’t know what came over me.”

“No worries Lass ‘‘twas my pleasure to assist ye. I ken ye have demons to fight same as me.”

“What do you mean?”

“Ye have seen things no man should have to. I kent that from before, at the boar hunt, but since then I’ve seen a shadow in yer eyes, a darkness that only those who have seen death close up can ken.”

He breathed in deeply and chuckled as he swallowed the last of his ale.

“I underestimated ye. Ye ken that yerself. Ye are a singular woman for sure.”

“I’ve spent my life being underestimated. I am well used to it. It’s reassuring however to know that others are effected in the same manner as I.”

The last part was rushed out on one breath, my hand waving in casual disregard.

“I dinna ken what demons ye fight Claire but in the absence of yer husband ye have a willing ear in me.”

He smiled and nodded resolutely at me. After a moment of silence he spoke again.

“We had a joint purpose ye ken, seeing the true king restored to the throne. She talked of our duty to the Scotland of now but also of the generations to come. How we canna let them down, have them see a weak and hopeless Scotland oppressed and ruled by England. Such power and fire to her, I was drawn in. Aye, tis no secret I despise the English, detest their rule on my land. Yet now I dinna ken if I have the heart to continue the fight.”

He breathed out a puff of air. His eyes hollow and hunting as his words rested upon me. His words raw and passioned, yet history would write of his death on Culloden moor. Death for his cause. I doubted I could save him yet still hoped to save the MacKenzie clan.

“I did care for her, probably even loved her ye ken. Though I knew I would never hold her heart fully. She kent her womanly power, she was no afraid to use it. Especially to get her way. I always said it would be her undoing.”

He smirked slightly at that, pausing to drink down the last of his ale.

“She was a strange woman never fully let her guard down. ‘‘Twas always something being held back, some secret I could never quite know. A dangerous streak that could never be tamed.”

His eyes stared off into the distance as though he was recalling a specific moment. His voice growing slow and purposeful as he spoke. Geillis was most definitely all of that and more, but then I realised so was I.

 

*********************************

It had been too long since I had lay in my own bed and felt the warmth of my wife in my arms. Finally the Duke of Sandringham had been removed from the castle for London. And with him the redcoats, magistrates, Clan Lairds and noblemen. I’d never seen the castle as full and had taken to the woods nearby to hide. I was still a wanted man and my hopes of a pardon were now dashed with Sandringham’s arrest.

I’d barely had time to say goodbye to Claire before heading to the woods, Murtagh had stayed with me. I had wanted him to stay in the castle to keep Claire safe. I knew I could manage fine and well on my own but the auld codger wouldn’t hear tell of it. He had wanted me to grab Claire and just leave altogether. But to go where? I knew I couldn’t return to Lallybroch no without my pardon. So I’d stayed, hidden on MacKenzie lands, still with the wistful hope that my uncle could secure it still.

It was early morning when I came back to the castle. The breakfast meal was finished for the day and everyone now went about their chores and business. I knew Claire would be in the surgery, so I took the opportunity and returned to our bedchamber to wash and change my shirt. Near a full week in the woods with no chance to wash properly left me in nay fit state to be welcomed by my bride to our bed. I felt the now familiar stirrings in my cock at the thought of bedding her. Lord she was wild my Sassenach, no like what the other men had told me relations would be between man and wife.

We had a connection that was deep and she desired me as much as I her. Bedding was no a simple taking her, she took back, demanded her pleasure. What we had went beyond mere bedding. I could feel our very souls entwining as each of us stamped our mark in the others heart. I knew her, knew her very soul as though she had been crafted for me and I for her. Yet despite all this there were still mysteries to my Sassenach, stories that she had never told. Secrets no lies was all I had asked of her and I prayed that that would be enough. Perhaps in time the last of her walls would come down and I would hear the whole truth.

Delighting in the crystal clear water filling the pan and tricking through my fingers I washed and shaved. Glancing around the room I began searching for my clean shirt and stockings. Opening the trunk that was slid under the bed I rummaged through it for my shirt. My hand brushed against unfamiliar cloth and I pulled the item until it rose in front of my eyes. Strange breeks in olive green stained with blood. I dropped them as my mind began to race. I thought my heart was going to burst through my chest.

Pulling and throwing the remaining contents out of the trunk, the merger garments that belonged to Claire and I lay scattered across the room. All but a strange shirt that matched the breeks and her leather satchel. The satchel that had hung strapped across her chest throughout her early days at Leoch. I stared in wonderment at the items laying mockingly at me at the bottom of the trunk. There had to be a logical and reasonable explanation for why my wife has blood soaked clothing hidden. Secrets no lies. It ran through my head, grabbing the satchel I pulled it open tipping the contents out.

A book fell to the floor, it was a strange composition I reached out and touched it cautiously. The pages were crisp white and uniformed. The binding neat and tidy and the ink of the writing at odds with a quill. I ran my finger across the paper and marvelled at its smooth form. The writing was not Claire’s, though I did not recognise the hand. The information written in slanted jaunty swirls detailed funding for the rebellion. The efforts being taken to restore the Stuart king. I had no clue as to where Claire had located this nor why. But with the blood soaked clothing and this book I knew it was to do with Geillis and her death. I stared at the items willing my eyes to take them in no more.

“Sassenach what have ye done?”

***********************************
It had been a long few days and I was missing Jamie more than I could ever have realised. I was devoid of energy, existing within this realm. The nightmares and panic attack having sapped all resolve. Dougal’s kindness had surprised and shocked me. Of course his sympathy would be replaced with rage if he knew the truth. The truth, I almost laughed out, no one could know the truth, the full truth about me. Not even Jamie. I didn’t wish to lie to him, Jesus H Roosevelt Christ, I had promised him secrets not lies after all. Yet now I felt that line between the two blurred irrevocably. With my main mission completed and the Duke, along with his twisted games, now gone from Scotland I could breath a little easier.

I longed to have Jamie back in the castle and my bed. I knew his pardon was going to be an uneasy issue still taking space between us. With the Duke arrested Jamie would feel he had no chance of obtaining his freedom. I had taken matters into my own hands to retrieve the pardon that I knew existed already. Using the chaos that ensued within the castle at breakfast and just after with everyone scurrying to start the days tasking. I slipped into Colum’s study. He had been keeping largely to his rooms and study since the debacle with the Duke. Every Clan Laird and noble man from the Highlands to the Lowlands had descended on the Castle seeking an audience with him.

The letters showing the Duke’s twisted loyalty and his diabolical efforts to see them into reality, seemed to shake at the very core of the Clan leaders. They now demanded reassurance from the King of support and better cooperation. Colum was rarely without an audience, except at breakfast. Which was my opportunity to retrieve the pardon. It was simplicity in motion recovering it from the desk drawer, barely taking three minutes in all. Now secured in my pocket I made my way to our bedchamber. I decided that once Jamie returned to the castle I would show him the pardon and we would leave. I pushed the reality that the truth or rather part of the truth, would have to be told as explanation of how I obtained it. For now I focused on the delight that my husband was free. The door to our bedchamber was slightly ajar as I approached. With weary caution I slowed my step and treaded softly peering through the slight crack between door and doorframe. I couldn’t see anything so gently pushed the door open to see Jamie stood with his back to me in the room.

“Jamie!”

I rushed across the room to wrap him in an embrace. Tears stinging my eyes as I reached out to him. He turned slowly towards me, hands grasped to a bundle of clothing. Clothing that was very very familiar to me.

“Sassenach do ye care to explain this to me?”

“Not here.”

I stomped the rising fear that was griping my throat down and grabbed the clothing from his hands. My eyes shot round the room in panic until I saw my satchel and grabbed it. Stuffing the clothes and Geillis’ book into it. I turned on my heel and walked out of the room followed closely by Jamie. We walked in silence from the castle towards the secluded woodland. I knew the next conversation could see the end of my marriage to Jamie. My heart thumped wildly in my chest, reverberating in my throat. My mind swam with various tales and stories, half truths and lies that I could tell him. I did after all have a solid back story to work from and was well used to plans changing on the hop.

Yet as I glanced nervously over to Jamie striding along beside me I realised with dread that I could not bring myself to lie. I had promised him secrets not lies. He had never had so much as an utterance of truth from me regarding who I was. The tragedy was that the only truth he had from me was my love for him and desire to be with him. When the truth of who and what I was came out would that be enough? I prayed it would be and steeled myself with a fortifying breath before stopping and turning to him.

“You asked only one thing of me Jamie, secrets not lies. I have given you little of the truth but I hope that you will listen to what I say and that you will believe me and well, I suppose we will have to see after that.”

I was blabbering and shook my head to clear my thoughts. Jamie stood ridged, eyes locked on my form his face masked.

“I am from the future. I was born on the 20th of October in the year 1918, nearly two hundred years from now. Both my parents died when I was very young in a car crash. That’s like a carriage but is propelled without horses by way of an engine. I was raised rather unusually by my Uncle Lambert or Lamb to me. He was an archaeologist and travelled the world, that’s how I developed my interest in healing. It also made me fiercely independent and rather unladylike.”

I snorted at that, tears resting heavily on my lashes, refracting the morning sunlight into a kaleidoscope of colours, as I fought to remain in control. I had to tell him the truth, I had to keep on going.

“I married Frank Randall in the year 1937. He was a history professor and a descendant of the honourable Captain Jack Randall. We met through my uncle, he was obsessed with bloodlines and lineage. His area of expertise being the rebellion and the battle of Culloden.”

“Battle of Culloden?”

“Yes that’s rather why I’m here to be honest. In the year 1939 a war broke out in Europe it was a large war, a world war. Frank and I signed up to the war effort and I trained to be a nurse. I tended soldiers wounded in battle. My field hospital was cut off when the Germans advanced. I lost so many colleagues and friends. But I survived, somehow I survived! I made it to an extraction point and back to England. That’s when my life changed completely. The War Office approached me and offered me field work, working under cover as a spy of sorts. That’s what I did then for the rest of the war.

“So Dougal was right ye are a spy for the English? Is that why Randall let ye go? Is he in on this all too?!”

“Jesus H Roosevelt Christ! Not this again! Do you really think my release would have entailed me having to scale down the fort’s walls if I was working for the Redcoats! Randall has no knowledge of this and if you would listen I will tell you.”

He was stood back from me his arms folded across his chest as he leaned against a tree. He hasn’t made any exclamations at my time travel revelation I needed to focus on that positive aspect.

“I was trained in espionage, sabotage and assassination. That’s how I know how to wield a knife and I can shoot too. After the war ended I was discharged from the army. But not long after I was recalled to Inverness and told I was being sent on another mission. This one. I couldn’t quite believe it, but Lord John, he was the officer in charge, briefed me on the tasking.”

I swallowed a lump in my throat. Willing myself to speak.

“There is another war coming, to Scotland, a rebellion. The Clans in the Highlands will lead a charge to restore the Stuart king to the throne. It begins in 1745 and despite early wins the fate of Scotland rests on Culloden Moor where on the 16th April 1746 the English defeat the clans. It’s the aftermath of this battle that leads to the downfall of Scotland. The Clearances, thousands of people, men, women and children die of famine and are killed in revenge. The way of the clans ends, no longer Lairds in charge, the language and the wearing of the kilt is banned.”

I paused to allow my words to sink in. I knew how heavily they would strike at his soul. This way was all that he knew. A simple system that could protected those weak and vulnerable through fealty to the Laird.

“My mission was two fold. Gather information on the Clans and their true loyalty and locate and assassinate Gillian Edgars. That is Geillis’ true name. The devastation caused in the Highlands after the rebellion had far reaching consequences. I was briefed by Lord John that tensions increased in the 1960’s towards England and Gillian Edgars was part of a free Scotland movement. She somehow found out about time travel and the stones at Craig na Dun. She murdered her husband in that time to travel back. She wanted to change the outcome of the rebellion. There was evidence to suggest she would impact on it. Though I doubt she could have changed the outcome completely. I was tasked to find her and eliminate her. The government didn’t wish for history to have to play out as it is written. Perhaps a subdued but not broken Scotland would be a better ally.”

There it was the whole truth of what and who I was. Often when the truth is told a relief washes over however my relief was frozen anticipating Jamie’s reaction.

“So yer a spy and a killer? The future bit I can understand Sassenach. Ye are a strange woman with ideas and thoughts at odds to this time. Aye it makes sense.”

“I am sorry I didn’t tell you the truth sooner.”

“Yell be returning then to yer own time, to yer husband, this Frank, once the mission as ye call it is completed? I suppose we can live as man and wife separate. I’ll no force ye to continue the charade, I understand the reluctance to wed me now.”

His face was stoic, eyes fixed on a point behind me.

“No! I don’t want to live separate! Yes I was reluctant to marry and that was in part because of my mission. But it was also because I didn’t want you to feel obligated. I wanted you to marry me because you wanted me, Jesus H Roosevelt Christ Jamie, I have my pride! Frank is not waiting for me in my own time. He asked for a divorce before my mission started. I was told there was no extraction for me, that I was going to be left here. I doubt I would have made a suitable professors wife anyway. I had feelings towards you, desires for you before we married. Returning to my time was not an option but I realised soon after that I could never leave you. I never counted on loving you, but I do Jamie.”

“Tis a lot to take in. No everyday a man discovers his wife is a trained killer and spy. As well as being from the future. I did ken ye were strange, different from other woman but this? I’d never have thought.”

His lips quirked up on one side as he spoke. A rush of breath left my body which I hadn’t realised I had held. Was he alright about this revelation, did he believe me? He made no move to come to me nor embrace me.

“About me being a spy. I have something to show you. It’s your pardon, obtained months ago. It was hidden in Colum’s desk. I found it not long after I had arrived. I was looking for information and evidence on the Clan loyalty. I’m sorry Jamie, I hope you can see why I couldn’t tell you. I took it this morning. I know you had high hopes of Sandringham helping you. But you must understand he was a vile man. He knew about this pardon already. He was corresponding with Randall, using him to flare up tension. That’s why I made sure he was removed from the Highlands.”

Jamie’s eyes scanned over the document. His face rising red in the neck and cheeks. His red hair moving with each jerk of his head. I could feel the tension in his body from where I stood. It seemed an age passed before he spoke, his eyes never looking at me.

“Aye, tis the main thing I’ve got the pardon. Thank ye Sassenach for getting it. I ken it was a risk.”

He was stood rigidly still, the pardon grasped in both his hands. He suddenly moved and folded it, placing it into his coat pocket. His body was tense I could tell from the way he held himself. This was a betrayal beyond even the ones I had committed. This had endangered his life, risked those closest to him.

“What are we to do now?”

“We can take the pardon and go. Leave today, head somewhere new to start our life over. My mission is important to me, I must see it through. I need to pass on what I have found to Lord John’s brother. He is the Duke of Parole. But he could perhaps help us settle somewhere?”

“Aye, tis an idea for sure. I’ll speak to Murtagh, we will leave tonight.”

He didn’t look at me still, his eyes fixed on the scenery behind me. A distant pensive look within his eyes. I felt I had spoken for a solid hour and yet nothing had been resolved nor settled between us. Jamie had let little of his mask slip, except that tiny wry smile after I told him I loved him. He had asked no further details of me about my mission, my killing of Geillis nor the future. I should have felt relief but yet panic and fear still gripped me. Jamie was the only thing that brought sense to my existence here in this time. He was the reason I had felt I could make a life here. Yes he had agreed to leave with me. I knew however that the damage and rift between us, created by him finding these items was far from repaired.

“Jamie are you alright? Are we alright after all of this? Please Jamie ask me something, speak to me. I can’t bear it when you are upset with me.”

“Aye tis hard to ken what tae make of it all. Let’s go we have little time. Ye must be rid of those clothes.”

With that he turned and walked away back to the castle.

Chapter Text

Castle Leoch disappeared from view. My heart surprisingly heavy knowing it was the last glimpse I would have. Returning to it’s solid walls and familiar faces, who had become like family, was unlikely. I had not had a chance to say good bye, not wishing to alert Colum or Dougal to our hasty plans. Jamie rode ahead of me, Murtagh had already made his escape and I assumed we would meet him somewhere.

There had been little conversation between Jamie and I since my revelations. I knew what had lay between us was real and true and deep and something that I just couldn’t quite explain. But what if it was only me who had felt it? What if I had imposed these feelings and thoughts? Willed them into existence to heal the hurt of Frank’s loss. No damn it to fucking hell and back! It is real and Jamie feels it too! I am sick of trying to justify my feelings for that stubborn man. Trying to reason with my heart that I couldn’t allow myself to love him because I had a mission and what if I was called to duty once again. I was tired trying to convince myself that I only cared because of Frank, fuck Frank and his blasted divorce! Jamie and I would work through this.

The sky was glowing a peachy pink, the clouds scattered wide as though embracing the land. I had no idea where we were headed, except that we where headed east. Jamie had remained in front of me as we rode along. I saw his body stiffen and his horse slow. Pulling my own to draw up beside him I looked expectantly at his face. Willing something to change, some glimmer of hope that all will be fine between us. Despite my mind’s running dialogue that all would be well, there really had been nothing to concur with this sentiment in Jamie’s demeanour towards me.

“Ye were on yer way to Inverness the day ye fell into company with the MacKenzes. Ye had a plan, a mission that needs completed. Ye being from the future I can understand, ye ken. Ye being a cold blooded killer I canna. I told ye before we dinna need to keep this up any longer. I doubt ye were ever in real danger from Randall. No with yer skill set. That way is straight to Inverness, ye can then make it to Edinburgh and on England. Complete yer mission.”

He pointed dismissively toward his right. His eyes never moving to my face, not taking my presence at his side in. I swallowed the lump in my throat and merely nodded. I didn’t think my mouth could form words at that very moment. I knew in my heart what his next words would be, yet I prayed that it would not be so.

“We must part ways here and now Claire. We are bound on two separate paths, that I do not believe can cross. I am to return to Lallybroch, to my family. Claim my rightful place now I am a free man.”

“You want me to go?”

“Ye have a mission to complete and no doubt ye need to return to yer own time and yer husband. Yer true husband.”

“No! He asked for a divorce before I travelled here. I won’t be returning and I am staying here Jamie. I want to stay here. With you.”

I hated the pleading tone to my voice. The slight crack evident as I spoke due to hurt and sorrow. I couldn’t bear to part from him, yet here he was as casually as he could dismissing me. I felt a thump in my chest and knew it was my heart breaking into pieces. His face was still fixed straight ahead and his mask in place holding his emotions at bay. I had no idea what his true thoughts were but I knew if I had lost his heart I would never get it back.

“It’s time to go Claire. Murtagh will be waiting on me ye ken.”

With that he turned his horse and kicked him into a gallop away from me. The clouds darkened across the sky as if they moved in sympathy to my heart. The single ray of sunlight bursting through radiating light on Jamie’s auburn hair as he galloped away.

“You fucking bastard! I don’t get a say in this! You just simply decide I can be disposed off?!”

My words raw and ripping on my throat as I shouted after him. I could have followed but my horse was not as fast or fit as his. Plus I had my pride, wounded as it was. Tears stung and burned my cheeks as the cooling wind blew across them. My eyes blurred and unfocused on his large retreating form. Eventually he passed out of sight yet I still sat atop my horse unmoving, save for the gentle movement of my hair on the breeze.

 

******************************************
The words echoed in my ears as I rode away without a backward glance. I had resolved myself to let her go, free her from this marriage. It took courage beyond what I thought possible. To hear the hurt and sorrow in her voice as she cried out behind me tore my soul asunder. She didn’t belong here, this was not her time and I was not her true husband.

Yes I’d heard her words that she was not returning, that Frank no longer wanted her. Despite my desire for her, love for her I knew I had to push her to go. She was a free spirit, a faerie Lass bound to no man nor place. She was also a spy and a killer. She had spilled blood for no other reason than she had been assigned to. Was Geillis’s crimes so beyond a trial that the government and army took matters to their own hands? The sanctity of life so easily cast aside? True I had been an mercenary in France, blood had spilled at my hand too but that was war. A common enemy faced off, fates aligned in one battle. What Claire had done, Christ what had she done? Removed a woman who had murdered her husband and if Claire was to be believed a previous husband too. Set a dangerous and cunning man up for that murder. She had removed a woman and man hell bent on destroying Scotland as I knew it. But was it right? Did that sway it differently and could I live with that? At this point I just didn’t know and I knew Claire had to be let go, to finish her mission. Though it broke my heart to do it.

Claire had spoke of gathering evidence of clan loyalty to take the spark out of the coming rebellion. I wasn’t naive enough to believe by killing one woman that the idiotic idea that the rebellion was perched on would die alongside. Yet someone in the war office had thought it so. Claire had said they wished to reduce the destruction of the clearances and actions against the Scots. Looking at the greater good, was her actions then justified? Had I pushed her away for no reason? Would she have been content to live a life with me.

I growled and angrily wiped the tears from my face. My soul felt complete when she was near. I had wanted her from the first I set eyes upon her and now I had rode away leaving her with only the choice to leave. Tears flowed unchecked down my cheeks. I had done the right thing, I kept repeating this to myself as one chants Latin in church. The words blurring and merging to a pleasant almost soothing rhythm. My Sassenach would go on with her life and I would do the same. Though I knew my soul and heart would never be the same, as when I rode away from her I left a bit behind.

“Murtagh! Ghoistidh! Are ye ready to return to Lallybroch?”

“Aye, where’s yer wife?”

“I let her go, give her the choice.”

I swallowed down the thump in my throat and kicked my horse on to head towards home. Though I realised as the thought imprinted across my mind my home was Claire. If Murtagh thought there was something strange about Claire’s lack of presence he didn’t say, instead simply followed along, his grumpy demeanour a surprising comfort.

 

After two days of riding Lallybroch came into view. The familiar stone solid building built by my father’s hand, shone brightly in the early morning sun. The memories of a contented childhood flooded my mind, then were washed aside in a torrent of memories of my failures. Yet this was home, Claire had told me that was the place where we would always be welcomed. Thoughts of her gripped my chest and forced my breath out.

“Ye alright?”

“Aye tis just strange to be back here once more. I never thought I’d see the day.”

The archway was approaching with every thump of the horse’s hooves. I could still see myself strung up between its walls. Feel the blows across my back. The desperation for having failed Jenny. I hadn’t seen her since that fatal day. Were the rumours true? Was she left with child? Disgraced? She was left to run this place because her brother had killed their father and for what, pride? I had to face my responsibility and face the truth. Entering the dooryard I saw her stepping down the front steps. A basket of laundry balanced against one hip. It was an image that was so familiar to me, I had watched her do this since I was but a bairn. She looked up at the sound of mine and Murtagh’s horses. Her face changing until recognition flashed across it and her eyes crinkled into emotion. Dropping the basket she ran towards me.

“Brother! Brother ye have returned!”

Her small bird like frame wrapped around my chest as my arms embraced her. Tears once more flowed down my cheeks. I was home.

“Oh brother I canna believe ye are here. I heard ye were at Leoch with them uncles of ours. Ye could of written! But oh what of it, ye are here before me now.”

“Aye Jenny I was pardoned…..am a free man once more. Sister I fai…”

“Mam! Mam! MAAAMMM!!!”

“Uck I swear I get nay peace with that one, canna be left on his own for more than half a second. Bairns! But when this one joins us I’ll ken my maker then!”

She laughed out heartily while rubbing her slightly swollen belly. The loud wailed cries of a child coming closer. I was stood frozen, eyes wide as the small bairn toddled over to his Mam. Was it true? Had Jenny been left with child after the attack by Randall. My blood boiled and heart raced. I could feel a flush of anger pinking my cheeks and neck.

“And this here is wee Jamie. Named after his uncle.”

Jenny had picked the lad up onto her hip, she turned beaming up at me. I could feel rage and anger mixed with guilt coursing through my veins. How could she have named him for me when it was my fault she ended up pregnant and alone. No doubt shamed across the land.

“Jamie I canna begin to say how glad I am to see ye home. Ian will be beside himself.”

“Ian? Has he been helping out around here?”

“Aye, ye could say that.”

“And what’s he got to say for ye having two bastard bairns?!”

“What! I ken the father of both my bairns! How dare ye come here and speak such vile words.”

“I’d imagine ye do ken the fathers names, but if none can see fit to give their name to ye and their bairn!”

“Jaime why don’t ye go into the house and see Mrs Crook she was baking biscuits earlier, aye.”

She set the boy down and he scurried off at a rapid rate intent on claiming a biscuit as his prize. My anger was still boiling within me. What had Jenny become in the years since our Father’s death? She turned square to me, planting her hands on her hips. Levelling an icy stare that would freeze a man to his core.

“Now where were we dear brother? Oh that’s right, I do believe ye were accusing yer dear sister, who I might add, ye havena seen in years of playing the hoor! I ken the father of both my bairns because he would be my husband. Does that suit ye?!”

“Who did ye marry?”

“I think brother ye are looking for the word sorry?”

Her arms were now folded across her chest and despite the height different between us, she somehow managed to look down her nose at me. Murtagh coughed behind me clearly uncomfortable with the Fraser sibling row that was building. Without speaking he took my horse’s reins and walked off towards the stables.

“Janet who did ye marry?”

“Dinna be taking that tone with me brother. Remember I bested ye many a time as bairns and I’m no afraid to grab yer bollocks and twist them till ye remember some sense!”

“Am head of this house ye willna speak to me like that!”

“In charge of this house are ye? Well forgive me for having not seen yer marvellous input to its running and maintenance these last years. Ye run off and leave me without so much as one letter. Ye dinna even have the decency to tell me ye were at Leoch. I have to find out from a beggar!”

We were locked in battle, unable to take our eyes off the other as rage surged in each of us. Ours voices getting louder with each word spoke.

“Aye I coulda guessed that Jamie Fraser was back what with the stramash going on in the dooryard. Jenny my love why are ye yelling at each other?”

“Ian, brother? Good to see ye? How have ye faired? Jenny did say ye helped her round here. Ye have my thanks for that.”

“Well ye would speak ill of me if I wasna about here seeing as I’m her husband.”

Ian had walked over to where Jenny and I stood from the stables and barns. He was the same as I remembered, though a clear burden was upon his shoulders. The familiar lumbered haul of his walk as his wooden leg tapped on the stony ground adding a rugged edge to him. His words startled me to the core, married to my sister? Questions buzzed into my head when, how, why? One look at them stood together the clear unbridled love they had of each other told me all I needed. The quick glimpse that I’d had of the dooryard told me plenty of how Lallybroch was fairing. While not as profitable as perhaps it could have been or had been in years gone by. It was certainly doing well and that was in no short task due to Jenny and Ian.

“Ian I canna ask for a better man to have wed my sister.”

“I thank ye for the approval and just to settle ye, both bairns are mine. I’ll no have ye speaking ill of my wife.”

Ian was always the calming influence between Jenny and I. In truth he was the calming influence between me and many others, the Fraser temper was legendary after all. His words simple and soft took the building rage straight from each of us and Jenny pulled me back into a warm embrace.

“Come let’s sit for the midday meal, it’ll no be long till it’s ready. Where did Murtagh go to now? Murtagh! Murtagh! Come in for a feed!”

With that Jenny turned on her heel and whirled away in a flurry of skirts towards the house. I smiled reassuringly at Ian who threw his arm around my shoulders and led me towards my family home.

The midday meal was warm and filling, just how I remembered meals at Lallybroch. I told Jenny and Ian of my pardon and how Colum had hidden it from me. I stilled when I should have spoken of Claire. Not able to form the words to speak of her. I caught a glance from Murtagh, he was a gruff little man of few words but the look he passed my way told me exactly what he thought of me leaving Claire from my story. I had one thing I did wish to ask of Jenny.

“Jenny when the Redcoats came to the house and took me away. What did Randall do to ye?”

Silence fell across the dining table as Jenny set her cutlery down. A pale sheen spread across her face and I saw her swallow.

“Well he dinna father any bastard bairns if that’s what yer on about again!”

“Nay! I ken that now, but Dougal told me ye were left with child by Randall. I thought….”

“Dougal told ye?! The man has never set foot upon these lands nor made enquiries to the residents for their well-being! How exactly dear brother did ye think he would ken who was making bairns with me?!”

Jenny’s voice had rose in anger towards the end. A slight flush of redness on her cheeks replacing the sheer white that rested there before.

“I’ll tell ye once brother for ye seemed fixated on my dealings with Randall.”

“Fixated! Christ ye offered yerself to him Janet!”

“Well it was to save your ungrateful hide! If your life was a suitable exchange for my honour I don’t see how my honour wasna a suitable exchange for yer life? Now to be clear I did offer myself to save ye but that’s no what transpired. Yer good brother Ian can vouch as well as the wedding sheets. I was a virgin when I went to ma wedding bed. Randall was intent on having his way but he was, let’s say struggling to perform. I whacked him over the heid with a candle stick and knocked him out. He came round a time later but one of the other soldiers had come into the house and he ran out without a look behind. Does that satisfy yer curiosity brother?”

“Am sorry Jenny for doubting ye. I thought I’d let ye down and allowed that vile bastard to dishonour ye.”

“Ye never let me down Jamie. Ye never could.”

Her words bowled me over. She held no ill will for me having left her in the clutches of Randall. He hadn’t dishonoured her, she had protected herself.

“So brother the rumours must be untrue then? We had heard ye had married and a Sassenach at that.”

A silence fell across the dining room, the clunk of the cutlery as they struck the plate. I breathed in deeply seeing Jenny with a supercilious look and arched eyebrow awaiting my reply. The tone harsh and condescending. Murtagh and Ian were casting uneasy looks at each other.

“Aye Janet I am wed, ye’ll no speak that way of my wife.”

“Well where is she? yer wife as ye claim. Didn’t wish to leave the luxury of Leoch was that it?”

“No Janet! She is no a frivolous woman. She is a fine healer and capable and intelligent and….”

“And not here? Was that what ye were going to say?”

“I ken she is no here! It’s complicated ye wouldna understand.”

“So that’s it? That’s the explanation we get as yer family? Nay details? Nay name? Nay nothing of who or what or where she is?”

“Janet enough! Yer brother will tell us in his own time. Tis none of our business, aye?”

The silence returned after Ian’s comment, I saw Murtagh simply shake his head in disbelief. He had asked nothing further after being told I had let her go. Yet I knew he had made his own mind up and would air it when the time was right. The silence bled on for a few moments more. I willed my mouth to speak, to not quiver with emotion.

“Her name is Claire, Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp Fraser.”

I spoke each name slowly and reverently, savouring the syllables on my lips. No reply was made or offered and no further questions asked.

Laying in bed that night the silence was shattered only by the thrumming noise of blood rushing in my ears. I hadn’t been able to remove thoughts of Claire since I had let her go. No I hadn’t let her go, I had forced her to go, abandoned her with no choice but to leave and finish her mission. I tried to justify my actions yet somehow all reason fell short. Even my anger at her lying to me, of her being a spy and a killer. I realised suddenly that there was nothing she could do that could make me love her less. She had wanted to be with me, build a life with me and I had cast her aside. Her image haunted my vision and my sleep, perhaps this was my penance, for the wrongs I had done, for failing my family, for letting her go.

I immersed myself into the running of Lallybroch. Busying myself with tasks and chores, avoiding Jenny, Ian and Murtagh. My grim mood seem to seep into my very core and darkness followed me. Nothing could lift it. Day followed night which followed day, a circle of existence that seemed to have no differentiation. I could see the world around me but it was somehow blurred or lesser. My light was gone, my Sorcha.

I was working in one of the far fields repairing a stone wall. The rough edges of the stone cutting into my calloused hands anchoring me to the here and now. Ian appeared with a basket of food.

“Jenny sent ye something tae eat brother. Seeing as how ye aren’t likely to make it back for the midday meal.”

“Thank ye for bringing it. Ye dinna have to stay.”

There was a gruffness to my tone that I hated but yet it seemed to be my only voice now.

“Jenny spoke of little else over the years ye where gone, ye ken. Wishing ye would return. She’s a fierce one for sure, would have fought the devil himself to bring ye back if she could. Wept some nights so much, that all I could do was hold her, til she fell asleep exhausted from it. Aye Jamie she would really love tae see her brother back.”

I could only hmph and continued working trying to ignore Ian’s words.

“Brother I ken little of what has happened ye over the last years. But I do ken a man in love. Do ye wanna speak of Claire? What happened her man?”

The innate little words rang in my mind, what happened to her? Ian’s question was not demanding or intrusive. It was simple and searching. He had always just known what to say. He had been friends with me and part of the Fraser family for most of my life. We had been rared together, explored the land together, fought as mercenaries, spent so much time together he was like a true brother to me. He knew my heart and my mind. Most of all he knew just how to deal with a Fraser at odds with themselves. There would be no escape from this simple question.

“I forced her to go. We were wed to protect her, from Randall ye ken. Once out of Leoch I sent her towards the city and England.”

“She dinna wish tae be wed tae ye then?”

“I had to let her go. She, well she had other ties.”

“She was already wed?”

“Nay, she was a widow.”

I couldn’t bring myself to tell Ian the truth. I doubted he would believe it. I knew my voice was lacking conviction. Ian and Jenny both cared for me and wished only happiness for me. But the last few weeks had been hell. Every waking moment was filled with thoughts of her, I saw her walking towards me, or caught a glimpse of her unruly curls. Every night was filled with dreams of her, she came to me naked and wanting. Murtagh had spent the first two weeks grumbling at me about letting the Lass go. Now he merely grunted at me when we passed ways.

“Jamie I dinna ken what happened between ye both for ye to send her away. But I do ken ye and yer miserable without her. Jenny and I just want yer happiness. If this Claire brings ye it then ye ken what ye have to do.”

“I dinna ken where she would be. How would I find her now?”

“These things have a way of finding themselves out. Ye just have to open yer eyes and look. One things for sure ye wilna trip over her here at Lallybroch.”

I nodded, my eyes vacant and staring wildly into the distance as he spoke. Ian always had a way of making you see sense. Speaking the truth into the matter. He was a good man, nay a great man and he loved my sister well. Lallybroch had been tended to by them in my absence. An extra pair of hands was always gratefully received on a farm, yet here he was giving permission for me to leave once more. To go and find her, find my Sassenach.

