i carry you heart with me(i carry it in my heart)
i am never without it(anywhere i go you go,my dear;
and whatever is done by only me is your doing,my darling)
i fear no fate(for you are my fate my sweet)
i want no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it's you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that's keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)
- e.e cummings
“Brianna, time for breakfast.”
I set the bowl of sugary cereal down on the table, rolling my eyes even as I did so. Though I was certainly no gourmet cook, I was perfectly capable of preparing eggs and bacon. However, my daughter had recently made the decision that she hated eggs and most meat (save for chicken) and would turn her nose up at anything other than cereal for breakfast.
And, being who she was, that is a Fraser through and through, there was absolutely no reasoning with her.
“Brianna! Hurry up before it gets soggy!”
A groggy ten-year-old slugged her way down the stairs, red curls sticking all out from around her head like she’d just been poking her finger into an electrical outlet.
“I hope you plan on brushing that hair before school,” I commented.
I got only a grunt in response, but despite the lack of manners I smiled, since it sounded so much like that typical Scottish sound that could only be genetic, since she’d never heard it in life. Besides, I wasn’t much one for conversation first thing in the morning, either.
I left her alone after that, and went about getting myself ready for the day. At only ten, Brianna was fiercely independent, so I needn’t worry that she wouldn’t be dressed with a packed lunch in time.
Sure enough, she was waiting by the door a half hour later, and I only needed to smooth down a collar and a few stubborn curls. “Ready?”
“Ready,” she said, hefting her bag around her shoulders.
I enjoyed our morning walk to Brianna’s Elementary school. I was lucky to be able to have it every day with her, with the hospital I worked at being surprisingly flexible. My only sacrifice was getting to see her after school, as her young nanny would be the one walking her home and putting her to bed.
“You have your homework, right?” I asked her.
“Yes, Mama,” she replied, and I glanced down, noting the uncharacteristic monotone of her voice.
“Is everything alright? You’re not normally this quiet.”
She didn’t answer for a while, but I could tell by the way she chewed the inside of her cheek that she was mentally forming what she wanted to say, so I waited.
“Mama…” she began carefully. “What’s a bastard?”
I whipped my head down to her, frowning. “Where did you hear that?”
“Tommy Beasley said that I’m a bastard,” she said, her frown a perfect mirror of mine. “Because I haven’t got a dad. Is that what it means? I’ve heard you call people bastards.”
“I suppose it does,” I said, gritting my teeth. This was hardly the sort of conversation I wanted to have with my young daughter in the short hours of the day I was with her. “Usually people just use it as a mean word to call someone. Technically, it means…well, it means an illegitimate child.”
“And what does that mean?”
I sighed. “Well, you aren’t one. A bastard is someone who is born when their parents aren’t married. And your father and I were.”
“But you aren’t anymore,” she pointed out. “You’re divorced.”
“That still doesn’t make you a bastard.”
She nodded, accepting it as truth, but I could tell something still wasn’t sitting right. “Why doesn’t dad write anymore?”
I sighed again, having expected that this would be coming sooner rather than later.
“Brianna…” I began, then took her hand and led her off the sidewalk, to a bench nestled between two trees.
“We’re going to be late!” she protested.
“It’s alright,” I assured her. “Just sit down.”
She looked up at me, those impossibly blue eyes staring up at me, breaking my heart even as they made it soar…the way her eyes always did.
“Bree,” I said, still holding her hand. “I know you miss Daddy…”
“When you guys got divorced, he promised that it wouldn’t change things for us,” she said, her face grim, though I could see the pain written on it. That was one thing she didn’t inherit from her father but from me…a glass face. “But it’s like he just up and disappeared.”
When I had returned from the stones, Frank had accepted me back, and I’d done my damnedest to make it work, even though my heart was no longer with him, even though he’d forced me to make the impossible promise to let Brianna believe that he was her biological father.
But I just couldn’t continue living a lie with him. It was no more fair to Frank than it was to me or Brianna. So when Bree was five, we agreed to divorce. He didn’t fight me on custody, so long as he was granted visitation whenever he liked, and so long as I continued to allow Brianna to see him as her one and only father. I agreed, for her sake.
But Frank’s visits had grown fewer and fewer in recent years, at no fault of my own, as had his phone calls and letters. Surely he knew that it wouldn’t go unnoticed.
“Is it because of his new wife?” she asked, ever perceptive, my daughter.
I’d always found it impossible to lie to Brianna. I supposed it was because I made her live in the biggest lie of all.
“It may have something to do with it,” I admitted sadly. “But Brianna, it doesn’t mean that he doesn’t still love you. Maybe he just…maybe he just wants us all to move on with our lives.”
“Without him?” she snapped. “Like what…we’re just supposed to forget he exists? Like he’s forgotten I exist, I guess.”
What could I say? I couldn’t just sit here and defend Frank. Because he was in the wrong. But neither could I sit and tell my ten-year-old what I really did think.”
“If I can assure you of nothing else,” I said. “I can assure you that Daddy hasn’t forgotten that you exist, or that he’s stopped loving you,” I wrapped my arm around her shoulder, squeezing her tight. “And I can also assure you with upmost certainty, that you’ll always have me.”
“I know,” she whispered, leaning into me.
We sat that way for a time, until the sun rose high and I could no longer ignore that we were both going to be very late if we didn’t get a move on.
“Did I tell you that I have Saturday off?” I asked, standing and pulling her along with me.
“No!” she exclaimed. “Can we do something?!”
I leaned down to meet her eyes. “You think of something you’d like to do, hm? And we’ll do it.”
Her eyes went round. “Whatever I want?!”
I smiled, then winked. “Within reason. Now let’s get you to school.”
I gritted my teeth against the sound of that high pitched, almost childish voice. “May I speak to Frank, please?”
“May I ask who’s calling, please?”
I sighed. “Candy, you know fine well who this is. It’s Claire. Now may I speak to Frank?”
“It’s Sandy,” she hissed. “Hold on.”
I smiled to myself. Calling her that always sped things along.
“Frank,” I said as cordially as I could. “You’ve been awfully hard to get ahold of lately.”
“It’s a busy time of year,” he said irritably. “I have a thousand papers to grade. Now what is it? Is Brianna alright?”
“She’s about as fine as can be expected,” I said, stepping farther back behind the nurse’s station to avoid detection. Private calls at work were frowned upon if not outright forbidden, but I didn’t need a busybody nurse listening in. “She hasn’t heard from you since her birthday, Frank. That was three months ago.”
There was a deep sigh on the other end, and a rustling sound that was probably him rubbing his face.
“I have a lot on my plate right now, Claire,” he said.
“Fine,” I said. “I don’t care, Frank. But Brianna does. I’m not going to let you string her along, make her always wonder when you’re going to waltz back into her life. We made a deal. You haven’t upheld your end.”
“Is that some sort of threat?” he asked.
I huffed. “I’m only saying that maybe knowing that her father loved her more than life before he died would be better than a father who doesn’t even bother to write.”
“You think you’re so much better? You don’t think I know that you let nannies do your job while you’re off trying to prove yourself to the world?”
“I didn’t call to get into a pissing match with you, Frank,” I snapped. “Call your daughter.”
I hung up then, grimacing against the bad taste in my mouth that I got after a conversation with Frank of late. For the most part, we’d remained civil, even though he’d cheated on me for months with Sandy. But I felt badly for what had happened between us, at no real fault of Frank’s. And then he’d taken me back without hesitation. And he’d stepped up and loved a child who was not his, as if she were. How could I not love him for that, at least?
But he resented my decision to pursue a career as a doctor, and of course he could never let go of the fact that I’d gone and fallen in love with someone else.
He could hate me for the rest of his life, and I really wouldn’t blame him. And he could have turned his back on both me and Brianna five years ago, and I wouldn’t have even resented him for that. But no, he’d made the choice to be a part of her life, and damn it he was going to follow through with that promise, if I had to make him.
I dragged myself into the house, tiredly kicking off my shoes and paying no mind to where they landed.
“Hi, Ms. Beauchamp!” Emily called from the living room, already packing up her schoolbooks. I’d hired my young neighbor three years prior, and was eternally grateful to the high schooler for giving up her evenings, even her Friday nights and some weekends to care for Brianna. Granted, I paid her a generous salary that she was setting aside for college, provided her with all the food she could eat, and even turned a blind eye to the occasional visits from her sweet boyfriend whom Brianna adored so long as my daughter could report to me that nothing inappropriate ever happened within her ear or eyeshot. I thought again that I wasn’t sure what I was going to do when she went away to NYU next year.
“When am I going to convince you to call me Claire?” I asked her for possibly the hundredth time.
She giggled, ignoring my question. “Bree is in bed, but she asked for you to go to her when you got home. She was as excited as could be! Mr. Randall called tonight.”
“Oh good,” I said levelly. How kind of him to remember after receiving such a reminder earlier in the day. “I’ll go right up. Thank you, Emily.”
After seeing the teenager out, I made my way upstairs to Brianna’s room. It was dark, save for the nightlight that projected little ballerinas onto the wall, a relic of the solitary week that Brianna had taken ballet lessons before promptly deciding that the tutus were dumb.
“Mama?” she said as soon as I opened the door, sitting up with alert eyes.
“You should be asleep,” I told her, sitting on the side of her bed.
“Daddy called!” she said excitedly.
“So I heard. That’s wonderful, Bree. Did you two have a lot to talk about?”
She shrugged one shoulder. “Not really, he couldn’t talk long,” she perked up then, eyes sparkling. “But he said I could go visit him soon!”
“Did he?” I said coolly. Frank and I had certainly not discussed any such visit, and I wasn’t happy with him bringing it up to her without clearing it with me first. “Well, we’ll have to talk about that hm? Can’t have you missing school.”
“It’ll be summer soon,” she reasoned.
I smiled, smoothing the hair off her face. “We’ll talk about it later. Go to sleep, sweetheart.”
As she always did when anxious to get her way, she obeyed immediately, squeezing her eyes tight.
I hummed softly to her for a time, running my fingers through her soft, red hair. Eventually her breath evened out, her face grew slack, and I swallowed the lump in my throat at how much like him she looked when she was asleep.
The papers came not a week later. Apparently, Frank had made up his mind to take his chances and fight for full custody of Brianna.
“Bullshit,” my best friend, Joe said, tossing the papers carelessly onto his desk where I was sitting. “No court is going to take a little girl from her mother.”
“I’m inclined to agree, but it looks like Frank is willing to pull out all the stops. With the right judge, he might just convince him that Bree would be better off with a father and a stay-at-home mother than with a single, professional mother.”
Joe grimaced, acknowledging that I was right. It was still heavily frowned upon for a woman, especially a mother, to have a career, and being unmarried…well that was just the last nail in the coffin.
“But you’re a good mother,” Joe argued. “And Bree wouldn’t want to go off and live in England with Frank. For fuck’s sake, she barely knows him anymore.”
“I wish I could be so sure of that,” I said. “Bree was always such a daddy’s girl. Besides, she’s just a child. They won’t exactly listen to her opinion either way,” I slammed my hand on the desk. “Son of a bitch.”
“Well you gotta have some leverage,” Joe said. “You and I both know that he didn’t wait until you were divorced before shacking up with whatsherface. Most courts don’t look too kindly on adulterers.”
“I always swore to myself that I wouldn’t try to use that against him,” I said quietly. “It would just hurt Bree,” I looked up at him, shoulders slumping tiredly. “But truth is…Bree isn’t Frank’s. And that, at least, is easy enough to prove.”
Joe blinked at me for a moment. “Well then. Guess I wasn’t expecting that. If Bree isn’t Frank’s…”
“Frank and I…” I took a deep breath. “We…well fine, I’ll come right out and say it. I was unfaithful. It wasn’t entirely by choice. Circumstances were…unusual. But Frank and I were separated for three years, and I only returned to Frank when…when…Bree’s father…was killed. Frank accepted Bree as his own, but made me promise not to tell her.”
“Damn,” Joe breathed, grimacing. “And…this other guy...”
I smiled, softly, knowing that Joe was worried that Bree’s father had been more of an attacker, than a lover.
“He was the love of my life,” I told him. “He made me promise that if anything ever happened to him, that I would return to Frank. So I did.”
“Sounds like there’s a story there,” Joe said. “What was this guy’s name?”
The breath caught in my throat. In over ten years, I had not once spoken his name. I’d scarcely even allowed myself to think it.
“Jamie,” I said. “His name was Jamie.”
I made the decision right then and there to tell Brianna the truth. She was old enough to understand, and if it came to a court battle with Frank, she deserved to know everything, and I wanted her to hear it from me.
She’d decided that on my day off, she wanted to go to the Science Museum. So I would take her there, and then to get dinner and ice cream, and after, I’d tell her. Perhaps I wouldn’t tell her everything, not yet. The whole truth would be too much to burden a child with. But she would know who she was. Who her father was.
It was around 3:30 that afternoon when one of the nurses flagged me down as I passed on my way to see one of my patients who’d had surgery the day before.
“Dr. Beauchamp?” the round-faced nurse said. “A call for you. Says it’s urgent.”
There were precious few people in the world who would call me with any sort of urgent news, and all of it would revolve around my child. So heart in my throat, I all but shoved the poor nurse out of the way to get to the phone, answering it with a panicked “hello?!”
“Ms. Beauchamp!” Emily’s voice sounded on the other end, sounding frazzled, but not upset, and I calmed down ever so slightly.
“Emily, what is it?” I asked. “Is everything okay?”
“That’s what I wanted to ask you,” she said. “I went to pick Bree up from school but she never came out. So I went to the front office, and they said that she was picked up early.”
“What?!” I cried, bile rising in my throat. “What do you mean? Only you and I are authorized to pick her up!”
“That’s what I said!” she exclaimed. “But they said she was picked up by her father.”
I nearly dropped the phone. In fact, for a moment I thought I might just faint. But I sucked in a deep breath, calling on the same determined energy that drove me to find Jamie when he was taken by the redcoats.
“Don’t worry, Emily,” I said. “I’ll take care of it.”
“Okay. But please call me when you find her.”
I thanked the worried girl, grateful for her concern, and hung up.
Frank thought he could take my child. Well, he was about to find that he was sorely mistaken.
I went straight home and found that Brianna’s suitcase, and some of her clothes and belongings were missing. Her bunny, her most prized possession since she was a baby, was lying in the foyer, apparently having been dropped. Only then, seeing the stuffed animal there on the floor, did tears come, and I scooped it up, cradling it to my chest.
Police were called, and Joe along with his wife, Gale, came over to comfort me as they filed a report.
When they’d packed Brianna’s bag, they’d also ransacked my bedroom, and found her passport. It was of little surprise to me that they’d chosen to take her to England. All that meant was there were more authorities to talk to. Magistrates and judges. All I was allowed to know was that Brianna was safe. Frank wouldn’t even let me talk to her.
“I’m going to get her,” I told Joe one night as he sat with me in my den, watching as I nearly drank myself into a stupor. “The police are doing nothing. If I want my child back, I have to go to her.”
“I agree,” Joe said softly. “I can come with you, if you need.”
“No,” I said. “We can’t both leave the hospital, and I have honestly no idea how long I’ll be gone. Fact is, I’m not coming back without her, Joe.”
He smiled, though it was tired, like I was. “I know. I don’t expect you to, Lady Jane. But you’ve got to tell them that she isn’t his.”
“I tried,” I told him. “But Frank has covered his tracks well. He even paid people off to cover up the fact that he’s sterile. The best I can do is go to Scotland and find the newspapers from when I was missing.”
Joe stared at me a moment. “Wait. Missing? You never said you were missing. Where the hell were you for three damn years?”
Chapter 2: His Name was Jamie Fraser
Claire returns to Scotland on a mission to find her daughter.
Wow, guys! Thanks so much for the amazing reaction! This one is going to be fun, lol. (But no worries, more chapters of DBMW and FTH are in the works!
Now on to chapter 2!
Going to Scotland was like stepping back into another life. Every memory that I had been hiding from for a decade caught up to me in a single wave, but I shoved it all violently away. The dead would just have to stay dead, and ghosts had no place in my mind right then.
I was wary of going to Reverend Wakefield. He was, after all, a friend of Frank’s. But I also knew him to be a good and honest man, and if nothing else, his maid Mrs. Graham would no doubt be willing to help me. She was the only one who knew the truth beside me, and Frank – for all I don’t think he ever truly believed it.
The door was answered by a strapping young man with black hair and vibrant blue eyes.
“Roger?” I asked, pleased despite everything. “Why, look at you!”
“Hullo,” the boy greeted uncertainly. “If you’re lookin’ for my father, he’s visitin’ some o’ th’ sick.”
I smiled. “Actually, if Mrs. Graham is available, I’d like to speak with her.”
Roger shrugged nonchalantly, and stood aside to admit me, leading me into the kitchen.
“Weel, if it isn’a Claire Randall,” Mrs. Graham said, running over from where she stood at the stove, and gripped my hands.
“I go by Claire Beauchamp now,” I said automatically. “I take it Frank hasn’t been here?”
“Well, no,” she said, brow furrowing in concern. “But sit. Heavens child, ye look deid on yer feet, ye do.”
I sat gratefully, feeling dead on my feet. I hadn’t slept in weeks for more than brief naps when my body gave me no other choice – since Frank took Brianna. It all poured out to Mrs. Graham, along with the tears I’d been valiantly fighting for so long.
“Oh you puir child,” she whispered, patting my hand before getting up to fetch a bottle of whisky from a small, hidden cabinet and pouring a healthy measure of it into my cup of tea. “I canna believe Mr. Randall would do this. That poor wee love.”
“You know as well as I do that she isn’t his,” I said vehemently. “But he’s been trying to cover it up. I was hoping that you kept that article from when I came back.”
“O’course, lass,” she said. “Th’ Reverend doesn’a throw anything away. Frank hasn’a a leg tae stand on. I can be a witness, if nothin’ else. It’s just a shame that he’s dragging your puir lass through all of this.”
I bit my lip, trying not to succumb to any more tears. But all I could think of was what was going through Brianna’s head right then. Who knew what Frank was saying to her. She was a smart, perceptive child, but she was still just a child, and one who thought her daddy hung the moon.
“I saw him,” a raspy voice interrupted.
I’d forgotten completely about Roger, who’d been hanging around the doorway to the kitchen, listening in. He was a gangly lad, but one who was clearly well on his way to becoming a tall, handsome man.
“What have I told ye about lurking?” Mrs. Graham admonished. “And what d’ye mean? Saw who?”
“Mr. Randall,” Roger said. “He was talking to Da.”
“What?!” I exclaimed, jumping to my feet. “When?”
“Yesterday,” Roger said. “I don’t know what all they were saying, but Mr. Randall didn’a seem happy.”
“Was Brianna with him?! Did you see a little girl?!”
Roger shook his head. “No. Just Mr. Randall. I did hear him say that he was staying nearby, though. At the same place, is what he said.”
“Oh my God,” I whispered. “Son of a bitch…”
“What are ye going to do?!” Mrs. Graham exclaimed as I rushed for the door. “Ye mustn’t do anything rash!”
“I’m going to see my child,” I growled. “He cannot stop me from that,” I looked at Roger as I passed, grabbing his hand and squeezing it tightly. “Thank you, Roger. Truly.”
He nodded, looking unsure as to whether he’d done the right thing, but I hoped that he would eventually understand that he had.
There weren’t all that many places in town to stay. There was a chain hotel or two around, of course, but Roger had heard Frank say the “same place,” which could only be Mrs. Baird’s.
I tried not to feel anything about that. About Frank bringing his mistress and my daughter to the same hotel we had our second honeymoon at, a lifetime ago. The very last place we’d been happy together. It didn’t matter of course. All that mattered was that Brianna was near, and my arms ached to hold her.
I marched into the lobby of the bed and breakfast, ignoring the memories. A woman stood at the desk, looking remarkably like Mrs. Baird, but considerably younger.
“Can I help ye, Missus?” she asked, frowning at the no-doubt wild look in my eyes.
“Is there a Frank Randall staying here?” I asked, forcing my voice to stay steady.
She shook her head, taking a step back from the desk. “I’m sae sorry, Miss. I canna give ye that sort of information.”
I slapped my hands on the desk, leaning over it. “He kidnapped my daughter. You had better tell me if she’s here or by God…”
“Th…this sounds like a matter for th’ police,” she stammered, reaching for the phone.
“Just tell me where she is!”
“Miss Beauchamp!” a strong hand grabbed my shoulder, wrenching me away from the desk.
Snarling, I whipped around, prepared to strike anyone who dared touch me then, when I was so close to my baby. But it was Roger, staring at me with a mixture of fear and determination in his eyes. I hadn’t realized that he’d followed me, and wondered if Mrs. Graham had sent him after me to prevent me from doing anything destructive.
“I saw a lass,” he said urgently. “A wee redhead, like in the picture my Da has. She was wi’ a blonde woman…just outside.”
“Show me,” I commanded, tearing out of the inn without waiting for him.
Roger grabbed my wrist, dragging me out to the other side of the inn. There, walking hastily toward the park, was Sandy, Brianna’s hand clutched firmly in her own.
“BRIANNA!” I screamed.
Brianna whirled around, eyes the size of dinner plates. “Mama?!”
Sandy looked ready to run, but Brianna dug her heels in. And young as she was, Brianna was tall and solidly built. There was little to be done when she didn’t want to be moved. I could testify to that.
I vaguely registered Roger cutting off Sandy’s escape as I reached Brianna, yanking her into my arms, feeling like I could breathe after weeks of being slowly suffocated.
“My baby,” I whispered over and over, stroking her hair.
“Mama,” she said, pulling away. “W…why did you send me away?”
“Is that what they told you?” I hissed, glaring up at a nervous-looking Sandy. I set Brianna away from me so I could look at her properly, but didn’t dare release her. “Brianna Ellen, you are my life, do you not know that? I love you more than anything. I would never let you go. Ever. Frank took you from me.”
She nodded, eyes wet with tears. “I knew that. I did. Daddy said we were just taking a trip but I knew…I knew we wouldn’t just go without seeing you. I’m sorry Mama, I didn’t wanna go…”
“Shh,” I hushed her, pulling her back into my arms. “You did nothing wrong, Brianna. Nothing. This is all just a messed up situation between Frank and me. Not you.”
“Can we go home, now?” she mumbled into my shoulder.
“Yes,” I said, glaring again at Sandy. “Let’s go home.”
“You can’t take her,” Sandy said shakily. “Frank has filed with a judge here for custody.”
“He can’t do that,” I snapped.
“Like hell I can’t.”
My heart sunk and I whirled around, squeezing Brianna into my side.
I never would have thought that I could actually hate Frank. Dislike, yes. Distrust, absolutely. But after all that’d we’d shared I never thought I could truly hate the man. Right then however, that was exactly how I felt. And he was staring back at me with such anger…never had he looked more like Black Jack Randall than he did in that very moment.
“I’ve spoken to the judge,” he said. “They’re siding with me. Brianna needs a father and a mother. A real mother.”
“She is my real mother!” Brianna cried.
“How can you do this?” I asked him. “Snatch her from her home, drag her through a court battle?”
He took a step closer, and I backed away, gripping her shirt so tightly I felt it rip.
“She’s my daughter,” he said.
“She’s nothing of the sort,” I spat. “You have no right to her whatsoever. Every right I’ve granted you until this moment has been for her benefit. But you are not her father! And all I have to do is show the courts the record of my disappearance. Or hell, have them test you for fertility.”
“I told the judge that I wasn’t her biological father,” Frank said, surprising me. “But I also explained how you vanished for three years and came back babbling like a madwoman about fucking time travel. And how you’re never home. How easy it was to take Brianna away because you’re not there to protect her. I’ve raised her from infancy. I can give her a good life. Come on, Brianna,” he said, looking at her for the first time, and reaching for her.
“No!” she screamed, wrenching away from him. When he made to grab her again, she bolted down the cobbled sidewalk and into the crowd milling around the fountain.
“Brianna!” I called, tearing off after her, Frank and Sandy right behind, yelling for her as well.
I fought to keep her bouncing red curls in sight, but Brianna was quick and agile, weaving around the oblivious tourists, and before I knew it, she’d disappeared among the throng.
Frank and Sandy had gotten ahead, Frank using his considerable height to see over the heads of the crowd. Swallowing the urge to grow hysterical, I forced myself to stop, and think.
Brianna was her father’s daughter through and through. It didn’t matter that she’d never gotten to meet him, or even learn a thing about him. Those ancient Highlander instincts were simply in her blood. So I had to stop and think like one.
And just like that, I knew the direction she’d gone, and it wasn’t further into town.
I twisted and turned through the alleyways until I left the village and reached the hills, still so remarkably unchanged even after two hundred years. Heart in throat, I hoped my instinct was correct, and that I hadn’t simply left my daughter to the hands of fucking Frank.
I jumped at the sound of a sharp whistle, and found Roger just ahead leaning against a tree. I’d forgotten all about the boy, and wondered how he’d caught up to me so quickly until he casually pointed upward, and I followed his finger into the leaves of the tree, catching a flash of red.
I could have fainted in relief, and in fact my vision did blur only briefly, but then again I’d scarcely slept or eaten in weeks, so it was hardly a surprise.
“What did you do, tree her?” I asked Roger, the intended lighthearted humor no-doubt sounding more crazed than anything else.
“I just followed her,” he said. “Tae make sure you found her, and not Mr. Randall.”
When I reached his side I took his hand and squeezed it. “Thank you.”
I peered up past the branches, to where I could just make out a pair of dangling saddle shoes.
“Go away,” Brianna sniffed. “I don’t wanna see you. Or Dad.”
“Oh Bree,” I murmured softly, resting a hand on the bark. “I can’t imagine what you must be thinking right now.”
“Is it true?” she asked. “About…Dad?”
Roger lingered nearby, though he’d moved a few feet away and stood staring into the distance, his hands in his pockets. There wasn’t a lot to bother trying to hide from him at this point, except for the obvious, but poor Bree was nowhere near ready to hear that truth.
“Yes,” I said, deciding that right now blunt honesty would probably be best. “It’s true. I’m so sorry you had to find out this way.”
A pair of angry blue eyes found me through the leaves. “Yeah? Well I think you’re sorry I found out at all. You lied to me. You’ve been lying to me my whole damn life!”
I made the conscious decision to overlook her language, supposing that if there was ever a good time for cursing, it was now.
“I know,” I said. “I won’t try to deny it, or make excuses. But I’d like to try to explain, if you’d let me.”
I smiled. “I’d rather talk to your face, if you please. I could join you in the tree, but those branches look awfully thin and I’m not as young as I once was.”
“Oh alright,” she sighed long-sufferingly, and I could hear her start to make her way down.
She was red-faced and dirty, her hair sticking all out and her blouse was torn. I pulled her into my arms, inhaling deep that baby smell that hadn’t quite left her yet, beneath the smell of dirt and sweat and unfamiliar shampoo.
“So,” she said, pulling back and crossing her arms defensively. “Why’d you lie?”
I took a deep breath, trying to think of the gentlest way of explaining. “Your father…Frank…he…he made me promise, Brianna. He just wanted to raise you as his own. I guess he thought it would be…easier. I shouldn’t have gone along with it…but I did.”
“So who is my father? Is he a bad guy? Is that why Dad didn’t want me to know?
“No!” I cried, forcing myself to calm down when I saw her jump. I knelt before her, needing to make sure she looked into my face. “Brianna, you listen to me. I will tell you anything and everything in time. But if you know nothing else right now, then know this; your father loved you. He never even got the chance to see you, but from the moment he knew you existed, he loved you so very much, and he was a good man. A wonderful man.”
“Was?” she said, her voice small. “So he’s…dead then?”
I swallowed. Even after so many years, those words drove a knife right through my heart. “Yes,” I choked out.
“Ms. Beauchamp,” Roger called out sharply. “Someone’s coming.”
I yanked Brianna behind the tree and peered out around it. I could just make out a pair of shapes coming up the hill, but there was no mistaking that it was Frank and Sandy.
“Don’t let ‘em take me, Mama,” Brianna said.
I stared at her hard. It was understandable that Brianna would want no part of the horrible situation Frank had put her in, but the fear in her voice took me aback. “Have they done anything to hurt you?” I demanded.
“No,” she said. “But they’re liars. They said you didn’t want me, and that I couldn’t see you again,” she cut her eyes up to me accusingly. “You lied too, but at least you didn’t take me away to some weird country. Besides, I hate Sandy. She’s a bitch.”
“I’m not inclined to disagree,” I said wryly. “But we’re going to have to discuss your language later. Let’s go.”
Frank and Sandy had wandered a little away, toward an old farmhouse, and Roger jerked his head in the opposite direction. “Go,” he said. “I’ll distract them, if I need to.”
“Thank you again, Roger,” I said sincerely. “I don’t know why you’re doing this, but I’ll be forever grateful.”
He smiled at me. “I’ve been around enough people to tell the difference between good intentions and bad ones. Get yer lass and go.”
Smiling at him again, I took Brianna’s hand and headed further into the Scottish countryside.
“Who was that guy?” Brianna asked.
“A friend,” I said, noticing how she was craning her neck around. “Kinda cute, isn’t he?”
Brianna wrinkled her nose dramatically. “Ew!”
“What are we gonna do?” Brianna asked, once I felt like we’d gained plenty of distance between us and Frank.
“He can’t take you,” I assured you. “You’re not his child, simple as that. I’ve never wanted to keep you from having a relationship with him, but I’m afraid he’s forced my hand.”
“Then why are we wandering around in the middle of nowhere?” she asked. “My feet are dying.”
I chuckled. “We’re going back to the Reverend’s house. But there are some things I want to explain to you, and something I want you to see first.”
We found the road, and then a bus stop to take us where I wanted to go.
Well…I didn’t really want to go at all. But I found that a part of me needed to, and moreover…Brianna needed to.
“What is this place?” she asked quietly, as if she could sense the somberness of the otherwise bright, sunny marsh.
“Culloden Moor,” I said, just as quietly. There were a few tourists milling about, mostly just strolling along silently, but a few were snapping photographs.
It was just as barren and wet as Jamie had described it. An army of warriors, as fierce and strong as I knew they were, would have just been sitting ducks in the face of musket and cannon fire.
My mind couldn’t stop picturing how it must have been. Men I had known. Men I had tended to. Men I had cared about, falling dead by the dozens. How many of their bones were still there, beneath our feet?
Jamie…oh he would have been one of the last standing. That much I was sure of. He would have fought with every fiber of his being, every muscle and bone of his body.
But he would have died, right along with the others. Just a body, nameless and lost to history. He had no intention of surviving, but even if by some miracle he had survived the battle, none of the higher ranking Jacobites were spared at the end. And none of that mattered anyway, because no matter how Jamie died…he had been dead for two hundred years.
“What are those things?” Brianna asked, pointing to the stone markers placed here and there.
“This is the site of a famous battle, famous in Scotland, at least. It was a battle for freedom from the English king.”
“I think I remember,” she said. “I read something about it. The Scots lost, right?”
I sighed, resignedly. “Right. Many good men died that day.”
I stopped beside a particular marker, the sight of it bringing tears to my eyes.
“Mama?” Brianna asked softly. “Are you okay?”
“This is going to be difficult for you to understand, sweetheart, but before you were born I…” I chuckled without humor, kneeling as I frustratingly wiped the tears off my face with one hand and traced the letters etched into the stone with the other. F…r…a…
“Your father’s name was Jamie Fraser,” I said, saying his complete name for the first time in over a decade. “James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser. He died here, in 1745.”
“Mom,” Brianna began, in the same tone of voice she’d used last Christmas when I told her that if she wasn’t good then Santa wouldn’t bring her the scooter she wanted. “How on Earth could my father have died a bajillion years before I was born?”
I smiled at her. “I know it sounds ridiculous. But, thirteen years ago…something happened…”
Brianna was silent while I told her my story. It was a highly sanitized version, of course. The rest I could tell her gradually, as she grew older. For the moment, all she needed to know were the events that led to her life.
“It’s impossible,” she said at last. “It sounds like something out of a movie.”
“I know,” I agreed. “And there was a time I would have thought the exact same thing. But it happened, Brianna.”
She was quiet for a time, standing and walking among the other markers, lingering briefly before the one reading MacKenzie.
“I wanna see them,” she said at last.
She turned and arched a brow at me, looking far too old and mature for her mere ten years. “The standing stones. I want to see them.”
Chapter 3: The Stones
At Brianna's request, Claire takes her to see Craig na Dunn.
A couple of you have mentioned that Brianna is taking the truth a lot better than in canon, but despite her inherent skepticism, this Brianna is only 10, thus much more inclined to believe in magic, and take whatever her mother says as truth!
Thank you all so much for the awesome comments! I'm really having fun with this one!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
We waited until dark before making our way back to the Reverend’s house. Reverend Wakefield was quiet, but assured me that Frank hadn’t been there, nor would he be admitted without my permission. Despite being a friend of Frank’s, I trusted the Reverend to protect Brianna and me, if for no other reason than to avoid a confrontation. More than that, I trusted Mrs. Graham to keep us safe, and Roger too, for that matter.
But it wouldn’t be wise to stay long, and I was anxious to get Brianna back to the States, so we would be flying back out the next day…after a stop at Craig na Dunn. I wanted to return to that hill about as much as I wanted open heart surgery without anesthesia, but Brianna was insistent. I knew she didn’t wholly believe that the story of my journey was true, and I didn’t know what seeing them would prove (because I would not be letting either of us within arm’s reach,) but she deserved to see and know whatever she wanted. I owed her that much, at least.
“Are ye sure about this?” Mrs. Graham asked the following morning.
“She only wants to see it,” I told her, shrugging on my coat. “We’ll stay safely away. I’m not even sure it would work for only her, anyway.”
“Weel, it’s a long drive,” she tutted, “I’ll prepare ye something to eat.”
I smiled at her. “Thank you, Mrs. Graham.”
But instead of going to the kitchen, she went to her purse where it was sitting on the end table. “I have something for ye,” she explained, withdrawing a velvet bag and handing it me.
The pearls spilled into my hand like liquid, or maybe it was just the tears pooling in my eyes at the sight of them. I’d given them to Mrs. Graham before Frank and I left for Boston after I first returned, partly in effort to keep my promise to Frank about leaving the past in the past, but partly because I never fully trusted that he wouldn’t discard of them without my knowledge. Jamie’s wedding band had remained a point of contention between us, even if we never really spoke of it. But the ring had never once left my finger.
“I want ye tae have these, too,” Mrs. Graham continued, handing me a pair of earrings with unidentifiable gemstones in their middles. They were nice, but a bit garish for my taste.
“They’re lovely,” I told her. “But why…”
“There verra old,” she said, winking. “Belonged tae my great-grandmother, they did.”
Frowning, I tried to hand them back. “Then I couldn’t possibly take them…”
“Take them,” she said, plucking the earrings from my palm and tucking them into my coat pocket
I hadn’t come to Scotland with much, only whatever clothes and things I’d managed to shove into a bag I could wear over one shoulder, and the Reverend and Mrs. Graham provided Brianna with one of Roger’s old backpacks and a few articles of his old clothing to hold her over until we were home. Brianna was mostly excited about the slightly over-sized brown boots that Roger handed her, and I doubted I’d be getting them off of her any time soon.
“I have something else for you,” I said, reaching into my bag for her stuffed rabbit.
She snatched it out of my hands with a happy giggle. “I thought I’d lost him!”
“Are you ready to go?” I asked.
Brianna fiddled with the ear on her bunny, not answering for a moment. “Do you think I could say goodbye to Daddy?” she asked at last, her voice small.
“Baby,” I whispered, pulling her into my arms. “I wish you could, but right now…it’s just not a good idea. Frank just isn’t being rational right now. Maybe in time it’ll be different.”
I wasn’t honestly holding my breath about that, but there was no sense in upsetting her further.
She nodded stoically, ever my brave soldier, but I could tell that it was hurting her. I thought she likely felt as though she were choosing between us, and I silently cursed Frank once again for making her feel that way.
We gave Mrs. Graham hugs, and I smiled as Brianna awkwardly thanked Roger, who just as awkwardly told her goodbye, the teen clearly unused to children.
“Are you ready?” I asked Bree, and took her hand to lead her to the rented car.
“I’ll be happy to be home,” she said.
“So will I.”
“This is it?” she asked as we got out of the car.
I stared up at the hill I both loved and loathed for many of the same reasons. I swallowed the dread I felt and took her hand. “Yes, this is it.”
My heart thundered as we made our way up the hill, leaving me feeling lightheaded and breathless. We were near the top when the buzzing started and I halted.
“What is that sound?” Brianna asked, wincing.
I turned to her sharply. “You can hear it?”
She frowned at me, a little wrinkle forming between her eyes. “I’m not deaf.”
I started upward again, pulling her along when she started to grow a little more apprehensive. I didn’t blame her; I wanted to turn around, too. But we’d come this far.
The stones were just as I remembered. Just as they’d been for two hundred years and beyond.
“I don’t get it,” she whispered. “How can touching a rock send you back in time?”
I huffed a laugh. “I haven’t the slightest clue. But there are stories about it. Old stories of people who disappear. But they usually come back.”
“Like you did.”
I turned to her again. “So, you do believe me?”
“I dunno,” she admitted, shrugging. “It all sounds kinda…”
When she didn’t complete her thought, I nodded in agreement. “Indeed.”
Brianna and I whirled around.
“It’s Dad,” she said, her hand tightening in mine.
Frank was charging up the hill, his strumpet nowhere in sight. At least I wasn’t outnumbered.
“I knew it,” he seethed as he approached us, and I felt myself involuntarily cringing away at the sight of him, at the blazing fury in his face, the wild look in his eyes, that brought raging to life the memory of another man, and suddenly my mind couldn’t tell the difference between them. “I knew you’d bring her here!”
“Get the hell away from us, Frank,” I growled, my grip on Brianna likely painful to her, but I couldn’t make myself loosen my hold.
“You’re not taking her back there,” he hissed. “I won’t let you!”
“You have no fucking say!” I yelled.
“She’s my daughter! I raised her while you were out trying to prove yourself to a world that couldn’t care less!”
I rolled my eyes. “You mean you abandoned her five years ago for a pair of tits.”
“Stop it!” Brianna exclaimed, snatching her hand out of mine. “Both of you, just stop it! Stop talking about me like I’m not even here!”
“Come with me, Brianna,” Frank pleaded, holding his hands out for her. “You know how much I love you. It doesn’t matter than I’m not your birth father.”
“No,” she agreed. “But it matters that you threw me on a plane to Scotland when I didn’t wanna go! It matters that you and Mama lied to me about who I am!”
“You don’t understand what this place is!” he yelled. “It’s dangerous! Come with me right now!”
Frank lunged forward, making to grab for her, and I threw myself in front of him, getting my shoulder into his ribcage.
While he caught his breath, I spun around, stomach dropping at the sight of Brianna, racing toward the stones.
“Brianna!” I screamed. “Stop!”
I took off after her, barely aware of Frank just behind me. For a moment everything slowed down, like a dream when you find yourself unable to reach whatever you’re trying to run toward.
Brianna paused in front of the stone. I could see her head tilted all the way back, and then her arms were rising. Slowly. As if in a trance that I knew well.
I reached her side and tried to snatch her hand away, my palm coming in contact with her in the very moment that hers came in contact with the stone.
In that same breath I resigned myself to what was happening as the ground opened beneath us, and I spent all my focus on holding on to my daughter for dear life.
It was even worse than I remembered. The feeling of being torn apart, and clumsily stitched back together like a child attempting to fix their toy.
When I came back to myself, I was lying on the ground, my ears ringing, but the buzzing was gone.
“Brianna?!” I exclaimed, jolting upright. But she was lying right beside me, rolling over and clutching her stomach.
“Just lie still,” I told her. “The nausea will pass.”
She opened her eyes and sat up slowly, looking all around. “What happened? Where’s Daddy?”
I sighed and looked up. I’d realized upon returning to my time that they sky in the twentieth century had a subtly different hue than the one in the eighteenth. Perhaps it was the absence of airplanes, and pollution.
“He isn’t here,” I said. “We’re not in 1958, anymore, Bree.”
“I don’t think we’re in Kansas either,” she muttered. “What do we do? Just touch it again to go back?”
“I don’t think it works quite that way,” I said. “Do you still hear the buzzing?” she shook her head. “Besides, I don’t think I can handle doing that again so soon.”
She wrinkled her nose. “I know what you mean. So what do we do now? We’re not…we’re not really…”
“I’m afraid so.”
She looked around again, most likely looking for some sort of proof of what had happened. “Then…when?”
I climbed unsteadily to my feet and held out a hand for hers. “I can’t say for sure.”
“But haven’t you done this before?”
I gave her an impatient look. “That doesn’t mean I know how it works. Maybe we’re back in the 18th century, maybe we’re in the 17th.”
And what if we’d landed in the 18th, but at the same point in time I arrived at before? The thought left me with equal parts dread and hope, so I shoved it resolutely away, and decided to focus first on assuring our safety.
“Either way, there’s somewhere nearby that we can go. There are people there who will help.”
I smiled at her. “Your aunt and uncle, that’s who.”
It was already close to dark, and I didn’t relish the idea of trying to find our way to Lallybroch at night on a path I only thought I could remember after over ten years, so I found us a copse of trees to make camp.
“Camping sure was a lot nicer back when Dad would take me,” Brianna said, clearly trying for humor. “Nice tent, showers nearby, s’mores on the fire…”
I chuckled. “Can’t promise you s’mores, and I definitely can’t promise a shower, but…” I pulled the branch down further from the tree, holding it in place with the shoelace from one of Brianna’s saddle shoes. “…but voila! A tent!”
Brianna crawled under the little hut of branches I’d made. “Where’d you learn to do this?”
“Your father taught me some,” I said, piling the tinder I’d gathered for a fire. “My Uncle Lamb taught me the rest. Have you any food in your backpack?”
She unzipped the pack, and started emptying it. “Just some…candy, bubble gum, and…” she withdrew a rectangular foil package. “a Pop-Tart!”
I wrinkled my brow. “Not exactly hearty fare. But hand it here, I suppose its Pop-Tarts for supper.”
I heated one of the two pastries on a flat stone placed near the fire, then broke it into two pieces, giving Brianna the much larger piece.
“Did he teach you how to build a fire, too?” she asked, nodding toward the small flame.
“Mmhm,” I hummed. “I think Jamie could survive anything. He told me he once lived off of eating grass.”
Brianna wrinkled her nose for a moment, the rearranged herself until she was leaning into my side.
“Tell me more about him. About my…father.”
I smiled, and wrapped an arm around her. “Well, for starters, he had the most remarkable red hair. Like yours…”
Disclaimer: Pop Tarts were not invented just yet in 1958, but i wanted to add the little nod to Jem and Mandy's love of them, so I ignored accuracy for just a moment lol.
Chapter 4: Real
Claire and Brianna attempt to find their way to Lallybroch, but lose their way, and find trouble instead.
Guys, just as a reminder, pay real close attention to the tag that says "i play fast and loose with timelines." xD
And thanks, as always, for reading!!!!
Brianna and I talked well into the night. The quiet stories and conversation were a good way to distract her from being afraid, and for me to pretend that I wasn’t at a loss of what to do.
When she fell asleep, I sat awake with her head in my lap, weaving her curls around my fingers and keeping my ears tuned to the sound of wolves or other such intruders. Thankfully, it was summer here like it was back in our time, so even though it was certainly cold, we weren’t in danger of freezing to death with our inadequate clothing.
Brianna’s boyish clothing would be out of place certainly, but at least the brown pants and green flannel shirt weren’t quite so obviously from the wrong century. However, my gray cigarette pants and red short-sleeved blouse would probably raise as many eyebrows as my white dress had the first time around. I rather hoped we could make it to Lallybroch before running into anyone else.
By first light we made our way down the hill. I recognized at once the river Jamie and I camped beside that first time he took me to the stones, when I made the decision to stay with him, and instead we went home, to Lallybroch.
My gut was twisted in anxiety over returning there. I was terrified of finding that the Murrays were gone – killed by redcoats or famine, or forced to flee for those same reasons. But I was also afraid that they would still be there, and besides having no way of explaining my whereabouts the past decade, I’d be forced to hear for certain Jamie’s fate.
I thought surely I could find my way from there from memory, but half a day into walking through the open wilderness, I determined that I’d underestimated how much ten years could make me forget the way. It wasn’t as though there were road signs, or petrol stations I could stop at to ask for directions.
By the morning of our second day, I determined that I was very, very lost.
“I’m starving,” Brianna whined. We’d long since exhausted our rations of Pop-Tarts and candy, and the berries I’d managed to find hardly gave us the protein we needed for another long day of walking.
“So am I,” I admitted. I thought about attempting to set a snare the way Jamie had taught me to catch a rabbit or something, but that would mean hours of waiting. We didn’t have the equipment for fishing, and I knew I hadn’t the skill to tickle the fish, either.
“My feet hurt.”
I sighed, trying not to be annoyed with Brianna. It was perfectly understandable for her to be miserable and voice that fact, but it did nothing for my nerves. However, I’d rather her focus on her small complaints, and not understand the very real danger we were in.
“I see smoke.”
“Wait, what?” I asked, turning to look at her, but she was pointing to something over my head. Sure enough, a thin plume of smoke rose over the next hill. I hesitated, unsure. It could either be a house, or a campfire, and either way there was no telling what sort of people would be around it. Regardless, Brianna and I wouldn’t have survived much longer the way we were going. “Come on,” I said, grabbing her hand.
It was a house. A small, thatch-roofed house with several outbuildings and a barn. A family, perhaps. My heart lifted.
“Alright, darling,” I said. “Now just let me do the talking, alright?”
She nodded, looking around in wonder at the homestead like she might if we were at a museum. It was then I realized that despite our exhaustion and hunger, despite what we’d been through, it wasn’t real to Brianna yet. Perhaps that was for the best.
