Inverness, Scotland, United Kingdom
I ran my palm across my forehead as I attempted to recognise my surroundings. I felt as if I were in a complete fog. That everything around me felt imagined as if I were in a lucid dream I couldn't wake from. I felt detached from my own body as I hovered above, peering down. Perhaps a concussion, I theoretically noted as I blinked and wiggled my toes that were enclosed within my tawny leather ankle boots. As my body began to regain itself awareness, it was being pushed back into the shell of who I was as I felt the grass beneath my hands, dense and soft. Clamping my eyes shut, I rolled from my back and onto my abdomen, my large leather purse restricting me from rolling onto my left side, I reopened my eyes and inspected the area before me. Craigh na Dun, the circle stones, I noted as I pushed myself up slowly, at least that's what I believed it was called. I had initially visited them the night before this, with my husband, Frank, to watch a small assembly of women. The pagan ceremony of Beltane, Frank explained to me, it was to commemorate the beginning of summer. I had felt a sense of intrusion as we watched in quietness, as if I were a child again, lurking behind the sofa, trying to catch a glimpse of whatever grown-up film my Uncle Lamb was watching. Yet, even with the intrusive feeling, we couldn't turn away, there was a sort of magic to the choreography, drawing me in as they twirled with ease, in sync with each other as another woman called out into the darkness and their shift dresses swelled in the mid-spring breeze.
Massaging my temples gently, I remembered clutching Frank's hand as the ritual concluded and the dancers faded into the early dawn air beyond the hill. It was around daybreak as we, ourselves, approached the top to watch as the sunrise—my eyes were weary as we were nearing the end of our two-week-long holiday in Inverness. Our second honeymoon, as Frank had put it, even though it was technically our first. I was incapable of taking a real one when we were first married, as I was about to start my undergraduate program before medical school at Harvard University. He was starting a new teaching assistant job at Oxford. We were only able to manage ourselves two days before we settled back into our hectic lives. I smiled at the memory of meeting Frank as I shifted myself onto my knees, it was roughly two months before I was leaving for university when he came to consult my uncle on a project he was researching. We chatted after he was finished with my uncle, dated and were married before I could even blink. I could recall my uncle grimacing upon my announcement to be wed, stating at eighteen I had scarcely experienced life to know love, which in retrospect he might have been right but he died a bachelor, and nine years later, we were still making it work. At least, trying to make it work. Upon my graduation and acceptance to a residency program at John Radcliffe Hospital, I decided to return to England. More for Frank than myself, never having a real sense of the word home, I was entertained at the notion and with Frank acquiring a permanent teaching position at Oxford, it felt right.
I had nestled close into the warmth of my husbands' side as he coiled an arm around my shoulders and watched the sky turn to shades of pink. I began to tune him out as he prattled on about a distant relative living in this part of Scotland during the 18th century, much like he had been the last two weeks. Genealogy had become a recent passion of his, taking it up while I had studied for my board exams, he had spent just as much time in a library as I had. Not carrying to listen, I focused on one of the flowers by the large stone to the left of us. Finding it's large crack strange, it appeared to emit a low sound as if it were humming and found the small violet flowers at the base irregular. Scorpion grasses or commonly known as forget-me-nots, I thought but wasn't sure, they weren't known for growing in the Scottish highlands. Taking a mental note of the plant, I decided to return later that day with my plant field guide to confirm it. During my undergraduate program, I had selected botany and herbal medicine as an elective. Finding it fascinating enough to continue studying and practising as a hobby, even as a firm believer in modern western medicine, I admired how simple plants could cure something just as swiftly as an over-the-counter medicine.
It had been about half-past two in the afternoon when I returned to Craigh na Dun with my field guide in hand. My husband had elected to go ahead and meet with a family friend at his at their residence before we all were planning to attend dinner. Most likely to resume their conversation about genealogy they had begun the previous day and compare their notes in the privacy of his own home. It allowed me to explore my passions, rather than being bored or having my tea leaves read again by the man's wife. As I had begun examining the small flowering plant, I pushed the skirt of my maxi-dress away from my legs as I lowered to my knees as I referenced my field guide. Grinning, I had been right. Forget-me-not. Plucking the flower from the earth, I set it into my book before returning it into my purse and slid it back over my shoulder. Feeling my mobile vibrate, I assumed it was Frank giving me the address to the restaurant when I lost my footing as I stood. At least, that's what I had begun to convince myself. The long skirt of my dress must have imprisoned my legs, prompting me to plunge forward. I remembered setting a hand out to steady myself on the stone, but I must have bumped my head first and squealed.
That was the only rational explanation I could give myself as I looked down at my watch, a quarter to five, and as the mid-spring sun began to set for the evening, I questioned if my husband had started to question my radio silence. Having not responded to him for nearly two hours, I wasn't sure he had, seeing as I had no new messages from him other than the one he sent at two-thirty, but I also no longer had mobile service.
"Come on Beauchamp," I said as I rose and slid my phone into my purse as I strolled towards the edge of the hill, "You wouldn't want to be late for supper, and now you can't phone an Uber."
Allowing my ankle boot covered feet to lead me in the direction I had initially climbed the hill from, something felt amiss. From the tree line to the left of me, I could hear the distant sounds of artillery, muskets to be exact, and I shook my head. From my understanding, there wasn't a programmed re-enactment today. Frank would have been rupturing with excitement if there had been, he relished in living history more than anyone should. No, I assured myself, they had to be filming a historical piece. It made logical sense, I told myself over, and as I arrived in the valley below the hill and gawked at the vacant space the road I had travelled upon earlier no longer there. Vanished. Gone, I spun about in a panic; maybe I exited down the opposite side of the hill.
" Deep breaths, Beauchamp ," I said as I closed my eyes, " Inhale, exhale, repeat ."