I had thought over and around, every which way I could about Ian’s words as I laboured at the stone wall. I had reacted in anger and hurt at her truths. Convinced myself that she was better without me that I had let her go for her own sake. In truth it was my own foolish thoughts of what she was. My own prejudice and pride that I should be her protector. I had ignored and turned away from the clear love and desire she had for me. Christ she had told me, begged me. Yet still my stubbornness had held firm. It was her strangeness, individuality and ability to stand up for herself that drew me to her. Yet when the truth had been revealed it was the very thing that caused me to push her away. I had felt as if part of my very being was missing since I had rode away from her. I was half a man wondering as a lost soul on the moors, searching out their other half. How could I ever find her now? Especially if none knew the truth of who and what she is? I would tell Murtagh I decided, he had been by my side through so much I trusted he would believe Claire’s story.

Truth is a hard medicine to swallow. Yet Murtagh had listened silently as I spoke, his face never changing. Once through with my story silence engulfed us. I had expected questions, disbelief, perhaps even agreement after all some had called her a witch at Leoch. Instead he turned towards me after an age of of silence had painfully passed.

“Yer a damn fool Jamie!”

My mouth moved to form words, to agree with his statement but he turned on his heel and walked away. I didn’t need to follow him or call out in question to his meaning, I was a damned fool for letting her go.

After revealing the truth to Murtagh I went back to work. A laborious task that sapped my thoughts and stopped my focus on Claire. Exhausted at the end of the day, cold through to my very bones, I wearily headed home. Thoughts now focused on a warm meal and the fire. Lallybroch from afar in the gloaming light of dusk is a welcome sight. The windows a blaze with candle light, the stone facade tinged pink and orange in the fading light of day. Yet despite the welcoming visage my heart was heavy, my Sassenach was not in that house awaiting my arrival. She was my home and I had cast her away.

As I approached the kitchen door I sensed that something wasn’t quite right. There was an oddness to the air, a disturbance of sorts that set my senses on fire. Pushing the door open gently I stepped inside. Mrs Crook was bustling about the kitchen a frantic manner to her movements. She turned on hearing me enter. Her eyes slightly panicked.

“They’re here, they’re here!”

She hissed at me, hands waving menacingly as she spoke.

“Who is here?”

“The Watch. They’re in the dining room with Mistress Jenny and Master Ian. Oh I dinna like it when they come, always up to nay good I tell ye. Take the best pickings from the land they do.”

She shook her head as if trying to dislodge the uncomfortable truth. I ken the Watch, had often avoided them while a wanted man. My blood boiled at the thought of them plaguing Lallybroch. Taking what wasna theirs.

“Thank ye Mrs Crook I’ll go tae them now.”

I swallowed hard and stepped out into the hallway to the dining room. A chorus of laughter rippled through the air and then stilled to silence as I entered the dining room. My eyes sweeping over each of them as they sat at my family’s table. Jenny’s eyes bugged wide on seeing me. A nervous pallor settling into her face. I could see her mouth working trying to form words.

“Good evening gentlemen, I take it my sister is tending to ye? What brings ye this way?”

My words were directed at one man who appeared to be the leader. He had spoke no words nor confirmed it. But he had been the only one to not bulk at my entrance and continued to sit back with a devil may care attitude. Ian came into the room carrying two bottles of whiskey which he set in front of the man, confirming my theory.

“Taran MacQuarrie this is Jamie Fraser, my brother.”

“Jamie’s Fraser ye say? As in Red Jamie? Well I dinna think to ever see the day. My boys and me could make a pretty penny or two off yer head.”

“As much as I’d like to help ye in that endeavour, am no a wanted man nay more. I’ve a pardon ye ken. Again I’ll ask ye what brings ye to Lallybroch?

I had levelled a stare at MacQuarrie keeping my face schooled and masked. The anger and rage at their presence held in check.

“Auck nay we never miss an opportunity to visit with yer kindly sister Jenny, plus tis been an age since we had her delightful rabbit stew. Isn’t that right lads?”

He poured a glass of whiskey and passed the bottle round. Sipping slowly and leaning back into the chair.

“I’ll go see how the stew is coming along.”

Jenny bobbed and left swiftly from the dining room. Casting a nervous look at me and Ian as she left. I moved to the chair at the top of the table, pushing one man’s booted feet from my table as passed. Ian and I silently commuted as we had often done through the years. Where’s Murtagh, is this alright? Is Jenny unharmed? How do I get rid of them? All answered in silent looks. Taking my place at the head of the table I grabbed the whiskey bottle and poured myself a glass. Never had I needed a drink as much before.

“How long do ye plan to stay?”

“We’ll be gone in the morning. We have a hunt to be at,dinna we lads!”

Riotous laughter filled the dining room as lecherous comments filled the spaces between the laughter.

“Aye we came across a fancy Sassenach filly four weeks past, just north of Inverness. All on her own though as we discovered she’s no helpless lassie. Escaped our tender care, then we ran into the righteous Captain Randall a week past. Seems the king’s finest is looking the same stray Sassenach. There’s a pretty penny to be had to hand her over. There’s competition to be sure with the Redcoats looking her, but I reckon we can bring her in, right lads!”

More riotous laughter and lecherous talk, but my mind and body had stilled like stone, as ice gripped my bones, at that first utterance of a Sassenach Lass. My heart thumped so fiercely I thought my chest would explode. Bile rose to my throat burning it in a way that whiskey never did. Needing no further description or information I knew it was Claire. My Sassenach was out there in the wilds of the Highlands being hunted down. I had to find her, something I should have done weeks ago.

Chapter Text

The cold bleak wind whipped across my face as I stared out across the Highlands. The rugged beauty gone, replaced with brown dreary nothing. The snow capped peaks and high drifts clinging to existence and chilling the air. I had been on the run for weeks. Sleeping when opportunity arose, between dodging the Watch and the Redcoats. I had been exhausted before, but nothing quite like this. My stomach rumbled with hunger as I looked around for somewhere to rest.

I had a vague idea of where I was. After so long evading the Redcoats and the Watch I had become slightly disoriented. Thankfully my skill set meant I had been able to eat. I could have made it to England, or rather I should have, where I would have blended in easily, started a new life. But no I was too pig headed to admit defeat. I had been trying to get to Lallybroch. I had determined to find Jamie and make him see sense. However like much of my time in this century not a damn thing had worked out as it should.

My troubles had started a week after Jamie had ridden off from me. After the hurt and heartbreak of once more being abandoned had worn off turning instead to rage and anger. I had ridden to Inverness, my decision made to travel to London to find Lord John’s brother, the Duke of Pardloe. I had reasoned with myself that it was for the best, that I myself had considered doing this very thing, of leaving Jamie and heading to London. Once arrived in Inverness I had discovered that the Duke was already there with his Regiment. It had been surprisingly easy to gain an audience with him. Being a gently bred lady by appearance and speech worked in my favour. He was a slightly bigger version of Lord John, broader in the shoulders and with a stronger jawline. But they had the same coloured hair and easy blue eyes. I briefed him on the information gathered and task completed. Leaving a sealed wooden box with the camera and Gillian Edgars’ notebook. The Duke assured me that his brother would receive it. He was a man of few words but clear strategy. Once satisfied with my information he asked if he could assist me to settle somewhere. It was spoken and presented in such a manner that it made me wonder just how many of Lord John’s contacts his brother had engaged with and helped.

So there I was with the solution right before me. The Duke, an influential man, willing to assist me. Yet somehow at that moment instead of answering with a resounding yes thank you, can you help me get to London, I replied

“Do you know how I can get to Lallybroch, Fraser land?”

He had been befuddled at first but then found his Duke like resolve and answered simply.

“Of course I will assist.”

And he had, finding out where the land was, providing me with a purse of coin, new clothing and provisions for my journey. I set off with renewed hope and focus. I was not just going to give up on what Jamie and I had. I was finished with my mission and would not be at the beck and call of the War Office again. I now was going to bloodily well build a life with the man I loved. I had walked away from Frank to easily, I could not do the same with Jamie, no matter what he had done. Then three days into my journey it all went horribly wrong. I was discovered by the Watch. A group of supposed mercenaries who protected the Scots from the likes of Randall. I, as a lone female, a lone Sassenach female, was deemed entertainment. There were at least fifteen of them, roughly dressed and unclean. They surrounded me, binding and gagging me. They took my horse and provisions and held me captive. The discussions overheard focused on selling me, either to the Redcoats. They were convinced they would pay handsomely for me or selling me to a brothel. Neither option seemed to sit well with me so I escaped that night as they slept in a whiskey induced coma. Grabbing a few provisions and my leather satchel I ran for my life. Foregoing a horse as it was too easy to track.

Using all the skills I had learned, I put easy distance between them and me. However it was soon plainly aware that they were not giving up on finding me. And they were not the only ones. Randall it seemed had happened upon them and enlisted their services to help his men locate me. All of course for a very handsome reward. I had found this out at a small hamlet deep within the Highlands. The Watch were not discreet about their tasking. Telling all who would listen, no doubt in the hope of flushing me out. The Redcoats were no different with wanted posters placed about meaning I kept from any civilisation. Therefore meaning that due to needing to avoid hamlets and villages and avoid the patrols I was practically run in circles keeping one step ahead of the scoundrels! And now wasn’t quite sure how I would get to Lallybroch nor find it.

I wrapped my cloak tighter around me in efforts to keep the bitter cold at bay. I was ever grateful for the Duke purchasing me extra clothing. Though despite surviving the cold harsh winters of northern France, the cold of the Highlands was something else entirely. It seemed to permeate into your very bones. I imagined Jamie’s arms wrapped tightly around me, the warmth of his body pressed up against me. I wished I could build a fire but didn’t want to risk it, not with so many people hunting me down.

I was now sure I was on MacKenzie land after my last recce of the area. It had looked vaguely familiar from the rent collection route. I debated heading for Castle Leoch but dismissed it due to the sudden disappearance of myself from within its walls. Plus I would have the added burden of explaining where Jamie was and why exactly I was being pursued by the Watch and the Redcoats. No, better to try and make it to Lallybroch, I was despite everything else Jamie’s wife. They wouldn’t cast me out, I was sure of it. With that final thought I drifted off to sleep.

***********************************
My heart had not stopped thumping at a rapid rate since Taran made those comments about the Sassenach Lass. I knew in my soul that it was Claire and guilt and horror flooded me. I had abandoned her, my pride and hurt clouding my judgement, leaving her to fend for herself in the wilds of the Highlands. I took little comfort in the knowledge of her skill set. No one could keep ahead and hidden from the Watch and Redcoats forever. Murtagh and I were saddled up and gone within moments. Leaving Jenny and Ian to concoct a pleasing story for our sudden absence.

I had pressed Taran for further information, feigning interest in their wild chase. Even with that I knew, it was searching for a needle in a haystack. But I couldn’t give up hope. The night had set firmly around us as we sped away from Lallybroch. Headed north the last confirmed sighting of the mysterious Sassenach.

We rode through the night despite the cold biting wind and the darkness. I couldn’t settle and needed to be on the move, feel as if I was doing something to find her, keep her safe. Her words spoke in anger after her escape from Randall echoed in my head. She had accosted me saying she didn’t need my protection, how it had amounted to little so far. A truth that stung deeply and spurred me on. I had failed her once more. I prayed to God that if he helped me find her alive, I would spend the rest of my days making her see how much I loved her.

The shadowed outlines of a small hamlet came into view. Blurred by the darkness of a moonlit night, dawn was still a time away. We had not slept but tiredness was not consuming me, my focus and energy fixed solely on finding Claire. The inhabitants would be abed at this hour save maybe for a few tasked with keeping watch. As we dismounted and silently walked into the hamlet an old women appeared, haggard and wizen. Her gray hair shining in the moonlight.

“Mistress I am seeking a Sassenach Lass who may have come this way. Have ye seen her?”

“Ye with the Watch?”

“Nay! Am, am, I, am, I am her husband. She is in danger I must find her.”

“Ye Fraser?”

“Aye. Jamie Fraser, mistress.”

The woman seemed to pause and consider the information. Her head tilted to one side and her eyes flicked around as if consulting another before she spoke. Moving closer to me lowering her voice to a whisper.

“Aye she was here twa days past. Dinna enter though stayed on the outskirts.”

“Dinna anyone speak to her?”

I could feel the anger building once again. My Sassenach shunned by the villages, scared and alone running for her life.

“Aye, I did Mr Fraser. I kent of her ye ken. Them redcoats came barrelling through ere before her. I sent them east, she headed north. I give her what I could, she was trying to get to Lallybroch.”

With that she simply walked away. I had questions but Murtagh pulled me back.

“Lad ye ken she was alive twa days ago and headed away from the Redcoats. If what ye told me of her tis true then she had the skills to stay hidden from both the Redcoats and the Watch, aye? We are on MacKenzie land, we’ll go to the villages and hamlets spread word till she finds us ye ken?”

“Aye let’s go, tis nearly dawn we’ll head north.”

We rode until exhaustion took over. The harsh light of midday burning our eyes. She was out there, my Claire, she had been trying to find Lallybroch. I wondered how long she had sat and stared at my retreating form. I had resolutely refused to turn and look back. “Nay ye clotheided eejit ye dinna look back cause ye ken fine well ye would have went back to grab her to ye!” I chastised myself, knowing it was the truth. It had taken everything in me to leave her. Stopping to rest and water the horses, I succumbed to sleep. Murtagh shook me awake a few hours later. Despite the lack of sleep and food I felt rested and with renewed focus, I had to find my Sassenach.

***********************************
I struggled awake, shivers convulsing my body as dawn arose. The early light shining through the small opening of the cave I had crawled into last night. It had hidden me and sheltered me from the worst of the biting wind but did little to keep me warm. I longed for the heat of the fire, the warmth spreading across my body and thawing my toes and fingers. I ate the last of the bread and cheese the old woman had given me at the last small village I had stopped at. I had lost valuable time heading north in efforts to confuse both the Watch and Redcoats. I couldn’t risk someone having seen me leave. Once enough of a false trail was laid I headed south.

I was sure I was on MacKenzie land and if what I had picked up from Jamie, the Duke and the old women was correct, Fraser land was less than half a days walk west. I stretched and settled my mind to a long cold walk.

My mind was focused on my arrival at Lallybroch. What would I say? Would Jamie be there or out in the fields? What would his sister Jenny think of me? I hoped that I would be welcomed but doubts flooded my mind, Jamie after all had been cold and closed off at our parting. Perhaps this wasn’t such a good idea after all. Yet I still trudged on dismissing these negative thoughts, refusing to believe that there had been nothing between Jamie and I. It was probably this distracted mind that meant, as I veered off the track to get some water I didn’t carry out my usual checks.

“Awh Mistress Beauchamp or should I say Mistress Fraser. How lovely to once again cross your path.”

“I unfortunately can’t say the same about you Mr Randall.”

***********************************
Murtagh and I had followed tracks north for several hours after our brief rest. The tracks were odd, something just not quite right. I had spent my life tracking animals out hunting. These markings seemed fine at first glance but as we continued on I suddenly released.

“Ah Dhia! She’s setting a false trail. She dinna continue this way just wants them to think she did.”

“Aye lad I think yer right them markings are too clear, too obvious. Where do ye think the Lass would go?”

“Lallybroch. She was trying to get to me.”

“What are ye waiting for lad? Let’s go.”

With that Murtagh had turned his horse and spurred him into canter. I followed behind, our horses eating up the ground as we barrelled south. Thoughts of my Claire at Lallybroch flooded my mind. What if she was there already? Versions of her bent to task helping Jenny, sat in the wingback chair by the fire, in the dooryard with Jenny’s bairn on her hip formed in my minds eye. Seamlessly part of the family, part of the fabric of Lallybroch. I should never have let her go.

***********************************
I was bound and gagged laying on a blanket in one corner of a tent. This time I had been searched but despite Randall’s best efforts and his insistence that the Corporal not be concerned for my ladylike virtue, they had still missed my small blade. It was hidden in the small of my back. Just at the juncture of my skirts and bodice. An area the young Corporal ordered to search me was slightly uneasy about checking. I hadn’t made efforts to escape. Needing to see what this man’s plans were. Plus I didn’t wish to bring Redcoats to Lallybroch. Which I realised would happen given my direction of travel when located by Randall.

He was with a small unit of soldiers. Six of them in total. I would need to kill them all if I was to stand any chance of being free. I groaned at the thought. Randall was a despicable, vile man but the others were mere boys. They had been gentle and tender towards me, killing them to save my own skin just felt wrong. Never mind the obvious disgust Jamie would have at his wife killing yet more people. I doubted that even with the valiant excuse of escape and protecting Lallybroch and myself that Jamie would turn a blind eye to it. I laughed or at least attempted to laugh at this ridiculous situation. It was impossible to laugh properly with a gag after all.

“I’m glad you are entertained Mistress Fraser.”

Randall walked into the tent. His mouth sneered on one side as he looked upon me. I shuffled onto my bottom and looked up at him, eyes narrowing to show my distain.

“Oh that’s right you cannot speak. How rude of me to not realise that you are still bound and gagged. Though if I had known the good fortune I would have in crossing paths with you I would have brought manacles. Don’t wish to under estimate you this time.”

He had walked over to me and hunkered down so his face was nearly level with mine. His eyes were small and icy cold, devoid of any compassion. It was funny how I had never seen that in Frank, yet he must have had the very same eyes.

“Let me tell you what is going to happen. I would hate for you to be in the dark to my delightful little plans. You see I do still think you a traitor or spy. Though I will be honest that my interest in you regarding that area has greatly diminished. Your real interest to me is your husband. I suspect when he finds out I have you he will come quite willingly.”

He spoke with a cold detachment until he mentioned Jamie. Then his tone became almost excitement, blended with desire. A flash of dominance glazed his eyes as his tongue flicked out to brush across his lips. For some reason a bubble of laughter rumbled from my throat into my mouth.

“What is so funny! I do not believe this is a laughing matter!”

His face flashed red in fury and he stood up briskly. I continued to laugh despite his clear rage. It seemed to unnerve him. He roughly grabbed me, removing the gag.

“What is funny about this!”

“You have no idea do you? None at all you vile little piece of shit. I haven’t seen my husband for weeks, he left me, on the road to Inverness and rode off abandoning me. Therefore your delightful plan to trap him and barter me for him really won’t work.”

“You dirty little slut!”

He stepped towards me and kicked me hard. I fell to the side as my breath caught from the blow. His face was beet red with a vein throbbing at his temple. He reached up and grabbed at his cravat tugging it loose. He paced nervously within the tent, muttering words to himself, his composer gone.

“He will come, he will. His honour, he won’t allow harm to come to you. He might not want you anymore but he won’t let you sufferer.”

He was pacing and pointing towards me as he spoke. The red flush receding slowly until he stopped pacing and stood once more in front of me. My breath had returned, though my body revolted against the injury inflicted. He bent down bringing himself closer to me. His cold reserve once again in place. His eyes dead glazed pools did not fix on my form. Instead they seemed to peer through time itself to an image of a scene he wished to create.

“Yes, yes if your dear husband finds out you are in peril, he will come running. Now to spread the word I have his wife.”

He reached out one hand and brushed a wayward curl from my face. His face a lecherous twist.

“We will have such entertainment you and I, waiting on his arrival.”

His words dripped from his lips with licentious intent. He stood and briskly walked out of the tent. I could vomit at the thought of him touching me again. Despite the clear resemblance to Frank my mind seemed to have easily vilified this man. The familiar lines of his body and shared mannerisms seemed somehow alien to me. I heard orders being barked just outside. It seemed that Randall was sending his troops out to the villages and houses to spread the word the Sassenach had been found. He was also sending two soldiers to ensure others were dispatched to apprehend the Watch. I felt a burst of a laugh travel up my chest. All’s fair in love and war I thought. The bastard had been more than happy to use the Watch to apprehend me. Now that they were no longer of use he was happy to discard them. The tent flap opened and Randall stepped back inside. He carried a length of rope which he tied to me.

“Now you didn’t think I was going to keep you out here in the Highlands? Where your loving husband has the advantage? No no madame we are going to where I have the advantage, Wentworth Prison.””

A wicked grin spread across his face. I tried to fight the horror I felt in my bones. I had lost that control and he had seen the brief flash of fear in my eyes.

“We must be off, quite the journey ahead of us and I have such plans for us as we await your husband.”

He brushed his hand across my cheek slowly, very slowly. It caused bile to rise in my throat. The only thought I had was that I needed to escape and that Captain Randall had to die, Frank be damned!

It always amazed me what a man with apparent authority could do and get away with. After days of being dragged behind his horse with little food we had arrived at Wentworth. With no checks nor confirmations and no record made, Randall had been admitted to the prison. I was cast into a cell in the dungeon. The cold dampness of the walls seeping into my very core. The eerie silence and gloom confirmed I was very much alone. I stared at the wedding band on my finger. Rubbing the slightly uneven metal, taking comfort in the man who placed it there.

I had no way to know if Jamie would come for me. Randall certainly had high hopes. I had opportunity to kill the man on route here. Fear however put me off, if his body was discovered I would be hunted down once again. Instead I needed a way out of here and a way to kill Randall with no come back on me. I snorted at that, the impossible task that it was. As the cold continued to seep into me I reconsidered my failed logic to not kill him on route.

I knew several days had passed since I had been cast in here. Weakened from weeks with little food and sleep, alongside the anxious thoughts of what exactly Randall had planned had me on edge. The noise of footsteps rang out in the stone floor in the corridor outside my cell. With a flourish the door swung open and Randall stepped inside. His red jacket removed along with his cravat. He walked around the small cell with an air of authority and superiority that would not be out of place in a palace. I refused to speak, I knew the question that would be coming. I would not be the first to break the silence that fought against the sound of his boots striking the floor with each well placed step. Eventually he paused and turned towards me.

“Are you a spy working for the MacKenzie?”

“No”

“I don’t believe you.”

“I don’t believe there is any requirement for you to believe me.”

“Should you not be trying to convince me of your innocence?”

“Should you not be trying to present evidence to support your claim that I am indeed a spy for the MacKenzie?”

I knew that Randall was not someone to trifle with. He would not tolerate insolence, especially from a woman. I should have know that my words and tone would most definitely be a step too far. Yet I could not hold back. I would not let him break me. So therefore as his face hardened, as his eyes glazed over and closed into small narrow slits I saw clearly his path towards me. I jumped to my feet at the last second narrowly avoiding a kick which would have landed on my stomach.

“Your intolerable whore! Do you know what we do with whores in places like this?”

His face was red with rage and his eyes fixed on me. My hands were still bound meaning I would have difficulty defending myself if he closed the gap between us. He moved towards me with one large menacing step. The cell wall cold and damp thumped into my back, pain rose within me. He reached out and grabbed my throat. I felt the air squeezing in my throat as I fought to draw breath. His face was inches from mine. His narrowed eyes glancing up and down my face. His mouth held in a comtempible sneer. He pulled a small dagger from his pocket and pressed it to my cheek.

“I underestimated you once. I shan’t make the same mistake twice. I also don’t ask the same questions multiple times. I expect answers.”

He pressed the blade a little more and I felt the cold hard metal sting against my skin. His eyes suddenly lit up, as though the best idea in the history of the world had sprung to his mind. Without warning his blade moved in a swift arc and lodged in my left clavicle. He pressed it home than slowly pulled it out. Wiping the blood on my bodice. My breath was sucked in as pain coursed through my body and the slow ooze of blood seeped out.

“Jesus H Roosevelt Christ!”

“Language Madame, language. I would expect better from a gentle bred lady. Then again you are most certainly not gentle bred.”

He moved in close to me, as tears watered my eyes from the pain. Reaching out to my shoulder he grasped it and squeezed.

“I shall be back momentarily. I have dreamed of you in chains for months dear girl. I will complete my fantasy. Try not to bleed to death before I return.”

With that he stalked out of the cell. A sudden thought entered my mind, I wasn’t here in Wentworth officially. I wasn’t under arrest nor guilty of any crime. Randall was merely intrigued by me thinking I was a spy and more intrigued by my connection to Jamie. I had seen that glint in his eye when he spoke of Jamie. Unfinished business, it mattered not that he was pardoned, a free man. Randall was determined to see his surrender.

I realised then that I could not allow that vile beast to so much as lay one finger on my husband. I knew I could take what he handed out to me, I had survived worse. But to think of him destroying the soul of Jamie, he had taken so much from him already. Yet he still stood strong. I was his wife, it was my job to protect him as much as his to protect me. It was then I realised I had to kill Randall, here and now. I would gladly die to save Jamie one minute of pain. Perhaps this sacrifice was part of my purpose? My destiny in this time.

With little other thought I set to releasing myself from my binds. The ropes were tight and well tied. I expected nothing less from a military man. Plus after my last run in with Randall he certainly wasn’t taking any chances. Sharp pains stabbed my left shoulder as blood continued to weep from the wound. The muscles in my left arm screamed in agony as I wrestled and pulled at the ties. Eventually creating enough room to get one hand freed. Finally released I pressed my hand tenderly to my wound. It needed stitches and cleaned but I had neither time nor the equipment. I pressed a handkerchief to it to stem the blood, stuffing it under the shoulder of my bodice, it was the best I could do as I needed to deal swiftly with Randall. I fumbled at the rear of my skirt until the warmed metal of my small blade rested in my hand. It’s familiarity a strange comfort to me. Using the blade I cut a strip of cloth from my petticoat and used it to bind, as best I could one handed my wound.

An age seemed to pass, my eyes fixed on the wooden door, breath held. The silence thumped loudly in my ears. I strained to hear anything, a clip of boots on stone, a whispered comment. But nothing other than silence reached my ears. My eyes shuttered and refocused as time continued to tick past. Then a muffled sound of footsteps, slow and slightly faltering rang out. My left arm was weak, but I held the knife as firmly as I could, right hand pressed still on my wound. I stood with my back to the wall near to the cell door. Surprise was my only chance. The door creaked open and I leapt forward, blade raised to strike. A strangled sound reverberated from my throat as recognition stalled my attack.

The large solid mass of Jamie had been pushed into the cell. Randall pressed against him with a pistol resting against his temple. My blade fell with a clang from my hand.

“Well, well I seem to have underestimated you once again Mistress Fraser. I have your beloved husband, I wouldn’t waste my time trying to retrieve that blade. Not unless you wish to see your husband’s brains blown out. Step back now.”

I did as he asked cursing myself for the clumsy mistake. He had a wide devilish grin on his face. My eyes locked then to Jamie, silently trying to communicate with him. His eyes were wide in panic and moving over my body looking for injury. I noticed a wince when they took in the wound on my shoulder.

“Let her go Randall, ye have nay issue with her. Ye want me.”

“How very preceptive of you, saves unnecessary discussion and back and forth. However I do not think I will let Mrs Fraser go just yet. I believe her presence may be beneficial to ensure compliance.”

“Let her go I wilna fight ye.”

“No! I won’t leave you Jamie. I won’t go!”

“Claire!”

“How very noble of you Mrs Fraser but I do have little use for you.”

“He is a free man. Pardoned! You have no right to keep him.”

“I can do what I wish! No one knows you are here. No one will care if one bastard Scot goes missing along with his whore of a wife!”

And that was the horrifying honest truth. He still held the pistol against Jamie, pressing his own body against him. I felt bile sting my throat at the thought of that despicable man touching Jamie. I vowed I would not be leaving this cell without Jamie at my side and Randall dead at my feet. Suddenly Randall stepped away from Jamie reaching to grab me. I was pulled against him the cold metal of the pistol pressed into my face.

“Now perhaps we can begin?”

“Jamie go!! Get out of here! Leave me, please!”

I cried out in desperation, hoping he would heed me. He shock his head fanatically at me.

“Nay Sassenach I canna leave ye. Randall let her go it’s me ye want no her!”

“Ah such noble sacrifice from both. However Mrs Fraser will be going no where just yet. Now I suggest you both listen carefully and do what I say. Take your shirt off I want to see my handiwork.”

“You bastard! Don’t you dare lay one hand on him.”

“What language from a gentle bred lady. You would think your husband would discipline you better. Perhaps later I can assist in that endeavour. Now where were we, Awh yes, you take your shirt off.”

He pressed the pistol firmly into my face. His finger still resting on the trigger. Jamie’s eyes never left my face. Silent communication between us that it will be well. He slowly began to remove his jacket, waistcoat and shirt. Randall’s body stiffen against mind, his breathing hitching slightly. Jamie turned slowly round to expose his back, his body rigid and firsts clenched tightly. I knew what it took for him to expose himself like this. How his pride was being surrendered in efforts to see me safe. Randall suddenly released me stepping forward transfixed by Jamie’s back.

“It’s magnificent, a work of art. Do you see what we created? What we formed?”

His words were smoothly spoken with a soft and mesmerising tone. I saw his hand reaching out to touch Jamie’s back, as he took a step forward. Seeing this as my only chance I sprung forward, the rage and anger fuelling my body and dulling the pain of my wound. I grabbed hold of him with my arms around his neck squeezing for all I was worth.

“I told you to not lay a hand on my husband!”

I stumbled back with Randall still held tightly. Jamie turned and grabbed for the pistol which was swinging wildly, a flash and bang ricocheted around the cell. Jamie looked at me and mouthed Sassenach before collapsing to the ground. Blood pooling beside him as his hands pressed to his side. My grip had loosen on Randall and he spun attacking me. A blow to my stomach that doubled me over. I coughed and spluttered for air. Eyes frantic trying to see Jamie still supine on the ground. Randall took hold of my hair, pulled roughly with one hand as he gripped my throat with his other.

“I shall take great pleasure in killing you.”

The words seethed out through gritted teeth. Eyes narrowed and flamed with rage. His grip tighten further and I felt my eyes bulging with the pressure. My life with Jamie how it could be flashed to my mind. A happy, simple homely life. Summoning strength from within that I scarcely believed I had anymore, I planted my knee squarely into Randall. With a grunt he moved back a step, as I punched him in the face with a satisfying crack. Wasting no time I scrabbled towards my blade. My hand brushing against it as Randall landed on top of me. Fighting forward and stretching for all I was worth my hand gripped around the blade.

I wriggled and struggled against his weight, blows landing on my body. Jamie’s laboured breaths somehow being heard about my cries and beating heart. With the blade now secure in my hand I crawled to my knees, kicking and thrashing to get to my feet. I turned, blade thrust out and plunged it into Randall’s throat. A gurgled gasp the only sound as he sunk to his knees and then the ground. The blade clanged to the ground. As I sucked in large greedy breaths of air, my heart pounding in my ears, chest aching with each exaggerated breath.

Then I remembered Jamie. I leapt to his side blood seeping between his fingers. His skin was clammy and pale, visible even in this light. The bullet had struck near his liver that accounted for the amount of blood. I grabbed a handkerchief from my sleeve and pressed it to his wound. Oblivious to my own injuries.

“Sassenach he is dead?”

The words ragged and forced out between breaths.

“Yes”

“But what of yer first husband? What of Frank?”

“Fuck Frank! I’m here, now with you. I’m sure I won’t have wiped him out of existence.”

I snapped in reply. Fixing myself to the task at hand. As much as it pained me to leave Frank he wasn’t on my thoughts at this time. The fact I still knew him, remembered him must surely mean he still existed? The nuances of time travel were not something I cared to ponder at this minute. The bullet despite its close range had not went through fully. That meant I needed to get it out. My satchel! Where was it? Instructing Jamie to apply pressure I ran into the corridor outside the cell. There dumped in a corner, I raced to grab it. Flipping it open to tip the contents out. Strangely Randall had paid little heed to my merger possessions.

Medical kit in hand I raced back to Jamie. I had little time. We could be discovered at any moment and unless I could find and remove the bullet Jamie was going to bleed out right in front of me. My forceps had been sterilised before being packed. I silently prayed that would be enough. Bringing the lantern closer I bent to task.

I’d heard surgeons speak of a trance like state taking them over, when faced with a challenging circumstance on the operating table. While this could most definitely not be further from an operating table I did somehow gain separation from the moment and what was happening around me.

Focused only on that gaping wound and extracting the bullet. Jamie’s muffled cries and groans a background sound as if happening in another place and time. The poor light and blood making it damn near impossible to get the bullet grasped in the forceps. With a triumphant glee I seized it and gently extracted it backwards. Taking care to not cause any further bleeding. I was used to working under extreme pressure and with limited time. Yet somehow this was harder, a greater weight on my shoulders as this was Jamie.

“Are ye done yet Sassenach. I feel as through ye are removing my insides.”

“Nearly there, just two more stitches should do it.”

“Will I live then?”

“Yes.”

I answered emphatically, my eyes never leaving their task of tying off the last stitch. I knew that it was hope over anything. So many horrible things could go wrong infection, blood clots, missing a vital area of damage due to the dim light. I prayed that my nursing knowledge was enough, that I had done enough to stop the bleeding. Now to get out of Wentworth.

Chapter Text

“Can you walk Jamie? I need you to walk. We have to get out of here.”

I spoke urgently and pleadingly. He grunted in reply, his face scrunched up in pain. I had some morphine left but couldn’t risk using it. I needed him to be lucid to walk. I also had penicillin. A precious little amount but maybe it would be enough. I squeezed his hand tightly and smiled reassuringly at him. I saw him try to speak and shushed him. Anything that needed to be said could wait. I opened the cell door and crept into the corridor. I needed to find a way out that didn’t involving having to move through the main prison. It was an imposing stone building. With high walls surrounding it. A large wooden gate and guards blocked our way out and with Jamie’s injury I knew he couldn’t make it that far. There had to be another way. I desperately checked the empty dungeon corridors. Not daring to go up the stairs for fear of discovery. Eventually I located a door on the outer wall. It opened easily and led to the back of the prison. I hurriedly returned to Jamie.

“I’ve found a way out. We have to go.”

“Aye Sassenach we do.”