“Hello!” I called out.
The man who came out certainly looked at us askance, his gaze lingering with incredulousness at my attire in particular, but at least he wasn’t armed. Then again, if we were in the time I thought we were, he wouldn’t be allowed to be armed.
When he only stared instead of speaking, I cleared my throat pointedly. “We’re travelers who have lost our way,” I said.
I could tell the moment I started speaking that this man would not be inclined to be hospitable. If being English wasn’t pretty the last time I was here, it would be downright hideous to these people of the Highlands now.
“Please,” I continued. “I’ve a child, and we’ve no horses or food…”
His bearded face softened, and he turned to look inside. “Come oot, Brigitte, Milly.”
Two girls, one about Brianna’s age, and another a few years older, peeked their blonde heads out the door.
“We haven’a much tae offer ye,” the man explained, and judging by his daughters’ rail-thin limbs and the sallow look of all their eyes, it was no exaggeration. “But ye and yer lad can rest in th’ barn for th’ night. Brigitte, get some food for our guests, aye?”
It wrenched my heart to take food from these people, but my concern about my daughter overrode my sympathy.
The man introduced himself as Martin Grant. I couldn’t know for sure if that meant we were in Grant lands or not, since the clans would have all been scattered by now. Martin didn’t ask us for our names, and I did not offer them, but I thank him and his daughters profusely for the hard bannocks and single rabbit leg they gave us.
“He called me a lad,” Brianna said once we were situated in the barn on beds of hay with a pair of sorrel gray mares for roommates. Impressing me with her willingness to follow direction, she had not spoken a single word in the presence of the Grants. “How come he didn’t think you’re a boy? You’re wearing pants, too.”
I smirked, and made a vague gesture in the area of my breasts. “A bit harder to mistake me for a man,” I said.
“When am I gonna grow boobs?”
I arched a brow at her. “Really? We’re half-starved, lost out of our own time, and that’s what you’re worried about?”
She shrugged, and I shook my head with a fond smile. I supposed the longer her young mind perceived all of this as nothing but some grand adventure that would end soon, the better.
I gave the rabbit leg to her, and ate a fourth of one of the three bannocks before wrapping the rest up for later. She wrinkled her nose at the rabbit, but was too hungry to complain.
I slept restlessly, but a little better for having a roof over our heads, such as it was. But we were awoken at dawn to the sound of hysterical crying, and I jolted upward, arms immediately reaching for Brianna. She was safe and sound beside me, and it took me a moment to understand where the crying was coming from, and that it was accompanied by masculine laughter.
“Stay down,” I hissed urgently, creeping toward the barn door.
“Please, she’s no’ but a child!” Martin was pleading to the three redcoats, one of whom had Brigitte in a tight hold from behind.
“Feels like a woman to me,” the redcoat sneered, hands groping the girl’s almost non-existent breast.
I hadn’t noticed that Brianna had crept up beside me, her eyes wide in confused horror at what she was seeing. I shoved her roughly back into the hay. “I said stay down!”
“Is there someone else here?”
I froze, casting around the barn for a weapon, or somewhere we could hide, but before I could snatch up Brianna and dive into one of the stalls, the door was flung open.
“Ho ho! You’re holding out on us, old man!” the young redcoat exclaimed, taking in my unorthodox and disheveled appearance.
“Sh…she’s a traveler,” Martin stammered. “A…an English woman and her son! We…we took them in!”
“It’s true,” I said. Martin likely hoped that his good deed toward an English woman would put him in good favor with these men, and maybe he would be right.
The redcoat holding Brigitte snorted. “Bullshit. Some of these scum have learned how to fake the accent.”
“Sure not dressed like an English lady,” the one closest to me sneered.
“I…I lost my clothes,” I said, going for the same story I told before.
He smiled meanly. “No, but you’re about to. You can be next,” he grabbed my arm as Brigitte started screaming again.
“Get your fucking hands off of me!” I yelled.
“Let go of her!” Brianna shrieked, charging him, but he yanked me aside and sidestepped her, giving her a sharp boot in the arse as he went.
“Big man, aren’t you?” he laughed. “Run along boy, unless you’d like to watch. Get quite an education.”
The brown-haired redcoat forced Brigitte onto the ground, rucking up her skirts as she writhed and cried. When Martin made to attack him, the redcoat holding me raised his pistol to him.
“Make one move and you die,” he said calmly. “And then where would they be without a father? Why, we might just have to take them all with us.”
Martin froze, helpless, and grabbed his younger daughter and held her close.
I looked at Brianna, wanting to beg her to run, but knowing she wouldn’t. Once they were done with Brigitte they would move on to me, then probably Milly, and it would be only a matter of time before they took a good look at Brianna and realized that she was no boy.
I remembered something I hadn’t thought of in a very, very long time. A beautiful glade, the dizzying sensation of going from happy and lust-filled to petrified in a matter of seconds. A man…a redcoat…hovering over me, hard and hot against my thigh. The feeling of my blade piercing the kidney.
I had no blade, but I had a free hand, and medical knowledge of exactly where the carotid sinus artery is.
I dug my fingers into the side of his neck, but I hadn’t enough force to drop him. It was enough, however, to surprise him into loosening his hold on me and his pistol.
I grabbed the pistol, not thinking twice before I fired, although the echo of the words do no harm ran through my mind before he fell dead.
“What the hell?” the other exclaimed, caught literally with his pants down and without enough time to react before Martin had his sword and was plunging it into his back.
For a long, long moment, no one moved or made a sound. But then Brigitte was crying, and Martin was rushing to haul the lifeless wretch off of his daughter.
“Are ye hurt?!” he exclaimed, and she shook her head emphatically.
“Mama…” a small voice whimpered.
“Brianna, come here, darling,” I said much more loudly than I’d meant to, but she took a shaky step back as I tried to approach her. I realized then that she was staring at the blood that was splattered all over me.
It was that very moment I knew that for Brianna, it had just become real.
I helped Martin drape the dead soldiers over their horses along with all their weapons. It was still dangerous for Martin and his family, of course. The rest of the men’s troop was probably not far away, and they could have heard the gunshot. But anything was better than finding dead English soldiers and a smoking gun anywhere near their property.
Brianna was quiet, but followed close by me when I went out back to wash with water out of the well. I returned to the house to find that the other children were sitting quietly, as well. I approached Brigitte slowly, like an easily spooked horse, and gently rested my hand on hers.
“Brigitte,” I said softly. “I know you don’t want to think of this right now. I don’t blame you for not wanting to think at all. But I’d like you to tell me truthfully, did that man hurt you?”
“She said he didn’a,” Martin said gruffly, but with only fear in his voice, no anger.
I looked over my shoulder at him. “I don’t mean to embarrass her, and I don’t want her ruined any more than you do. But I’m a healer. I only want to know if she’s hurt, if she might need…” I looked at him meaningfully before turning back to the girl. “I could examine you. It wouldn’t hurt.”
“I…I know about these matters,” Brigitte said weakly, but assuredly. “My mam told me, ‘afore she died. He didn’a stick himself in me. I’d have noticed…I think. My arm hurts, though.”
Her steady voice told me that she was being truthful, so I decided to let it be. “Let me see your arm.”
Her wrist was sprained, but not broken. After I was done wrapping it, Martin bashfully nudged Milly forward, asking if I wouldn’t mind taking a wee keek at her, while I was at it.
Both girls were painfully malnourished, and in fact they were both likely considerably older than I had thought, but there was precious little I could do about that, except tell Martin to feed them as many leafy greens as he could along with what game he was able to catch. I couldn’t know whether or not it fell on deaf ears, but it was worth a shot.
Milly had a troublesome boil, another symptom of her poor nutrition. It was a simple matter to lance it with one of Martin’s knives set in the fire and then dipped in whiskey. I explained firmly how important it was to keep it clean.
“I canna thank ye enough,” Martin said. I could tell he was being sincere, but I could also tell that it was a rather firm dismissal, and I didn’t blame him. “Dinna ken what I would ha’ done if ye hadn’a been here.”
“Is it a common occurrence?” I asked. “The redcoats, I mean?”
He shook his head. “Nay. ‘Tis why we moved all th’ way oot here. They have passed occasionally, though. ‘Suppose Brigitte’s no’ been old enough tae catch their attention yet, though.”
I smiled. “Well, I wish you the best,” I said. “But we’ll be going, now. Thank you so much for your hospitality.”
“Ye’ll be takin’ a horse,” Martin said firmly, holding up a hand to stall my objections. “We canna afford tae feed them both, now. And it would have broken th’ girls wee hearts if I were tae butcher one. Ye’ll take it, in payment for your service, and for th’ doctorin’.”
It hardly seemed a fair bargain, but with Brianna to think of, I was in no position to argue. In fact…
“I hate to ask any more of you,” I said. “But…if you had any spare clothes…”
“Of course,” he interrupted. “I thought as much, but didn’a want tae insult ye,” he chuckled. “Been livin’ out here sae long I thought perhaps I’d simply fallen behind th’ times.”
I chuckled as well, but not for the same reason as he. I gratefully accepted an old, but well cared for dress of his wife’s, though I’d have to do without stays for the moment since Martin’s wife had been considerably shorter and slimmer than I, just like her daughters.
“We’re trying to make our way to Lallybroch, do you know of it?”
“Broch Tuarach?” Martin clarified. “Ye’re a long way off from there, lass. That’s back in th’ other direction. Five days or so, by horse.”
“We went the wrong way?” Brianna hissed, and I shot her a look.
“What is the nearest town?” I asked Martin, inwardly cursing myself.
“Gairloch,” he replied, pointing. “No’ but a few hours ride West o’ here. Used tae be no’ but a fishing village, but th’ Crown and merchant sailors use the port for their ships at times, when they travel between here and th’ Colonies. There’s a respectable boarding house for women there, but ye’d be wise tae steer clear of th’ tavern and inn. Soldiers, ye ken.”
“Thank you,” I said, taking Brianna’s shoulder and steering her away before she could set off.
“I can’t believe we’ve been walking for days in the wrong direction,” she said later as I was changing.
“Yes I know,” I said impatiently. “But we’ll go to the village, see what we can do about earning a few coins for food and supplies, and then go to Lallybroch.”
It felt odd stepping back into the clothing of the 18th century. Odd but…also like coming home. Even without a corset, the steps to putting on the shift, the skirts, the dress…it was comforting in a way. Luckily since the dress’s original owner was short, I had no need of the blasted bum roll.
“Weird,” Brianna said, watching the transformation take place in the alcove that served as Martin’s sleeping quarters. “You look like you’re getting ready to be in a movie.”
I looked over at her, sitting on the rickety bed. In the span of only hours, she seemed to have aged by years, and it broke my heart. “This isn’t a movie, Brianna,” I felt compelled to remind her. “As you’ve seen, there are people here who won’t hesitate to hurt us. And if they know we’re different, that we aren’t from here…” I grimaced, remembering the shouts of an angry mob, calling for my death at Cranesmuir. “We must try to blend in, is all.”
“Then do I need one of those, too?” she asked, eyeing the dress with a dissatisfied scowl.
I thought for a moment, but I’d already seen the answer during the redcoat attack. “No,” I said, picking up a brown hat from the cabinet. It had a fine layer of dust on it, telling me it wasn’t often worn, so I thought perhaps Martin would be willing to part with it.
I dug into her backpack for a hair elastic, then pulled Bree’s hair into a low ponytail before fixing the hat on her head. “No,” I repeated. “A woman and her young daughter traveling alone will be like walking with targets on our backs. But a woman and her son, well, that looks a bit different in these days.”
I wouldn’t tell her that it still wasn’t safe, especially not for me, but it would be much easier for a boy to slip away from danger unnoticed than it would be for a girl.
“Son?” she asked, turning around. “You want me to pretend to be a boy?”
“Just for now,” I said. “Come now, at least you won’t have to wear a dress.”
She smirked. “Well, there’s that. What will you call me, then? Not Brianna.”
I grabbed her face, then pulled her close so I could kiss her forehead. “That’s easy. We’ll simply call you the name of the grandfather you were named after.”
Chapter 5: Gairloch
After finding lodging in a fishing village, Claire makes a startling discovery, and Brianna makes a bad decision.
And HERE'S what I meant about timelines...lol
Gairloch was a small but bustling village right on the coast. Brianna, who’d already been holding tightly onto me the whole journey, unused to horses as she was, tightened her grip almost painfully.
I craned my neck to look at her, seeing her eyes were round as full moons as she looked all around.
Despite the danger, in a way I was actually happy she was seeing this. That I was getting to share this with her. I don’t think I ever realized until then just how lonely a feeling it was, being the only one like me. Even when I was with Jamie, as much as he tried to understand, there was simply no way he ever really could have. There had been only one other that had known what it was like to experience two realities, and unfortunately Geillis met her death just as I’d found out the truth about her.
By asking around, we were able to find the boarding house Martin had spoken of.
It turned out to be the home of Widow Fotheringham, an irascible woman who, despite having eleven fatherless children of her own, sneered in disapproval at me when I arrived on her doorstep with my “son” asking for shelter. Evidently, her “boarding house” was really more of a front to get free labor from young women all while she tried to steer them in the “Godly” direction.
But it was a clean bedroom, and two square meals a day, and Brianna’s security was well worth the menial labor.
“Where is that sharp-tongued lad of yours?” Fotheringham snapped one morning as I was emptying yet another bedpan.
I gritted my teeth. I’d urged Brianna to steer clear of Fotheringham, not trusting the woman not to raise a strap to her like she did her sons.
“Fetching water,” I told her.
“Wee Thomas is poorly today,” she said. “I need yer lad tae go wi’ mine tae town, tae sell wool.”
“No,” I said firmly. “He isn’t to go out into the village without me.”
Widow Fotheringham rolled her eyes. “He’ll no’ be much o’ a man if ye make him clutch yer skirts like ye do.”
I set the bedpan down with more force than was necessary. This wasn’t the first time she’d tried to set Brianna to more “manly” pursuits than helping me clean house. But even though it was just into town, I didn’t like the idea of letting my daughter out of my sight.
But I knew arguing with Fotheringham was useless, so I tried to divert her instead. “What is the matter with Thomas?” I asked. “As I told you, I’ve medical knowledge…”
“Doctor Grieves has seen tae him,” she sniffed. My only sin that was worse than being a female travelling without a husband was my claim to being a healer.
“Your son needs a trade,” she insisted. “And he’ll make a fair wage.”
My ears did perk at that. Spending as much time as I did scrubbing floors until my hands bled to keep a roof over our heads, I hadn’t the time to try and make any actual money.
“Can’t I go?” Brianna asked, entering the room with a bucket. I narrowed my eyes at the way the water sloshed over the rim.
“Children should no’ eavesdrop!” Fotheringham snapped.
Brianna ignored her, and set the bucket down to make her way over to me. “Please, Mama?” she persisted.
I eyed her a long moment. I knew she’d been getting restless, holed up in that house for days on end. And if she could make a few coins, then that was one step closer to getting to Lallybroch.
“Brian,” I intoned warningly.
“I’ll be careful,” she insisted. “I’ll be barely a few blocks away!”
“And you’ll stay right with the other boys?”
“Caleb will watch o’er him,” Fotheringham said, resting her hands on Brianna’s shoulders and adopting a smug expression.
“Alright,” I relented at last, although my nerves were shot the rest of the morning. But when she returned later, clutching a penny tightly in her palm, her eyes bright with the excitement of her small adventure, I relaxed ever so slightly.
And that’s how it went. Brianna would set out at dawn with Fotheringham’s five sons to sell wool, and most days would come home with a coin or two. I questioned the type of influence the Fotheringham boys were, simply going by the mean-spirited attitudes of the six Fotheringham daughters, who ranged in age between eight and eighteen and I couldn’t help but think that girls with such unfortunate looks really ought to have better personalities if they want a decent husband.
She’d often return tired and quiet, but she was healthy and safe, and that was the best I could ask for under the circumstances.
It was one such morning, over three weeks after our arrival in Gairloch, that the Fotheringham girls were seated around the breakfast table, snickering over something they were reading in a paper.
“Don’t you girls have chores to do?” I asked, impatiently picking up their breakfast dishes. To Widow Fotheringham’s credit, she did make her children do their share around the house, and wouldn’t abide them sitting while there were dishes to be done. But I was quite frankly just ready for them to leave the kitchen so that I could have a few moments of blessed peace, and cleaning all of their dishes was a fair trade as far as I was concerned.
“That’s what you’re here for, ye Sassenach,” Arlene said, turning her snub nose up at me.
I paused a moment, staring down at the teenager, then leaned down close to her face. “Call me that again, and next time I make your breakfast, you’ll be shitting coals for a week.”
“I’m telling mother!” she shrieked, as she and her sisters leapt from the table and went thundering out of the kitchen.
I rolled my eyes. I couldn’t care less if the little shrews wanted to call me names, just not that one.
They’d discarded their paper, so I picked it up off the floor, thinking Brianna would probably enjoy whatever salacious material that had the girls in stitches. But then I glanced at the date, realizing that in all the weeks I’d been there, I’d yet to actually check what the date was.
July 17th, 1767.
I shook my head. Surely I was reading it wrong? When I had returned to the 20th century, the same amount of time had passed that had passed while I’d been in the 18th. I only assumed that the same would be true upon this journey. That it should be around 1756…but I was over a decade off!
Not that I supposed it mattered much. I certainly had no real knowledge about how time travel worked. But it meant that if I went to Lallybroch and found Jenny and Ian, it will have been twenty-one years since I’d gone, not eleven. It also meant I’d have to explain not only my disappearance, but also not having aged twenty years, and having a ten-year-old that that looked so much like her father that it would be impossible to convince them that she wasn’t.
It all led to a rather disheartening realization. Brianna and I couldn’t return to Lallybroch. Ever.
Even though I’d always had every intention of taking Brianna home, I truly hadn’t wanted to go without seeing Jenny and Ian first, and letting Bree get to know her aunt and uncle and learn about her father from people who knew him in ways I hadn’t. Show her the home that should have been her birthright. The portraits of her grandparents who gave her her names.
But it was just too risky. The best course of action would be to save up enough money to acquire two gemstones, and return to Craigh Na Dun.
I was sitting there at the table, tears stinging my eyes, when one of the youngest Fotheringham boys came charging into the house, a wild look on his face.
“Missus!” he cried. “It’s Brian! They’ve taken ‘im!”
It had all been a marvelous, magical adventure at first, in the wild, untouched Highlands. It was like a dream.
But that dream had come crashing down the moment Brianna watched the soldier pull a screaming girl into his arms to touch her in the most disgusting way, preparing to do something that Brianna knew about in theory, but had never even begun to imagine the possibility of it happening to her in such a violent way.
She then understood her mother’s ever shifting eyes, her tense back, as if ready to run at a moment’s notice. What had seemed to Brianna as a wonderland was really a place chock full of dangers.
But Mama had been right about one thing…well, actually, she’d been right about everything, but it was true that it was much easier letting everyone here assume that since she dressed as a boy and used a boy’s name, that she was a boy. She hadn’t believed at first that it would be that easy. There were children and adults back home who dressed completely outside of what their gender normally did, but that didn’t necessarily mean anything. Brianna had a friend named Jo, who kept her hair cropped short and despised dresses, but she was still a girl.
But no one had yet questioned Brianna, and because of it, no one paid much attention to her.
And that was fine with her because she would much rather be in town with the Fotheringham boys than scrubbing floors with her mother, or patching endless pairs of breeches like the Fotheringham girls.
But what Mama didn’t know was that the boys didn’t sell much wool. Most of the money they brought home came from far less honorable means. But Mama had been reluctant enough to let Brianna out of her sight for even a short while, and if she knew what the boys did, Brianna would be trapped in scrub city.
“Alright, Brian,” Caleb said. “Ye ken what tae do.”
“Yeah, yeah, I know,” Brianna said lowly.
She didn’t like doing this. In fact she hated it. But her protests had fallen firmly on deaf ears, and really all she had to do was keep watch and distract people while the boys did all the work.
“Wool for sale,” she called out, waving handfuls of the scratchy stuff in the air. She stepped directly in the path of a man, shoving the smelly wool up into his face. “Wool for sale!”
“Away wi’ ye!” the man exclaimed, batting her away, but what he didn’t realize was that once he began walking again, he was a few coins poorer.
Caleb nodded at her as he passed, whistling a signal to one of his younger brothers who was sitting up on a barrel, eyeing prospective targets.
Despite herself, Brianna was a little impressed. The five boys had pickpocketing down to a science. It was almost like a dance, and everyone had to know the steps or else throw the whole thing off. Even though she felt guilty about the stealing, being a part of the intricate dance gave her a sense of fitting in. It was something she hadn’t really felt since, oh, about second grade.
Up on the barrel, Calum whistled back an answering signal. It must have meant something to Caleb, who’s overlarge ears perked up like a dog’s.
“Look alive, lad,” Caleb muttered, shoving his hands into his pockets and appearing to walk away, but Brianna could see that his eyes were fixated on some men who Brianna could now recognize as sailors, judging by their long coats, shifty eyes, and penchant for jewelry. They weren’t quite the pirates out of the movies…in all actuality they were probably just merchant sailors, but neither did they look very friendly.
Beyond them, Caleb was signaling Brianna with his eyes. These sailors were the new target. Specifically, a pair of well-groomed men with pointy hats and brightly-colored coats.
Fearing that this was a bad idea, Brianna did as directed, and wandered casually in their direction, wool in hand.
“Wool for sale!” she cried, moving through the same routine she had about a dozen times by now.
“Wool eh?” one of the men said, leaning back but not immediately running her off like everyone else had. “Make it yourself, boy?”
“Uh…no…” she said, unsure how to respond since this hadn’t happened before. People always just shooed her away. “It’s uh…it’s a shilling.”
He grimaced. “A shilling? It smells to high heaven and is an appalling color.”
Brianna forced herself not to watch Caleb and Kenny hovering behind the two men, trying to just keep their attention on her. She shrugged, trying to make sure she remembered the money system before speaking. “Six…pence?”
“Oh, very well,” he said, and the breath caught in her throat as his hand went to his pocket the exact moment Caleb’s did. When their hands touched, the man exclaimed and spun around. “The devil?!”
Caleb and Kenny took off like shots, while Calum and little Thomas disappeared into the crowd.
Brianna made to run as well, but a bruising hand wrapped around her upper arm, yanking her back.
“Oh no you don’t,” the second man said. “Seems here we have a little thief!”
“I didn’t do anything!” she cried, trying to pull away, while also trying not to cry.
“Like hell,” he said. “What’ll it be, Captain. His hand?”
This Captain looked over Brianna appraisingly. “I suppose it’s best. Can’t have those other lads thinking they can get away with such thievery.”
“It wasn’t me!” she yelled.
The Captain bent to look her in the eye. “Are you telling me that you weren’t working with those boys to fill your own pockets with my hard-earned money?”
She glared right back at him. “They didn’t exactly leave me much choice!”
“But you’re just as guilty,” he sighed. “I don’t know, Collins, I do hate to mutilate such a strong-looking boy.”
“Just let me go,” Brianna pleaded. “I promise I’ll never help those boys, or anyone else steal, ever again!”
He shook his head. “No, I’m afraid it’s as I said. You cannot go unpunished,” he turned to the other man then. “Bring him along, Collins. We can put him into servitude on the ship.”
“Come on you,” Collins snapped, jerking Brianna along. “You’re getting off too easy, I say.”
“B…but I can’t!” she cried. “M…my mother…”
Collins snorted. “Doubt he even has one.”
“Well if he does,” the Captain said, practically forgetting that Brianna was right there. “Word will get out. I’m sure she’ll be relieved that her boy will be receiving meals she needn’t provide, and training, as well. We haven’t the time to track her down now, though. We’re setting out immediately.”
Brianna begged and pleaded and struggled to escape, trying to assure these men that she knew where her mother was and if they just let her see her first. Surely it couldn’t be legal, even in this time, kidnapping a child onto a ship like this. But no one paid any attention to her cries and screams. No police were called to protect her.
Collins didn’t release her until she was in a small, dark room on a ship. He threw her in, and she wasn’t let out again until Scotland was nothing but a thin line on the horizon.
Chapter 6: Desperate Measures
Claire learns what has happened to Brianna, and frantically tries to think of a way of finding her.
“They’ve takin ‘im!” Calum had cried, face red and eyes so wide the whites showed all the way around.
“Who?” I exclaimed. “What do you mean taken him?”
When the boy seemed unable to form an intelligent answer, I tore out of the house, ears pounding with the sound of my own pulse.
I practically ran into Caleb and the other boys, who were fleeing in the direction of home. I grabbed him by the shirt, lifting him almost off his feet despite him being nearly my own height.
“WHERE is Brian…” I stopped myself, having put the wrong inflections in Brian, but Caleb didn’t appear to notice.
“Gone!” he gasped, trying to yank out of my grasp. “Wee fool got caught!”
“What the fuck are you talking about?” I demanded, shaking the boy roughly. “Caught doing what?”
Thomas and Calum had started crying, but twelve-year-old Kenny suddenly blurted out everything about using the wool as a ruse to steal, and using Brianna as a distraction.
“You bloody little idiots!” I exclaimed. “Where is he now?!”
“Probably taken tae th’ fiscal,” Caleb said, with an air of impatience that made me want to slap him, child or not. “Lose a hand, most like.”
“If anything happens to my child…” I growled, turning and running for town before I could complete my threat.
I hadn’t had much opportunity to explore the village, but I knew where the fiscal lived. I had an uncomfortable memory of long ago, another fiscal in another Scottish village, and a poor, hapless boy saved from losing a hand only to have his ear nailed to a pillory. My stomach churned at the thought of such a thing happening to my baby.
I banged on the door over and over, not stopping until it flew open and a man, perhaps even younger than I, wrenched open the door with an annoyed “what is it?!”
“I’m looking for my d…” I caught myself again, using the fact that I was out of breath to cover the near slip. “I’m looking for my son. Ten years old…red hair. Some other boys said he was caught under the suspicion of stealing…”
The fiscal shook his head. “Nay. No thieves ha’ been brought tae me today, no wee ones at least. I dinna think Hector there is who ye’re lookin’ for…” he pointed past me to the pillory I’d completely missed on my mad dash. A man probably close to 300 pounds knelt with his head and arms in the stocks, but it looked like wood had to have been added to accommodate his girth.
I shook my head, turning back to the fiscal. “They said my son was taken by some sailors. If they suspected him of stealing, would they not bring him to you?”
“Mayhap,” the fiscal said, shrugging. “But between th’ famine, and th’ sickness o’ a few years ago, we ha’ more orphans runnin’ wild than we do cats. Every sae often, th’ lads will be pressed intae service, ken. Aboard th’ ships. ‘Tis kinder than locking them up, and teaches them tae be productive.”
“What?!” I shrieked. “But my child is not an orphan!”
The fiscal sniffed. “Then ye should’a let him run wild!” with that, he slammed the door in my face.
I raced to the docks, where one ship was moored, and threw myself in the path of the first man who looked like he could know anything.
“I’m looking for my son,” I said. “I think he may have been taken by the ship’s captain,” I pointed toward the ship, but the fisherman shook his head.
“Nay, Mistress. That’s th’ Crown’s vessel. They dinna press th’ lads intae service. Th’ shipping merchants do, though. Captain Reynolds took a few of them today, he did.”
“Did you see a boy, about this tall,” I held out my hand to indicate Brianna’s height. “Bright red hair?”
“Oh aye,” he said, nodding. “Tha’ I did, lass. Wee lad was bucking and fighting something fierce. Said he was a thief though, and better work a ship and be whole, than lose a hand.”
I looked around the bay again, thinking a second ship would materialize it I looked hard enough. “W…where is the ship now?!”
“Gone,” he said, as if that simple word didn’t destroy my whole world. “Th’ Philippine cast off an hour ago.”
I choked back the bile rising in my throat and clenched my fists, resisting hitting this man who had done nothing but deliver terrifying news. “Where is it going?!”
“Why, th’ colonies, lass.”
I went about the shipyard like a madwoman, questioning everyone I could find, and three other men also reported seeing a wild little redheaded boy be dragged upon the Philippine along with four other boys. One even recalled hearing the boy cry out for his mother.
I had to find a quiet alley then, to cry and scream into my sleeves where no one could see me and try to lock me up.
Gone. He’d said.
I returned to the docks, staring out at the expanse of ocean, as if I could still make out the ship if I looked hard enough.
I raked my hands through my hair, yanking clumps of it out as I paced the docks wildly. All the stress and exhaustion of the past month was collapsing in on me at once, until my mind couldn’t process a single thing except…
In a flash I was back, lying in a bed in L’Hopital des Anges, clutching the cold, lifeless husk that would have been my firstborn daughter.
I was there, holding her to my breast as if I could somehow let her absorb some of my warmth. Some of my life. All of my life, if it would wake her up.
But the nuns and my friend were taking her away, repeating the words into my grief-numb ears until I could understand them.
I stopped pacing, stopping tearing at my hair. People gave me wide berth, no doubt rushing home to tell their loved ones about the madwoman on the docks.
Brianna wasn’t gone. Not like Faith was gone.
My innocent daughter, who had depended on me for protection, was out there. On a ship full of strange men in an even stranger time. I could sit there on the docks and cry and panic, or I could pull myself up by my bootstraps and fucking do something about it.
“Right,” I muttered to myself, heedless of the stares.
Once I felt a little in possession of myself, I went down to the merchant yard to enquire about how I could pay to sail to the colonies on the next available ship.
“Willn’a be another for a week,” I was told.
“How much would it cost?” I asked, gritting my teeth.
The price he gave was exorbitant, and when I commented so, he shrugged and told me to go to London if I wanted a passenger ship.
I trudged back to Widow Fotheringham’s house, to get my belongings if nothing else. I certainly didn’t expect her to suddenly grow sympathetic and help me.
Sure enough, she was already sat at the dining table, surrounded by her legion of offspring, imperiously staring at me down the bridge of her nose and asking me to get my things and go. She proceeded to follow me about the house, griping that after all she’d done for me and my wayward son, he’d gone and turned her precious lads to thievery.
“At least he’ll have an honorable upbringing now,” she sniffed.
Slapping a widow in the face in front of her children was not my proudest moment, but neither did I particularly regret it.
I’d already gone and sold the horse Martin had given me for clothes and a few medical supplies. I didn’t think she would have held up on another long journey, and had figured at the time I could find another one when the time came to return to Inverness.
I had nothing else of any value to sell. I actually had a fair amount of cash in my bag, but it was money that wouldn’t be printed for another 200 years, and therefor worthless.
I looked at my hands. Jamie’s wedding ring was made from a key, and wouldn’t be worth much. My old golden wedding band from Frank would have been ideal, but I’d stopped wearing that when Frank left me five years ago.
But I did have…
My heart clenched, and I stopped to dig through my bag to find the little drawstring pouch that held Jamie’s mother’s pearls. His gift to me on our wedding night. I’d been looking forward to giving it to Brianna one day, perhaps on her own wedding day. So she could have something of his besides his hair and indomitable spirit.
But the choice was clear, and I knew in my heart that if confronted with the same one, Jamie would do the same.
There wasn’t exactly a jewelry store or a pawn shop in the small fishing village, but I knew of a merchant who traded in many different types of things, so I thought he’d be the best place to try.
“That’s all?” I exclaimed when he offered the paltry sum. “These are genuine Scotch pearls! They’re worth far more than that.”
The elderly man shook his head. “Aye, lassie. But I canna sell them. Folk in these parts ha’ no need for jewelry. I’ll buy them from ye for that price, but no’ more, and I’ll likely no’ make th’ money back anytime soon. Perhaps if ye go tae Edinburgh…”
I snatched the necklace back and stormed out. It wouldn’t even cover half the cost of the voyage, and I wasn’t about to throw them away for nothing.
America. Brianna was on a ship bound for America. In an ironic way, she was going home.
But she was sailing right into a growing revolution. The “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” will have already been made, and the colonies would soon be absorbed in a war that would build the country Brianna was born in.
Worse yet, the merchant sailors she was with were British citizens, and on the wrong side of history.
All I knew for absolute certain was that I needed to be on a boat, and soon.
I sat out near the bay, staring at nothing, trying not to succumb to panic as I sorted through my limited options.
I could go to Lallybroch, ask Jenny and Ian for help. But that would take weeks and they’d likely think I’d gone mad. I could beg for it. But again, unless I lucked upon an especially generous Good Samaritan, it would take too long.
I glanced over toward the pub, where men loitered outside with young girls scarcely older than Brianna, all looking frozen to the bone in their skimpy dresses.
It would be fast, profitable, relatively easy. I even thought that the lingering shame would be easier to live with and get over than the loss of my pearls would.
I had an uncomfortable flashback to a long-ago time, in a palace in France, lying back and thinking of nothing as a king took his pleasure with all the emotion of a fish. It was the first time I’d thought of it so long, it rather took me aback.
It had been unpleasant, but hardly the most traumatizing thing I’d ever gone through, and the return of my husband had been worth it.
This would be, too. Tenfold.
I approached the pub slowly, eyeing the various men to scope out one who didn’t look as inclined to violence or disease as others. Perhaps someone small, someone I could defend myself against if need be.
I entered the establishment and my eyes immediately landed on a clean-cut man sitting alone at a table. He was in plain clothes, but I pegged him for a redcoat right away. Just something about his posture and alert eyes. I took a few more steps, and sure enough, there was his coat draped over another chair.
I had to remind myself that a British officer should have no reason to distrust me, a British woman, without the stigma that came from being Red Jamie’s husband, or hiding in a Scottish man’s barn. And he looked less unsavory than the rest of the lot. He looked clean, for one thing. And he was slim, with almost feminine good-looks, but he was tall and strong-looking. He could overpower me, and I had to remember that he wouldn’t need to overpower me. I would give him what he wanted…for a price.
“Evening,” I said, sitting beside him, and focusing on making sure I was wearing a coy smile and not a crazed snarl. I thought belatedly that I should have taken the time to bathe and at least attempt to make myself look appealing, but it was too late for that, now.
He nodded politely, then did a double take and frowned ever-so-slightly. Did I look that bad? “Evening,” he said carefully. “Is there something that I can help you with, madam?”
“More like something I can help you with,” I said, mentally rolling my eyes at myself. Had I heard that line in a movie somewhere? In for a penny, I reached out and rested my hand on his upper thigh.
He glanced down in bemusement at my hand, then back up to my face. “Correct me if I’m wrong,” he said, giving my clothing a once-over, seeming to note that I was fully covered. Damn, I should have at least unlaced my bodice a little. “But this isn’t your usual line of work, is it?”
I shrugged. “I simply prefer to erm…entertain a higher class of men, is all.”
He narrowed his eyes shrewdly at me, and I heaved a mental sigh of resignation. I supposed I’d have to settle for one of the filthy men in the back alley, after all.
“Thank you,” he said at last. “But I have a wife.”
“I’m sure everyone here does,” I mumbled, taking my hand off his leg, and rising. “Good evening.”
I went back outside, grimacing at the smell, and met the eyes of short, grimy-looking man that reminded me a little of Angus, only without the good humor usually on his face. He was staring at me lecherously, which I supposed was a good sign.
Just as I started making my way over to him, the man from inside came trotting out after me.
“Madam!” he called. “Wait!”
“Having second thoughts?” I asked hopefully. A half-hour on my back with an attractive man was considerably more palatable than two minutes on my knees with the putrid specimen still staring at me from the alley.
He looked over my shoulder at my target, grimacing in distaste. “You cannot be serious.”
“Do you want something from me or not?” I snapped irritably. “Because if not, I haven’t the time…”
He arched a brow at me. “I would stake my best shot that you’re no whore, madam. Are you?”
I was thrown a bit off-kilter by that particular turn of phrase, especially coming from a posh British accent.
“All I need to change that is a customer,” I said lowly. “So if you’re not interested, you’ll have to excuse me.”
He took my hand before I could turn away. “Why are you doing this?” he brought up the hand he held, looking at my silver ring. “I don’t see many wedding rings on prostitutes.”
I snatched my hand back and glared at him. “Not that it’s any of your business, but I need passage to America immediately. I don’t have time to talk about it.”
I turned away again, but he only grabbed my arm this time. “Well, if you would stop for a moment, and think a bit more rationally, perhaps you’ll allow me to inform you that I am to board a vessel of the Crown bound for the Americas this day.”
I finally stopped struggling, and stared at him, wanting to be suspicious but knowing that I had little right to be, considering what I’d just been offering him. “Will you take me with you?” I asked him. “Please, I haven’t very much money, but I can work. I can…I can clean, cook. I haven’t my tools, but I’m a doctor.”
“A doctor?” he said in obvious disbelief. “Well, I can arrange passage for you, but first you must tell me what it is you’re running from. If it’s something as simple as an abusive husband, well, that’s simple enough. However if it’s a murdered husband, well,” he winked. “We may just want to be sure we get our stories straight.”
Despite everything, I found myself smiling genuinely at this man, for but a moment.
“It isn’t anything like that,” I said. “I’m a widow. My daughter was taken, put on a ship for America. I have to go after her…she’s only ten years old!”
The man’s face fell. “My God…” he nodded. “Yes, of course. I shall escort you to the colonies myself. Please, what is your name?”
“Claire,” I said. “Claire…Beauchamp.”
He held out a hand to shake. “It is a pleasure to meet you, Mrs. Beauchamp. My name is Lord John Gray.”
Chapter 7: Goodnight Moon
Brianna works to learn how to survive aboard The Philippine.
“Alright, rats,” said Fredrick, the one who Collins had shoved the boys toward and had commanded him to train. “Your jobs are simple, even for the likes of you, so pay attention!”
There were four of them total, Brianna and three boys, all barefooted and filthy-looking. She didn’t know where they’d come from or what they’d done, but they looked fairly resigned to their fate. One of them particularly tore at her heart, for he couldn’t have been older than five or six, with a mop of fuzzy blonde hair and a lisp whenever he spoke. But it was his eyes that stuck Brianna the most. They seemed so old, so weary. It was as though the soul of a ninety-year-old man was looking out from the China-blue eyes of this tiny little boy.
Fredrick wasn’t all that old himself. He was still bare-faced and skinny, though he held himself with the air of someone who thought himself a man.
He explained that they were to basically do whatever they were told to do at any time, and if they ever found themselves without direct orders, then there was always a deck to swab. He told them that the better work they did, the more responsibility they were given, and if they had half a brain, they might rise up in ranks like he had.
Their only rules were, one, they were never to question their superiors. If they didn’t understand the task they were given, they were to find Fredrick and ask. Rule number two was, they were only allowed to eat and sleep once everyone else had eaten or fallen asleep. If they were caught playing or lazing about, they’d have their ears boxed or worse.
It didn’t sound fun, but neither did it sound tortuous, and Brianna thought she could keep her head down and do as told long enough to get to wherever they were going, and hopefully escape and find her way back to her mother.
The first day was the worst. She scrubbed the deck with a ratty brush until her fingernails bled and her knees were bruised and swollen. And then she was tasked with cleaning the buckets that had been shat in, or vomited in by men who had drank too much before the start of the voyage.
At the end of the day, as Fredrick was sending them off to their hammocks in the corner of the upper deck with several well-aimed barbs, he’d grabbed her arm and dragged her aside, his pimple-covered face far too close to hers for comfort.
“You’re too pretty,” he hissed, and she knew that it was anything but a compliment. “Captain Reynolds doesn’t allow abuse of the cabin boys, but he don’t know what all goes on, neither. And a pretty boy with pretty long hair inn’t gonna last long.”
“What am I supposed to do about it?” she snapped.
He reached behind her to yank roughly on her ponytail. “Get rid of it you little eejit!”
With that he stalked off, and Brianna was left alone on the deck, all others either below, or sound asleep already.
She recognized then that Fredrick was trying, in his way, to protect her, and she knew enough by then not to take his warnings for granted. So she snuck away to the kitchens with a bucket for water in case anyone caught her, and managed to make away with a rather dull knife.
Finding a dark corner behind some barrels, she curled up with her back to the rough wood, and her knees brought up to her chest, fighting off the urge to succumb to tears, afraid if she started she wouldn’t be able to stop.
All she wanted in the whole wide world was to be home, curled up in her pajamas eating cereal while Mama played The Platters on her record player. And she wanted Daddy to be in his office like he used to, grading papers and smoking a cigar.
She didn’t want to be a cabin boy named Brian. She wanted to be a little girl named Brianna who went to school and got tucked into bed by her mom with Bunny nestled in the blankets next to her
The moon was full and bright where it hung over the ocean, casting deep shadows across the ship but also providing plenty of light for what she needed to do. She twirled a long lock of hair around her finger, staring at it a bit forlornly. She’d never cared all that much about her appearance. Not like some of the girls in her class who made away with their mother’s makeup and painted themselves up like clowns in the school bathroom. But the truth was she liked her hair. Even when some kids had made fun of her for being a ginger, she’d still liked it.
But there wasn’t much for it. Her hair was bright, pretty, and too noticeable. So after taking a deep breath, she began the long and laborious task of hacking it away with the dull knife.
“What are you doing?” a small voice whispered.
Brianna jumped, looking up to find the little boy who’d been brought onto the ship with her, staring at her curiously.
“You should be asleep,” she whispered back.
“What are you doing?” he repeated, sitting beside her.
She sighed, holding up the hunk of hair she’d managed to saw away. “Fredrick said I needed to cut it off.”
“Oh,” he said, seeming to find that a reasonable thing. “I can help.”
She was hesitant to give such a young kid a knife, especially so close to her head, but when he started slicing through her curls with surprising dexterity, she allowed herself to sit back and watch her hair fall across her knees.
“There,” he said, sitting back down next to her.
Brianna touched her head, feeling nothing but short springy curls where her long, soft hair used to be. She grimaced, but at least it would be easier to hide with her hat now. “Thanks,” she said. “What’s your name, anyway?”
“Thimon,” he said. “What’th yours?”
“Brian,” she said. She gathered up the hair and tossed it overboard. On impulse, she smeared her hands along the bottom of the barrels, finding soot and dirt, and smeared it into the remains of her hair, hoping it would dull the color. She sat back then against the barrel, and Simon leaned into her, resting his head on her shoulder.
“The moon lookth big,” he stated, pointing up at the big, white circle in the sky.
“Goodnight moon,” Brianna whispered, remembering when her mother used to read to her. Even once she had learned to read herself, she still loved curling up in Mama’s lap and being lulled to sleep by her soothing voice. “Goodnight cow jumping over the moon.”
She hoped more than anything that wherever Mama was, whatever she was doing, that she was okay. Brianna knew that Mama would find her, she wasn’t worried about that. All she had to do was survive until then. Mama told her that her father was a born survivor, and Brianna felt like her mother was one, too. So that meant so was Brianna, and she had to hang on to that.
“Goodnight stars, goodnight air,” she felt her eyes drifting shut, and wrapped an arm around Simon’s sleeping form, pulling him closer to her. “Goodnight noises everywhere.”
“Clumsy little shit!”
Brianna winced at the sound of the slap, racing toward its source.
“What’s the commotion?” one of the other sailors asked of his companion, who was hovering over Simon, fists clench.
“The idiot dropped the damned bucket and spilled piss all over me!” he exclaimed, preparing to hit Simon again.
“It’s not piss, it’s water!” Brianna lied, darting in between them. “And it was my fault, I filled it too high.”
“You stay the fuck out of this, rat!” the sailor shouted, bringing his hand down on Brianna instead.
Her ears rang, but she didn’t fall, though she waited for some of the pain to subside before turning to face him again.
He was raising his arm again, this time making a fist, but the other man stopped him.
“Calm down, Rob,” he said. “They aren’t worth the energy.”
Rob flexed his shoulders and growled in Brianna’s direction before stalking off, and Brianna groaned inwardly at yet another enemy made upon The Good Ship Lollipop.
“Make yourself useful, boy,” the man who’d rescued her said impatiently. “The captain needs his supper. Run down to the mess and fetch his tray and bring it to him.”
Once he’d walked away, Brianna whipped around to Simon.
“I ought to hit you myself,” she growled.
“It wath a accident!” Simon snapped back.
“You can’t keep having these accidents!” she exclaimed. “And I can’t keep covering for you!”
Simon jutted his chin out at her. “I’ll go get the captain’s thupper,” he said stubbornly.
“Oh no, you won’t,” Brianna said. “You’re gonna mop up this piss, I’ll go get the tray.”
It wasn’t anything normally asked of the lowly cabin boys, and Brianna had a feeling she was probably going to get into trouble despite the fact that she was following orders. But the cook didn’t hesitate to hand her the tray and bark at her not to lollygag.
She knew where the captain’s quarters were of course, but had never had any call to go there. In fact, she hadn’t seen Captain Reynolds or Collins since they’d put her on the ship, except from a distance. She toed the door open slowly, hoping to slink in, set the tray down, and vanish again before anyone noticed her.
Captain Reynold’s was standing at a long table with Collins, the sailing master, and the surgeon, all hovering over charts and maps.
They were murmuring quietly to one another, but Brianna picked up the words “will it last?” and “half rations.”
She set the tray down on a smaller table, and made to tip toe out, when the sailing master suddenly chuckled. “Where’d you get that one? Scrawny little thing.”
Captain Reynolds looked up disinterestedly. “Caught him attempting to relieve me of my money in Gairloch.”
Brianna clasped her hands together and bit her lip, praying to be dismissed.
Collins shook his head. “Don’t know why you bother. Little Scottish heathen. You can’t teach them anything.”
“I wouldn’t be so sure about that,” the captain said, gesturing for Brianna to come closer. “Come here, boy.”
Brianna gulped and approached the table, keeping her head down and eyes averted. “Sir?” she said, taking care to pitch her voice low, and add the accent she’d learned from the boys. If they wanted to think she was Scottish, she didn’t feel like correcting them.