As I reopened my eyes, my surroundings hadn't altered. The asphalt road from the twenty-first century was still gone, and muskets fire were still buzzing in my ears, " Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ ," I grunted, " roads just don't vanish ." Releasing a frustrated sigh, I started in the direction I had heard the musket volley. I settled upon interrupting the film set, explaining my situation. Perhaps the crew would provide me with mobile to phone Frank to clarify that I would definitely be late to our dinner plans.
A bullet raced passed my head as I walked deeper into the forest, leaping back I watched as the bullet hit a tree - live ammunition I thought, that's horribly realistic and deadly. I stepped discreetly, but briskly, keeping an eye peeled for more stray bullets, I caught sight of men in kilts shrieking and weaving in and out of the trees. Taking their craft seriously, I applaud their acting skills, noting the Gaelic dialect - it gave me a sense that I had actually stepped through time and currently dwelled in the eighteenth century. Dodging behind a tree, I waited as the decorated British soldiers in redcoats raced after the kilted men and turned away from the chaos that was displayed before me. Slowly, I made my way down towards a creek, concluding I would wait there until the action sequence had finished.
"Frank," I hissed, as I noticed him leaning into the water and hurried forwards, "What on earth are you doing?"
The fellow I believed, to be Frank, turned and faced me with a sneer gracing his lips. A look I had never seen on my husband, I studied him as I approached, taking in his physical appearance. This man's skin is darker than my husbands; I assumed he must have had more exposure to the sun, his hair longer, although the same shade of brown. And his eyes, the identical hazel colour bore into me with cruelness and malice, instead of the compassion and tenderness I was used too.
Stopping abruptly, "You're not Frank," I murmured and took a short step back away from the man.
"No, madam, I am not." He responded, carrying himself forward, prompting me to slide my hand into my purse and wrap my fingers around the small canister of pepper spray.
"Who are you?" I inquired, glancing about the woods, noting the scrimmage had ceased.
Deciding to take another half step back, I watched as one of his brows rose at my question and felt his eyes comb over me. Slowly, from head to toe, travelling with a sense of inquiry of the patterned red chiffon that encased my body and then lingered at the deep V of the neckline that exposed me down my sternum. A surge of uneasiness overtook my body, and I moved back yet again, whoever this man was, I was now, even more, confident he was not my husband. Maybe a distant cousin. A cousin, my husband, certainly had no idea existed, since we hadn't made a point to visit him once we arrived in Scotland. After all, he did say his eight times great-grandfather, I believe that's who it was, once lived in the highlands, perhaps he had conceived a child out of a marriage, and he claimed as a bastard. Logically, that made sense, right? Tearing myself away from my rationalisations of who this man was, I peered back up at him and noticed how close he had come to me. Closing the gap between us, there was now no more than a meter of distance. Panic erupted within me as I tightened my handle to the canister in my purse.
"Who the fuck are you?" I demanded, as my voice tremble.
"Who am I?" He snickered with a sarcastic tone in his voice, "I could ask you the same question, madam."
"I asked first," I shot back, "I'm not in the mood for games."
"No?" The strangers sneer still cemented on his face as he bowed, "I am, Jonathan Wolverton Randall, Esquire, Captain of His Majesty's Eighth Dragoons, madam."
"Hilarious," I said, feeling no sense of amusement, "Really, though?"
"You still have not said who you are, madam." The stranger said, dismissing my previous remarks.
"Right," I stated, "Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp," I answered with hesitance as I dropped out my married surname, seeing as we had the same.
"And what are you doing here?" He gestured towards the woods behind himself, "You seem a tad expensive for what the farmers of these parts can afford."
"A whore madam," He replied with a shrug and filled the space between us. Feeling his rancid breath on my lips as he spoke, "Your dressing gown is lavish, and you have a faint scent of French perfume."
"I'm not a sex worker," I snapped appalled, sensing a large cliff pressed against my back, "I've been visiting Inverness with my husband, he'll be expecting me for supper."
"Pray, do tell, what man allows his wife to wander the woods in her dressing gowns?" He challenged, "I very much doubt this man you speak of exists."
Alarm overwhelmed me as I felt the man wrap a hand around my slender waist and pull me towards him when a sudden realisation dawned on me. Perhaps I hadn't stumbled upon a film set nor a re-enactment, I must have struck my head harder than I thought. I grasped from research studies that dreaming while in a coma were extremely unlikely, so I had ruled that out. However, possibly I had hit my head harder than I thought, and my body was still lying next to the stones of Craigh na Dun. This entire encounter was a fabrication of my mind. Unfortunately, the idea was very quickly dismissed as I felt his body press against mine, pinning me to the large stone behind my back, it felt all too real, this was happening, his lips grazed mine as his eyes fluttered closes. I froze for a moment, feeling his tongue fight for entrance into my mouth, I fused my lips shut with my teeth as I felt tears flood my eyes with pain. The Captain shifted his body and reopened his eyes before he seized the back of my curled hair and yanked my head back. Bile began to rise from the back of my throat as he forced me to met his venomous gaze and noted my legs were free from the pressure of his body. He had assumed me, a sex worker, therefore he believed I would not fight back, an error on his part but a benefit in mine. Dropping my hand, I grasped my dress's smooth material, allowing my leg to emerge through the slit of the skirt. His lips once more came in contact with mine, this time permitting his foul tongue to roam my mouth, I bent my leg at the knee and jerked it up, enabling the connection to his scrotum. Holding my breath as I observed him stagger backwards, I extracted the canister of pepper spray from my purse and discharged it into his eyes and took off. Hearing his screams of anguish as I darted between the oak and ash trees of the woods, I didn't dare look back. Keeping my main focus on escaping Captain Randall, I hadn't been running long when I crashed into a man dressed in a plaid bundle of rags, looking just as startled at my presences as I did over his. Randall's voice laced the air again, as I turned back to face his direction before rotating back to this new man and pressed my brows together.