His words were rushed out on a forced breath. His face still crumpled in pain and a light sheen sat on his brow. Despite the horrendous pain he must be in he had barely made more than a few grunts or groans. I bent and brushed a light kiss across his lips.

“I love you.”

It was all that needed to be said and all that I could possible bring myself to say at that moment. He smiled back and gripped my arm tightly.

“And I ye.”

I set to sorting the cell, throwing Randall’s discarded uniform and belongings into the cell. Locking the door behind us and taking the lantern to help us find our way. With any luck they wouldn’t find his remains for quite sometime. Neither Jamie nor I were here officially after all. Leaning heavily on me we got to the outer door. The light flooded around us and the air felt free as I pushed the door open. Glancing around to ensure no eagled eyed guard had spotted us. I motioned with my head to keep close to the wall. A few hundred yards passed the walls was a forest. We just needed to get to there. I fixed my eyes on tall trees and breathed in a deep fortifying breath.

Jamie was holding his breath and beads of sweat trickled down his neck, stopping at his cravat. We were almost to the tree line, just a few more steps. My eyes scanned wildly around, checking that we hadn’t been followed or seen.

 

“What is it Sassenach? Yer eyes are near spinning in yer heed!”

“I’m just worried we will be followed or seen by a guard. I won’t be able to explain your injury easily. We can’t make haste so that leaves only the option of me killing them. And well we know your view on that.”

He laughed, he actually laughed.

“Awh Sassenach I have been such a fool.”

“Of that I can agree!”

And then he laughed again, Lord how I had missed that sound. We struggled into the tree line and Jamie dropped to the ground with a grunt. Holding his side as his breathing regulated. Now hidden from the prison and feeling less pressure I rummaged through my bag and located the medical kit. Opening the worn leather pouch that hid the small vial of penicillin and the syringe I drew up a dose to give to Jamie. Infection was my greatest fear. This was his only hope and I prayed it would be enough to save him.

“Am going to give you some medicine that will fight against any infection. It’s from my time so germs from this time won’t stand a chance.”

I smiled reassuringly hoping that my words were true. I held the needle up and pulled his kilt up to expose his upper thigh and buttock.

“Yer jamming that where?! And I dinna ken what these germs are ye speak off!”

Despite his injury he shuffled back from me in horror. His eyes wide and unblinking.
I stifled a laugh and give him my best matron in charge look.

“Germs are little invisible beasties that make you sick, especially after an injury like this. I couldn’t clean the wound properly and so this medicine will help your body fight the infection. I need to inject it into a large muscle area.”

“Aye? I still dinna ken how jabbing me in the arse with thon wee needle will help a bullet wound. But I trust ye Sassenach. What about ye? Yer wound will it no need this too?”

I nodded and injected him quickly. He barely flinched as it entered and breathed a sigh of relief when it was done.

“Well yes, but I am hopeful that mine will be fine without it and it isn’t as serious as yours. Now soldier we need to get you on your feet and find Murtagh. I assume he is about here somewhere?”

“Aye he is. Give me a moment.”

I grabbed his free hand and pulled it close to me. Willing some of my strength into him. I kissed it roughly clasped between my hands and pulled it close to my chest. Tears pricked my eyes and I blinked rapidly to stop them. Emotions boiling over within me.

“Dinna weep Sassenach I canna bear yer tears and pain, especially when I caused them. Aye dinna weep, all will be well, there’s two of us now.”

“You ridiculous man, I should be the strong one and yet here you are…”

I couldn’t finish my sentence the tears held precariously with sheer will began to fall. Jamie pulled me into his side his large arm wrapped around me as I wept. Allowing my body to sag against his and take comfort from his presence and the Gaelic words he was somehow managing to force out in a pained voice that still, despite his clear discomfort, had a soothing tone. I lay in his arms until the sobs stuttered to hiccups and eventual silence. Breathing in his smell and relishing the fact I was in his arms again. It was not the reunion I had anticipated but when he was recovered fully, I thought to myself, we could speak then.

“Hey laddie what ye done to yer self? I see ye found yer bride, good to see ye Claire.”

“Murtagh!”

I half launched myself at the grumpy, scruffy wee man pulling him into a hug. Despite his thick beard I could see the pink tinge to his cheeks. After what I had been through I didn’t give a damn about propriety.

“Oh I am so glad to see you. Jamie was shot by Randall. I have treated and stitched it as best I could, but well, perhaps best not to dwell on what could go wrong. We must get away from here.”

“Aye Lass the horses are no far, but yer injured too lass.”

“I’m fine Murtagh, I’ll do until later.”

Without another word he bent to help Jamie to his feet and made off into the trees. Jamie leaning heavily on his shoulder. I breathed deeply relaxing my body for the first in weeks. Being in his presence seemed to simply calm me. I enjoyed the moments of reassurance that flooded me as I followed behind. We reached the horses and Jamie was half pulled, half shoved onto the horse. Grunts and groans emitting from between clenched teeth. With me in front of him on the horse we made off at sped. Leaving the looming grey walls of Wentworth in our path.

Despite my tiredness and Jamie and mines injuries, we made good time. Jamie spoke little. I knew trying to keep himself in the saddle was hard enough on his body. Once some distance had been gained we slowed the horses. Stopping to make camp was not an option, we had to keep going even as darkness engulfed us. The heat from Jamie’s body warmed me as the coldness settled around me. I had missed this more than I cared to remember. The rhythmic sound of the horses hooves created a transfixing state. I hadn’t noticed how long we had ridden nor the loosening grip of Jamie.

“Stop! He’s going over!”

As Jamie’s large form slumped to the right and gracefully fell to the ground with a resounding thump. I was off the horse in a flash, down by his side. Frantically pulling at his coat and clothing. My hands finding the warm sticky tell tale sign of bleeding. The light was fully gone and we couldn’t risk lighting anything feeling with my fingers I knew the stitches had burst.

“Bloody stubborn man! You must have known you were bleeding!”

“Tis nought I’ll be grand.”

“You could have bled to death or hit your head on a rock falling from the horse!”

“Nay my sister says my head is hard as stone. Dinna fash Sassenach.”

“Dinna fash? I’ve only had you restored to me and, and..

“Here Lass some whiskey for the wound.”

I couldn’t complete my sentence, emotions once more bubbling to the surface. Murtagh without needing to be asked handed me a small canteen of whiskey along with my leather satchel. I managed a small smile as I focused to task.

It was a surreal sight looming in the early morning sun. Jamie had described it to me in detail but despite this my mind had not quite conjured an image to do it justice. Though with the glow that radiated from the pale coloured stones in the early morning light, I doubted none but a painter could match it. The smoke from the chimneys floated gently into the cold air, giving the scene a homely warmth. I had never had a home. After my parents death I had travelled with Uncle Lamb and then even Frank and I had had no place to call our own. Then of course there was the war. Home to me was a strange concept yet looking at Lallybroch I felt this was home.

Entering the dooryard dogs came yapping and barking around the horses. I feared they would startle but both were clearly used to them. The door burst open and a small women with dark hair and cat like eyes came rushing out. Murtagh grabbed her holding her to him.

“Jenny, the lad is hurt ye ken but Claire has taken good care of him and he’ll bide aye.”

“What happened? Oh get him into the house to his room. I’ll call for the doctor and Mrs Crook can start a poultice.”

She was speaking at a rapid rate as she moved to pull Jamie from the horse Murtagh assisting. Completing disregarding my presence.

“Oh brother what happened ye? I’ll get ye fixed up just ye wait and see.”

“Actually no, I will see to my husband’s injuries and I do not wish for a doctor to come near him. Murtagh can you take him to a bedchamber and I’ll need hot water and garlic and witch hazel oh and more whiskey.”

I spoke with an authority laced voice, Murtagh looked between me and who I figured was Jenny, Jamie’s sister.

“And who pray tell are ye? The Sassenach wife that left him and nay doubt was the cause of this!”

“Jenny! Please dinna start I…”

“The lad needs inside to the heat and a bed. Claire’s a fine healer, Jenny sort the hot water like she asked.”

Without another comment Murtagh made for the house Jamie held to him. Without a word I followed, Jenny at present was the least of my problems.

I was bone weary tired the heat of the house warmed by the fires intensifying the feeling. I followed Murtagh up the grand staircase that took pride of place in the hallway. The house had been grandly finished by Jamie’s father. While used and worn over years of family use, it still held a grandeur that juxtaposed to the homeliness. Murtagh pushed the door open to a bedchamber and half hauled Jamie in and deposited him on the large four poster bed. The room was finished with a lavish masculine deep blue printed wallpaper and matching drapery. Jamie had clearly been using this room prior to coming to find me. His scent still embedded in the space filled my senses and a warmth spread through me.

“Oh nay! I dinna think so! I’ll no have any Sassenach sauntering about my house and into the Laird’s room as though she owns it!”

“Actually according to your laws I am no longer a Sassenach as you have put it. My marriage to Jamie makes me a Scot and you are correct I am sauntering through here like I own it, because if my grasp of succession and inheritance rights is correct this property belongs to my husband. Now if you aren’t going to be of assistance please leave, my husband requires medical attention.”

Jenny stood hands on her hips and mouth gapped open in wonder and shock at my outburst. It may have been the tiredness, it may have been the worry and anxiety over Jamie’s injury or it just may have been that my final nerve had been crossed. I was sick of my Englishness being used to treat me like an outsider and beneath them. I closed the door with a slam and stocked to the beside. Jamie was sweating and pale, his skin burning and he could scarce speak. His energy depleted from getting to the room. Murtagh didn’t say a word about my outburst just nodded at me and excused himself to fetch the hot water and the herbs I needed.

 

Jamie fell into a fitful sleep as I continued to work at cleaning his wound and stitching him up again. Murtagh had returned to the room just as I finished.

“Ye need yer own wound tended to Claire. I’m no doctor but I can follow direction.”

“Thank you Murtagh. I had nearly forgotten about it, I was so focused on Jamie’s wound.”

“Aye, I ken that but ye’ll be naught use to him if ye dinna look after yerself.”

I smiled and pulled the shoulder of my bodice down to reveal my wound. A hissed grimace from Murtagh told me it wasn’t as good as I had hoped. With surprising ease Murtagh cleaned it and stitched it.

“Thank you Murtagh.”

“Twas nothing Claire. Ye have tended more of our wounds than enough. Tis the least I could do to return the favour.”

With that he rose and left the room. I administered more penicillin to Jamie’s slumbering form, hoping that I would have enough to kill off the infection. Dripping drops of water into his mouth. He had lost so much blood. I sat in the chair by Jamie’s bedside no one disturbed me until evening meal. A gentle knock sounded and the door was pushed open to reveal a man I took to be Ian. Jamie’s friend since childhood and now Jenny’s husband according to Murtagh. An elderly women stood behind him with a tray ladened with food.

“Good evening Claire, I’m Ian, Jenny’s husband and that clotheids friend. We thought ye might need some food. I ken ye wilna wish to leave Jamie’s side.”

“Thank you Ian, though I’m not hungry.”

“It’ll just be here on the table should ye change yer mind. Jenny and Mrs Crook make a tasty stew and the best bannocks ye will find in the Highlands.”

With that he give a polite nod and smiled before leaving. I wasn’t hungry but the smell of the stew caused my stomach to rubble and I moved to lift the plate and enjoy some food. I was going to be in for a long night.

I slept restlessly on the chair waking to check on Jamie, mop his brow and give him another dose of medicine. I knew it would work but I also knew it took time. I had to be patient and besides sleep was good for his body to recover and heal. Yet I somehow willed him to awake and pull me into a reassuring embrace.

I heard the household come alive and begin the day. Fires stoked and meal prep beginning. I knew that I had spoke ill to Jenny the day before and that an apology was needed. I wasn’t sure if she would be the forgiving type but I had to try but first I needed to make sure my husband was winning the battle against his infection. I rose to check him placing my hands on his forehead and neck. Still hot and sweaty though not as bad as during the night. He moved fitfully shaking his head and moaning he let out a tiny whimper.

“I’ve lost her, she’s gone.”

Tears gathered at his lashes and a pained expression filled his face.

“Shush it’s alright just go back to sleep.”

“No! Ye dinna understand I left her, abandoned her. I’ll never find her. I’ve let her down just like I did my family and that hoor in France. I love her, love her.”

“Shush it’s alright.”

He fell still and a peaceful restfulness soften his features. My mind went to his last comment, what whore? He had been a virgin when we wed or so he told. There was no real way to tell with men. Did he love this prostitute? Suddenly revulsion filled me, was what I thought we had not real? He had told me he loved me but could he still love another? Damn the man and his fever, I wouldn’t know the truth until he awoke and that was if he would tell me. I plonked back down in the chair the ball of hurt once again back in my chest.

The morning marched on and Jamie still slept. I continued mopping his sweaty brow and giving him his next dose of penicillin. I was exhausted beyond measure but refused to sleep. In the late morning Ian arrived into the room with tea. He smiled warmly and poured a cup before handing it to me.

“How’s the patient today?”

“Still slightly fevered though I do believe he is improving.”

“Ye need to get some rest Claire. Ye have had quite the adventure these last few weeks.”

“I slept a little last night but I can’t sleep not until Jamie is well.”

“Hmm if ye ken Jamie like I do ye will never sleep again at that rate! No more an accident prone man as ever ye will meet.”

He chuckled a warm comforting sound, that reminded me of Jamie. I’d had little to laugh at over the last years but yet in Jamie’s presence I had done so with ease.

“You have been friends with Jamie his whole life, I suppose you have seen a fair few injuries.”

I smiled warmly as I spoke, as a darkness clouded Ian’s eyes. His lips pressing into a firm line before he pursed them to speak.

“Ye ken about his run in with Randall? Well I was in France at the time and well after they bust him out of the fort they sent him to France. After he healed a little he came to join me. We worked as mercenaries. Young and foolish the both of us but when I seen him and learned of what happened.”

He paused, lost for words, the silence building within the room. My teacup grasped between my hands unmoving and growing cold. My gaze fixed on Ian’s face awaiting him to continue. He breathed in deeply and then began.

“I thought I’d never see him as broken or hurt as with those wounds. He could barely bring himself to tell me. The loss of his Da as part of it, well I thought that was the end of him. Til I seen him returned to Lallybroch without ye.”

“He was upset that I wasn’t with him?”

“Upset? The man was like a walking thunderstorm. I dinna ken what transpired between ye but I ken a man in love and I would hope ye do as well. He dinna give his heart freely but when a Fraser loves ye, well I think ye catch my meaning.”

“I didn’t leave him!”

The words were blurred out and I felt panic and anger rage within me.

“Aye I ken that Claire. He sent ye away. But he regretted it and was set to find ye when the Watch rode into Lallybroch with news of ye. He made a mistake Claire leaving ye for some noble minded notion nay doubt. I just hope ye can forgive him?”

His words were spoken hopefully I could see it in his eyes. Ian feared I would not forgive Jamie for abandoning me. Yes I had been angry with him, hurt by him but I could never stay that way. I loved him with ever fibre of my being. Tears stung my eyes once more and I could only nod in understanding at Ian. A silence fell once more between us. After an age the burning question on my mind of who the whore was would not settle. The words were out of my mouth before I had a chance to school them.

“Did Jamie fall in love with a whore?”

Ian’s face went white and he nearly choked.

“Yer a direct woman for sure Claire. What do ye ken of the French hoor?”

“I, mmm, well you see, I ummm. Hmmmm. He spoke of her only in a fevered moment.”

I felt the heat rise in my cheeks as I looked away. Wishing ardently that the ground would swallow me up. Ian half chuckled and took a short sharp breath in.

“Well ye have nothing to fear. He dinna love a hoor. He tried to save her from an abusive client, she, well she died in the cross fire. Jamie blamed himself for no saving her. He always was the one trying to do the noble thing. The Lass worked in a tavern ye ken, probably had done her whole life. I’d imagine she was well used and able to deal with bad mannered clients but well Jamie intervened and the brawl that ensued caused her death. I dinna ken if he has ever forgiven himself for her death.”

“Thank you Ian, for telling me.”

“Loving a Fraser is hard work ye ken. Stubborn as rocks the lot of them but they love fiercely. Just remember that and oh never argue with one when in a temper.”

He laughed at that as did I then I blushed once more.

“Ian I should really apologise to your wife. I was beastly rude to her when I arrived.”

“Aye ye should and I have nay doubt ye will. Jenny isn’t used to being spoke back to. ‘‘Twas a shock to her but a welcome one. I’ve nay doubt ye will be best of friends like true sisters in no time.”

He smiled reassuringly at me and tipped his teacup back to finish the rest of his tea.

“Why dinna ye get some sleep sister while I watch Jamie? Ehh?”

He practical lifted and guided me to the other side of the bed, the softness of the mattress and the pillow cocooning my body and I drifted to sleep before I could even say no.

I awoke with a warmth radiating through my body that I hadn’t felt since Jamie had left me. The solid presence of his body slightly against mine and a low murmured conversation with heavy highland brogue cutting through the silence. Jamie had awoke and was speaking to Ian. I held myself still not wishing to interrupt their dialogue. Also curious to hear what they were discussing. Ian was talking, telling Jamie of the lands and how they were fairing since he had left to find me. He spoke of how Taran and his men had been rounded up by the redcoats a week past.

“Am guessing ye havena spoken to Claire yet then about having abandoned her?”

“I dinna abandoned her!”

“Yer left her at thon roadside and rode away like a coward to avoid yer feelings and ye ken I speak the truth.”

“I was doing what I thought best for her, I ken now I was wrong. I will speak with her as soon as I’m healed and have peace for a moment, which isna likely anytime soon in this house!”

Ian laughed heartedly at that and I felt the bed shake slightly with Jamie’s mirth. I stretched and groaned awake, smiling at Jamie and Ian.

“How long was I asleep for?”

“Just a few hours, Dinna fash I kept a close eye on yer patient. He only woke a half hour before ye.”

“Thank you Ian. I feel much better after a proper rest. Now Mr Fraser I need to check that wound again now you are awake.”

Jamie groaned and Ian laughed before excusing himself to leave me to see to the patient. I looked intently at the wound now healing nicely with no signs of infection and his temperature was gone. Thank the Lord for penicillin.

Jamie continued to recover well. The toll of the blood loss and healing making him often tired. He kept to his bed for a full week and after that only ventured as far at the study. I still had not cleared the air with Jenny. It wasn’t that I was avoiding it, well if am honest I was, it wasn’t going to be a pleasant conversation. But none the less I knew I needed to have it. We had fallen into a strange stilled harmony. Polite head nods and smiles. Thank you’s and pleases. Conversations had been strictly kept to Jamie’s condition and daily chores, nothing more nothing less. I knew I needed to take the first step, unfortunately the opportunity of choice was taken from me by certain events that required full disclosure.

I had had a busy morning. My healing skills had become known among the Lallybroch tenants. Despite my Englishness they had warmed to me quickly perhaps due to having saved the life of their precious Laird. They each held himself in high esteem and I, as Lady Broch Tuarach, Jamie had kept rather quite about that one! Was held in similar regard. But more so now that my worth as a healer was being established.

I had been called for assistance at four in the morning. A tenant having a difficult birth with her fifth child. As I had stepped out in the bitter cold of the early morning, rubbing my still sleepy eyes I had had an overwhelming sense of belonging. Something I hadn’t felt before. I knew within my own mind that I belonged with Jamie. My need for him was more than merely physical, it was visceral. I hoped that he felt the same. We still had not conversed on what transpired between us but soon, soon I promised myself as I continued on with hurried steps, pulling my cloak tighter around me.

Despite the initial report the birth had proceeded quickly. Flora Douglas’ body simply knowing what it needed to do. A healthy baby boy arrived with a hearty wail. Placing the babe on her chest to begin tending to her, I smiled warmly at the glow in her eyes as she stared lovingly at her new addition. Once Flora was tended to I took the baby and cleaned him. Checking him over throughly he was perfectly healthy. Once swaddled I held him as Flora ate some breakfast. The small infant felt warm and comforting in my arms. His eyes closed tightly, his face relaxed in blissful slumber. A tuff of downy hair covering his tiny head. A tightness gripped me as I stared upon him realising the hair had a slight auburn tinge. For a moment I imagined what it would be like to look on mine and Jamie’s child. A reality I would never face and my heart broke. Cuddling the babe once more to my breast, I painted on a smile and handed him back to his beaming mother.

“Thank ye Mistress Fraser. Ye did a fine job of birthing this wee one.”

“Oh I think it was you who did most of the work Flora. Though you are something of an expert now.”

She chuckled lightly

“Tis nought as true a blessing from the Lord as a bairn in yer arms. Ye’ll no be without one yerself for long Mistress Fraser.”

I managed with a steeled will to finish my duties to the new mother before leaving the Croft and bursting into tears as I walked back to Lallybroch. To never have a child was going to be a burden I didn’t know I could survive. I stopped halfway back to the house. Needing to take sometime to myself. I had never grieved nor mourned the loss of my ability to bear children. Now those tears flowed easily. I felt a failure, half a woman. Despite knowing that bearing children did not make you a woman, we were so much more than that! Lost as I was in my own grief I didn’t hear or see Jenny approaching.

“Did it no go well Claire?”

She spoke in a clipped tone, standing back from me a basket in the crook of her arm, the other hand rubbing her swollen pregnant belly.

“No, no, it went very well. A healthy baby boy.”

I wiped the tears from my eyes as I tried to regain my composure. Jenny had not moved, her eyes still fixed on my form.

“Well what has ye in such a state as this? I ken we havena had a chance to speak much but I’ll lend a listening ear.”

She came and sat beside me stretching her legs out and rubbing her back to ease it. I knew Jenny Fraser Murray was a force to be reckoned with. Yet somehow her taking this moment to sit with me brought no end of joy to my heart. I’d told Jamie of course that I couldn’t have children. But we hadn’t really had much of an in-depth conversation. For years I had excuses to not allow my mind to dwell on the cold facts. Today though it had been handed into my arms in the form of a perfect tiny baby. I simply blurted it out.

“I can’t have children.”

I didn’t know what reaction I expected. Perhaps horror and disgust especially in this time. Where a woman’s worth was closely linked to her family.

“I see. Well I dinna ken what to say Claire.”

There was a pause of silence then and she reached out and took my hand in hers. Squeezing it tightly.

“Was it hard for ye to deliver Flora’s bairn.”

“Medically no, emotionally yes. When I held the babe in my arms and realised I would never.”

I couldn’t finish and sobs wracked my body. I was so sick and tired of crying! It seemed to be all I did in this damn time! Years of keeping my emotions in check, had clearly reeked havoc. Jenny pulled me into an embrace and despite the coolness and distance that had existed between us and the clear differences in height, I somehow felt cocooned in her arms. Protected and soothed.

“Claire I dinna ken what to say to ye. Bairns are a blessing yes, but maybe God has another plan for ye. Do ye mind me asking how ye ken ye canna have bairns?”

“I haven’t even told Jamie this whole story. I was tortured many years ago, they did something to me to prevent me conceiving. I no longer get my courses.”

“That dinna mean a thing! I ken of plenty of women who dinna have regular courses and have a house full of bairns!”

Something strange came over me. I didn’t know what. My mission was over, I’d lied so many times over the last years all for a supposed greater good. But as I looked at my sister in law I couldn’t bear to tell one more lie, no matter the consequences.

“I’m from the future.”

“What?”

“Jamie knows the truth, I have told him already. Can you listen to all I say before you ask questions? I promise you I mean no harm.”

Jenny with mouth gapped open nodded in agreement. She had pulled back slightly from me and a paleness descended across her features. I took a deep breath and began my tale, leaving no detail out.

“So ye were marrit before? In yer own time but he divorced ye?”

“Of all that I have told you this is the bit you question?”

I chuckled at her as her cheeks pinked.

“Yes when I was being sent to this time on my mission he asked for a divorce. I then met and fell in love with Jamie. They had no extraction plan in place for me anyway but after marrying your brother I realised very quickly I never wanted to leave. He knows I can’t bear children but I haven’t told him of my capture and torture.”

“Why did ye no tell him?”

“Painful memories I suppose and shame at the abuse I had suffered. I know men view woman differently in this time.”

“Aye. They see us as their property, tuh! Most men I ken wouldn’t ken how to put his own stockings on if it weren’t for the guide of a wife! My own husband and my brother included!”

A silence fell over us as I pondered my discussion with Jenny. She had been open minded to listen, hadn’t recoiled in horror or ran screaming for help calling me a witch.

“They really allowed a woman to do all ye have spoke off?”

“Yes”

“Ye can disarm a man with a knife or a gun? Hold yer own against them?”

“Well yes but I couldn’t take on a whole unit of them!”

“It’s easier in yer own time isn’t it? Safer? Better?”

“Yes it’s safer in many ways but I don’t think it’s better. I don’t have Jamie there. I’ve told you of what’s to come, of Culloden and why I was sent back to this time. It will still be dangerous but we know the winning side, we can plan and prepare, keep our tenants safe and fed alongside us. I made my choice Jenny, I’ve chosen to stay with Jamie.”

“I’m right glad ye did. I ken we got off on a poor foot when ye arrived. I shoulda never spoke the way I did.”

“Jenny it is I who should apologise I was rude beyond measure and to you in your own home.”

“It’s yer home..”

“No Lallybroch will always be your home Jenny. It was wrong of me to make such a cutting remark out of anger. I hope you will forgive me.”

“There is nothing to forgive sister. I see the love and care ye have for my brother. I should have given ye yer place as his wife and no stuck my neb in, for that I’m sorry. I thank ye for being honest with me. I dinna ken if I have my head around it all, but if my brother believes ye and trusts ye then I will too.”

“Thank you Jenny that means a lot to me. I know it’s a lot to take in.”

We walked back to the house slowly, arm in arm. Jenny had told me to tell Jamie of my torture and what happened at Flora’s. I dreaded the thought I hated to admit my weakness but it was the one part of my story that I hadn’t confessed fully. Entering the house Jenny hurried to the kitchen and I found Jamie in the study.

The mid morning sun was shining through the windows, marking a bright square over his desk. It was an enormous oak desk with carved details and a matching chair. The wall on one side was shelved and ledgers from the farm filled them. He smiled warmly at me and pulled me towards him for a reverent kiss. Realising my heart was struggling he pulled me into his lap wrapping his arms around me.

“Was the birth a difficult one Sassenach.”

“Yes but not in the way you would imagine.”

And I began to tell him of my trauma and the toll it now bore on my soul.

Chapter Text

I settled into life at Lallybroch with ease. My skill set however was not in cooking nor mending but between healing and growing plants and herbs I found my niche. It was a simple life and I loved the calmness that it offered after my years in service. The feel of soil between my fingers and the satisfaction of helping an ill or injured patient. I was assisting with the weekly laundry this morning. The large cauldron heated by a fire beneath and the heavy task of stirring the linens with the paddle. I hated laundry day. I had drawn that conclusion after the first week but I also understood the importance of clean clothing especially when tending the sick. Jenny and Jamie didn’t really understand germs, the invisible little besties that could make you ill. However they did indulge my quirks, taking on board what I said about food preparation and storage and hand washing. Perhaps that alone could make a difference for the residents of Lallybroch, my family. It warmed my soul to call them that.

We had been working for sometime when Jenny cried out and clutched her stomach. One look at her face told me the baby was on its way. I rushed to her side wrapping an arm around her waist to help her into the house. My mind swimming with procedures and actions that needed to be done. Jenny had been healthy throughout her pregnancy. Indulging me to check her heart rate and listen to the baby’s heart beat with the strange device. It was good to not have to hide who I was from my family. Jamie had been panicked initially when I told him I had spoke to Jenny and she knew the whole truth. But seeing her with me had settled him. Ian had been his usual calm level headed self. Taking it all in as though the information was nothing stranger than finding out his sister in law disliked whiskey.

Helping Jenny upstairs into her bedchamber, I began to bark orders. Hot water and the stack of clean linens I had set aside to be brought in. The waxed sheet to be laid down and wiped with whiskey before Jenny lay on it. Mrs Crook nearly had an apoplexy when I said no straw was needed. Ian and Jamie appeared by the door arms full of linens, basins and a bottle of whiskey. Jamie grumbled when I set him to cleaning the waxed sheet but bent to task nonetheless. Ian was holding Jenny’s hand and whispering words into her ear. My mind immediately floated to thoughts of what Jamie would have whispered into my ear as I give birth. Shaking the thought away I continued to prepare.

Once ready Jenny shooed the menfolk out yelling the birthing room was nay place for men! Then barely fifteen minutes later lamented the loss of Ian to his study and how if men had to bear bairns the human race would have died out! I chuckled to myself as I helped her into a shift and onto the bed. A full examination settled any concerns, all seemed to be progressing as it should.

Hours later as the darkness of night crept into the sky, the pinpricks of stars clear to be seen through the open window, I was at a loss. Things had taken a turn, Jenny was exhausted and labour was not progressing as quickly as it should have.

“Nay worry sister there’s naught to be done now. Just see this baby safe, please sister ye ken what to do.”

Jenny spoke through gritted teeth as sweat pooled on her chest and forehead. A guttural scream rang out as yet another contraction ran through her now weary body. I listened frantically for the baby’s heartbeat, still steady but getting slower. I knew if the baby became too distressed, well it didn’t bear thinking about. Jenny had asked me about modern medicine and childbirth in particular. I had told her tales of how it could be pain free how doctors could remove babes from the womb and save lives. She knew childbirth was dangerous at this time and only marginally safer in mine. I could protect her better than most midwives of this time, but as I stood helplessly watching her groan in agony I wished a midwife was here. I needed to assist the baby, manipulation of her stomach hadn’t done anything. I had no choice but to try and manually assist the baby out, without any proper birthing equipment I lamented.

Jenny was beyond exhausted and struggled to find the energy to push with each contraction. I could see the baby’s head now, a few more pushes and I could assist them out safely.

“Come on Jenny I need you to push. I can see the baby’s head, you are doing so well.”

“I canna Claire I canna.”

“Yes you can! You are strong enough now push!”

Her words had been barely above a whisper after so many hours in labour. I knew if I didn’t get this baby delivered and now I would lose them both. A contraction rippled across her body. I remembered a lecture during my nursing training about labour. In my time it was unheard off for women in maternity wards to give birth out of the bed but this one lecture had spoken of the assistance of gravity and squatting to birth. Old pictures of birthing stools had been shown. I ran to the door and bellowed for Ian and Jamie. Within seconds footsteps were scrambling to the stairs. Ian appeared in the door with a panic stricken face.

“Lift her to the fireplace! The baby isn’t coming out easily and I need gravity to help.”

Without a word both men lifted Jenny who was like a rag doll in their arms, bringing her to the fireplace and holding her upright. I scrambled to look under her shift encouraging her to push with the next contraction. The babe’s head moved further allowing me to get a grip around it. Forceps would be handy right about now but, I doubted the army considered my needing to birth babies, when providing my rudimentary medical kit. Gently I eased the baby’s head out and pushed further to get a shoulder, a set of broad shoulders slipped out. No wonder Jenny had struggled. The little pink body slid out as I grabbed a clean linen to wrap her in.

“It’s a girl Jenny, a little girl!”

Ian’s face beamed as he hugged Jenny’s weaken body to him. Jenny too weak to speak could only nod, hers eyes fighting to stay open to even look upon the infant I was holding. Ian and Jamie assisted her back onto the bed as I checked the newest Murray over. Handing the little bundle to Ian I went to check Jenny. Manipulating her stomach to encourage the afterbirth and stop bleeding. I said a fervent prayer that there would be no infection. Child bed fever was the biggest risk to mothers at this time.

An hour later Jenny was in a clean shift, the babe at her breast and some broth and bread waiting to be enjoyed. So far she was recovering well. It had been near a full day of labour that in one hand swept by in a blink and on another seemed to have taken an age. Once the baby had drank her fill I took her into my arms gently rocking her and rubbing her back. Jenny tucked into her own sustenance, pausing only to tell me the baby’s name.

“She is to be named Margaret Flora Fraser Murray.”

“A fine name for a bonny Lass.”

I stared down at the slumbering form of little Margaret. The tuffs of dark black hair like her mother’s, the slanted cat eyes which I guessed would be blue. I pondered if they would be the clear rich blue of Jamie’s that reminded me of the late evening sky. Or would they be the slightly lighter of her mother’s that reflected a loch? Placing a gentle kiss on her forehead, Margaret gave a tiny yawn that contorted her little face and continued to sleep peacefully.

Jenny despite the long labour was, after a nights rest back on her feet. Taking command of the house. The arrival of the new baby did little to change the routine of the household and we settled back into it as if the birth had never happened. A few weeks later Jamie was fully recovered. No longer needing a rest at mid afternoon. A small scar was all that was left of the traumatic incident. We still had not discussed what had happened after leaving Leoch. Part of me wished to simply clear the air. Take a deep breath and speak it all out, the hurt, loss and anguish I had felt at being left at that roadside. I wanted to shout and rant, strike out in frustration and hurt. Another part of me wished to draw a line under the whole terrible situation. I could move on, go back to living simply and building our life. I wanted to get back to the intimacy, the connection we clearly had.

I knew however that to get there we needed trust and as part of that I needed truth and honesty. He knew all of my story now but I couldn’t deny that I had held it back. Told lies to cover my truths, hidden behind half truths and my cover story. It had been the one thing that Jamie had asked for, as we had bared our souls to each other on our wedding night, he had asked for truth “we can have secrets but no lies.” His words echoing in my mind.

That night I lay in our bed, Jamie’s heat radiating into me. The darkness of the room a comfort giving me the strength to roll to my side and speak. It was now or never, I reached out to touch him with my hand taking strength from the connection.

“I think it’s time we talked of what happened.”

“Mmm aye Sassenach.”

“I’m sorry Jamie, for keeping the truth of who and what I was from you. You asked for honesty and I failed to give you that. Hiding behind half truths and lies.”

I reached out to run my finger down his cheek, feeling the roughness of his stubble. He nuzzled his face into my hand and reached up to take hold of it, keeping it pressed to him.

