Jamie exited his study to find Mrs. Bug bent over the fire fixing their supper.
“Have ye seen my wife?” he asked. He’d had a letter from Lord John seeking the recipe for a concoction Claire had made and sent him once before to help soothe the symptoms of chest colds.
“She were in her garden,” Mrs. Bug remarked, straightening up and putting a hand to her chin in consideration. “Then I think she were headed to the whisky shed - te speak wi’ Marsali on somethin. I dinna ken what.”
Jamie sighed and headed back into his study to set the letter aside for answering later. If Marsali was still at the malting shed it meant Fergus was likely alone with the Germain and the girls - and it was unlikely the girls were behaving without Marsali there to keep them in line, the little hell-kits.
Given Marsali’s advanced state of pregnancy, Claire would almost certainly insist on walking her back so his best chance of finding her would be to check there. Upon arrival, however, Jamie discovered that Germain had been sent on an errand.
“Oui, Germain said she was there with Marsali earlier - I sent him back to see what is delaying her return,” Fergus explained, voice raised to be heard over Félicité’s cries. Joan was sitting in a corner facing the wall and Jamie could tell from the set of her shoulders that she was pouting over her punishment - though what the lass could have done to upset her little sister was a long list. “She thought to begin supper on her own,” Fergus said, apparently guessing at Jamie’s thoughts. “She nearly toppled into the fire trying to set the water to boil. This wee mademoiselle is hungry but will not eat a bit of bread to hold her till her maman can make her supper.”
Jamie reached out to take Félicité from Fergus to give the man a break, holding his tongue on the subject of what more Fergus could do aside from sitting and waiting for Marsali to take care of things - Brianna would not tolerate such behavior from Roger, nor would Claire. They would both look at their husbands with expressions that said if something was wanting doing, the men were just as capable of doing something about it as they were.
Jamie bounced Félicité in his arms, the soothing movement and warmth of him gradually quieting the toddler’s cries.
Once the girl’s cries where gone, Jamie could hear another cry - this one from outside the house. Fergus heard it too and both moved to open the door.
It was Germain, running himself ragged and screaming himself hoarse, his pale face mottled red with exertion.
“Slow down, lad,” Jamie instructed, handing Félicité back to Fergus. The hairs on the back of his neck bristled at the terrified expression on the young boy’s face. “What is’t?”
“Maman,” he gasped. “Maman is hurt - she’s… Grandmére… something happened to her too - she’s gone!”
Jamie went ice cold - Claire. Something had happened to Claire.
“Did ye see what it was?” he asked Germain, desperate for more information, itching to be able to move, to do something, to find Claire.
“No. Maman… she’s on the ground.”
“Is she awake?” Fergus asked, looking like he might shake the lad to get his answers faster were he not already holding another child.
“She told me to get ye - both of ye - I think… she’s… she’s hurt,” Germain whimpered.
The lad had been through enough. “Germain, I want ye to run to the cabin - to Brianna and Roger. Send Roger Mac with Brianna and Jem up to the Big House. Mrs. Bug will have food there for those as need it. If ye see Ian, tell him to meet me at the whisky shed. Go, now - fast as ye can,” Jamie told the lad, knowing he’d feel better if he were useful.
Jamie turned to Fergus. “Take the lasses to the Big House as well. Brianna and Mrs. Bug will watch them. When Roger Mac arrives, ye come with him te the whisky shed - no, first gather everyone ye can. The lad said Claire’s gone - we’ll need te search and if she was there with Marsali, that’s where her trail will start. Ian… I need Ian…” Jamie was beginning to lose track of himself in his worry - where was she? what had happened? who - WHO would attack the pair of them and why?
Fergus dashed off with Félicité in his arms and Joan on his back, her arms tight around his neck, legs around his sides.
Jamie headed straight for the whisky shed.
Marsali had managed to sit herself up, leaning against the side of the shed. She was clearly in pain, her hand clutching her pregnant belly. There was blood on the ground and clear evidence of a struggle - even in the dimming light of evening he could make it out. He prayed none of the blood belonged to Claire.
“Da!” she exclaimed when she saw him, relief evident in her voice.
He knelt beside her, looking her over carefully. She needed Claire. Claire was better at these things. She would know whether it was all right to move Marsali or not - whether he should give her a sip of whisky for the shock or water or…
“Where’s Claire?” he burst out though he’d intended to be calm, gentle, and reassuring in his questions.
“They… they must have taken her,” Marsali said, blinking back tears, shaking her head slowly as she fought to think straight. “Fergus… Where’s Fergus? Did Germain find him? How-”
“Fergus took the girls to the Big House. Germain went to fetch more help. Who, a leannan, who took Claire? Where did they go?”
“Men - there were… many - thirty, a man said - they were thirty. They wanted whisky - but no the jug we keep here. They wanted more. The axe,” she gestured to where it had fallen in the grass. “I hit one with the axe.”
“Uncle!” Ian called, running swiftly down the path, Rollo at his side. The wolf-dog began sniffing the bloody ground immediately while his master crouched beside Jamie. “Is it true? Have they taken Auntie Claire?”
“Aye,” Jamie admitted, choking on the words. “Someone has. Can ye see which way they’ve gone? Can ye pick up their trail? I have Roger Mac and Fergus gathering men. They’ll be here… soon, I hope. If ye can scout ahead-”
Ian stopped his uncle’s rambling with a hand on his shoulder. “We’ll find her, Uncle Jamie. She’ll be fighting to get back to ye. There’ll be a trail.”
Jamie nodded, knowing that Ian was right - Claire would fight. But he wasn’t sure how much fighting would help her if there were as many men as Marsali said.