"This way." He held out a filthy hand to me.
"Who are you?" I questioned, as upon my better judgement, accepted his hand, "Where are you taking me? I need to go back to Craigh na Dun."
My new companion hauled me along behind him, not acknowledging my questions led me to an actual path and proceeded down it. Digging my heels into the soft earth, I pulled my hand from his and turned to walk in the other direction. If he wasn't willing to answer me, I wasn't going to waste time returning to the stones. Although as I started to take a step in the direction I attended to walk in, I felt a hand hook around my lips as it lured me down into the heather, 'Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ,' I thought. As I began to feel mud seep through the fabric of my dress, I was going to need another shower and a change of clothes before presenting myself to any restaurant, was my last thought before the world around me dissolved into darkness.
It was near dark when I regained consciousness for the second time that day, unable to identify how long I had been out for, I presumed it hadn't been for long. There were no indications of a concussion from my most recent blow on the head, nor did I feel ill. Although what I did have was a slight headache. Feeling the sensitive spot on the base of my skull as it was jostled against the solid mass behind me as I began to stir. I wondered where he was taking me, pulling my lower lip under my top teeth, I bit down but didn't ask my escort inquiries about where he was taking me. Entirely out of fear of being hit on the head once more, I feared the third time I would endure a concussion. Instead, I embraced the momentary of peace from my dream; we swayed somewhat as the horse proceeded to travel on the trail we were on, feeling the faint mist of spring hit my face.
A stone cottage appeared in view as I reopened my eyes, now adjusted to the increasing darkness. I held my breath as we neared the structure, quietly hoping for the presence of a warm hearthstone as I noticed the smoke wafting from the chimney of the illuminated cottage. An involuntary shiver erupted within my frame as I peered up at my captor, how gathered the courage to question him if that was where he intended to bring me. Being a minimal conversation man, the response was similar to all the other I had received from him since we met, a muffled ' Mmmmphm ' graced my ears. As if I had any questions that this man wasn't a born Scot, that sound reduced any doubts I might have had. Since arriving in Scotland, two weeks prior, I had come to recognise this as a suitable answer for just about anything. I found it somewhat annoying.
My captor, pulled the horses' reins, beckoning the beast to stop once we were in front of the cottage and slipped off the mount before turning back to me. I watched as he carefully reached up and laid his fingers around my wrists to remove me from the horse before grasping my waist to hinder me from falling onto my arse. For a man that had knocked me out previously, he was somewhat gentle with me now; I noted as he gripped right bicep and drew me into the direction of the cottage. Thrusting me into the hut, my vision spotted as my eyes attempted to quickly acclimate to the brightness from within coming from the fireplace, and I stiffly stood in the centre of the room. I could sense the men begin to undress me with their eyes as I wrapped my limbs across my breasts; I had selected the wrong day to go braless.
"Who's it ye have there, Murtagh?"
"A Sassenach wench." The familiar voice of my captor spoke.
My mousey-face friend, now identified as Murtagh, clasped my arm once more, tearing it from securely around my chest, and moved me towards the light that was cast by the fire and small candles lining the hearth. The men proceeded to gawk at me, with what I assumed to be curiosity as I was moved across the floor. As Jonathan Randall had declared, I was roaming the woods in my dressing gown. I was confident these men had thought the same, and I pressed my eyes down to avoid theirs. From the various event that had transpired throughout the day, I noted my dress was not only covered in mud but was torn in multiple places. 'Jesus Beauchamp, you're a proper mess', I inwardly stated as I felt a knuckle hook beneath my jawbone and force my gaze back up. The hand belonged a different man, one I hadn't recognise and was holding a bannock in his hand that was still connected under my jaw, that issued crumbs down the front of my dress. Uncomfortable as it was, I remained still and stared at him. He was a rounder fellow, who stank of alcohol and sweat, but his stench wasn't nearly as foul as Murtagh's. Though similar the additional men, he was sheathed in a magnitude of plaid, which I found unusual even for this part of the Highlands. Tartans weren't precisely the spring fashion choice of 2019 nor any season for the last two hundred or so years.
"She's a bonnie one, Sassenach or no." He ultimately said as he turned and continued eating at his place near the hearth.
"Let's have a look at ye then, lass." A large, bearded gentleman spoke, as he rose and sauntered over to me. He was a decent looking fellow; I'd give him that, unlike his associates I'd seen so far and by his presence, he was commanding I assumed him to be their leader, perhaps he was my ticket back to the stones and home to Frank. The leader looked me over, much like his greasy mate had, but his gaze didn't have the same lust to his eyes; however, it still wasn't exactly a stare extending friendship. Frowning his brows together, he asked, "What's your name?"
"Claire, Claire Beauchamp," I responded, electing once more to give my maiden name still instead of my husbands. Eyeing the man with caution, I wasn't entirely sure why I had given him my maiden name without the hyphenation with my husbands. For Captain Randall, it was merely, so he didn't think we were related. For the man currently before me, it simply was because it felt safer to be just Beauchamp, "Who are you?"
"Beauchamp?" He prayed, saying it in its proper French form as I had adopted the English style while living in America, "French, is it no?"
I nodded lightly and began to part my lips, to once more ask who he was when he pivoted away from me and back towards Murtagh, demanding to know where the man had discovered me. Ignoring me and my inquiries appeared to be the trend of the day.
Murtagh dried his mouth with his ratty sleeve as what I assumed to be alcohol trickled down his face, "She was near the foot o' Craigh na Dun," He said as he eyed me, "Havin' words with a certain captain of dragoons, there seemed to some question to whether the lady was or was not a whore."
The gentleman who had yet to introduce himself looked me over carefully once more, taking in the details of my chiffon red printed maxi-dress, ankle boots and large leather purse.
