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Taken

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“There was a crashing in the brush behind me. Someone had seen me rush from the cottage. I dashed aside the tears and scrabbled upward, groping on all fours as the ground grew steeper. I was in the clear space now, the shelf of granite I remembered. The small dogwood growing out of the cliff was there, and the tumble of small boulders.

I stopped at the edge of the stone circle, looking down, trying desperately to see what was happening. How many soldiers had come to the cottage? Could Jamie break free of them and reach his hobbled horse below? Without it, he would never reach Culloden in time.

All at once, the brush below me parted with a flash of red. An English soldier. I turned, ran gasping across the turf of the circle…”

Excerpt From: Gabaldon, Diana. “Outlander.” Chapter 46.

...and threw myself toward the cleft in the rock. Every hair on my body stood on end, charged with the electricity vibrating off the stones. I began to fall as the sound of unearthly screaming filled my ears, drowning out the clash of swords behind me. Through the shrieking void I faintly heard Jamie's desperate cry. "Run, Claire! Run!"

But just as I tumbled into the chaos, as every molecule of my body began to split apart, an iron grip wrapped around my wrist and yanked me back. Gravity found its center, and I landed on my knees on the hard, rocky soil at the foot of the stone.

For a single moment, I thought Jamie had pulled me back. But my relief transmuted into fear when my arm was twisted painfully behind my back. I craned my neck to see the pale, shocked face of the the redcoat soldier who had pursued me up the hill. He frantically began to drag me away from the stone circle, terror spurring him on. He couldn’t catch his breath, muttering disbelievingly, "What the devil was that? You were... I don't..." I felt visceral fear in the trembling of his body, despite his iron grip. His eyes were wide and frightened as he gawked at me and the stones. He must have seen me begin to disappear before he grabbed me, just as Jamie once had.

The screaming of the stones faded into a loud hum as he pushed me down the hill. I spotted Jamie far below us, the hilt of his sword locked with that of another redcoat. My husband towered over the other man by a head, and he was using his superior strength to push the smaller man to his knees. Fast approaching from the side, though, were three more soldiers. "Jamie, to your right!" I yelled out in warning.

"Shut your mouth!" my captor snapped, punching me in the jaw. I lost sight of Jamie as my head snapped back. The redcoat stumbled slightly as I tried to yank myself free, but he managed to keep his balance by shoving me roughly to the ground and planting his heavy boot in my side, twisting my right arm higher up my back. Pain shot down the limb. Any further and he would break it. With my free left hand I groped for the dirk hidden in my skirts. I could feel it digging into my right thigh, but planted face-first into the dirt as I was, could not reach it. All I was able to grasp was a small, sharp rock jabbing me in the side.

His voice steadied itself in anger. "Hold still, unholy witch! Or do you want me to use my blade?" He placed his hand on his hilt in illustration.

"Go to Hell!" I spat back as I tried to wriggle out of his grasp.

At the sound of my curse, Jamie shouted out in alarm. "Claire? Claire! You must..." The phrase ended in a grunt as he brought his sword up to block a blow from a new opponent. He kicked the man back with a foot planted to his midsection.

Jamie held his broadsword in his left hand, his dirk in his right. Three redcoats stood round him, swords drawn. Two of the men were nearly identical in appearance, both of middling height and stringy brown hair, likely brothers, or even twins. One of these had engaged Jamie. The third was taller, and fair. The first man to arrive lay still on the ground several feet away, blood pouring from a fatal neck wound. Jamie used his long reach to his advantage, whirling in a dangerous arc, slashing his sword to keep the soldiers at bay. One of the brothers reached for the pistol at his waist, but he was too close. Jamie lunged at him before he could raise it high enough to aim, nearly taking the hand off at the wrist. His brother yelled his name as blood sprayed from the severed radial artery. “Joseph!”

My attacker looked toward the sound of their screams, and I felt his grip loosen infinitesimally. I swung my left fist into his calf, jabbing the rock into the soft flesh just above his boot. It wasn't sharp enough to do any real damage, but he was startled enough that I was able to free my wrist. With my right hand I grabbed the dirk from the folds of my skirt, and I rammed it into his other leg, pain lancing down my shoulder with the motion.

He stumbled back, howling, but did not fall. I saw what he meant to do, and I scrambled forward along the ground for the knife still embedded in his calf. But my injured right shoulder could not bear my weight and collapsed under me. The soldier ruthlessly yanked out the blade and threw it behind him, where it clattered against the rocks. "Bloody witch! You'll pay for this!"

His sword hissed as he pulled it from its sheath. From below, Jamie spotted the shining metal and screamed my name, drawing the attention of his opponents up to us. Jamie started to run toward me, futile though it was. He was much too far. The redcoat looming over me raised the sword high. Jamie would never reach me before he ran me through.

But before he could bring it down, a voice stopped him. “Halt! Take her alive! She’s wanted for questioning.” The tall, fair soldier pointed at Jamie. “This is Red Jamie, so she must be his wife!”

Jamie had been right. He was too conspicuous, his great size and bright red hair were too well known. They knew exactly who he was. He rushed up toward us, but his pursuers were too close. One of the brothers cut off his progress with a wide slash across his back. Joseph, the wounded infantryman, stood slightly to the side, fumbling at his waist for his sword. As Jamie whirled around, I saw blood blossoming across his shirt. Terror cut off the scream threatening to fly from my throat.