“No Sassenach tis I who needs to apologise. Ye told me the truth and I rejected ye, abandoned ye. I canna find words to tell ye how sorry I am. Through pride I left ye to make yer own way. Telling myself I was better off without ye as ye would be without me. That ye were a free spirit and such nonsense, all to convince myself of what I thought was best. I put ye at risk, after swearing before God to protect ye. Can ye bring yerself to forgive me?”

His voice was choked with emotion and I felt my eyes burn with tears. Though these were happy tears and not of sorrow.

“Yes, I will forgive you always and forever.”

It was the simple and honest truth. Yes I had been hurt and angry at him leaving me, yet I could not bear the thought of being without him. I was prepared to fight to have him, make him see sense. Silence fell between us as I continued to stroke his face. We both had made poor choices that had impacted on the other. We both had chosen paths we thought the other would be protected on. Me by withholding the truth of who I was and him letting me go on my way. Neither of us fully realising or acknowledging the intrinsic pull that existed between us.

“I struggled to understand who ye were Sassenach. The willing killing of people on orders. My first reaction was of revulsion, it went against every fibre of my beliefs ye ken. I pushed aside the truth of who ye were to me, who ye showed yerself to be in those vulnerable moments that existed just between us, as husband and wife. I was allowing my fears to override my thoughts. I ken now I was wrong. I love ye no matter what.”

“When you had ridden off, away from me. The reality of the void I had crossed, the loss of my own world and old life struck me. I had lived a life set apart from others, often alone but the realisation I felt at that moment was one of utter isolation. I was truly alone for the first time.”

“I’m sorry Sassenach I caused ye to ever feel abandoned and alone by me. I realised with ye gone that part of my very being was missing. We are bound ye and I and nothing will part us, never again. Do ye remember the blood vow from our wedding Sassenach? I allowed myself to forget it but ye are blood of my blood, bone of my bone, I gave ye my body that we may be one. I swear to ye here and now I will never leave ye nor abandon ye. Ye carry me with ye and ye are mine Sassenach whether ye will it or no and I am yours. We are mated for life Sassenach.”

I did not have a chance to reply before his lips covered mine in a searing kiss. His passion and need evident in every aspect of it. I returned the kiss with fervour. His lips trailing along my jawline and neck. I was divested of my shift in one sweeping movement. The hot trail of kisses continuing its path down my body. My whole existence on fire with desire and need for Jamie. His thumb rubbed soft circles on my breast, the nipple puckering and rising like a cherry. Jamie seized it between his teeth sucking gently as I moaned and arched my aching body towards him.

My hands roamed across the vast expanse of his back. Feeling the familiar ridges and scars under my fingers. My hands ran up into his hair as I brought his lips to mine. His hand found purchase between my legs as his harden length pressed into my thigh. Suddenly he moved to my legs. His mouth slowly, achingly moving up the soft skin of my thighs until it found its destined goal. Jamie’s tongue licked and caressed sending shivers through my body to pool in my core. The heat of his mouth a contrast to the coolness breezing across my body. Pleasure coursed through my every nerve and I cried out, my body arching from the bed as my hands gripped the sheet, grounding me to the moment.

Kisses and bites trailed up my stomach and across my breasts and settled on my neck. Jamie held his body hard and rigid above mine. His blue eyes locked to my own. The blue, a dark near blackness, like a moonlit night. Desire pooled within them and I found myself lost in their powerful gaze. My hand with tender care brushed a loose strand of his rich auburn hair from his eyes. As I slowly trailed my fingers down his ear and cheek, then across his lips, which parted slightly to kiss, though my fingers did not stop. Weaving a path down his torso, the muscles taught and tight across his chest and down to his hips mapping a familiar path. A shiver shook his body as his gaze intensified.

My hand flattened to his body and my fingers ran lightly across the coarse curled hair that surrounded his cock. A low moan released from his lips and he bent to take mine. My hand ran the length of his swollen and hard cock. The solidness heavy in my hand as I ran my hand along the velvet like skin. Cupping his bollocks and rubbing them gently. I needed him, the desire to have him fill me and be connected to him now beyond a visceral urge. I guided him towards me shuddering with pleasure as his cock slipped into me. With deliberate slowness he sheathed himself fully, enjoying the feel of me around him as he bit his lower lip. A slow, deep and steady rhythm began as we reconnected and reaffirmed our souls as one.

With a final thrust and guttural groan I felt Jamie release within me as I took my pleasure from him. Collapsing on each other with breathlessness my arms wrapped around him. Unwilling to break this moment of healing and restoration between us. My chest beat strongly with the exertion and my breath uneven. Smiling at me Jamie kissed my nose and then lips before flipping over to pull me on top of him. His strong arms wrapping across my back as one hand drew lazy circles on my bare skin.

“Sassenach ye ken I love ye with every bit of my soul. I promise ye that I will spend the rest of my days proving to ye what ye mean to me and how much I love ye. I would walk through hells fires itself to save ye. I was a damned fool to let ye go.”

“You ridiculous man! You will make me cry again. I love you to with all my heart and soul. I promise you that I will not hold back truths from you ever again.”

“”With that in mind tell me, do ye mind birthing bairns? Is it too much for yer heart to take?”

I pushed myself up slightly to look at him.

“You know I found Flora’s birth hard but I felt better with Jenny’s.”

“Really Sassenach I could see it in yer eyes.”

“Well alright it bothered me but not as much as Flora’s. I think it was just the emotions of all that had transpired. You know, with us being apart then finding each other again. I think in time my heart will get used to it. Plus there are risks, it’s very dangerous giving birth in this time.”

“Aye Sassenach yer right. I can bear pain myself but I canna bear yours. I would not wish to see ye harmed.”

“You are truly alright with this fact? I know you said that on our wedding night but there were other certain factors playing a part then!”

“Such as?”

He asked affronted

“The fact you had a naked woman in front of you and were losing your virginity, I’d say were two good reasons to blindly agree.”

“It wasna a naked woman, ‘‘twas my wife. My own, that stood before me. I stand by what I said Sassenach. Perhaps the Lord will bless us in a different way. Ye dinna have to carry a bairn to be a parent.”

I kissed him slowly, reflecting on the words he spoke that echoed those he had spoken on our wedding night. Perhaps he was right, perhaps I needed to simply enjoy being with Jamie and the children we had around us. Leaving the rest in the Lord’s capable hands.

The next day Jamie insisted to showing me around Lallybroch lands. After breakfast he was a buzz with excitement as he asked Mrs Crook to make up a picnic lunch for us. Saddling his horse we set off as a steady pace.

“Ye see the tower ahead of us Sassenach? That’s where Lallybroch gets its name. It means lazy tower. The lands true name is Broch Tuarach where we get our title.”

“And what does that mean.”

“North facing tower.”

He twisted in the saddle with a mischievous grin.

“And how can a round tower possibly face north?”

“It doesn’t but it’s door does.”

“Oh ye bloody Scots!”

I admonished him in a laugh with the best Scots accent I could muster.

“Oh Sassenach I think ye just insulted half my ancestors with that poor attempt at a Scots accent!”

He belly laughed at that, it rippled through him and into me where my arms wrapped around him to stay on the horse. To hear that care free laughter again soothed my soul and brought me genuine joy. I would spend the rest of my days trying to make him laugh like that.

“I think your ancestors would have loved me, my Englishness and all.”

“Aye they would have. I wish you could have met my Mam and Da.”

“So do I Jamie, so do I.”

“Well ye maybe canna meet them in person but the family grave yard it just over there. With a view to the tower and house.”

While a graveyard should have been a morbid sight, this one seemed to enchant me. The stone wall slightly tumbled in places surrounded the ground set aside by Jamie’s father to hold the family’s remains. The high hedges along one side guarded it and stopped the breeze and noise of the Highlands. Stepping through the stone walls was like entering another world. A calm and peaceful world.

“After Mam and the bairn died I would come here often. Just sit and talk to the grave as though it was Mam sitting in her chair.”

“That must have been lovely to go and be here anytime you wanted.”

“Aye it was. It brought a peace to, me made me feel close to her. It’s the first I stepped foot in here since ma Da died. Jenny would be grating on me if she knew.”

“Did you not want to come and see his grave?”

“No. I blamed myself for his death, kept away for pride and the price on my head. Add to that shame for letting my family down and you. I couldn’t bear to set foot in here, to ken I was no the man my father thought I should be. But now with ye here I feel emboldened to stand here, faults and all.”

“You are an honourable man Jamie. That’s why you feel the burden and weight of so many peoples lives on your shoulders.”

“When I heard ye had been captured Sassenach by that vile man. My blood froze ye ken. I couldna breath. I ken I had let ye down already by abandoning ye on the road to Inverness but the thought of him…. Him doing what he did to me to you Sassenach. I couldna allow him to harm one hair on yer body. I rode to Wentworth without a second thought nor plan. Demanded entry to see him. The Governor never even knew he was there! When I was leaving I saw the bastard. I froze terrified that I was too late to save ye. His smirk told me I was the one he wanted. At that moment I was prepared to face it all, to go through it all again to save ye. Yet in the end ye saved me Sassenach, in more ways than one. For that alone I owe ye my very soul.”

I didn’t answer, or rather I couldn’t answer. No words came to mind to respond that seemed to fit. Instead we stood in silence for what felt like an age. Loathed to break the moment of healing for Jamie I continued to remain silent and still. He eventually turned towards me reaching out to take my hand. His eyes somehow changed, cleared or brighter I wasn’t quite sure but whatever burden he had held since his parents deaths, since Fort William, I was sure had been cast off.

“Come Sassenach I wish to show ye a few other places on the estate.”

I smiled at him warmly as he pulled me in close to him and led me towards his horse. We rode at a slow pace Jamie pointing out various locations. Where he fell from a tree, where he and Jenny with Ian played soldiers. His favourite place to sit, where he learned to fish with his Da. Each place and memory providing me with another insight into this marvellous man. We began to swap stories of our youth as we settled on a spot to picnic. Me telling him of the various dig sites I had travelled too, he telling me tales of the mischief he and Ian got into. He promised to show me the gate his father strapped the two of them at also, for getting into all that mischief!

Resting on Jamie’s plaid after our feast I breathed in the freshness of the Highlands. I had enjoyed this day so very much, more than I think I could express in words to Jamie. To be welcomed into his family home was one thing but to see and be in the places that entwined his memories and life, the essence that built the fabric of his life was a marvel. Jamie had a contentment and peacefulness that I had been wildly jealous off. He knew who he was, where his identity lay, it was right here in these lands and the very marrow of his family. I felt my own sense of contentment and pride that I was counted in the ranks of his family.

I lay idling spinning my wedding band on my finger. The silver catching the sunlight as my hand moved.

“You never did tell me about my ring.”

He reached for my hand, bringing it towards his lips to kiss the ringed finger.

“I had it made from my key to Lallybroch. I wanted ye to ken it was as much yers as mine.”

And it was. Lallybroch had become my home as much as Jamie.

Chapter Text

Knowing the future is a strange burden. During my war years we often talked at the fire of what the future would hold. Joked about how wonderful it would be to see the future and know who had won the war. I stood now in this time with two hundred years of knowledge. I knew the dates and places that would change history. Yet somehow none of that brought any comfort or ease to my mind. Instead the knowledge of it all flitted and meandered through my thoughts like a leaf blowing on an autumn wind. I tried to shake them from my mind but it was an impossible task especially today, the day history marked as the Bonny Prince’s arrival to Scotland. The day the rebellion I had worked to amend became an historical reality.

I stared forlorn into the vast bleakness of the Highlands. The midday sun bright but with little heat against the wind which whipped my hair. Pulling my shawl tighter around me, I sighed out loud. I knew what would come in the next year and for those that followed. The joy that would ripple across the lands at early victories, the devastation that would cover the lands in darkness and despair at defeat. I thought of the loss of the Highland ways and prayed that my mission would change that outcome even a little . I could only hope that those known to have loyalty to the Crown would be saved.

It was a full week before a traveller brought news of the rebellion. The elegant arrival of the Prince and the taking of Edinburgh told with enthusiastic elaboration. As only a Highlander can do. I watched with a carefully masked face as Jenny oh and ah’d at the needed portions of the tale, all the while glancing at me with wide eyed wonder. When the gentleman left to continue his journey and no doubt tell more of his tale, Jenny stood waving him off at my side, a bright smile still on her face as she spoke through the side of her mouth.

“There was a part of me ye ken that thought yer story bat shite crazy, but here we are sister welcoming history to our door. I suppose we must start preparing for what comes next.”

“Jenny! I thought you believed me and what I spoke off.”

“Aye I did and I do but ye must admit yerself it’s a bit far fetched even for us Highlanders with all our tall tales.”

She burst into a fit of giggles that infectiously spread to me. She wasn’t wrong in her assessment it was bat shite crazy!

“Right come on we have plans to make and preparations to start.”

That night at evening meal we sat and discussed the pending rebellion. Making decisions on how best to deter the tenants from blindingly following the cause and confirming what provisions we needed to store. I was quietly confident that we could weather the storm out. I knew when the famine started and the clearances. Despite the reassurance that Lord John had given at the start of my mission I didn’t wish to rely on the mercy of the Crown or it’s army. Yes I had proudly served but I wasn’t naive enough to think all soldiers held noble intent. In fact we all had proof of the contrary.

A few weeks later I returned from tending to a sick tenant. The house was empty which was unusual given that evening meal was not long to be served. Entering the hallway I stepped cautiously along the long rug that ran its length. My hand moving to my blade hidden in the folds of my skirt. A noise came from the parlour to my right, keeping my breath even I pressed against the wall beside the door which was partially open. Firm footsteps approached and the door swung open. Using the moment to my advantage, I swung around, blade drawn and grabbed the male shoving him against the wall. The gleam of the blade against his throat as the whiskey glass he held fell to the floor and an indelicate shriek rang out.

“Jesus Mary and Bride woman! Are ye trying to scare me half to death! Trust me to wed Jamie to a Sassenach trained killer.”

“Dougal?!”

“I tis me, ye crazy woman are ye going to put that blade down afore ye slit my throat my accident.”

“I can assure you Dougal that if I slit your throat it would not be by accident. What are you doing here?”

“Hmph ye would take delight it killing me no doubt? I’m here to speak to yer husband remind him of his family vow.”

“Well he mustn’t be here probably still in the fields. It’s almost evening meal time so I imagine he will be back shortly.”

“I dinna mind waiting. Might pour another whiskey seeing as mine was dropped.”

He grinned smugly at me as he turned to pour another whiskey. I smiled demurely I knew Dougal was here about the rebellion, most likely on a mission to get Jamie to join the cause. Thankfully I had only to wait half an hour for Jamie and Ian to return from the fields and Jenny and Mrs Crook served the meal shortly after. Jenny with a stony face and glaring eye on Dougal.

Talk at the dining table was focused on farm yields and news from Leoch. Collum’s illness had worsen and Dougal it seems was making a play for clan lairdship. I couldn’t help myself shifting uneasily in my seat I had told Lord John’s brother of the MacKenzies loyalty. What would become of them if Dougal took over now? Damn my mind for not remembering who was Laird of the clan at Culloden. I knew Dougal would die there on that soggy moor, but hoped the clan hadn’t and wouldn’t follow in droves.

After the meal was finished Dougal asked for an audience with Jamie. He obliged of course casting a soothing smile towards me as he walked out to his study followed closely by Dougal.

“Ye dinna think thon eejit of an uncle will convince Jamie to join the cause?”

“I think Dougal will most definitely try to convince Jamie. But he has been told the same as you. We know how this ends and who wins. Jamie will not risk his family or tenants. Plus he has never had interest in politics before.”

“Aye well I dinna like it. Something deceitful about that man. I ken he’s my uncle, my mother’s brother and ye should never speak ill of kin. But the sooner he is away from this house and off Fraser land the better.”

She shook her head as she cleared plates. Giving hell to Ian who was in her way. Jamie and I had talked about this very happening, what to do if Dougal asked for help or soldiers. I knew though that talking hypothetically was very different to the reality.

I sat at my dressing table the warm light of candles flickering shadows across the room. Carefully pulling pins from my unruly locks in preparation for bed. Jamie had been in the study with Dougal for hours. The occasional raised voice was all the indication to us of how things faired. Now he was sat in the chair by the fire, loud sighs emitting from his throat as he pulled his boots off.

“He canna be convinced any other way Sassenach.”

“I know he is a stubborn man Jamie and sees this cause as his life’s work. What did he want from you?”

“Support, men and weapons. He wanted me to lead a company.”

“What did you tell him.”

“That I dinna see how another pompous and self righteous king sitting on the same throne would make any difference to me. My men, our farmers, they’re no soldiers and I wilna see them led to slaughter. I have made it clear to them that I wilna shun them if they choose to go but I as their Laird will not be calling them up.”

He paused for a moment gathering his thoughts. A look of worry and heaviness settled on his features. When he went to speak again his voice was filled with emotion.

“Sassenach I pray I will be enough to protect these lands and the people that reside within it. To stop this rebellion from taking from us.”

“You do not have to carry this on your own Jamie. I am here with you. I will walk beside you and share this task. Together we can do anything, there’s two of us now.”

I knelt down at his feet, taking his hands in mine. This undertaking would not be his alone. He reached to gently caress my face and run his fingers through my hair.

“Yer hair is wild and free just like ye. ‘‘Twas the first thing I noticed about ye after yer very fine arse of course.”

“Hey! What were you doing looking at my arse anyway. We hadn’t even spoken.”

“I could hardly miss it! That plump round arse of yours as ye stood defiant with yer hand on yer hips giving what for to all around ye. Then I had yer fine arse pressed up against me between my thighs as we rode to Leoch.”

“You seem to remember it well Mr Fraser. Did you often have women pressed between your thighs?”

“I canna say I did, and I doubt any of them would have stirred my interest like yer bonny self.”

“Mmm quite, I do remember a harden length pressing into me on that journey.”

“Oh aye, has but it’s own mind when ye are near Sassenach. It was that ride to Leoch that made me want ye. Christ Sassenach I could hardly keep my mind off ye and yer plump round arse.”

“Well that’s rather reassuring that I stirred that interest in you. I can say you distracted my mind and sleep as well.”

“Yer sleep Sassenach?”

“Oh yes my mind liked to do wicked things to you. Did I ever tell you the merits of the kilt from the view of a wife?”

“The merits of the kilt Sassenach? No I never did hear your thoughts.

“Well for one they make any male incredibly handsome. Though personally for me being able to pin you to a wall and fling your kilt up and grasp your cock to have my way is definitely my favourite.”

He let out a groan and gripped the chair arms as I did just that.

“Blessed Bride, Sassenach!”

Gripping his harden cock and licking down its length. He thrust his hips forward to me as I took him into my mouth, slowly delivering my ministrations. His large frame relaxing into the chair as I brought him to completion.

Dougal left the next morning disgruntled that his objective had been unachieved. Jenny had visible relief on her face and now set to task with alacrity. We needed to ensure a good store of food that would see us through the famine years and be easily hidden. Instructions were given to the tenants so they too could prepare. All were fearful of the rebellion and what it would bring. None even questioned the suggestions of building a store house and planting potatoes. Having little food to survive was something that rested uneasily at the back of every Highlanders mind.

A few weeks later we had stores built and hidden and would continue to fill them during the plentiful seasons. Jenny and I were sat in the parlour her darning stockings while I once again tried my hand at knitting them. I was not making a successful go of it.

“Jenny really do you not think this is a waste of time trying to teach me, you have tried for nearly over a year. I just don’t think this is where my talents lie.”

“Claire everyone in the Highlands, man and woman ken how to click it. Taught as bairns we are.”

“Everyone? Even Jamie and Ian?”

“Aye.”

“Then why isn’t he knitting his own blasted stockings!”

I held up the poor attempt I was working on and shook them.

“Now sister that is a good attempt, I wasna to know that Jamie’s legs had taken such an odd shape? Though if not for him they would look wonderful on Ian’s peg.”

“Hey!”

Jenny was unable to contain her giggles. They burst forth like water from a pipe. Her whole body shaking and face brightening with the mirth. I cast a forlorn look at my pathetic attempt and began to shake with laughter too.

“I think Jenny my efforts are better left with growing herbs and vegetables and stitching flesh! I think it’s a waste to try and teach me darning or knitting!”

“Oh sister but what will Ian wear on his peg?! If ye dinna finish this!”

The laughter of us both doubled and tears were flowing down both our cheeks. I doubted that no one else would understand what was so funny but I think that made us laugh all the more. A knock on the door drew my attention.

“Excuse me Mistress, ye have a caller, a gentlemen”

“Thank you Mrs Crooks. Did he give a name.”

“No Mistress he only asked for Mrs Beauchamp. He’s English I thought he might be kin to ye.”

“Thank you Mrs Crooks show him in please.”

My blood had ran cold as soon as she said the words Mrs Beauchamp. The laughter all but dying in my throat. Jenny had clearly realised something was amiss. She had moved to stand beside me, her face serious, all joviality gone. My breath caught slightly in shock until I schooled my features once again as Richardson stepped into the room. A smug grin plastered across his face. He bowed and closed the gap between us. Jenny’s hand gripped my shoulder tighter.

“Mistress Beauchamp or should I say Mistress Fraser how lovely to see you.”

“I wish I could say them same about you Richardson.”

“Oh come now we have been through so much over the years. I was a close friend of your father’s before his untimely death. I did enjoy travelling with him and you as well.”

I caught the pointed look Jenny threw at me and her pressing her lips together in a failed effort to stop laughing. She covered it with a few coughs.

“I was hoping you would indulge me with a few moments of your time? Privately of course.”

“Anything ye have to say to my good sister ye can say in front of us all. It’s no likely to nay impact on all our family now isn’t!”

“I am afraid this is a personal matter to Mistress Beauchamp. Mistress… I’m sorry I don’t believe I got your name Madame.”

“I didn’t do introductions, I don’t expect you to be staying long enough to need to know my family. However this is Mrs Jenny Fraser Murray my sister. This is Mr Richardson .”

“It is a pleasure to meet any of your family. Now if we could have that private word?”

 

“I dinna care if it is a private matter ye’ll no be holding court with my sister while her husband is no here.”

“Mistress Murray this is none of your concern. It concerns her late father’s estate.”

Jenny looked at me once more and rolled her eyes. I could only smile weakly.

“Tis alright Claire I take it he’s from the future too then”

“They know the truth! Do you realise what you have done, what you have risked?”

“To be honest Richardson I don’t care, it’s no longer relevant. I have completed my mission and I am no longer in the employ of the War Office.”

“Yes you completed yet another impossible mission. The bosses are very impressed and so you have another. You are our best agent.”

“No, I am done, finished. No more. This was to be my last. I have already given up so much for this, lost a husband, been sent back in time, with no extraction plan in place. I have made a life here, I won’t leave my family.”

“We need you. The top brass are not going to let you simply walk away.”

“Find someone else for your no doubt ridiculous mission.”

“This one requires you and your proven skill set. You are to join the rebellion and spy within.”

“What?! Have you completely lost your mind? I’m English encase you hadn’t noticed I will be viewed with suspicion how..,”

“You have never failed before.”

“My last mission was to help against the rebellion and the coming clearances.”

“Yes and that information has helped greatly. This mission however the top brass think is ideal for you. We want you to further undermine the rebellion in hopes it fizzles out plus we can then target the clans that need punished.”

“Target the clans that need punished? These people are farmers and tenants bound to Lairds and war chiefs! You know the victory lies with the British, why this!”

“Because perhaps you can help end this before the slaughter of Culloden. Perhaps you can have greater impact on those who choose to stay loyal.”

“And history writes the path of this rebellion, you don’t need me.”

“History doesn’t write the stories of those involved. Yes we know the victories and yet we don’t know the men. That’s were you come in gathering intelligence, spying on them. The top brass have said they won’t take no for an answer. You owe them after that debacle with Randall? Oh, you thought they wouldn’t find out? There was a lot of clearing up to do, to cover your tracks Claire.”

He spoke in a firm tone. Eyes steely and cold as he regarded me. I had already given so much I didn’t understand why they needed to send me to do this. I stood resolute. Richardson slowly pulled two letters from his inner pocket. Holding them in both hands he sighed out loud.

“I had hoped it wouldn’t come to this Claire. That you would understand your duty but alas you have made your stance clear. Two warrants of arrest. One for a James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser and one for an Ian Murray both of Lallybroch.”

The warrants thumped to the table and skidded to a stop in front of me. The two names glaring up at me. Jenny reached out with shaking hand to lift them. Her head shaking no in silent protest. My eyes were fixed on Richardson, rage burning within them. My throat constricting and heart beating wildly. I saw his mouth opening and closing in clear desperation for understanding but the words failed to reach my ears.

The gasping sob and no no no from Jenny a background noise to the heartbeat roaring in my chest. I crossed the room with furious intent grabbing Richardson by his throat, his face turning puce as I pushed him into the wall.

“One reason why I shouldn’t just break your neck this very moment?”

“They are only copies, the warrants have been dispatched to the local garrison already. If you don’t agree to the mission, the letter rescinding them won’t be sent.”

My heart sank into the pit of my stomach as Jenny’s wailed cry echoed. All of my sacrifices, all I had lost bubbled to the surface and with blinding rage I struck Richardson. Stopping only when exhaustion took over my limbs and Jenny’s screams and relentless hauling brought my away.

“I’m sorry Claire I wanted no part of this but I had no choice. The same as you, it’s our job.”

He whimpered as he lay crumpled on the floor blood pouring from his nose and mouth. My breathing hitched as I drew air in wildly, my chest straining at my stays. I did have no choice and I hated it beyond all measure.

Richardson sat on a chair in the kitchen as I tended to his wounds. Inflicted of course by my hand. He grumbled and flinched as I dabbed a clean linen at the blood to clean it away. I could not bring myself to look at him. Focusing instead on tending to his medical needs.

“You aren’t going to ask me about him?”

“Who? Frank? Why should I, he made his choice very clear. Are you going to tell me he has remarried and is blissfully happy?”

“Well you remarried in haste if I can remark.”

“I had to! And it’s none of your business anyway. I love Jamie.”

“Which is why you will agree to this mission?”

“You know full well I don’t have a choice. No free will to choose, to live my life as my own. That’s one thing Frank won’t have to be concerned over, the War Office calling him into service once more.”

“I am sorry Claire for what it’s worth. For some of us the war years were only the beginning. I’m afraid there will be no end insight for the likes of us.”

“The likes of us?”

“Yes, you think I am here because I want to be? That I hadn’t plans for after the war? Hopes, dreams. All gone Claire.”

His words chilled me once more. Would this ever end? Would I have to give up Jamie too? I already knew that I couldn’t bring myself to walk away from him. But to subject him to this life? The door swung open and Jamie barrelled in out of breath and sweating, Ian following not far behind.

“Sassenach are ye, Mrs Crooks sent, there was trouble.”

His words were a jumbled mess and he grabbed hold of me checking me over. I glanced at Richardson still sitting in the chair being tended to. Jamie’s eyes suddenly widened and he released me.

“You were attacked man! Who did this?”

“Well that would have been me. You are lucky I didn’t kill the bastard.”

Richardson smiled weakly

“Jamie this is Richardson. Richardson this is my husband Jamie.”

“Why did ye attack him Sassenach do ye need me and Ian to see him off our lands?”

“Oh I would take great delight it doing that myself darling but Richardson needs to stay for a little longer. Don’t you Richardson. You need to explain to my over 6 feet tall, very large, very strong Highland warrior of a husband why exactly you came and why I can’t say no.”

Richardson swallowed audibly as I finished tending to him.

“I’ll just leave you to get all the details. Ian you probably wish to stay as well. Richardson perhaps I forgot to tell you my husband and brother fought as mercenaries in France.”

“Mmm Claire, Agent Randall! You, really, can’t you stay? What about Mrs Murray where is she? The cook even?”

I walked out of the kitchen without another look back. Jenny was sitting in the parlour still darning stockings. I stopped to pour two whiskeys before I sat heavily in the seat beside her.

“You left thon wee eejit from the future to explain to them clotheids what’s happening then?”

“Yes”

“Good.”

Chapter Text

“So Sassenach ye are going to go then? Join the rebellion and spy on them?”

Richardson had left after evening meal. Terrified to stay no doubt between my anger and then Jamie’s. A full rescinding of the arrest warrants having been agreed on the account of my immediate signing on to the mission. I had also ensured that Lallybroch would not be touched. My name being mixed up in the rebellion could have far reaching consequences for those left at Lallybroch. I couldn’t bear the thought that Jamie, Jenny and Ian would be made to suffer because of actions I had no choice but to make. I felt empty on the inside, washed up and drained. I sat with the weight of the world upon my shoulders at the task before me. Though in truth the mission was not that difficult. The damned near impossible part was leaving Jamie.

“Yes I have to go. If I don’t they will arrest you and Ian. I must do what I can to protect my family. I’m so sorry Jamie.”

“Tis no yer fault Sassenach. I shouldna fallen in love with a lassie from the future, would have saved me a world of trouble to have married a local Lass instead!”

“Oi you!”

I slapped his arm in mock indignation. He pulled me in close to him.

“Remember you told me I dinna have to bear everyone’s burdens and that there were two of us now?”

“Yes you unbearably honourable man, I do. And it’s true what I said, you don’t have to fix everything, promise me that?”

“Aye I will and Sassenach, the same goes for you. This dinna have to be faced as yers alone.”

He held my face in his hands as he spoke the words. His eyes pleading with mine. Without words his intention was clear as day to me. A relief washed over my body and the heaviness and weariness I had been carrying, just simply melted away.

“You want to come with me? Put yourself at risk, in danger for a cause you don’t believe in? Why?”

“I have had but one love in my life Sassenach and that is you. My life is yours to keep and I will go where you go, I will follow where you lead. We are but one, man and wife, body and soul.”

I hugged him tight to me, this wonderful loving man who would risk his home and life for me. Tears began to stream down my face, I finally had family and was now going to be tearing them apart. At that moment the door burst open and Jenny bustled in arms full.

“Now sister ye aren’t exactly dressed for war, but I have a few bits gathered that will make it work.”

She began piling items out on the bed. Extra shift, stockings, spare woollen skirt, a leather apron and linens.

“We have a small wagon that just needs a slight fix up and that should help ye with yer medicines and such. The mule can pull it grand, thon beast Jamie calls a horse can be tied on. Oh sister I canna believe yer being pulled away from here but ye will come back and safe? Ye swear it to me. Now brother ye need to speak to Ian about the weapons and food for ye.”

“How did you know Jamie would come with me? We have literally just discussed it.”

“Awk now he’s ma brother! I ken he’s a damn fine fool half the time but I dinna need to be a mind reader to ken his love for ye. He would follow ye to Hell and back ye ken.”

With that she smiled and whirled out of the room, leaving Jamie and I to pack.

I had of course told her and Ian of the War Offices plans to reduce the coming storm of the clearances. Despite that plan and hope I had told them to prepare. Build hidden food stores, to plant potatoes and gather up gold and coin as much as possible. That was thankfully already in motion. I knew that no matter what happened to Jamie and I, returning to Lallybroch was unlikely. It had pained me to sign it over to Jenny and Ian’s son, wee Jamie. Yet I knew it was the only way. Richardson had assured me Lallybroch would be protected, but I doubted that would apply if Jamie was involved in the rebellion. It was a risk neither of us wished to take, so with tears blurring my eyes I had signed the deed. Jamie had signed without a moments pause, though I knew his heart must of ached.

Murtagh had disappeared a little over a week before. Gone off to hunt and enjoy solitude. Lallybroch was a bustling den that never ceased and so I couldn’t blame the grumpy little man for escaping. Except now, Jamie and I were departing in the morning and we had no idea where Murtagh was. Jamie had of course assured me that Murtagh would catch us up. Saying the wee man always had a way of simply appearing when you needed him. As I settled into sleep I prayed Jamie was right. There was just something disheartening about him not being with us on this mission.

Morning arrived all too quickly and Jamie and I stood in the door yard saying our goodbyes. It was acutely strange to me, I had a family to say goodbye too. Yes of course I had had Frank during the war but it hadn’t felt the same when I had boarded that train. Lallybroch was my home, Jenny and Ian my family. It broke my heart to get into that wagon. The tears fell slowly at first but as the stone archway receded into the distance I lost all control of them. Jamie wrapped his arm around me pulling me in close, I allowed myself to weep and took comfort from his embrace.

“I’m so sorry Jamie. You shouldn’t be getting dragged away from your family into this bloody mess of a war!”

“Sassenach ye ken I wouldna let ye go alone. There wasna a chance of that happening.”

“But if something were to happen to you.”

“Claire I willna hear of talk like that. We are bound you and I. Whether we are together or no, alive or no, our souls are linked, connected through time. We belong together. We can never be parted, so long as ye are by my side I am well pleased with the world.”

I reached up and kissed him with wild abandon, careless of the wagon and the road. Jamie’s kiss returned in equal fever sealed the commitment and bond we shared. I was not in this alone, we would face what was to come together.

***********************************
She lay in restless sleep curled like a wee Cheetie in front of the fire. Murmurs and groans brushing across her lips. She was beautiful, my Sassenach, my Sorcha, mo chridhe. The burdens she had carried herself on those slim shoulders, Christ she was a warrior, a fighter. Strong for herself and all around her. With no regard for herself she had agreed to this mission, all to keep me and Ian from false arrest. She had fought for me even after I had abandoned her and slayed those who had sought to harm me. She was a fierce wee thing. I prayed to God that I would be enough.

Lord that ye would guide me, strengthen me to protect my Sorcha, my beloved. That ye would protect her as she takes on this tasking. That if the time comes that we do part that my last words to her will be that I love her.

I sat and took simple pleasure in watching her. Light began to tinge the sky as morning crept into life. I didn’t know what lay ahead but knew that if we were together we could face it. With dawn approaching I reluctantly left her still resting, now peacefully to fetch breakfast.

An hour later she grumbled to life, stretching and groaning into existence. The fish cooking on the fire and the sunlight beaming upon her making it impossible to sleep.

“What time is it? Ugh am sore all over from the ground.”