“What’s your name, boy?”
“Brian,” she responded, rolling the r.
“Brian,” Reynolds repeated, patting her back. “What’s your father’s name, Brian?”
“Don’t know,” she said. “I’m…I’m a bastard.”
The men all chuckled. “No surprise there,” the surgeon said.
“Do you know what these are?” Reynolds asked, gesturing to the table.
“Maps,” she said, letting her eyes rove over them and realizing they were maps of America, with markings made around North Carolina.
“Very good,” he said in a way one might praise a toddler for taking a shit in a toilet for the first time. “Would you like to learn how to read them?”
“Don’t see the need,” she said, all while she quickly soaked in as much as she could. There was a book open on the table as well, a date scrawled on top, and though the handwriting was nearly unreadable, she thought it said something about a number of pounds of rations spoiled.
The men laughed again, and Reynolds shoved her playfully away from the table. “Perhaps you’re right after all, Collins. That’ll be all, Brian. Back to work.”
Brianna left the captain’s quarters in grateful haste, barely remembering to salute. For the first time she actually knew where exactly they were going. She’d kept hearing that they were headed for the continent, but she hadn’t realized that meant America. She even knew when they were now. 1767, a whole decade later than what her mother had thought.
Despite everything, she was a little excited. Getting to see the United States in the past seemed exciting. Except…they weren’t the United States yet. She’d just been learning about the American Revolution in school, and it was a mind-bending sense of amazement and terror to know that she would be walking right into it.
People she only knew about from history books like Alexander Hamilton, Benedict Arnold, and George Washington were actually alive at that very moment.
What if she could actually meet any of them?!
But she reeled herself in, reminding herself firmly that she was an invisible cabin boy whose first order of business once landing in North Carolina would be to escape and figure out a way of sending word to her mother, if that was even possible. It wasn’t like she could just find a payphone.
How did people communicate in these days? Pigeon?
Chapter 8: Stowaway
Aboard the Marianne, Lord John entrusts Claire in the care of a certain young stowaway.
I didn’t exactly enjoy sailing, but I had to admit that there was something to the endless expanse of ocean, warm sunny breeze, and gentle rocking of the ship that was calming to a churning soul like my own.
It couldn’t help but bring up thoughts of Jamie, however. It was little surprise that the longer I was in the past, the clearer memories of him and I became.
It had gotten to the point somewhere in the past decade that memories of Jamie had become soft at the edges. Just gentle rememberings of the love we shared. It probably had a lot to do with the fact that other than my ring and my daughter, I had no mementos of him. No photographs, none of his belongings, not even the privilege of reminiscing about him anywhere other than outside of my own head.
Now, all that had come back tenfold along with everything else…all the pain and heartbreak and fear. And yet, it all somehow made me ache for him even more, despite all that.
He’d promised me that he’d haunt me. Even if he had to wait 200 years of purgatory. It had remained a comforting, albeit morbid thought ever since I’d stepped back through those stones into my own time. But I wondered how that worked with time travel. Could he still find me, lost as I was? I felt closer to him here, naturally so since it was a time and place that he could have existed, unlike the 20th century.
I felt a bit like Brianna must have felt when she was four and Frank and I had taken her on a trip to the mountains for Christmas (a last ditch effort to preserve our marriage,) and she’d been so concerned that Santa wouldn’t be able to find her if she wasn’t where she was supposed to be.
I tried to imagine him there with me as an unseen spirit, but just couldn’t quite manage it. Instead I thought of him there, alive.
What would Jamie be like, if he was alive now? What would he be like, as a man in his forties, as opposed to the barely-more-than-a-boy I’d fallen in love with?
“Madam,” a small voice drew me from my own musings and into the real world. “…are you alright?”
I turned and smiled to the small figure at my right, staring up at me in concern.
“Just lost in my own thoughts,” I said to him. “Is there something you need, Willie?”
The boy gave me a crooked little grin that was irresistibly endearing. “Papa is asking for you,” he said. “In the captain’s quarters.”
After I’d boarded the ship, Lord John had introduced me to his twelve-year-old son, William, who was traveling with him to Jamaica, where John was to take up a governorship. John’s wife, Isobel, would be following later on.
I’d taken an instant liking to William. Whether it was the cock-sure tilt to his head, or his curious blue eyes, I wasn’t sure, but something about him reminded me strongly of Brianna.
And perhaps it was the fact that I was the only woman aboard the ship, and he was still a young boy missing his mother, but William had taken to me as well, and had become rather like my shadow.
“Right away,” I said, with a jaunty salute.
The men of the ship had accepted my presence with stoic resignation, though I was more or less ignored by the most of them. It suited me fine, leaving me to think and to plan, though I had to admit the idleness was wearisome.
“Mrs. Beauchamp,” Lord John greeted as I was let into the captain’s quarters. The captain himself was a quiet, brooding sort, but it was clear that it was John who was truly in charge.
I effected a respectful curtsy. “Lord John, Captain Smith.”
“Please, have a seat,” John said cordially, pulling out a chair. “Wine?”
I accepted the glass of red wine and sat at the captain’s table, used to this sort of formality before a request was made.
“There seems to be a bit of a situation of sorts aboard the ship,” John said, thankfully not beating around the bush. “You said you have medical knowledge, do you not?”
“I do. Has someone taken ill?”
John and Captain Smith exchanged a look. “That is the situation,” John said. “It would seem we have a stowaway aboard. It’s not an unheard of situation, of course, and such cases are usually handled rather harshly, and swiftly.”
I looked back and forth between the two men, gathering by their expressions and posture that they were at odds about this situation. Captain Smith’s grim set to his mouth told me he believed this latest stowaway should be dealt with the same as the rest.
“I hope you are not thinking of asking me to assist in…handling him,” I said carefully.
Captain Smith snorted. “Wouldn’t ask you to go through the trouble, for a thief.”
John shot the captain a warning look, before turning back to me. “No, madam. The young man in question is quite ill, and I simply wondered if you would mind taking a look at him.”
I furrowed my brow. “And the ship’s surgeon?”
“We’re to keep this quiet,” Captain Smith snapped.
“What the captain means is,” John broke in. “We would rather not stir up unrest among the men. For the boy’s sake, if nothing else.”
I frowned then. “Boy?”
John and a young corporal – the one who’d discovered the stowaway – led me down into hold, where food and casks of grog were kept.
Quite literally stowed away in a far corner, completely invisible unless you were right upon it, was a small camp-like area with a pallet, piss-bucket, and stash of food and water.
Upon the pallet lay a young man, shirtless, and long and gangly by nature, but with sunken cheeks and pasty skin that were clear signs of illness.
I grimaced at the overpowering stench of sweat and feces, as it seemed as though the boy had been laying here like this for some time.
The first thing that caught my attention was a rash on his chest. “Give me that lantern,” I ordered the corporal. “And then you and John stand back. Do not touch your faces.”
“Is it plague?” John asked, paling as he took the lantern from the young corporal and handed it to me himself. “Perhaps we should just throw the poor creature overboard.”
I knelt beside the boy, hoping that if it was plague, that it was one of the many I was already vaccinated from.
The boy moaned and opened a pair of gray eyes. “Mam?” he murmured.
“I’m afraid not,” I said soothingly, brushing back his greasy hair. “But I’m here to help you.”
I lifted a cup of water to his lips, but his eyes had already focused on the figures behind me. “Shite…beggin’ your pardon, Mistress.”
As he spoke, I could see how red and raw his gums were, and knew at once what his ailment was, and that it was not plague.
“Lay back,” I ordered. “Don’t worry, you’re going to be fine. What have you been eating?”
“M…my own rations,” he stammered. “I…I swear it.”
“He’s horribly malnourished and dehydrated,” I said to John, looking over my shoulder at him. “And he has scurvy. He’s needs proper food, water, and a clean place to sleep.”
“I’m not sure if we can arrange that,” John said. “We’re carefully rationed, you see, and if the men see us take him above deck and give him our food and water…Captain Smith will not allow it, Mrs. Beauchamp. The men could mutiny.”
I rolled my eyes. “Everyone here knows you’re the one in charge. He’s a boy, Lord John, scarcely older than your son.”
“No’ a boy,” the one in question said dazedly, raising his head and glaring balefully. “M’ man.”
He slumped back into the ratted blankets and I looked back up at John. “If it’s a matter of rations, he can have half of mine.”
“Corporal, take the boy to the berth deck and find him a hammock,” John flicked his eyes over to me. “And if anyone asks, he is to have a portion of Mrs. Beauchamp and my rations. Is that understood?”
“Yes, sir,” the corporal said, stooping to haul the boy to his feet before half-dragging him up the stairs.
“He’ll have to be your responsibility,” John said. “And when he’s well enough, he’ll be put to work with the rest of the men.”
“That’s fair,” I agreed. “You’re doing the right thing, Lord John.”
He sighed. “I would only hope that if my own son did something as stupid as this, that there would be those who would take mercy upon him.”
He looked over at me sharply, seeming to think about what he’d said. “As I deeply hope for your daughter, Mrs. Beauchamp.”
“Perhaps Willie would like to assist me,” I said, changing the subject. “That boy isn’t the only one with scurvy. The surgeon seems to have his hands full. The men really need to be eating greens and fruit if they are to avoid this.”
He chuckled. “Greens and fruits? And I suppose ship’s fever can be cured with water?”
“It’s a start,” I said, leading the way back up the stairs.
The surgeon turned out to be a rather friendly sort, who didn’t mind my help with the men (so long as I didn’t get into his way too much.) So I was set to work tending the sick and stitching minor wounds. It was nurse’s work all over again, but at least it was something to do with my hands.
William, for his part, would have made a rather dismal nurse. He detested the sight of blood or other bodily fluids, but once his father had informed him quite firmly that he was to do as I said, he set himself to it with a brave face.
I feared for a time that it was too late for the boy, as he was too weak to eat or drink properly. But after days of tirelessly pouring small amounts of water and broth down his throat and feeding him tiny spoonfuls of bread mixed with milk, he finally began to come around.
“There you are,” I said as he opened his eyes and looked around alertly for the first time. “Do you know where you are?”
“The Marianne,” he said at once. “They caught me, didn’t they?”
I arched a brow at him. “Did you really think they wouldn’t find you?”
He shrugged one shoulder. “I hoped they wouldn’t. And then I thought maybe once they did, it’d be too late to take me back, and I could offer to work.”
“If you hadn’t been so sick, and if Lord John hadn’t taken pity on you, you’d have been thrown overboard,” I scolded. “What were you thinking? Don’t you have a family?”
“Aye,” he admitted. “But I had tae get away. I’m no’ meant to be a farmer.”
I resisted the urge to roll my eyes. 18th century or 20th, teenagers were all the same.
“And what are you hoping to find in the colonies?”
“My uncle lives there,” he said. “I’ll work for him, and find adventure.”
Despite myself, I smiled fondly, and combed my fingers through his hair that I’d recently washed myself. “What is your name?”
“Ian. Ian…er…” he trailed off.
He gave a sheepish smile. “Ian Erving.
I supposed he had a reason for withholding his family name, being a Scot aboard a royal ship, so I didn’t press him on the matter. “And how old are you, Ian?”
“Sixteen,” he said, puffing out his chest even from where he lay in the hammock. “Old enough tae be out on my own.”
I hummed. “Yes, I’m sure your poor mother must think so.”
He grimaced guiltily. “She’ll be fine once I write her that I’m wi’ my uncle.”
“After the heart attack of first you being missing, then learning you stowed away on a British army ship.”
“What was I tae do?” he asked, pleading with his eyes for me to understand. “Haven’ ye ever felt like ye didn’a belong, even though it’s where everyone says ye should be?”
I didn’t respond for a moment, wondering if it was just the fact that I was missing Brianna that it seemed like every child I came across lately reminded me of her.
“Yes,” I answered at last. “Yes, I know exactly what you mean.”
Ian sighed, and slumped further into the hammock in relief. I remembered well what it meant to be sixteen and feeling as though an adult was on your side in matters. And the boy was very likely going to need as many people on his side as possible, if he was to survive the rest of the voyage.
“What’s your name?” he asked, eyes beginning to droop now that he didn’t have to be afraid of getting tossed into the ocean anytime soon.
“Claire,” I told him. “My name is Claire. And you don’t have to worry, Ian. You’re safe.”
He nodded, eyes drifting shut. “Aye. I ken. I kent that th’ moment I saw ye.”
Chapter 9: A Little Brother
When food becomes scarce upon the Philippine, Brianna fights to keep both herself and Simon alive.
*sets chapter down*
*walks hastily away*
Having her mind rocked by the revelations of where and when they were made Brianna forget all about the rest of what she’d seen on that table, until a few days later when rations started getting cut.
“Over half the hold went to rot,” Fredrick was explaining to the cabin boys.
The ship had sprung a mild leak, but one that had flooded the ship’s food and water stores, leaving behind very little that was still consumable.
“The whole ship’s going on quarter rations,” he said. “But you lads best prepare yourself, because even a quarter isn’t likely to last everyone until were on the continent. And you lot will be the first to go if it comes down to it.”
“What are you saying?” Brianna asked. “They’ll what, eat us?!”
“Of course not,” Fredrick scoffed. “They just won’t feed you. This ship is full of men with families to take care of, so little pickpockets are at the bottom of the ladder.. Hell, I won’t last much longer than you. And they won’t just let us starve, they’ll throw us overboard. Makes it quicker. Don’t try to hoard food though. If any of the men find out, they’ll do a lot worse than throw you over.”
Despite Fredrick’s final warning, Brianna took to squirrelling away bites of her rations into her pillow, although she knew that if it came to it, it would be the water she’d be desperate for.
To that end, she started taking her time when it was her turn to mop the mess, watching the sailors with their private flasks of grog that they’d taken to drinking more of in effort to reserve water.
She waited and watched until one man slumped over the table unconscious, and his nearly full flask clattered to the floor. She waited a few moments, then casually pushed the flask with her mop until she could pick it up and hide it in her sleeve.
Even living on quarter rations was hard. Brianna was never not hungry, and after a few days she grew listless and slow-minded.
Simon suffered even worse than she did, and then she found out that the other cabin boys were swiping his food. So after a scuffle that left them all with fat lips and holding their crotches, Brianna started giving Simon bits of her hoard.
After that first day in the captain’s quarters, serving the captain his supper had suddenly fallen on Brianna to see to every evening.
Normally she was in and out without notice, the captain and his men now too stressed and underfed to worry about teasing her, and she liked that just fine.
But one evening, as she set his tray down, Captain Reynolds took one look at it and shook his head. “I can’t. Take it back to the kitchen, boy. I can’t take food from my men.”
“You need to eat, Captain,” Collins said. “You need to see your men home, and you can’t do that if you’re dead. You can’t let them think you’ve given up.”
Reynolds shoved the tray back in Brianna’s direction. “You eat it, boy. God in Heaven, you look like a wraith.”
Brianna eyed the plate ravenously, but a glare from Collins stayed her hand. “Quartermaster Collins is right, Sir,” she said. “You should keep up your strength.”
Reynolds sighed and rubbed a hand over his face. “God help us,” he murmured, and picked up a piece of dried meat. “Here boy, take it, and don’t dare disobey your Captain.”
Brianna took the meat, the smell making her mouth water, and saluted before making her quick exit. It was all she could to not stuff it directly into her mouth, but she settled herself to take one hearty bite, chewed it slowly, then shoved the rest in her pocket before running to find Simon.
She found the little boy in his hammock of all places, and she was just about to give him a sound tongue lashing for lazing about in the middle of the day when she took in his sunken eyes and chalky skin.
“Simon?” she said weakly, thinking for a heart-stopping moment that he was dead, until his head turned in her direction.
“I want my mam,” Simon whimpered.
“I know,” Brianna said softly, sitting on the floor beside his hammock. “I want mine, too.”
“’Leatht yours isn’t dead,” he said.
She didn’t really have anything to say to that, so she stood up again, and held a hand out for him. “Come on, then. Can’t have anyone catch you lollygagging.”
“I’m so tired.”
“I am too, but we can’t give up, Simon. We’re gonna be in America soon, where there’s plenty of food.”
She leaned over him grinning and talking excitedly in effort to rouse him. “As soon as we get there, we’ll escape, you and me. We’ll find work, and save up money to sail back to Scotland. Or maybe there’ll be a nice family who will take us in and help us get word to my mother. Either way, when we find her again, we’ll be safe, because she’ll take care of you, too.”
He blinked up at her, suddenly looking more like the little boy he was, and not the old man. “She will?”
“Sure she will. She’ll love you, and you can be like my little brother.”
Brianna didn’t know if any of the promises she was making would be possible, especially not if and when she and her mother returned to their own time, but something about Simon’s demeanor was scaring her, and she was willing to say whatever it took to get him up and moving again.
“And you can be like my big thithter,” he said, smirking impishly.
Brianna blinked in surprise, then hurriedly looked around to see if anyone else was near. “Your…what?”
“I thaw you takin’ a pith,” he said. “I wondered why you always hid.”
“Does anyone else know?”
“No,” he said. “I didn’t tell no one.”
Brianna smiled, then gently ruffled his hair. “Thanks, kid. Now, look what I’ve got,” she pulled out the rest of the dried meat, now wishing she hadn’t eaten so much of it.
Simon did perk up a bit at that, but struggled to raise up enough to eat it, so Brianna had to hold his shoulders so he could nibble tiny bites and swallow them laboriously, chased by a quick swallow of grog.
“What the hell is this?”
Brianna whipped around, eyes flying open wide at the sight of several sailors, all glaring at them.
“Where’d you get that?” it was Rob who had spoken, and he was pointing at the jerky.
“Captain Reynolds gave it to me,” Brianna said.
“Bullshit,” Rob snapped. “You stole it, didn’t you? Filthy little thieves, the lot of you!”
He stormed forward, making to snatch the remains of the jerky out of Simon’s hand.
“Stop that!” Brianna cried, trying unsuccessfully to shove him away.
In the commotion, Simon was pushed out of his hammock, and Brianna threw herself onto the floor beside him.
“And just look what we have here!” another sailor exclaimed, upending Brianna’s pillow and dumping what was left of her food hoard.
“You steal all this too?!” Rob yelled.
“I did!” Simon cried, climbing shakily to his feet.
“Simon!” Brianna hissed. “Don’t!”
“I thtole the food,” he said. “Brian didn’t know.”
Rob lunged forward and snatched Simon up by his shirt and started dragging him away among a crowd of angry, shouting sailors.
“Let him go!” Brianna screamed, trying to reach for the boy, but getting shoved back by the throng.
“What is the meaning of this?!” Collins roared, as he and Captain Reynolds appeared on the main deck.
“These rats of yours have been stealing food!” Rob yelled, throwing down the pillow and holding Simon up by his scruff.
“Toss him over!” someone yelled.
“Toss ‘em all!” cried someone else.
Brianna continued to scream for Simon, but her cries were drowned out by the mob. At a loss, she crawled under a few pairs of legs and started making her way toward the main deck, and the captain.
He was just standing there, watching the men as they shook and yanked at the little boy, cursing him like he was some sort of murderer, not a starving child.
“Captain!” Brianna cried. “Stop them!”
A high pitched squeal made Brianna spin around, though she didn’t even hear her own scream that tore itself out of her throat as she watched a little blonde head disappear over the side of the ship.
Brianna made to leap off the stair, fully prepared to run to the railing and dive in after Simon. She was a strong swimmer. She could make it.
But a strong arm wrapped itself around her middle, and she was hauled roughly backward.
“Get to my quarters, boy,” Captain Reynolds barked. “NOW!”
“NO!” she cried. “I have to save Simon!”
“He’s dead, you fool, and you’ll be dead next if you don’t do as I say. Now go!”
Another cry rose up of “get the rest of the rats!” and Brianna watched as the other cabin boys, including Fredrick, were dragged out onto the deck.
Reynolds yanked Brianna back again by her shirt, before shoving her away. “Get away, boy, unless you want to be next.”
Brianna ran as fast as she could to the captain’s quarters, not stopping until she’d slammed the door behind her and crawled underneath the desk, sobbing into her knees.
Bewilderingly, Brianna realized she’d fallen asleep, curled up underneath the captain’s desk. She became aware that she was no longer alone in the room, and she froze up, just knowing that the men had found her, and had come to throw her overboard.
“Come out now, boy,” it was Captain Reynolds; she could see his boots from the small crack at the bottom of the desk.
Brianna crawled out of her hiding place, wiping tears and snot off her face with her sleeve.
“Simon didn’t hoard the food, I did,” she admitted. “But I didn’t take anything extra, it was just my own rations that I saved.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Reynolds said. “Whether you’d hoarded the food or not, it would have ended the same.”
Suddenly, Brianna’s guilt was replaced with white-hot anger, and she shoved Reynolds as hard as she could in her weakened state. “How could you?!” she cried. “They were just kids! Kids you brought here! You should have protected them!”
“I tried!” he snapped. “I didn’t mean for the food to spoil, damn it! But it happened, and a ship full of hunger-crazed men is a very dangerous thing for all involved. They needed someone to blame. Yes, what happened is regrettable, but it may have just held off a mutiny and saved the rest of our lives!”
While Brianna tried to come up with a response that somehow conveyed the fury she felt about the murder of a six-year-old boy being called regrettable, Captain Reynolds waved an impatient hand in her direction and snorted.
“Why am I trying to justify myself to a child? You should just be grateful that you’re alive.”
That was part of what upset Brianna the most. She was grateful. She was relieved beyond measure that it was tiny Simon and not her that had been sent to their death. And that made her feel sick inside.
“You should be alright now,” Reynolds continued. “Robert Easton was put to death, as well. I can’t have rabble rousers like that causing problems and eating what’s left of our food, and I’ve made it very clear that any more events like that would punished severely.”
Although she felt a measure of relief that Rob wouldn’t be waiting for her outside the Captain’s door, Brianna wasn’t convinced that she’d be safe, either. Not that there was much for it; she couldn’t exactly hide in the captain’s quarters for the rest of the voyage.
She met with quite a bit of rancor, but no violence, though if it hadn’t been for the captain sharing his rations with her, she knew without a doubt that she would have starved.
Brianna wasn’t able to go back to the small corner above deck where she and the other cabin boys slept. She couldn’t bear to look at the empty hammocks, swinging in the breeze, and know that the boys she’d gotten to know where now at the bottom of the ocean.
Well, she did go back once, late at night, between the bells. She recovered the little flask she’d hidden, surprised that it hadn’t been taken, and took a swig of the strong-smelling stuff, hoping that what the other men said was true and it would take away the edge of hunger.
What it did was make her head spin and her body feel oddly light. But it wasn’t a bad feeling, and she was able to almost forget she was hungry, and almost forget Simon’s scream as he was thrown overboard.
Curled up in the hold next to crates of merchandise, she succumbed to the tears that had been trying to break free this whole time. Brianna knew without a doubt that the soulful blue eyes of little Simon would likely haunt her forever.
Chapter 10: Sickness
Claire deals with a sickness aboard the ship, along with her growing attachment to William
At last! I'm on vacation!!! Gonna try to do some serious writing this week...unless i get too distracted by Disney+ ;D
I awoke in the dead of night, aware in an instant there was someone rummaging around my room.
I sat up slowly, realizing they weren’t in my room, but just outside it. That wasn’t much better; there were no locks on the door, and there were any number of men somewhere outside of it that might find themselves seeking the company of the only woman around.
Crawling out of the bed, I grabbed the nearest blunt object - a candlestick - and crept to the door.
Flinging it open I stepped out, weapon raised to the ready, only to trip and fall over a massive body stretched in the doorway.
“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ!”
The body uttered a few curses of his own, jumping to his feet and looking awfully inconvenienced for someone who had just been laying against my bedroom door.
“What on earth are you doing, sneaking around outside my room?!” I demanded.
“I wasn’t sneaking, I was sleeping,” he growled back. “Or trying to, at least.”
I shook my head, looking from him, to the floor, to my door, and back again. “Sleeping here? Why?”
Calming down from his rude awakening, he gave me that boyish smirk that I tried to pretend didn’t leave butterflies in my stomach.
He explained how the other men had been drinking, and may do exactly what I’d thought they might, which was seek me out with attentions I most certainly did not want. He’d decided to sleep in my doorway in effort to protect me, damned charming young Scot.
“Thank you,” I told him sincerely, opening my door and waving toward it. “But you can’t sleep out here, at least come inside, it’s warmer.”
His eyes went round, and then flicked over my shoulder and into the bedroom as if I was inviting him into an orgy den. “I canna do that,” he said, voice dripping in scandal. “It would ruin your reputation.”
I had to chuckle at that. “My reputation? I’ve slept under the stars with you before, you and ten other men.”
“That’s no’ the same thing at all,” he said, sniffing imperiously, and why did I find it so irresistible?
Rolling my eyes playfully, I reached through the doorway and grabbed his arm. “Stop being ridiculous,” I said, dragging him into the room. He came easily, which told me that he wasn’t as reluctant as he acted since he was ten times stronger than me and could have refused if he wished.
He stood stock-still in the center of the room as I closed the door, and I felt a bit like a seductress, a feeling that was rapidly becoming intoxicating.
“I’ll just…sleep there,” he said, gesturing toward the floor near the fire.
I took his hand this time, letting myself enjoy how his rough, warm palm felt in mine.
“The bed is plenty big enough for the both of us,” I said, as if it were the most innocent thing in the world, even though we both knew it was anything but.
“I canna,” he said softly, though his head drifted toward mine.
I raked my hand through his red curls, something I’d wanted to do ever since I’d laid eyes on him. They were as soft as I’d imagine.
“We shouldn’t,” I agreed, pulling him closer.
“I’ve never done this before,” he admitted, cheeks reddening.
I didn’t know how I knew that, but I did, and God if it didn’t make me want him even more.
“It’s alright,” I whispered. “I’ll teach you.”
He nodded, letting his head fall at last, sealing his lips over mine.
He needed no instruction in kissing, in fact he needed no instruction whatsoever. Everything became a blur of feeling and intensity, his hands roving every inch of me as if he had four of them.
I pushed him down on the bed, wondering briefly when I’d undressed him, but I paused to admire his form, and the way he stared up at me like I was some sort of angel.
“Sassenach,” he said.
I tried to make myself move, to cover his body with mine and show him everything about lovemaking, but I couldn’t. I just stood there, wanting him, but unable to touch him.
“Jamie,” I whimpered, watching helplessly as he began to disappear, my arms aching to wrap around him and never let go. “Jamie…”
Everything went dark, and I spun around, hearing his voice behind me. “Jamie?”
He was standing there, looking exactly as he had the first time I met him. Dirty, hunted, with an injured shoulder and still so impossibly young.
Red hair morphed to jet black, and it took me a solid minute to realize that I was awake, and staring up not at Jamie’s face, but at William’s.
“Willie?” I gasped, trying to make my brain work out what I was seeing.
“Mistress Claire wake up!” the boy implored, his hand hovering over my shoulder like he was going to shake it, but was debating on whether or not he should take the liberty.
“What is it?” I asked, sitting up. I was fully covered in my shift, but he still averted his eyes awkwardly. “Is it Ian?”
“No, he’s well. But some of the other men are ill, including the surgeon. Papa has asked you to come right away!”
I jumped to my feet, throwing on my dress and only loosely tying the laces before following William out the door and below deck, where the main crew slept.
John was there, with Captain Smith, and I was instantly assaulted by the stench of vomit and sweat.
“Where’s Douglass?” I asked of the surgeon.
“He was found dead a few moments ago,” John said. “They’ve all seemed to sicken overnight.”
“Five crewmen, plus Douglass,” Captain Smith said. “Vomiting, stomach pain, fever.”
I approached one of the hammocks that held a young man absolutely writhing in pain and placed a hand on his brow before beginning to examine his eyes and mouth, and his skin for a rash.
“It isn’t scurvy,” I said. “But nor does it look like plague. The surgeon had the same symptoms?”
“I’m not sure,” John said. “He was already gone when we found him.”
“I’ll need to examine him. In the meantime, these men need to be isolated until I can determine whether they’re contagious,” I glanced down, realizing William was still standing beside me, ready to assist. “William!” I snapped. “Get above deck, now.”
“But I’m to help you!” he protested.
“William, go,” John ordered, then projected his voice across the berth. “Any man who doesn’t feel unwell needs to go above deck, immediately. What about you, Mrs. Beauchamp?”
I shrugged. “Someone needs to care for them. You go up with the men, examine each of them to be sure they aren’t fevered. I’ll need some boiled water, clean rags, and plenty more water for drinking.”
John nodded. “I’ll see to it right away.”
As they all began to file out, leaving me with the sick men, there was still one remaining.
“Ian, are you feeling alright?” I asked him. He’d been steadily improving in health with proper food and water over the course of the past several days, but he was still weak.
“Aye,” he said. “Better now…no’ like them.”
“Then you should go above with the others.”
The boy didn’t move, and instead took up a mop and started swabbing the floor beneath the sick men’s hammocks. “Ye need help,” he said simply.
“I’ll not have you getting sick,” I said. “Not until I know whether or not this is catching. You’re immune system is already weakened.”
“I’d be dead wi’out ye,” he said. “And wi’out Lord John’s mercy.”
I sighed. He was right; I did need help, especially if more men fell ill. “Alright,” I said at last. “But you must be very careful. Keep your hands away from your face at all times, and try not to let any of their bodily fluids touch you. Keep cleaning, and I’m going to go examine the surgeon.”
Ian nodded eagerly and I went out to locate where the surgeon slept. I found him as John had said, still in his bed. He looked like he was just sleeping peacefully, which didn’t quite add up to the vicious pain the others were in. There was no vomit, but his shirt and bedclothes were still soaked in sweat. There was really no way of truly knowing how he died without an entire autopsy, and I hadn’t the time, equipment, or space for that.
Loitering with the dead wouldn’t help those still fighting, so I left Douglass to his rest and returned to the berth.
From what I could tell, the illness seemed to be a simple gastrointestinal virus. Unpleasant, but not life-threatening…if we were on land…in the 20th century…with access to intravenous fluids, clean beds, and medication. Here, in the dark lower deck of an 18th century British warship in the middle of the ocean, there was little I could do but do my best to keep them clean and get as much water into them as I could.
Ian was a considerably better nurse than William. He was unblinking in the face of the more gruesome part of patient care, and followed my every order to a T.
Two more men came down with the same illness even as one died, but it still didn’t quite have the characteristics of an epidemic…yet.
John brought down the water, food, and supplies himself, not allowing any of the other men to risk themselves, which continued to raise him up in my own estimation.
For the remainder of the night and the following day, I doggedly made rounds to each man, feeding sips of water and broth which were brought up ninety percent of the time. My time as a nurse, then a healer, and then a doctor had conditioned squeamishness right out of me, but even I wasn’t immune to the queasiness that came from the constant smells and sounds of vomit. I rejected any offers of food, and had to demand that Ian take regular breaks above deck every time he became a bit too green about the gills.
I tended the men with calm efficiency…right up until the point when Lord John came barreling down the steps, and the sight of the limp form in his arms cause my breath to catch.
He didn’t have to explain what was happening; I knew at once when I saw William’s sickly pallor.
“Lay him here,” I ordered, directing him to a hammock in the far corner of the berth where I knew it was clean.
“He lost his dinner,” John explained, voice tinged in panic. “And he’s burning up.”
I brushed a dark curl out of William’s face, struck again at how like Brianna he looked. How like…
I shook my head, returning my focus to the situation at hand. “It’s going to be alright, Willie,” I murmured before addressing his father. “What has he eaten?”
“Just the stew the cook made today,” John said.
William moaned, clutching his middle, but before I could move to grab a bucket, one was being thrust into my hands by Ian. I held it under the boy just in time, helping him to lean over.
I handed John a bowl of clean water and a rag. “Start bathing his face and chest,” I said, pausing to lay a hand on his shoulder before motioning for Ian to follow me. John didn’t look up from where he remained focused on his son.
“I need to go speak with the cook,” I told Ian.
“What are ye thinking?” he asked curiously.
I shook my head. “I’m not positive. But we’ve been at sea for weeks, it’s unusual that a typical virus would take this long to develop, even considering the incubation period.”
Ian nodded intently for a moment, before slowing and squinting his eyes at me. “Incu…what?”
“Stay here,” I said instead of attempting to clarify. “Watch over the men, come for me at once if Willie’s condition seems to worsen at all.”
Ian nodded again, this time with understanding. “Ye can count on me, Mistress.”
Trusting the young man to do what needed to be done, I went to the mess hall. From what I’d been able to tell so far, the food had been decent, and the cook appeared to be fairly clean by 18th century standards, but that didn’t mean that there wasn’t something amiss.
“Something I can do for you, missus?” the cook asked, not looking up from where he was stirring a huge cauldron.
“The men are getting sick,” I said without preamble. “I need to ask you a few questions about the food.
His eyes flicked up to me, glaring. “If the men are sick, it’s not because of my cooking. Now get out of here, this is no place for a woman.”
I folded my arms and quirked an eyebrow at him. “Wouldn’t most men say a woman’s place is in a kitchen?”
“Not on a ship,” he growled. “And not sticking your prim little nose in my business. Now get the hell out.”
“Lord John’s son is sick,” I snapped, slapping my hands onto the counter. “And the only thing he’s eaten is your stew. Now are you going to tell me what it’s in it or must I go and pull Lord John from his son’s bedside and bring him with me?”
“Nothing’s in it that you and I haven’t eaten ourselves,” he said.
I brushed past him, looking at where he was slicing onions, likely the only vegetable left at this point in the voyage. “What sort of meat is it?”
“Rabbit,” he said impatiently. “The same rabbit you ate yesterday.”
“It can’t be the same rabbit,” I sighed. “Where do you keep the meat?”
I didn’t wait for him to show me the hold, finding it myself. It was kept on the very bottom of the ship, where it was cooler, almost like a refrigerator. The meat would also be heavily salted, but it certainly didn’t mean any of it couldn’t spoil.
“See?” the cook grumbled. “Fine.”
Indeed, I could smell no trace of rot, and I was just about to turn and leave when I realized some of the strung-up rabbit carcasses were hanging low to floor, and some looked nibbled on. “You don’t use these down here, do you?” I asked, picking one up and found what looked to be rat feces underneath it.
“What difference does it make?”
I rolled my eyes. “These on the floor are contaminated,” at his blank look I tried again. “Fouled, by the damned rats. We’ve all been playing fucking Russian Roulette with every bite we take.”
I stormed out of mess, and went straight to Captain Smith to explain my findings, leaving him to deal with the cook. I returned straight to the berth, only to literally run straight into Ian, who came flying out.
I pushed past Ian and rushed inside, finding John fluttering helplessly around his boy.
“Do something,” he begged.
William was retching violently, gasping for breath, his face rapidly going from red to purple.
“Something must be stuck in his esophagus,” I said to no one in particular, lifting the half-grown boy with a strength born of urgency and laying him on the floor. After rolling him onto his side facing away from me, I pried his mouth open and stuck my finger as far into his throat as I could.
I beat the heel of my palm against his back as he brought up bile and trace amounts of blood.
“Oh God,” John moaned, seeing the blood.
“It’s alright,” I said, cradling the boy against my chest. “Ian, bring the light.”
Ian shone the lantern over the mess, and I found what I’d been hoping to find; a shard of rabbit bone. “He must have swallowed this and it got stuck on its way back up. The blood is from cuts in his throat, it’s alright, John.”
After William calmed and could breathe easily, John picked him up and returned him to the hammock.
“Ian, find Willie a clean shirt,” I said, already beginning to divest the boy of his soiled one. “I don’t think any of you have to worry about catching it. I believe I’ve traced the source of the illness to contaminated meat.”
“Is that bad?” John asked, eyes wild and wet with tears. “Surgeon Douglass and young Phillip died.”
I nodded. “Phillip was ill for twenty-four hours without water, and I think the Surgeon may have died of other causes. Willie is strong. I won’t let him die.”
The pain in John’s eyes was one I understood well. I’d seen it in the mirror many times when I had a sick baby, a seven-year-old with a broken arm, or when my ex-husband kidnapped my child and kept her from me for weeks. It was a pain I knew was reflected in my eyes right at that moment, despite the lack of mirrors.
And it was also one I saw time and time again from worried parents at the hospital, when they looked at me knowing their children’s lives were in my hands.
William was quiet after that, and I hoped that it meant he’d purged the poison from his body. I hovered near him constantly, scarcely stepping away even to see to the other men or my own personal needs.
Ian seemed to understand without being told, and bustled about pouring water down the throats of the others and feeding them bites of bread. Every now and then he brought some of the water and bread to John and me, which was all I really trusted eating anyway until I could return to the kitchen and assure the safety of the food.
“I don’t know what I’d do without him,” John said as we sat side-by-side against the wall, watching William sleep.
“I know exactly how you feel,” I replied, turning tired eyes to look at him. “It’s like, you see them for the first time, and suddenly everything is different. Everything is them.”
John nodded and smiled. “Yes. But not exactly, not for me. Oh, I was fond of Willie from the start, but the truth is, I didn’t know the boy until he was six, and I became his father.”
I blinked in surprise. “Oh. I wasn’t aware that he wasn’t your biological son. Stepson, then?”
“Adopted. My wife, Isobel, is Willie’s aunt. He lost his parents. So, it’s only been a few years, but I already cannot imagine life without him.”
I smiled, thinking suddenly of a little rapscallion who had so easily taken my heart so many years ago, and it struck me just as suddenly that in all my time here, I’d been so wrapped up in worry for Brianna that I hadn’t given thought to my wee Fergus.
But he’d hardly be wee anymore. He’d be a man grown now, and thanks to the odd circumstances surrounding this current timeline…approximately my own age.
Regardless, it made me ache that I was so close to him time-wise, but wouldn’t be able to see him. I could only hope and pray, as I always had, that he survived the war and the clearances and was living happily somewhere, the way he deserved.
I came back to the present, watching the little boy’s chest rise and fall steadily. “He reminds me so much of my daughter,” I said softly.
“She’ll make it,” John said. “If she has half your courage and wit, she’ll make it to the colonies. And you will find her.”
“I have to. Because I don’t know what I would do without her, either.”
Chapter 11: Enter the Printer
Brianna arrives in North Carolina, and continues her fight for survival.
What?? Another one so soon???
I've been excited to get to this point and couldn't resist updating. :)
With those two words, Brianna was able to release the breath she felt like she’d been holding for years.
With those two words, sailors who were at each other’s throats, glaring daggers at her but barely able to move for hunger and thirst came alive again with just the sheer relief of pending salvation.
Brianna’s mind started running a mile a minute, going over possible means of escape. Though she knew that her first priority would need to be food.
Escape wasn’t even possible at first. Though she was immediately fed and given quite possibly the best water she’d ever tasted, followed by a sweet-tasting ale, she was then put right to work hauling crates out of the hold and onto the docks.
Her body already weakened by lack of food and little sleep, by nightfall her limbs were shaking and the edges of her vision were dim.
Once all of the work was done, the sailors dragged weary limbs to the nearest tavern.
One of the men clapped Brianna roughly on the shoulder. “Come on, then, boy,” he said jovially. “Let’s see what they’ve left us to eat, eh? Maybe we’ll see if there’s a girl there little enough for you!”
Brianna glared at his back as he ambled on, thinking he had some nerve being all buddy-buddy with her, acting like it wasn’t just days ago that he helped his fellow sailors throw a seven-year-old boy overboard.
Part of her did want to go in though. Find another mug of that sweet ale, and curl up by a fireplace somewhere to sleep. But right now, while all the men were exhausted and either asleep or drunk or both, was the time to escape. She was standing on the docks with no one else around, no one paying attention, and no one looking for her at the moment. It was now or never.
She forced herself to just walk slowly along the shipyard instead of running. Head down, hands in pockets, she just kept going, into the night.
That first night, she found a barn to hide and sleep in until the farmer awoke her and ran her off. The second night, her bed was a wide-branched tree.
During the days she slipped from shadow to shadow, keeping her cap pulled low over her face and trying to remain as invisible as possible.
She was left with little choice but to resort to the exact crime she’d been kidnapped unjustly for. But it was either steal a few apples and meat pies, or starve. Most people didn’t seem all that interested in donating food to a scrappy-looking little boy.
She knew how to survive, what she simply didn’t know, was what to do now.
In her own time, she would have just gone to the police. But either there were no such thing as police here, or they weren’t likely to help a little thief.
From her place in the alleys, she watched children walk about with their parents. If she squinted, she could even pretend that it was just a normal day in 1950s Boston, not 1760s North Carolina.
She fantasized about walking up to one of those families and begging for help. In her mind they would pull her into their arms and promise to keep her safe until her mother could be reached.
But any time any of those lovely little families would see her, they would wrinkle their noses and steer their children away from her like she had some sort of disease they would catch if they got too close.
It made her mad, but then she thought of the uncomfortable feeling she got whenever she saw a homeless man sitting on the sidewalk in Downtown Boston when she was with her mother. She thought it must have been something like that, and resolved to give everything in her piggy bank to those homeless men when she got home.
If she ever got home.
On the sixth night, she wandered the dark streets aimlessly, wishing she could just sit down and throw a tantrum like a baby. Would that get her any help?
“I’m never gonna complain about taking a bath ever again,” she muttered miserably to herself, wrinkling her nose at her own smell.
Just as she was starting to think she’d made a mistake by leaving the crew of the Philippine, she heard a voice that stopped her cold.
“There you are!”
She spun around to find Collins marching toward her with a murderous look on his face. “You worthless piece of shit. After everything we’ve done for you…”
Brianna didn’t wait to listen to more and took off as fast as her tired legs would carry her.
She hadn’t really thought Collins would make chase. Surely she didn’t really mean that much to them? But when she craned her neck to see, he was right behind her, and gaining fast.
“Get back here you little bastard!”
She ran blindly along pitch-black alleyways, stumbling over horrible-smelling debris, trash, and she thought at one point maybe a human being. She kept thinking he would give up and leave her alone, but at every twist and turn she could hear his pounding footsteps behind her, could practically feel his breath down the back of her neck.
She wanted to scream, but knew it wouldn’t do any good.
In a last-ditch effort, she ducked through an archway of some sort, coming to an area she hadn’t been before, and paused to catch her breath.
At least she could see, although the lantern burning overhead cast the alley in a creepy orange glow.
“Whatcha hidin’ from, boy?”
Brianna gasped, realizing that there had been a man standing there all along, leaning in a doorway and watching her with an unreadable expression.
“None of your business,” she muttered breathlessly.
The man chuckled. “Well, why don’cha come inside here and get warm, eh? Hide out a bit.”
For just a moment Brianna was tempted, but something about this man set her on edge, perhaps even more than Collins did.
“I’ll be fine,” she said. “Thanks anyway.”
He pushed himself off the wall and sauntered over toward her, smelling strongly of beer, sweat, and something even worse that Brianna didn’t even have a name for.
“Pretty little boy, ain’t ya?” he drawled, peering under her cap.
Brianna moved to flee, but he was too fast, catching her up around her middle and pinning her to the wall with enough force to steal her breath.
She tried to scream, even for Collins to come and drag her back to the ship. Anything would be better than having this bastard’s rancid breath in her face, but he covered her mouth with a grimy hand.
Then, just as quickly as it all happened, the man seemingly vanished, and as Brianna slumped to the ground, gasping for air, she realized that another man had pulled him off, and was currently punching him unconscious.
“Get up, lad,” this new stranger ordered, holding out a hand.
Brianna froze, looking back and forth between this white-bearded man and the one on the ground, wondering if one was any less dangerous than the other.
And then there was a third man!
“What th’ devil is happening,” said this new man, looking between them all with surprisingly calm question.
“This sot had yonder wee lad against th’ wall,” said the white-haired man.
“Ye alright, lad?” the new man said, more softly this time. “He didn’a hurt ye, then?”
Brianna shook her head, then whirled around at the sound approaching footsteps.
“He went this way!”
Brianna said nothing, just stared up at the new man with wild eyes. She was exhausted to the bone, and just couldn’t run any longer. In turn, the man looked from her, to the alley, to his companion, and back again.
“Right,” he said. “Come, lad. This is no place for you.”
When Brianna made to stand, her legs wobbled and gave way from beneath her, so the man hefted her into his arms like she weighed nothing. She knew she should be afraid. Who was to say that this guy didn’t want what the other one did?
But somehow, she knew he didn’t. An instinct that ran deeper than she could explain took over, and as her head rested against his shoulder, her eyes drifted shut.
Brianna awoke with a gasp, flailing about and expecting to fall out of her hammock, when she realized that she was on the floor, wrapped up in blankets.
She rubbed at her face, trying to make sense of her surroundings, but fell short. She was in a little living room of sorts, next to a fireplace. There was what looked like sheets of paper hanging everywhere, almost like the hundreds of paper snowflakes that she made around Christmastime. In the corner was a funny-looking machine with more paper draped around it.
“Thought ye might sleep all day.” Brianna tensed and looked around, finding the man who’d carried her watching her from a doorway, his arms crossed as he leaned against the jamb.
Now that she could see him in the daylight, she could see that he was huge. But, huge in a tall and strong way, not a round way. He was handsome, for someone older, and his hair was bright red, just like hers.
Most notable, however, was his face. It looked kind, with eyes that were bright and friendly in a way that put her at ease.
“Thank you,” she murmured. “For saving me.”
He chuckled. “Canna take all th’ credit, my godfather is who found ye in th’ alley. Would ye like tae tell me what a lad o’ your age was doing, lurking about dark alleys in th’ middle o’ the night?”
Brianna shrugged, looking away, and didn’t realize the man was getting closer until he was kneeling in front of her.” “How about tellin’ me why th’ Quartermaster of a British ship was chasin’ ye?”
Brianna scowled. “I dunno, maybe the same reason that creep in the alley was after me. Who knows?”