"Aye, and the lady's position in this discussion?" He asked, glancing away from me.
Murtagh smirked, almost as if he was amused with how I handled myself in the woods, "She said she wasna. The Captain got a kick to the balls, testin' his question."
The men in the cottage laughed as Murtagh told the tale of how he found me and I defended myself against a man they all seemed to hold some distaste for. The rounder fellow, Rupert, thought they best test Murtagh's account. Seeing if I was as 'brawny' as they had put it, to the test.
"That'll do, Rupert," Dougal scolded, his voice carrying authority as Rupert's grin dropped from his face, "I don't hold wi' rape."
I sensed the tension that had accumulated in my shoulders release as relief overwhelmed my frame with knowing additional sexual assault was off the activities' agenda for the remainder of the day. Withdrawing towards the rear of the room and away from the men, Dougal walked back towards the area he was first sitting when I had arrived. I faintly overheard as he told his men that they needed to put as much distance between the cottage and where they were travelling tonight. He pulled his men's attention towards a young man who was hunched on a stool in the corner of the room. Glancing towards the doorway of the cottage, I had a clear shot at escape. With it being my only concern, I groaned and shut my eyes. I had been unconscious during the journey to wherever we were. I wasn't positive of which direction I had come from neither the route back to Inverness or Craigh na Dun. It was twilight now, outside, and with the darkness looming, attempting to locate a road seemed like a fools' errand. I needed these men to help me more than I cared to admit, being a strong, self-sufficient woman had its limits. Lacking mobile service and being lost, were mine.
The man in the corner had hardly glanced up while his associates had been interrogating me and taking in my battered appearance, he had kept himself bend and was clutching his opposite shoulder and was trembling slightly. A symptom of pain, I thought, eying Dougal as he pushed the man's palm away as another man removed the young man's plaid. Murtagh, came up behind him, pressing a knife to the collar of the shirt, he wore beneath the plaid, splitting the shirt, enabling it to drop away from the man's shoulder. Several of the men gasped, at the sight of his mangled shoulder.
"Out o' joint," Dougal grunted, prompting the man to look up for the first time.
"Fell wi' my hand out, when a musket ball knocked me off my saddle," He explained, "I landed with my weight on the one hand, and Crunch!" The young man shrugged his healthy shoulder as an expression of pain passed his face.
"Fuck," I murmured as I observed the men assess the young man. They were right, it did seem as if the musket ball had gone straight through, but that was the least of his concerns. The man called Angus seized a piece of cloth from the table behind him and began to blot away the blood as Dougal asked if he thought he could ride.
"Hurts bad enough sitting still. I couldna manage a horse." He replied as his face grew white, and he squeezed his eyes shut, and he forced his teeth hard into his lower lip as a surge of pain overtook him.
The men began to discuss what they were going to do about him as I watched in sympathy. I knew I could treat the man, but would they allow me to help? I glimpsed back at the door; this was my opportune moment to leave with them distracted. I could easily slip out without being seen and resume being lost in the woods on my own. My top teeth penetrated my bottom lip as my eyes went back and forth between the young man in the corner and freedom. Rupert began to pick up the man's arm by the wrist and elbow and force it upwards while I started towards the door and forced me to stop moving. The angle was wrong; I sighed and detected the man groan softly as beads of sweat form on his forehand. Collapsing forwards, Rupert released his arm and caught the man before sinking entirely to the grimy floor of the cottage. I hesitated, pondering my next move as I watched Murtagh uncork a leather flask and touch it to the younger mans' lips. Choking somewhat, he coughed and opened his eyes as the liquid stained the remains of his shirt.
"Stop!" I vocalised, as I marched forward away from freedom, "If you do that you'll break his arm."
"What do you mean?" Dougal snapped, as the others looked alarmed by my stern voice.
"You have the angle all wrong," I explained as I drifted closer to the young man and offered him a small smile, "The upper limb needs to be at the proper angle before it shifts back into the joint. May I?"
The young man nodded as I planted my hands on his arm, squeaking as I drew his wrist up and the elbow in. I overestimated my size compared to my new patient as my arms began to cramp from holding his up. I peered up at Murtagh who was behind him and nodded, as if he could read my mind, he placed his hands upon the young man and kept him still for me.
"This is the worst part," I warned him, with another small smile, "Then it'll be over, and I'll tend to your wound."
His mouth twitched as his lips curled, not quite into a smile, but as close as his pain would permit him, "Canna be much worse, get on wi' it."
I hadn't had much practice resetting shoulder joints. I had seen it done, countless times that I knew the steps to follow to ease the joint into its proper position, but on a man of his size on a joint that had been dislocated hours prior was proving to be more challenging than I had anticipated. His muscles had swelled and were pulling on the joint, and it required more power than I possessed in my upper body. Freeing his arm temporarily, I flexed my back with a small stretch before I went back to business. As I laid my hands upon his arm once more, I returned his arm into position while I detected a faint crunch and then a pop as it slid back into place. My patient grinned as he rubbed his shoulder gently nearly in disbelief, a woman had healed him as the men burst out into amazed gasps.
"It does hurt anymore!" My patient declared.
"It will." I replied honestly, as I gathered my brownish hair at the nape of my neck and twisted it into a low knot, "It will be sore for a few days. And you shouldn't extend the joint at all for at least two days, preferably three," I babbled off aftercare information to my patient, "When you started to use it again, please go gentle on it and stop if it begins to hurt. You wouldn't want to damage it further. Oh! And ibuprofen and warm compresses for pain."
"Any questions?" I asked the young man as I folded the table cloth on the table into a sling.
"Who are you?" Dougal asked, as my patient began to open his mouth to speak.
"I'm a doctor?" I replied, yet it reflected more like a question. I received confused stares from the men before they exchanged looks towards each other, "a physician, a healer."