“No long after dawn Sassenach. If our information is right we should find the Scot’s army today. I canna promise a decent bed but ye never can tell.”

She smiled up at me still laying on the ground.

“Oh well I have slept on worse, I think I have been spoiled having a rather large four poster bed with feather mattress this last year or more. At least I have my furnace like husband to keep me warm. It won’t matter if I don’t have a fire I know I will sleep warm each night. It’s one of the benefits of taking your husband to war.”

She giggled and her eyes shone in the morning light. I loved the sound of her laugh, a warming rumble from deep within her chest. Yet that sultry giggle did even more for me as it shot straight to my cock.

"glad to be of service Sassenach."

"Mmm whats for breakfast Mr Fraser, besides fish."

We ate our fill while enjoying the morning light brightening the land around us. The reality of what today would bring us heavy on our minds. Today we would join the rebellion.

Nearing the location of the army we had a pleasant surprise arrive with us, Murtagh. His gruff demeanour and scruffy looks a welcome relief. Claire jumped from the wagon grabbing him into a full embrace as she shrieked with joy.

“Now ye canna fault that for a welcome! I’ll no promise ye the same from me but rest assured I’m wild pleased to see ye.”

“Aye lad me too.”

He pulled me into a hug a smile spreading across his bearded face.

“Now would ye care to catch me up on what’s going on? And why we are nay distance from joining the rebellion?”

“Well that Murtagh would be my fault. You know the truth of me and why I am here in this time. Well the War Office tasked me to spy on the rebellion. They threatened to arrest Ian and Jamie if I didn’t agree. I’m so sorry, you don’t have to stay with us I would never expect you to risk yourself like this.”

“Lass dinna get upset over it. Do we have a plan then aye?”

I saw relief flood Claire’s face at Murtagh’s words. I knew he would never abandon us. The plan was simple at best but Claire hoped that due to that it would be easy to avoid detection. With Dougal having a role with troops on the ground and the previous ask for me to lead a company. We figured that would give me inside information on movements and clans involved. Claire could volunteer in the surgery and gain information on injuries and morale. She would then send messages to Richardson.

“Tis not the most complex of plans but it could work. Aye it could work. Best we get going then.”

He nodded once and gathered up his horse’s reins. That was the joy of Murtagh always quietly there in the background. Always willing to fulfil his vow to my mother to watch over me. This time however the tasking came with greater risk. That was what weighed heavily on my heart as I clicked the mule on. This path led only to the rebellion and a destiny neither I nor Claire could ensure.

***********************************
The plan was simple, too simple with no contingencies in place. If I, we, were caught it would be death. I swallowed the lump in my throat painting on a demure look of submission. I had went into missions with less planning and greater overall risk. I could do this! Though I scolded myself, I had never dragged my husband into the mix, nor put his family at risk. I should have killed Richardson on the spot! And then hunted down any Redcoat with an arrest warrant for my husband or Ian. I shook my head, clearing my thoughts. If only it was as easy as that.

The noises of an army began to break through the silence. The low rumble of voices, the sounds of hammers on metal. The smell of camp cooking all assaulted the senses. We rolled into the camp after being stopped by a sentry. A young boy who looked no older than twelve if a day. There seemed to be some measure of organisation to the camp layout. Though I doubted that it was as structured as the British. I thought of some of the camps I had been in during my war years. The neat little rows and orderliness.

Silently we made our way to the command tents. Knowing that was where the prince and his minions would be. This was where Jamie and I needed to charm them. Make them believe we lived for the cause. The wagon rolled to a stop and Jamie hopped down, reaching up to lift me by the waist.

“Are ye ready Sassenanch?”

“Je suis prest.”

I echoed as I ran my fingers lightly over his Fraser brooch, pinned to his plaid.

“I never did get telling ye the Fraser Moto.”

“There is much to still tell and learn Jamie. We have our whole lives ahead to do it.”

I smiled as tears welled in my eyes. Never had the desire to live, to survive a mission been so high. Kissing my forehead he turned and took my hand in his as we walked to see what destiny had in store.

Chapter Text

Jesus H Roosevelt Christ! I growled into myself for what must be the one hundredth time today. What was so impossibly hard or difficult about remembering to wash your hands on entry and exit and between each patient? I knew they were doing the best they could. These poor women dragged into a war and surgery they had no desire to be part of. The death toll had been high, so few surviving more than a few days. Most succumbing to infections and fever. I had read the admissions book and choked back my horror. Clean, sterile practices would help, but I was shocked at how difficult it had been to win them over to that view.

Even with detailed explanation and procedures in place to follow, slips ups continued. Like Mrs Monroe forgetting to sterilise the needle and thread before use on a nasty gash, or Miss Campbell forgetting to wash her hands between patients. It was frustrating and still the young men died and another took his place in the bed. I had seen enough young men’s lives lost through war. The mutilated bodies, the vacant soulless eyes of those who survived but wished themselves dead. Yet I was having to see it all again. Pass information that could potentially end this slaughter earlier? That was my hope. Though I knew the War Office, had worked for them for many years, could I really trust them? That was the crux of the matter.

We had been on the campaign trail as such for seven months. Seven very long months I might add. I had hoped that we could have left after the initial reports had been received by the War Office. But alas that was a hope that never materialised and so I continued my undercover work. Espionage was something that had brought a thrill to my life before, a purpose and delight in thinking I was making a difference. Now with this mission it left a bad taste in my mouth, setting an uneasy feel through my bones. I didn’t feel that anything I was providing was reducing the impact of the rebellion, nor bringing it to an end early.

The only good side of this foray into war was that Dougal MacKenzie had given us a wide berth. On our arrival he had of course simpered and smirked, delighted that his nephew had changed his mind. If only he had known the truth eh? After a rather direct and pointed conversation with Jamie he however had a better understanding. That being to stay well away from us. Of course he had passed on the news of Colum’s death. I was sad to hear that. He and I had shared an understanding of sorts. His death allowed Dougal to seize control of the Clan, just as Colum had feared. A few of course joined him in the cause but not as many as he hoped. It seems Letisha, Colum’s wife knew her husband’s view on the rebellion. And she was not so easily pushed aside by the reigning Laird, especially given said Laird was on the war trail and intent to drag the Clan along with him.

Jamie stomped into our room, Murtagh trotting in behind him, his face frozen in fury. Jamie had taken on that desperate, almost vacant look these last few weeks. The rebellion was starting to falter. The initial drive now slowed and the retreat back to Scotland’s soil demoralising. Early victories like Prestonpans were long forgot in the eyes of the rag-tag soldiers whose bellies grumbled with hunger. The meagre rations were slowly running out and help seemed to never be coming, despite the elegant pontificating of the Prince. Yet the resolve to continue didn’t seem to be wavering. The war council continue to place demands on the troops.

It had been difficult having to leave Jamie and Murtagh to gather the information the War Office wanted. I, as a woman, was not permitted in the war council meetings. Jamie had proud as a peacock told me that without his and Murtagh’s assistance the mission would have failed. I thought it best that he continued to think that and didn’t realise how I would have obtained that information without his kindly help. I blushed slightly at the thought.

Yes this had been a most challenging mission. Not because of the lack of food, nor the cold or death toll. No, the mission was difficult because it put the one person I cared about the most at risk. I had of course been close to my war colleagues, had wept when they fell. This however was something I could barely describe. To watch Jamie leave to lead a company of soldiers into battle damn near ripped by heart out.

I had watched my strong Highland warrior prepare for battle each time. Stopping to pray to cleanse his soul and mind. Asking God for strength to lead, that he will be enough. To know that he vomited each time with the weight of the tasking and the taking of life. Knowing that this was all being done for me. I had tried to get out of this mission. At each update and passing of information I had even begged but no I was not to be released from this bondage. The mission deemed too important.

Jamie and Murtagh flopped heavily into the chairs at the small fire. Silence fell across the room as they both simply stared at the flames. A chill passed through my bones which had nothing to do with the cold biting outside. I was terrified to ask what had happened, hoping that one or the other would break the silence.

“He’s a damned fool!”

“Aye I ken that from first we laid eyes upon his regal Highness. But alas we are here now with nay way out.”

“Pompous prick! I told ye they are all the same Jamie, I told ye. Will make nay difference which king sits his royal arse in the throne.”

Murtagh spoke the truth. History was not kind to the Bonny Prince but having met him in person I couldn’t blame the history books. I had asked several times if I could assassinate him, convinced that the rebellion would die along with him. These men, farmers mostly, wanted nothing now but to return home. Many had, deserting in the night. Some where caught and returned, imprisoned until the next battle. But they were merely additional mouths to feed and care for, so most went unchallenged. My request was always refused. It seemed the War Office didn’t wish for royal blood to be on their hands. Content however for ordinary peoples instead.

“What has happened? Are there moves afoot?”

“Aye Sassenach. He wishes an attack planned. Despite the weather, the weakness of the men from hunger. I tried to convince him to let the men return to their families. The planting needs tended too the women canna be left to do it. That pompous prick dinna have an understanding of these peoples lives!”

“Kings and princes rarely do Jamie. What are we to do?”

“Ye ken what month next is? April, Sassenach, ye ken what will happen then if yer tales are true.”

“Aye they have proved to be so far ye ken.”

“Hmph true, true. Well it seems we ken our destiny now. Til lie dead on Culloden moor for we march towards it starting tomorrow.”

My blood ran cold once again. A numbness taking over.

“We can leave, run away and start over somewhere new.”

“Nay we can’t there are guards posted all around us. Seems the Bonny Prince will except nay more deserters.”

I went to Jamie and was pulled into his lap. I took comfort in his male scent. The earthy manly smell of sweat, horse and tallow soap. I don’t know how long we sat like that, silence washing over us, the crack of the fire and the dance of it’s flame the only noise and movement within.

The next morning we set off, towards Culloden moor. It seems that even with knowledge of the future little could be done to adjust its course. My mind drifted back to those early days in training with Lord John. He had spoken of our duty to protect history, prevent harm being done. Yet by all measure what good had come of my mission? What difference would be made to how history would be written? I had simply put the man I loved the most at risk. I would see his death on Culloden moor. The thought haunted me.

The progress was tediously slow. The route nothing more than a mud track. The wagons wheels slipped and slid across the brown glistening mud. The sun barely warmed the air before disappearing, and the looming height of the Highlands seemed to rise seamlessly to the sky. The snow capped tips gently caressing the clouds. The wild untamed beauty was no longer a comfort to me. When not ensuring the treatment of small alignments along the route I thought tirelessly of how to escape this nightmare. Each day was bringing us closer to Culloden. I was running out of time.

After what seems weeks of slog in mud and drizzled rain we reached Culloden House. The army if I could even call it that, camped in tidy rows on the vast lands. The Prince of course took up residence in the grand old house. I set to distracting myself with arranging the surgery. I knew the slaughter that this final battle would bring. I knew also it was pointless to try and aid the wounded. The Redcoats would sweep through killing all, vengeance consuming like night. Yet it brought reason and structure to my thoughts to prepare.

To see Jamie struggle with the magnitude of what was to take place gripped my soul. He had barely slept nor ate. His time spent training his men, surveying the ground, discussing tactics with me and the history. It was hopeless though and he knew it. One company of men could not change the outcome, not against the raging cannonade of the British. Suggestion after suggestion from him was dismissed by the Prince and his inner circle. I could no longer sit idly by.

The battle of Culloden was mere days away. Jamie due to honour and damned stubbornness refused to escape. Not wishing to leave his men, they needed leadership, guidance on the battlefield.
Casting my eyes around them I could see how true that was. Some just young boys come to do their fathers bidding, most just farmers fighting for a cause they could never understand. Hoping for a new dawn where perhaps their sacrifices would count for something. The air was thick with tensions. Everyone certain that something monumental was to take place. I had set to task to prepare the surgery, barking orders in quick fashion to have it ready in time. Repeating time and again of hand washing and sterilising, though knowing my efforts would be in vain. There would be few survivors.

I stood staring into the distance, the world falling away steeply before my eyes. This mission had been my most challenging. It had brought me to my knees, taken every last piece of resolve and strength I had. Richardson had arranged to meet me that morning just before dawn. The pompous arse had been late and then stood hands on hips sighing loudly before speaking.

“Agent Fraser the War Office cannot thank you enough for the efforts of you and your husband. The information has been invaluable.”

“Invaluable! I have provided little beyond what was already written in the history books. Well you know it. Now we stand on the cusp of Culloden where we know the result and where my Husband will most likely die! I asked, no begged to leave this months ago and you refused.”

“Well I see no harm Agent Fraser in you making haste your escape. The mission is now complete.”

“You utter bastard! Leave now? The battle is upon us, we cannot leave.”

“Well that is unfortunate Agent Fraser but hardly my fault. I had orders myself. I will leave you and wish you and your husband God speed.”

“You fucking bastard! I will kill you if I see you again. I will no longer do the bidding of the War Office.”

He had began to walk away as I shouted the words after him. I was enraged beyond measure the blood thumping loudly in my head and chest beating wildly. He stopped but didn’t turn fully towards me.

“I highly doubt our paths will cross again Mrs Fraser. The odds are stacked against you after all and I doubt you will abandon your beloved husband. At least not this one. I will pass your regards to Frank.”

“Bastard!”

“Now, now such language from a lady! You and I both know where your loyalty lies, to the Crown. King and country will always come first with people like us. We aren’t so different you and I.”

I stood arms flopped at my side, a choking sob quivering in my chest, being held back by strength I barely had. It was true my loyalty had been to my country. Sacrifice after sacrifice made because I felt it my duty. Even this mission I had done mainly to stop Jamie and Ian being arrested. Yet, well in truth , there was part that thrilled at the mission. With my skill set I could have found another way, I should of found another way. Stopped the arrest warrants, not put Jamie and Murtagh at risk. I realised now that I needed them, my family, to be my priority, my duty over all. Jamie due to honour would not walk away. I knew how to end this, stop Culloden from happening but I was running out of time.

I shook myself bringing back my steeled focus. I had to act now. I ran back to my lodgings grabbing my leather satchel as silently as I could to avoid waking Jamie. Rummaging through it I grabbed my knife and stuffed it into my stocking. Dawn was beginning to pink the sky and the camp would soon be awake.

I moved silently through it, sticking to the shadows making my way towards Culloden House. I should have done this months ago, it could have saved so many. The guards were half asleep, struggling against exhaustion. It was easy to slip passed them undetected. The grand house was still in darkness, the early morning sky not enough to brighten the rooms. The hall stood eerily still. The furniture looming like shadowed monsters huddling in the under world. I stepped on carefully, expecting to see someone hurrying down the hallway or bustling out of a room. Each step was precisely placed, breaths small and controlled until I reached my goal, the Prince’s bedchamber.

No guard stood outside, testimony to the foolish thought of his superiorness and the adoration of the troops. I had never fallen under that spell, having seen the arrogant fool for what he was. I reached for the door handle, the metal cool and smooth under my hand. As I began twisting it gently to open it a large hand grabbed my shoulder and another whipped across my mouth. I was pulled backwards into the shadows and an empty room. It was a small chamber with a large table and chairs.

I was still held tightly to the male but the familiar scent and form of the body assured me it was Jamie. I allowed myself to relax and melted into his chest slightly as he released my mouth and arms. The room was still tinged in darkness the dawn still barely in existence. Yet when I turned I could see Jamie’s face as clear as if under a thousand lights. Panic pinched his eyes and he was paled to an almost ghostly white.

“Sassenach please tell me ye weren’t doing what I think ye were about to do?”

“Yes Jamie I was!”

Hissing the words out on a whisper.

“I am doing what I should of done months ago. The lives that could have been saved Jamie. I’ve passed literally nothing of significant note to the War Office. Nothing that has prevented this moment from arriving nor our involvement.”

“Ye have acted as directed Sassenach. Followed yer instructions. Tis no for ye to ken what they do with what ye tell them. Is that no what ye spoke off with your previous missions?”

“With this I knew the history, the outcome of the actions. Never have I had that insight before. Yet I was still asked to follow the dots placed by history changing little, doing nothing to stop this bloodshed. The victory will lie with the British but at the cost of how many lives! I stopped Geillis, I prevented that but this I followed blindly along knowing I could end this. I can stop this Jamie. End it now, I know you can’t reconcile yourself to this part of me but I need to do this.”

“Ye are no God! Ye have nay right to play at his power to decide who lives or dies. Do ye think his death will stop this coming battle? I tell ye it wilna halt it. The war council will press forward desperate for a victory over the British. Yet ye will have blood on your hands.”

“And I would have anyway, as we sit on the dawn of this battle. So would you with those slaughtered by your hand on the field and I would have the loss of you.”

“The difference being that they will have faced me with honour and choice. You Sassenach intend to murder a man in his sleep!”

“Killing is killing Jamie, surely a godly man of your ilk would recognise that. There is no honour in killing of any kind but yet I have done so for the greater good and would do so now to save your life.”

The sobs erupted from deep within my chest. The thought of losing him now consumed my mind. I was pulled roughly into his embrace, as I sobbed to him of what Richardson had said. How I knew it was pointless as he wouldn’t leave and that I just wanted to return to Lallybroch. He shushed me and rubbed my back in smoothing circles whispering Gaelic words of comfort.

“Sassenach ye ken it’s gone to far to walk away. My destiny lies on Culloden Moor ye must go, leave be safe. Return even to yer own time.”

“No! I told you I am staying, you are my husband Jamie, my home. I will not leave you.”

There was a pleading desperation in my voice as I looked up at him. I would not leave him, nor watch from the sides of this battle, there were two of us now. I would stand by him through it all. Jamie didn’t reply at first, he simply hugged me into his large frame. The beating of his heart the only sound in my ear. He then slowly released me and whispered.

“Aye Sassenach, as ye wish.”

Chapter Text

Turlach Ard! The MacKenzie war cry rang out in the lines beside. The mist that clung to the moor was barely lifted and the sun had done little to warm the day. The cannonade of the British began to boom loudly, the whistle of the canon balls zipping through the air. I had faced danger and battle before, fought for my life on more than one occasion. Yet I had never had the sheer utter terror course through my veins as I did now watching Jamie run forward, sword drawn and lifted high. Charging towards the British cannons. The battle would not last long, I ran with the line of men, my sword drawn, though inconsequential against muskets and cannon.

The meagre might of the Scots rebellion smashed against the might of the British Army. The past victories and training long forgotten, as proud Scots fell to the bayonet and musket ball. Their worn tartan soaking up the muddy damp as their blood soaked the ground. The battle would we fierce but quick.

I swung my sword slashing my way across the battlefield. Eyes fixed on Redcoats moving towards me, ears closed off to the noise and cries that rose in waves as it moved along the battlefield. Exhaustion was continuing to drain my body but adrenaline surged me on. Murtagh was beside me, slashing Redcoats with ease, each of us guarding the other.

“I canna believe ye would be foolish enough to do this!”

“I could never watch from the sides. Not when I know this is the end! If Jamie is to fall in the battle so will I!”

“I’ve sworn to protect ye! To ma final breath.”

“And I to Jamie and you! I could not abandon you both.”

I cried out as a sabre struck my sword. The vibrations shaking down into my arms. I kicked the assailant back from me as I swung my sword connecting with them. I saw Jamie ahead of me, sweat glistening on his brow. His hair cut short still clung to his forehead and blood was soaked into his linen shirt. He was magnificent in battle, strong and capable.

The noise of the battle was beginning to fade. I no longer needed to consciously block it out. The swell of Redcoats continued to grow, the battle was lost. Surrender not an option, we continued on the fight. Two Redcoats approached from the left, a blow on my side knocked me to the ground. I saw the glint of the sword’s blade rising above me, caught on the sunlight that had fought through the mist that still claimed ownership of this moor. My own sword laying in the mud just beyond my reach.

Grasping, reaching with desperation, the damp of the moor soaking into my breeches chilling my body. The metal handle of my blade brushing my fingertips. A guttural cry ringing out as a heaviness landed on my back, knocking my breath from my body. The wide open and startled eyes of the Redcoat inches from my own, dead, empty. Suddenly I was pulled to my feet by a large hand.

“Sassenach! This is madness ye should never have fought! I canna keep ye safe.”

“It’s a battlefield Jamie, no one is safe. And you could not have stopped me!”

It was the truth, no protest or argument from him could have persuaded me otherwise. I had donned breeches and a shirt and joined the line. Determined that my destiny would lie with his.

“I will gladly die on this battlefield than live a moment without you!”

We had shouted these words to each other as we continued to sweep forward towards the never ending tide of Redcoats. My eyes scanned quickly through the throng, looking for Murtagh. I had lost sight of him when I fell to the ground. The canny little Scot was to my right about thirty yards from me and Jamie. His sword swinging in powerful arcs as he fought two Redcoats. Without words Jamie and I moved towards him.

They often say when witnessing sheer terror that the world slows down, silence engulfs you and a detachment often comes over you nearly removing you from what is unfolding before your eyes. That was not the case on this occasion. I had seen a hundred or more horrific scenes played out before my eyes. Yet the image before me and the wounded cry that erupted from Jamie’s very soul was by far the worst. We would all agree that thirty yards is not a vast distance, yet as a third soldier’s sword pitched forward piercing Murtagh from behind, it was suddenly a distance vast as the ocean.

Murtagh’s sword dropped to the ground as he staggered forward. The two Redcoats turned and ran on, their faces forever burned in my memory. The soldier who had struck the fatal blow ran towards Jamie and I. Without a break in step Jamie’s sword swung round connected with the soldier. A sudden jarring stop to his stride as he slid down into the mud of the moor. I was at Murtagh’s side pulling him towards me. His blood covering my hands as I tried to stem its flow. His last rattled breaths being drawn. Jamie landed on his knees beside me. Tears streaming my cheeks blurred my vision as Murtagh reached his hand out.

“A Ghoistidh!”

“Jamie, son, go, leave this place save yerself and..”

His words laboured and forced between each sharply drew breath, suddenly trailed off as his strength and breath left him. His body warm and heavy on my arms. Jamie’s eyes were widen in shock, his eyes moving between Murtagh’s prostrate form in my arms and my face. I’d had to leave behind friends and colleagues before in battle torn lands. Never knowing what happened to their bodies. Simply knowing their families would never have the chance to bury them. But I had never had to leave behind family, not until this very moment. Jamie still stared in distressed fixation. I knew his mind was unable to process the reality of what was before him. The battle still fought on around us but I knew we needed to move. With a strength of resolve I didn’t realise existed within me, I stood wrenching Jamie to his feet.

“We have to move, we have to go.”

I pleaded with him, hands clasped either side of his face. With one last look back at Murtagh I grabbed Jamie’s arm and pulled. The battle was lost. A sea of red surrounded and in the distance the Bonny Prince and his inner circle had vanished, the Scots had been abandoned to this dissolute moor. Still pulling Jamie we moved through small remaining skirmishes and the fallen. Three Redcoats appeared before us. Blood splattered across their faces and coats. I ground to a halt raising my sword once more, an ache in my arm causing the metal blade to shudder and shake. Jamie was at my left side, sword drawn and arm stretched across me.

“Well, well, well, lads look what we have ere! If it isn’t Red Jamie ‘imself! And is that a pretty little doxy he has tucked under his arm? Seems the rutting bastard Scots can’t even survive a battle without their whores!”

Hoots of laughter peeled from the three of them. Their eyes fixed on Jamie. He as an outlaw had been infamous across Scotland. I had thought that would have ceased with time but his involvement in the rebellion must have sparked interest still. I kept my eyes fixed to the three of them but could feel the tension and anger burning in Jamie at their comments.

“Dinna fear ye filthy Scot, we’ll take good care of yer whore.”

The soldier mocked in a poor attempt at a Scots accent. I was no ones whore and stepped forward passing Jamie’s outstretched arm. Swinging my sword towards the closest one. Jamie a second later was advancing too. It was at this point that I wished I had brought my pistol. I knew how this battle ended and deemed it worthless to assist overall. Plus I still somehow felt a sordid duty to protect the past, deciding it’s presence could bring too many questions.

My blow was met by the soldier’s sword. Jamie was fighting the two others. Blows being struck and blocked as he parried beside me. With nothing to lose I counterattacked, grabbing his bright red coat and pulling him toward me. I struck his face with the hilt of my blade, stunning him enough to plunge the sword into his chest. His eyes popped wide as his sword fell and he to his knees beside. A small trickle of blood trailed from the left side of his mouth, as I pushed him back from my blade.

Turning towards Jamie I saw the second solder fall as the blade of the third caught Jamie. The glimmering metal cutting through his left thigh high on his leg. Jamie crumpled as I closed the small gap. Blood gushed from the wound and I saw Jamie’s eyes wide and vacant. A paleness already creeping across his face as his large frame crashed to the ground. The third soldier raised his sword to deliver that final blow, both hands clutched to the hilt. I lunged forward with a roar, my blade stretched forward as far as my reach could go. The soldier’s sword was closing towards Jamie mere inches away. The tip pierced the soldier’s side as my body then crashed into his knocking him off course. I raised my blade and stood between him and Jamie.

I had nothing left to lose. I knew Jamie would die. There was simply too much blood. The soldier, holding his side raised his sword once more and charged blindly towards me. With his strength draining I easily cut him down. His body landing heavily to the ground at my feet. With haste I turned towards Jamie, his body laying on the ground, his Father’s sword at his left side. The blood was still seeping from his wound. His left hand trying desperately to find the strength to press to it. His chest rose and fell in short stuttered breaths. I fought down the swell of emotions and breathed his name out. The sound of hooves galloping in my mind, coming closer and closer and then sudden darkness consumed me as I fell off the world.

Chapter Text

My head throbbed. A stabbing sort of dull ache that seemed to come in waves. It seemed strange to feel this pain because surly I was dead? I existed in blackness and had no sensation of the rest of my body as though it was no longer there. My mind flipped around, scattered and torn bits of memories. They seemed to fight against each other as I tried to figure out the sequence.

My eyes blinked into life. A blurred brightness swirling like a vortex before me. A smell of despair filled my nose but not like a battlefield. A softness pressed against my cheek in a warmth and dryness that juxtaposed with the moor. I shot upright causing a wave of nausea to consume me, crashing me back onto the husk filled mattress. Eyes focusing now on a bleak room. A narrow cot bed and a lantern burning in one corner on the wall, hanging from a large rusting nail. The wooden oak door firmly shut with no door knob on this side. It indicated clearly my presence here was not voluntary.

My mind flicked to Jamie. A wave of emotion caught in my chest as a sob choked my throat. He was dead, gone, lost on that moor. His pale face and wide eyes, with the blood gushing from his thigh burned in my memory. I remembered the wracked breaths raising that broad chest. This was my fault, if I had went alone or if I had never came looking for him after he left me at the roadside, he would be alive. Sat at Lallybroch in front of the fire, the image of him sat in a chair, large legs thrust out towards the heat, a whiskey in one hand, sprung to my mind. A guttural cry sounded, echoing around the sparse room.

It was only as I lost my breath that I realised the sound was coming from me. I collapsed forward on my hands and knees, mouth wide open sucking ragged breaths in, as a fresh wave of grief washed over me. Tears fell in torrent streams to the rough woollen blanket on the bed. I cried myself to sleep, while dreams of Jamie peppered my unconscious mind.

I was woken with a shake. My eyes puffed and red no doubt from the tears, making it hard to focus on who stood before me. A young Private pulled me to my feet and out the door being joined by another. The corridor was cold and as bleak as my cell. Lanterns hung as various places casting an orange glow onto the grey stone. A smell of damp and faeces clung in the air. I had no idea where I was and doubted that I would be told. Neither Private spoke as they escorted me through the winding corridors and stairs.

I had no idea what was going to take place. I had been on the loosing side. Taken from the battlefield for a purpose, no doubt of which I would discover very soon. I did not care what happened to me. My reason to live and exist had been snuffed out on that moor. I attempted no conversation with either of my guards. Instead listening and looking. We stopped in front of a smart oak door. The well polished door knob and hinges gleamed from the lantern lights. A short rap on the door seen our entry granted.

The room was a study. Furnished elaborately with leather sofas and walnut display cabinets. Large paintings filled a wall behind the desk which a small plump Major sat behind. Letters and documents lay scattered across the desk as he scrawled quickly a missive with his worn quill. The purplish black smudges under his eyes evident of the exhaustion he faced. I suddenly realised I had no idea what day or time it was and that I was in my breeches and blood splattered shirt still. I stood in front of the desk watching the elegant flicks of the Major’s hand across the page. Once completed and sanded, he without looking at me handed it to one of the Private’s with orders to see it dispatched. Dismissing the other to the corridor he then settled his eyes on me.

Lifting a folded document with an elegant and over the top waxed seal he looked me over from head to feet.

“You will be unsurprised Mistress Fraser that the rebellion has failed. Now it is the job of the Army to ensure all traces of discord are stamped out. The order of the King’s peace must be restored and examples set. There were few survivors of the battle however you and your husband were two of them.”

I felt like a blow had been struck to my stomach. And without time to react I vomited and fell to my knees. He was alive? How? It was impossible? His wound? Now my mind raced, what treatment had he received? Had they removed his leg, was it infected, was he fevered? My breath was coming in ragged draws and I had lost awareness of what was happening around me. A woman was beside me with a bucket and rags, I was now on a chair both Privates at my side again. The Major appeared to have not moved.

“I see you were unaware that your husband had survived? Now the British Army and the King require you to heal your husband. He is unable to walk or stand at present. I have orders to dispatch both of you to London for trial. It is the King’s and Governments desire that he can walk to the gallows. An example must be set.”

I felt bile sting my already burning throat. I could hardly believe what I had just heard. Wanting to rip his head off. The Major however had not finished speaking.

“Your own case is most unusual. We don’t find many women in battles and with your unique qualities of being a gentle bred English lady it leaves quite the conundrum. There is little appetite for watching ladies hang, but you are a traitor of the worst kind. Though you were acting at the behest of your husband no doubt. I am sure you will see the mercy of the courts and the King has suggested indentured service in the Royal Navy given your prowess for healing.”

“So you want me to heal my husband so he can walk to his death? Then you intend to throw me onto a naval ship?”

I snapped at him unbelieving of the words he had just spoken.

“Yes Madame. I am glad we have an understanding. It really is for the best. Most of the troops in Scotland know of Red Jamie and you the famed English healer for the rebellion. It would not go well for you to attempt any heroics, you are a legend in these parts mistress. Life at sea may be simpler for you. You may go, you will be provided with all assistance required.”

Without looking at me he returned his attentions to the documents on his desk. Dismissing me with a wave of his hand. I was pulled by my arms back towards the door and into the corridor. My mind was racing, Jamie was alive but yet still destined to die. My own life mattered little if I could not save him from this fate but I had few options available. My best chance was to see Jamie and treat him, then plan an escape. After all it seemed the Major was unaware of who I actually was and my skill set, beyond having served in the surgery of the rebellion.

“Right mistress y’are ‘eading to the surgery. First though we’ve orders to take you to the laundry.”

I simply nodded and smiled demurely. Compliance and politeness would win me favour and trust. None of them expected anything different from me. After all the two Privates escorting me looked to be mere boys. If I was considered a danger I would have better guards. At the laundry I was given clothing suitable for a young lady. The old biddy working inside barked at me while shaking her head in disgust at my manly attire. Once dressed I was taken towards the surgery.

My heart rate was bounding at a considerable pace, my mouth dry and mind racing. Thoughts of what if his wound was too bad to heal him? What if they had got it wrong and this man was not Jamie? Pushing the thoughts aside as I was brought into a small room to one end of the surgery’s hallway. Jamie lay fevered on a wooden cot bed. His wound bandaged with a dirty and blood crusted rag. The smell of infection stung my eyes. I bounded towards him checking him from top to toe. Taking in his pale and clammy skin. The tinged redness of his eyes and baldish hue to his lips. The sweat lay gleaming on his brow, his hair caked in blood and sweat, dulling his auburn richness to near blackness. He was unable to speak and I talked soothingly to him as I continued to assess him. The heat of his fever nearly burning my hands. Anger and rage building within me as I realised he had been left in this room unattended to simply die.

“He needs water to drink now!”

I turned yelling at the two young Privates who stood frozen to the spot unsure what to do.

“Get me water now! He is in a fever and needs cooled.”

One of the Privates, the younger looking one, startled and bolted from the room. The other still stood staring in defiance of my request.

“Don’t know why they bother to save ‘im dirty rotten Scot.”

He had more to say but my movement towards him stopped him short. I was ready to retort, give him a piece of my mind when the younger Private barrelled back into the room. A water pail, ladle and rags in his hands. Rushing to the bedside he dipped the rag into the water bringing it to Jamie’s lips.

The other Private sneered at him that they weren’t tasked to tend to the worthless Scot. He grabbed him dragging him from the room. Slamming the door shut behind and locking it.

“No wait! I need boiling water and willow bark and garlic and clean linens and a needle and thread! I can’t save him without this, please!!!”

I cried out as the lock clicked closed. My voice hoarse with the vomit and emotions. Their boots rang out on the stones in the corridor heading away from me and the surgery. I turned back into the room. Tears dropped easily down my cheeks as I looked on Jamie’s fevered form. Come on Beauchamp! You have faced worse over the years. Jamie is alive, he is here with you, relying on you now. There is nothing that you can’t face together. I didn’t know if I spoke these words for solely myself or for some higher power to hear my pleas. What I did know was that Jamie’s life lay in my hands and I had one hell of a task ahead of me. And one pail of cold water to do something about it. Shaking myself and flexing my shoulders I bent to lift the water pail. Let’s go Beauchamp.

I had no sense of time. The small grubby window in the cell showed a dark grey sky. I had not been told a date or time when taken to the Major and hadn’t even a care to look for a clock in his study. I had no idea how long I was in this room with Jamie. I dripped water into his mouth and dampened his lips. Using another rag to cool his body and forehead. On removing the disgusting bandage the putrid smell had engulfed the room. The angry redness of the wounds edges and yellow pus confirming the severe nature of this gash. Even touching it gently caused Jamie to wince and cry out in his fevered state. I needed laudanum but would have no hope of getting it. Not with the attitudes of the Redcoats.