He raised a lone eyebrow, staring at her skeptically, and maybe a bit wonderingly. “I’ve no’ interest in turnin’ ye in, lad. But it may help tae ken what ye’ve done tae make him mad, in case someone were tae come looking for ye,” when Brianna still didn’t answer, his expression turned more serious. “Hm. Weel, suppose I’ll have tae go ask him myself…”
“I didn’t steal!” Brianna blurted, feeling hot tears sting her eyes. “The boys…the other boys! They stole the money! I didn’t do anything! And then Captain Reynolds took me, and Simon…Simon…”
She began to cry in earnest, sobs wracking her body, and he hushed her softly before rearranging his legs until he could pull her into his arms, gently patting her back. “Whisht, mo chuilein. Dinna cry.”
Every fear and emotion that Brianna had been holding back for weeks just came pouring out of her like a flood, and she clung to this stranger’s shirt and cried pitifully into his shoulder. “I just wanna go home.”
“Where’s home, then?”
“Far away,” she replied miserably.
He took her arm and pushed her gently away so he could look at her. “Weel, for now, ye rest, and I’ll bring ye some food. Dinna fash, lad. They’ll no’ find ye here.”
“Why are you doing this?” she asked, rubbing at her sore eyes. She wanted more than anything to relax and trust this man, but she’d been through too much by then to think anything could be that easy.
He gave her a half smile and gently nudged her off his lap before standing. “I dinna believe in enslaving wee bairns, guilty or no’. And besides, ye ‘mind me of someone.”
“What’s your name, lad?” he asked, neatly avoiding the question.
“Brian,” she responded, the answer having become as natural as her real name in the past weeks. “What’s yours?”
He gave her a funny little half-bow. “Alexander Malcolm. Your servant.”
Chapter 12: The Next Leg
The Marianne arrives in Jamaica, and Claire prepares to continue onward to North Carolina.
I know, I know, I'm spoiling you guys. xD
Once the contaminated meat was disposed of, none of the other men sickened, and the ones who were sick eventually got better.
For his part, William practically popped up on the third day like a daisy, asking for something to eat, and barely any worse for the wear other than a pale face and being more easily tired than normal.
“We’ll be in Jamaica by tomorrow,” John said, relief evident in his voice as he joined me at the railing and briefly covered my hand with his own. “And then we shall have you on your way to North Carolina.”
I took a deep breath and let it out slowly. Now that the men were well, I had nothing else to occupy my mind than thoughts of Brianna. I probably wouldn’t have eaten if I didn’t have food set in front of me periodically, and very likely wouldn’t sleep unless Ian gently pushed me toward my cabin every evening where I dropped from utter exhaustion, though I slept fitfully.
“I wish I could accompany you,” he continued. “But I’ll need to take up my governorship right away.”
“I understand,” I assured him. “I appreciate everything you’ve done for me, but you needn’t worry. I can make my way on my own.”
He smiled, placing a hand on my shoulder. “I’m sure you can. However, I believe I’ve worked out a deal with the captain concerning a certain young stowaway,” he made a motion with his arm, and Ian appeared right on cue. “I’ve negotiated for Ian’s release, in thanks for his help with the sick men. In exchange, he is to escort you wherever you need to go, and is not to leave you until you dismiss him.”
Ian grinned broadly, seemingly quite satisfied with his task.
I couldn’t help but smile back. “And I suppose the fact that your uncle lives in North Carolina – the very place I need to go – makes things rather easy for you.”
“Oh, aye,” he said. “But dinna fash, Mistress. I’ll see ye safe, and I’ll no’ leave your side until your wee lass is safe wi’ ye.”
“Thank you, Ian,” I said earnestly. “I can think of no one I’d rather have at my side.”
A small lie, since of course there was one other I’d give almost anything to have at my side, but in fact it was a relief. Ian was young, not yet come into his own, and wouldn’t be much help in the way of physical protection, but I’d been dreading parting ways with John, since there was such comfort in just not being alone. Ian was a pleasant boy, smart and resourceful as well as brave, and it would be no hardship having him along.
On the final night of the voyage, I wandered out onto the deck, unable to banish the nightmares enough to sleep. My aim had been to take in some fresh air, and try to still the storm in my brain before the next leg of my journey commenced, but any calm I could have found evaporated at the sight before me.
William was leaning over the railing, too far, and I reached him in the same moment he began to slip over, grabbing a fistful of his shirt and yanked him back to safety.
“William Gray!” I yelled. “What in God’s name were you fucking thinking?!
William’s eyes were round as he lay on his back in front of me. “I’ve never heard a lady use that word before.”
I grabbed his shirt again to jerk him to his feet. “You’re about to hear a lot more than that if you don’t explain what the hell you were doing climbing the railing like that. I did not just spend three days nursing you to health only to have you jump overboard!”
“I was not jumping!” he snapped in affront. “I saw a whale! I was only trying to get a better look!”
I wanted to box his little ears, but managed to restrain myself. “Do you not realize what could have happened? It’s the middle of the night, the bellman is too far away to hear you. If you’d fallen over…”
“I wasn’t going to fall,” he said imperiously. “At least, not until you startled me. And my name is not William Gray. It’s William Clarence Henry George Ransom, Ninth Earl of Ellesmere.”
I knew of course that William wasn’t John’s biological son, but goodness if that wasn’t a mouthful. It brought to mind another impossibly long name.
I blinked, having not realized I’d spoken that bit aloud. “Erm, my late husband,” I said. He had a uh…distinguished name as well.”
“What was it?”
In the typical resilience of youth, William seemed to have completely forgotten his near brush with death, and the whale, for that matter, and plopped down on his bottom in preparation for a story.
Rolling my eyes fondly, I sat down beside him and stretched out my tired legs before giving a glance around. I didn’t figure there was much harm in it, young William would have no cause to recognize Jamie’s name, and at this point, I probably had little to fear in my connection with him anyway.
“James Alexander Malcolm McKenzie Fraser, Laird Broch Tuarach.”
“I’ve never heard of Brock Too-rock,” William said, struggling to form the unfamiliar syllables.
I sighed. “No. It isn’t a title that exists anymore.”
“I’m sorry,” he said. “You must miss him.”
I put my arm around him, pulling him toward me so he could rest his sleepy head on my shoulder. “Very much so. Just as I’m sure you miss your parents.”
I felt one thin shoulder shrug. “I don’t remember either of them. They both died the day I was born.”
“Oh,” I said, wondering what the circumstances were that took both his parents the day he was born. A woman dying in childbirth was sadly common. Could William’s father have taken his own life in grief? Either way, the knowledge must have been a terrible burden for a child.
“Both of my parents died when I was little,” I said. “But I was raised by my uncle, and he was the best father a child could have asked for.”
I’d hoped that relating to him in that way would cheer him, and it did; his eyes brightened. “Really?”
“Mmhm. He taught me everything, and took me on so many wonderful adventures. Just like your Papa is doing with you.”
Willie grinned, showing off his missing cuspids, then laid his head back on my shoulder. “I wish you didn’t have to leave once we reach Jamaica.”
“I know,” I said, squeezing his shoulders. “But I have to go and find my daughter.”
“Mmhm. She’s a little younger than you, but I think you’d like her.”
I felt his cheeks puff out in a smile. “I hope I get to meet her.”
I smiled back and kissed the top of his head before pulling away and standing, taking his hand to pull him along with me. “I hope you do, too.”
“Willie?” John called, appearing on the main deck wearing only his shirt, a lantern in his hand which lit upon us. “Willie! What on earth are you doing out here so late?”
William looked up at me with guilty and slightly fearful eyes, and I sighed inwardly. “We thought we saw a whale,” I told John. “I’m afraid we’ve been rather distracted by it for a while. I’m sorry…I didn’t realize that it was so late.”
John’s expression softened even as William turned shocked eyes back to me.
“Oh, very well,” John sighed, glancing down and back up again, reddening at the realization of the state of his undress. “William, you are to retire the moment Mrs. Beauchamp says to, do you understand?”
“Yes, Papa,” William intoned, waiting until John disappeared below deck before turning a raised eyebrow up at me. “You didn’t tell him I was climbing the railing.”
“No sense worrying him,” I reasoned, propping my elbows on the railing and gazed out at the moonlit water for the elusive whale. “Since you will never be doing such a thing again, correct?”
“I promise. Claire?”’
“What was your husband like?”
I looked down at his dark blue eyes and smiled, a bit sadly. “He was…well, he was actually a bit like you.”
It was always a relief coming ashore after a long voyage, but this time it came with a renewed sense of urgency to begin the next leg of my journey.
Jamaica might have been an interesting place to explore, but I paid little attention to anything except what was necessary to secure passage to America.
John told me that there were smaller boats that went back and forth from the islands to Florida quite frequently, and he graciously offered to pay for it, as well as insisting upon giving me more than enough money to see to anything Ian and I might need.
I didn’t like taking so much from him, but I was in no position to be prideful. If it had been any other man, I’d have been suspicious of such generosity considering I barely knew him, married or not. But in the weeks I’d been traveling with him, John had never once given me cause to think his hand in friendship was anything but. I’d caught just about every man aboard the ship, including Ian and young William taking longer looks at me when they thought I wasn’t paying attention, but never John. Not even that first day, in the pub.
“I’ll fetch us some supplies,” Ian declared, practically bouncing off the walls now that the adventure he craved was truly about to start, and with it, a new responsibility.
“Thank you, Ian,” I said, handing him some coins. “Please keep an eye out for an apothecary. I’d like to stock up before we go.”
“Must you go?” William asked, voice high and just barely shy of whining, seeming to have forgotten our conversation the night before.
“Oh, I must,” I said fondly, ruffling his hair. “I’ve my own child to get to, you know that.”
He scowled and chewed on the inside of his cheek. “Can’t I come, too?” before I could respond, he turned to his father. “Please, Papa? I could help Ian watch over her and help her find Brianna.”
John gave his son a loving smile. “That’s honorable of you, William. But I need you here, with me. Besides, your mother will be along soon, and she’d be most put out if you weren’t here to greet her.”
“She must miss you something awful,” I told him, leaning down to be closer to him. “I know how much I’m going to miss you, and I’ve only known you a month!”
William flung his surprisingly strong arms around my neck, hugging tight. I wrapped my arms around him in return, struck by how very much I would miss this little boy, especially considering that it was extremely likely I’d never see him again.
When he released me, he turned his head away, so that I couldn’t see the tears in his eyes, and I exchanged a sympathetic look with John.
Then, as I looked at John, something over his shoulder caught my eye.
The ship itself was unremarkable, looking more or less like the others in the bay, but it was name painted on its side that had me stopping cold.
“Oh my God,” I whispered, leaving John and William to stare after me in confusion as I took off at a run, toward where the ship’s crew was coming ashore.
A man stood on the docks, overseeing the unloading of the ship. He had the look of a captain, so I stopped less than a foot in front of him. “Are you the captain of the Philippine?” I demanded.
He blinked at me in bemusement, but nodded. “Yes. Might I help you?”
I struck out without thinking, my hand seeming to grow a life of its own and I didn’t realize what I was doing until I felt the sting on my palm and saw the reddening mark on his cheek.
“Woman, control yourself!” another man, the first mate perhaps, exclaimed as John grabbed my arm to restrain me.
“Where is she?!” I roared, pulling at John’s hold.
The captain stared at me with maddening placidity. “Whatever are you talking about?”
“If any harm has come to her I swear to God I will eviscerate you!”
“Should I fetch a guard?” the first mate asked his captain.
“I am Governor John Gray,” John broke in, and both men froze, staring at him wide-eyed. “And you will answer this woman’s questions regarding her daughter.”
“I haven’t an idea what she’s talking about, sir,” the captain said. “If she’s referring to one of the girls from the tavern, I assure you…”
“You kidnapped her!” I snapped. “You took her from Scotland and brought her here. She’s a little child with red hair. Her name is…” I paused, suddenly seeing now where the confusion might lay. “Her name is Brian.”
The two men paled, then looked at one another in horror. I wanted to kill them both, and die myself, simultaneously. If either of them were about to tell me that my child was dead, I honestly didn’t think I could survive it.
“What the devil was your daughter doing traipsing about dressed as a boy?” the captain asked in disgust. “With a gaggle of thieves, no less!”
“It doesn’t matter!” I screamed, uncaring that I was beginning to gain an audience of passers-by. “You had no right to take her!”
“I had every right! She stole from me, but instead of taking her hand or having her locked up, I showed mercy and her to work on my ship. I had no idea she was a girl-child.”
My shoulders slumped, and the breath whooshed out of me. “Then…then she’s alright?”
He harrumphed. “I assure you, madam, your child has come to no harm at our hands.”
I felt my knees grow weak in relief, and only John’s grip on my elbow kept me upright. “Then where is she?”
“We don’t have her anymore.
And just like that, the hope that had risen in my breast crashed again.
The captain grimaced in discomfort, fidgeting under either my glare, or John’s, I didn’t know, nor care. “She escaped when we moored in North Carolina. I don’t know what became of her.”
The disappointment that she wasn’t there was crushing, but Brianna was alive, and my original mission hadn’t changed. Get to North Carolina.
“You are dismissed,” John said, leading me away before pushing me to sit on an overturned barrel. “Breathe. Breathe, Claire.”
The first thing I noticed that it was, I believed, the first time he’d ever used my first name, second was that he was telling me to breathe. It was only last that I realized that he was doing this because I seemed to hyperventilating.
I closed my eyes, and concentrated on taking deep breaths through my nose and out my mouth, the same way I would instruct a patient. Once I no longer felt in danger of fainting, I opened my eyes again to find that both John and William were breathing rhythmically as if to encourage me to follow suit, and both were staring at me in fear.
“I’m alright,” I assured them, wondering how long I’d been sitting there for them to look so upset.
“You cannot give up hope,” John said. “She escaped on her own, surely that tells you something of her survival instincts.”
“If they’re telling the truth,” I muttered, putting voice to my worst fear. “They could be covering something up.”
“I don’t think they’d have a reason to lie at this point,” John said. “Regardless. William, find Ian, then tell him that I’d like him to make a few enquiries to the members of Captain Reynold’s crew, and see if he’s telling the truth about the cabin boy escaping.”
“Right away, Papa,” William said before darting away, eyes bright with excitement at being entrusted with such a duty.
“She’s all alone,” I said numbly. “Perhaps it would have actually been better for her, being with the crew. Now there’s no telling where she could be.”
John rested a comforting hand on my back. “You mustn’t let yourself despair, Mrs. Beauchamp. You must believe that Brianna wouldn’t stray too far from the port.”
“I suppose that’s all I can do at this point,” I said.
He turned me fully toward him, bracing his other hand on my shoulder. “What you can do, is find her, Claire. I have every faith that you can. Indeed, in the weeks that I’ve gotten to know you, I suspect there’s little you cannot accomplish if you set your mind to it.”
I smiled, rising up on tiptoe to give his cheek a sisterly kiss. “Thank you, John.” I said. “For everything.”
“I do hope that you’ll send word once you find her safe.”
“I will. I promise.”
Chapter 13: History in the Making
Brianna gets to know Alex and his business, and finds herself becoming part of it.
Kind of short one, but I'd just like to say that everything leading up to the Great Big Huge Massive Reunion of Everyone has been written and will be coming at ya soon ;)
So much thanks for all the amazing comments and support! I know I've gotten bad at responding, but I read every single one and they each make super happy!!!
After eating some sausage, potatoes, and greens that quite frankly tasted like the best food she’d ever eaten after a month of the slop the ship served, Alexander showed her into what Brianna finally determined to be some kind of newspaper business. There were a couple more machines like in the back room, but bigger, and apparently they were printers.
Alexander had been insistent that she finish all the greens, telling her that after such a long sea voyage, she needed the nutrition. She’d smiled at that, because it sounded like something her mother would say.
He hadn’t asked her any more about her family or where she was from after her initial vague answers. For that she was grateful. Her mother had given the impression that the fewer people that knew about them, the better, so she was sticking with that.
Sitting at a table in the main room was the other man who’d saved her the night before. He was older than Alexander, and more like the other Scottish men she was used to seeing in Scotland, with a gruff-looking beard and an even gruffer-looking face.
“This is my godfather, Murtagh,” Alexander said, gesturing to the other man who merely quirked a bushy eyebrow at her. “Murtagh,” he continued. “Meet Brian.”
Murtagh’s eyebrows went up briefly, but didn’t give any indication of why, though Brianna privately thought about how those eyebrows looked like a pair of gray caterpillars. “And just what d’we plan tae do wi’ this lad?” Murtagh asked, a hint of suspicion in his voice.
Alexander shrugged and went to one of his machines, tinkering with it. “Figure we’ll feed him, let him rest, until he decides what he wants tae do next.”
“I need to get back,” Brianna broke in, scowling at being talked about like she wasn’t there. “Back to Scotland.”
Alexander nodded thoughtfully. “Aye, could be arranged. But there’ll no’ be another ship tae Scotland for nigh on a week or more, and that one will be th’ verra one ye arrived on. I dinna think ye’d care overmuch tae face th’ captain of the Philippine again, hm?”
Brianna shook her head wildly. “Isn’t there another way?”
He chuckled. “Besides by sea, ye mean? If only. Maybe it wouldn’a vex me so, th’ thought o’ going back and seeing my family if there was a choice other than boat. Ye can wait for a passenger ship, but it could be weeks, months even. It’ll be winter soon, ye ken.”
Brianna groaned, but she didn’t see much for it. There was no way she could risk getting spotted by Captain Reynolds or Collins, or any of the other men from that bloody ship. Her best bet was to lay low, and as difficult as it was, she found herself trusting this Alexander, despite everything she’d been through.
“So it’s okay?” she asked. “If I stay for a little while?”
Alexander smiled, and it was a nice, soothing thing, not mean like Collins or patronizing like Reynolds. And not even vague and distracted, like Daddy’s. It made him look younger, and Brianna wondered just how old he really was. “Aye,” he said. “Ye’re safe here, lad. No harm’ll come tae ye, so long as I’m with ye,” he jerked his head over to his godfather. “Or Murtagh.”
“I’ll earn my keep,” she said firmly, remembering the Fotheringhams. “I can uh…clean…” she looked around at the papers strung about. “Sell papers?”
“Ye’d be a braw newsboy, but probably oughtn’t have ye on th’ streets hocking papers just yet, no’ until the Philippine sets out.”
“He could make deliveries,” Murtagh said. “Tae th’ nearby customers.”
“Yeah, what Grouchy Santa said!” Brianna exclaimed, ignoring the looks that got her. She was just so excited to earn her keep by doing something other than swabbing decks, scrubbing floors, or worse yet, stealing.
“Aye, alright,” Alexander said. “But for now, rest lad. Ye’ve earned it.”
Brianna trotted after Alex around the shop for the first couple of days, watching silently while he dealt with customers. He found her some new clothes, and even though she preferred jeans to the funny trousers he gave her, it was bliss having something clean to put on for the first time in over a month. He filled her a tub with hot water to bathe, and thankfully left her alone to wash. With a clean self, clothes, and a new cap, she felt much more secure leaving the shop, confident no one from the Philippine would spot her so long as she kept her head down and her hair covered.
When Alex introduced her to a pair of his assistants, he handed her a stack of newspapers and set her to follow them out to learn the area and make deliveries.
Lesley and Hayes were grown men, but seemed more like overgrown teenagers to Brianna. They were nice though, and Alex assured her that they were trustworthy.
And she trusted Alex…to an extent. In fact it was that trust that made her all the more adamant that she keep up her disguise, because who knew whether or not he’d toss her out or simply hand her off to someone else if he knew she was girl. That is if he didn’t get any other ideas. Basically, Brian trusted Alex. Brianna…not so much.
Besides, for all that Alex seemed a fairly upstanding person, there was something about his printing business that just seemed a little off-kilter. The papers that Brianna’s delivered were just your basic newspapers, but there were other things that Alex only allowed Lesley and Hayes to take out. Even despite their goofy nature, they took whatever they did for Alex very seriously.
“And where are those worthless sots?” Murtagh asked one night of Hayes and Lesley.
Alex shook his head. “I told them no more deliveries this week. They were getting noticed, and I didn’a want tae risk them.”
Murtagh harrumphed. “I’ll take ‘em then. I want tae get them to those new immigrants.”
“Ye knew ye canna,” Alex scolded. “Ye ken they’re watching you and I.”
Brianna of course had no clue what they were talking about, and she certainly wondered who it was they were afraid was watching them. It felt like something mildly illegal might be happening, but she found herself dying to help.
“Let me deliver them,” she piped up.
“No,” Alex said at once. “These aren’t our regular papers, lad. It’s no’ something ye ought tae be involved in.”
“But folk are already used tae seeing him about now,” Murtagh reasoned. “It’d be th’ safest thing.”
“And didn’t you hear?” Brianna added. “The Philippine left. I’m in the clear!”
“No,” Alex repeated firmly. “I’ll no’ be involving ye.”
Murtagh rolled his eyes. “Tis no more that what ye did wi’ Fergus, and ye did him no permanent harm.”
When Alex shot Murtagh a murderous glare, Murtagh grimaced. “Other than that.”
“I don’t even know what they are,” Brianna said. “Even if I did get caught, which I won’t, what are they gonna do?” she walked up to Alex, pleading with him with her eyes. “Please? Let me help.”
Alex visibly softened as soon as she turned her puppy-dog eyes on him, something that was apparently just as effective on him as it was with her parents.
“Ye’ll take them,” he said at last. “Ye’ll drop them off, dinna wait around for questions, dinna poke about. Come straight home, ye understand?”
She smirked and held out her hands. “Trust me.”
She scuttled out as soon as it was full dark, a stack of pamphlets under her arm. She peeked at one of them as she went, but couldn’t make heads or tails of it. It more or less had to do with taxes, and the crown. Brianna knew that the American Revolution was underway, and she recalled a phrase from school, “taxation without representation.” It must mean that Alex was a Patriot, and therefor on the winning side, and that realization brought an amazed grin to her face.
She was making history.
Chapter 14: The Colonies
Claire finally makes it to America, but will the way to North Carolina be easy?
Well, my vacation is over tomorrow! But since I already have several chapters almost ready, you shouldn't have to wait too long before the next update!
Ian reported back that the crew aboard the Philippine corroborated the story that “Brian” had fled the moment they landed in the Carolinas, and was spotted only briefly by Quartermaster Collins before disappearing, not to be seen again.
Still, it gave me hope. Hope that perhaps she’d come across some kindly old shop owner, or a man and wife who were willing to take her under their wing. I knew that for all that the world was full of evil people, there were even more genuinely good ones. I had to hold on to that hope, or risk truly going insane.
Parting ways with John and William was bittersweet. I’d grown so fond of them both – especially William.
He watched Ian and I go with an almost resigned expression, one that told of a boy who’d been left behind by people he cared about far too often.
The voyage to the colonies would be a comparatively short one, but after a few hours aboard the dilapidated rig getting tossed about in the waves, I could tell it would be a long two days. I shuddered to think how Jamie would be feeling at a time like this.
“Um, Mistress Claire?”
I looked up from where I’d been focusing on the horizon. “Yes, Ian?”
“D’ye remember how I stowed away aboard the Marianne?”
I narrowed my eyes at him. He seemed nervous about something. And that was suspicious. “Yes…”
“Weel…I think it may ha’ been a bad influence…”
Ian stepped aside, revealing the contrite-looking boy behind him.
“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ!” I exclaimed, leaping to my feet. “William! What in God’s name are you doing here?!”
“I’m sorry!” he cried, shrinking away. “I…I wanted to help you!”
I grabbed his forearm, ignoring his squirming. “Little fool! Captain!” I shouted up at the unconcerned man at the helm. “We have to turn back.”
“Sorry, mum,” he said, not taking his eyes off the water. “I have a schedule to keep.”
I growled, sorely tempted to throw the little troublemaker overboard and make him swim back to his father. “Do you realize what you’ve done?” I asked him. “You’re putting us back at least four days!”
“I’m sorry!” he cried again, trying to pull away, and I realized I must have been hurting him, so I let him go.
William sulked the remainder of the journey, but other than assuring his wellbeing, I was giving him the silent treatment. Not a terribly mature way to handle a child’s misbehavior, but damn it all I was tired, and terribly frustrated by the delay.
“When will you be returning to Jamaica?” I asked the captain once we arrived at the small port in Florida.
“Tomorrow morning,” he said flatly.
I growled again, for possibly the hundredth time in the past two days. “I need to leave and get the boy home today.”
He gave me a narrow look. “I have business to attend to, and I’m not concerned with yours.”
With that he stalked away, and I itched to throw something at him.
“I want my Papa,” William said quietly.
“Yes, well, you’ll just have to wait, won’t you?”
“Mistress Claire!” Ian said, running up. “There’s a ship that will take us right up the coast to South Carolina, and the captain said that from there, it’s just a few days ride to Wilmington. He said he’d be glad to take us, so long as I don’t mind being put tae work.”
“That’s great William!” I exclaimed. “When does it leave?”
Ian winced. “Aye, that’s just it. They leave today.”
I felt my stomach drop, looking down at William. If the boat to Jamaica was leaving that day, I’d consider simply arranging his passage back and allowing him to go alone. But it was bad enough that the captain was dubious and uncaring, William would also have to wait alone in a barely established port town overnight and I’d have to trust that he’d get himself onto the boat in time.
I shook my head. William may have been twelve, but it was abundantly clear that he’d had never had to fend for himself in any way. He’d never survive a night on his own.
William couldn’t return to Jamaica by himself, but neither could I give up precious days in finding my daughter.
“There’s nothing for it,” I said at last. “William will just have to come with us.”
“What?!” William exclaimed, eyes going round. “B…but…I want to go back!”
I whipped around, fixing him with a withering glare. “You got yourself into this mess! You’re just going to have to see it through, and I am not to hear a single complaint, do you understand me?”
William glowered, biting the inside of his cheek as was his wont when upset or contemplative.
“Come on,” I snapped. “We’re going to write a letter to your father explaining the situation. He’ll just have to come for you in North Carolina. And you,” I pointed a finger at Ian. “You are going to write your mother and beg for forgiveness for the worry you’re putting her through! And when all of this is over, neither of you are ever to run away from your parents ever again. Have I made myself clear?”
“Yes, ma’am,” both boys intoned meekly.
I could hear William whisper to Ian as I led them toward the merchant. “She’s frightening when she’s angry.”
“Oh, aye, and we’re her friends. I sure would hate tae be her enemy.”
My frustration settled once we set sail, as did William’s whining about returning home.
Both boys were put right to work on the ship swabbing the deck and carrying various things about, which kept them blessedly busy and hopefully out of trouble.
I didn’t like that I now had William to worry about, in addition to Ian, when all I wanted to focus on was getting to Brianna. But there was nothing to be done, and despite both their belief that they were my escorts, the solid truth was that they were my responsibility.
Ian had reported from the crew of the Philippine that they were in North Carolina for a week before making their gradual way down to Jamaica and had been in Jamaica almost a week, so it had been about a month since Brianna escaped them.
If all went smoothly, I could be in Wilmington in a fortnight.
I glanced over at where the boys were arguing over whose bucket was heavier and sighed. If all went smoothly.
It would be November by then, almost winter. It was still warm in the sub-tropic waters off the coast of Florida, but it wouldn’t be by the time we reached the Carolinas, and the cold would bring a whole new host of complications in traveling. One early snow storm and…
I just had to pray, for the thousandth time, that wherever Brianna was, she was safe.
The storm took us by surprise, rocking the small ship all about like a toy in the bath of an exuberant toddler.
“We’re takin’ on water!” I heard the shout.
“Are we gonna sink?!” William cried, clutching my skirt.
“We’re not going to sink,” the captain said, having to raise his voice over the gale. “But you best take your boys, madam, and get below deck. We’re going to make for land, and it’s going to be rough going.”
I didn’t need to be told twice, and took hold of both boys’ arms and dragged them to my cabin.
“But I should be up there, helping the men!” Ian protested.
“You’re needed here,” I said more sharply than I intended. “You’re to attend me, remember?”
Ian’s face went blank for a moment before he nodded fervently. “Aye, beggin’ your forgiveness, Mistress Claire.”
“Help me keep him calm,” I said, indicating where William was huddled on the bunk.
“There now, dinna fash, lad,” Ian said, sitting beside him. “Land isn’a far away, we’ll be fine!”
“I want my father,” William muttered, covering his ears when the very boards surrounding us shuddered from the sound of thunder.
I sighed and sat beside him, pulling his half-grown, lanky body half into my lap. “I know, Willie, I know. You’ll be back with him soon.”
The ship was forced to run aground on the beach, and everyone aboard hunkered down inside until the storm had passed.
Thankfully, we weren’t far from a small village. Unfortunately, we were still in Georgia, and so days away from our destination in South Carolina by ship, and it seemed now we were without a ship at all.
“It’ll be weeks before we can gather the supplies and complete the repairs,” the Captain explained to me when I enquired on the status. “The good folk here have opened their homes to the crew while we work. I’m sure there will be a family who will give you and your boys shelter.”
“I can’t afford to stay here for weeks,” I said, running a hand through my damp, unbound hair. “About how long would it take to get to Wilmington from here, by horse?”
The captain grimaced. “With fair weather and no mishaps, I reckon you could make it in a week and a half, if you stop only to sleep. But you’re a woman and two boys who don’t know the area, and the weather is turning cold. I really think it would be safer to wait and sail to South Carolina with us. I’ll even send an escort to see you safely to Wilmington.”
I managed a strained smile at him. “I appreciate your kindness, but my business in Wilmington is urgent. I’ve traveled great distances by horse before, and Ian knows how to hunt. We’ll be fine.”
The captain looked highly skeptical, but didn’t bother trying to argue any further.
I procured us three horses and as much food as the village could spare. If we were careful, and supplemented it with fresh game, it would last us two weeks at least. With careful directions on which path to take, we set out that following morning.
Chapter 15: The Meeting
Brianna learns more about Alex's past, and meets some more members of his unique family.
After that first night, clandestinely delivering secret pamphlets became part of Brianna’s regular duties, as well as hocking regular newspapers on street corners.
She wasn’t above using a bit of manipulation to charm or guilt people into buying her papers either;
“Buy a paper, sir? If I sell jus’ two more, I can put dinner on th’ table for me mam and five wee sisters…”
“You’re looking awfully fetching today, Miss O’Neal. Why, I was just saying to Mr. Malcolm how pretty you are and how nice it is that you always buy his papers…oh, yes, I’ll be sure to let him know you said hello!”
But it was far better than stealing, and besides, she considered it more like acting than lying. She just hoped Alex didn’t mind her making half the single women…and some of the married women…in town believe he fancied them. Guy like him ought to be dating, anyway.
At the end of the day, Alex and Murtagh were always home to warmly welcome her, and it was such that Brianna grew so comfortable in her life, that she almost forgot what she needed to do. Until one night, she couldn’t sleep.
Alex had given her a cot that was kept in a corner of the main shop, near the fireplace. She was sitting up on the bed, watching the flames dance around, when she suddenly became aware that she wasn’t alone.
“Canna sleep, lad?”
She turned around, biting her cheeks so she didn’t laugh at how Alex’s shirt made it look like he was wearing a nightgown. She was similarly dressed, of course, but it just looked so funny on a grown-up man.
“No,” she admitted. “Don’t know why.”
“Happens tae me a lot,” he said, coming to sit beside her.
“And you don’t know why either?”
His bright blue eyes cut over to her, darker in the firelight. “Nah. I know why.”
Her brow furrowed. “Why?”
Alex shrugged one shoulder, and flexed one of his hands. She’d noticed that hand wasn’t very dexterous, like he’d injured it at some point, and she wondered if it pained him.
“’Suppose I have a few reasons,” he said quietly. “Dreams, sometimes. Th’ lack of them, other times. Thinking about loved ones, how I miss them.”
“Who are your loved ones?” she asked. She’d wondered a few times what sort of family Alex had out there, or if Murtagh was it.
He smiled softly. “My sister and her husband, and their children. They live in Scotland, ken. My son, he lives in England. Dinna get tae see him.”
“You have a son?” she asked in wonder. She had wondered why someone so nice didn’t have a wife and children of his own.
“Aye,” he admitted. “Ye remind me a wee bit of him.”
“What happened to his mom?”
Alex winced. “Ah, she died, when th’ poor lad was born.”
“I’m sorry,” she said with as much sincerity as she could.
Alex shook his head. “She was th’ lad’s mam, but she wasn’a my wife. I did have a wife, once. I lost her many, many years ago.”
Brianna let her mind work through the logistics of that for a moment, she honestly didn’t think she’d ever met anyone whose mother and father weren’t married, but of course she knew enough about the baby-making process by now to know it was entirely possible. “What happened to your wife?” she asked.
He took a deep breath. “I lost her,” he repeated, suddenly sounding and looking older, somehow. “But I think of her, all th’ time. And that, more than anything, is what keeps me up at night.”
Brianna didn’t know why Alex was telling her all of this, but she found herself feeling so sad for him that it made her chest hurt. He just seemed so lonely.
“I miss my mom,” she admitted. She’d never spoken of her mother to him, or where she was from. But Alex’s honesty had her feeling like she should respond in kind, to offer something of herself.
“Is she alive, then?” he asked.
“Well, yeah. We were in Scotland when Captain Reynold’s took me. I need to get back there, back to her.”
“D’ye ken where she is? So we can send word?”
Brianna shook her head sadly. “No. We’re not…we’re not from there.”
Alex chuckled. “Aye, I can tell that much from your speech. Ye sound more like ye come from this side o’the world, then that one.”
She nodded. As much truth as possible so not to raise suspicion, is what her mother had said to her at the Fotheringham house. By telling partial truths, but leaving out vital bits, made the cover story easier to remember.
“Boston,” she said. “Originally.”
“And what led ye tae Scotland?”
Brianna frowned, remembering. “My father brought me there. I didn’t want to go. He tried to take me away from my mother.”
Alex winced at that, and Brianna knew that it must resonate with him, being separated from his own son. “Why would any man take a child from his mam?”
His tone suggested that surely Frank had a reason for such a thing, because he probably couldn’t contemplate such an act otherwise.
“He and Mama didn’t like each other,” Brianna muttered. “I’m not so sure it was so much wanting to keep me as it was wanting to hurt her. He wasn’t even my biological father.”
“No’ your birth father, ye mean?”
“Right. My birth father died before I was born. He…my dad…raised me, but then he ditched me when I was five, only to show up again now and try to take me away.”
Alex wrapped an arm loosely around her shoulder. “We’ll find your mam, lad. Dinna fash.”
Brianna wrinkled her nose and chuckled. “Fash?”
“Don’t worry,” he clarified. “Dinna ken just how we’ll get ye back tae her yet, but I swear tae ye, we will.”
Brianna’s smile faltered slightly. “Why though? Why are you helping me?”
Alex shrugged one shoulder again. “I suppose, if ye were mine, and I’d been separated from ye, I’d hope there’d be someone tae help ye find your way home.”
“It’s about time you came back,” Alex said, happily embracing a younger man who’d shown up at the print shop door one morning.
“I was held up,” the young man said in an accent that sounded vaguely French to Brianna, but not quite. “Did you hear about the tar and feathering?”
“Aye,” Alex said. “Could’a have happened tae a nicer man, but I want th’ lads tae know I dinna condone such acts.”
“They know,” the other man assured. At that point, his eyes met Brianna’s, and he arched a dark brow questioningly.
Alex smiled and gestured for her to come closer. “Fergus, I’d like ye tae meet Brian. He’s working here, until I’m able tae return him to his mother. Brian, this is Fergus.”
Fergus grinned and flicked at Brianna’s cap as he passed. She couldn’t help but notice that the hand he kept at his side appeared to be made of wood. “Hello, lad,” he said, then turned his attention back to Alex. “There’s a meeting tonight,” he said.
Alex nodded. “Aye, I ken. I was just leaving. Brian, ye’ll stay here.”
“But I wanna come!” she protested, not liking the idea of being left in the shop alone.
“It’s no’ for children,” Alex said patiently. “Fergus will stay wi’ ye,” he shot the man in question a look to quell any arguments. “He needs tae rest after all his excitement anyway, hm?”
“Fine,” Fergus droned, flopping down into a chair. “He can come home wi’ me. Marsali is expecting me.”
Alex laid a hand on Brianna’s shoulder and nodded. “Go wi’ him, lad. Ye can trust him.”
“So,” Fergus asked as he led Brianna through the streets. “How did he find ye?”
“He saved me from a ship captain accusing me of stealing,” she said.
She glared at him.
Fergus chuckled. “He found me, a ten-year-old pickpocket on the streets of Paris, a brothel my only home.”
“What’s a brothel?”
He wagged his eyebrows at her. “Oh, just a place where men can find the company of lasses.”
Brianna wrinkled her nose. “Oh, like those nasty pubs.”
“No, not like those nasty pubs. This was a fine establishment. I learned a great deal. But not as much as I did having J…Alex as my teacher.”
Brianna caught his almost-slip, and wondered what it meant. Was Alexander not his real name?
“And he just, what, took you in? Raised you?”
“Aye,” he winked at her. “He does that. No’ a bad father, either.”
She caught on to what he was getting at. “I’m not staying,” she said. “I have a mother, and a home to get back to. Alex told me he’d help me get back.”
“Then he will. Once he makes a promise, he will not break it for anything.”
Fergus led Brianna to a small building, and into an even smaller apartment, where a pretty blonde woman greeted them at the door.
“I thought for sure he would have you off on another mission of some sort,” she said, accepting a warm kiss from Fergus. Despite the annoyance in her voice, and Fergus’s dismissive shrug, it was abundantly clear that these two loved one another. Brianna caught the way she gently caressed Fergus’s artificial hand.
“He did, in a way,” Fergus said, standing aside to admit Brianna. “This is Brian.”
The woman chuckled fondly, then took a second look at Brianna and widened her eyes. “Good Heaven, he looks just like…”
“Aye,” Fergus interrupted, giving her a look Brianna couldn’t decipher. “Uncanny, isn’t it?” he turned to Brianna, grinning. “I’d like ye tae meet my beautiful wife, Marsali,” he then patted her rounded belly. “And this is our own wee lad.”
“Or lass,” Marsali added with a smirk. “Come in, laddie, ye look like ye could eat.”
Brianna nodded eagerly and followed Marsali into the kitchen. “Why can’t I go to this meeting?” she asked on the way. “I help Alex with the deliveries of his papers. I know that some of them are secret.”
“It would be boring anyhow,” Marsali said. “Just a bunch of old men talking.”
“I wouldn’t say boring,” Fergus said. “More like history in the making.”
Brianna felt that Fergus was the right one here. She understood enough of what was happening to know that Alex and his friends were on the winning side of the upcoming revolution. And the part of her that had been raised for a time by a historian desperately wanted to see it all in action.
Then a word popped into her mind, previously forgotten amid countless homework questions. “Are they Freemasons?”
Marsali gave her a long look. “And where did ye hear that, lad?”
“You want freedom from the crown,” Brianna said confidently. “You want them to stop taxing you to death.”
“I think you have learned more from Alex’s papers than he thinks,” Fergus said, crossing his arms. “They will not admit you into the meeting. But I know of a way you can listen in.”
“Fergus,” Marsali said warningly. “Don’t get him involved more than Alex wants him to be.”
Fergus waved her off. “I just want to make sure he gets the right education,” he leaned down toward Brianna. “But it takes a wee bit of stealth. The sort only us pickpockets are capable of.”
Brianna normally would have refuted being referred to that way, but instead she only grinned. “Lead the way.”
It was dark when Fergus led Brianna down backstreets and alleys to a tall, brick building, devoid of any signage or decoration of any sort.
“This way,” he whispered, gesturing to a ladder that started at least five feet off the ground. He gave her a boost, and then scrambled up after her.
On the flat roof, the two crept to a glass dome that would feed daytime light down into the building. He slid open a portion of it, then slipped inside, vanishing a moment before his head popped back up and he hissed at her to hurry up.
The door led to a narrow ledge that bordered the large room, and they were able to hide in shadows and behind rafters to watch the meeting being held below.
Several people were talking at once, the loudest of whom was Murtagh, which surprised Brianna somewhat since the man was normally very quiet.
Alex stood to the side of his godfather, arms crossed. Brianna couldn’t hear everything that was being said, but she made out enough to understand that they were in the process of amassing an army.
“The war is coming soon, isn’t it?” she whispered.
“Yes,” Fergus whispered back. “There have been meetings with General Washington to form the army,”
Brianna felt her eyes go round and felt her breath nearly leave her. George Washington, real and alive as they spoke. It was almost unbelievable.
“They’re talking about Boston,” she whispered, hearing someone gripe about damned tea, and she smiled. “They threw the tea into the harbor already.”
“Aye,” Fergus said. “The King wants payment for the tea. Ridiculous.”
Brianna was amazed, but as her gaze landed again on Alex, her smile fell. A massive war was brewing, one that would begin here very soon. It would form the country she called home, but it would also mean the death for many people. People that could include the men below her. People that could include Alex.
At that very moment, striking blue eyes met her own and she gasped, nearly falling off the rafter. She would have, had Fergus not steadied her.
“He saw us!” she hissed.
Fergus grimaced. “So he did. Come, perhaps he did not see who we are.”
“Ye were supposed to keep him with ye,” Alex said, arms crossed as he glared down at Fergus.
“And I did,” Fergus said innocently. “Brian already knows about what is happening, it did him no harm.”
Alex eyes softened as they looked at her. “I suppose not. But ye ken those meetings aren’a safe. If we were tae be raided, I’ll not have him there tae take th’ fall.”
“Are you going to Boston?” Brianna asked suddenly.
“I may be,” he replied. “I was sent word to gather men to meet General Arnold…”
“General Arnold?!” Brianna exclaimed. “Like, as in Benedict Arnold?”
He gave her a look. “Aye, what do ye know of him?”
She winced. “Uh…only that…you may wanna keep an eye on him, that’s all.”
Alex eyed her for a moment more, long enough to make her squirm, but did not ask for an elaboration. “Weel, at any rate, if it comes time for me tae go, ye’ll no’ be left alone, lad. Ye’ll remain here, wi’ Fergus and Marsali.”
“I’ll be with you,” Fergus snapped at the same time Brianna cried, “No!”
“Ye’ll stay here wi’ your wife and unborn child,” Alex said firmly, turning to Brianna. “And you will be safe here with them.”
“But you promised to help me get back to my mother,” Brianna protested. “You.”
Alex sighed, but his face softened. “Aye, I did. And besides, no one is marching to Boston tomorrow,” he knelt down, and put a hand on her shoulder. “I’ve been thinking. How about we take a break from th’ papers, hm? And go fishing tomorrow?”
Brianna looked up at Fergus, who looked as pleased as she felt, and nodded.
Chapter 16: The Snow
Claire, Ian, and William are caught in an unexpected snow storm, and find help in an even more unexpected place.
I keep meaning to add a note saying that even though I enjoy history, I am in no way, shape, or form an expert. I'm no Diana Gabaldon with her attention to detail, lol. Any inaccuracies you find, I apologize for. They may be accidental, or they may be completely on purpose because it worked within the story, haha.
Thank you for all the continued love! You all rock!
William’s attitude improved greatly once we were on the road, as opposed to the ship. The boy was clearly much more at home on a horse than he was at sea. He was quite knowledgeable as well, having helped select what he deemed were suitable beasts for a long trip, and then was careful to check them over each night when we stopped to rest.
“Who taught you so much about horses?” I asked fondly as he brushed down my dappled mare, Feather, with a handful of dry grass.
William paused his short, flicking motion and seemed to stare off into space for a moment, as if trying to remember. “We had a groom back in Helwater when I was little. He taught me. He went away when I was little though.”
“Ah,” I said, smiling, even though his words reinforced my suspicion that he had some issues with abandonment, so I pulled us back to the subject of horses, since it was clearly one he liked. “Brianna always loved horses. I’d planned on getting her lessons for her birthday…” I trailed off, realizing that her birthday was quickly approaching. Would I be with her to celebrate it?”
“My uncle knows everything about horses,” Ian said. “My mam says he used to pretend tae be one when he was wee.”
I chuckled. “You haven’t told us much about this uncle of yours. What’s his name?”
Ian flushed and glanced away, looking acutely uncomfortable. “Alex,” he said, thought it was clearly a lie.
“It’s alright, Ian,” I said. “Was he in the war?” I knew that after Culloden, most, if not all of those who fought and survived were arrested and later paroled. It wouldn’t be surprising if any of them ended up changing their names to separate themselves from the whole ordeal. I had a brief thought of Jamie, but pushed it stubbornly away. No, none of the higher ranking Scots were spared following the battle. Had any of them survived the fight, they would have been immediately shot.
“Aye,” Ian said, of his uncle. “He was sent tae th’ Colonies on parole, ken. But most people dinna ken that.”
I reached over and patted his hand. “No one will hear it from either of us,” I said the last bit pointedly, glancing over my shoulder at William, who looked confused, but nodded.
We were making excellent time, reaching South Carolina in just three days. I felt confident that we’d be in Wilmington by the end of the week, when in the dead of night while we camped along the road, the temperature suddenly plummeted, and I was awoken to find frost on my hair and clothes.
Ian was shaking in his blankets, and I hurried to wake both boys. “We need to get moving and find shelter,” I said urgently, practically dragging them to their feet, though they moved sluggishly from cold.
By the time I got everyone on their horse, it was snowing.
“Fuck,” I hissed, cursing myself to hell and back for ever having given thought to an early snowstorm. It was like I’d imagined it into existence.
At least the snow quickly gathering on the ground reflected the moon’s glow and I was able to spot the plume of smoke I might have otherwise missed.
Hoping and anticipating a farmhouse, I was brought up incredibly short by the series of huts forming a half-circle around a large bonfire. Furs were strung here and there, meat roasting over the fire and making my mouth water.
“Go back,” I whispered, trying to usher the horses away without making any noise.