Jamie seemed to hardly notice the wound. He parried with his dirk, managing to deflect his attacker’s sword away from his throat. With his left hand, he thrust his broadsword toward the redcoat’s chest, but the other man fell just out of reach, tripping over a fallen log and directly into his brother, knocking the pistol to the ground. Jamie took advantage of their distraction to aim a savage blow to the base of the soldier’s sword, sending it flying. Before the redcoat could bring his own pistol up, Jamie drove his broadsword between the man’s ribs and into his heart.

Behind him, Joseph caught the falling body. “Isaac! Isaac! You barbarian bastard!” he screamed, cradling his brother to his chest as their blood mixed together and seeped to the ground. “What have you done? What have you done? Isaac! Isaac!”

The yellow-haired soldier circled around Jamie, barely glancing up the hill at us. He pulled his gun from his hip with one hand, and with the other, gripped his sword. Indeed, other than Jamie, he seemed to be the only one with all his wits and weapons about him. He kept his eyes on the Scot who had killed two of his friends, but his words were aimed at the man standing above me. He trained his gun directly at Jamie. “Take her back to the Corporal. He’ll find out everything she knows. I’ll take care of this one.”

“But Richard, don’t they want to question him, too?” my captor questioned as he wrapped a length of rope around my wrists, binding them painfully together behind my back. I thrashed and bucked against him, to no avail.

“Red Jamie here isn’t going to let us take him alive, I don’t think. They’ll be happy enough when we bring them his head, and we’ll still find out everything she knows. We’ll split his bounty between us.”

Rage, despair, and terror were written on Jamie’s face as he started up at me, trying to figure how how to free me. He snarled, “I willna let ye take her. Let my wife go, else I’ll send ye straight to Hell with yer friends. Let her go!”

Richard shrewdly narrowed his eyes at Jamie. I could see him contemplating the possibilities. He cocked the gun. “You don’t have much a choice about the matter, though, do you?”

“I dinna need a choice! I will die, aye, but I will take all o’ ye with me when I go!”

Richard’s lips thinned into a wide grin. Something clicked into place, and squared his shoulders. “If that’s how you feel, I think I’ll make you suffer for the short time you have left. I’ve changed my mind,” he yelled. “Slit her throat. I want him to watch her die.”

I felt myself being yanked up and back by my hair. My neck was bared to Jamie’s eyes, but I could not see his. All I could see were the flashing pupils and the filthy teeth of the man above me, and the dark clouds far above his head. The sharp edge of his dagger pressed into my throat, opening a thin laceration. “Gladly,” he leered.

“Stop! Stop!” Jamie screamed. “She’s done nothing to ye! Dinna touch her! Claire!”

“Then drop your weapons!” Richard demanded. “Drop them now, or she dies! Drop your weapons, and come with us peacefully. There’s a certain Captain who would like a word with you, I believe. Come with us, and she will live to see the morning. But one wrong move, and you’re both dead!”

The thought of Jamie unarmed sent fear through my heart, but it was a chance. If we were captured, we might have the chance to escape. Certainly our chances were better than they would be with a blade severing my carotid artery and a bullet through Jamie’s heart. I heard his dirk and broadsword clatter to the ground.

“On your knees,” Richard ordered. And up the hill he yelled, “Take her. Take her to the Corporal. He’ll pass her along to the Captain.”

The blade lifted away, but not without deliberately nicking me along the jaw. “No trouble now, you understand?” His breath was hot and stale on my face. “You’re going to do exactly what I say, or you’ll find out exactly what I can do to you without actually killing you.”

His threat barely registered. I was too preoccupied with the scene below. As I was dragged away, I saw Jamie kneeling on the ground, his eyes hopelessly locked on mine. “Mo chridhe,” he cried. “I will find you!”

Joseph carefully moved to the side, out of the firing line of Richard’s pistol. The infuriated man ignored what remained of his bleeding wrist and hissed, “You will not. You will never see her again. You will never see anything again!” He glared at Richard. “He is mine. Do you understand? Mine to kill. My justice. My brother lies dead, and this brute took him. I will take his life in return!”

“No! No!” I screamed frantically, but they weren’t even looking at us. “That’s not what you said! He’s done exactly as you asked!” The soldier whistled, and a large gelding trotted toward us.

My terror rose as my captor bound my ankles together and hauled me over his shoulder. I twisted around, barely catching a glimpse of Jamie, still staring after me. His hands were folded behind his head in resignation. I knew he spared no thought for his fate. Mine was all that mattered to him now. But his was all that mattered to me. As I was carried off, I could hear snatches of an argument. Joseph wanted to kill him now, and increasingly, Richard seemed inclined to let him. Jamie’s bounty was equal dead or alive, and he would be much less trouble if he were dead. I screamed useless protests into the wind, but no one listened.

We crested the hill. Soon Jamie would be entirely out of sight.

To my horror, the last thing I saw before I was tossed gracelessly onto the back of the horse, my head bouncing off its flank on one side, my legs bumping together on the other, was Richard handing his pistol to Joseph. I struggled wildly, trying to throw myself off the steed, or at least twist around to see what was happening to Jamie. I managed to kick my captor’s ear before he grew angry and brought the butt of his pistol down across my temple.

Pain radiated through my skull, but in desperation, I rolled my shoulder backward and tossed myself off the horse. As I fell, I spotted Joseph raising the pistol to the back of Jamie’s head.

My scream was cut off by another sharp blow against my skull. As my vision faded into a tunnel, and sight faded into a pinprick, I heard a single report echoing through the hills. My last thought before losing consciousness was that all was lost. It did not matter whether I would wake again.

The pistol pointed at Jamie’s head had been fired.