Once the sweat was washed away and Jamie cooled I set to wash the wound with the cold water. It wasn’t ideal especially as I didn’t know if it was boiled previously, most likely not. No one had come to the cell, I hadn’t even heard anyone walking along the corridor since the two Privates had left. I was desperate to help Jamie but limited to what I could do. Without proper equipment and medicines I would only be able to watch the fever progress. I sunk to the ground beside his bed, his hand clasp in mine. I allowed myself to cry, pitiful, whole body wracking tears.

Further time passed and I heard a scrapping noise at the door. The lock slowly and with care it seemed, opened and the door creaked inwards a half foot. The slight and slender form of the younger Private pushed into the room. His arms and pockets full of items and another water pail hooked over his arm.

“Mistress I’ve brought boiling hot water and cloths and willow bark and garlic and a needle and thread.”

He rhymed the list off as if reciting his favourite verse. Looking at him now in the lantern light I could see that he was no more than a boy. No more than fourteen if a day. His slight frame and boyish face looked out of place in the Redcoat that nearly swamped his body.

“Thank you, solider.”

I smiled to him and rose to gather the things from him.

“Am that sorry for how Cooper spoke mistress. I was only trying to help, he said I wasn’t to help you.”

His words caught slightly with emotion that must of clogged his throat.

“Well thank you for your kindness and help. This is all the things I need to help my husband.”

“I brought them soon as I could, I did mistress I swear.”

“I know you did, Private?”

“Private Wilson, mistress.”

“Thank you again Private Wilson. You best be going, you don’t wish to be discovered here by Private Cooper.”

He nodded with relief and turned to leave. Stopping for a split second to rummage through his pocket and take out a bread roll stuffed with cheese and from another pocket a small bottle of whiskey. With a smile in answer to my half spoken question he replied as he exited the door.

“I knew you would be hungry and whiskey is good for fevers so my Mam says.”

With time for no further conversation he was gone. I drew a deep breath in and turned back to my patient. Only realising as I had begun tending to Jamie’s leg that I hadn’t asked the date or time.

The next days and nights bled into each other. I tended Jamie’s wound changing the bandage and cleaning it with hot water. Mopped his brow and chest to cool his fever. Dripping water and willow bark tea into his mouth and praying that he would live. He rarely stirred on those days and nights. Coming out of a fevered dream for mere moments. Each time I soothed him calmly and kissed his lips. Tears damping my cheeks as the fever consumed him once more.

Private Wilson had visited each day bringing fresh water and linens, as well as food for me. We soon developed a casual friendship

“Cooper says as we shouldn’t feed ye. Says it’s a waste of good nosh seeing yer ‘eading for the noose.”

His words held a tone of anguish that roused the paternal longing within my heart. He was a child being left to deal with adult issues he could barely grasp. And all without the guiding love of a parent.

“But you don’t think that?”

“No mistress.”

“What age are you Private Wilson?”

“Twenty mistress.”

“Really?”

“Fifteen, I joined up when I was but thirteen.”

“Why so young?”

“My Pa died in an accident at the mine. Mam had eight of us in total the youngest still only a babe in arms. Me brothers, two older ones you see, said we needed to support ourselves and we all went to the Army. Lied about my age I did. The younger girls some of them went into service at the big house. I send some money back to Mam.”

He spoke matter of factly and ended with a slight shrug.

“Well I am sure your mother is very proud of you all. Did you all fight at Culloden?”

“Nah the others are in the Colonies. I was there though, at Culloden. I saw you, I did. You and your husband fighting.”

“Really?”

I didn’t know what to say to this. We were to all considered enemies after all. Yet as I listened to his enthused retelling of mine and Jamie’s gallantry on the field of battle, according to his recollections. I couldn’t help a smile appearing on my lips.

“You really love ‘im don’t you.”

I nodded as I grabbed Jamie’s limp hand into mine. Tears stinging my eyes. It was the whole truth, I really did love him.

“I hope one day to have a wife that loves me as much too.”

“You will do.”

And I knew in my very bones that it would be so. This kind and caring young man deserved nothing less. He stooped to the water pail and wrung a linen cloth out, beginning to then wash Jamie’s face and chest down. I sat on the floor in the corner to eat the food Private Wilson had brought me. All while watching him care for Jamie with tenderness and kindness.

Chapter Text

Jamie’s fever eventually broke. The pale clammy pallor reduced, though the ravishment of the fever was event on his body. Dark rings under his eyes, his ribs protruding. The dark and murky nature of this healing request hung over me. The Major, who cared to introduce himself to me on this occasion, as Major Phillips. Demanded to know when Jamie would be able to walk and advised me that his patience was wearing thin. The man looked haggard himself but damn that bastard to hell! He spoke of me healing Jamie to send to the gallows as if we were dallying for a picnic!

It turns out we had been ‘rescued’ from the moor late at night by troops surveying the battlefield for survivors. Our unconscious bodies lay together, one on top of the other. I had been struck on the head, while Jamie had suffered the sword gash on his upper thigh. The soldiers had recognised firstly myself, as one of them had been treated by me after an earlier battle. That was how we avoided the battlefield clearing alive. Though now with the benefit of hindsight I wished our lives had ended on that moor.

I returned to mine and Jamie’s cell and slumped to the ground, my legs no longer able to hold me up. Jamie’s form sleeping peacefully on the cot bed. His wound was still angry and raw but no longer infected and finally closed over. A few more days and we could try him standing. Bile stung my throat as sobs and tears flowed, ugly uncontrollable sobs. I didn’t even hear or realise Jamie had awoken and was crawling across the floor towards me. Large arms engulfed me pulling my weak and weary body into his. I had missed at a bone deep level this physical contact with him. I allowed myself to sink into his body and cast off the fears and sorrows and hurts I had faced these last days while he fought a fever. Allowing the tears to flow so easily. Something I would never have done in Frank’s presence. I took comfort in his familiar warmth and embrace. We lay entangled as darkness edged into the cell through the grubby little window, neither of us speaking.

It seemed that time stood still in that little cell. But eventually we were brought back to reality with Private Wilson’s arrival with some food. The young Private came bustling into the cell whistling a jaunty tune calling out to me. He froze on seeing Jamie missing from the bed and glanced wildly around the cell, eyes wide with panic. Visible relief washed over him on seeing our forms huddled on the floor. He then resumed a soldierly form, this was the first time that he had actually seen Jamie awake.

“Private Wilson, this is my husband James Fraser. Jamie, this is Private Wilson who has been most gracious in tending to my needs and helping with your healing.”

Jamie still vulnerable from his injury and the toll on his body from the fever bristled beside me. Private Wilson may have been a mere boy but he was still a Redcoat and therefore to Jamie’s mind a risk.

“Good evening Mister Fraser.”

He bowed and set the food down before excusing himself to leave. He paused at the door and turned back towards us.

“I’m right glad you are healed Mister Fraser.”

He bolted through the door before any response could be given.

“Ye’ve a friend Sassenach?”

“Yes, he has been most kind. He is but a boy. His father died leaving his mother with little way of coping to feed eight children. He and the elder boys joined the army. He was only thirteen. He was on the battlefield and saw us, he isn’t like the others.”

“No he dinna seem it. That’s no usual prison fair there on the tray.”

“I’ve been most grateful for the rations and you need your strength back. Let’s get you into the bed and some dinner.”

With a struggle Jamie was back in the cot bed. We shared the food out and enjoyed the simple pleasure of eating a meal together. Something that we hadn’t done in what seemed so long. I had been fixed and focused on healing Jamie. Keeping an almost detached mindset from him as a patient. Now with his recovery well on the way I was able to allow myself the connection once more. We spoke a little of that fateful battle, of Murtagh’s loss, of our imprisonment. Yet I could not bring myself to tell him of the Major’s orders. We spoke of Jenny and Ian and then allowed silence to consume us once more. Lying in Jamie’s arms in the glowing flickered light of the lantern he asked me the one question I feared answering the most.

“So are ye going to tell me what had ye so upset Sassenach?”

“It’s awful Jamie I don’t know what to say.”

“We promised each other the truth, Tis all we have right now.”

“Major Phillips told me I had to heal you so you could walk to the gallows. He wasn’t happy today that your recovery has been slow in his view. I can’t Jamie, I can’t see you to the gallows.”

My words broke off as I cried once more.

“This is all my fault Jamie if I..”

“If ye what? Sassenach stayed away from Lallybroch, never married me, ran off to the rebellion without me? Ye and I are bound to the same path, connected through time itself, mated for life. Ye are the very breath of my lungs. I would have my life no other way than to have ye by my side.”

He drew me closer and kissed my lips sealing the words to my soul.

“How are we to get out of this? They intend to dispatch us to London for the trial. They intend to see you hanged and well at the generosity and mercy of the king and government I might escape the noose, but will be indentured to the navy.”

He pulled me tighter to his body and whispered soothing words in Gaelic. They flooded and washed over my body. The timbre and tone a comfort.

“How can I live in a world with out you?”

I breathed it out in a silent sob. So quietly I doubted Jamie even heard. The only indication that he did was his head falling into my curls and a muffled sob from his large body. Silence settled once more and I forced myself to exist within this moment. The joy of being simply held and comforted by one who loves you. The silence was eventually broken by Jamie.

“That wee gomerel Richardson hasn’t reappeared?”

“No I don’t even know where he went after that last meeting. I didn’t mention Lord John’s brother either, the Duke. He isn’t part of the War Office, plus his Regiment fought at Culloden. I doubt he would be able to do anything for us. We are traitors Jamie on all sides it seems. It’s vital that the intelligence trial is protected at all costs.”

“Even at the cost of our lives Sassenach.”

“Yes Jamie, even at that. There will be no rescue, there will be no assistance. On my previous missions if you were captured, it was for yourself to escape, rescue was not an option. I told you about my capture during the Second World War?”

“You told me of yer torture but no how ye were captured.”

“Yes, I remember after delivering Flora’s baby. That seems so long ago now Jamie. So much has happened since those days at Lallybroch.”

I swallowed deeply and began to tell my most difficult truth, the betrayal that led to my capture. A truth that had ripped apart my marriage to Frank, with the consequences of the torture. Now after what Jamie and I had overcome and the impending permanent separation we were to face, I felt able to tell him of the toll that horrific time had taken in me. No longer holding it to myself as a means to force the memories from my mind. Telling him of the double agent that lead to my mission’s failure and my capture, the castle I was taken too. Telling him again of the beatings and rape and then the torture that was handed out without so much as a flinch by my captor. And telling him now how I had almost given up on living, willing myself to simply die as I lay in agony in that tiny cell.

I spoke of my rescue by my colleagues from the resistance who didn’t give a damn for British orders. I also spoke of the reaction that Frank had to my scars. The revulsion in his eyes. It was words I thought I would never speak. Jamie of course knew Frank had divorced me, but he had never been told of the horror in his eyes at my scars, nor how my sterilisation would have destroyed his hopes of family. Jamie listened without interrupting, rubbing soothing circles on my back and dropping kisses on my hair.

“Yer a brave wee thing Sassenach. We will find a way to get through this too.”

I admired his optimism but could see little opportunity to find a way out of this situation. Despite the heaviness of the future that lay ahead for us, I pushed it to one side to simply enjoy being in my husband’s arms once more.

Over the next number of days, Jamie’s strength improved. He was able to stand and bear his weight, but walking was still out of the question. The Major was getting anxious and seemed to attend our cell on a daily basis demanding to see the days progress. I could see within Jamie, tension and rage course along his body to a throbbing vein in his neck. His desire to rip the man’s throat out at his irritated tone towards me.

After one such visit Jamie had collapsed heavily onto the cot bed. Sobs began to shake his body, I rushed to his side and pulled his large frame into my arms. He repeated over and over that he was sorry.

“You have nothing to be sorry for.”

“Aye I do. I canna protect ye. My own wife, shamed, living as a prisoner, forced to heal her husband to see him sent to the gallows.”

“No! We are in this together Jamie, together! This is not your sole responsibility. I for one am proud, you left your home and family to follow me. You put yourself as risk gathering information for the British and fought by my side on that battlefield all because of your honour and love for Scotland and the men who had faith in you.”

“I should have taken ye and run. We should have been nowhere near that battlefield. My selfish pride kept us there. Now we are here awaiting our fates at the hands of the British.”

“Jamie it is both of us in this and it was both of us on that battlefield. If you need someone to blame, blame the War Office. They are the ones who sent me here and then give me this ridiculous mission. These idiots of soldiers have no idea what we were doing nor what I am trained to do….”

My voice teetered off as my mind raced at the thought. Jumping to my feet I began pacing the small cell. Jamie’s look of bemusement giving him an almost boyish air.

“Don’t you see! With my skills we can get out of here. I’ve been too focused on healing you and sending you off to die to realise I can get us out of here.”

“And go where Sassenach? I canna hardly stand we would be found in nay time at all.”

“No we will make our escape on route to London. Less soldiers will be with us. You need to be able to walk.”

I thought it out loud, one finger pointed upwards tapping against my cheek. I turned to face him reaching to pull him with a groan to his feet.

“Yes my darling husband you need to be able to walk.”

With a renewed focus and a purpose in mind, I set to task. Daily exercise in the cell for Jamie, making him sit and stand repeatedly from the cot bed. Massaging his leg to release the muscles and tight scar tissue, plotting in my head the likely route south, learning all I could about the military personnel, in those daily meetings I was forced to attend with the Major. I saw each opportunity as a chance to increase my knowledge to assist Jamie and I in our escape. As one of the Yanks I worked with towards the end of the war used to say, I’m going down swinging. If I had anything to do with it that’s exactly how we too would be going down.

Four days later Jamie had made remarkable progress. His leg was strong enough to stand and sit and walk. All be it for not great distance. We lay entangled on the cot bed as we had done each night since his recovery from the fever. I knew that time here in Scotland was running out, soon perhaps tomorrow or the next day, the Major would dispatch us to London. He told me himself that quite enough time had been given to heal a condemned man. The rest of his recovery could be on route. The Major clearly wished to see the back of us both. I was eager to be on my way too. The sooner we made distance from here, wherever here was, I still had not been told, the better to put our escape plan into action.

I lay awake in Jamie’s embrace as the light of the moon danced through the grubby window. It was strange I’d never thought much of house work before. The necessary tasks that had to be done. Perhaps having never really had my own home, a place that was intrinsically mine. Lallybroch had been home to me, the first place I felt I belonged. But there was no denying that Jenny was lady of the manor. Yet as I lay in the darken cell, Jamie’s gentle snores rasping behind me. I swore that if I ever had a place to call home again, I would never have dirty windows again. It was with this thought that my mind was focused, meaning I didn’t notice the key slipping gently into the lock. Nor the lock slowly turning. Jamie’s arms tightening as he jolted awake, was my only alert.

Sitting up on the cot bed eyes fixed on the wooden cell door, my breath held, hand gripped tightly in Jamie’s. There was no reason for any of the soldiers to be in the cell at this time of the night, fear gripped my throat tightening and restricting it. The door pushed inwards a few inches. Light from a lantern struck a sharp rectangle across the ground. My breath stopped as the door pushed inwards another few inches. A tricorne hat poked around the door, lantern shoved out in front. My eyes squinted as a body followed the tricorne.

“Claire?”

“Lord John?”

There was no mistaking that clipped English voice. I bolted from the cot bed towards his shadowed form. The lantern spreading a low glow onto the cell floor.

“I am glad to find you Claire. We must make haste.”

There was an urgency to his whispered words. He grabbed my arm and began pulling me towards the door. I noticed at this point that along with the elegant tricorne hat he was in full British officer regalia. I pulled back against his hand. Jamie had made it to his feet and now had my other arm.

“I’d thank ye to take yer hands of my wife.”

Jamie was well on his way to recovery but he was far from his full strength. Yet now my tall, strong Highland Warrior was back. That strength that flowed through him effortlessly on the battlefield swelled in this tiny cell. Forcing Lord John to take a hasty step back. His eyes widen and panic set on his face. Jamie’s eyes bore into Lord John and his slight frame. He was a muscled and tall man in his own right but paled in comparison to Jamie’s Viking like stature.

“Who are ye?”

“Jamie this is Lord John Grey, he was the agent that directed on my mission to the past. I have no idea why he is here.”

“To rescue you of course. I don’t have time to explain. You need to come with me now Claire!”

He hissed through gritted teeth and pulled on my arm towards the door again. Having found resolve against Jamie’s formidable presence.

“Not without Jamie. He can walk but only a little.”

“No! I can only take you. We must make haste.”

“Sassenach ye have to go, save yerself. My cause is lost already. I canna bear to have ye die beside me or be cast upon the navy.”

“No, I won’t leave you. We are bound to each other you and I! We are in this together.”

I turned back towards Lord John, a defiant tilt to my chin.

“My husband comes with me.”

Lord John had a look of exasperation on his face. He puffed out a breath and looked towards the ceiling. Without a word he nodded and moved towards the door.

The corridor was in darkness, a torch burning in the distance. Lord John moved silently along the stone flooring. The fort was quite with only a few guards who could be seen at their posts. Jamie was holding heavily to my arm as he struggled to walk. The air was heavy and I could scarce draw a breath. Nerves battled in my stomach as I thought of our discovery at every step. This was risky, escaping from under the noses of the British, from a secured fortress. If we were stopped there would be little that we could do, Jamie was in no fit state to fight. Burying my doubts I continued after Lord John.

“We are going to the back entrance at the outer wall. Only one guard and it’s poorly lit.”

I swallowed and nodded. Gripping Jamie’s hand for reassurance and strength. He was limping badly but able to keep up with our slow and steady peace. I could see in the faint light sweat beads on his brow. This was taking all his effort and strength to take each step. Yet I knew he would not give up, not if it meant a life with me.

Jamie was breathing heavily as we stopped at the bottom of the stone steps leading towards the outer wall and door. Lord John was looking at Jamie with furious intent. A wasted effort to get him to be quite. I knew the pain he must be in and we had not even breached the forts walls. Signally for us to wait he darted into the darkness, the lantern light swinging wildly. A strange silence engulfed Jamie and I. His ragged breaths the only sound punching through the darkness. I brought his hand to my lips and gently kissed it. In the near distance the sound of boots echoed on the stone flags. Lord John had moved with deathly silence, this could not be him.

The sound of boots striking the stone flags came closer, the shadowed form growing larger against the stone walls of the fort. We had nowhere to go. Jamie was too weak to run and the stairs had near ended our escape efforts with what they took from him. We pressed against the stone wall, consigning ourselves to the shadows in hope of avoiding detection. My fingernails dug into Jamie’s palm, as his did mine. Neither of us drawing so much as a breath. A flicker of light caught my eye, Lord John returning. The light faded to blackness and still the boots struck nearer.

If I needed to kill someone to aid our escape we would be hunted with even more tenacity. The Major with some creative writing could cover his blunder in allowing our escape, as the authorities would see it, by writing of our deaths instead. But if a soldier died at our hands that could never happen. Jamie and I would never be free. The shadowed form of the soldier was in view. The lantern on the wall casting a warming orange yellow glow that just about hid us in darkness. Though not enough, the boots faulted in step and the distinct sound of boots turning on stone thundered through the nights stillness.

Before I had time to react to seize them, a darkened form appeared behind grabbing the solider by their neck. One hand firm across their mouth. The widen shocked eyes full of fear. Lord John pulled the soldier into the shadows besides us. Pressing him into the wall.

“Private Wilson! It’s, I know him. Let him go this instant.”

I hissed in a whisper at Lord John. His eyes flicked between Jamie and I in disbelief.

“He’s a redcoat he’s can’t be trusted Claire. If he raises the alarm we will never get away.”

“He won’t.”

I pulled Private Wilson from Lord John’s hold bringing him to me.

“Mistress are you escaping with your husband?”

A small chuckle came to my throat, stating the obvious I thought to myself. I nodded at him hoping he would see in the dim light.

“You’d best be going then Mistress Fraser. The guard is due for change on the walls soon. I’ll stall them knowing of your escape. The Major left for town this evening he won’t be back for three days.”

“But surly someone else will…”

“Nay I’m the only one tends you. No one give me orders to do it, so no one will be checking if I’ve done it. With the Major away no one ‘cept me will be going to your cell.”

The triumphant grin he wore spoke volumes as he waved me goodbye. His redcoat and form disappearing into the darkness, as Jamie and Lord John pulled me to the outer wall and freedom. His words, ‘no one give me orders’ rang in my head as I mindlessly followed Lord John. He had done what he did because he knew it to be right. Bringing me food, medical supplies. The Major had decreed I was to heal Jamie but had not followed it up to ensure it was done. Yet this child, this young man, of the lowest rank in the place took it upon himself to see it put right.

My mind was distracted by these thoughts as I still blindly followed. Lord John’s clipped voice eventually bringing me back. As I looked around I saw we were in a small wooded area. The fortress long behind us. The darkness creating a menacing air to the woods, as the trees rose around us as tangled monsters, with large gnarled limbs. Lord John threw me a bag.

“Put this on. We have to get moving.”

“What is it?”

“A dress. I intended getting you away from here dressed as my wife, a lady. Hence the officer attire.”

He bent a courtly leg and then looked at me with impatience.

“What about Jamie? He will stand out, what are we going to do with him?”

“I hadn’t reckoned on having to save your six feet five, Kilt wearing, still stained in the blood of his enemies Highlander husband! To be honest Claire I didn’t bloody well know he existed!”

Jamie stood with his worn kilt and blood stained shirt still on his back. He was not going to be easily hidden. Lord John began pacing, tension and stress evident in his stance. Turning towards us hands on his hips he looked at us both.

“I have an idea but you need to trust me.”

Chapter Text

Subterfuge and disguise is often used by those engaged in espionage. People believe as truth, what they are presented with more often than not. So unsurprisingly no one so much as glanced our way as a Redcoat officer, his wife and their prisoner made their way to Scotland’s border with England. We had been held in a fort just outside Edinburgh and made good time to the border. Despite travelling mainly at night to reduce the chances of being seen.

“My brother has a small property not far from the border. There is but essential staff only at it. We can rest and plan and perhaps find something more suitable for Mr Fraser to wear.”

“What is the plan Lord John? Am I still under orders of the War Office, is that why you rescued me.”

“No, I had been removed from your mission once you travelled. I however overheard a discussion on your capture and pending trial. The War Office were not prepared to step in and do anything to ease your situation. Your death while tragic and a waste, was not something they felt empowered to stop.”

A Gaelic curse barked out from the horse trailing behind Lord John’s.

“So the Mac Galla were going to leave her, my wife to die after all she has done for them!”

“Yes am afraid so Jamie. That is the unfortunate, perhaps dark side of what we do.”

“So you decided to come back and save me? Why?”

“You are an extraordinary woman Claire. The best at what you do. I could not bear the thought of you abandoned to fate and time. I can take you home again.”

“I am home. Jamie is my home. I will not leave him.”

I shot out the words before Lord John had even finished his. Glancing a quick look to Jamie. The stricken look of bewilderment etched on his face from Lord John’s words destroyed me. Leaving was not an option not now, not ever.

“I gathered as much these last few days. You and your husband are most dedicated to each other.”

I nodded and slowed my horse to join Jamie. My hand reached out to him as his did to mine. The strong grip reassuring and grounding me.

“We are in this together.”

I whispered to him. He brought my hand to his lips to caress with a tender kiss. We continued the journey in silence. The truth Lord John had shared of the War Office stung and left a lot to ponder. In honesty I knew the risks while I worked for them during the War. The cold hard reality that if captured you were on your own. That had never bothered me before yet somehow now it did. Why was that? With little thought needed, I knew it was the man to my left, my husband. A truth I had known from not long after marrying him that I could not be parted from him. I had to find a way to exact myself from the pull of the War Office. Lord John had conveniently not informed me if I was still under the service of them.

The small estate that belonged to Lord John’s brother turned out to be a ten bedroom Portland Stone mansion. With gold gilded windows, a large circular water fountain, set before a grand sweeping stone staircase that led to the largest double front doors I had ever seen. A smartly dress butler opened the door bowing in reverence to Lord John. The minimal staff appeared to be about a hundred people. Gardeners milled about the lawns and flower beds. The stables had ten grooms and within the house there were too many to count. This did not appear to be discreet in any form.

Lord John caught the question in my eyes and nodded in an effort to reassure. As doormen hurried about at the command of the butler.

“Jeffers we are all weary from our travels and in need of refreshing and a change of clothes. Perhaps a light supper this evening if you would arrange with the cook. I will see our guests to their chamber. I assume the usual rooms are available.”

“Of course Lord John, they are ready. I will attend the kitchens. Supper will be served at seven.”

With a formal bow he hurried away. Lord John began walking towards the grand staircase indicating for us to follow. Jamie and I in shocked silence did so. No words were spoken until the door of our bedchamber was closed firmly behind us by Lord John. He stood with his hands on his hips.

“I can assure you of the staffs discretion. This house has been utilised throughout the years for many a covert operation. My brother and I hired the staff with that in mind.”

“But your brother doesn’t know what you do?”

“Well, yes and no. He knows I work for the Government in intelligence. He of course doesn’t know about the…”

He threw his hand out and waved it in a circle as if searching for the word.

“Time travel?”

“He knows?! You told him?”

“Of course I did. He is my husband we have no secrets.”

“Of course, I should have known.”

He threw his arms in the air in despair. Then stalked over to a chair and plonked himself down heavily.

“The War Office do not know of this house. You will be safe here while we work on a plan. We can discuss it further over dinner.”

With that he left. Jamie exhausted from the days of riding, his injury and the lead up to Culloden, collapsed into the same chair and stretched his long legs out. I went to join him plopping into the chair opposite. I took a look around the room. It was the first I had done so. The room was elegantly decorated. A green flocked paper adorned the walls and the fireplace which was a blaze was cream marble and edged in gold. The four poster bed was draped in curtains that matched the windows. It was the largest bed I had ever seen and Jamie gave me a suggestive eyebrow wiggle that made me laugh. The first laugh I think I had had in sometime.

“I love ye when ye laugh like that Sassenach. So carefree. Ye havena had much to laugh about these last months.”

He moved from the chair towards me taking my hand in his as he went to his knees. It was a Herculean effort.

“ I swear to ye Sassenach I’ll spend the rest of my days doing everything I ken to make ye laugh.”

“I know you will. We have been given another chance Jamie. We can plan and have a future again. Perhaps not at Lallybroch though.”

“It might have pained me once, to let it go, but I dinna think it does so much now. I told ye before my life is yers Sassenach. I go where you go, where ye decide, ye are my home.”

We were interrupted by foot men carrying hot water and a large tin bath into the room. Jeffers the butler behind then with a bundle of clothes.

“Mr Fraser I believe these may fit and be more suitable attire for you.”

His eyes ran over Jamie’s dishevelled and dirty appearance in a most Un-butler like manner. A look of mild displeasure across his face.

“Mistress Fraser, Anne will assist you in finding another dress also.”

With that a young woman entered the room with her arms full of skirts and petticoats. A beaming smile on her face as she set them all on the bed.

“Mistress I’ll let ya get yer bath then.”

She bobbed a curtsy and left followed by Jeffers. The bath had steam rising from it and the soap and clean linens looked inviting. A razor and small looking glass sat to one side. They really did think of everything. I turned to move towards the bath as a naked Jamie with a dexterity that beguiled his injured leg hopped in. I hadn’t seen him naked in quite sometime. Life with a travelling army meant few nights in a private room. While we of course utilised many a lonesome moment together. Those couplings were often quick clothed dalliances.

Now I paused for a second to simply enjoy the sight of my naked Highlander. The hot water caressing his body with gentle waves. His strength though diminished by fever and hunger was still there. The clean sharp lines of muscle across his chest and thighs. The ragged scar still red and angry flashed like a beacon across his pale cream skin. I moved towards him and lifted the soap and linen cloth. Soaping up along his shoulders and arms. Across his chest and stomach.

“I thought maybe ye would care to join me Sassenach? Seeing as how the water is hot.”

“Mmm yes it would be a shame to have to bathe in a cold and dirty bath.”

“Yes indeed.”

He pulled me close with a wet hand and began kissing me softly and tenderly. A warmth settled in my stomach, a burning desire that was only building further with each kiss. Jamie was too weak to consider doing anything physical with me, yet I knew if I continued my desires would be beyond satiable. Rendering me unable to stop. I pulled back from him reluctantly. My arms resting on the bath’s edge. My head cast down between them.

“Sassenach? Are ye well?”

A tone of panic in his voice as a hand spread across my back.

“Yes I’m alright Jamie. I just think it’s best if you bathe yourself perhaps. I don’t want, well, you know. You are injured and recovering and well.”

I felt my cheeks tinge pink as I spoke. I dragged my head up to look at Jamie. Who was trying and failing to stifle a laugh.

“Sassenach ye could wake me from the dead for that!”

A bark of laughter escaped his lips as my eyes inadvertently glanced down his body. Seeing the clear and rather large sign that he was more than able rising above the water. My eyes turned and met his, now dark pools of desire. With no further comment I stripped my clothing and sunk into the bath opposite him.

Despite the minimal notice dinner was an elaborate fare. Four courses served on fine bone China and the best silver cutlery. Jamie was sat to my right hand side. Lord John to the left at the top of the table. Jeffers served the food and then left the dining room. For such a grand house it was strangely a cosy dining room. Nothing as humble as that of Lallybroch but I somehow felt it was homely here. An easy silence fell over the dining room, as we attacked with delight the food before us. With the escape and days of travel we had all gotten passed the awkward unsure stage. Though Lord John’s and Jamie’s relationship was still being defined. Unlike mine and Lord John’s which had fallen into the easy and simple form it had taken during my training back in Inverness.

Jamie’s powerful thigh brushed against mine. It sent waves of pleasure coursing through my body. My mind raced back to our earlier bath. The soap gliding up his thigh in my hand. His fingers teasing and caressing my most intimate place.

“Oh sorry yes, yes the potatoes. Here you are Lord John.”

“Really Claire are you going to drop the formality of my title? You didn’t use it during training.”

“Well that was different. We were on an even level given the tasking.”

“I insist you refrain from doing so now, both of you.”

“Thank you, John, though you may be surprised to learn that Jamie is a Laird and I a Lady. Laird Broch Tuarach.”

I smiled at Jamie hoping I hadn’t blushed at my distraction to John’s question. His head rolled back as he laughed heartily at my comment. My mind once again spinning to our earlier bath.

“Well ye see John, I dinna ken if English Lords…..”

His head had rolled back onto the edge of the bath. A moan of desire on his lips as my hands wound their way up his thighs and grasped his cock. Heavy and solid, straining for attention. My soapy hands slid effortlessly along his shaft as Jamie’s hands gripped the bath tub until his knuckles turned white.

“You see Jamie, English peerage is something of a bust. We pride ourselves on pure blood lines….”

Grabbing one of his hands I pressed it to my breast. My nipple roused and peaking out like a cherry. Jamie moved forward seizing it between his teeth as my hand continued to slid up and down his hard length. His other hand snaked through the water, still warm and comforting, to find my core. Thrusting his fingers into my depth, he drew pants and moans from my lips.

“I dinna ken why the Scots were looked at as a tainted blood by the English? This whole rebellion it’s based on that John. Ye ken I wished nay part I’ve seen English justice……”

My hands left Jamie’s cock and caressed along his back. The worn scars a familiar pattern beneath my hands. He pulled me towards him. Lowering me onto him. The water sloshed and breached the bath tubs edge. Jamie filled me completely, stretching and fulfilling my desires. A wave of completion rose within me as I collapsed into Jamie’s chest. His hips straining up and into me as his breath held.

“Claire? Claire! Are you well? Shall I call a doctor Jamie?!”

“Sassenach yer flushed and clammy! She’s a fever coming on. Do ye have any of her wee medicines she used Willow Bark, I think?”

“Willow bark? What are you talking about Jamie? John why do you look white as a sheet?”

Both men were on their feet at my side. A hand held in each and I had no recollection of how this had happened. My cheeks flamed as I recalled what had been in my mind.

“Her face is burning up! Perhaps a good rest and something to fortify her would suffice?”

John ran from the room while Jamie pulled me from the chair to assist me upstairs. I began laughing, deep belly laughs that I couldn’t shake.

“What was I doing Jamie?”

“Doing Sassenach? Ye had gone from yerself and we couldna get yer attention. Then yer face went bright red. Tis no laughing matter!”

“I’m sorry Jamie, I well, I was distracted but not due to illness. My mind was focused very heavily on our earlier activities.”

“Aye well, ye dinna aye.”

It was Jamie’s turn to flush red. He put his head down and continued helping me up towards the dining room door.

“Perhaps I shall retire to bed. I’m quite tired and I’ve finished dinner. You can stay with John. He is an accomplished chess player, by his own admission granted but you haven’t had a chance to play in sometime.”

“Aye Sassenach. So long as ye are well.”

His eyebrows raised at me in question.

“Quite well I assure you.”

He kissed me on the lips as John burst in. Looking disheveled and panic stricken. His hands full of a variety of bottles and woven clothes.

“John, Claire is feeling much better. She is going to retire for the evening. However perhaps we could indulge in a game of chess?”

I was grateful for Jamie distracting away from me. John wished me a good night while turning to seek out the chess board. Jamie’s large hand grabbing a handful of my arse as I exited the dining room.

 

**********************************

Claire had left, thankfully looking much improved. I had always admired her. She was so confident and capable. Beautiful and classy with an element of determination. She was a remarkable woman. Clearly loved by this brutish Highlander. I wouldn’t wish to meet him in a darkened London alley! Well it would depend on the darkened alleyway I casually thought. He was ruggedly beautiful. I shook those thoughts away. I shouldn’t have thoughts like that about a colleagues husband. I finished setting up the chess board watching Jamie’s critical eye survey the board and me.

He lounged back in the chair. A large almost menacing form, yet I had witnessed the tenderness and care he had shown to Claire, his wife. The reverence he held her in and the sparkle in his eyes when looking at her. He stretched forward and made his first move.