“Are those Indians?!” Ian gasped, eyes widening at the sight of the men and women milling about, securing their homes against the storm.
“Yes!” I hissed. “And we have no way of knowing how they’ll react to us. Now…”
William let out a high-pitched yelp when five men seemingly materialized out of the dark, spears aimed upward toward us.
“Please…” I began. “We didn’t mean to trespass…”
Ignoring me, three of the men took hold of our horses’ reigns while the others kept their weapons on us as they led us down the hill into the village.
“What are they going to do to us?” William cried.
“Just stay calm,” I ordered. “And keep your mouths shut.”
If I’d been alone, I thought I could probably spur Feather on and escape, but I couldn’t trust that both Ian and William would make it without getting themselves killed. I tried to stay on the horse though, ready for a hasty exit, when one of the men reached up and plucked me bodily off the animal and deposited me on the ground, followed soon by Ian and William.
Ian took a defensive stance before me, while William ducked behind us both. But the people only stared at us curiously, not particularly hostilely, until an elderly woman appeared from inside one of the huts and hobbled over to us. The way the others made room for her told me she was a leader, or at least very revered.
She came to stand toe-to-toe with me, having to crane her neck to look up at me. She was small with a slight hunch, with hair as white as the snow falling around us and a wealth of craggy wrinkles. And yet, her dark eyes were as wide and bright as a child’s, giving her otherwise ancient face an almost otherworldly youth. I thought she was probably a great beauty once.
After a long time simply staring, at which point my adrenaline had faded and I’d begun to shiver in earnest, she patted my cheek and said something to the crowd at large. There seemed to be a collective sigh of relief, and a younger woman appeared and took my arm, leading me toward one of the huts.
I went willingly, eager to be out of the wind, but reached behind me and took William’s hand tightly in my own, trusting Ian to remain at my side.
The woman hesitated at the entrance, looking at Ian with a frown. A quick glance inside showed women and children, and I assumed she thought Ian more a man than child.
“My sons,” I said, hoping someone knew at least a few words of English. I touched first Ian’s, the William’s shoulders, and then rested my palm on my stomach.
The young woman’s eyes cleared in understanding, and stood aside to admit us, but her expression held the sentiment of “just this once.”
It was blessedly warm inside, and the women gave friendly, if wary smiles, inviting us to sit with them.
“I can’t understand a word they’re saying,” William said.
“No, but they have opened their home to us,” I told him. “And very likely have saved our lives. Since we cannot speak to them, we need to make sure our actions show our gratitude.”
William nodded, a smiled in thanks when a girl handed him a bowl of something hot.
“And you,” I said to Ian, giving him a side-long glare. “I saw you looking at that woman who let us in. You’d best just keep your eyes on me or William. Or the floor.”
“Yes, ma’am,” he murmured, dutifully staring intently at his own bowl.
Fed and warm, it was surprising how quickly I fell asleep that night, surrounded by strangers.
One of the women was shaking me awake the following morning, and William and Ian were nowhere to be seen. At my panicked expressed, she smiled and patted my shoulder comfortingly, indicating that they were just outside.
I submitted to being clothed in a dress of what I believed to be deer skin. That along with a pair of cloth legging-type pants, fur-lined boots, and something that was like a cross between a cloak and a shawl, I already felt much more prepared for the cold outside.
I’d fully intended on setting out as soon as morning came, and had been going over in my head what I could attempt to offer these people in thanks. I thought they might want one of our horses, and that would be manageable. Ian or I could double up with William.
But when I stepped outside, I groaned.
“It’s a fucking winter wonderland,” I muttered, glaring up at the continuously falling snow.
“The grandmother says we cannot go today,” Ian said from where he crouched by the fire. “The sudden snowfall cause a small rockslide down in the valley, the path is blocked and there will be no way around it until the storm has passed and the snow melts.”
“Who is the grandmother?” I asked dumbly as the rest of his statement caught up to me. “Wait, how in the world were they able to tell you all that?”
Ian shrugged. “Some hand gestures and a drawing in the snow. Grandmother is the old lady who let us stay last night. I dinna really know what she’s called, but she seems like a grandmother to me. I think their chief and most of the men aren’a here.”
I sighed and plopped down on a log beside him. “Did you manage to learn how long it will be until the snow melts enough to get off the hill?”
He shrugged again. “Seems tae me that this storm is a freak thing. They’re all nervous about it. So I dinna think they’d know even if they could tell us.”
Releasing an enraged growl, I slapped the snow beside me, freezing guilty when I realized I’d startled some children playing nearby. One of the girls chasing the younger ones about looked around Brianna’s age, and I felt hot tears stain my cheeks and I scrubbed them away before they could freeze on my skin.
A soft, yet hoarse voice spoke to me, and a hand rested on my shoulder. “Grandmother” eyed me sympathetically and motioned for me to follow her.
Weary to the bone, despite the relatively good sleep I’d gotten the night before, I dragged myself after her, looking around to see if I could spot William. He was over with the horses, ours and theirs, and a few boys about his age. Figuring he and Ian were about as safe as could be, I followed Grandmother into one of the huts and sat beside her near the fire pit.
She spoke to me calmly, her words seemingly seeking to comfort even though I understood none of it.
“I’ve lost my daughter,” I said, thinking a moment until one of the little girls rushed in, handing Grandmother a jug of something. I gestured to her, then to my stomach, then made a motion with my hands to try and indicate that she was far away.
“Ah,” Grandmother said in understanding, and I actually believed she did. She reached into the folds of her dress and withdrew a handful of what appeared to be sand then tossed it into the fire. It sparked and hissed, and then she took a long sip of whatever was in the jug before passing it to me.
I could tell it was strongly alcoholic before it even reached my lips, but it was actually quite good, warming me from the inside out.
For a moment I didn’t quite register who had spoken until I realized that it was Grandmother. “So you do speak English.”
She gave me a knowing smile and simply repeated what she said before. “She is safe.”
“Who, my daughter?” I asked. “How could you know that?”
“He is with her.”
“He? Who he? Who is with her?”
But Grandmother either couldn’t, or wouldn’t elaborate, and I wasn’t sure if her words brought relief for even more anxiety.
Who in the hell was he?
Although the snow finally stopped falling after a couple of days, it remained cold enough that it wasn’t given a chance to melt. Despite my restlessness, I had to accept that there was simply no way I could continue on until the weather and path cleared. Even if I left Ian and William with the tribe, I probably wouldn’t survive long enough to get to Wilmington. And where would that leave Brianna?
Ian, in his surprising ease of communicating, learned that they were Cherokee, or rather a small band of them that were in the process of traveling when their chief and nearly all of their fighting men were killed. Ian could only tell me that they were killed by white men and not other Indians, but that didn’t surprise me. What did surprise me was that they were so willing to shelter a white woman and her children after what happened to their men, but then, that seemed to be mostly due to Grandmother’s kind nature.
I did my best to make myself useful, although I’d never before felt like such a clumsy Sassenach, not even during my first trip back in time. At least in that time, I could communicate with everyone.
But when a little girl came rushing up with a splinter in her palm, I didn’t hesitate to comfort her and expertly remove the sliver with the tweezers still in my original bag from home in Boston.
The girl’s mother eyed the tweezers in fascination, and since I actually had two pairs (a doctor couldn’t be too prepared,) I gave them to her, wondering if they would end up in a museum one day.
And that led to the sudden awareness of my bag. I’d been keeping it close at my side during the entire trip. I’d finally been forced to empty Brianna’s backpack into and abandon it in Scotland before boarding the Marianne, and I’d been trying not to draw too much attention to it so no one would grow too curious about what was inside.
But now that cat was out of the bag, so to speak, and even though no one made move to look through it themselves, they all waited anxiously to see what else I had. Finally, I began to slowly reveal a few things that I didn’t think would seem too alien, like an old tube of lipstick, a beaded bracelet that Brianna had made at school, anything I didn’t mind parting with since it didn’t look like anyone was inclined to give them back.
However, when one of the children reached in and found Bunny, I was forced to gently take it away with a shake of my head.
“No, this is Brianna’s.”
“Where did you get all of this?” William asked, picking up the silver-wrapped stick of gum that had fallen out.
“Boston,” I told him, taking the gum, unwrapping it, and handing it back to him. “Chew it, don’t swallow it.”
His eyes widened at the surprising taste. “Will they have things like this in North Carolina?”
I chuckled. “No, Willie, I don’t think they will.”
After the first night, Ian was firmly directed to sleep in another hut with the other men, none of whom could be older than seventeen. I ached for them, thrust suddenly into being responsible for the whole tribe overnight, and thought it was no wonder they treated Grandmother with such reverence. They were just boys, after all, desperate for guidance.
In just a week, Ian was speaking in halting Cherokee, and explained to me that even though the snow had started to melt, it would still be dangerous yet to travel due to the rock slides that would occur. He said that the whole tribe would move once the ground hardened, but he wasn’t able to tell exactly when that would be.
There was no way I could wait until Spring. I was already kicking myself for not just waiting for the ship to be repaired in Georgia, as three weeks had already passed since then.
It was almost December, four months since I last saw my child. Once winter started in earnest, travel would be practically impossible until March. What if she fell ill? Caught pneumonia? I needed to be with her damn it!
I sat before the fire that burned within the hut, the tendrils of smoke rising up and out through the small hole above. Everyone else within slept, warm in their blankets. But even the warmth of the fire and furs around me couldn’t dispel the chill that seemed to live permanently within me.
“Happy Birthday, Brianna,” I whispered. “I’m so sorry, baby.”
Chapter 17: Gone Fishing
Brianna learns how Scots fish, gets an unwanted eyeful, and learns to cope with change.
I've been looking forward to this chapter. One step closer!!
It was an immense relief to get out of the town and its ever present stink. Brianna cheerfully rode after Alex and Fergus on a horse borrowed from Murtagh as they led upward into the mountains where the air was fresh and cool.
It was a long ride, and where Brianna had just begun to grow used to horseback riding in Scotland, she’d gotten unused to it again, and knew her legs would probably ache later on. But she didn’t care. The horse was sweet, and the area was beautiful.
She smiled as she listened to Fergus and Alex banter cheerfully. As kind as Alex had always been to her, it wasn’t until now, removed from the town, people, and the ever-growing unrest, that she realized how on-edge he’d been. He seemed much more comfortable and at home in the wilderness, and it showed in how he teased his adopted son lovingly.
“Ye’ll make a braw father,” Alex said more earnestly after having joked that Fergus’s child was bound to be a hellion.
“I hope so,” Fergus said with a sigh. “If we can just get through this pregnancy first. It has not been easy on poor Marsali.”
Alex made a low noise in the back of his throat. “Aye, I ken how it is. All ye can do is be there for her as best ye can. And a foot rub’ll never go amiss either!”
Fergus chuckles. “Oh aye, as I’ve learned. Do you know what I did not expect? For Marsali to be so…” he gave a quick glance back at Brianna. “Needy. Do you ken?”
Alex threw back his head and laughed, reaching over across their horses to pat Fergus roughly on the back. “I was told that’s a reward tae both of ye for surviving all th’ hardships of being wi’ child.”
Brianna quirked a brow, not getting what was so funny or rewarding about being needy, but she’d been with Alex and all the rest for long enough to know she probably didn’t want to know.
“Marsali doesn’t mind ye being gone?” Alex asked then. “She’s verra near, isn’t she?”
“Yes,” Fergus said. “But the widow next door will look in on her, and Leslie and Hayes have promised to stay nearby and will ride for me if anything should happen. I told Marsali I did not have to go, but she was insistent. I think perhaps I annoy her sometimes with my worrying.”
Alex smiled. “Ye’ll both have your hands full soon enough, it’s just as well that ye both get a wee break.”
They rode for a few more hours until Alex stopped his horse on a ledge looking out at a valley and distant mountains so picture-perfect, it looked like a painting.
“I always thought of building a house up here,” he said as Brianna stared out, mouth agape.
“Why haven’t you?” she asked.
He smiled a bit sadly. “Alone?”
Without further comment, he continued on, and Brianna and Fergus followed.
Around midday they finally found the stream where Alex wanted to fish, and he handed her a pole.
“D’ye ken how?”
“I ken,” she said, clumsily attempting to spear a worm onto her hook. She had been fishing before, but not since she was really small, and she realized that her dad most likely baited the lines for her. Alex watched on, ready to help if asked, but never once attempted to correct her or take over. Eventually she figured it out, and grinned at him proudly, to which he responded with a smile and a nod.
They all dipped their lines into the stream, letting their bare feet splash in the in the cold, clear water.
Brianna quickly grew bored of sitting there, and propped her pole against a rock and stood up to explore.
“Dinna wander too far, lad,” Alex warned.
“I won’t,” she droned, climbing up onto a rock. “There’re a ton of fish in there,” she called down, seeing the glimmering bodies swim about, ignoring the bait entirely.
“Must no’ be hungry,” Alex said laughingly. “I could always get our dinner th’ old Scottish way.”
Fergus laughed. “Show him!” he looked up at Brianna. “He tickles the fish.”
“Tickles?” Brianna giggled. “How?”
“Come down and I’ll show ye,” Alex said, standing and rolling up his trouser legs before removing his shirt.
Brianna hopped back off the rock and joined him on the bank, pausing at the sight of his back.
His skin was criss-crossed all over with scars – long and short lines that lapped over each other. They were clearly old, but she couldn’t imagine what must have happened to come by such marks.
He looked back at her, seeing her hesitation. “Doesn’a hurt me none anymore,” he said with a soft smile.
She wanted to ask how he got them, but didn’t have the nerve. Instead she just continued on until she was at his side, pointedly ignoring his back.
Alex started to wade into the water, but held up a hand to stop her when she made to follow. “Ye’ll no want tae get in th’ water wi’ your clothes on, lad. Ye’ll freeze, once the sun goes down.”
Brianna gulped. Of course these men wouldn’t think twice about a little boy stripping down in front of them to swim. A little boy shouldn’t think twice.
She thought about ignoring him and just going in with her clothes on, but it would look weird, plus she didn’t want to have to be stuck in wet clothes all day.
So she rolled up her pants like Alex did, using the moment to peer down her own shirt. Just a couple of months ago she’d complained to her mother that she had not yet grown a bust. Now, she was grateful.
Neither Alex or Fergus batted an eye as she stripped off her shirt and tossed it onto a stone, and she found a certain thrill in the freedom, and warmth of feeling the sun on her back without even a bathing suit top, something she hadn’t experienced since she was probably around four or five.
Boys were lucky.
She followed Alex until he stopped shin-deep in the water, knee-deep for Brianna, and sank his arms in to his elbows.
Brianna did as Alex did, holding still and watching as the fish drifted heedlessly around their arms. Alex held his palms upward, his fingers moving gently like the grass below them.
“Wait until the time is right,” he whispered. “Let them come to you.”
He let his hands drift until they were on either side of Brianna’s, and eventually, one hapless fish made its way between their hands, and in the blink of an eye, Alex had pushed Brianna’s hands inward until her fingers wrapped automatically around the scaly body, and together, they hauled the wriggling fish out of the water.
“Well done!” Alex cried, and Brianna preened, despite the fact that he’d done the work.
A pale blur rushed past them, and Brianna had just enough time to register a certain waving appendage as Fergus cannon-balled into the stream, stark naked.
Alex smirked at her and shook his head before turning toward the shore, ignoring Fergus’s calls to join him. For which she was eternally grateful.
They’d decided to camp on the mountain that night, which was exciting, but brought to mind the nights she and Mama spent huddled under the stars in Scotland, frightened of what would come next.
She didn’t have to be frightened with Alex and Fergus, but she only hoped that wherever Mama was, she was safe, too.
“It was worth it,” Fergus said as they sat around their campfire, enjoying the spoils of their fishing expedition.
“Aye, and if ye dinna get that hair dried, I’ll no’ be th’ one to explain tae Marsali why she’ll have an ill husband tae tend to along wi’ a babe,” Alex teased.
Fergus grinned and shook his head again, like a dog.
They curled up close to one another for warmth, Brianna in the middle. In the night, she found herself huddling closer to Alex, but instead of pulling away he placed an arm around her, and on the edge of her consciousness one word floated through,
It would have almost been easy, just sliding into the life she’d been living with Alex at the print shop. She didn’t really miss the 20th century as much as she would have thought she would have. And if it wasn’t for her mother, Brianna swore that she would just stay, and never look back.
Of course, she did miss some things about home, and her time. She missed what few friends she’d had, she missed television, movies, and music. She missed cars, and Pop Tarts. She missed her bedroom, and her toys.
But most of all…she missed indoor plumbing.
She was dreaming, absurdly, about a flushing toilet when she awoke in the middle of night. She sat up on her cot, wondering what it was that woke her, when she became aware that the thin mattress beneath her was wet.
Horrified, she jumped up. She hadn’t wet the bed since she was a toddler, and she would be absolutely mortified if Alex ever found out. But what she found on her blankets wasn’t piss.
At first, her sleepy mind didn’t understand what the dark patch on her bed was, and she touched the stain, holding her fingers up to the firelight and letting out an involuntary shriek when she realized it was blood.
Alex appeared in seconds, wearing only his shirt, hair sticking all up and looking wild-eyed.
“What is it?!” he demanded, looking all around for danger, and only then did Brianna realize that there was a pistol in his hand.
“I’m bleeding!” she cried, embarrassment forgotten in favor of panic.
“What?” Alex asked, setting down his pistol and coming to her, eyes widening in horror to see her stained blankets. “Christ! Where are ye hurt, lad?”
“I don’t know!” she yelled, feeling herself for injury, but nothing actually hurt, save for a slight pinch in her belly.
He looked down, seeing blood on the edge of her shirt, and before she could stop him, he yanked it up to her ribs.
Alex dropped her shirt and leapt away from her as if she had spontaneously combusted.
“Jesus, Mary, and Joseph,” he breathed.
“I’m sorry!” she wailed, cowering away from him. “I didn’t mean…I’m sorry!”
Alex just stared at her a moment, mouth agape, but as she started to cry in earnest he sank to his knees.
“Hush,” he crooned. “Dinna cry. Come here, it’s alright. Dinna be afraid.”
He held out his arms for her, and she didn’t hesitate to fling herself into them, sobbing into his shoulder.
Alex stroked her back, whispering words she didn’t understand, but that soothed her regardless. When the storm of her tears passed, he held her out from him, and rubbed the tears away with his thumbs.
“Why have ye lied?” he asked gently.
“M…my Mama said it was safer,” she explained past her sniffling and hiccups. “And…and she was right. Men don’t pay much attention to boys…but girls…”
“Aye,” he interrupted her. “I see. Dinna fash, lass, no harm will come tae ye here, I swear it.”
“But…but something is wrong with me!”
He shook his head. “How old are ye?”
“T…ten…no, wait…” she thought a moment, realizing the date. “I’m eleven. It’s my birthday.”
Alex smiled. “Weel, happy birthday, a leannan. Ye’ve gotten a wee birthday gift, is all. Has your mam never explained these matters tae ye?”
And just like that, the pieces fell into place, and Brianna’s face burned in shame. “You mean…”
He nodded. “Aye.”
She pulled away from him, wanting to die. “I’m sorry.”
“Ye’ve nothing tae be sorry for,” he assured her. “Just wash up, and I’ll be back with fresh sheets.”
She hurriedly scrubbed her thighs while he was gone, still wishing the ground would open up and swallow her whole. Mama had explained it to her, yes, but had led her to believe it wouldn’t happen until she was older. She certainly didn’t feel like any sort of woman. She was just getting used to being a boy.
When Alex returned, he had a clean shirt, sheets, and also a stack of rags.
“Use these,” he said. “To…erm…weel, in your breeks, ken. Put them in this bag when ye’ve used them, and I’ll get them cleaned wi’out anyone knowing.”
“Thank you,” she said, feeling a bit bewildered at his no-nonsense attitude. “How are you okay with all this?” she asked. “You’re a man.”
He chuckled. “A man wi’ a sister, several nieces, and once, a wife. I’m no’ stranger tae these matters, lass. As for th’ matter o’ ye being a lass…I suppose that can just stay our wee secret for now, aye?”
“Aye,” she agreed with a smile.
“But just one thing…will ye tell me your name?”
“Brian is my name,” she told him. “Well…sorta. It’s Brianna.”
He wrinkled his nose as if that was a very strange name, and maybe it was in this time. “Brianna,” he repeated, his accent making it sound more like Bree-ahnna, and more beautiful than she ever thought it could sound. “I like it fine. But for now, Brian it is.”
Chapter 18: On Our Way
Claire, Ian, and William set out with the Cherokee toward North Carolina.
The reunion is near! I can hardly wait! :D
And yes, I'm on Twitter now. Lol.
“Mistress Claire!” Ian cried, bounding into the hut where I was still asleep, and was promptly scolded right back out again by the other women. “Mistress Claire!” he called again from outside.
“What is it, Ian?” I asked in annoyance, squinting in the sun as I emerged from the hut.
“What?” I looked around seeing that the Cherokee were apparently packing up.
“The path is clear,” he said happily. “And there have been no more rock slides. They’ve decided to continue on to meet with another band of Cherokee for the rest of the winter. We’re going North!”
I gasped and looked over at Grandmother, who nodded knowingly at me.
“Oh, Ian!” I exclaimed, throwing my arms around him. “If we can just get as far as North Carolina, I know we can make it the rest of the way to Wilmington before winter.”
“That’s the idea,” he said. “I think I got it across to them where we’re going, and they seem tae think it’s more or less on the way. Obviously we willn’a be going through any towns or anything, but they know this land, and the fastest and safest ways to go.”
“At this point, I’m willing to go along with whatever they think is best,” I said. “Where is William?”
“Helping th’ lads ready the horses. Better go get dressed!”
We were off by midmorning, and I smiled at the way Grandmother was packed up on a cart beneath a mound of blankets.
Though I’d changed back into my European clothes, I kept the deer hide coat on, eyeing all of the other women to make sure I wasn’t leaving anyone else without.
Half of the young men led the way while the others followed behind to watch over the tribe. Ian, true to his word, remained close to my side, eyes ever watchful.
We traveled steadily through the day and into the night before stopping to camp, rising again at first light and carrying on.
I pulled Feather up alongside the cart carrying Grandmother. “How are you doing?” I asked her, trusting my tone to carry the question more than the words.
Grandmother grimaced and removed one of her hands from the blankets, trying to flex it but it remained in an almost claw-like position.
“Arthritis, hm?” I enquired. “Cold weather will do that. I have something that might help.”
I slid from Feather’s back onto the cart while it still moved, earning a few giggles from some of the girls.
Reaching into my bag, I found the tin of peppermint salve I had acquired in Jamaica. “May I?”
Grandmother offered me her hand, and I massaged the salve into her skin, focusing on the joints to get them to loosen up.
When I was done, she flexed her hand again, gasping when she found she was able to straighten it out almost completely. She gave me her other hand after that, and I repeated the treatment.
“For you,” I said, pressed the tin into her hand.
Grandmother smiled in thanks, then reached back into her blankets and came back with a small stone in her palm, offering it to me.
“Thank you,” I said, taking the stone, then realized it was some sort of gemstone. “Thank you,” I repeated with more emphasis. She couldn’t have known how valuable what she’d given me was.
Or could she?
It was rough going. Even though the temperature had warmed to more normal levels for the time of year, the damage by the unseasonal blizzard was done. The ground was soft and slick, with loosened rocks threatening to cripple our horses at every turn.
“William, you’re going too far,” I warned for probably the tenth time. He’d gotten off his horse to cantor about with some of the other boys, carrying a small spear, but where the Cherokee boys knew well to stick close to the party, William tended to get distracted and wander off or lag behind. “Don’t make me put you up here with me.”
William muttered something under his breath, and I only caught the word “mother” so I inferred that he was griping about how I wasn’t his.
“Haud your wheesht, lad!” Ian snapped, evidently hearing what I didn’t. “Ye’ll no be talkin’ that way tae Mistress Claire!”
William reddened, but silenced, and I sighed and turned away. We were all tired and irritable, and I thought that the thrill of adventure was finally starting to wane for the two boys.
“Glad I had a girl,” I murmured, and Grandmother chuckled from the cart beside me.
Suddenly, the men at the front stopped, hissing orders to those of us behind them. I could only reign up Feather and look around to the others for visual cues on what was happening.
At first, there didn’t seem to be anything wrong, but suddenly there was a crashing sound and our horses all began to whinny and rear. Rocks and mud started to tumble down the hill, and I feared for a moment that a rockslide was about to take us all out when out of the woods appeared a group of men – white men – all with muskets and rifles aimed right at us.
I opened my mouth to cry out at the men to stop, but then there was an explosion of movement as gunshot rang out, the braves yelled, and the horses screamed.
The women ushered the children away while the men fought. I watched in horror as one of them, a boy no older than fifteen, fell from his horse with a gunshot wound to the shoulder.
I made to run to him, but then a cry caught my attention and I saw William, standing amidst the battle with his miniature spear held defensively before him as he trembled in fear.
“William!” I shouted, kicking Feather into motion.
Before I could reach him, one of our attackers wrapped an arm around William’s middle, hauling him up onto his horse before fleeing.
“No!” I charged off after them, wishing like hell that I’d asked the Cherokee to arm me.
Thankfully, Feather was small but quick, and caught up to them easily. We’d gone away from the fight, and I rode up beside the man and reached out for William.
William was squirming and screaming, and when he saw me practically lunged out of the man’s arms and I was able to catch him before he went down. I was unable to pull him onto my horse, though, and we both ended up tumbling to the ground.
The man had turned about and was returning, so I snatched up the only weapon I could see, a large branch, and raised it up.
“Get the fuck away from us!” I roared, swinging the branch at him when he made to dismount.
“Whoa!” he shouted, jumping back. “You speak English?!”
“Of course I do, you idiot! Who are you?! What do you want?!”
“Take it easy,” he said, sounding actually put out, damn him. “I saw the boy there, and figured he must have been kidnapped. I was saving him. Thought you were one of those white-woman squalls they talk about. Did they kidnap you, too?”
“No one has kidnapped anyone except for you nearly kidnapping this child! My boys and I were caught in the snow storm, and the Cherokee graciously took us in and were escorting us to safety!”
“Well they are on my Pa’s land!” he snapped. “No good can come from savages!”
“George?” someone called.
“Over here, Walt!” the man called back.
Six men joined George and us in the clearing, aiming their rifles and skeptical expressions at me.
“Everything alright here?” the one I assumed was Walt, asked.
“She ain’t a squall,” George explained. “She claims she and her boys were just lost and the Injuns were helpin’ them.”
“The savages have fled,” an older man spoke. “I don’t think they’ll be back. Bring the woman and boy, we’ll sort it out when we get to Wilmington.”
My ears perked at the mention of Wilmington, yet I recoiled nonetheless. “No!” I snapped, jerking away when George made to reach for me. “Where is my other boy? He’s older, riding a brown and white gelding.”
“All the rest ran away,” Walt said. “He must have gone with them. But you can’t stay out here. They ain’t coming back for you.”
“Fuck off!” I hissed, taking William’s hand in one of mine, and keeping the branch raised in my other. There was no possible way of fighting them all off. I could only hope they wouldn’t bother to chase us if we ran.
“Do what you want,” the old man said. “But hand over the boy. No sense in letting him die out here with you.”
I became aware that Feather, who had previously ran away, had returned and was standing right behind us. Good horse.
“Over my dead body,” I said, and whipped around, swinging myself into the saddle before pulling William up behind me.
Sure enough, once we were running, the men didn’t bother with pursuit. I returned first to the place where we’d been attacked to make sure no one had been left behind, injured, but other than a dead horse, there was no one.
“Where are we going?” William asked.
“To find the tribe and Ian,” I said, scanning the ground for tracks.
“But we’re going back the way we came. What about getting to Wilmington?”
It did leave a pain in my chest, as did every setback that kept me from finding my daughter. But there was no way I would abandon Ian, or the people who had shown us such kindness.
“We have to go back for Ian, first,” I said. “And the injured Braves are going to need my help. I think we aren’t far from Wilmington now. We’ll get there.”
Thanks to the cart slowing the Cherokee down, and the skills I’d learned from Jamie in tracking all those years ago, I was able to catch up with the tribe when they stopped by the river.
“Claire!” Ian cried, running toward us. “Christ, I was so scared! I was afraid something had happened tae ye!”
I swept him up in a hug, relieved beyond measure that he was uninjured. “We’re fine,” I assured him. “Is anyone else hurt?” I’d seen at least one man shot, so I immediately started looking around for him.
Ian led me to where Grandmother and some of the women were tending three injured Braves. Thankfully, the women had been quick to get the children away, and I also suspected that George and his family were lousy shots. I realized how much worse this could have been, and shuddered.
“Take it easy,” I said in my most soothing voice to the young man who was bleeding from his chest. From what I could tell, the bullet wound had gone right in and out, but I knew there was precious little I could do about any internal injury it may have caused.
The second victim was only grazed in the shoulder, nothing cleaning and a few stitches wouldn’t fix. It was the man who Ian had told me was named Running with Deer, and was the oldest remaining warrior in the tribe, who would need the most care.
The bullet had lodged in his thigh, just shy of the femoral artery. I would need to remove it, but it would be a difficult procedure to do so without nicking the artery in the process.
“I have to take out the bullet,” I said, forming my words slowly so that Grandmother could understand. “It is dangerous. But if I do not, he will become sick, and die.”
Grandmother nodded thoughtfully before giving orders to some of the women.
They laid Running with Deer on a blanket near the fire they were building, and Grandmother began to set out an array of herbs. Some of them I recognized, and was relieved to see since they would be helpful in preventing infection, but the others I did not, and would just have to trust Grandmother to help me know what to do with them.
I rolled out the small kit of knives I’d purchased in Jamaica, and had Ian begin the process of boiling them in water.
“Do you have anything to make him sleep?” I asked Grandmother, who shook her head.
Running with Deer said something that had the sound of bravado to it, and I imagine it was some typical male insistence that he could withstand the pain.
Rolling my eyes, I had William fetch me a skin of the sweet alcohol that they drank, and convinced Running with Deer to drink all of it.
The sun began to set, and I had to have William as well as five of the women all hold torches up all around me so that I had decent light. It was sweltering, and once, William swatted at the back of my head, making me suspect that my hair had nearly caught on fire.
At last it was done, and although he’d lost a lot of blood, and certainly wasn’t out of the woods, I had hope that Running with Deer would live.
After that, I tended the other men, and spent the night sitting up with Running with Deer until the sun rose.
“I thank you for all that you have done for us,” I said to Grandmother. “But we must go now. We are not far from where we need to be.”
Grandmother nodded, patting my hand. I tried my best to explain to the others with hand gestures and Ian’s help how to continue to care for Running with Deer and the other injured Braves, and hoped with all my heart that they would join with the other Cherokee soon and be safe…as safe as any Indian could be in times like this.
I glanced back once more at Grandmother before we parted, wishing I could have met her under different circumstances so that I could stay with her longer, as I had the most striking feeling that there was much she could teach me.
Chapter 19: The Riot
Trouble breaks out in Wilmington, and everyone is caught in the middle, fighting to find one another.
THIS IS A BIG ONE! IT'S ABOUT TO GO DOWN!
From here on I'll be switching point of views every so often within the same chapters, and I'll divide them with ~~~
Now buckle up cause things are happening!
“Watch it! Ye wee numpty!”
“Sorry, Murtagh!” Brianna called back, having nearly knocked the old man over in her haste.
“And just what has your arse on fire?”
She grimaced. “Some soldiers were asking me questions,” she admitted, tossing her cap on the counter and rubbing her hands through her hair. “About Alex, and his paper.”
“What’s this about soldiers?” Alex asked, mounting the steps from his workroom below. “They were botherin’ ye?”
“They were just asking questions,” she said. “Acting all nice and everything, but it gave me a bad feeling.”
“Not good,” Fergus said from where he lounged in the windowsill. “If they’ve taken notice of wee Brian…”
“Then they’re watching us,” Alex finished for him. “Watching me. No more deliveries, Brian.”
“What?!” she exclaimed. “No! I just have to be more careful is all!”
But Alex was already shaking his head. “No. I’ve already risked ye enough. It’s high time we get ye on your way back to Scotland.”
Brianna’s stomach dropped, which was silly since that’s what she wanted all along. But she couldn’t leave now!
“Not yet!” she begged. “You can’t send me away yet! Just until you have to go to Boston.”
Murtagh’s eyes cut over to Alex. “Have ye gotten word from Washington then?”
“No,” Alex said to him. “But th’ lad is right, it will likely be soon,” he looked back at Brianna then, his eyes softening. “Verra well, Brian. But when th’ time comes, ye will go wi’out complaint, aye?”
“Aye,” she muttered.
The bell above the front door rang, and Alex turned to see who it was. Lesley barreled in, knocking over a big stack of papers in his wake.
“Ye bumbling oaf!” Murtagh snapped.
“Sorry,” he said distractedly before turning in a rush to Alex. “Just got word, General Washington has arrived, and has asked tae see ye!”
Brianna’s breath caught in her throat. Washington! Actual George Washington! Real and alive and not just a face on a dollar bill.
“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ,” she gasped.
Alex whipped his head around to her unexpectedly then, giving her a strange look. “What did ye just say?”
“What?” she asked puzzledly, realizing Murtagh and Fergus were giving her weird looks, too.
“Alex,” Lesley said, seemingly unaware of the sudden tenseness in the air. “Ye must come!”
Alex shook his head slowly, still staring at Brianna, and beginning to make her a little nervous. “Aye,” he said lowly. “I’m coming. Stay here wi’ Brian, Lesley. Murtagh, Fergus, ye’d both probably best come wi’ me.”
He gave her one last long look before leaving, and Brianna was starting to worry what that meant. Was what she’d said been bad? Unusual? It was just something she’d heard her mother say only about a bajillion times before, and had never given it much thought. Well, Lesley didn’t seem to think anything was weird, so maybe Alex would forget by the time he got back from meeting with General Washington.
Wilmington was more or less like the other port towns we’d been in, but bigger. And it seemed quite busy, as well, with people milling about everywhere.
“Like a needle in a goddamned haystack,” I hissed, my eyes drawn immediately to every red haired girl or boy in sight – which was, depressingly, a lot.
“Maybe we should split up,” William suggested.
Ian shook his head. “Nay. Your father charged me no’ tae leave Mistress Claire’s side until her daughter was found.”
“William has a point,” I said. “Why don’t you go on and find your uncle? Ask him if he’s seen or heard of a boy or girl matching Brianna’s description who appeared in town in the last month.”
Ian grimaced. “Other than red hair, I dinna ken what she looks like. Or if she’s gonna be a boy or girl, for that matter.”
“Take William,” I said wryly. “And tell your uncle to picture him with red hair and a rounder face. I’ll ask around at the shops and pubs. We’ll meet back here in two hours, understood?”
“Aye,” Ian agreed, motioning William to follow and I watched as they disappeared into the crowd.
I didn’t like separating from them in the least, but I had an ulterior motive that I liked even less.
I didn’t want either of them to go with me into the brothels I intended to check with. It had been one of my greatest fears, one I had fought not to even give too much thought to in my travels or risk going mad with worry. But the sad fact of it was a child of Brianna’s age, left alone on the streets, not to mention one as pretty as she, would be bound to catch the attention of the madams and pimps in the brothels, especially if she was discovered for a girl.
It wouldn’t matter where I found her, as long as I found her…but I prayed to God it wouldn’t be there.
Jamie never made it to meet with General Washington.
What began as a fight between a merchant and a redcoat turned into an all-out brawl, which then turned into a riot that was threatening to tear the town apart.
He, Fergus, and Murtagh were forced to run to Fergus’s apartment, which was closest.
“It’s alright, ma cheri,” Fergus said as his heavily pregnant wife flew into his arms.
“You scairt me tae death!” Marsali cried. “What in th’ devil is happening out there?”
“War,” Murtagh said. “Or, at least a piece of it.”
“I have tae get to the print shop,” Jamie said.
“Ye can’t go back out there now!” Marsali cried. “Ye could be kill’t!”
“I left Brian there wi’ Lesley,” Jamie said, gritting his teeth.
“Lesley wouldn’a let harm come tae th’ lad,” Murtagh said, trying to soothe him. “He cares for him, as well all do.”
Jamie knew that Lesley would try to protect Brian, but the print shop was in the main hub of town, and if the worst happened, Jamie was afraid Lesley wouldn’t be able to protect Brian…Brianna.
Jamie wasn’t sure what it was with lasses appearing in his life, taking over, and making him care for them with every fiber of his being, but there they were.
And then, there was what she said before Jamie had to leave…
Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ.
There had been only one person he’d ever known to say that unusual phrase. He supposed it was possible that it was old, and not unique to Claire like he’d always thought. He’d never even thought to ask what a Roosevelt even was.
It had to be just something Brianna had picked up somewhere. Because the alternative…it simply wasn’t possible.
“Stay here,” he ordered the rest, holding up a hand to stall Murtagh when he made to follow. “No, ye must stay. Marsali is near her time, and I dinna want her and Fergus tae be on their own now. I’ll be back wi’ Brian as soon as I can.”
“Be careful,” Murtagh warned, and Jamie nodded before bracing himself for the fray.
“What’s going on?!” Brianna asked, running to the window when she heard shouting.
“Christ almighty,” Lesley exclaimed.
It was unlike anything Brianna had ever seen. People were shouting and running through the streets like mad, some even carried torches, just like in movies.
“What are they doing?!”
“Rioting,” Lesley said, pulling her away from the window.
“Rioting? For what?!”
“Th’ Stamp Act,” he explained.
Brianna held up her hands and closed her eyes in thought. “Wait, wait, I know what that is. It has to do with taxes, right?”
“Aye, taxation o’ printed material. British bastards.”
“Then we’re safe here, right? If they’re protesting that, then they’re not going to do anything to a print shop, right?”
Just as she spoke, a brick flew through the window and she shrieked, leaping back.
“Come on!” Lesley yelled, grabbing her arm and dragging her downstairs to the living quarters.
“Wait, what about Alex and the others? They’re out there in that mess!”
Lesley shook his head. “Naught we can do right now, laddie. Alex would want me tae keep ye safe, here.”
Brianna climbed up on the old printer to peer out of the small, ground-level window. “Holy shit,” she breathed. “I half expect someone to go by with a pitch fork now…and wait, there it is.”
“Brian, lad, get down from there.”
“Hold on,” she said, squinting to see past the multitude of legs to see…a boy, standing in the middle of the madness, looking all around like he was lost and terribly afraid. “There’s a kid out there! Help me get this open!”
It took some work to get the old, painted-shut window open, but between the two of them, they managed, and Brianna tried to shout out into the din.
“Hey! Over here! Hey!”
For a moment, she didn’t think the boy would hear her, and then suddenly their eyes locked.
The boy dodged around charging bodies and fell to his belly on the ground, squirming to get through the small opening. Brianna and Lesley helped pull him through, and they all tumbled off the printer to land in a heap on the floor.
“That was close,” Brianna breathed. “You alright, kid?”
“I’m fine,” he said scrambling to his feet before squaring his shoulders and making a very clear effort not to cry. “I…thank you for your assistance just now, kind sirs.”
Brianna arched a brow and exchanged a look with Lesley. “Right…” she drawled. “Anyway, I’m Brian, and this is Lesley. What’s your name?”
“William,” he replied. “I was with my companion and we were separated in…that.”
“It’s okay,” Brianna said. “We should be safe down here, I think. And my friend Alex will be back soon.”
William looked back up toward the window, worry and fear evident in his face. “I really must find my friend. And my…and the lady, we accompanied here. She’s all alone out there, unprotected.”
Brianna grimaced, looking to Lesley for guidance, but he only shrugged.
“I’m sure they’re fine out there. When Alex gets back, he’ll help you find them.”
William sighed, and slumped against the wall. “She’s going to kill me,” he muttered, sounding like an actual child for the first time since he’d been there.
Brianna smiled, hoping to distract him with conversation. “Is she your mom?”
He shook his head. “No. She’s looking for her daughter. We sailed here from Scotland and…”
“What?!” Brianna broke in, her heart suddenly thundering. “What…what’s her name?!”
William blinked at her. “H…her name is Claire. Claire Beauchamp.”
“Oh my god!” Brianna shrieked, leaping to her feet, joy coursing through her veins. “It’s my mother!” she spun to Lesley, jumping up and down. “That’s my mother!”
“For true?!” Lesley gasped. “Well I’ll…wait…” he narrowed his eyes at her. “Didn’a th’ lad just say she was looking for her daughter?”
Brianna stopped jumping and rolled her eyes. “Yes, Lesley. Keep up, would you?”
“You’re Brianna?!” William exclaimed. “And I found you?!”
Brianna wrinkled her nose at him. “Excuse me, I do believe I found you, now come on!”
“Come on?” William echoed. “You mean go out there? Now?”
“Yes, now! I have to go find her!”
“Wait, wait, wait,” Lesley broke in, moving to stand between them. “I don’t know what the hell is going on here, but I do know that you two can’t go outside in the middle of a riot.”
“If anything happened to my mother now when she’s so close, I’ll never forgive myself,” Brianna snapped. “She doesn’t know her way around this town, but I do. Both of you can stay here if you want but I’m going.”
“So am I,” William said decisively.
“Fine,” Lesley sighed. “Alex will have me drawn and quartered for this, but fine.”
The young prostitute was in the process of telling me that my missing child sounded an awful lot like the paper boy who worked for one Mr. Malcolm, the printer, when the madness broke out.
Printer. Ian’s uncle, perhaps? It would be quite the coincidence, but a happy one. If this paper boy was indeed my Brianna.
But then the streets came alive with shouting and fighting. I wondered If any of them even knew what they were going on about. The prostitute fled, leaving me to fend for myself. I moved away from the main hub of town, and away from the throng of people, and kept to the alleyways. But where to find the printer?
Ian would have gone there, and hopefully was there now, he and William safe from the riot.
“This is what I get for splitting up,” I muttered to myself, aware that I now had three children to find.
“Where do you think she went?” Brianna asked. The riot had moved farther into town, and she was leading William down backstreets and alleys, away from the danger.
Lesley had been with them, but then he caught sight of Leslie getting pushed around by another man, and took off in defense of his friend, barking at Brianna and William to run for it, so they did.
“I don’t know,” William said. “But maybe we should just return to the print shop. Ian’s uncle works there, and that might just be where she’d go.”
“Really?” Brianna asked, stopping. “Why didn’t you say that before?”
Brianna turned, catching sight of Amelia, one of the women who worked in the brothel who was desperately in love with Alex, and therefor always bought her paper.
“Are you okay?” Brianna asked.
“I’m fine,” Amelia asked, smiling at William, who’d turned scarlet at the sight of her skimpy clothing “I just wanted to let you know that there was a woman looking for you. Said she was your mother, and well, she did rather look like you.”
Brianna beamed. “When was this?! Where’d she go?!”
“It was just before the riot broke out. Over near Madam Lacy’s.”
“Come on!” Brianna exclaimed, grabbing William’s hand.
“You’re friends with a…a woman like that?” William asked in shock.
She glared at him. “Yeah? What of it? Now come on, you’re taller, keep an eye out!”
They ran to the brothel, and then down more side-streets, Brianna’s eyes scanning each woman for a head a wild brown curls, likely standing a whole head above the rest.
Suddenly, William yanked her to a stop. “There she is! I see her!”
Brianna followed his pointing finger down the alley on the other side of the road and saw her, walking the other direction.
Releasing William’s hand, Brianna flew across the street and into the alley, heart pumping in time with her feet, mind and vision narrowed down to nothing but the figure before her.
Her mother froze, turning slowly, a wild look in her eyes.
Brianna never slowed, but leapt, feeling beloved arms wrap around her.
Safe at last.
I kept trying to ask people where to find the print shop, but everything was such a mess, no one would stop to talk to me. Businesses were boarding up their windows, shutters were being locked. Something was going to break soon…and it would very likely involve Redcoats and shooting, and if I was caught outside in the middle of it, I could be in real trouble.
I decided the best course of action was just get as far away as I could, wait for things to die down, then return to find the children.
I wrung my hands as I walked, petrified that I was so close to finding her, and war was breaking out around our ears. If anything happened to Brianna now, now when I was so close, I would not survive.
For just a moment, I thought I was imagining things. That my desperate mind was conjuring voices like it had done a decade ago when I returned to my century and would hear Jamie’s voice so clearly as if he were there.
But then I turned, slowly, scarcely allowing myself to hope, and barely had enough time to open my arms before they were full of my precious daughter, clinging to me like her life depended on it.
“Brianna!” I sobbed, clutching her as tightly as she held me. “My baby!”
She was taller, heavier, and harder than I remembered. The hair I was stroking was cut short like a boy’s, not the luxuriously long curls I knew. She smelled of smoke, ink, sweat, whiskey, and something else familiar, but the last remains of that baby smell were long gone.
When she pulled away, gazing up at me with teary eyes, I saw such distinct changes in her face that it took my breath away. The roundness of childhood was gone from her cheeks. Her face was leaner, sharper, older. She was different, and yet…still my Brianna. Still my little girl.
“I knew it!” she cried. “I knew you would come looking for me!”
I framed her face with my hands, pulling her in for a kiss. “Of course I did my sweet girl. I would have walked through hell to get to you, baby. Are you alright?”
I knew that was a loaded question. I knew that no matter what Brianna had been through in the past six months, she likely was not alright, but I was just so full of joy and dizzying relief, it was all I could come up with to say.
“I’m fine,” she said. “I’ve been staying with a really nice man here. He even knows I’m a girl, but he’s looked out for me.”
I let out a sob and crushed her back to me, thanking God.
“Are you alright?” she asked, her voice muffled by my chest.
“I’m wonderful, now.”
Movement caught my eye, and I looked over her Brianna’s head, feeling my eyes widen at the sight of William.