I received more puzzled expressions and whispers while I shifted back to my patient and presented him with another grin, "Let me clean that wound. Murtagh, will you pass me my bag?"
Murtagh looked down next to his feet and picked up the leather purse I had abandoned and handed it over. I thanked him with a polite smile before setting my bag on the small table and sifted around for my compact first-aid kit. Frank regularly made fun of me for carrying medical-grade equipment on my person at all times, seeing as neither one of us never needed anything more than plaster, the rest of the supplies were viewed as a waste of space. 'Well, look at this handiness now, Frank' I teased him theoretically as I redirected back to the young man. Unsnapping the clasps to my case and drew out the bottle of alcohol and held it to a gauze pad, "Now, this will sting a tad."
"What's that?" He hissed as I touched it to his skin.
"Alcohol," I answered casually, "It'll disinfect and eliminate bacteria in your wound."
"Oh aye," He nodded, "Why?"
Did he just ask me why? I gawked at him, anticipating him to laugh and declare he was joking, only such moment never occurred. He simply remained quiet, peering up at me, expecting an explanation to why I was cleaning his wound with alcohol. Sighing, I couldn't believe what was transpiring. I had seen the hospital in Inverness; I knew that the Highlands possessed proper medical facilities and weren't as archaic as this bunch implied.
"So you don't get an infection," I said, rather slowly, hoping he'd understand.
"What the fuck," I snapped, "If I don't clean your gunshot wound, it will fester, you will get ill; you will die."
"Aye." The young man said and gestured his eyes to indicate I could resume with my task.
I expelled a frustrated sigh, as I bent forward and laid the gauze to the front and back of his shoulder where the ball had passed through. He required stitches, I noted, to further close the wound. Inspecting the dirty room we were in, I confirmed that this wasn't the place to do it. Perhaps, they'll pass an urgent care clinic on the route they were travelling on, I concluded and shrugged as I pulled out a large section of clean gauze and swiftly applied antibacterial cream to it before I covered his injury. Satisfied with their position and coverage, I tore a bit of cloth from his tattered shirt and fastened it around the dressing, and I stepped away to clean up my inadequate workplace. Tossing the gauze wrappers into the fire, I left the one with alcohol on the table and started back towards the door. My duty was done here; I could go with a clear conscious that I had treated the young man the best that I could.
"Jamie," Dougal approached my patient as he obstructed my exit, "Can ye ride one-handed?"
"Aye." Jamie nodded.
"Good lad," He said and turned back to Angus and Rupert, "We'll be leaving, get the horses."
Murtagh secured Jamie under his healthy shoulder and gently supported him up from his stool. My patient, still a trifle pale, straightened himself to his full length and stood towering over the mousey-looking fellow for several moments before he bent backwards to stretch his back. Having just returned from being outside, Murtagh delivered Jamie a fresh shirt, and I watched as his breathing hitched, in discomfort as he stripped his torn one from his muscular frame. I was near the door as I turned to ogled at his build as he struggled with his shirt. I nearly considered volunteering to help him and was close to providing it when Dougal strode back inside and proclaimed they were leaving.
It was a moonless night as I strolled outside, only the stars caught the metal of pieces of the horse harness as I stood off to the side. Gazing up, I gasped at the night sky in awe. It was saturated with stars, considerably more than I had seen in years and suddenly looked around the surrounding forest. I evidently had been knocked out a much longer than I had estimated. There were no city lights nearby, no lights at all. The only source of it was the natural variety dominating the night sky. I felt a coldness raced down my spine as I noticed the men's shapeless bodies in the dark. We should still be capable of seeing the city or suburbia lights of Inverness; both should be visible for miles. I advanced to the tree line as I held my left hand to my breast and observed my breathing laboured. The realisation of what happened finally hit me, I had, in fact, time travelled. My brain had been to busy looking for a logical explanation to what was happening when there wasn't one. All the signs had been there since I woke up on the hill.
"The lass will ride wi' ye." Dougal clutched my arm as he tugged me away from the trees and towards Jamie, "You can hold the reins if Jamie canna manages one-handed. Should ye try anythin', I shall cut your throat. D'ye understand?"
I nodded, my throat had grown too dry to respond, and his voice starting to sound menacing, I believed every word that left his lips. All temptation of trying to escape for the present time slipped away from the forefront of my brain. I had no idea where I was, who these people were, or why we now had to leave with a sense of urgency. I didn't even know where we were going, but I knew my requests to be returned to Frank would go unheard. Frank, I thought and felt my heart squeeze. I had never gone this long without at least sending him a message, letting him know I was at least alive. It had been roughly six hours since he had last heard from me. Forty-eight hours. That's how long he'd have to torture himself with my disappearance before he was able to report it to the police, for them to take it seriously. In that time, I had no clue where I'd be.
Dougal must have sensed my nod, as he let my arm go and crouched suddenly alongside me. I turned and stood there, staring downward at him stupidly until I heard him hiss, "Your foot, lass!" I picked up my right foot and inserted it in his hands when he dropped it and added, "Your left foot!" I took hast to shift my balance between heels and replaced my left foot into his hands and issued a small grunt as he boosted me up into the saddle in front of Jamie, who drew me into him with his good arm.
My body tensed by the proximity of our bodies and our situation. Nevertheless, as we began to travel, I was appreciative towards the warmth he was providing to my backside. The night started to become crisp as the mist turned into a steady drizzle, and I sank backwards upon his chest, attempting to relax and permit myself to be comfortable. I should have grabbed a jacket before departing to Craigh na Dun; I told myself as I sensed a tiny shiver slither up my bones. There were several items I should have grabbed before going to Craigh na Dun, I added, had I known I was going to time travel. I groaned but remained soundless as we went through the woodlands. There were minimal conversations amongst the men, other than the occasional grunt.