“I wish to thank ye John for the help you give to me and Claire. I dinna think I can ever repay ye.”

“It was the least I could do for Claire.”

“Was her rescue solely for her or will it support the aims of the British Government in the near future?”

“I beg your pardon?!”

The words while spoken in a gentle voice held a tone that betrayed there true meaning.

“Ye dinna answer her question on the way here. Is my wife still bound to the War Office?”

There was a heavy emphasis on the word my. I hadn’t deliberately skirted that question but I could understand the animosity that it could bring forth.

“The simple answer Jamie is no. The War Office know of her imprisonment and the likelihood of her death. Her file was redacted and closed.”

“Won’t your colleagues from this time no realise neither of us end up on the gallows?”

“Well the cabinet as such don’t necessarily work in this time. It’s hard to describe but we operate out of time as such.”

“So you’ll be heading off again then?”

“Well yes and no. I have returned to stay in this time and continue working with the intelligence side of the Government and army however it will be all very much within this time. I will not be working for that particular department anymore. It’s why I decided to help Claire.”

“Do ye have feelings for my wife?”

“No! I hold her in the highest regard, she is an exceptional lady. I was not her immediate contact point during her work for the war. But I was the next level up and so watched her missions closely. She was extraordinary, do you know how many No Return Expected missions she survived? When I was briefing her on this mission, I told her there was no extraction point or time. She didn’t even bulk at it simply looked me square in the eye and told me to provide the details and she would be there.”

We both laughed and an easy peace fell across the room.

“Though I see an extraction will no longer be required.”

“Aye, I willna be parted from her now.”

I took it for the threat he clearly intended it to be.

“You are both free now to go and do as you please. Perhaps I can assist you in some way?”

“Go where we please? Have ye any idea what we gave up to see out yer offices mission? We canna return to our home, we are marked as traitors from the moment yer office gave that order and we joined the rebellion. And for what purpose I ask ye?”

“Yes, yes I suppose so. I will however make no apologises for that Jamie. The work carried out and information received will make a great difference. I understand that you think it’s easy with time travel to simply re write wrongs but you see, we as a department need hard evidence. We need to convince the decision markers of that time to think differently, to act differently. The work you and Claire did made a difference. History will play out very much changed from what was previously recorded.”

I allowed these words to soak in as I sat back to survey the chess board. Despite his focused anger Jamie had shown remarkable talent and strategy for chess. I looked and considered move after move. Realising that no matter what, I had been out outmanoeuvred by the large Scot. A lesson I figured would be well learned by myself. Leaning forward I wished I had poured a brandy to enjoy.

“I am not the enemy Mr Fraser. Sometimes ordinary people are called upon to do extraordinary things. Your wife is no longer in the employ of the war office. That file has closed. This is now your opportunity to put the past behind you and forge a new life, together. I vow to do what I can to help you.”

A “hmph” was the only response I got as Jamie sank back into his seat. His face unreadable.

“Perhaps a whiskey and I can regale you with some of Claire’s wartime efforts?

***************************************
I had undressed and climbed into bed, allowing the cool sheets to sooth my body.
I was far too old and married to be having sex fantasy’s during dinner! I felt my cheeks flame red again at the embarrassment flooding my mind. John looking at me confused and concerned by my befuddled demeanour, my thoughts traitorously fixed on a certain part of my husband’s anatomy. The chess game seemed to be taking forever. I tossed and turned in the bed but sleep eluded me.

I stared at the ceiling and recited the Pharaohs I knew reigned over Egypt that uncle Lamb and I had studied and excavated the burial grounds of. This did little to remove the fire burning in my stomach and Jamie didn’t seem to be returning to our bedchamber anytime soon. Kicking the blankets off my body I allowed the cool air to caress my body. My nipples tingling as I pulled my shift up and over my head.

I knew if I did nothing to satisfy this arousal within me I wouldn’t sleep. I imagined Jamie and I in the bath once again. His strong firm hand meandering down my body. My hand fell to between my legs. Each firm movement sending sparks through my body. One finger drew lazy circles around my nipple, as I longed for the wet warmth of Jamie’s mouth. My eyes closed firmly as I imagined it was Jamie’s large calloused fingers between my legs.

“Sassenach? Do ye care to tell me what ye are doing.”

My hands stilled and my eyes flew open. I hadn’t even heard the door clicking open or his heavy steps on the floor. He was stood leaning at the end of the bed frame one eyebrow cocked.

“You know perfectly well what I am doing.”

“I dinna ken that women did that, could do that.”

There was a air of disbelief in his voice, tinged with desire.

“Yes of course we can. You know we can orgasm the same as you can. And I’d have thought this far into our marriage you would understand that women, can enjoy the pleasure of the act as much as a man.”

He had moved to sit on the bed beside me. His hand now resting on my naked thigh, my nipples still tight and budded up like cherries begged for his lips.

“Can I watch ye?”

“Yes, but what’s good for the goose is good for the gander. I want to watch you too.”

I had spoken it breathlessly having moved my hand back to its ministrations. In demonstration of what he would see. His erection was straining at his breeches, but his eyes widen in shock.

“Ye want to watch me abusing myself?!”

“Yes. It’s not abusing yourself. You wouldn’t call what I’m doing that, would you?”

I arched up my breasts towards him running my thumb nail around my hardened nipple. Without another word Jamie, his eyes fixed on me, stripped his clothing. Taking his throbbing cock in his hand he slowly ran it down his length and back up again. He was stood at the side of the bed, his cock within reach of me. His auburn curls dusted across his upper thighs and testicles caught the candle light. His hand was still pumping wildly along his length. His eyes fixed on me as mine where on him.

A second later as a wave of pleasure rose within me, Jamie grabbed me pulling me around towards him.

“Let me see if I can make ye make yer wee squeaking noises Sassenach.”

“I don’t make squeaking noises!”

I protested with a breathless grunt as his hand swept between my legs. His fingers replacing mine with intriguing familiarity.

“Oh yes ye do.”

As I moaned helplessly from his ministrations. With one thrust he buried himself deep within me. With our pleasure already high we both climaxed within a few deep thrusts. Jamie collapsing onto my body, his chest and mine heaving in tandem.

“Sassenach I think this is the best exercise for my leg ye ken.”

I looked up at his beaming face above me and giggled.

“Yes I well believe you think it is, you ridiculous man.”

Chapter Text

The next few days saw a plan formulated and decided upon. I knew Jamie was putting on a brave face over Lallybroch and our family. It hurt my heart that we would not be able to see them nor write to them. John had assured me that the department of the War Office I worked for had closed my file. Content, the bastards, to leave me to my fate in this time. As Jamie pointed out no one in the army would be concerned over one stray Sassenach. Major Phillips would most likely be unwilling to admit our escape and John surmised we would be reported to Whitehall as deceased in custody. None the less I didn’t wish to take unnecessary risks such as returning to Lallybroch. A new life, a new chapter was to be started with Jamie and I. In renewed hope I just didn’t realise the toll that these changes would bring.

John had arranged for Jamie and I to take up posts at a country estate he owned. It was a small estate in Essex, with tenants and a few small villages in close proximity. Jamie would take the role of estate manager and I could assist with healing. Arrangements had also been made with a local tailor and dress maker to provide new outfits suitable for our new indentures. Once measured and fitted it was only a week later that the boxes arrived with the new clothes.

I had several dresses befitting an estate mangers wife and boots and shoes to match. My medical supplies had also been ordered. I didn’t care where in the world I was, so long as I was with Jamie. That evening at supper John presented me with a beautiful wooden apothecary chest, to store my medical supplies in. The oak box was polished to perfection with shiny brass hinges and lock. It was magnificent and I couldn’t wait to fill it. John blushed and acted coy when I thanked him profusely, but the small smile quirking his lips showed me his delight in my pleasure at receiving the gift. John had shown such kindness towards Jamie and I. Jamie was quite throughout the remainder of the meal before retiring to bed. His wound was well healed beyond my expectations but it still caused him some pain.

The following day we sat discussing the details of our plan. We hoped to leave for Essex the next morning. John had to travel to London but assured Jamie and I that we would be safely escorted under his protection to the estate before he left.

“I can look after my own wife and offer her the protection she needs.”

The bitterness within the words shocked me. John looked to me for guidance at this outburst.

“I, I meant no offence Jamie. I only mean to do what I can to help you both.”

“We are no charity case. I can provide for my wife.”

With that he stalked out of the room. Leaving a startled John and me blinking in surprise behind him. I apologised to John, making excuses for Jamie’s abrupt behaviour. John had been nothing but kind and generous to us and Jamie was being inconsiderate and rude.

He was sitting on the edge of the bed. The late evening sun was centred on the large window, and the sun rays were refracting into tiny orbs of colour by the crystal drops of the candelabra. It created a serene and calm vista but I could tell despite this colourful glory that Jamie was anything but calm. His Fraser plaid was folded on his lap, now clean and neatly ironed. As I moved closer I saw the gentle meander of a tear along Jamie’s cheek. Along with the stiff set of his shoulders. I sat beside him, placing my hand on his. I didn’t speak simply allowing the silence to do so.

“I’m sorry Sassenach. I’ll apologise to John for how I spoke.”

I didn’t respond just squeezed his hand in comfort to him. I knew he had more to say and needed the time to find the words.

“I’m sorry too Sassenach for failing ye.”

“Jamie you have not failed me.”

“Aye I have. I canna feed ye or clothe ye. I might’nt been able to see you in the finest of silks and ribbons but I could at least provide for ye. My title wasna fancy like these English Lords but it afforded respect. Christ I’m no even trusted to see to yer protection! Relying instead on John to see yer needs met.”

“John is just helping us both out. We will soon begin our new lives, together. He has been kind and generous to us providing shelter and clothes and employment.”

“Aye and I must give up my kilt.”

He lifted it in both hands as he spoke. Bitterness in his voice. I loved seeing Jamie in his kilt, so handsome and strong. I realised though to him the kilt was more than mere clothes. The kilt represented his family and identity. It bound him to others from his clan and now he knew he had to give it up. He had lost so much, his home, his family, his heritage and now he would loose that last piece of connection to it all. I knew he did it for me but it had cost him so dear. He would never have fought in that rebellion without me. This was my fault yet selfish as I was I knew I could never have given him up.

“I’m sorry Jamie you have given up so much for me. I didn’t even stop to think of how this must feel for you. I was too focused on our new beginning. Perhaps though we need to take time to say goodbye to our past? We have both lost so much, Lallybroch, Jenny and Ian and,”

My voice caught on a sob and I couldn’t finish my thought. Jamie spoke, finishing it for me.

“Murtagh.”

“Yes.”

“I ken I made the choice to follow ye. I dinna mean to sound as though I regret that, because Sassenach ye ken I’d follow ye to hell itself if it meant being with ye. I’d give it all up again tomorrow if I could have ye. I think yer right I need time to say goodbye to all of this. I just dinna ken how.”

It would seem ridiculous to anyone watching. Yet I didn’t care as I stood beside Jamie in the late evening dusk. The darkness tinged with just a glimmer of light. John lowered a small wooden box into the ground. It contained Jamie’s kilt and his last link to the past. Though it represented even more than that. It symbolised the goodbye to the life we had had, the goodbye to Jenny and Ian for this time and most heartbreakingly it was the burial of Murtagh.

He had died before our eyes, on that bloody battlefield. Nothing we could do to help him as his life slipped away. Now that little wooden box being reverently lowered into the ground was our last goodbye to the man who had stood as Godfather to Jamie and friend to me. I knew he would have receive no burial, his broken body burned with the rest of dead. No headstone to mark his loss, no mourners at his graveside who knew and loved him. But this right here, in a small estate in England would be his remembered place.

John poured a glass of whiskey for each of us. The amber liquid dark and forbearing in the dusky light. Jamie with tears in his eyes and a solemn look across his face raised his glass. A Gaelic prayer for the dead burred from his lips. The cadence of the words like a warm embrace to the soul. The air fell silent as the last words were spoken. The night air holding its breath in anticipation of the choking sob that was sure to come.

“Ghoistidh, ye will be missed.”

The words simple and pure and oh so painfully true stuck in his throat. Raising his glass in salute he downed the whiskey. Wiping roughly at his eyes as he stared at the little wooden box. I downed my own glass in tribute to the man Murtagh was. We stood silently side by side fingers entwined. A gasping, choking, coughing sound erupted from the right. Wheezing breaths filled the air as I turned to see John bright red in the face with tears streaming from his eyes.

“The whiskey! How do you drink this?!”

A choking hoarse shout escaped his lips as he continued to wheeze. I could do nothing but laugh. A full bodied belly laugh that rose from within and warmed my whole self. The gleeful sound carrying in the stillness of the night. Turning to Jamie I could see his shoulders shaking as he looked from me to John. His mouth tightly closed and his cheeks pinched in efforts to not join in my carefree gaiety. My laughter continued, it felt good after so long in stoic reserve. A burst of laughter rippled beside me and looking at Jamie he was joined with me in this silly display.

“Well am glad I can be a source of your amusement!”

The dignified reproach only served to heighten the laughter and soon neither Jamie nor I knew what we where laughing about anymore. John eventually joined in, his starchy demeanour broken down slightly.

“Oh I haven’t laughed this much in far far too long! My sides hurt!”

“Me neither Sassenach. I think we both deserved it.”

He pulled me into his embrace kissing the top of my head. John stood with a slight measured look of annoyance no doubt from being laughed at so wholeheartedly.

“Awh come here John ye wee gomerel!”

Jamie with his long arm grabbed John pulling him into our embrace. We stood wrapped in each other’s arms, allowing the dusk to surround us.

“John I canna thank ye enough for what ye did for Claire and I. I ken I reacted poorly and I apologise. Ye are a good friend to Claire, and I hope to be included as yer friend too.”

“It has been my pleasure Jamie.”

John positively beamed at the words. We eventually released from our embrace returning to the house. Jamie pulled me close to his side bending down to whisper a thank you in my ear. I’d been unsure of how he would take the suggestion of a funeral service for his kilt and Murtagh’s memory. As we walked back towards the house I could see a weight lifted from his shoulders. I knew that we could walk forward now into our future together. We could build a life, plan and dare I say it, hope once more. Perhaps one day we could return to Lallybroch but that was wishful thinking for another day.

***********************************

We drunk in memory of Murtagh. The man who had faithfully stood at my side since my birth on more times than I cared to count. The pain of loosing him will burn deep within my soul for years to come. Yet somehow the funeral service eased some of that pain. Glass after glass was consumed until Claire, giggling at every little thing grew tired. Pulling me to bed. We had a long journey to begin the next day and drink and tiredness consumed my body yet sleep alluded me.

I tossed and turned but eventually got up pulling my shirt over my head and left the room. Perhaps a warm milk or tea would help me sleep. The house at this unholy hour was still and silent. Well as silent as a grand house can be. Like Lallybroch the auld house groaned and creaked as the moonlight streamed in lighting my way. With almost reverence silence I crept on gentle feet, careful of each placed footstep. My still drunken state no doubt dulled my senses meaning I hadn’t heard the noise until I rounded the corner to the kitchens.

There before me pressed against the wall was John and the Butler, Jeffers. Breeches pulled down to their ankles. I froze though they didn’t see me locked in the throws of the act as they were. I fled, heart pounding at what I had just witnessed, two men buggering in a hallway. I dinna think that John was a pervert but yet how else could I explain it? Returning to my room I lay on the bed but still didn’t sleep. Instead I pulled Claire close and breathed in her scent.

***********************************
“I am never drinking alcohol again!”

I rolled over pulling the blanket over my eyes to dull the light. Which in all honesty was already pretty dim due to the heavy curtains covering the windows. My head was heavy and mouth fuzzy but I knew we had a long journey to start today. I reached out my hand to feel for Jamie but the bed was empty. The door opened suddenly and doormen with hot water and a tray entered followed by my rather handsome husband.

“I ken ye would need a bath and food to work off that alcohol Sassenach.”

He was helping me out of bed and into the bath before I could register what was happening. With a slice of toast in one hand and warm water caressing my body I sighed and relaxed against the tub.

“Did ye ken John was a pervert! A dirty little sodomite? Like the Duke?”

“What?! I, well, mm, I had my suspicions of course that he preferred men. How did you find this out? Did something happen?”

I suddenly had a panicked thought had John tried to be intimate with Jamie? My mind floating to our hug the night before, had he read more into it than he should? Then I felt disgusted with myself for such a thought, John was not like that.

“Did something happen Sassenach? Did something happen! I saw John buggering the butler in the hallway at the kitchens!”

His voice was full of such indignation and horror, matched only by his horrified look. I couldn’t help myself but laugh.

“Oh Jamie surly you realise that some men prefer men to women? The Duke of Sandringham can’t have been the only person you came across. You lived in Paris for goodness sake for university.”

I spoke incredulously at this outburst from him. I knew he had deep religious beliefs, traditions steeped in Highland lore not to mention the prejudices that existed at this time. His face was still shocked and stricken by this revelation. I realised that while highly educated Jamie had lived a sheltered and simple life. Yes of course he had suffered tragedy and trouble but life in this time was simpler and more reserved, private. The Duke of Sandringham while well known for his desires had on reflection used his status to manoeuvre the situation to his liking. I also could not forget Black Jack Randall’s offer and again the power balance that played a role within that. Jamie had no way to compare a marriage as he knew it, between man and wife, with two men having feelings and desires towards each other. He most likely felt John had taken advantage, used his power and status to have what he wished. I thought back to the various interactions I had seen between the two men, the long looks and slight blushes. I had no doubt that the feelings were very much mutual.

“I don’t think that John took advantage of Jeffers. John is not like the Duke nor is he like Randall. He is a good person Jamie, who had taken a risk to save us. It is not our place to judge him, he is our friend.”

“But Sassenach how! I canna, what.”

“Jamie, he is our friend, it’s as simple as that. We don’t have to understand it nor agree with it but we still care for him. He will be a part of our lives for many years to come.”

“How can ye be so calm about this? What he was doing? Tis unnatural Sassenach.”

“Because I know John is a good man. I trust him and his desires are not my business. I know your past experience of homosexuality has been forced and perverse but they are not John. He is not like that, we know his character. He cannot be compared to the likes of the Duke or Randall.”

Jamie stood silent, pondering my words. I knew he was uneasy about what he had discovered.

“Aye yer right Sassenach. I wilna pretend to like it and I dinna understand it but yer right John is a good man, I ken that I do.”

“Now do you think you can put this aside and allow us to get on with our travels? Do not mention any of this to John, it is highly dangerous in this time for men like him. Even us talking here about it could place him at risk Jamie. I doubt the other staff know.”

“No ken what’s going on right under their noses in the house Sassenach! Any one could have discovered them.”

“But they didn’t and it’s not for us to tell anyone Jamie. This is John’s private life, I stand by what I said you are not to treat him any differently.”

“Aye Sassenach, I’ll go and see to the wagon John has for us and let ye finish dressing.”

He leaned down and kissed me before leaving the room. I hoped that this would not derail his budding friendship with John. I also hoped that John was careful, it was not safe for him to freely be himself and love who he wished in this time. Though on reflection my old time was not much improved in that regard either.

After dressing and finishing my breakfast I ventured downstairs. Checking the stables to find Jamie and John and some stable lads readying the wagon and horses. Our meagre possessions were loaded carefully and some food to see us on our way. It was a strange deja vu moment watching the wagon be readied. Had it really been that many months from we rolled away from Lallybroch? So much had changed and yet I was grateful that Jamie was still by my side. That together we would get through this.

Jamie I was glad to note seemed unchanged in his manner towards John. Slapping him on the back heartedly before John mounted his horse and Jamie hopped up into the wagon beside me. He shot me a grin that always weakened my knees and clicked the reins, with a lurch the wagon rolled forward. We where now on our way to our new life. I smiled back at Jamie and reached to grab his hand in mine, swallowing down the lump forming in my throat. We had been given a second chance that few Scots gathered on Culloden moor would see. I vowed that I would live a peaceful life, no more war and conflict. I had seen too much, lived through too much. This was my time to live simply, bound to no one other than Jamie.

Chapter Text

To say I had to eat my words would be incorrect only in so far as I had not actually verbalised them, merely thought them. Yet, I sighed to myself, it was exactly the truth of the matter. My peaceful and simple life had lasted for four days and three nights precisely.

It wasn’t that I had sought out trouble more that it had transpired to take place beside me. The journey had been uneventful. Long winding roads and tracks, inns and taverns that were slowly blending into one another due to their similarity. John had given Jamie and I money. A fat little purse with coins that I had earned with this mission. John had taken it upon himself to take the money and transferred it into coin for this time period. It meant we could pay our way, despite Jamie’s initial grumbling that he should earn the coin for us. It also meant we could establish a life in Essex and perhaps support Jenny and Ian. A thought that warmed my soul.

Our fat little purse unfortunately gathered attention at this tavern somewhere in middle England. Jamie had went to the stable to settle the horses for the night and John and I were heading up the stairs to our rooms. John’s room was first on the hallway while mine and Jamie’s was just around the corner. Having wished John a goodnight I continued down the hall seeing my room door slightly ajar I stopped. Rummaging sounds could be heard, it seemed like one plucky chancer after some coin. Few would try and take money from Jamie after all and he had the purse. But no doubt they thought we had more in our room. I pushed the door open as my hand gripped to my knife.

Slipping into the room, the fire burning in the hearth spread the only light onto the room. I could see a small form rummaging through our trunk. My medicine chest opened on the bed and some vials missing. The skinny dark grubby form pulled a clean stock from the trunk and stuffed it in his pocket. Still oblivious to my presence, as I stepped closer. Now only a few feet away, I realised it was no more than a boy. A filthy poorly clothed child with a mop of unruly hair. I doubted he was dangerous but didn’t release my hold on the knife.

“Are you looking for something in particular young man or are you perhaps hungry?”

The boy turned suddenly, eyes widened in shock. He jumped to his feet eyes scanning wildly around the room, looking for an escape. He bolted to my right but I caught him easily, pushing his frail body back towards the bed and grabbing his arm.

“You young man are going nowhere until I know exactly what you where up to and for who.”

He looked up at me with big brown puppy eyes. Before speaking in perfect English with a beautiful French accent.

“Oh Milady I wished no harm, it was a mere accident, a mistake. I thought this was my Papa’s room you see.”

A regular charmer I could see, but I knew a thief when I saw them and was not going to be fooled by a pair of big brown eyes and floppy hair.

“Well perhaps it’s best if I escort you back to your Papa? I would hate for a similar mistake to be made again. Come along young man.”

I pulled him by the arm towards the door his feet digging into the wooden boards. He struggled a little but didn’t resist much. The skinny little thing that he was couldn’t have given much resistance anyway. The tavern was not busy as I trundled down the stairs.

“Where is your Papa?”

The boy nodded in the direction of a small table with four men sat around it. Walking over I could feel the boy trembling.

“Gentlemen, sorry to disturb your evening but I believe one of you is this boy’s father?”

The male closest to me stood, he was a squat little man wide as he was tall. He smelt of tobacco and stale sweat, with greasy black hair stuffed under a hat. He grabbed the boy pulling him away from my grasp. Another male, younger in appearance but with a nasty scar across his face also stood and moved after the boy. A burly male with dirty blonde hair poured more ale into his tankard and spoke to me. His voice was rough and deep.

“I thank you Mistress for returning my son. I hope he caused you no inconvenience?”

“None I assure you. I only wished to return him to his family as he was alone.”

I turned and walked away knowing with little effort of thought that that man was most definitely not the boy’s father. His harsh weatherbeaten face and cold grey eyes reflected nothing of the boy. Not to mention that none at the table looked French nor sounded it. I wondered where they had gotten the boy. And where had those two men taken him? I shouldn’t have cared, he was a thief, no doubt sent to steal on their command. He probably got away with it due to his charm and his big brown eyes and floppy hair. He was terrified when we saw the table of men I thought to myself. Damn it! I can’t leave this alone.

Changing direction I sneaked through the kitchens without the landlord seeing and into the rear yard. I knew I should have went to the stables and got Jamie but my focus was on finding the boy. I heard a muffled cry and three dark figures walking towards a wooded area. Well two walking and one being dragged. Without care or thought I charged after them. Locating them as a blow from the belt landed across the boy’s bared back and buttocks. A pained whimper the only sound after the crack from the leather strap on skin.

Without further thought I rushed forward grabbing the boy and pulling him behind me. The man with the scar had raised his arm to once again deliver a blow with the belt. His eyes even in the darkness were filled with rage.

“This doesn’t concern you Mistress.”

“You are beating a child. I think it does concern me.”

“Oh we have a right one here don’t we?! Well darling I can sort you out first and then finish off with the boy. It’s a gentleman’s pleasure to discipline a lady and see her on her way.”

He took one step towards me I knew his intent and was having no part. I stepped forward to meet him and punched him sending him crashing backwards. His friend startled and swung at me. With a careful step and duck I avoid his wild swinging punch. Striking a blow into his kidneys and another to the side of his head which caused him to stumble.

“Now gentlemen I don’t know who is in charge of your group but I advise you to pack up at once and leave. You will not be taking the boy and I will not be repeating myself. I hate repeating myself.”

Both men looked at each other before running back to the tavern.

“Oh! Milady you sure showed them, Oui!”

“Right young man let’s get you into the tavern and some food and a wash perhaps? And by the way violence is never the solution.”

He nodded still with his mouth open in shock and disbelief at what had happened. Grabbing my hand and leaning his little body into mine, as we made our way back to the tavern. I ordered a plate of food and water for a bath to be brought to the room from the landlord who was standing behind the bar. He nodded without word and continued staring at the group of men scurrying out the door without a backward glance.

About twenty minutes later Claudel, as I had discovered his name to be, was happily splashing in the bath while shovelling bread and cheese into his mouth. After having finished a heaped bowl of pigeon stew. He had began chattering relentlessly between bites of food. I listened to his tails of travel with the Clifford brothers across England. He told me that he had been born in a brothel in Paris. Never knew his mother or father. It sadden me that this child had no one to really care for him.

This was the scene that Jamie walked back into. Stepping into the room and stopping mid sentence to survey what was happening, his raised eyebrows an indication that he was awaiting an explanation.
Claudel sat still as a stone in the bath. Barely even taking a breath. His head was rolled back and eyes like saucers with mouth hanging open taking in Jamie’s height and size.

“This is Claudel.”

“Aye Sassenach, it dinna really answer what a naked bairn is doing in a tub in our room ye ken.”

He planted his hands on his hips, eyebrows raised as his head tilted slightly to one side. I smiled and held back a giggle.

“Well young Claudel here, was with a group of rather unsavoury characters you see. And well I discovered him attempting to steal from our trunk for them. Then when I confronted them.”

“Confronted them?!”

“Yes, two of the four men took Claudel and well after I’d finishing speaking to the other two. I thought, well it seemed strange and I followed them outside.”

“Followed them outside?! Are ye mad woman!”

He was now running his hands through his hair and then tapping his fingers against his thigh in clear distress.

“They were beating him Jamie! He is just a boy. I had to stop them, so I did.”

“Milord she was Magnificent! Miladay, she stepped in and struck them.”

Claudel supplied enthusiastically a big grin across his face as his eyes danced in delight. I shot him a look causing him to pause and reach for the soap to continue washing, before hastily adding.

“Milady says we should not use violence.”

I moved to the tub to help him finish off cleaning himself, unfolding the linen sheet across my lap to then wrap him in to dry. Looking up at Jamie I caught the crooked smile on his face.

“Would explain the quick exit then of four characters from the tavern? Two with the start of a black eye.”

“Perhaps it would.”

I coyly added while drying Claudel off.

“So what is Claudel’s story and what are we going to do with him Sassenach?”

“Well Claudel was born in a Parisian brothel. He doesn’t know who is mother and father were and he has been working as a thief alongside the Clifford brothers. How did you end up with the Clifford brothers?”

I asked Claudel as I help him into his shirt. He sighed and tilted his head to one side while raising his shoulders in a Gallic shrug.

“Well Milady I lived at the brothel and would have ran messages for the Madame. I also had learned to pick pockets. Mostly the customers, especially the ones who tried to under pay the girls. Well I picked the eldest brother’s pocket. He is Samuel and well he caught me and took me.”

His little voice had caught on the last words. A young child with no one to look out for him. Cast into the world in such a careless manner. My heart broke at the loneliness he must of felt, he couldn’t have been much older than ten. I had seen orphans displaced during the War. The skinny and bony little bodies just like Claudel’s. I had a job to do and couldn’t intervene but I had been haunted in my dreams so often by their drawn dirty faces. Their eyes so big and pleading, a hopelessness burnt within them that no child should ever have. I could see the same in Claudel’s though he had learned to mask it, disguise it between charm and humour. I had been unable to help the children during my war time but in that instant as I helped Claudel into his breeches, I knew I could not leave him behind nor send him to an orphanage. Without consulting Jamie I spoke to Claudel.

“We are travelling to Essex to work on an estate. Would you like to come with us, stay with us? Now there will have to be no more stealing.”

Jamie’s head rose up sharply and Claudel stilled mid way through putting a stocking on. Without a word he wrapped his arms like vices around me as a gentle sob erupted from his weary little body. I pulled him in tightly knowing that this was probably the first hug he had received in quite sometime. My eyes caught Jamie’s face which had moved from startled to content. His response a gentle nod of agreement.

 

Claudel had fallen into peaceful sleep on a pallet in front of the fire. Jamie and I sat on the bed simply staring at his form.

“I’m sorry I didn’t discuss offering Claudel to stay with us.”

“I ken how happy it makes him and ye too Sassenach. The boy needs a family so why no us.”

“Thank you.”

“For what Sassenach?”

“Oh just for being you really. The ridiculously honourable and loving man you are. I know how much you have lost and given up Jamie to be with me.”

“Aye Sassenach, and I’d do it all and more again in a heartbeat, to have one moment with ye in my arms.”

I turned my face towards him planting a kiss on his cheek. We fell asleep wrapped in each other’s arms. The contented snores of Claudel rising from the pallet.

Jamie had readied the wagon and horses while Claudel and I went down in search of breakfast. Neither of us were particularly good morning people it seemed. Unlike Jamie who bounded out of bed to tackle the day. I certainly could do early mornings, years of working dig sites with uncle lamb and my war years had taught me that. I did however need time and food to get myself geared up for tackling the day. John was sat at a table eating porridge and reading a newspaper when we joined him.

“Lord John, this is Claudel. He will be joining Jamie and I in Essex.”

Despite the clear shock and confusion marking John’s face. Ever the diplomat, John stood, presenting a courtly bow to Claudel and said it was a pleasure to meet him. As we tucked into our breakfast I could see the questioning eyebrow of John, so I recounted the tale from the night before. Stifling a laugh when John with eyes wide as saucers simply nodded and replied ‘oh yes of course’.

We pulled away from the tavern with dark looming clouds hovering above us and duck egg blue sky before us. Claudel was snuggled onto my side. His little body relaxed, I had no doubt for the first time in his life. Between long naps he regaled us with tales of his colourful childhood to date. He was a character and I could see Jamie warming to his loveable charm and wit.

By the time we rolled into the next tavern for the night they were firm friends. Claudel in Awh and hero worship of Jamie, stared up at him in wonder and followed him like a shadow. Eagerly jumping from the wagon and scurrying after him to the stables to tend the horses. John came and stood beside me as we watched the two of them. Jamie with ease instructing Claudel on how to care for the animals. Smiling warmly as he worked away or laying a tender hand on the boy’s back.

“He would make a wonderful father. Has the knack for it eh?”

John chuckled beside me before his face fell and he grabbed my arm turning towards me.

“I do apologise Claire. That was completely insensitive of me to say such a thing.”

“Do not trouble yourself John. It is a statement made in honest truth, Jamie would be the best father.”

“I presume with the length of your marriage that Jamie knows the truth?”

“Mmm yes, he does. Actually he knew from our wedding night. No use dwelling on what can never be John. As Jamie told me there is more than one way to be a parent. Perhaps Claudel is our opportunity. Come now, let’s go organise rooms and supper.”

I linked my arm into his and smiled in reassurance. Walking into the tavern.

“You really are a most remarkable woman Claire. Let no one convince you otherwise.”

I knew the words he spoke where heartfelt and true.

Jamie and Claudel joined us a short time later. Claudel attacking his food with fevered frenzy, stuffing bread, cheese and meat pie into his mouth at once. All the while trying to recount the story from his helping in the stables. A look from Jamie before I had the words formed, warned him of talking with his mouth full. Once our meal was finished Jamie looked to Claudel.

“Will we tell them?”

“Oh Oui Milord Oui!”

“Claudel here dinna feel his name was manly enough so we are changing it Sassenach. To a more manly and Scots name ye ken, from now on young Claudel will be called Fergus.”

The comfortable ease between them and the matching grins proved to me that Jamie had already decided Fergus was a son to us. And I didn’t think my heart could soar any higher.

Chapter Text

“Fergus! Dinner is ready!”

I bellowed from the kitchen door. A mop of curly unruly hair popped out of the small stable followed by a shouted reply of ‘Oui Mam!” Three years had passed since Culloden and saving Fergus. Jamie had taken to the role of estate manager with enviable ease. The tenants and workers had viewed him initially with open suspicion and sometimes distain but thankfully for only a few weeks. At the time Scots were still a focused target of gossip and conjecture. Tales of the rebellion washed like a tidal wave across England’s fair lands, causing fear and suspicion to grow.

Despite all of that Jamie was able through his knowledge and skills of animal husbandry and crop rotation to show his capabilities on the ground. That is where it mattered to these people. Dependant as they were on their small plots of land to feed their families. Added to this his natural ability to lead and command, it took only a matter of weeks to gain their trust and respect.

Fergus had grown and settled well, attending the local school and adding knowledge to his already alarming skill set. I had attended the estate and villages as a healer. Though my journey to regard was anything but a smooth path. I was viewed with suspicion. Having to prove my merit time and time again. It was often weary and left me reeling more times than I cared to count. But that was then, this was now and I had made inroads to gain respect.