“Willie!” I exclaimed.
William was standing back, his hands in his pockets, looking uncertain. I shifted Brianna to one side so I could extend my free arm, and he didn’t hesitate to run into it.
“Did you find her?” I asked him.
William pulled away, looking to Brianna, who squinted her eyes at him a moment before turning to me with a smile. “Yeah,” she said. “He found me.”
I pulled William into another hug, kissing the top of his head. “Thank you. But where’s Ian?”
“We got separated,” William said. “When the riot broke out.”
I groaned. “Great. Well, come on, we have to find him. Bree? Do you know the way back to the print shop? Ian may have gone there.”
Brianna scoffed. “Do I know the way. Come on, follow me!”
Chapter 20: Come Together
Brianna brings Claire back to the shop, where the printer is waiting...
Wanted to get this up before Christmas but...better late than never!! Enjoy!!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
I shook my head in amazement as I followed Brianna through the town, down alleys, through buildings, and even over a couple of rooftops. She navigated the streets as if she’d been born there, with a level of confidence I’d never seen from her.
When we reached the middle of town, things seemed to have had died down, and the streets were practically deserted.
“I can’t wait for you to meet Alex,” Brianna was saying. “He’s great. And real nice. He won’t mind a bit you guys staying with him for a while.”
I enjoyed watching her animated tangent on every one of Alex’s wonderful qualities, the hero worship quite evident on her face. I even wondered if there was a bit of a crush at work. I couldn’t have been happier that she’d found safety and kindness here, but all I wanted in that moment was to pick her up, jump through the stones, and go home.
One thing at a time, however.
“I’m sorry, what was that last part?”
“Marsali,” Brianna was saying. “She’s gonna have a baby soon. Maybe you could help her. She and her husband Fergus are my friends. They’re kinda Alex’s kids…but not really.”
My heart skipped a beat at the name of Fergus, but it wasn’t an uncommon enough name to mean anything.
“Here it is!” Brianna declared, pointed up a set of stairs that led to a door set deep in the stone building. The sign by the stairs read “A. Malcolm, Printer.”
I stared at the sign a moment, something about striking me as familiar somehow, but then Brianna was grabbing my hand and leading me up the steps while she pushed William in front of her.
The bell above the door jingled when William pushed it open, followed quickly by his ecstatic exclamation of “Ian!”
I followed the children inside, taking a quick scan of my surroundings before watching Ian and William embrace.
“Why didn’t ye stay next to me?!” Ian was scolding the younger boy.
“I tried!” William said. “But everything happened so fast!”
“You must be Brianna,” Ian said, grinning down at her a moment until his grin fell slightly and his eyes widened. “Christ…”
“What’s wrong?” I asked him, wondering with concern why he was looking at my daughter as if she were a ghost.
And then he was looking at me with the same expression. “Claire…”
“Is that Brian?!” a voice from the back called, and the hair on the back of my neck stood on end.
“Alex!” Brianna cried, oblivious to the earth shattering around her. “I found her! I found my mom!”
“Christ, lad! Ye had me scairt tae death!”
Everything seemed to just freeze for a moment, including my heart, my breath.
My mind, so wounded and fractured, refused to believe what my eyes were seeing, what my ears were hearing, what my soul was feeling.
But he was there. Just…there. Scolding our child like it was the most normal thing in the world.
And it all made perfect sense. Ian was practically a replica of his father, the elder Ian Murray. All the stories he’d told of his mother and her brother were so like the one’s I’d heard from the siblings myself.
James. Alexander. Malcolm. McKenzie. Fraser.
The world began to move again, as did my heart, because it gave a painful leap when his eyes met mine…widened until I could see the white all the way around the blue.
It was whispered, barely audible, but it resonated through me like a lightning bolt.
His eyes left mine, leaving me feeling bereft for only a moment until I saw that they were focusing again on Brianna, confusion and love warring in him so clearly in a face that normally hid his emotions so well.
And then, with surprising grace for a man his size, he fainted.
Brianna was practically overwhelmed with happiness and relief. Seeing her mother, healthy and safe, having crossed an ocean to find her, was like a dream come true.
What made it all even better, was she would get to introduce Mama to Alex. She just knew the two would be friends. They were alike in their innate kindness and devotion to family. Alex had taken her in as easily as Mama appeared to have taken in the boy, William.
When they made it to the print shop, they were first greeted by an older boy. William rushed to him excitedly, so apparently this was Ian. Alex talked about his nephew all of the time, so Brianna was able to recognize him at once.
Ian gave her a weird look, then exchanged an even weirder one with Mama. But that type of thing had been happening a lot lately, and Brianna was too excited to care right then.
“Is that Brian?!” she heard Alex call from the back room.
“Alex!” she cried back. “I found her! I found my mom!”
“Christ lad!” Alex snapped as he appeared the front room, a familiar look of exasperation on his face. “Ye had me scairt tae death, lad!”
Brianna heard a sharp intake of breath, and turned to look at her mother. She was standing like a statue, mouth open, and her skin had gone so white that for a moment Brianna was afraid that something was wrong with her.
But she was staring at Alex like he was a ghost, and for the first time since laying eyes on her mother, Brianna felt a twinge of fear.
“Claire?” Alex whispered, and Brianna whipped her head back and forth between them in confusion. They knew each other? How?
Alex stared in disbelief at Mama for a very long moment until his eyes slowly fell on her with something like recognition.
A thought was blooming in Brianna’s mind, one she barely dared give way to.
And then, before Brianna could ask what the hell was going on, Alex dropped like a sack of potatoes.
Mama rushed to him in an instant, dropping to her knees beside him and checking his pulse.
“Is he…okay?” Brianna asked, keeping a wary distance.
“He’s only fainted,” Mama said, her voice choked, eyes never leaving his face.
A hand landed on Brianna’s shoulder, and she looked up at Ian, who was staring at the two in wonder. “Maybe we should give them a few moments, aye?”
“What?” she asked. She couldn’t leave now! She’d only just found her mother and…something weird was happening. “Do you know what’s going on?”
He quirked a smile at her. “I have an idea. Come on, we won’t go far. Willie?”
William was standing back in the corner, no doubt feeling a little out of place. Brianna sympathized, and realized she did rather want to take a step out for a minute.
She wasn’t even sure Mama noticed when they left.
Jamie raced the through the streets, dodging rioters and occasionally ramming a few out of his way. But they were drifting away, and he could hear shouts in the distance – the Redcoats. He needed to be out of the open, and fast.
It may have been foolish, braving the riot to get to the print shop, but he would have been out of mind with worry for Brianna if he didn’t.
It was with relief that he mounted the steps, letting himself into the shop that had been his home for seven years.
Perhaps home wasn’t quite the right word for it. He liked the old shop, and as far as trades went, rather enjoyed the printing business. Having Murtagh, Fergus, and Marsali nearby made it all worth it, but it wasn’t precisely home. But then, nothing had ever felt like home since Claire left.
In the first months following Culloden, she’d been on his mind constantly, to the point where as he lay fevered and half-dead, there were time he could swear that he could see her, hear her, even smell her. Even after he healed, sometimes he’d still see her, as plain as if she were really there.
But he’d nearly lost his mind with it, trapped in hiding, in a dark cave outside Lallybroch. After he’d turned himself in, he made up his mind to just let her rest. He hadn’t died, and it hadn’t seemed that he would anytime soon, so he had to resolve himself to living.
William had helped. The birth of his illegitimate son at Helwater had given him an entirely new reason to go on, as had knowing that his sister and her family still depended on him. But, like everything else he’d ever loved, Jamie couldn’t keep William, and for the lad’s own sake he left Helwater. He went home to Lallybroch for a time, was able to spend time with Fergus and his wee nephew, Ian, the two able to cause more trouble than anyone Jamie had ever known.
But even with his parole, the English wouldn’t leave his family alone, so it was with a heavy heart that Jamie reached out to John for his help one last time, to leave Scotland – forever.
He’d heard that his godfather, Murtagh, had been paroled to the colonies after the closure of Ardsmuir prison. Jamie found the older man in North Carolina, working as a blacksmith after his master’s death. Murtagh helped Jamie settle in Wilmington, whereas the print shop sort of just fell into Jamie’s hands when its owner became fed up with the Crown’s regulations and moved out West.
Eventually, Fergus showed up at Jamie’s door, with a young bride in tow. Jamie was a little shocked and disconcerted to find that his adopted son’s new wife was none other than the daughter of Laoghaire MacKenzie, of all people, but Jamie soon discovered that the apple fell very far from the tree, and had come to love Marsali as his own.
And so, life hadn’t been so terrible for him in recent years. He’d learn to live and function as a man with a business and family, but still essentially alone. He’d never fallen in love with anyone since Claire’s departure, and not since the unpleasant encounter with William’s mother had he even truly desired a woman’s touch.
He found no shortage in attention from women in town, and occasionally he’d see one, find her beautiful, see what she so freely offered him, and a part of him thought…perhaps…but then that only made him think of her, and that was just a path he refused to ever go down again.
It wasn’t until a scrappy wee lad jumped into his life that he’d been able to think about Claire without pain. He wasn’t sure what it was, but something in young “Brian” reminded him of Claire. Something in the child’s bravery and determination, as well as an incredibly odd sense of humor. And it had been all the more so since discovering that Brian was Brianna. And that had led to a heightened desire to protect the poor lass.
“Brian?” he called once he entered the shop.
Jamie gasped, embracing his nephew automatically before pulling back and glaring at him.
“Sorry!” Ian said, misunderstanding Jamie’s look. “I meant, Uncle Alex!”
“Ye wee fool!” Jamie exclaimed, cuffing him over the head. “What th’ devil are ye doing here?! How did ye get here?!”
“On a ship?”
“Ye sailed here alone?!” Jamie released his nephew and paced away, scrubbing his face. “Yer mother will have my hide. What were you thinking?!”
“Never mind that!” Ian said with surprising urgency. There was a seriousness to him that Jamie didn’t recognize, but then, it had been two years since the last time Ian snuck away from his parents and boarded a ship to America. But at least that time he’d been with Fergus.
“I’m looking for someone,” Ian said. “But it sounds like ye may know where she is. Did I hear ye calling for Brian? Wee bairn, red hair like yours?”
“Ye know him?” Jamie asked.
“Her,” Ian corrected. “Dinna ken if you’re aware, but she’s a lass, and I’ve come wi’ her mam.”
Jamie smiled. So Brianna’s mother had come for her. As much as Jamie had hoped for such an outcome, the news was bittersweet. If Brianna’s mother had come for her, that meant that Brianna’s time with him was at an end. It tore at him, but it was for the best.
“Aye, I knew,” Jamie said. “Where is her mother now?”
At this, Ian’s shoulders slumped. “I uh…dinna ken. We split up, and we were supposed to meet an hour ago but then all hell broke loose and I uh…”
Ian winced. “I was supposed tae be watching over a lad who came wi’ us, William. I lose him, too.”
Jamie sighed, rolling his eyes heavenward. “Christ. Then…wait, are ye telling me Brianna isn’a here?”
Ian shook his head. “No, th’ place was empty when I got here.”
Worry hit him like a punch in the gut, along with the frustration that normally came along with his beloved nephew’s visits.
“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ,” he found himself muttering despite himself. “Give me a moment, and we’ll go find them.”
He ran down into the work room. No matter the urgency, he needed to make sure that the illicit materials he’d been printing were still securely hidden, and while he was at it, he grabbed his pistol.
On his way back up, he heard the door open and shut, followed by excited voices. He recognized Brianna easily, and heaved a sigh of relief. He then schooled his expression into one more stern, ready to give all of the weans a good tongue lashing.
“Is that Brian?” he called.
Brianna was stood there, grinning up at him in elation. He wasn’t sure if it was just because he knew her for what she was, or if it was something in the way she held herself now, but he just couldn’t imagine anyone mistaking her for a boy.
“Christ,” he breathed, unwilling to let her off the hook, no matter that his resolve was evaporating rapidly. “Ye had me scairt tae death, lad!”
“I found her!” Brianna exclaimed. “I found my mom!”
And then Jamie finally became aware that there were two other people in the room. A boy, and a woman.
The flash of recognition was instant and powerful, coursing through him like lightning through the branches of a tree. It was followed promptly by feelings of shock, disbelief, and hope all warring for dominance.
For a moment he thought he’d truly slipped into madness. After so long of holding it together, putting one foot in front of the other and pretending to live as a whole man, his mind must have just finally lost its battle with reality. It was the only reasonable explanation for the fetch he could see before him.
And yet, when he blinked, she didn’t flicker and vanish like before. She was not like the pristine angel he used to imagine, smiling benevolently. She was disheveled, dirty. Dark rings circled hunted eyes that stared at him with equal astonishment and hunger.
“Claire…” he breathed, speaking the name for the first time in…he didn’t know how long.
And then things began to click into place. The charming stubbornness, the sly smile…“Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ.”
He pried his gaze away from Claire to land on her daughter, still standing before him, looking between the two of them in concern.
So like her…how could he have missed it? So like her and so like…him. But that couldn’t be, she was only a child and it had been…
The last thing he thought before darkness washed over him was,
She has my eyes.
I know, I know, I'm evil for leaving it there, aren't I? lol
Chapter 21: Whole
Jamie wakes up.
Very short chapter, but I didn't have the rest quite ready and I know you all were chomping at the bit the way I left the last chapter! Expect more soon!
After going through the usual steps of checking pulse and breathing, motions that came to my hands as thoughtlessly and naturally as blinking, I hovered over him, holding my own breath, unable to look away from his face until a sound from behind me drew my attention briefly. It was Ian, quietly leading William and a bewildered Brianna out of the shop. He would look after them, so I didn’t worry, but I knew a difficult conversation was going to have to happen with Brianna, and soon.
But for now, Jamie’s eyes were opening, locking on mine with an intensity that took my breath away.
“Hi,” I whispered, sounding idiotic even to my own ears. But what else could I say?
I touched his face, feeling warm skin and rough whiskers, proving to myself that this was no dream, like the countless other dreams I’d had of him in the last decade.
He jumped slightly at the contact, his hand flying up to cover mine. “You’re real,” he said in wonder, seeming to be feeling the same as I.
“I thought…” began, my brain feeling sluggish and yet overactive all at once, making it difficult to put voice to all the things I needed to say. “But how? Culloden…”
He shook his head, sitting up. “I survived,” he said. “Barely. But what about you? How…ye’ve come back...after all this time.”
All this time. It was only then that I began to notice the differences in the man I once knew. There were new lines in his face that had never been there before, a hardness to his features, and a tired look in his eyes. His hair was lighter, streaked on the sides with gray. When I’d first laid eyes on him all those years ago, he had been just scarcely out of boyhood. Any hints of that young man that hadn’t been forced out of him in the years we’d been together, were now long gone if only due to time.
I was sure that I was changed as well. Eleven years was a long time, after all. But for Jamie…it had been over twenty.
I used to be five years older. But now, he would be the older one. It was enough to give me a headache.
And yet, he was still Jamie. Twenty-five or forty-five, no matter what name he went by or how he lived his life, he was Jamie. There would be so much to figure out later, but for now, this was enough.
“It was an accident,” I said, attempting to answer his question. “A long story. I didn’t mean for Brianna and I to come back, but we did, and then she was taken…oh Jamie, I cannot believe you found her.”
“Brianna,” he whispered, then smiled. “I knew that there was a reason I felt as though I knew her. She’s yours,” he sounded happy, and yet sad at the same time.
And then I blinked, surprised he still didn’t fully get it, but then…no, of course not. Brianna was only eleven years old. To Jamie, any child of ours would have to be in her twenties.
“Jamie,” I said slowly. “The stones…they brought Bree and I back to…well, the wrong time. For me, I left you eleven and a half years ago. Brianna is yours, Jamie. Ours.”
He stared at me, then away, blinking away tears. “I wanted tae believe…but I didn’t think…oh God. W…where has she gone?”
He made to stand, so I got up and gave him a hand, the back of my mind unable to ignore that twenty years had certainly not taken away the strength of his body. If anything, he’d grown more muscular. “She stepped out with Ian a few moments ago. I’m sure she’s feeling a little confused right now. She thinks…well, I told her you had…died.”
“I meant to,” Jamie said solemnly. “I went into that cursed battlefield, knowing I would not leave it. But I did, grievously injured and wanted, but I did. And still I wanted nothing more than tae die, so that I might wait in purgatory so that I could see ye again, see our child. I could not die, so I tried my best tae live. I never…” his voice cracked, and he reached out carefully to touch my cheek, so gently, as if I might break. “I never dared hope ye’d return.”
I longed to simply throw myself into his arms, but I kept myself in check. I had no idea where this left us, what would happen next. I just knew that I had never felt so happy in my life.
I notice Jamie’s arms twitch, and wondered if he was feeling the same as me. Throwing caution to the wind, I flung my arms around his neck, letting out a sob when I felt his arms come up instantly around me.
“I want…” he began, pulling back only enough that he could see my face. “I would like, tae kiss ye. May I?”
I wanted to laugh at such an absurd question, but he sounded so sincere and cautious I didn’t. I only nodded, words having escaped me yet again, and closed my eyes as his mouth covered my own.
I pushed myself as close to him as I could get, letting the smell, feel, and taste of him fill my senses. His tongue touched my lips lightly, and I let him in at once, wanting to devour him, to be devoured in return.
It felt like waking up after being in a coma for years. Like having been locked in a dark room, and at long last being released into the sun.
I’d been happy living alone with my daughter, thrilled to raise her and watch her grow. But a part of me had always been locked away. Shoved into a corner so that I could function without it. That part was free now, and even though I knew this wasn’t like the end of Snow White where I was picked up, placed on a horse, and taken into an idyllic happy ending, even though I knew there would probably be more we’d have to deal with than I even realized, I didn’t care.
For the first time in over ten years, I was whole.
Chapter 22: Everything at Once
Claire and Jamie find Brianna at Fergus's.
Ok so kind of lot is happening here, lol. I hope it isn't too convoluted lol!
I could have gladly stayed wrapped up in Jamie’s arms forever, but my mother’s brain finally kicked back in and I needed to go and find Brianna, uncomfortable with having her out of my sight. And besides, she was the only thing that would make this moment feel complete.
“We should go make sure the kids aren’t getting into trouble,” I said, stepping back. The moment we lost contact, I felt instantly awkward and less sure. I knew we both needed time to adjust to all these sudden revelations, but I ached for the easy closeness we once shared.
“Aye,” Jamie agreed, the fingers on his crippled hand twitching in the way they did when he was thoughtful or uncomfortable, so I knew the strangeness I felt was mutual.
We stepped toward the door at the same time, almost bumping into each other, but Jamie immediately jumped out of the way and bowed to motion me through, grabbing his hat off the counter in the process. I smiled at him, and curtsey in response.
When the children weren’t just outside, I grew immediately on edge. “Where are they?”
“Dinna fash, Sassenach, I’m sure they’ve only gone tae Fergus and Marsali’s.”
I smiled, having never been so happy to hear the word Sassenach. “So…it is Fergus then? Our Fergus?”
Jamie grinned, and took my hand. “Aye. Our Fergus indeed. Come, they’ll overjoyed.”
As we walked, I paid more attention to the surrounding area than I had since arriving. I met the eye of a young woman, who was giving me quite possibly the dirtiest look I’ve ever seen. “How long have you lived here?” I asked.
“Seven years,” he said, tipping his tricorn hat at the woman, seemingly oblivious to the glare she was giving me. “Fergus joined me just two years ago, a wee bride in tow, along wi’ that nephew of mine…though I sent him back home first chance I got. Now he seems to have found his way across the ocean again.”
I chuckled. “He may be a Murray but he has that Fraser persistence, that’s for sure.”
He glanced down at me. “Did ye ken who he was?”
“No,” I said, rolling my eyes at myself. “He gave me a false surname, for your sake, but it’s ridiculous that I wasn’t able to tell for myself. I’d just been so wrapped up in finding Brianna.”
“Understandable,” he said. “She erm…she was unharmed, when I came across her. I dinna think…I dinna think she was hurt, on the ship here.”
I squeezed his hand. “Thank you, that’s a comfort.”
Jamie chuckled and squeezed my hand back. “Didn’a have a clue she was a lass, though. None of us did. She fooled us well.”
“It just seemed easier that way, and safer. How did you find out? Did she tell you?”
Jamie winced. “Actually, neither of us had much choice. We had a sudden and uh, surprising…visitor.”
“Ye should know your daughter is a, hm, woman now.”
The phrasing caught me off guard, and I stopped walking, while his meaning caught up to me. “You mean she…oh, poor baby!”
I could only imagine how frightening and awkward that must have been for Brianna, and other than having told her the basics, I was afraid that I hadn’t suitably prepared her. But I also knew that once Jamie’s shock had worn off, he most likely handled it very well. He’d always been remarkably no-nonsense when it came to womanly matters.
“So, ten years for you,” he said, resuming our walk. “Twenty for me. How does that work?”
I shrugged. “Your guess is as good as mine. I don’t know how any of it works. I mean, I have theories, but as to the fact of the stones sending us to this time…maybe…maybe it was just where we needed to be?”
He looked down at me and smiled. “Aye, I think so, too.”
Brianna trailed after Ian, her hands shoved firmly in her pockets. William was similarly silent, but she didn’t know what his problem was. He wasn’t the one having a whole internal crisis over here.
“Canna believe I didn’a see it,” Ian said, as if to himself.
By unspoken agreement, they ended up at the apartment of Fergus and Marsali. Whatever Mama and Alex were doing back at the print shop, it wouldn’t be hard for them to find them there.
Brianna’s mind was running a mile a minute. It felt like just yesterday that she learned that Frank Randall wasn’t her biological father, and that her real father was an 18th century Highlander who’d died 200 years before she was born. And yet, it also felt like a hundred years had passed since she last saw the 20th century.
Hearing about this mythical Jamie Fraser had seemed okay when he was just a memory, a story to be told. Faced with the reality that he was alive, and not only alive, but the same man she’d grown to like so much in the past month…it was enough to make her head spin.
What would this mean for her and Mama?
They entered Fergus’s place, and he and Murtagh both promptly groaned in exasperation.
“God in Heaven,” Murtagh growled. “Ian, lad, are ye never going tae learn?!”
“Probably not,” Ian said cheekily, plopping down on the sofa.
Marsali rolled her eyes. “And who is this one ye’ve dragged in?” she asked, smiling kindly at William, who only grimaced in return. “And why d’ye lads look as though someone swapped your sugar wi’ salt?”
Ian leaned back against the arm of the couch tiredly. “That’s William. And as for the rest, it is a looong story.”
Murtagh was staring hard at William, who flinched under the scrutiny. “Are ye Brian’s brother then, lad?”
“I am not,” William said primly. “My name is William Ransom, Ninth Earl of Elsmere.”
“Ignore him,” Ian said. “He gets prissy when he’s uncomfortable.”
“Take that back!”
“Would someone kindly explain what’s going on?” Fergus asked sternly, crossing his arms.
“We’re waiting on Uncle Jamie and Brianna’s mam to finish…talking.”
All of a sudden everyone paused, and turned to Brianna and spoke at once. “Brianna?”
When Jamie and I entered Fergus’s apartment, we apparently walked right into quite the discussion. Everyone was standing in a circle, (save Ian, who lounged on a couch) and all were staring wide-eyed at Brianna, until all of those eyes turned to me and widened further.
“Milady?” a striking, dark-haired man who could only be Fergus gasped, his face going slack before morphing into a beaming smile. “Milady! Is it truly you?!”
“Fergus!” I cried, laughing as he swept me up into a crushing hug, my feet leaving the floor. “My Fergus!” I pulled away, framing his face in my hands. “Look at you! You’ve grown into such a handsome man!”
“Aye,” he said, without a touch of modesty, his accent having become a unique blend of Scottish and his own French. “I have. But look at you! You haven’t changed a bit! We thought you dead!”
“I know,” I said sadly. “It’s…a long story. I…Murtagh?”
Murtagh was standing back, watching silently with a warm smile on his bushy face, seemingly waiting his turn.
“It isn’t the Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy,” he quipped, letting out an oof when I leapt at him for a hug. “Ah lass, can it be true?”
“It’s true,” I chuckled, then looked around for Brianna. “Where is my daughter?”
“About that,” Murtagh snapped. “What d’ye mean telling us Brian is a girl?”
“Ah fuck,” Fergus blurted all of a sudden, blanching. “I went swimming in front of her! Nude!”
“Fergus!” the young blonde woman, who I assumed was Fergus’s wife, exclaimed.
“I didn’t know!”
“Brianna walked out,” William said quietly, sidling up to me. “Ma…Mr. Malcolm followed her.”
“Poor darling,” I sighed. “This must all be so overwhelming for her.”
“So,” Murtagh said. “She truly is Jamie’s. I couldn’t help but wonder, looking at him…her,” he took my hand and squeezed. “But I didn’a dare hope.”
“But how?” Marsali asked. “You all told me that Claire has been gone since Culloden, and that was before I was born. Brian…Brianna, is only a child.”
I winced, looking back up at Murtagh, the only one present who knew the truth about where I’d been, but it was Fergus who spoke.
“Don’t ask, my love. I learned long ago that when it comes to Milady, some questions are better left unanswered.”
Jamie watched Claire’s reunion with Fergus and Murtagh with a glowing heart, tears pricking his eyes at the sight of their sheer joy. Both Fergus and Murtagh had mourned Claire in their own ways, though at the time Jamie had been so lost in his own grief he had to leave them to their own. Watching them embrace her with such love brought a peace back to him he’d once thought lost forever.
But it was only moments before he realized that Brianna was creeping toward the door.
Instead of bringing attention to it, he waited until she was gone before slipping out himself.
“Brianna,” he called after her. “Wait, lass.”
Brianna stopped and turned, her hands planted in her pockets. “Sorry,” she said. “I just wanted some air.”
“Aye, I understand,” he said, standing near her, but not close enough to touch, mimicking her by putting his hands in his pockets, so that she wouldn’t think he’d suddenly reach for her. She looked like a spooked mare who would bolt at the slightest provocation. “It all must be a bit…much. If ye’d like tae ask me anything, ye can.”
She stared at him a long moment, and he tried not to fidget under the weight of her gaze. How could someone so small intimidate him so?
“Is it true? Are you Jamie Fraser? My…father?”
He nodded. “Yes. I am.”
“Did you know? All along?”
“No. I knew that something drew me to you, I knew that something in ye ‘minded me of Claire. But I didn’a dare tae hope. Besides, it never would ha’ occurred tae me, as ye aren’t…weel, of an age I’d have expected ye. But your mam explained that to me.”
“Mama says I look like you. Did you ever wonder if I was some bastard of yours or something?”
“No!” Jamie exclaimed, too harshly, judging by her flinch. He took a step back from her, and tried again, more softly. “No. I am no philanderer, Brianna. I have but th’ one son I told ye of.”
“Yeah,” she said, her face suddenly wrinkling in thought before going lax and turning toward the apartment. “William, you said. Does…uh…Mom know?”
Jamie grimaced, not looking forward to that conversation at all. “No, I’ve no’ had th’ chance, is all. I will. And uh…I’d appreciate it if ye let me tell her.”
“Yeah,” she said again, still looking toward the door. “Yeah, wonder how she’ll take that one.”
Jamie sighed, then took a cautious step toward her, then another, then gently coaxed one of her hands out of her pocket so that he could hold it. “Brianna…I’m…I’m so sorry for all ye’ve been through since going through th’ stones. Would that I could have protected ye from it all. Still…I’m so glad you’re here, a leannain.”
Brianna turned to him again, her eyes fully meeting his for the first time. “What does that mean? A leannain?”
He chuckled. “It uh, it means my darling.”
A ghost of a smile quirked her lips. “You called me that before…all this.”
“Aye. Because I already loved ye.”
Brianna bit her lower lip against its trembling, but then with a little sob that tore at his heart, she threw her arms around his neck with surprising strength.
Jamie chuckled through tears, and lifted her up into his arms, holding her tight. His precious wee babe.
“Dinna weep, mo cridhe. I’m here, I have ye.”
“I’m glad,” she whispered against his neck. “I’m glad it’s you.”
I watched through the window, wiping my tears on my sleeve as father and daughter embraced. I’d never seen Brianna really let her guard down with anyone other than myself, and despite the horror of the last months, I found myself glad that she’d been able to get to know her father without knowing who he really was. It gave her the chance to fall in love, as everyone does with Jamie, without any expectations on either of their parts.
I longed to join them, but even more I wanted them to have this moment to themselves.
I became aware of William standing beside me, also watching the touching scene, but with a rather pinched look on his face.
“Don’t worry,” I said, smoothing back his hair. “I haven’t forgotten about you, or your father. Why, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s already in town, with as many delays as we had.”
“Yes,” he said distractedly. “I hope so.”
For the first time since reuniting with Bree, I looked at William. Really looked at him. And then I looked outside at Jamie and Bree.
I tried to push the thought away, too afraid of the possible implications, but it wouldn’t leave me alone.
He has his eyes.
“Fergus?” Marsali said, the tremor in her voice enough to tear me from the uncomfortable revelation.
“What is it, my love?” Fergus asked, kneeling beside where she sat at the small kitchen table, peeling potatoes.
“I erm…I think our wee one is ready tae meet their da,” she said, clutching her rounded belly and chuckling nervously. “I think my waters have broken.”
“Ah Dhia!” Fergus gasped, leaping back from her momentarily as if the child was just going to rocket out of her. He then turned wide, fearful eyes toward me. “Milady?!”
I hurried to the young woman’s side, resting my palm on her stomach, and feeling it heave. “Do you know how long you’ve been having contractions?” I asked.
She shook her head. “Dinna ken. I woke up wi’ a dreadful backache, and then I thought I just had indigestion. Fergus? Shouldn’t you fetch the midwife?”
“The streets are crawling with British soldiers right now, mo ghraidh, and besides, you don’t need a midwife. Milady is here, she is the greatest healer I have ever known!”
Marsali looked up at me skeptically and I cleared my throat awkwardly. “I don’t know about all of that, but I am a healer, Marsali. And I have delivered my share of babies.”
“Aye, she delivered my sister, Margaret!” Ian piped up, seeming unperturbed by the woman in active labor before him.
Marsali suddenly doubled over, letting out a guttural groan.
“Alright, alright,” I said softly, rubbing her back. “Fergus, help me get her to the bed. Ian…”
“Already have it,” he broke in, digging through my bag for my medical supplies. “And whisky and boiled water?”
“You got it,” I said with a smile.
“What’s going on?” Jamie asked, returning with Brianna. “What’s all th’ commotion?”
“Marsali is in labor,” I told him, getting the young woman to her feet with Fergus. “Jamie, we’re going to need some clean rags, a lot of them. Bree, run ahead, darling and strip the bed. I’m sure Marsali has an old blanket ready.”
“What do I do?” William asked.
“…Stay with Murtagh,” I said.
“I think we’re better off staying out o’ it, laddie,” Murtagh said, taking William by the shoulder and steering him away.
All the revelations of the past couple of hours were pushed to the back of my mind as I turned my focus to the scared woman about to give birth for the first time. From what I could tell, everything was progressing normally, but any delivery in these times without hospitals and modern medicine was dangerous, especially first ones.
Fergus refused to leave her side, which was sweet of course, but I was forced to threaten to stitch his mouth closed if he didn’t stop trying to give his wife unhelpful advice like “maybe you shouldn’t scream so much…you’ll wear yourself out!”
Brianna hovered nearby, watching me curiously. I realized she’d never seen me with a patient before, and I knew she’d never seen childbirth. But I didn’t ask her to leave, figuring she’d need to find out sooner or later.
“Oh God,” she mumbled, peeking around the blanket and between Marsali’s legs for the first time.
“If you’re going to faint or vomit, kindly step outside,” I told her, smirking over my shoulder at her.
Brianna shook herself and scowled. “I’m fine. What can I do?”
“Go get some firewood, and see how the men are faring.”
She nodded briskly, though scuttled away gratefully. I turned back to the mother-to-be, wiping the sweat from her brow.
“I wish my mother were here,” she said shakily.
“I understand,” I said, and I did. Even though memories of my own mother were vague at best, I remembered still missing her when I went into labor with Brianna, even if I was more just regretting the lack of guidance and support. “Is she back in Scotland?”
“Aye,” Marsali said. “She and my sister. She wasn’a happy when I married Fergus and left to come here. But I wish they were here.”
I smiled. Marsali struck me as familiar, and I wondered if I maybe knew her family in Lallybroch. “I’m sure, even if your mother doesn’t agree with your choices, that she’d give anything to be here now.”
Marsali smiled back, but it dissolved quickly into a grimace and a loud groan as another contraction hit.
“Just hold on,” I told her. “And you’ll have your little one in your arms, soon.”
“How do you think it’s going?” Fergus asked for about the eighth time since being banished out of the bedroom. “Should she be screaming so much?”
“Ye were in th’ house when Ian was born,” Jamie reminded him. “And wee Jamie’s bairns, as well. Surely ye ken it’s no’ an easy thing Marsali is doing.”
“I know,” Fergus grunted. “I know…it’s just…”
Jamie went up to him, resting a hand on his shoulder. “But before, it wasn’a your wife.”
Fergus sighed, and smiled slightly. “No. It’s frightening.”
“Aye, I ken,” Jamie looked toward the bedroom door, remembering well the sheer terror mixed with joy he felt when Claire was pregnant with Faith. Due to mistakes made by both of them, they paid the ultimate price and lost their precious firstborn. And then Brianna was taken from him too. He never had the privilege of being the nervous husband, helpless to do nothing but pace while he waited to meet his child.
All he could do was be there for Brianna now. For Brianna, for Fergus, for the wee one coming into this world.
Jamie jumped, spinning to find a large pair of blue eyes staring up at him. He’d forgotten all about the lad that Claire had with her, telling him that she’d be reuniting him with his father there in Wilmington. But he was there now, and Jamie’s mouth gaped in shock.
“Is it you?” the boy asked, chewing on the inside of his cheek and shifting his weight from foot to foot.
“Willie?” Jamie gasped, sure for a moment that his eyes were playing tricks on him. But no, he would recognize those eyes anywhere. He would know his son anywhere. “W…what th’ devil are ye doing here?”
“You remember me?” William asked, eyes widening in surprise.
Jamie’s shoulders lowered, now seeing the unsure look on the boy’s face. “Of course I do,” he said more softly. “I could never forget ye, lad. Now, what are ye doing here?”
“My father and I escorted Claire…erm, Missus Beauchamp from Scotland to Jamaica where my father is taking up a governorship. Ian was a stowaway, and is working off his passage by guarding Missus Beauchamp. I came to assist her as well.”
Jamie arched an eyebrow. “Lord John sent ye?”
“He did no such thing,” Ian broke in, coming up and cuffing William on the shoulder. “This wee fool snuck away from his da, and Mistress Claire had no choice but to take him along.”
“It’s no better than what you did!” William snapped.
Jamie shook his head, and rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Christ.”
The door to the bedroom opened, and Jamie turned at once. It was Brianna, looking between him and William with a question in her eyes. He saw then that she had her mother’s glass face and keen perception.
“Marsali’s doing fine,” she reported.
Jamie stared hard at his daughter, still scarcely able to believe she was real, and here with him. And then, above her head, he met the eyes of his grandfather, who was watching all of them with a lone raised eyebrow.
“William,” Brianna said. “I have to get firewood. Wanna help?”
William nodded and quickly followed Brianna out the door. Jamie watched them go, almost identical in height despite their age difference, and so very similar in other ways as well, except for their hair color.
“Good lord, Jamie,” Murtagh said once they were gone. “Ye have a lot to explain, lad.”
“Aye,” Jamie agreed. “But where tae begin?”
Chapter 23: Burning the Night Oil
After the birth of Fergus and Marsali's baby, Claire and Jamie take some time to talk.
It's been such a lovely week of season 5 promotion...please enjoy this extra-long chapter of happy, reunited Frasers!
I placed the squirming, pink infant in his mother’s arms as he gave a lusty wail.
“You have a strong, healthy son, Marsali,” I said. “Bree, honey, go get Fergus.”
Brianna was staring at the blood on her hands, but she snapped out of it and hurriedly wiped her hands on a towel before darting out of the room, crying “it’s a boy!”
Brianna had been brave, a real help in the baby’s delivery, but I know it had shaken her, as well. But then, what better birth control was there, than witnessing childbirth?
Fergus practically crashed into the room, falling to his knees beside the bed.
“Come meet your son,” Marsali said, gently passing the baby to him.
“My son,” Fergus said in awe, touching a pudgy cheek with the tip of his finger. The wooden hand tenderly cradled the baby’s body. “Germaine.”
The other men were peeking in, so I motioned them all to come. “It’s alright.”
Jamie came to my side at once, and I sighed in pleasure at his nearness.
“Well done, Sassenach,” he said, wrapping an arm gently around me.
I chuckled. “It was Marsali who did all the hard work.”
Marsali looked up tiredly from the bed, and smiled in my direction. “Thank ye, Claire. S’pose ye’re no’ the devil after all.”
“The devil?” I asked, but she’d slipped into an exhausted doze. I looked up at Jamie in question, and he grimaced awkwardly.
“Isn’t he beautiful?” Fergus asked, staring in wonder at his son.
“Aye, Fergus,” Jamie said. “He’s a braw lad.”
“I need to finish cleaning him,” I said, holding my hands out for the baby. “And then he’ll be wanting to eat, I’m sure.”
Fergus pressed a feather-light kiss to Germaine’s downy head before passing him to me. “There now, lad, go to your grandmother.”
I froze, eyeing Fergus in shock, but he only chuckled and turned away bashfully. But I cradled Germaine lovingly to my chest and brought him to the basin I had prepared.
“Good lord,” I murmured to Jamie as I passed. “Grandmother.”
“Th’ bonniest granny I’ve ever seen,” Jamie teased.
“Can I help, Mama?” Brianna asked.
“Of course,” I told her. “Come closer.”
Following tightly on her heels, like a shadow, was William, craning his neck to get a better look at the little one. “You as well, come on, we need to get him cleaned up.”
I held Germaine while the children tenderly dabbed at him with washcloths. I looked up at Jamie, and the stark hunger in his eyes rather took my breath away. But he wasn’t only looking at me, but also at the children, and I looked down at them as well. Red hair and black, foreheads almost touching as they cooed and smiled at the baby.
I finished cleaning the baby and then sent the boys away while I helped Marsali start breastfeeding before leaving the new parents alone with their child.
When I returned to the sitting room, most everyone else was asleep, and I realized how late it had gotten. Ian was slumped in a windowsill, Murtagh was reclined in a chair, and Brianna and William were on opposite ends of the sofa.
Only Jamie was still awake, leaning against the mantel and staring into the fire. He looked up as I entered, smiling softly.
“Dinna ken when it will stop surprising me, seeing ye here,” he said. “I keep thinking I’ll wake up, and it’ll be a dream.”
“I know exactly what you mean,” I whispered. Brianna was hanging half off the couch, so I carefully righted her, finding a throw and tucking it around both her and William.
I brushed the hair out of her face. With the cropped length, she looked even more like Jamie than before. She smiled in her sleep as I stroked her cheek, as she always did, as Jamie always had. Seeing her safe and secure, sleeping soundly, was a balm to my tired heart. I kissed her forehead, then reached over to William, brushing the curls off his face as I’d done Brianna. He, too, smiled.
“She’s so beautiful,” Jamie whispered, standing behind me. “And so brave. Like you.”
I stood up, smoothing down my skirt. “I do like to think she takes after me some,” I turned to him. “But she is just like you.”
Jamie took my hand, leading me away, toward the fire. “What happened, Claire? After I sent you back?”
I looked over at the others, seeing Ian roll over and snort in his sleep. “Perhaps we should go outside.”
“Aye,” Jamie said, taking my hand again. I grabbed my bag on the way, used to keeping it on my person at all times. “Come,” he nodded at Murtagh, who I realized was awake and watching us, and he nodded back as we left. “Dinna fash,” he said to me. “Murtagh will watch over Bree if she should wake before we return.”
“If there’s anyone I trust Brianna’s safety to beside you and I, it’s Murtagh.”
Jamie smiled. “He was always verra fond of wee Brian, but knowing now that she’s our daughter, weel, between him, Fergus, and Ian, Brianna will have no shortage of protectors.”
I chuckled. “I don’t doubt it.”
The streets were quiet now, only a pair of dogs fighting over some scraps, and the distant sounds coming from the tavern.
Jamie didn’t stop once we were outside, but instead led me back to the print shop. He brought me downstairs, to what looked to be living quarters, and I waited as he lit a fire.
“Isn’a much,” he said sheepishly. “But it’s a roof.”
I looked around at the sparse living area curiously. A threadbare rug, some chairs and a table, and in an alcove partially hidden by curtains, was a bed. There was a door that led to a closet perhaps, but in it I could see another, smaller bed, and smiled when I realized that it must be where Brianna had been sleeping.
“Brian…” Jamie began, smiled and shaking his head. “Forgive me, Brianna. She told me that she’d been taken by her father and brought tae Scotland, and that’s what led tae you and her being separated. What happened? Did ye no go back tae Frank as we’d discussed?”
I sighed, taking a seat on one of the cushioned chairs. “I did. I went back to him.”
Jamie sat down opposite me, leaning toward me, his elbows rested on his knees. “Did he no’ take you back?”
“He did take me back, and I tried. We tried. He accepted Brianna as his own, and, for a time at least, was a wonderful father,” I could see how my words tore at Jamie, but powered on, feeling as though he deserved the whole truth. “But…I just didn’t love him anymore. Not as I had. And no matter how hard I tried, he knew that. He found someone else, and left us for her when Brianna was five.”
“What?” Jamie hissed. “He…was unfaithful? The wretched…”
“Jamie,” I interrupted before he could go on a tirade, reaching over and taking his hand. “You can hardly blame him. I wasn’t exactly faithful, was I?”
“Doesn’a make it right,” Jamie said. “And it wasn’a the same at all.”
“No,” I agreed. “But I didn’t mind it. It isn’t easy being a single mother in my time, but it isn’t like it is here, either. Part of the reason Frank left me was because I was going to medical school, and he didn’t like me having a career outside of home.”
Jamie’s eyebrows went up. “You’re a doctor now?”
I smiled. “Surgeon. Well, resident, anyway. It’s a bit like being an apprentice, but I’ve already performed surgeries on my own,” the last was said with no small amount of pride, and I didn’t bother to hide it.
He smiled. “Aye, I ken. I’ve seen ye do it. Ye already were a doctor, but I’m glad ye were given the title tae go with it.”
I smiled back, warming under his praise. “Frank continued to help support us until I graduated, and then I was able to take care of Brianna and myself alone.”
“Alone?” Jamie asked, sounding like he wasn’t sure whether he should be happy about that, or sad. “Ye didn’a have…another?”
I shook my head. “No. No other,” I wanted to ask the same of him, but wanted first to get the rest of my story out first. And besides, I wasn’t sure if I was ready to hear it. “Brianna adored Frank, and I agreed to let him see her whenever he wanted. And at first, he visited often, but then he and his new wife moved back to England, and eventually even the letters got fewer and fewer. It hurt her, so I reached out to him, demanded that he try harder,” I snorted. “His response? Come to Boston, take her out of school and then to Scotland, to try and cover up proof that she wasn’t biologically his so that he could take me to court for custody.”
“Dhia,” Jamie breathed. “Could he have gotten away wi’ such a thing?”
I shrugged. “You wouldn’t think so, but stranger things have happened. I wasn’t about to give him the chance. I tracked him down in Inverness, and found Brianna. And that’s when I told her the whole truth.”
I smiled. “About you. About everything. It was hard for her to understand, of course, but thankfully she’s still young enough to believe her mother’s word. Had I waited until she was grown I doubt she would have been as receptive.”
He shook his head. “But what…what made ye decide tae come back, if ye didn’t think I was alive?”
“I didn’t decide to,” I said rolling my eyes. “I never have managed to travel through those damned stones willingly. After I told her the truth, Brianna demanded to see them, so I took her there, intending on keeping us both at a distance. I had no idea she would even be capable of passing through, but she heard the buzzing. She was drawn to it, as I am. But then Frank appeared, he tried to force Bree away, and she took off toward the stones. I went after her, and reached her just as she touched them. My first instinct of course would have been to go straight to Lallybroch, but then I discovered that twenty years had passed here to my ten, and I knew that it would be impossible to explain to Jenny and Ian why the child who is so unmistakably yours was only a little girl. Never mind the fact that I’m hardly fifty years old.”
I told him the rest of what happened since going through the stones, including meeting Lord John, William, and Young Ian. Jamie smiled at that.
“I’m glad,” he said. “I’m glad ye found John. He’s a good man.”
I wasn’t surprised, but questioned him anyway. “You know him?”
“Aye,” he said, looking away before turning back again with a smirk. “As a matter of fact, you do, as well. D’ye remember, before Culloden, when that English whelp tried tae kill me, and ye pretended I was your captor to get him to give me information wi’out me having tae hurt him?”
I blinked, remembering well that scared young man and the almost comical performance Jamie and I put on for him. “That…that was John?”
Jamie nodded, chuckling. “Aye. It was that vow he made me, of repaying a debt, that kept me from execution after Culloden. His brother recognized me, and had me sent home tae Lallybroch.”
I felt an elevated gratitude for John now. “That doesn’t explain how he became your friend?”
Jamie grimaced. “Weel, we weren’a friends at first. I was in hiding for some years at Lallybroch, but it eventually proved tae be too dangerous, so I turned myself in, and was sent tae Ardsmuir prison.”
I squeezed Jamie’s hand. He’d spent so much of his life in damned prisons, never even deserving to be there.