After some time, we halted while the men dismounted their horses and deliberated in hushed tones. Jamie abandoned his reins of our horse over its neck and permitted him to stray towards a small growth of grass while he started to stir behind me.
"What are you doing?" I demanded, keeping my voice low, "Don't twist like that, you'll hurt yourself."
"I'm tryin' to get my plaid loose to cover you," he replied, "You're shivering. Can ye reach the clasp of my brooch?"
I stiffly turned on the mount and drew the clasp of his brooch from the plaid he possessed atop his healthy shoulder. Once the material was freed, Jamie twirled the fabric out and let it fall like a shawl around his shoulders. He then yanked me closer to his body much like he had at the inception of the journey and tucked the plaid around my frame, encasing us warmly inside.
"There," he said with slight satisfaction, "We dinna want ye to freeze."
"Thank you," I smiled, appreciative for the shelter.
Something seemed familiar about this section of the countryside we were currently passing through. I was relatively confident I knew the massive rock formation ahead, it was shaped similar to a rooster's tail. Frank had pointed it out a week earlier as we hiked within this area, yet there was something concerning it that caused him to point it out to me. It wasn't merely because he found the appearance humorous, no, it had some historical significance. Think Beauchamp, I muttered to myself, attempting to remember Franks ramblings. I knew it had to deal with the British patrols of the area, ambushes, that's it!
"Jamie," I whispered, "That's Cocknammon Rock."
"Aye," He said.
"Don't the British patrol's use it for ambushes?" I inquired, trying harder to retrieve more details from Frank.
Jamie sounded to our horse and urged it up adjacent to Dougal's, as they engaged in hushed Gaelic conversation. The horses slowed to a stroll. Jamie, Murtagh, and Dougal sank behind as the two others pressed their horses' sides and galloped towards the rock. At some point during our ride, a quarter-moon had occurred, casting enough light to emit shadows against the clefts in the rocks. The men Dougal had sent ahead were no longer hidden, and I watched shapes crossed the stones, followed by a spark of musket fire. Jamie clutched me around my abdomen and deposited me within the heather before taking off towards the dispute. I listened to the distant cries and the sporadic musket volleys from my place in the heather for several moments. Unable to differentiate between which party, or which was winning. I gradually rose from my hiding place and dusted myself off, before I veered away from the battle and towards the direction we had come. Well what was I supposed to do now, I questioned. If the Scots won, I concluded they would come back for me. If they didn't, I could seek assistance from the English, who either like Captain Randall believe me a sex worker or I was in alliance with the Scots. Groaning, I re-knotted my hair at the base of my neck and strode out into the road. The moon was momentarily producing enough light that I could detect where I was stepping in front of me, and with my decision reached, I started to walk—casually at first, listening for sounds of pursuit behind me.
The noises from the battle had dissolved as reached the road once again. It was visible, but I needed to follow it if I were to locate a town. I had a minimal sense of direction in the dark. Frank had once attempted to educate me on the method of utilising the stars as navigation. He had learned as a child he had informed me, on camping excursions with his father. I was stubborn; I said to him that if I were lost in the woods at night, I would simply GPS my way back to civilisation. Reminiscing of Frank, I desired to curl into a ball and bawl. I should have listened to Frank. I should've learned how to navigate with the stars' assistance because now I was stranded in the 18th century with a useless iPhone.
"Fuck me!" I shouted as I stumbled over a rock and toppled to the dirt.
Hurling my fists into the hard earth beneath me, I felt a tear coast down my cheeks. Accepting defeat, I enveloped the skirt of my dress around my knees and drew them into my chest and sobbed. I hadn't been there long when a rustling in the woods disturbed me. Rising my head, I promptly swept away my tears and stood, as I slid my fingers into my purse to obtain my dependable pepper spray.
"Dinna worry, lass.' Tis me." A hoarse voice uttered.
"Great, you're back," I said, annoyed. When in reality, I was relieved it was Jamie who found me again.
He didn't intimidate me as much as the other men, dangerous as he appeared. He was still young, younger than me. At least, that's what I believed. A mocking smirk emerged on his face as he yanked me to my feet. He smelt of blood and sweat, more than he did previously. Groaning, this lad was going to be the death of me.
"Are you hurt, again?" I asked as I moved away from him and quit walking.
"Nay, this lot isna my blood. Not much of it." He replied and stretched the bloodied material from his frame.
I gulped and nodded, not sure I believed him.
"They are waiting up the road," Jamie laid his palm on the small of my back and propelled me forwards in front of him.
"No," I said, shaking my head as I dug my heels in the earth, "I'm staying here."
"No, ye aren't." He paused and appeared relatively shocked at my resistance.
"Will you kill me if I don?" I demanded, "Slit my throat as Dougal said?"
"No, you don't look heavy. If ye won't walk, I shall carry ye. Do ye want me to do that?" He asked as he took a stride forward, and I hastily withdrew.
"You'll hurt your shoulder again."
He took another stride towards me, and I caught a glimpse of his lips curling in the moonlight, "So that means you're comin' with me?"
I drove my teeth into my bottom lip, searching within for an answer, I wanted to tell him no but failed to locate my voice. He perceived my quietness as an answer and grabbed hold of my arm, and we commenced down the road. Jamie held a secure grip on me as he hauled me upright each time I tripped over rocks or plants, to prevent me from completely face planting. While he, himself, walked as if nothing in his path, walking as if it were the middle of the afternoon. It wasn't long before we caught up with the other men, who were admittedly just up the road. There had been no losses or injuries; everyone was accounted for; I presume that was an accomplishment. I mentally noted as Murtagh assisted me onto my horse, and as I settled in front of Jamie, allowing my pettiness to overtake me and flung my head into his damaged arm and listened to him gasp.
"Whoops, sorry." I falsified an expression of sympathy, "You probably tore a muscle during that brawl."