“What’s for dinner Sassenach?”

“How’d you even hear me calling Fergus, I thought you were helping in the back fields?”

“Aye I was but I cared to dine with my fine family.”

He bent towards me, kissing my lips as he passed me to wash up. Fergus came bounding through the door straight to the table. A pointed look from myself with a raised eyebrow saw him scurry off to wash up too. Jamie and he both used to my hygiene standards after all of these years. Jamie didn’t really understand the concept of germs. Little beasties as he called them. But he understood that they caused sickness and even death and that clean hands and sterilising wounds helped reduce the risk. That I decided was good enough for me.

As I sat down to eat I noticed a large cut on Jamie’s arm. It was wrapped in a linen strip but blood was starting to come through.

“Jamie what happened to your arm?”

“Awh tis naught but a scratch Sassenach. I cleaned it and wrapped it.”

It’s still bleeding, hardly a scratch Jamie. I’ll get my medical kit.”

“Fergus get yerself a good woman who will tend to yer every injury with care. You’ll be a verra happy man.”

“Ah perhaps Fergus could be a less injury prone husband! One thing I can safely say Fergus of your father, is that in all the years I have known him, he has not become any more independent nor less accident prone. I doubt he would have survived this long without me.”

“Of that I can concur Fergus. Yer Mam is something else.”

“Oui Da, Mam is tres magnifique!”

He beamed a warm smile towards us and continued eating while I tended to Jamie’s wound. Which unsurprisingly required stitches. Fergus was a shadow to Jamie having taken to his calm soothing manner, he followed him around learning all he could. But he and I shared a deeper connection, bonded through my rescue of him. He knew as did Jamie when I was over tired, upset or just having a difficult time without me having to express it. He would come and sit in my lap and cuddle into me to hear a story. Even now as a teenager and in this time a near adult.

Often when I was attending patients he would come along. He would become enraged when they spoke ill to me or dismissed my methods. Yelling at them with his melodic French accent that they were giant asses for not trusting me. I certainly didn’t encourage his outbursts but neither did I discourage them. They were giant asses, that much was true.

“There we are, all stitched up.”

“I ken the routine Sassenach, ye dinna need to tell me.”

He pulled me onto his lap and kissed me. Not allowing me to finish telling him to keep it clean and I would check it in a few days. Fergus shook his head and crinkled his nose. Both Jamie and I laughed, as Fergus then joined in. Fergus was well used to our displays of ‘amor’ as he called them. He had seen and been subjected to sights and sounds no child should know of while living in a brothel. Then his time with those horrid Clifford brothers. Not long after arriving here he had crawled onto my knee and wrapped his arms around my neck. He just sat silently for so long before asking why Milord, as he still called him then, loved me so. I’d never been asked a question like that before.

“He doesn’t treat you like other men treat ladies. Is it because you can fight Milady? Protect yourself?”

Tears pricked my eyes at the heartbreak in these words. Words an innocent child of his years should not be having to speak. What had this child been subjected too. I knew brothels were horrendous places, the girls treated poorly and often abused by clients. Did this poor child think I was only safe because I could defend myself? That Jamie only loved and respected me because if that? I grimaced to myself and pulled his tiny frame closer, planting a kiss on his unruly mop of curls.

“No he doesn’t, does he. That’s because he loves me and cares for me. But most of all he respects me and that isn’t because I can protect myself. Jamie protects me and I him that’s what you do when you really love someone. You would never wish to harm them or hurt them.”

“So you and Milord love me?”

His little voice was hushed and slightly broken as he spoke these words. I didn’t need even a moment of a thought before answering.

“Of course we do. We love you very much.”

And it was the truth. The boy had captured my heart from the first moments. I looked over to him now, a growing boy, nearly a man. He would be handsome of that I was sure. His dark brown eyes held warmth and charm. His face was maturing and taking on a strong jawline and with his work helping Jamie in the fields with the tenants his body was slowly developing muscles. He was no longer the scrawny little orphan I had saved from brutality at the hands of the Clifford brothers.

As darkness began to fall, I went outside to round the chickens up. It had been a beautiful summer and early autumn but now as late autumn bit in the air the weather had changed and rain drenched the ground. My feet squelched with each step in the soft mud that now covered the dooryard. My lantern swung as I moved catching the gentle rainfall. Pulling my dress up with one hand to save my hems I went in search of my wayward chickens.

Half an hour later I was soaked and my boots caked in mud as the last chicken was placed into their coop. Sliding on the muddy ground I moved to make my way back inside. I hated mud. It seemed I was never away from it, especially during my war years. The drudge of walking through it, the caking of it on boots and clothes. The dreary desolation of the blackening sludge that seemed endless, without the barest hint of any promise of life.

Each step within it reminded me, bringing vivid memories to my minds eye. The wagons and horses and people struggling with each step forward. Still hoping for a new dawn on a brighter future. Or the sopping muddied puddles of the forest which we ran knee deep through avoiding the German soldiers. Seeing my resistance friends fall, succumbing to the dark murky depths of the mud as the earth consumed them. Unable to do anything to stop its hold.

A hand touched my arm startling me from my thoughts. Looking around distractedly I saw Jamie’s worried face. Water dripping down his nose and from his hair.

“You are soaking wet Jamie you will catch your death!”

“Aye I ken that Sassenach and so will ye. Ye are soaked through to the skin standing out here in the rain.”

My mind couldn’t quite focus on what was happening around me. Instead it seemed fixated on the mud. Jamie wrapped an arm around my waist, lifting me and walked into our house. The fires had been burning all day and it was warm and cozy. Yet the heat did little to warm me. Jamie took me straight upstairs to our bedchamber. Shouting to Fergus to bring hot water and the tub. Their shouted conversation a distant far away rumble of noise.

“Will Mam be alright? I have never seen her so before.”

“Aye Fergus she will be. I’ll see to it.”

I stirred back into existence, oblivious to my removal from it. The concerned tone and faces of Fergus and Jamie hoovering before me. I was in my bed in my night rail and wrapped up with extra blankets and a roaring fire. But wait, hadn’t I just been outside? My mind could not process what had happened. I looked expectantly at Jamie.

“Sassenach ye gave me a fight. Ye were stood ram rod straight outside with the rain pelting down on ye. Soaked to the skin ye were. I brought ye inside to warm ye but ye haven’t spoke a word since.”

He had sat on the bed and took my hand in his. Fergus with his worried frantic face stood behind him, one hand on his shoulder.

“Thank you.”

It was all I could manage to say. I just wished to pull the blanket over my head and sleep and forget everything that that horrid mud had brought back. Fergus squeezed his Da’s shoulder and whispered something before bending down to kiss my cheek and leaving the room.

“Sassenach ye Dinna have to speak to me nor tell me what’s wrong. And dinna even think of saying there’s nought wrong cause I ken ye Sassenach. I’m hear to listen.”

“It will sound silly to you. I don’t even know how or where to begin.”

My words trailed off my mind muddled with competing thoughts. Jamie moved onto the bed and pulled me onto his lap. My head settled against his shoulder and one of his hands stroked gently my back as soft Gaelic words flowed from his lips.

“Ye ken what’s troubling yer heart. Just speak it, let it all out. It dinna matter if it makes no sense to none but ye. I will hold ye while ye do it. Take all the strength ye need from me.”

“I hate the mud. It reminds me of war and loss. I know it makes no sense because I have to deal with mud everywhere. I can still see their faces. Those who I lost. Those who I killed. Consumed by the mud.”

The words just poured from my lips, disjointed and raw. The feeling of relief flooding my soul with each released word. I spoke for what seemed hours. I didn’t move or look at Jamie as I spoke. Allowing myself to voice my inner hurts some that had never been spoken aloud before.

“I stared at those divorce papers. Willing them to go away. I hated my life and work at that very moment and I hated Frank if truth be told. How could he give up on me because of what I had to do? What I had been tasked to do? What had been done to me? Yet I am glad he did because it led me to you.”

Jamie shifted uneasily and I paused in my impassioned speech.

“And yet I did the same then to ye Sassenach? I dinna ken it at the time fool that I was. I’m sorry I made ye feel unwanted. Can ye ever forgive me?”

“There is nothing to forgive Jamie. I realised that all of that was a path I had to walk to get to you. If Frank hadn’t divorced me, would I have felt differently about marrying you? Would you have wanted me? I hated you for leaving me on that road, but yet I could understand. It was a lot to take in, the truth about who I was.”

“It was Sassenach but I wouldna change ye for the world. I love ye Sassenach with every bit of my heart and soul.”

He kissed my head and pulled me closer still. Speaking the thoughts out loud had helped me. Having Jamie listen with no judgement comforted me. I had never been a person to dwell on the past. More often than not I was looking ahead, to the next dig site, to married life, to the next mission. Perhaps the stability of this life here with Jamie and Fergus had allowed my mind to wonder to previously closed off places? The war was no time to mourn losses nor contemplate their happening.

I slept peacefully that night, a dreamless, restful sleep. Rolling over and stretching out my body, I reached my hand to Jamie pulling myself closer to him. Without opening his eyes he wrapped his arms around me and kissed me deeply.

“How’d ye feel this morning?”

“Surprisingly refreshed. I don’t know what happened to make my mind remember those things but I think speaking about it helped. Thank you for listening.”

“I ken it can creep up on ye sometimes. I think we need to be ready to face it together. I ken we can over come all when we do it together.”

“You have faced moments like this too?”

“Oh aye Sassenach. My mind was troubled with memories when I was in France after my escape from the Fort. When I left ye on the roadside, when we faced the rebellion.”

I relaxed into Jamie has he told me of his own struggles. Taking comfort in the shared burdens and realising that neither of us needed to face these difficulties alone, ever again. I still had no idea how or why those memories had flooded my mind. I did however know whole heartedly that I would be safe and cared for and most importantly loved if ever faced with it again.

I headed to the stables to look for Fergus. I needed to speak to him and reassure him I was feeling fine. His worried face was an image I hadn’t been able to shake all morning. He was tending to the horses, brushing them with long smooth sweeps of the brush. He turned at the sound of my boots on the stone floor. He flashed a smile towards me no doubt relieved that I looked much better. Lifting a brush to help with the grooming. I moved to the other side and joined him in the soothing and therapeutic long brush strokes across the dark brown of the horse. Enjoying seeing the shine appear in the coat.

“I’m sorry for frightening you last night Fergus.”

“It’s alright Mam. I just glad you are better.”

“I am thank you. I don’t know what happened to me. I suddenly had memories come back from things I did years ago. You know your Mam was asked to do things to stop bad people. But just because you are doing things to stop bad people, it doesn’t make those things good. I now see that it effected me more than I realised. I think though I can get through it with you and your Da’s help.”

“Oui Mam. We will help you, always.”

He came round to my side pulling me into a hug. In the last few months he had grown taller than me. I no longer could tuck his head under my chin. Mine instead tucked under his. He gently released me and lifted the brush to continue his grooming. We worked on in silence moving onto the next horse and the next. The methodic rhythm of the task, accompanied by the grinding sound of horses eating hay, allowed my mind to rest. I thought of the good things in my life, Jamie, Fergus, Lord John, this home. It was what I had so often done before when feeling overwhelmed and it helped.

A few weeks later I was awoke by a loud crashing noise from outside and could hear Fergus and Jamie’s voice in the dooryard. I reluctantly pulled myself from the warm cocoon of my bed and pulled a blanket around my night clothes.

Outside a pile of cobbles had been dumped in the dooryard and Fergus and Jamie were busy sorting through them. John appeared around the side of the stables and called out a greeting to me.

“What is going on Jamie?”

“Awh Sassenach yer awake. I’ve ordered cobbles for the dooryard for ye. I canna do away with mud everywhere ye ken but I can do something about it here.”

I stood stunned, eyes blinking at this gesture. Could this man get any better?

“John is here to give us a hand.”

“Well I should get dressed and get breakfast started.”

“Oui Mam, I’m starving!”

I shook my head and chuckled, he always was hungry. Once dressed I began preparing breakfast. I finally had mastered my bannocks getting them near perfect every time. I missed Jenny and Mrs Crook when preparing meals. Though my skills were just passable. I had enjoyed the friendship and sisterhood that had existed while we prepared and preserved food in the working kitchen.

Jamie and I had not heard anything from them nor them of us in four years. I tried to comfort myself with the knowledge that I had warned them. Told to to prepare for the clearances and for a famine. Yet I simply wished to write a letter, to be able to have a letter written in reply. I knew Jamie felt the same. It had been impossibly hard not knowing how they faired. Worse no doubt for them as they had no idea if Jamie and l lived. I knew the clearances had been much reduced, as John and the War Office had hoped for. Though it had still happened, people’s lives had been changed, destroyed forever. Pushing those thoughts to one side I called them in for breakfast.

Sitting around the table I enjoyed the easy friendship of Jamie, John and Fergus. The stories being told, the laughter. It made it all seem worthwhile the danger and risk. Not to mention the sacrifices. I knew I should have been content, I should simply look forward not back but for some reason I blurted out.

“John I want to contact mine and Jamie’s family.”

The noisy chatter and sounds of eating ceased, as all three heads turns towards me.

“I no longer work for the War Office. Enough years has passed since the rebellion. Surely a letter would be alright.”

Jamie’s face had went white and he didn’t speak. John kept opening his mouth as if to speak but no words came out.

“Oh John you look like a fish! I’m not asking for approval. I think Jamie and I deserve to let our family know we are safe and alive.”

“Ammm, well, yes, yes of course.”

He was frozen in his seat, muttering words to himself almost. Clenching his right hand he rapped it on the table. Taking a deep breath in, he puffed it out through closed lips.

“I never told you this. I have been in contact with them.”

“What?!”

Both Jamie and I shouted at the same time.

“Please allow me to explain. After your rescue and settling here. I travelled to Scotland for intelligence work. I called to their home and updated them on the situation and….”

“John quit the official capacity role. These are my family. People who loved us, cared for us! We have missed them, mourned their loss from our lives and you sit telling us as about them as though you were delivering a telegram to report our deaths!”

“I’m sorry Claire and Jamie for keeping this from you. Ian, Jenny and I felt it was for the best. I have kept in regular contact with them and ensured their welfare.”

“Tell us John, of my sister and brother. What of the bairns?”

“They are all well. I only returned from a visit one month ago. They have had twins, Michael and Kitty and Jenny was expecting another. I’d imagine the birth has taken place. I will hear soon. I will bring you their letters.”

Jamie was silent, tears welled in his eyes he pulled me onto his lap and wrapped me in his embrace.

“They’re safe Sassenach, safe. We did it.”

We wept together as the information sank in. Was I angry with John? Yes I was, for having kept this from us. But I was all so grateful that he had reached out to them for us. That we could be assured they were alright.

“I want to write to them, to my sister in yer next letter John.”

“Yes of course I can draft a letter this week.”

Later that evening as we enjoyed supper Fergus was quite, his face looked contemplative.

“Fergus are you alright?”

“Oui Mam I was just trying to work out this telegram?”

I paused and looked at Jamie. We had both been so careful to not allow slips. I’d lived so long in this time now that it was second nature to me. I rarely even thought of modern ways. Yet during my heated conversation with John, I’d slipped up. Fergus was a clever young man, lies would not work. Jamie shrugged and gave me a look that said it’s time for the truth. I nodded and breathed in deeply to begin telling my son the truth about his Mam.

Chapter Text

The weather did not improve much as the November days ticked passed. Fergus had taken the news of my time travelling and spy activities surprisingly well. Whining that he wanted me to teach him my moves and tricks. I felt sorry for John at his next visit, as Fergus would have a list of questions for him. Well, I almost felt sorry for him, I giggled to myself. Jamie and I had also received our first letter from Jenny and Ian.

The letter was like mana from heaven to us both. To see their handwriting with that brownish black ink, jumping from the paper. The familiar conversation weaving itself through the letter, as though they had never seen a day without us. We had both wept and re read it so many times I believe we could recite it from memory. It was clear that John had kept them informed of how we faired. I was grateful to John for that. To the point that I could forgive him for having withheld it, almost.

With the damp weather my healing skills were in demand. Coughs and colds seemed to have taken a grip on the tenants and the village folk. I spent my time grinding herbs, mixing tinctures and blending pastes. It was long days and often nights. All of that on top of dealing with the usual ailments and injuries. I had just trudged home once again in the pouring rain. Pulling my sopping wet cloak off as I entered the house. The warmth from the fires heating my frozen fingers.

Jamie called out from the kitchen that he had some hot soup waiting on me. I could have hugged and kissed him. I was exhausted after a long day and my feet ached as well as my back. The thought of having to make dinner chilled me and I needed something more than bread and cheese. So the welcome news that Jamie had prepared dinner give me further cause to smile.

The kitchen fire was roaring in the hearth and Jamie already had the bowl of soup on the table. Along with bread and cheese and a huge wedge of apple tart. I grinned as I sat and tucked in.

“Oh did I ever tell you that you are the best husband in the country.”

“I dinna think ye have. But where would I be the best husband of if I told ye I was heating water as we speak for a bath for ye? And that I intend helping ye strip off these wet clothes and soap up yer fine pale skin?”

“You would be the best husband in the world then!”

I giggled and squirmed as he kissed my neck, nipping it lightly as he went.

“Well that’s a title to live up to Sassenach. I best get some water onto boil then.”

He gave me a cheeky wink.

“Hardy har har! Regular comedian you are. I’ve already seen the water boiling.”

I smiled sarcastically towards him , as he began emptying my bag out. Many tenants and village folk had little coin to pay for healers. Often making payment in kind. Today I had buttons, milk, turnips, potatoes, a large piece of fabric and ale. Not bad for a days work. My arms had ached as I walked home with it all.

I sunk down into the bath, allowing the warm water to caress and cover my body. Jamie true to his word soaped up a rag and began washing me down. Finishing by rubbing my tired and only just warmed up feet. Once in a clean night rail I slipped into bed and fell asleep as my head hit the pillow.

I had no idea how long I slept, nor what time it was now. Outside the sky was still dark black and rain ricocheted from the window panes. The banging that had awaken me seemed to be continuing with increased frenzy. Jamie was awake beside me and grabbing for his shirt. Pulling it over his naked body he headed for the door. I reached for the blanket on the bed. Twirling it around my shoulders I followed wordlessly behind him down the stairs. My mind still trying to process what was happening.

The banging continued until Jamie wrenched the door open on our estate managers cottage. A lantern swung in the darkness. The light causing my eyes to twitch and blink. A man stood there rain dripping from a wide brimmed hat. I recognised him as the local tavern landlord Mr Phillips.

“Mistress Fraser you are needed. The woman she is dying, the babe it’s killing her. My misses can’t help her.”

“What woman Mr Phillips?”

“There’s no time to lose, you have to come.”

Jamie and I both ran for the stairs. Pulling my clothing on with alacrity. Jamie having dressed quicker had grabbed my medical bag and was saddling a horse. Within minutes we were galloping towards the village tavern. Jamie’s arm tight across my middle.

The tavern was a blaze of lanterns, patrons still, despite the hour slumped at tables ale jug in hand. A group of travelling tinsmithers sang loudly in one corner. Mr Phillips led the way upstairs to a room. The silence was deafening and not a good sign.

“We found her laying in the back at the stables. No one was with her. My wife and our cook tried to help her mistress Fraser. But she was so weak and they didn’t know what to do.”

He was blabbing as he walked ahead of us. I had no idea what I would be facing as the room door swung open. The pale worried faces of Mrs Phillips and the cook jolted round to me. Relief washing over them. The bed was saturated with blood, linens soaked through lay cast on the floor. The young girl on the bed was a sickly yellow green. A sheen of sweat resting on her face and neck. Her hair lay damp against the pillow. She didn’t look up or move her head at our arrival, too weakened by this birth to do so.

She was a slight build. Her shift opened at the neck showed the deep crevices of her collarbones. Her thin arms lay limp at her sides. The swell of her stomach rose high from her lithe form.

I washed my hands in the basin beside the bed and asked Mrs Phillips to get cold water and more clean linens for me.

“My name is Claire. I’m a healer I am here to help you.”

A tiny blink was all the acknowledgment I received, as I commenced my examination of the perilous situation before me. I could see the baby’s crown and a lot of blood. The poor girl was exhausted and had no strength to push. With the babe descended that far into the birth canal I needed to get them out or risk losing them.

“How long has she been in labour?”

“She was like that when Mrs Phillips found her. We have no idea who she is, no one does.”

My heart ached for this lonesome girl. Her face was young and pretty, no more than seventeen. What she had been through these last months I didn’t know and now she lay bleeding and weaken. Surrounded by strangers who didn’t even know her name. Mrs Phillips bustled into the room cold water and linens in hand. Without needing to ask Jamie stepped forward and grabbed the items. Dampening a linen cloth and moving to the girl’s head. He began cooling her brow and held her hand. It small and delicate in his large and calloused one. Mrs Phillips did the same on the other side.

“Alright I need her to push. We need to get this baby out now.”

Mrs Phillips and Jamie nodded and both shook her shoulders. Pleading with her to wake all the while mopping her sweating brow. A grumbled moan escaped her lips and her eyes blinked wide open. Startled at the large imposing Highlander staring down at her and the voices encouraging her to push. I nodded at her to push and with a groaned and grunted effort she did. Helping to ease the babe out I knew one more push would do it. Nodding again to the girl she held her breath and pushed again.

The babe now in my hands let out a squealed cry as I hastily wrapped it’s tiny form. Thrusting the infant into Mrs Phillips arms I turned to tend to what I had hoped would not have happened. The blood was rushing out of the girl. A large gash from the birth which I tried to stem. Stuffing linens to stop the bleeding. I grabbed for my medical bag to retrieve a needle and thread. If I could stitch the wound perhaps. Reaching my bag I turned back to see the sheets and linens soaked through with blood. The girl holding her weak hand out towards Mrs Phillips and the baby. It then crashed down to the bed and she went limp as the life drifted away from her.

She was gone. Never to see her child nor hold it to her breast. She didn’t even know whether she had a son or daughter. Mrs Phillips with tears in her eyes reached down to take her hand. Jamie slowly closed her eyes, confining her to her world of darkness. Low muttered Latin spilled from his lips, as prayerful words soothed the room. Mrs Phillips still holding the nameless girl’s hand finally spoke

“She never knew she had a little girl. I didn’t get telling her in time.”

I slumped down to the floor beside Jamie. Exhausted and heartbroken, who would know of this poor girl? This nameless entity? Who had suffered and struggled in labour until her frail body could hold out no more. Who would mourn her loss and what would become of her daughter.

Jamie wrapped an arm around me, kissing the top of my head, as I allowed tears to flow for this tragic loss.

“If no one kens who the lass is, Claire and I will see to her burial.”

There were nods and grunts of agreement from those still within the room. An eerie silence fell as none knew what else to say. I began to slowly clear the soiled and saturated linens my mind restless with what else I could of done to save her.

“Mistress Fraser what of the babe?”

The question though simple startled me. I had almost forgotten why I was there, so focused to cleaning the mess and rattled by how events had transpired. Mrs Phillips stood with the baby girl wrapped tightly in the linen cloth. I had not taken a good look at the child and she would need tending too and parents. Reaching to take the baby Mrs Phillips told her cook to fetch milk.

“Mr Phillips and I would gladly keep her but Mistress we are too old and have raised our own children. Will I inform the local Parish? Perhaps they can send her to the children’s home? Only until we find her family of course. The mother am sure has family looking for her.”

I cast my eyes over the dead mother of the child I held. Her garments while dirty and worn had been of quality cloth. Her hands were delicate and not worn with years of work and the set of her nose and chin held aristocratic grace. She clearly was from a wealthy family who most likely cast her out when they discovered she was with child. The shame they would consider this child could mean it would not be welcomed. However the loss of their own daughter could also mean they would wish to rise this their grandchild. Many a wealthy family raised illegitimate children within their homes after all. And as my eyes looked at her tiny perfect features I couldn’t bear the thought of her in a children’s home of any kind.

“Jamie and I can raise her.”

The words were out of my mouth before I had really thought them. Jamie moved to my side. Arm wrapped around me, the other resting on the tiny bundle in my arms.

“Is it possible Sassenach? Could we do it?”

“Yes I think we could. Of course we will have to try and find her family. Perhaps John could help.”

Jamie nodded a small smile quirking his lips. The cook returned with milk and I began the task of feeding the little girl. My little girl. I allowed myself to really look at her as she fed. The pale almost transparent skin, her tiny button nose which had the same graceful sweep as her mother. The rose bud lips that were greedily consuming the milk. A soft dusting of hair covered her head. The strands picking up the candlelight giving a chestnut glow. Looking at her deceased mother the same chestnut auburn tinge glowed from her hair.

“Well I think this little lady has had her fill.”

A tiny burp erupted from her mouth and with a satisfied lick of her lips she nestled into my arms and fell asleep. Taking the time to check her over, I dressed her in clothes Mrs Phillips had from her own children, long ago reared. Wrapping her tightly in a blanket I placed her in the large winged chair while Jamie, myself, Mr Phillips and Mrs Phillips tended to the remains of her nameless mother. Jamie said she would be buried at the estate. So her daughter would know her resting place.

I thought that it would be myself and Jamie at the burial. That no one else would attend but as we prepared to head toward the estate with a borrowed wagon from the Phillips we were joined, firstly by them. Then the cook, several of the taverns regular customers and along the way the local parish vicar. The day had dawned brightly and though a cool chill sat heavily in the air, there was a warmth to the day that I knew rested solely on the babe in my arms.

As the funeral cortège neared the estate we passed our home. Fergus was up and doing chores in the stable. The noise of the horses hooves on the lane drew his attention. Seeing us both by the wagon he questioned with raised brows and a Gallic shoulder shrug. One head tilt from his father was all the reply given and this silent communication was enough to bring understanding. He dropped his task and joined us.

The service was short. Committing this unknown girl into the arms of her Heavenly Father, who the vicar assured us did know her. It was a strange thing, being present at a strangers funeral. Yet I had shared an intimate moment with her. The birthing of new life into this world. I would be connected to this unknown young girl for however long I cared for her daughter.

We walked back in silent contemplations. I was also exhausted but my mind raced with too many questions for sleep to be an option. Now sat in the front parlour the babe resting in my arms I took the time to really look. She had no name, no identity, yet I was loathed to name her. This was as close to motherhood as I could ever allow myself to dream. Fergus was my son in every way that counted yet I had never held him as a new born baby. This child stirred my imagination of seeing her grow. First words, first steps. Emotion clogged my throat as I smiled down at her tiny sleeping form. You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy when sky’s are grey. A noise distracted me and I looked up to find Jamie leaning on the doorframe smiling. Fergus then rushed in enthusiasm high.

“Mam I have a cradle for the petite Bebe. We got it from the Jones family.”

He set it down triumphantly and grinned. Before coming to stand at my side and with the gentlest of touches stroked the baby’s cheek. After a kiss to my cheek he bounded out of the room. Jamie came to my side and lifted the child. My heart flipped at the careful way he held her little body. And of how good he looked with a babe in his arms.

“Do ye wish to keep her Sassenach? Ye ken it may be no easy task if we find her family. But if ye tell me ye wish her for yer own I’ll see to it.”

“I won’t lie Jamie I do wish to have her as ours. But I can’t deny her the chance of real family.”

“Aye. I’ll write to John and seek his help. Nay doubt it’ll be spread far and wide by the weeks end of what happened.”

I could only nod, the pain stabbing my heart was too much. I knew it was the right thing to do. Though my heart screamed loudly a different tune.

Jamie wrote to John, asking him to attend the estate but not mentioning the baby. John arrived from London three weeks later. I was in the small surgery preparing herbs when he walked in. A startled gasp and opened mouthed empty words, with a shocked wide eyed astonishment in wonder, was his response, as his eyes landed to the child, resting comfortably in the sling at my chest.

“Claire? A child? New born? How. Is it yours?”

The words all jumbled and paused poured out. His eyes still fixed on the child. I laughed and shook my head.

“No, not mine. Not yet anyway. That’s why you are here actually.”

I told him the whole story, of the young mother, her death and burial and how we wished to find out who she was.

“You and Jamie have a wish, a desire to raise her?”

“Yes.”

“Then why not simply keep her? Things are different in this time. No one will remove the child from you.”

“I cannot deny her the chance of her own family, her real family John. Not to satisfy my own selfish desires. I know her family was probably disgraced by their daughter, but they have a right to know her end and that they have a beautiful granddaughter.”

He nodded in understanding

“As you wish. I will make some enquiries.”

I knew the enquiries could take sometime. The scandal of an unwed mother was something few families would admit. Especially if my thoughts of her noble birth line were correct. John had left straight away to begin the quest. We hadn’t heard any word in the four weeks since. Jamie and I dared not even speak of it. Neither strong enough to voice the risk of losing this child, who had taken such a large place in our hearts and home. Fergus adored her and despite my own chastising I could not detached myself. I couldn’t bring myself to simply care for her needs without losing a little of myself to her.

Jamie was the same. I saw the look in his eyes as he held her. Often I’d waken in the night and find Jamie with the child in his arms. Whispering Gaelic words of endearment as he fed her. How could we ever let her go? I knew it was a possibility but yet my heart ached at the thought.

I lay in our bed the little girl resting on my legs as I tickled her toes and played peek a boo. Gummy grins shooting straight to my heart with each one. She still had no name, referred to as the bebe. My mind roared loudly telling me not to do it, as my heart over ruled it.

“I think it’s time my darling girl that you have a name.”

A gurgled smile the only reply.

“Mmm what name would suit you, I wonder? Alice? No you aren’t an Alice. Claire? No that could be confusing.”

I spent time testing out different names, struggling to settle on one, until my mind sparked an idea. Testing it out it seemed to fit perfectly. It was a grand name, a noble name and one that I knew this little lady would grow into.

At supper that evening I listened to the chatter of Jamie and Fergus. Watching as Fergus nursed the little one on his knee, as Jamie tickled her tiny feet. The joyous giggles and feet kicking, warming my heart. I cleared my throat getting their attention.

“I know I probably shouldn’t have, but I named her.”

I glanced down nervously fidgeting with my apron edge. Neither Fergus nor Jamie spoke. Simply looking at me as if to continue my explanation.

“I don’t know why I did it really. Oh fuck it! I did it because I want to keep her. I want to see her grow, walk, talk for the first time. I want her to be mine.”

The last words were spoken so softly and I didn’t look up. My eyes still fixed on my fidgeting hands. I knew this was stupid thinking this way. I’d already set the wheels in motion for her being returned to her family potentially. A warm arm embraced me and a tender kiss landed on my forehead.

“Sassenach ye ken I wish the same. I told ye God works in mysterious ways and that ye can be blessed as a mother in many ways. Just look at Fergus. A son of our hearts.”

I smiled, tears burning my eyes as I looked at Fergus still holding the child. His worried eyes on me and a reassuring smile.

“Mam you know we all wish to keep the petite. Perhaps Lord John can help, or perhaps her family will not be found.”

The hopefulness of his words struck me. There was still a chance, but could I pin everything to it? Knowing how things so often worked out for Jamie and I.

“I shouldn’t have done it. I will put it to one side. We agreed to not name her until we knew her future. Until we know she is ours.”

I swallowed the lump in my throat and smiled at Jamie and Fergus. Jamie’s face was masked searching mine. As I went to stand to clear the table he grabbed my hand.

“Wait Sassenach. What name did ye choose for the wee lassie?”

“Alexandra, after you, her father.”

His face unmasked as every emotion possible seemed to wash over it.

“Aye, it’s a grand name Sassenach.”

He turned then to Fergus and lifted the child. A warm smile once more in his face.

“Aye my Lass, what do ye ken of all this? Do ye think Alexandra suits ye? For I think it’s perfect. Though nay Scot is right with only one name. I think a second name of Elizabeth will fit just right. For yer mother”

As he turned towards me. The decision had been made. This child was ours.

While a name had been given and our little girl christened. I knew still that John could return at anytime with news of her family. I forced myself to not dwell on that possibility but to focus on the joy each day brought. Days bled into weeks, weeks into months and still no news arrived. An easy routine had formed and parenthood was an enjoyable task with our two children bringing me joy and delight. I cherished the moments knowing they were a gift, God had blessed me with this opportunity to open my home and heart.

I was sat on the river bank on a warm spring day watching my little family. Jamie and Fergus with Alexandra, swimming in the cool water. Jamie had been shy and fearful of exposing his back. But we had found this little secluded spot and he had dived straight in. The laughter and shouts from the water rang out. As a naked Fergus cannoned into the water soaking Jamie and Alexandra, who was in his arms. I was so absorbed in watching them I hadn’t heard his approach. Until a softly cleared throat startled me.

“May I sit with you Claire.”

“John?! You have returned.”

I cleared a spot on the picnic blanket and scanned his face for any signs or clues. The high pitched giggles of Alexandra echoed behind me. John’s face was schooled, unreadable.

“I have news Claire. I won’t make you linger. I cannot find the girl’s family.”

“What? Really. No one knows her?”

“I’m afraid not. I have made enquiries with grand houses in several counties, as well as across London. No one has a daughter to report missing.”

It was devastating that no one knew that poor girl. That her family could not be told of her tragic end. A tear fell uncontrolled for her loss. My eyes then flicked up to the family in the river, my family. Alexandra was mine, ours. She was going nowhere. I turned to John a beaming smile etched on my face.

“We can keep her John, she is ours. I don’t have to give her up ever!”

“No, you don’t have to sacrifice anyone again Claire. Go, go tell them.”

Without another word or backward glance I rose, running to the river bank towards my family. Shouting as I ran that Alexandra was ours, no family could be found. Jamie and Fergus both looked up, minds trying to process the words I shouted as they scrambled to the riverbank.

“She is ours Jamie. Ours truly.”

I breathlessly spoke as he grabbed me naked and dripping wet into a hug. Alexandra still held in one arm.

“Oh thank the Lord Sassenach. He has blessed me well.”

As he pulled us all into his embrace I couldn’t disagree. We had been blessed well. I had my own, my very own family.