“I was there a time before John became governor of it. I…held a position of respect among th’ other prisoners, so John, as had his predecessor before him, tried tae keep me on good terms. John proved tae be a good man, and did what he could tae make conditions better for the men. I liked him despite myself, and when Ardsmuir was closed down, instead of having me shipped off to th’ colonies, he had me paroled at an estate in England.”
My hand slipped from his, my assumptions all but confirmed. “Helwater,” I said.
Jamie blinked. “Aye, how did ye know?”
“Willie told me,” I said. “You were his groom, weren’t you? Mac?”
Jamie nodded. “Aye. Claire…listen…there’s something ye should know…”
“He’s yours,” I broke in, unable to stop myself. “Isn’t he?”
If he was surprised that I’d guessed, he didn’t show it. “Aye. Aye, William is my son. Claire…I…”
“Don’t,” I broke in when it sounded like he was going to apologize. “Jamie, it’s been…a long time,” I cursed the tears that were threatening to fall, because he didn’t deserve to feel badly about this. “You’ve had a life. If I’d known you were alive, and if I couldn’t have reached you, I would have wanted you to move on.”
“Move on?” Jamie said, sounding nearly breathless.
“Did you love her?” I asked, both needing to know and aching at the thought of the possible answer. “Willie told me she died when he was born.”
“Claire, ye dinna understand,” Jamie said. “William…he’s a bastard. Th’ result of one night…” he shook his head. “His mother was barely more than a girl, and a spoilt one at that. Though I didn’a exactly blame her for wanting something other than what the old man she was promised to would give her, she…” he looked away, breathing out through his nose. “I didn’a love her, Claire. Though…I canna help but feel responsible, for her death.”
I suddenly understood the feeling of being both happy and sad at the same time. I certainly didn’t want to think of Jamie having been alone for twenty years, but if he’d told me that he’d loved William’s mother deeply, it would have broken my heart.
“And William doesn’t know? Does John?”
“William can’t know,” Jamie said firmly. “That was why I left when I did. It was becoming too obvious, the similarities between us. William is the legal son of an earl. If word got out that he was really the bastard of a Scottish war criminal, his life would be ruined. John married William’s aunt, and they both vowed to love and raise him as their own. John sends me letters on occasion, to tell me how Willie fares. I never expected to see the boy again.”
I smiled ruefully. “And I’ve just gone and brought it all with me, haven’t I?”
Jamie’s look then was luminescent. “Christ, Sassenach, it’s like…like a dream come true. More than I’ve ever dreamed,” he stood up, taking my hand to pull me up with him, then stepped in close. “Having you here, with our child. Having her, and William, together,” he shook his head. “I only fear it’s too much, that surely God will realize I dinna deserve tae have everything and something will be snatched away.”
“Oh Jamie,” I whispered, touching his cheek. “You do deserve everything. Everything and more.”
“I hope it doesn’a pain ye too much, seeing Willie now, knowing…who he is. It’s clear how verra fond of you he is.”
He seemed almost pleading, and I pulled back slightly. “And you what, think I would treat him badly now?”
“No! I wouldn’t…”
“I love that child,” I snapped. “For reasons that have nothing to do with his parentage. But knowing that he’s yours…he’s as much a part of you as Brianna. How could I not love him for that, if nothing else?”
Jamie pulled me back to him, cupping my cheek with his hand. “Ye are th’ most loving woman, Claire. I’m sorry for making ye believe I could think otherwise. ‘Tis no wonder both Willie and Ian fawn after ye so. And Brianna…oh, Brianna surely believes ye’ve hung the moon.”
“Funny, I was going to say the same about her and you,” I said. “You should have heard her go on about the wonderful Alex while we were on our way here. You didn’t know she was your daughter, and you took her in anyway, and protected her. I’m eternally grateful to you, Jamie.”
Jamie chuckled. “As I am tae you. Ian told me of some of your adventures while Marsali was in labor. Ye cared for my nephew and son as your own, as well. It seems…fate just has a way of guiding us to one another.”
“Seems so,” I agreed.
We drifted apart then, as I wandered about, examining what few knickknacks there were here and there. When I’d known Jamie, he’d been practically vagrant, so unable to keep many possessions, much like myself. But I also remembered him to be more sentimental with objects than me, and seeing the polished stones, broken cups, and balls of twine he had sitting up on shelves made me smile, wondering what the attachment he had to them was. There was also a tiny statue of a saint I couldn’t identify, a hunk of fool’s gold, and an arrowhead.
“That’s Brianna’s,” Jamie said, pointing to the arrowhead. I hadn’t realized he’d been watching me so closely. “She found it while we were fishing, and gave it tae me.”
I grinned. “Fishing trip, hm? Would this be when Fergus went skinny dipping?”
Jamie rolled his eyes. “If by that ye mean swimming naked, then aye. I’m only glad I didn’t join him. Though I fear ye wouldn’a be at all happy wi’ some of what your wee lass has gotten up to these past weeks when all thought she was a lad. I swear though I never took her to the brothel. That was Fergus.”
My eyes widened. “He took my daughter to a brothel?”
Jamie winced. “He assured me he…she…didn’a see…much.”
I groaned, and replaced the arrowhead on the shelf. “I’m not sure I want to know the rest. But then she was always such a curious child, getting ahold of my medical books every chance she got. Preserving her innocence was a full-time job.”
“What was she like?” Jamie asked. “As a wean? What was…her first word?”
I opened my mouth to say “Dog,” because that was what I’d been telling people for years, but it wasn’t the truth.
I sat back down, folding my hands in my lap. “In the beginning, when I first returned, I made a bargain with Frank. He would raise her as his child, but he wanted to be known as her only father. So I agreed…not to tell Brianna about you.”
Jamie sighed and sat back opposite me. I knew he’d guessed as much, but I also knew it must hurt to hear.
“The only reason I didn’t tell her after Frank left was for her sake. I didn’t want to hurt, or confuse her. But, when she was a baby…” I took a breath, and released it. “I think it was just part of trying to mourn you. Missing you was excruciating, but not talking about you was almost worse. When Uncle Lamb died, I was able to tell stories about him to Frank and it helped. I didn’t think it would matter, she was too young to understand. So when Frank was at work, I would tell her stories. You always said that you could talk to babies in a way you can’t talk to anyone else,” I smiled. “So I talked to her…”
I remembered, holding her soft, sweet-smelling body in my arms, telling her bedtimes stories about a handsome Highlander who loved her more than life.
Frank and I’d had a bit of a game running, trying to see who could get Bree to say her first word. Frank would carry her about, chanting “Dada, Dada,” in effort to get her to repeat it.
So, when I told Bree stories of Jamie, I referred to him as simply Da, the same thing he called his own father.
“Look at that smile,” I cooed to her, as we stood by the open window, watching the birds flit about in the tree. “You smile just like Da, do you know that?”
She giggled and flapped her chubby arms, almost as if she were trying to take flight like those birds. “Da!”
I froze, staring at her. “Did…did you…”
I might have thought it to be an anomaly, until that night she repeated it at dinner, and kept repeating it…
I came back to the present, and Jamie was smiling softly.
I smiled back, and shrugged. “When her first word ended up being Da, well, I couldn’t let Frank know the truth, and also…I didn’t like the idea of him thinking she was talking about him. And our dog was sitting right there so…” I shrugged again.
Jamie bowed his head, and his shoulders began to quake. It was difficult to know exactly where we stood, but no part of me could just sit back and watch him cry, so I got up, meaning to kneel beside him. His arm got me around my waist before I could, however, pulling me into his lap. I curled around him, cradling his head against my breast, letting him sob, letting him cry out for the years he’d lost with his daughter, with me.
He clutched me tightly, tight enough to hurt but I didn’t care. The slight pain helped remind me that this was real, and he wouldn’t fade away when I opened my eyes.
When the storm passed, I brushed my fingers through his hair and whispered to him, “There’s something I want to show you.”
His hold on me tightened when I made to stand up, and he looked at me in almost panic. But I shushed him, and kissed his brow. “I’ll be right back.”
I went and got my bag, before returning to Jamie’s lap, and a vice-like hold that informed me I wouldn’t be getting up again anytime soon.
“Wondered what ye had in there,” Jamie said, his voice thick from crying. “When Murtagh made tae move it earlier, Ian snatched it away as surely as there must be stolen gold inside.”
I chuckled. “He doesn’t even know what’s in it, he only knows that I’m protective of it, is all. It’s only that some of it could be seen as unusual in this time.”
It was awkward with our positions, so I twisted around and upended the bag onto the table. Jamie poked through the contents curiously, that magpie mind of his perking up at the sight. I fought back a smile, imagining that some of it might find their way onto his shelf, or in his sporran.
“Who is this?” he asked, holding up a quarter.
“Washington?” he broke in. “General Washington? They’ll put him on th’ coins?”
“You know of him, already?” I asked.
He shook his head in wonder. “Aye, I’ve met him.”
I gasped. “You’ve met him? Jamie, he will become this country’s first president…leader. He’s one of the most famous men of American history.”
Jamie’s eyebrows went up. “Truly?” he looked through the rest of it, now even more curious. “What is this?”
“Aspirin. Let me know if you have a headache or anything, it will help.”
I snorted, not having realized that I had one left. “That um…no don’t open it. That’s a tampon.”
Jamie’s nose scrunched. “Tamp on?”
I released a choking guffaw, taking the plastic-wrapped tube from him. There wasn’t really much use having only one left, so I went ahead and opened it, aiming the applicator at him and hitting the other end so it shot like a missile at his face. He looked so bemused, I couldn’t stop laughing.
“It’s for a woman’s courses,” I explained. “The tube inserts the cotton into the body, to stem the bleeding.”
Jamie’s head snapped back, and he looked at the little wad of fabric more intently. “Ye put this…inside?”
I took a breath, controlling my laughter. “Yes, it can’t even be felt,” I took it back from him, wrapping it in tissue, figuring it might still be of use later. “Here, this is what I meant to show you.”
I’d packed very little when I left Boston. In fact, it had been Joe to make sure I even had the necessities at all. But one thing I did think to bring was a pocket-sized photo album, filled with pictures of Bree, wanting to be able to look at her on the long plane ride to Scotland. I was so grateful to have it now, only wishing I had her baby book, as well.
I held the book for him, so he could turn the pages one-handed, since his other hand was still occupied with keeping me on his lap.
Jamie gasped at the sight of the first one, of me holding a 3-week old Brianna in my arms. He touched the image of her tiny head with the tip of his finger. “What is this?”
“It’s a photograph,” I explained. “Made with a machine called a camera. It’s…it’s able to capture a moment almost instantly with light and special paper.”
He shook his head. “Magic…”
I smiled. “Yes, a sort of it.”
He turned through the other pictures, all of my favorites of Brianna as a chubby toddler, and a gap-toothed little girl with skinned knees, and a more recent one of her and I together on my graduation day.
“Your hair, Sassenach,” he said in amusement, looking up and plucking at one of my curls. “I’m glad ye dinna wear it straight like that now.”
“It was fashionable,” I defended, chuckling.
The last picture was one of my favorites of Brianna and me, taken on a trip we’d taken with Joe and Gale to the beach. I wouldn’t normally keep a picture of myself in a bikini, but it matched Bree’s yellow polka-dot suit and the way she laughed when I swung her up by her hands was what made it a favorite.
“What th’ devil?” Jamie murmured, eyes going round, and only then did it occur to me how he might see such a photograph. “Christ, Claire! What on God’s green earth are ye wearing? And…in public?! In front of a man?!”
He pointed to Joe, who could just barely be seen smiling in the background.
I reached to take the book away, but he held it away from me. “It’s a bathing suit,” I said. “Worn swimming, and perfectly modest in my time.”
“Modest,” he scoffed. “I can see every inch of ye! Right down to your… and the man looking at ye? You said you didn’t…”
“That’s Joe. My best friend. And that’s his wife taking the photograph. I assure you that her suit looked very similar to mine.”
I tried again to take it, but he held fast, and now he was simply staring, his look of scandal slowly melting to one of interest.
“Your friend,” he said at last, once he seemed to have looked his fill. “He’s…”
“Black,” I finished, knowing where he was headed. “He’s a doctor, like me.”
“He is? Then slavery…”
“Abolished,” I said firmly. “It won’t be for some time, here, but one day it will be. And they’re still working to have the same rights as white people, but it’s getting better, slowly but surely.”
He smiled. “That’s good. My aunt lives no’ far from here, and keeps slaves. I’ve never be able to stand it.”
I felt a pang at the thought of Joe. “He won’t know what’s happened to Bree and me.”
Jamie rubbed his hand along my back. “Ye never told him, then?”
“Only that Frank wasn’t Brianna’s biological father.”
Jamie looked away, and we lapsed into another slightly uncomfortable silence. I knew he was probably wondering, wanting to ask me if Brianna and I were staying. And if he were to ask, I’m honestly not sure how I would answer.
I slid off his lap, but only to perch on the edge of the table, so that I was still close to him, but no longer touching. If asked before, I’d have never imagined it would be this strange to be with Jamie again. We’d been so close, so comfortable with one another, almost from the start. Even in those weeks before we were married, I felt so at ease with him.
Now I didn’t know how to feel. Oh I was elated, to be sure. I felt more alive than I’d felt in over a decade. But I was also unsure, overwhelmed, relieved, and utterly exhausted.
It must have shown on my face, because Jamie sighed and touched my knee. “Ah, lass, perhaps we should get some sleep, aye? Ye look ready to drop where ye sit.”
I chuckled. “Yes. I’m afraid I haven’t slept well in…” I blinked, trying to count the days. “Oh, God, not since Frank took Bree…”
The tears came suddenly, without warning, hiccupping sobs as the events of the past nine months came crashing in one me at once. Knowing that Brianna was safe only allowed the weight of everything I’d been through sink in.
Jamie pulled me into his lap again, cradling me like a child, rocking me as he whispered to me in Gaelic.
“When Frank took her, it was hell,” I sobbed. “But at least I knew he wouldn’t hurt her. When she was put on that fucking ship, it felt…it felt like it did when I lost Faith.”
Jamie tightened his hold on me, his breath catching.
“I didn’t know what to do. I had no money. I even tried to sell your mother’s pearls but it wouldn’t have been enough. I…I walked into a tavern…I was going to sell my body…as many times as it took to earn enough to sail to America. If it hadn’t been for John I…”
“Claire,” Jamie whispered, kissing my brow, then my eyelid. “Oh, Claire, mo cridhe,” he continued to press light kisses on my face until he found my lips, kissing me deeply.
I pressed myself to him, opening my mouth for him and accepting his silent offer to bear some of the burden I’d been carrying, just with his presence.
I wanted him. I wanted him so badly it hurt. And yet…
I pulled back, only a little, so that we were still breathing the same air. “I’m sorry,” I whispered. “But I need to see her.”
Jamie smiled, and kissed me again, briefly. “Aye, I agree. I’ll go and get her.”
A loud thump made us both flinch, and a dark figure appeared in the doorway.
Murtagh stood there, one arm wrapped around Brianna’s shoulders. Her sleepy eyes were red and puffy, and for all her eleven-year-old height and lankiness, she looked just like she had when she was five and would come running to my room after waking from a nightmare. I would always pull her into my bed, assuring her that the nightmare was over. Tonight would be no different.
“Sorry,” Murtagh said. “Th’ lass awoke, and wanted her parents.”
“Oh, Brianna,” I said, standing and holding out my arms.
She’d been eyeing my and Jamie’s position curiously, but didn’t hesitate to run to me.
“Thank ye, Murtagh,” Jamie said, patting his godfather on the shoulder and seeing him out.
“I’m sorry,” Brianna said against my chest.
“You haven’t a thing to be sorry about,” I told her. “It so happens that we were just on our way to come and get you. We were only talking a bit, is all.”
“Mmhm,” she said, in such a markedly sarcastic manner that it took me by surprise. Good Lord, she was already well on her way to becoming a teenager.
“Come on,” Jamie said, smiling at us both. “’Tis almost morning, and I think we all need some rest.”
Jamie motioned to his bed, and Brianna didn’t hesitate to hop into it. Jamie stepped out, ostensibly to fetch more blankets, but I rather thought that it was a way for me to undress without the awkward experience of being watched by him in our daughter’s presence. He returned once Bree and I were nestled in his bed, and stared at us lovingly a long moment before turning toward the closet where the smaller bed was.
“Jamie,” I called out. “Stay? Please?”
Jamie hesitated, and I looked over at Brianna. As much as I wanted them both near me, I wouldn’t put Brianna in a situation she was uncomfortable with. After all, she’d never even shared a bed with Frank.
But Brianna only scooted over when Jamie approached the bed, seeming to be quite content in the middle.
It was a picture I could have stared at forever, two heads of red laying side by side, but my eyes were already drifting shut. I wrapped an arm around Brianna, finding Jamie’s hand on the other side, and fell asleep.
Chapter 24: Family Ties
Claire is unsure, Jamie's just happy they're all there, Brianna and William have a talk, and Ian is confused.
Didn't realize I'd left it so long without updating this! Please enjoy the extended Fraser family attempt to work out the logistics of their current situation. :)
It had been a long, long, emotional day. First the missed meeting with General Washington, then the subsequent riot, a mad dash through town to get to Brianna, only to find not only her…but Claire, and the world-changing knowledge that the lass he’d been caring for the past weeks was his own daughter, his flesh and blood.
And if that hadn’t been enough, there’d been Ian, William, Germaine’s birth…
It was no wonder that Jamie was exhausted, but he couldn’t bring himself to close his eyes to sleep. He just couldn’t tear his eyes from Claire and Brianna’s faces, so peaceful and heartbreakingly sweet in slumber.
Seeing Claire again felt like coming to the surface after having been drowning for twenty long, dark years. To see her, to touch her, to kiss her. He’d never thought he would have that again. He’d been so accustomed to living a half-life that he hadn’t realized how numb he’d been until that life had come walking through the door, and now he was almost overwhelmed with every feeling he hadn’t allowed himself to feel in two decades.
And to have his precious wee Brianna as well, to have her near, to have her know who he is and that he never wanted to be away from her. He’d missed so much, moments he could never get back, but God willing, he’d be there for everything else in her life.
And yet…he was afraid, because he did not know if Claire meant to stay, or take their daughter back to their own time. They had a life there, and from what Jamie understood, it was a far safer place.
Should he even try to convince Claire to stay? Could he be that selfish?
Could he deal with the different sort of terror should they stay? Having to live in fear that they may be ripped from him again?
He reached across Brianna to touch one of Claire’s curls. Was that a hint of gray, he spotted?
She was so achingly beautiful. He wanted her more than he could bear, but he knew that if he had her again, he truly would never be able to let her go.
It was a moot point, since their child was nestled securely between them, but Jamie didn’t mind that a bit.
“Dinna fash, mo ghradh,” he whispered, brushing a lock of hair out of her face. “I’m here, now. Ye’ll never have tae wonder how much I love ye.”
Brianna sighed and shifted, rolling toward her mother. Claire, even in her sleep, adjusted to accommodate her, wrapping her arms securely around her, and Jamie thought his heart might burst.
Jamie wrapped his own arms around them both, letting his eyes drift shut. He didn’t know what the future might hold, but he would fight with every ounce of strength he had to keep this. To keep his family safe and sound, and in his arms.
Ultimately, Jamie must have slept after all, but woke easily when one of his lasses moved. He was almost afraid to open his eyes, scared beyond measure that he would find himself alone and it will have all been a dream. But when he did, he found a matching pair of blue eyes looking back at him.
Brianna gave him a funny little wave, and he scooted back a little, giving her space. Seeing that Claire was still sound asleep and snoring most charmingly, he touched a finger to his lips and got up, waiting for Brianna to follow.
“Yer mam was nearly dead on her feet,” he explained once they got upstairs. “Figure we ought tae let her sleep in.”
“Yeah,” she agreed. “She was probably pretty worried about me.”
He smiled at her innocent understatement. “And you? Ye alright?”
Brianna shrugged, and climbed up to sit on the counter. “I guess. It’s been kinda weird, you know?”
Jamie leaned against the counter. He remembered well not always knowing what Claire meant when she spoke, and he still knew how to read between the lines. “Aye, I suppose.”
“So what now?” she asked. “Are you and Mom like…dating?”
Jamie frowned, the meaning of this one completely escaping him. “…Dating?”
“Well, you looked pretty cozy when I got here last night.”
Jamie chuckled and shook his head. “If by dating ye mean something like courting, I dinna think there’s much point in courting your own wife.”
“So you’re still married? Even though she was married to my dad? I mean, they got divorced and everything, but still.”
“Time travel makes for strange legal circumstances,” Jamie admitted wryly. “But aye, we are.”
“And to think,” she said, leaning back on her hands and kicking her feet against the side of the counter. “Here I was, trying to find you a woman.”
“…You were trying to find me a woman?”
Brianna shrugged again. “But seriously, what now? Are we all gonna live here? In the shop? You, me, Mama, Murtagh, Ian, William…”
Jamie couldn’t help but laugh at the mental image that provided. “Weel, Ian will be going home tae Scotland as soon as possible, and we’ll need to get Willie back to his father. As for the rest, dinna fash, we’ll figure something out.”
Brianna was eyeing him shrewdly at the mention of William, and Jamie wondered whether he should tell her, deciding finally to discuss it with Claire first, and perhaps wait until the boy was sent home.
“And what about…the war?” she asked. “Are you still gonna go if they call you up? Leave Mama and me here?”
Jamie sighed. With everything going on, he’d forgotten all about General Washington, and the possible march to Boston.
“Dinna ken if I’ll get much say, to be honest,” he said. “It is tae be war, then? Ye ken this, from history?”
Brianna blinked. “Whoa, that’s right, I can tell you now. It’s called the American Revolution, I learned about it at school. It’ll end with America being a free country. I know you’re supposedly traitors now, but you’re on the winning side.”
“For once,” Jamie said with a sigh.
“But people die in war. Winning side, or not.”
Jamie covered her small hand with his own. “I’ve no intention of dying, lass, so ye can get that out of your mind now.”
The look she gave him was far too old for her years. “Not that many people actually intend to die.”
“I won’t leave ye,” he said more firmly. “I’ve only just found ye, and I will not be leaving ye.”
Brianna held his gaze a long moment, (again, how could someone so wee be this intimidating?) then nodded, and hopped off the counter.
“We have flyers to print today,” she said, suddenly all business, his serious wee lass.
Work was the farthest thing from his mind, but Jamie smiled and followed her regardless. “Aye, best get tae work.”
I awoke that morning feeling more rested than I had in months. I stretched luxuriously, feeling only a pinch of anxiety at finding myself alone, but it was quickly stamped out by the sounds of laughter from upstairs, and I could never mistake either Jamie or Brianna’s voices.
I dressed and made it upstairs just as Ian was arriving with William. I looked at the younger boy as if seeing him for the first time. I’d always thought he reminded me of Jamie, but seeing them in the same room along with Brianna...well, it was clear that Jamie had some very strong genes. The only major differences were Willie’s dark hair and a somewhat more angular face. It made me rather wonder what his mother looked like, but I shoved that thought away, knowing it would only bring me discomfort.
Good morning, I said softly, earning a warm look from Jamie.
“Auntie!” Ian cried, running toward me. “Fergus told me to tell you that Marsali and the wean are braw.”
“Good,” I told him. “I’ll still check on them later...you just called me auntie.”
Ian grinned. “Well aren’t ye?”
I wrapped one around about his shoulders. “Indeed I am.”
“Can we look for my Papa today?” William asked, getting a cuff on the head for it.
“Numpty!” Ian snapped. “Give Auntie Claire some time tae breath, aye? It’s been a long journey, and she only just found her daughter and husband!”
“No, he’s right, Ian,” I said. “We really should try and locate Lord John. I’m sure he’s out of his mind with worry.”
Jamie hummed. “I canna imagine that John wouldn’a come straight here upon arriving in Wilmington, even not knowing Willie is wi’ me.”
Ian made and face and then turned to him. “Wait, you ken Lord John?”
Jamie blinked, caught out. “Uh, aye, we’re old friends.”
“What a coincidence.”
“Alex,” Brianna said, popping up from behind the counter. “Uh...I mean...Jamie?”
He smiled at her. “‘Tis alright, lass. Ye can keep on calling me Alex...if ye like.”
Brianna glanced at me uncertainly, and I could tell that the thought of “what do I call this man?” had only just occurred to her. I smiled but gave her no other indication of what she should do. That decision was purely between her and Jamie.
“Uh, these flyers need to go out today. Can I take them?”
“Aye,” Jamie said. “Dinna be long about it though, I’m sure your mam...”
“Wait,” I broke in, seeing what was happening. “Take them? Alone?”
“I do it all the time, Mama,” Brianna said in exasperation.
“That doesn’t make me feel any better,” I informed her.
We both looked to Jamie, who appeared thoroughly caught in the middle. “Er...Ian will accompany ye,” he said. “And Willie.”
Brianna rolled her eyes, but acquiesced, motioning for the boys to help her gather up some papers before making their way out.
William hesitated at the door, looking back at us. “Do you think my father is alright?”
“I’m sure he’s fine,” Jamie said. “He’ll probably be here any time now.”
I managed to hold my tongue, barely, until they were out the door. “Are you insane?” I asked, whirling on Jamie. “She’s an eleven year old girl! She can’t be roaming around this city alone!” I looked toward the door. “No, I don’t even like her going out with just the boys, I’m going to get her.”
Jamie grabbed my arm before I could, though I pulled against him. “She’s done it a hundred times,” he said. “She kens this town, and besides, no one knows she’s a girl at all!”
“But she is,” I said. “And she’s a child. My child!”
“Mine as well,” Jamie said flatly. “And I’d never let anything happen to her.”
I breathed deeply through my nose, trying to still the rolling panic in me. I had always been a little overprotective, and the events of the last year had certainly done nothing to dispel that. Ian would look after her, I knew, but it didn’t make it any easier.
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I’m not trying to make you feel like you have no say, or that you would ever deliberately put her in danger, but look at what’s happened to me and her.”
“And ye wound up here,” Jamie said. “Ye’re both unhurt, and you’re here, wi’ me. I could never regret that, no matter what price it came with.”
“Neither can I,” I whispered, stepping forward into his arms. “It can’t be coincidence that this happened the way it did.”
“Aye. Ye were meant tae come back, Sassenach.”
We stood in peaceful silence for a time, enjoying one another’s nearness. Just as I started to become very aware of his nearness, I pulled away. “What are we to do about Willie?”
Jamie grimaced, confirming a concern of mine. “I’m worried about John. I meant what I said, he’d have come here straight away, and sent word ahead forbye, telling me of what happened tae Willie.”
“Well, it’s as you said before, he could have just gotten held up, especially with winter setting in. And mail I’m sure is far from reliable in these times.”
“Indeed, but if I dinna hear from him soon, I’ll have to send word tae th’ Dunsanys, and may have to see about sending him back tae England.”
“He can’t go alone,” I said. “He isn’t even as self-reliant as Bree. Can’t he just stay until someone comes to get him?”
Jamie sighed. “Dinna think it a good idea for him tae be wi’ me longer than need be.”
I frowned at him. “I’m surprised. I’d think you would like the chance to spend more time with him.”
“Aye, but ye’ve seen th’ lad, it’s as John once said, it’s only a matter of time before Willie sees it himself.”
I personally couldn’t see how that was a bad thing, but decided not to press the matter. I wouldn’t be allowing Willie on a ship across the ocean without adult supervision, however. It mattered not to me that Jamie was his father and I of no relation whatsoever, but I would be putting my foot down about that.
We lapsed into another silence as Jamie pretended to look at some papers at the counter while I browsed about the main lobby. We both snuck glances at one another though, and I we both knew what the other was thinking. How could we not? But things were difficult, with three children liable to return any moment, not to mention the million unanswered questions between us.
“Are ye hungry, Sassenach?” He asked me. “I dinna have much here, but we can go down tae th’ tavern for a bite.”
“Alright,” I said. I didn’t particularly want to go to a tavern, but I was hungry. “And then I’d like to check on Marsali and the baby. Do you know what she meant last night, about me not being the devil? Have there been stories going around Lallybroch or something?”
Jamie gave me a rather sheepish smile. “Weel...aye, there may have been. But that’s no’ what Marsali meant, I think. Ye should know, Sassenach, that Marsali’s mother is Laoghaire McKenzie.”
I froze midstep, staring wide-eyed at him. “Laoghaire?!” It was no wonder that Marsali had seemed familiar, she was a spitting image of her wretch of a mother.
“Aye,” Jamie said. “I was surprised as well, when Fergus showed up at my door wi’ her for a bride, having never even known that they were courting. Laoghaire is a widow twice over, wi’ a younger daughter as well. They’ve been living in Broch Morda since she wed her first husband.”
I wrinkled my nose. “Wonder if she burned her husbands at the stake,” I looked up at him a little guiltily. “Sorry, that was unkind. Perhaps she’s matured.”
“I doubt it,” Jamie said. “She and Jenny conspired tae wed me to her, before I came here. Put a rift between Jenny and I for a time. And I’ll no lie tae you, Sassenach. I was always verra fond of Marsali and Joan, and had they any other mother...I’d have considered it.”
It caused a pinch to my heart, hearing that, mostly because I wondered what would have happened had Brianna and I come to this time to find Jamie happily married and a step-father to two daughters. Jamie would have been in a horrible position, torn between two loyalties, and I’d have never wanted to disturb his life.
Now, if he’d been married to Laoghaire of all people, well, I imagine I would not have handled that well at all.
“It’s alright,” I told him. “Not the marrying Laoghaire part, of course, but moving on. I wouldn’t have blamed you for it, especially after twenty years.”
“Wouldn’a been fair,” he said, taking my hand as we walked. “Marrying someone else who I canna give my heart to.”
“I’m sure there have been any number of women who wouldn’t have minded,” I pointed out. “There have been couples through the ages who have married for convenience or companionship, not love. Just look at how we married.”
Jamie squeezed my hand, and smiled at me from the corner of his mouth. “Perhaps. But it has always been forever, for me, Sassenach.”
“Will you keep up?” Brianna snapped, turning to look at William, who was lagging behind, again.
“Aye,” Ian agreed. “Last thing we need is for you to get lost again.”
“I wasn’t lost yesterday!” William shot back. “No more lost than you!”
“You sure looked pretty lost when I found you,” Brianna said.
“Fine,” William bit out. “Since you two are such bosom buddies now, you don’t need me. I’ll just go find my father on my own!”
Brianna made a face. “Ew. Don’t say bosom. And fine, go.”
“No,” Ian said, grabbing William’s arm. “Neither of ye are leaving my sight, understood?”
“I just want to find my father and get out of here,” William continued, ripping his arm from Ian’s grasp but continuing on with them.
“What is your problem?” Brianna asked. “Okay, I get you’re worried about your dad, but my mom said you wanted to go with her. She and Alex will take care of you.”
“He’s your father,” William said. “You should refer to him as such.”
She narrowed her eyes at him. “You let me worry about that, huh?”
“You two fight like siblings,” Ian said will a roll of his eyes.
“Wonder why?” Brianna drawled.
William stopped walking and glared at her. “What is that supposed to mean?”
“Oh come on,” Brianna said, spinning to face him. “You’re not that stupid, are you?”
“How dare you?!” William hissed. “I am an Earl, you…you…”
Brianna marched up to him, stopping until they were nearly nose-to-nose. “What? Go on, what?”
William looked her up and down, indicating her clothing. “Degenerate.”
Brianna clenched her fists. “Bastard.”
“You take that back,” he snarled. “I am not a bastard!”
“Both of you, shut up!” Ian snapped, grabbing them both by the collars and dragging to the alley before releasing them. “Someone want to explain to me what’s going on? What’s wrong with you two?”
“He knows damn well,” Brianna said, crossing her arms. “Don’t you? Look at the kid. Doesn’t he remind you of anyone?”
“Stop it!” William cried. “My name is William Henry Clarence George Ransom, ninth…”
“Earl of Elsemere, we know,” Brianna said. “Only because you’ve told us your whole name a bajillion times. You can’t honestly tell me it hasn’t crossed your mind.”
“What?” Ian exclaimed. “What has crossed his mind? What th’ devil are you two blathering about?!”
William started blinking frantically, and Brianna’s hackles lowered, never having meant to make the boy cry. “It isn’t true,” he said. “It isn’t.”
“Why would it be so bad?” she asked, genuinely wanting his answer. William had known Jamie longer than she had. She thought he was pretty great, but did William feel differently? Did he know something about Jamie that she didn’t? Hell, after so many years, what if William knew something that even Mama didn’t know?
“Because he doesn’t want me,” William said. “You heard him, he can’t wait for my papa to come and take me.”
“Because that’s what you said you want,” Brianna defended. “It’s obvious he cares about you.”
“He left,” William cried. “He just up and left one day, and didn’t look back.”
“He must have had a good reason,” she said softly. “I was mad, too, finding out my dad wasn’t my real father. But I know that Alex had a good reason for not being there. He was protecting me and my Mama.”
“He wasn’t protecting me by leaving,” William said. “He didn’t want me. He wants you, but not me.”
“Christ,” Ian gasped, looking back and forth between the two of them. “Are you saying what I think you’re saying?!”
William shook his head. “No, it can’t be. My father’s dead.”
Alex told me,” Brianna said. “He didn’t know I’d ever meet you like this, or that I was even his kid, but he told me, all about his son, William.”
William wiped his nose on his sleeve, his shoulders slowly losing their tenseness. “He did?”
“Oh my God,” Ian murmured.
Brianna nodded. “He couldn’t stay, Willie. He and your mother weren’t married, and he didn’t want anyone to find out that you were his and not the Earl’s. He was a servant. Can you honestly tell me it would have gone over well with your family if they knew you were his kid?”
William shook his head, turning away and kicking at the wall of the building.
“But he said how much he loved you,” she continued. “He’s just looking out for you, man.”
Brianna looked up at Ian, who was gaping at them. “How many children does Uncle Jamie have?!” he exclaimed.
“Two,” she said firmly. “But Mama doesn’t know yet, and neither of you are allowed to say anything until he tells her himself, got it?”
“She’s going to be furious,” William said, her voice small. “She’ll hate me.”
Brianna had a hard time believing her mother could ever hate a kid, but she didn’t think she’d be happy. She hated to tell William that, however. It was obvious that he was attached to her. “No, she won’t,” she said. “She can’t be mad. She remarried after they were separated, so she can’t blame Jamie for having another kid. It’s been eleven years.”
William frowned at her. “But I’m twelve.”
Ian frowned at them both. “Auntie Claire disappeared before I was born…wait…you’re eleven. How th’ devil can you be eleven if your mam has been gone for over twenty years?”
“Mac was my groom until I was six,” William said. “He couldn’t have left before then, and he told me about his wife who died a long time ago. How is any of this possible?”
Brianna grimaced and bit her lower lip. “Uh…we uh, we better go get these fliers delivered and get back before Mama sends out a SWAT team. Let’s go!”
“Hey, wait!” Ian called after her as she trotted away. “Get back here and explain what’s going on! And what th’ devil is a SWAT team?!”
Chapter 25: Moving On
The family makes a decision, and Jamie and Claire work to bring back their old closeness.
Sorry this wasn’t posted when I said it would be! Turned out to be a hectic weekend, lol. But here it is, by popular vote!
Jamie gathered us all around the dining table in Fergus’s apartment. Brianna and I, Murtagh, Fergus, and even Marsali was able to join us.
Jamie was forced to send William off on an “errand” with Ian, not wishing to put the boy in an awkward position considering who his father was. But William wasn’t fooled, and looked awfully peeved when he realized Brianna was allowed to stay.
Jamie had been given an offer. The patriots needed information from the British. They needed a spy. Alex McKenzie was often suspected of being sympathetic to the “traitors”, but James Fraser technically didn’t even exist in America, so his slate was relatively clean...oddly enough.
There was a tract of land higher in the mountains that Governor Tryon of the British army was offering to a loyalist for recruiting fellow loyal tenants. General Smallwood of the North Carolina militia had an in that would vouch for Jamie, and if Jamie could get the land, he could get the ear of Tryon, and gain valuable information that would ultimately help the colonists.
“Jamie...I don’t know,” I said. “That sounds very dangerous.”
He nodded. “It isn’a wi’out danger, no, but it also means I wouldn’a be fighting, not now at least. I’ll have no contact wi’ th’colonists, only Murtagh, Hayes, and Lesley.”
“Aye, and if we’re caught, it willn’a go back tae Jamie,” Murtagh said.
“And Smallwood promised that when th’ time comes tae turn coat, that my family will be protected at all costs.”
Jamie reached over and took my hand. “All that will be required of me now, for some time tae come, is tae build a home for you, and Brianna. And once th’ war is won, th’ land will be signed over tae me.”
“Assuming we actually win th’ war,” Marsali said.
“We will, Marsali,” Fergus said, patting her hand.
“Aye, we will,” Jamie agreed, glancing over at me and Brianna. “Ye must have faith. But as this decision affects us all, we must all agree.”
“I say we do it,” Fergus said. “Subterfuge, it is one thing we know, aye, Milord?”
Jamie chuckled and gave Fergus a look. “Aye. I don’t exactly relish it by any stretch o’ the imagination,” he looked at me again. “But it does mean no battlefield.”
“For now,” I echoed his earlier words. “Are you sure about this Jamie? Can you do that again? Be a spy? A traitor?”
“I’m already a traitor,” he said. “I always was, from th’ day ye met me.”
I looked at Brianna, worry twisting my gut. There really was no safe option here. The war was coming...the war was here . And going off into the mountains to play spy, far away from the actual fighting, did appeal greatly. Much more than marching into Boston.
“I trust you, Jamie,” I said again.
He smiled at me in thanks. “Murtagh has already agreed. We’ll be leaving in a week, once things are taken care of here.”
“And William?” I asked.
“There’s little we can do, Sassenach,” he said. “Except send th’ boy home tae England.”
I shook my head. “No. We are not putting him on a ship alone.”
Jamie arched a brow at my fervent declaration, but did not argue. “We could send him and Ian together. I have tae get him back to Jenny and Ian at any rate.”
“You will have a hard time convincing Young Ian of that, Milord,” Fergus said. “He is insistent on staying. And besides, you may need the extra help building the house,” he held up his wooden hand. “Since I’m more limited.”
“Ye’re hardly limited,” Jamie said. “But aye, I see what ye mean. Th’ lad just keeps finding ways back here.”
“I can help build the house too,” Brianna put in.
Jamie smiled at her. “Oh aye, I’ll be needing your help, plenty, lass. I suppose for now William will just have tae come with us, and I’ll leave word for John wi’ Lesley and Hayes.”
I sighed, relieved that Jamie was letting go of his insistence that we ship the boy back to England. “What do we tell him?”
“I suppose we let him believe what we’re telling Tryon. I dinna want tae put him or John in a difficult situation.”
I didn’t bother pointing out to Jamie that when the time came to turn coat, it would put him and John, and by extension, his son, at opposing sides. He knew it, but wasn’t ready to confront it.
“Can I go tell Willie and Ian?” Brianna asked.
“Aye, go find them,” Jamie said. “I’ll talk tae Ian alone later, but remember to watch what ye say tae Willie, aye?”
“Aye,” she replied, darting out, and I smiled. Already she was imitating her father.
Within the week we were packing up and heading north. Fergus and Marsali would stay behind and join us once we found a place to settle.
Ian was over the moon at being allowed to stay with us for the time being. He wrote another letter to his mother, with a postscript from Jamie, though knowing Jenny I doubted she was going to be very happy either way.
William was still concerned about John, but seemed content to tag along on another adventure, while he and Brianna continued their ongoing competitiveness.
As for Jamie and I, things were...strange.
In many ways, it was as if we’d never parted. We were of like mind in nearly everything, we worked well together, and thoroughly enjoyed one another’s company.
And yet there was a distance between us that had never existed before, not since the day we married. Perhaps not even before that. It was slight, but noticeable, though neither of us seemed to have the nerve to bring it up.
I still loved him with all of my heart, and believed he felt the same about me. But there was still just something off, and it was difficult to put my finger on just what.
I wished sorely that we’d had some time alone, but that hadn’t been possible since that first night. Not with the busyness of preparing to travel, and the caring of two children and a teenager, all of who were either bickering or getting into mischief constantly.
The distance became more apparent the day we left Wilmington. I hadn’t been blind to all the women in the area who had eyes for Jamie, and Brianna had even told me that she knew of several who had been actively trying to pin him down to court. (Or, simply pin him down, whichever came first.)
But there had been one, a beautiful brunette who had pulled Jamie aside while I was talking with Fergus outside of the printshop.
I watched covertly, seeing the way her face crumpled, the way Jamie gently touched her arm. The conversation didn’t last long, and she walked away, head down, and I thought also crying. Jamie never mentioned the exchange to me, never spoke of the girl, and I was too nervous to ask.
I believed Jamie when he said he’d had no other woman since William’s mother, but it was still a stark reminder that he’d lived an entire lifetime since last we parted. That he’d grown beyond me, had experiences that held no part of me. Aged and changed in ways that had nothing to do with me.
I knew without a doubt that he WANTED Brianna and I to fit into his life, but I was just still so afraid that we couldn’t. Jamie and I had both grown up...he more than me...what if we hadn’t grown in a way that matched anymore?
“Ian, watch that hound o’ yours!” Jamie snapped as a gray blur zoomed past us, startling Jamie’s horse.
“Sorry, Uncle Jamie!” Ian cried, spurring his own horse faster. “Rollo! Get back here!”
Ian had gone off and won his “hound” in a game of dice in Wilmington, although it was more wolf, than hound.
Brianna, riding beside me on the small tan mare that Jamie had purchased for her, hummed merrily, and I chuckled once I recognized the tune.
“What are you singing?” William asked.
Brianna grinned, delighted he’d asked.
“ You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog, crying all the time! You ain’t nothin’ but a hound dog, crying all the time. You ain’t never caught a rabbit and you ain’t no friend of mine!”
William wrinkled his nose, but Ian, who had returned with Rollo back at his side, smiled. “That’s a bonny tune! Will ye teach it to me?”
And that was how Brianna ended up teaching a group of people in the 18th century a full collection of Elvis music.
“Be careful,” I told her a little later. “Start singing about things like trains or records and people will really start asking questions.”
“What if we can INVENT them?” She asked, eyes alight. “Just imagine, getting ahead of the game and inventing a record player.”
I shook my head. “Why don’t you work on inventing electricity first?”
She rolled her eyes. “The wind-up ones came first, mom .”
“I know, Brianna ,” I droned back. “But maybe we ought to leave it to the people who really invented them? Wouldn’t want to steal their thunder.”
She shrugged. “How do you know they didn’t get the idea from me? We’re part of history, now. We must always have been, since it’s already happened.”
I blinked, trying to let my mind catch up to her train of thought. “So you’re saying, as opposed to changing history, we’re only doing what’s already been laid out for us?”
“Sure,” she said. “You can’t change what’s happened. It already happened. Future us must have already gone back in time, and it all just plays out like a loop, over and over. One day we’ll die, but in the future you’ll be born, and it’ll start again.”
“Where does it end?” I asked, genuinely interested in her unique point of view.
“Maybe never? Maybe when the world ends? And maybe it’s not the same every single time. Maybe sometimes we die, or sometimes you never had to leave Alex at all.”
“Or maybe sometimes I never even met him.”
She shook her head. “No, that’s different. I think you’ll always meet him.”
“How are you so sure?”
“I don’t know, but it just seems like the sort of important thing that has to happen.”
“You’re doing it wrong!”
“I am not! The tinder is damp.”
“No, it’s not, you’re just doing it wrong.”
“Fine! Then you do it!”
“Both of ye shut your gabs!”
I shook my head, looking over at Jamie, who wore an expression like he wasn’t sure going into battle wouldn’t be easier than this.
“All this time I thought having one child was stressful,” I murmured. We’d stopped near a stream for the night, and the kids had offered to make camp themselves. I’d suspected that it would be a disaster, but Jamie had handed the reins over to them happily...then not so happily when they proved they could do little but bicker.
“I wish my parents were alive,” Jamie said. “So I could apologize for th’ hell Jenny, Willie, and I put them through.”
I chuckled. “I suppose Bree is used to being an only child, and William too, I’m sure.”
Jamie chuckled. “Dinna fash. They’re fine. Jenny and I fought like cats and dogs, but we would have had each other’s backs no matter what.”
“But they don’t know that they’re…” I looked over at him, gesturing vaguely with my hand. “Do you think it would make a difference to them?”
“Dinna ken,” he said, shrugging. “But for now, I’m hungry, so I suppose I’d better get over there and start a fire.”
After finally getting a fire going and supper cooked and eaten, we got the children to stop squabbling long enough to sleep.
“They’re much cuter when they’re asleep,” I whispered, pulling the blanket up higher on Brianna.
“I’ll take first watch, Uncle Jamie,” Ian said, leaning back against a tree.
“Good,” Jamie said, then looked over at me. “Sassenach, take a walk wi’ me?”
“Now?” I asked, eyeing the dark forest.
He smiled at me. “Aye, now.”
Mentally shrugging, I stood up and took his hand. “Will the children be alright here alone?”
“We won’t go far. Ian, lad, shout if ye think anything is amiss, aye?”
“Ye can count on me!” Ian said cheerfully.
I was tired, and didn’t like leaving the children alone at a campsite at night, but Jamie would never put us in danger, and the idea of taking a little time alone with him appealed greatly, so I followed him into the darkness, our path illuminated only by the moonlight filtering in through the trees.
“There’s an abandoned mill out here somewhere,” he explained as we made our way. “Thought perhaps ye might wish tae see it.”
I quirked a brow but smiled. I couldn’t imagine why he thought I’d want to see an abandoned mill, but I was happy to be along for the ride.
We reached a clearing, where stood a dilapidated farmhouse, the burned ruins of a barn, and then a huge windmill that still looked in working condition, if rather worn down.