"Aye, it wasna much of a choice," He smirked, and drew me close to his blood-stained shirt, "Either them or me. I picked me; besides, ye can fix me up again."
"Ha! That's what you think." I replied and fidgeted away from the sticky, filthy material as he clicked his tongue to roused our horse.
While we travelled, someone passed a flask to Jamie, which he delightedly accepted. I could smell the burnt-smelling liquor as he swallowed, and handed it to me. I wasn't thirsty, well at least not for this, whatever it was. What I truly craved was a glass of water, although as the faint scent of honey overwhelmed my nose, it reminded me just how starved I had been. Trying to think of the last time I had eaten, it was brunch the day earlier with Frank before we parted ways. My stomach delivered an embarrassingly, offensive grumble, and I eyed the flask and proceeded to investigate it.
"Have a wee nip," my escort whispered, feeling his hot breath hit my ear, "it will make ye forget you're hungry, lass."
I titled the flask to my lips and swallowed. There were several things I aspired to forget, but I didn't feel there was enough alcohol in this flask to permit that happen. I took a small sip, followed by a larger one before returning the flask. Jamie had been right; the whiskey heated my stomach and did drive away from my hunger pangs. We proceeded to take turns with the flask and horses' reins for a few miles, casually making quiet conversations. Not saying much to each other, but enough to keep me entertained from singing to him again, which he stated I could scarcely carry a tune, something I was entirely aware of. I was a doctor, not a singer; I informed him before we happened into a comfortable silence.
"Stop! Help!" I shouted after Jamie had been quiet for some time, his breathing had begun to become ragged, and he slipped from our horse, "He's falling!"
Shapes of the men swirled and crowded us, with incoherent mutterings. Jamie slid off our horse, like a sack of potatoes, landing in someone's arms. Everyone appeared to be off their mounts as they laid him in the field. Struggling, I plunged from the horse and rushed over to him and stooped beside to him. Placing my ear near his mouth and monitored for breathing as I observed his chest rise and fall, he was breathing, thank Jesus, I thought. Straightening up, I pushed his ruddy hair from his pale face and sighed with relief.
"He just fainted," I assured them, "Someone place a saddlebag beneath his feet and bring me water, please."
My order went obeyed immediately, to my astonishment. I remained close to Jamie, watching as he murmured and opened his eyes, and smiled at him, "Hi, how are you feeling?"
"I'm alright," He replied, "Just dizzy." Attempting to sit up, I planted my left hand against his chest and urged him back down to the soil.
"Don't move yet," I ordered tenderly.
I completed a trauma assessment as I examined his body for injuries, something I presumably should have done following the fight when I first noticed all that blood on his shirt instead of listening to him. Satisfied in my findings, I rose from my knees and turned to Dougal, who was now standing near me, "His wound is bleeding again, and he's been freaking stabbed," I reported to him with a slight shrug, "It not severe, but I estimate he's lost a lot of blood."
Dougal nodded, "Dress his wounds."
"We should camp here so that he can rest." I insisted, glancing at my patient.
"Nay, lass. We canna stay long, just long enough for ye to stop the bleeding." Dougal said, making his statements final and strolled away.
I leaned beside Jamie and began to remove the spoiled gauze from his injuries, sputtering to myself, as Dougal softly told Willie to safeguard the horses near the road. While the remainder of the men relaxed for a moment, conversing in muffled voices as they drank. I delivered a frustrated exhalation from my lungs as my purse hovered alongside my head. Peering up, Murtagh held the leather bag in his fists, extending it out to me, I accepted it and set it down. I hadn't even realised I had discarded it from my person, but evidently, I had when Jamie fell from our horse. Silently, I thanked my new associate and directed him to assist me with cutting open the collar of my patient's shirt so I could reach the wounds. Murtagh still a man with very little to say nodded and simply did as I asked, as Jamie protested our every movement.
"You're not alright," I snapped with irritability, "You're a fucking idiot, are you trying to die? Because I possess half a mind to let you, this exceeding frustrating. Stop moving."
Jamie proceeded to fidget as I implemented pressure to the bleeding wounds and attempted to lean away from me every time I dabbed the gauze with alcohol to him. At this pace, I would be out of supplies before we even made it to wherever we were going. No one had told me exactly; I had given up on trying to seek information from this bunch.
"Did it hurt?" I probed as I tore the foundation layer of material of my dress.
"Did what hurt?" He asked, distracted as he eyed my upper thigh, now exposed in the result of tearing my dress.
"The knife," I said with little emotion in my speech.
"It was a bayonet," he corrected me, "And not so much."
"Are you for real Jamie?" I exclaimed.
He shrugged, and suddenly froze and grunted with pain, "I felt it go in, but couldna tell how bad it was."
"You should have told me." My voice quivered, "even if you do deserve this for kidnapping me."
Tears threatened to spill from my eyes as I shifted away from him; I was exhausted. I knew that much, but the last several hours had been some of the most trying of my life thus far. I missed my husband. My ass and thighs were raw from riding, and I had a headache that was increasingly becoming worse from being struck on the head numerous times. And most of all, I was drained from repairing a man that didn't care whether he lived or not. Tying the scraps of my dress over the fresh gauze, I brushed my fingers against his collar bone gently, as I began to rise. I hadn't moved much when I felt his fingers grasp mine, holding them tightly, he guided them to his chest to draw my concentration back to him. Running his sizeable rough hand over my small soft one cloaked in his blood, Jamie whispered, "Thank ye Sassenach, ye are truly an angel."
Well fuck me , I thought as I extracted my hand from his as I felt my heartstrings squeeze.
Happy Spooky Halloween!
I decided that I wanted my modern Claire to feel more attraction to Jamie in the beginning and slightly more caring towards him. I hope you enjoyed it.
Oh! And, thank you so much for the comments on the first chapter! I very much appreciate them.