“It’s beautiful,” I said, and it was true. It was a little haunting, seeing the lifeless farm, wondering what had caused its abandonment, but beautiful all the same.
“Come,” he said, his teeth gleaming white in the moonlight, looking suddenly young and boyish again, and pulled me toward the mill.
The rain had built up a little wall of silt in front of the door, so Jamie had to strain to pull the door open. Inside, the moon made pinprick spotlights where holes had developed in the walls and ceiling. The sound of the door creaking open sent a flock of birds, or maybe bats, flying through the rafters.
It seemed bigger on the inside than it looked on the outside, and I stepped into one of the beams of soft, blue light, smiling upward.
“ Gratias Deo pro eius ,” he murmured, and I turned to find him watching me intently.
“It’s beautiful,” I said.
He hummed, eyes boring into mine intensely. “Verra beautiful.”
I felt my face heat up, and a sudden flurry of nerves made its way into my stomach. I didn’t know why I was nervous...it was only Jamie. And yet I couldn’t help the way my heart thundered.
He approached me, or perhaps I approached him, I wasn’t sure, but then we were standing scarcely an inch apart, not quite touching, but breathing the same air.
He reached out first, brushing a lock of hair out of my face so gently I barely felt it. That ghost of a touch would never be enough, so I rested my hand on his chest, over his heart, smiling faintly when I felt it racing just as much as mine.
I knew Jamie more intimately than I knew anyone else. I still vividly remembered what it felt like to have his body pressed against mine. What he felt like inside me. And yet, I suddenly felt younger and more insecure than I’d even felt the night I actually lost my virginity.
“This isn’a what I imagined,” he said. “I should wait, and lay ye down on a soft bed, beside a warm fire. No’ a cold, dusty ruin.”
Nerves got the best of me then, and I fell back into awkward humor.
“Who said you’re laying me anywhere tonight?”
I realized belatedly that what was supposed to come out as light and teasing, instead came out a little off-putting, and I could see that the second Jamie’s eyes widened and he took a half-step back.
I grabbed handfuls of his shirt, hauling him back to me, rising up on tiptoe so that I could kiss him. “Bad joke,” I whispered against his lips. “I’ve missed you so much, Jamie.”
“I, you,” he said. “Will ye have me, Sassenach?”
I grinned, remembering well the last time he asked me that question, and my answer this time was just as enthusiastic, if not more.
He covered my mouth with his, cupping my jaw, his thumb brushing the side of my neck.
Since that first night together, we hadn’t done more than kiss chastely, and having him near all of the time, his arms around me at night, had only increased my ache for him by the day.
It wasn’t just physical release that I wanted, which, to be fair, was also the case. I also simply yearned for that closeness, to bridge that damned gap between us one way or another.
After making my head spin with his kiss, he pulled back, eyes burning bright despite the darkness.
“I want to see you,” I whispered, tugging ineffectually at his shirt.
He smiled and took a step back, shrugging off his coat and vest. I took over at that, undoing the buttons of his shirt.
We’d been living closely for over a week, and he had dressed in front of me, but I hadn’t looked. Something about it had just felt too awkward. Now I did look, trying to take everything in. The ways he was the same, the ways he was different.
His chest was hairier than it used to be, but he was still toned and well-muscled. In fact he looked and felt even stronger than he had when he was in his twenties.
I touched the small round scar on his rib cage where I’d removed the brand left by Black Jack. It had faded considerably, but was still there, as were several other scars that were new to my eyes.
“Your turn,” he murmured, and the way his eyes gleamed I knew that he, too, was remembering our wedding night.
Glad the dim light hid my blush, I removed my coat, gladly allowing him to take over in undressing me as well, sighing at the first feel of his knuckles as they brushed the bare skin of my chest.
Never a brief process, removing 18th century women’s clothing, but once he finally had me down to my shift, I hesitated. Never had I cared so much about my appearance, but I was strikingly aware of every stretch mark on my abdomen, of the way my breasts had lost some of their youthful shape since breastfeeding. I’d gained some weight in recent years back in Boston, but the months since coming through the stones had mostly taken care of that, except perhaps where the weight clung stubbornly to my thighs.
Jamie must have picked up on my shyness, and instead of removing my shift, turned his attention to taking off the rest of his own clothes.
The sound of his belt unbuckling and pants hitting the ground was deafening in the quiet mill, and I took a step back so that I could better see him, naked and beautiful and very clearly aching for me as I did for him.
My shift was suddenly an incredibly unwelcome barrier, one that I threw off without another thought. But as I stood nude before him, the nerves fought to come back, and I paused.
“You’re the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen,” he said. And if it had been anyone else that said that, I’d have assumed they were humoring me. But Jamie, for all that he could hold a poker face like no other, could not lie to me. Even if his body wasn’t displaying exactly how he felt, I would know the truth of his words no matter what.
“Jamie,” I whimpered, wishing I knew how to start. He took matters into his own hands, and me, by picking me up bridal-style and laying me gently down on the ground, where at some point (I wasn’t aware of when,) he had spread out his blanket.
I sighed in relieved bliss at the feel of his weight covering my body. None of my dreams - and I’d had many - could compare to the real sensation of his skin against mine.
Jamie kissed me, my lips, my cheeks, neck, breasts, never focusing too long on any one thing.
Slow, teasing lovemaking certainly had its time and place, but I didn’t think this was it. I didn’t want Jamie’s gentleness. I wanted to feel him. I wanted him to bruise me, so that I would still feel it later.
He must have felt my urgency, because he stopped teasing, and I felt him line himself up with me, touching me first to assure that I was ready.
He sucked in a breath when he found me drenched, and I moaned at even the feather-like touch. “I’ve wanted you so long,” I said. “I’ve wanted you so much it hurt.”
He smiled. “I dinna even remember what it’s like not tae want ye, Sassenach.”
He entered me then in one hard thrust, and we both cried out at just the sheer relief, the feeling of truly being alive again.
I hooked my legs around him and rolled my hips up to meet him, not giving him the chance to go slowly.
Jamie seemed to have no interest in going slow at any rate, and came into me hard and relentless, one hand braced against the floor beside my head while the other cradled it with contradictory tenderness.
My own hands couldn’t be still. I gripped his biceps, his shoulders, dug my fingernails into the ridges on his back, raked them down to his arse and squeezed him there, making him grunt and go even faster, sparking something in me that no other, not even my own hand, had ever been able to replicate.
“ Mo nighean donn ,” he breathed, each word punctuated by a gasp. “My Claire, Oh God, Claire…”
I tangled one hand into his hair and pulled his face roughly to mine, our teeth clanging together as I kissed him, tasting a slight tang of blood as I bit his lower lip.
I knew he was close, so I strained up toward him, desperate not to be left behind. “Don’t stop,” I cried against his mouth. “Don’t you dare stop.”
“Never,” he said, though I felt his body shake, felt the flood of warmth inside of me, heard his sharp curse in my ear. But he didn’t stop, and took my knee and pushed it up higher, driving himself deep.
I fell apart with a scream only muffled by his mouth, still scrambling to get ever closer to him, like I could just merge with him if I tried hard enough.
I cried out again when he abruptly withdrew from me, but his cock was swiftly replaced with his fingers, driving into me while I still clenched, drawing another orgasm from me before I even knew what was happening.
We laid still for a time, the only sound our heavy breathing. He was heavy atop me, but I wouldn’t unwrap my arms and legs from around him. I didn’t care if he crushed me, I just never wanted him to leave.
He shifted his weight so that it was off of me, but kept us wrapped around each other. I was in a bit of a daze for a moment, but when I opened my eyes, they met his, gazing at me like he couldn’t believe I was real, so I ran my fingertips across his jaw, then gently pulled him down for a kiss.
“Still alright, for an auld man?” He said, smiling lazily.
I chuckled. “I suppose you still have a few moves left in you.”
He ran his hand up and down my side. “It’s strange. I’m sae used to you being older than me.”
“Does it bother you?” I asked. “Being older than me? I might would think you’d like it. Men normally like younger women, don’t they?”
He smiled and shook his head. “It matters not to me, Sassenach. I’ll want ye, no matter how old we are. Does it bother you ? I’m no’ the young man I once was. My eyesight’s no’ what it was, and my knees creak like a rusty hinge sometimes.”
I laughed and rolled my eyes. “It’s not as though I haven’t changed. God knows I don’t have the body I used to, and I’m already starting to go gray. I rather like the way you look now,” I ran my hand up his chest. “Forties look good on you, Jamie.”
He kissed me and stroked my hip. “Well thank ye, but I’d like tae set some things straight about your body…” his hand slid inward and down.
“Mmm, and what’s that?” I asked.
Jamie shifted, kissed my chest, slowly moving south. “Pay attention,” he said. “And I’ll tell ye.”
I chuckled, and it sounded breathy even to my own ears. “We really should probably get back to the kids.”
“Ian can keep watch a bit more,” his tongue circled my navel. “But we have an important conversation tae have first…”
My eyes fell closed of their own volition, and my resolve slipped away. “Right...conversation.”
“Point number one…” he murmured, lightly biting the inside of my thigh.
I tangled my hand into hair and sighed. “What’s point number two?”
Instead of speaking, Jamie merely moved on to point number two...then three...and after that I lost count.
Chapter 26: Sturdy and Sound
Jamie and Claire find a place to build a house for their family, while struggling to find time to themselves.
Been a while since I worked on this one! But I have a plan for it now, just a matter of filling the bridge between the storylines!
The North Carolina wilderness was truly a beautiful sight to behold. Every time Jamie looked around, he was reminded of home. True, there were no thistles or rolling fields of heather, but the mountains and trees felt the same, and knowing he could go where he wished without fear of discovery or the need to hide his heritage was a balm to the soul.
But no sight was more beautiful, more soul-healing, than that of his wife and children, together and safe under his protection.
Getting the land grant was surprisingly simple in the end. Governor Tryon, a relatively amiable, but calculating man, saw the merit in having an influential Scot gathering tenants, and eventually an army...so he signed over 10,000 acres, and that was that.
He and Claire chose a picturesque area near the ridge to begin building their home.
“Just ye wait,” Jamie said, surveying the land. “Soon we’ll have a house, and a community,” he turned to Claire, touching the side of her face. “A home.”
She nodded, smiling. “It’s beautiful, Jamie.”
He still couldn’t believe it sometimes, that she was there with him. For twenty long years he lived almost as a ghost. Being , but not really living . It wasn’t always bad. There were times of contentment, even happiness. He’d learned how to go on, how to laugh and enjoy moments with family, friends, nature.
But nothing, nothing compared to the all-encompassing joy he felt having Claire. Just seeing her, hearing her voice, having the ability to touch her whenever he felt the need (and the need came very often,) was intoxicating.
And somehow, fate had seemed fit to bring his daughter into his life as well, still only a child, unbelievable as it seemed. He tried not to think too much on the workings of time-travel - it only served to give him a headache - but he was eternally grateful for this second chance.
That Claire was somehow now five years his junior was interesting, to say the least, but he’d never really given all that much thought to their ages anyway, and at least she hadn’t come back to him the same age she’d been when she left.
“It’s a good thing,” he found himself saying aloud. “That th’ stones didn’a bring ye back tae me th’ same age as when ye left.”
She gave him a wry smile. “I think you’re misjudging how they work, but I’ll bite. Why is that good?”
He shrugged sheepishly, feeling a little silly for bringing it up. “Only that a lass in her twenties might no’ be as attracted to an auld man in his late forties.”
To his surprise, Claire threw back her head and laughed.
“That’s funny, then?”
“Oh my, yes!” she cried between gasps of air. “Oh you, dear, sweet man.”
Now Jamie frowned, beginning to feel a little put out. “What d’ye mean? Was that so daft?”
She was still laughing, covering her mouth, then butted his chest with her head, wrapping her arms around his waist. His discomfit assuaged, he put his arms about her in return.
Claire sighed, finally ceasing her laughing. “It’s only that you still seem to have no real clue how very attractive you are. Not even considering the fact that twenty-somethings marry men far older than you all of the time, I would have wanted you at any age, Jamie Fraser.”
He smiled into her hair. “Aye? And what if I was in my eighties, instead?”
“I’d push you about in a wheelchair and give you sponge baths,” she shook with laughter as she said it, and he wondered if there was a joke there he was missing.
Pulling back, but not loosening her hold, she grinned up at him, threatening to stop his heart with it. “And what if it were the reverse? What if I’d come to you that first time in my late forties, and you a young buck of twenty-two?”
He grinned back at her, wolfishly. “Shall I show you what I’d do?”
Her eyelids lowered, and she bit her lip. “I think you should. You know, they do say that women reach their sexual peak in their late thirties.”
Jamie arched an eyebrow at her. “Is that so? I think I may need tae test that theory, Sassenach…”
They released each other like they were burned, and Jamie sighed resignedly as he looked down at their daughter. He did so adore the lass, but she had terrible timing sometimes.
“That if you eavesdrop your ears will fall off,” Claire said flatly.
Brianna gave her an unimpressed look. “Ian’s finished sharpening the axes,” she said.
“Aye,” Jamie said, clearing his throat and giving Claire a wink. “Time to cut some lumber. Ian, Willie! Come on, then.”
“But I’ve never chopped wood before,” William said.
“It’s time ye learn,” Jamie said, inwardly sighing. What had John been doing? Jamie had been splitting firewood by the time he was six.
“I have!” Brianna exclaimed. “Haven’t I, Mama?”
“Yes, you have,” Claire agreed indulgently. “But let's be careful with that axe, hm?”
Jamie grinned down at his daughter as she hefted the axe over her shoulder and marched purposefully at his side. She was a braw wee thing, no doubt about that. William had a bit of catching up to do, but Jamie could see the stubborn tilt to his chin, and knew he’d catch up fast.
Jamie smiled, watching with pride as the door latched shut. It still needed work, of course, and he would want to get started right away on adding to it to give their family more space, but the house was finally at a point where they could move into it from the crude shelter out back.
“Done!” he exclaimed.
“It’s finished?!” Brianna exclaimed.
“Aye,” he said. “Oh, there’s still work tae be done, surely, but why don’t ye go fetch your mam and then you and th’ boys start bringing everything in?”
“Alright!” she chirped, darting away.
“It’s wonderful,” Claire said a moment later, sidling up beside him and peering up at the small, but sound cabin.
His heart swelled in pride, and he turned to look out at the mountains, the green hills, and the stream just below.
“Fraser’s Ridge,” he said contentedly.
“Can we really move in now?” Claire asked
“We can,” Jamie said, opening the door again, then tugging on her sleeve when she made to enter. “But first things, first, Sassenach.”
Claire let out a delighted squeal as he swept her into his arms, carrying her over the threshold.
She looked around, eyes alight. She’d been inside any number of times already, and yet she looked at it like she’d never seen it before.
“I had no idea you could do this,” she said. “Build I mean. Not like this.”
He took another look around. It was nothing like the grand work his father had done on Lallybroch, but it was sound. And one day, he hoped he could build them a home like Lallybroch.
“I’ve a surprise for ye,” he said, gently setting her down. “Well, actually I have two.”
“Oh? Do tell!”
He motioned her to follow. The main floor of the house was a big, open room that served as kitchen, sitting room, dining room, and off in the corner an alcove that he’d strategically hanged curtains so that when they moved the beds in, it would be like there were two separate rooms.
“Here” he said, leading her to the large cabinet near the fireplace, and opened it. “See? There are different shelves and compartments for all your medicines, and see? Even places to hang some of your wee herbs once you’ve dried them. Tell me, and I’ll etch the names of your instruments and things in the wood, so that everything will have its place. And I ken how some of your herbs can be dangerous, so…” he shut the door, showing her the keyhole beneath the handle. “Ye can lock it, tae keep th’ children out.”
“Oh Jamie…” she breathed, gently touching the wood. “It’s so beautiful. Thank you!”
He smiled. “One day, ye’ll have your own surgery so ye can treat your patients, but for now I hope this will do.”
She turned and looped her arms around his neck. “I love it. But we’ll worry about finding some patients before a surgery to treat them in.”
He chuckled. “Oh aye, now come...your other surprise.”
He took her hand and pulled her along, making her giggle like a wee girl. When he pointed, her face scrunched up in confusion. “Where did those stairs come from?”
It was more of a ladder than a set of stairs, but he motioned her to proceed him up them, watching to make sure that she was able to traverse them easily enough. “Canna believe I managed tae build a whole loft wi’out ye knowing.”
When he climbed up after her, he found her opening the shutters to look out the large window.
“I knew,” she said, looking over at the bed frame. “But I thought this was for storage?”
He chuckled, taking her by the hips and drawing her close. “I ken couples everywhere deal with living in small spaces shared with their wee‘uns, but most couples haven’a only just found one another after many years apart. Tae be completely honest, this surprise was for me as much as it was for you. I need privacy wi’ ye, Sassenach.”
Claire smiled softly, biting her lower lip. “This is a wonderful surprise, indeed. As much as I love those children, I admit I’ve been hoping for more time alone with you.”
He leaned down, kissing her, relishing in the simple ability to do so.
“We’re alone right now,” she murmured. “I saw the kids out the window. They’re goofing off by the stream.”
“I wish I’d brought the mattress in already.”
Claire pulled back, looking around, and then with a smirk that sent his heart thundering, she backed up toward the bed frame, giving it a firm shake. “Seems sturdy,” she said. “That’s good. But I think we ought to be sure…”
She hoisted herself up to sit on the footboard and swung her feet playfully, giving him a coy look.
He would have loved nothing more than grab her and simply ravish her, but he took a deep breath and walked slowly toward her instead, keeping up her game. He grabbed the footboard on either side of her thighs, giving it another shake. Claire laughed and grabbed his shoulders to keep from falling.
“Oh aye, good and sound. But you’re right, we ought tae be sure, before we go about sleeping on it.”
Jamie kissed her, sighing when her tongue reached out for his at once. He grinned, able to tell that she’d had a few sips of the wine they’d bought in Wilmington. He liked wine, but he liked the taste even more this way.
She raked her hands through his hair, and he groaned when she tugged on it, letting him know that she was becoming impatient.
He wanted to draw it out longer, keep teasing her and riling her up until she screamed for him, but the fact was that they didn’t know how long they had until the children came looking for them. One day he’d be able to take his time with her, but not today.
He growled as he struggled with her skirts, getting them up to her waist. God, he wanted her naked, but this was good too.
Jamie didn’t even realize that Claire was unbuttoning his pants until she had her sneaky wee hand wrapped around his cock, and he had to bite his tongue to keep from coming right then and there.
“Fuck,” she hissed, as they both heard the children’s laughter nearing the house. “Hurry up, damn you!”
She was already wet and ready for him as he entered her, sinking in as far as he could go before pulling nearly all the way back and slamming into her again. He held on the bed frame, as she held on to him, both trying not to cry out. The headboard banged against the wall, and he tried to stop it, not wanting it to alert the kids.
He was nearing his completion after just a couple of strokes, but wasn’t about to go without her. Sliding a hand between them, he stroked her where she was hot and throbbing, then he smiled in bliss as she shuddered around him, dragging him with her.
Jamie stood still a moment, Claire wrapped around him, each trying to catch their breath.
“Mama?” Brianna called. “Where are you?”
Heaving a sigh, Claire lifted her head from his shoulder. “We’ll be down in a moment!” she called, her voice high and breathy. “Parenthood awaits,” she murmured to him.
“Aye,” he said, smiling at her. “And we’ve work to do, if we want tae sleep in our own bed tonight.”
“In our own room,” she said, eyes dancing.
They both jumped when they heard a crash, followed by a curse from Ian, and William contritely calling out,“sorry!”
“Better go now,” Claire said, hopping down and setting her clothes to right. She cast a fond look back at the bed frame, then grinned at him. “Sturdy as can be.”
“Indeed it is, Sassenach. Glad we made sure.”
Chapter 27: Women’s Business
As life settles on the ridge for the Frasers, Brianna finds herself struggling to adjust.
Family fluff. That’s all it is lol.
HOWEVER, I do have a direction for this fic, and it’ll be heading that direction in the coming chapters!
“Bri anna , slow down!”
“How ‘bout you speed up, slowpoke!” Brianna shot back over her shoulder, launching herself over a ditch.
“I could keep up except I’m carrying all the fish here!”
Brianna slowed to a walk, rolling her eyes and turning to face William. “So you caught more fish this time, whoop-dee-do.”
William caught up to her, arching a dark brow. “You’d catch more if you were a little patient and sat still occasionally.”
Brianna rolled her eyes again, and continued on, more slowly this time. “At least we’re having something other than rabbit tonight.”
“What’s wrong with rabbit?” William asked.
Brianna shrugged, then mumbled under her breath. “ What I wouldn’t give for a pizza. ”
“Never mind. Come on, let's cut across the river.”
William gave her his patented look that he wore whenever he didn’t know what she was talking about but was too afraid to ask.
They walked across the overturned tree they used as a bridge to cross the narrow part of the river that wound around the partially constructed house. Almost as soon as Jamie had finished their cabin, and families began settling in Fraser’s Ridge, he and some of the men had started building a new house, a much bigger one.
Brianna loved to go by and see it, excited for the day she could sleep in her own room.
The past couple of years had been a whirlwind for Brianna that had turned her entire world upside down, and now, six months after settling in the North Carolina backcountry, life had finally settled back down into more or less normalcy. Problem was, it was a normal unlike Brianna could have ever imagined.
Her whole life it had been first her, Mama, and Daddy. Then, after Frank left, just her and Mama. Their house had been quiet, but peaceful. Brianna never lacked for personal space. Now, she lived in a tiny one-room house with a mother who never left for work, two rowdy boys who never shut up, and a father who never seemed to tire of being around her.
It was nice . Having a big, loving family was something Brianna had always dreamed of. But it was a lot , and sometimes she honestly just wished she could go to her old bedroom at home and shut the door for a while.
“Hi, Mr. Myers!” Brianna called, waving at the man who rode past them in his wagon.
“Good evenin’ tae ye, laddies!” he called back. John Quincy knew, of course, that Brianna was a girl, but ever since he’d been told the tale of how she came to find her father, he’d not ceased referring to her as a lad and calling her Brian. Brianna only grinned and rolled her eyes.
They reached the cabin, but they slowed at once when they heard the distinctive sound of a wailing baby.
“Oh no,” William groaned, exchanging a look with Brianna.
Brianna adored Fergus and Marsali, but neither she nor William had much patience for their new baby, Joan, who never stopped crying.
“Guess Fergus and Marsali are here,” Brianna sighed. “I hope we caught enough fish.”
Germain came running out of the house, squealing, so Brianna snatched him up around his middle and slung him over her shoulder the way her Da did with sacks of grain.
“ Thank you, Bree,” Fergus said when they stepped inside, going to take his son from her. Brianna could see the lines of exhaustion on his face, and sort of regretted her thoughts of exasperation concerning their presence.
“We caught some fish for supper,” William said, holding them up.
“Oh, well done!” Mama said, holding Joanie and trying to calm her. “Ian’s in the sod house, Willie. Go fetch him and the two of you can gut them.”
William looked ready to protest, but a look from Mama shut him right up.
“What’s wrong with her?” Brianna asked, pointing at the baby.
“Earache,” Mama explained. “Poor darling. Do you think you could start peeling some potatoes?”
Brianna knew better than to make a face, but Marsali must have caught the way her shoulders slumped because she made an offer. “If ye’d rather take Germain out and let him run about, I’ll take care o’ supper, Bree.”
Brianna considered a moment. She didn’t like cooking, but Germain was a handful. In the end though, getting out of the too-hot house and into the cool evening air won out, and she took Germain back from Fergus and was gone.
“Watch him closely, Brianna!” Mama called after her. “Don’t let him get too far away from you!”
“I know, I know,” she said with a wave, putting the toddler on his feet but getting a firm grip of his hand.
She passed by where Ian and William were gutting the fish, and William’s face was contorted in disgust. “Want to trade, Willie?” she asked, pulling the baby back from the pail of fish parts. “I’ll gut the fish if you watch Germain.”
“Child minding is women’s work!” William said, with possibly even more disgust than the fish caused.
“I think your future wife would have another opinion,” said a firm voice.
They all straightened to attention, and even Germain ceased his struggles to get into the fish pail.
Da was the kindest man around, and everyone knew that, but something about the way he spoke commanded respect.
“ Grandpere !” Germain cried, finally breaking free of Brianna to launch himself at his grandfather.
Jamie picked Germain up and propped him on his hip before fixing William with a look. “Ye dinna think a man ought tae look after children, then?”
“W...well…” William stammered, flushing. “His own children maybe, but not other people’s children.”
“Tis as Mistress Claire says, it takes a village tae raise a child,” Jamie said firmly, before handing Germain back to Brianna. “But it seems that everyone here has a job tae complete, and I’ll no have ye’ voisting your own on others, Bree. Take Germain now, he’s squirming like he needs th’ privy.”
Brianna groaned, but took the toddler’s hand in order to hurry him to the outhouse, else she’d be stuck rinsing out his clothes.
After a trip to the privy that lasted way longer than necessary, Brianna found a clear area where the goats had recently trimmed down the grass to let Germain run around. It wasn’t long though before he was tiring her out.
“Aren’t you ready to go rest?” she asked.
“No!” he exclaimed, using one of the few words he knew, and his favorite, at that.
She looked up at saw William approach, and stuck her chin out at him. “What are you doing here? Come to watch me do my women’s work ?”
William rolled his eyes. “I finished with the fish and came to see if you needed help, but if you don’t want me here…”
“Oh, come back,” she griped. “What, is this because Da scolded you?”
None of the kids liked rising either Jamie or Claire’s ire, but William especially loathed being reprimanded by either of them.
“He always jumps to your defense,” William said.
Brianna scowled at him. “What are you talking about? I distinctly remember him telling me quite firmly that I was to mind Germain myself, which sounded like taking your side to me. Are you really gonna get into this again? Da loves you, me, Ian, Fergus, and Marsali all the same.”
“That’s not true and you know it,” William said, sounding resigned. “You’re his daughter .”
Brianna sighed. She knew William’s insecurity wasn’t really about who Jamie loved more, but about the fact that after over a year of William living with them, Jamie still had made no indication of acknowledging William as his biological son.
“Any word from your family in England?” Brianna asked softly.
William shook his head. When they were unable to locate Lord John, Jamie had finally sent a letter to the Dunsany family in England, to inform them that their grandson was safe with “MacKenzie, their former groom,” and were awaiting word from his father. That had been months ago, and no one had responded.
“It doesn’t mean anything,” Brianna said. “I mean, God, mail takes ages to cross the ocean and any number of things could have happened to the letter by now. Maybe Da just needs to send another one.”
“He did,” William told her. “Still nothing. I think they got the letters, they just don’t care.”
“Oh, come on, how can you say that? You told me about how your grandparents spoiled you rotten. They love you.”
“Maybe they found out about my father.”
Brianna scowled at him. “That wouldn’t change that you are their daughter’s son. The letters got lost, that’s all there is to it, and I’m sure your Papa is still working his way here.”
William shrugged, then looked around suddenly. “Bree? Where’s Germain?”
With a gasp, Brianna spun around, not having realized that during her conversation with William, Germain had been awfully quiet. “Germain?” she called. “Germain! Shit, Willie, I don’t see him!”
They tore off through the woods, screaming the toddler’s name, but there was no sign of him.
“Oh my God…” Brianna whimpered, tears forming in her eyes. “What are we gonna do?”
“We need to go get adults,” William said.
“They’ll kill me!’
“What’s going on?” Ian said, trotting to catch up with them, Rollo at his side. “I heard you shouting.”
“We lost Germain,” William said.
Ian’s eyes flew open wide. “ Dhia! How long has he been gone?!”
“No more than ten minutes,” Brianna said, starting to cry in earnest. “I turned my back for a minute and he was gone! Do you think Rollo could find him?!”
Ian eyed Rollo appraisingly. “He’s a good tracker, but I don’t think he knows how to do that.”
“I’m going for help…” William said.
“No, Willie!” Brianna cried. “Please, can’t we just try to find him first?!”
William’s shoulders slumped in the face of her tears, and nodded. “It would take too much time anyway, and we need to check the river, and the ridge.”
Brianna’s stomach plummeted at what his words implied, so they split up, with Ian racing toward the river and Brianna and William toward the ridge.
The whole way, Brianna prayed harder than she ever had before. At first, she’d been mostly worried about getting into trouble, not having even considered the idea of Germain getting hurt, or worse. Now, she didn’t know what she would do if anything happened to her nephew.
“Germain!” William called. “Germain! Time for dinner! Your Ma says it’s time to come home!’
“Willie, wait,” Brianna said, grabbing his sleeve. “You hear that?”
They both paused, and could hear a very faint cry, but it sounded so far away.
“This way,” William said, grabbing her hand and running.
The sound led them straight to the ridge, and Brianna held back, unable to bring herself to look over the edge.
“I see him!” William exclaimed. “He’s on a little ledge!’
Brianna hurried to his side, falling to her hands and knees, so near the edge that she felt William suddenly grab the back of her shirt as if she’d fly right over.
And there was Germain, only about seven or eight feet down, sitting on a narrow ledge. Below that, was a sheer hundred foot drop.
“He doesn’t look hurt,” William said.
“Germain!” Brianna called, regretting it immediately when Germain twisted to look up at her, which brought his body dangerously close to the edge. “Shit, don’t move, Germain! Be very still!”
“You gotta run back for help,” William said. “I’m gonna climb down there after him.”
“ How ?” Brianna asked. “There’s nothing to hold on to!”
William looked again. “Well, it’s not a far drop, I can jump.”
“JUMP?! Christ, William, you could miss! And how the hell will you get back up?!”
“ That’s why you’re going for help!” he exclaimed. “Germain is too little to understand to be still, especially once he hears Fergus, or Da. He needs someone down there with him.”
“Then I’ll do it,” I decided. “I’m smaller, and this is my fault anyway.”
“It’s both our faults, you’re the faster runner…” he pushed at her. “And I’m older, so quit your arguing and go! You’re wasting time!”
Sighing, Brianna stood up to go, but not before watching to make sure William made it safely to the ledge.
“Hold still, Germain,” he said softly, lowering himself over the edge on his stomach.
Brianna held her breath as William slid off the side, landing in a heap beside Germain and coming heart-stoppingly close to rolling over the edge.
“Are you okay?!” she cried.
“Fine!” he called back. “Now hurry !”
Brianna ran as fast as her legs would carry her back to the house. By the time she reached it, the family was already pouring outside with matching expressions of alarm. Apparently Ian had beat her, and told them of Germain’s disappearance.
“William and I found him!” she exclaimed without preamble. “But he’s fallen to a ledge over the side of the ridge.”
“Dear God!” Marsali cried, tightening her grip on Joan.
“He’s okay,” Brianna said. “Willie’s with him.”
“Lead us there,” Jamie said.
When they got back to he ridge, Brianna couldn’t stop her mind from imagining various horrific scenarios, such as the ledge breaking and they return to find William and Germain both gone. But when they all looked over the side, William was there, his back against the cliff wall, Germain held securely in his lap.
“Hold on, boys,” Claire called down, her voice wavering in fear. “We’re going to get you.”
“I cannot climb down,” Fergus said miserably.
“It’s alright,” Jamie said, unrolling the length of rope they’d brought. “Th’ rest o’ ye can lower me down.
“Maybe I should go, Uncle Jamie,” Ian said. “I’m lighter.”
“Aye, but ye may no’ be strong enough tae bring Willie up wi’ Germain, and I canna risk him,” Jamie said. “I can carry them both together.”
He tied one end of the rope securely to a tree. “Fergus, wait at th’ edge tae grab Germain. The rest hold th’ rope and pull us up when I tell ye to.”
“Please be careful,” Claire said, kissing him.
Jamie smiled at her. “Dinna fash, ‘tis just a wee climb.”
Brianna held her breath as Da lowered himself down over the edge, scaling with apparent ease to where William and Germain sat. The ledge was so narrow that he couldn’t stand on it with both William and Germain there, so he was forced to simply hold on while William stood up with Germain in his arms.
“Give him tae me,” Jamie said. “And hold on tae my back. Dinna ye let go for anything, lad.”
Brianna didn’t see any more, because she hurried to grab onto the rope, ready to pull them up. Marsali hurried Joan a safe distance away to lay on the grass and joined her along with Ian, Claire, and Fergus one-handed, and once Jamie shouted the word, they all pulled with all their strength.
It felt like forever but was actually only seconds before Jamie’s head was popping up from the over the side, and Fergus was snatching Germain up into his arms. The rest didn’t release the rope until Jamie had pulled his entire body, along with William’s onto flat earth, and then Claire rushed forward to grab William onto her arms in a similar manner as Fergus had with his son.
“Are you hurt?!” she cried, looking him over.
“No,” he said, but he was shaking, seemingly a delayed panic response.
Seeing that he wasn’t injured, Claire turned her attention to Germain, and Marsali, who was now holding him, held him out for her examination.
Jamie stood up, turning to William. “Ye’re a good man, William. That took a lot of bravery.”
William chuckled nervously. “I almost shat my pants.”
Jamie laughed too, and pulled William into a hug. “I think I did shit mine a wee bit. Ye did verra well, son. I’m proud of ye.”
Brianna could see the way William’s face morphed into an expression of surprised joy. Da sometimes called Ian son, so it wasn’t exactly an acknowledgement, but Brianna scarcely thought that mattered to William under the weight of Jamie’s pride.
She smiled at the sight of it, but her smile soon fell as she turned to Fergus and Marsali, still fretting over Germain, although Claire had deemed him well, and gone to fetch Joan.
“I’m so sorry,” Brianna said, wringing her hands. “I turned my back for one minute…”
“I’ve told you how quickly little ones can escape you,” Claire said gently.
Marsali looked ready to say something, but William cut her off.
“It wasn’t her fault,” he said. “I distracted her.”
Brianna shook her head at him. “No, it’s my fault. And William wanted to come get you right away, and I said no.”
“But you did the right thing in the end,” Fergus said. “It could have happened to any of us.”
Marsali looked ready to argue for a second, then sighed and nodded. “Oh aye, we ken how he is.”
“Still,” Jamie said, giving her a stern look. “Ye were tasked wi’ minding him. Wee-uns are slippery, and accidents happen, but ye should have done as William said and gotten us th’ moment ye noticed him missing. For that, ye’ll be punished, lass.”
Brianna gulped, wondering what on earth he could mean by that. She looked to her mother, who didn’t appear to agree, but to Brianna’s surprise, remained silent.
The walk back home was quiet. Even Germain, having been tired out by all the excitement, slept on his father’s shoulder.
Brianna held her mother’s hand, her mind racing. “What is Da going to do?” she whispered.
“I don’t know,” Claire admitted.
“Will he beat me?!”
Claire looked at her, then at Jamie. “I don’t think he’ll make that mistake again.”
“What do you mean, again ?!”
When the reached the house, Jamie waited by the porch while Fergus, Marsali, Ian, and the kids went inside.
“Come, lass,” he said. “Let’s get this over with.”
“Jamie,” Claire said at last. “Perhaps we should discuss this first?”
“Ye’ve said it yourself, Sassenach, I’m Brianna’s father, and ‘tis my duty tae see to her discipline.”
Brianna gulped, pleading her mother with her eyes, but seeing right away that it wasn’t going to be of any use. So she released her Mama’s hand and dragged her feet over to her father, prepared to get what was coming to her.
“Punish me, instead,” William said suddenly, stepping in front of her. “I’m older. I should have been the one to know better and get help, and I should have been helping mind Germain.”
Jamie eyed William appraisingly. “Is this your decision then, lad?”
William nodded. “Yes, it is.”
“So be it.”
“Now, wait a second!” Brianna said, pushing William out of the way. “I don’t need you to take the rap for me!”
“Will you just shut up ?” William hissed.
“You shut up!”
“Both of ye shut up!” Jamie yelled, startling them both into silence. He rubbed the bridge of his nose. “Christ. Ye’ll both be punished.”
William glared at her. “Happy now?”
“Go,” Jamie nodded toward the fence, and Brianna tensed. “That wood there needs chopped. All of it, by tonight .”
Both Brianna and William froze in confusion, but Jamie didn’t seem to have anything else in mind.
But Brianna’s relief was short lived when she saw the size of the woodpile, and her arms ached at just the sight of it. “Can’t we just have the beating instead?” she asked.
Jamie’s expression was not amused, so she and William jumped into action and hurried for where the axes were stored.
“Thanks, by the way,” Brianna said as she placed her first log. “For trying to take the blame. You didn’t need to do that, though.”
William shrugged. “I thought if he was going to beat someone, it’d be a lot easier if it was me instead of you. He’d be afraid of making you angry with him, and I wouldn’t want you to be angry with him,” he grinned. “If I’d known it’d be this , I may have rethought it.”
Brianna chuckled. “Well, thanks either way.”
William shrugged again. “What are big brothers for?”
Chapter 28: Room for Everyone
Claire and Jamie debate on making William a permanent member of the household, but then someone arrives who may disrupt that.
Well it’s been 84 years but....here we are!! 😅
I watched out the window as the dark gathered, and William and Brianna were still chopping wood.
Fergus and Marsali had taken their children home, and Ian had retired to the lean-to he used as a bedroom.
“Jamie, it’s late,” I said. “Haven’t they done enough?”
Jamie joined me at the window, wrapping his arm around my waist in the process, then smiled when the children started laughing over the way a piece of wood had sailed away when William brought the axe down.
“They dinna seem like they’re suffering o’ermuch,” he said, kissing my temple. “They need tae learn responsibility.”
“I agree,” I said, sighing. “But the situation with Germain could have happened to any of us.”
Jamie arched a brow at me. “It was th’ way th’ situation was handled.”
“And that was on Bree, not William.”
“But he demanded tae share in th’ blame, and I’ll no’ deny that of him. ‘Tis how a man should behave, particularly with a woman.”
I smiled, then leaned back into him. “Oh, you mean the way you took Laoghaire’s beating back in Leoch.”
Jamie winced. “Christ, I hadn’a thought on that in years, Sassenach. That was a wee bit different, ken. I wasn’a th’ man she was accused of going about with. It should have been he who took th’ beating. As it was, I didn’a do it for her .”
He smiled, then tilted my face up with the tip of his fingers to place a soft kiss on my lips. “No. I was but a young fool, trying anything I could think of tae gain th’ attention and good favor of a beautiful, but somewhat intimidating Sassenach.”
“Intimidating?” I asked, letting my eyes widen in faux offense. “How was this Sassenach so intimidating?”
“Why, she near had me quaking in my boots whenever she deemed tae look at me, wi’ those piercing, knowing eyes of hers and that sharp tongue and lightning-fast wit. She was a fearsome thing, tae be sure.”
I harrumphed. “And you, what, wanted to tame her?”
“Och, no,” he said, grinning. “I wanted no such thing. I wanted only tae be seen by her.”
“Hmm. Well, I can’t imagine how she could have missed you; bright red curls standing a head above all the other men, eyes so blue you can see them from a mile away…” I placed my palm against his, raising them up together to our eyesight. “These enormous hands, those long fingers…”
“ Hands ?” he scoffed. “What’s noticeable about hands ?”
“Haven’t you ever heard the correlation between the size of a man’s hands and... other parts of his anatomy?”
Jamie blinked in surprise, staring at his hand like he’d never even looked at it before. “Is that true?”
I shrugged. “Well, it was certainly true in this case.”
Growling playfully, Jamie buried his head into the side of my neck, nipping me there while I squirmed and laughed.
“Da, we’re done,” Brianna said as she and William entered the house, looking dirty and exhausted.
Jamie stopped kissing me, but to my surprise he didn’t release me, keeping his arms tight around my middle and my back pulled flush against his chest. By unspoken agreement, Jamie and I had tended to keep our displays of affection to a minimum when the children were present, resigning ourselves to chaste kisses and hugs. I could tell that Jamie’s lack of restraint hadn’t escaped Brianna’s notice, either.
“Well done,” Jamie said, nodding. “Your supper is waiting for ye.”
The children trudged tiredly to where I’d left the beef stew simmering over the fire, moving stiffly and wincing as they reached for the ladle. Jamie released me with a light pat to my bottom and nodded toward them.
“Go on, then,” he said quietly. “Go mother them.”
With a wry shake of my head, I went and retrieved my medical supplies so that I could apply salve and bandages to their blistered palms.
“After supper, it’s right tae bed,” Jamie said. “Ye may sleep in, in th’ morning.”
“Yes, Da,” they chorused in unison.
I thought nothing of it, but when I glanced up at Jamie, he was frozen, standing there with a strained look on his face as he stared at William, and then I realized what the boy had said, unknowing of its impact.
After I had the children cleaned up, and bundled off to bed with kisses to their foreheads, I returned to find Jamie back staring out the window at the woodpile.
“They did a braw job,” he said. “And Bree didn’a let William take th’ brunt of the work, either. She’s such a strong lass.”
“They’re both strong,” I said. “It was so brave of Willie, jumping down to that ledge to be with Germain, and kind of him to stand up for Brianna.”
Jamie smiled softly. “Aye, he’s devoted tae Bree, that’s plain tae see.”
“Not just him,” I said, wrapping both of my arms about one of his. “He wants you to be proud of him.”
He looked down at me, kissed my temple, nuzzled his nose into my hair. “I was afraid this would happen,” he said. “Th’ lad is attached.”
“Why is that a bad thing?” I asked him. “That William sees himself as a member of the family?”
“Because he doesn’a belong to us,” Jamie said miserably.
“Doesn’t he? He’s yours Jamie. Perhaps it’s time to…”
“No, Sassenach,” he said firmly. “It would do nothing but confuse th’ poor lad, and make it even harder for him when it comes time for him to go home.”
“Oh? And when is that supposed to happen? I haven’t heard from John in almost a year, Jamie, to say nothing of William’s grandparents. How long are we going to keep that child wondering what’s going to happen to him? What happens when we finish the house? Are we going to make him share Bree’s room, or put him up in the guest room, or are we going to give him one of his own?”
Jamie heaved a sigh a pulled his arm away only to wrap them both around me tight. “I dinna ken, Sassenach. I dinna ken what is right.”
I thought that I knew, but decided that Jamie might need to figure that out on his own.
I sat back, admiring my work.
It had taken some time, but I finally had a good start to an herb garden where I could grow things I needed for medicine and more. I’d already planted vegetables that would help see us through winter, and I was very proud of the way my garden was taking shape.
I looked over at Brianna and William. Ostensibly they were supposed to be stacking the firewood, but it was looking a bit more like they were building a fort, and I had to smile, glad that the trials that brought us here hadn’t stripped them completely of their childhood.
When a lone rider appeared over the hill, I tensed in reflex, immediately scanning his clothing to determine whether he was a redcoat, or simply a new tenant. He didn’t appear to be either, but he presented the appearance of a soldier, so I stood, ready to send William up the mountain where Jamie, Ian, and Fergus were building a whisky still.
But as I watched the man approached, I became aware that he was familiar somehow, and once he was close enough that I could see his face, I gasped in surprise. “John?”
William’s head snapped around fast enough it should have hurt. “Papa!” he exclaimed, dropping the firewood and running for John at breakneck speed.
“William!” John cried, leaping off his horse and gathering William up into his arms. “By God!”
I went and stood beside Brianna, who was watching in consternation.
John looked up from over William’s head, his eyes widening even further at the sight of me. “Claire? Is that you?”
I grinned. “Well, who else would it be?” I went to him for a hug, noticing how he seemed to have grown thinner over the past months.
“What are you doing here?” he asked, looking bewildered, but utterly relieved as he clung to William.
“I was going to ask you the same thing,” I said. “Where have you been ? We’ve been trying to contact you for months.”
“I thought you forgot about me, Papa,” William said weakly.
“Forgot you?” John said in disbelief. “How could you think such a thing? I’ve been worried sick, William. How could you just run off the way you did? You have no idea the hell I’ve been through, trying to get to you. The last I heard, you were in Wilmington, but when I got there, the town was in shambles and you were nowhere to be found.”
“That may have been our fault,” I said a bit guiltily. “It’s been a journey, I’ll tell you that. How did you find us way out here?”
John blinked in confusion. “I...I merely came here because I’d heard an old friend of mine was in residence here, and hoped he may be of help.”
“You mean Mac?” William asked.
“Yes,” John said. “But how…”
“John!” I heard Jamie exclaim in pleased surprise. He and Ian were riding down from the mountain on two of our new horses.
I was able to watch as a most curious expression fell over John’s face at the sight of Jamie, one I wasn’t able to quite put my finger on, but felt familiar. “Jamie,” he gasped.
Grinning, Jamie swung off of his horse and strode over to John, reaching over William to embrace him warmly. “We’ve been so worried, man,” he said. “Willie’s been beside himself.”
“I know the feeling,” John said. “But I’m confused, how did William come to be here?”
Jamie smiled proudly, then extended his arm for me, and pulled me to his side once I was within reach. “Because, ‘twas my wife and nephew that ye helped on th’ journey here. Helped tae find my own daughter...Brianna.”
John finally looked over at Brianna, who had been standing shyly beside me.
“You’re…” he began, looking from me, to Jamie, to William, then back at Bree. “By God…”
“I’ve heard there’s a resemblance,” Brianna said wryly.
John smiled warmly. “You have no idea how glad I am to see that you’re here, and safe, Brianna,” he said. He looked back at me then. “And you...you never said…”
I shrugged. “I had no idea you were a friend of Jamie’s,” I said honestly, then shot a meaningful look at William. “No idea at all.”
“Well, why don’t we all go inside?” Jamie asked, gesturing toward the house. “I’m sure we have a lot of stories tae share.”
John put his arm back around William, who leaned happily into his side, as we all proceeded into the house.
When Brianna didn’t immediately follow, I held back and turned to look at her, finding her watching John and William with a glower.
“Brianna,” I said gently. “Come on, darling.”
Squaring her shoulders, Brianna followed me into the house, but I understood exactly how she felt.