The remainder of the journey had proven uneventful if one could consider my current riding horseback riding through the Scottish highlands pressed against an unfamiliar man. One who had a talent for injuring himself and his kin of kilted men armed to the nines uneventful. Compared to the beginning of this journey and my time amongst this group, I had. Rays of light arose over the moor as dawn approached, and I directed my eyes forwards through the fog and mist. Our destination was looming in the not far distance as a massive bulk of stone outlined by the increasing light. We now surrounded ourselves in the area no longer as wooded nor deserted; I noted as I glanced around the small village. I had grown quite accustomed to the horsemen's muffled grunts and the quietness that fell between my escort and myself.
Nevertheless, I was now grateful to see other individuals other than my travelling companions and their horses. Gradually, we proceeded passed the trickles of roughly outfitted villagers. Whom would cautiously move from the narrow road and to the side to allow our horses to trot pass, nodding wordlessly to our leader.
We continued for another quarter mile before we arrived at a stone entrance, which led into the castle's courtyard. Castle Leoch, I recognised, instantly I knowing where I was. I had been here, with Frank four days earlier in my own time. Only then, in 2019, it resembled a picturesque ruin, weathered by time, war and abandonment. Seeing it now, returned to its former grandeur, the castle had been a substantial structure with sizeable impenetrable stone walls and high slitted windows. It was impressive and considerably more picturesque, even amidst the faint aroma of sewage and livestock. It prompted me to accept the outrageous notion that I was, admittedly, somewhere in the eighteenth century, even more than I already had.
"Aye, Dougal!" A man bellowed, as our horses halted within the castle's walls, "You're early, we hadna thought to see ye before the Gathering!"
"Aye, well, we've had some luck, both good and bad." Dougal answered as he swung down from his saddle, while a young stableboy caught the reins of his horse, "I'm off to see my brother. Will ye have Mrs Fitz feed the lads? They'll be needing their breakfast and beds."
As the remaining men began to dismount their horses, I became distracted, gawking at the castle. Spotting a man positioned in one of the larger panes, I could sense his eyes on me. I gazed up at him, making eye contact and cracked a small smile before I watched him twirl away, out of my sightline. Sighing, I shivered and redirected my attention to my surroundings — listening to the men laugh and banter with the stablehands. Murtagh then strode over to the beast I remained upon alongside my escort and secured his grimy hands tightly about my waist and removed me from the saddle. With a tiny grunt, my soles swept the hard, damp surface beneath them, and I mutely thanked him with a nod.
"Ye'll be needin' breakfast," A stout woman clothed in brown homespun shouted with a warm grin, "Plenty in the kitchen, go and feed yerselves."
My travelling companions hurried passed her, to what I assumed to be the direction of the kitchen. As the woman advanced towards me with curious eyes and opened her mouth slightly. Stopping her advancements, she took a tiny step backwards, to adequately take in my appearance. The portly woman turned her attention to Jamie. Who paused, discarding the saddlebags from his horse, and now occupied the area next to me. He must have sensed the maternal character looming near us as well.
"Claire," he stated, while he directed his head towards me, "and Mistress FitzGibbons," he added and replicated the movement in the reverse direction. "Murtagh found her yesterday. Dougal said we must bring her along."
Mistress FitzGibbons closed her trap finally and nodded, "Well then, welcome to ye, Claire. Come wi' me, and we shall find somethin' a bit more to wear." She eyed my exposed forelimbs and breastbone. As she shook her head before she clasped my hand, firmly, with her plump one and led me away.
"Wait!" I said, stopping abruptly, "I forgot Jamie."
"Jamie can fend for himself, lass," she stated with surprise in her speech, "he kens where to find food and someone will find him a bed."
"Okay, but he's been injured. And while I bandaged his wounds in the field. Now with proper light, I'd like to clean and tend to them properly, so they don't become infected." I explained as I drifted closer to Jamie.
Right, I reminded myself, the eighteenth century. "Inflamed," I amended, "you know, fever, swelling, discharge from the wounds."
"Oh aye, but do ye mean to say ye ken what to do for that?" Mistress FitzGibbons eyed me again this time with suspicion, "Are ye a charmer then? A Beaton?"
"Sure." I shrugged, I had no notion whom or what a Beaton might be nor did I care to explain my medical credentials and knowledge while standing out in the freezing drizzle.
"Well, Jamie, ye heard the lass." She grabbed hold of Jamie's healthy limb with her unoccupied hand and ushered us both towards the castle.
I pursued closely behind while she guided us through the cold, narrow passageways of the dimly illuminated castle. We hadn't been within the stone corridor long before Mrs FitzGibbons turned and frowned at my footwear. My boots' wooden heels came in contact with the stone floor, generating an echo, announcing my every step. She shook her head in dissatisfaction; I attempted to be lighter on my feet. I groaned inaudibly, yet another thing someone of this era didn't approve of regarding my appearance.
After what seemed like thirty minutes of roaming the passageways, which I'm confident was more like ten minutes, we entered a moderately spacious room. Furnished with a large four-post bed in the centre, it possessed all the traditional conveniences of a bedroom along with a petite table and a duo of chairs and most importantly a hearth.
I plunged towards the hearth, and held my palms to the warmth, neglecting my guide and patient. Both of which appeared to be immune to the cold. I turned to warm my backside as I watched Jamie situate himself upon a small stool on the opposite side of the hearth. Awkwardly, he stripped the remains of his tattered shirt from his muscular frame. He was prompting me to swallow hard and lift an eyebrow at the sight of his body as butterflies fluttered within my abdomen. Thankfully, Mrs FitzGibbons seemed not to miss a beat as a mother hen and carried over a quilt from the bed and laid it gently around his shoulders. Clicking her tongue in disapproval, she examined his injures and swollen shoulder before looking over to me.
"What will ye be needin'? She asked as I remained with my hindquarters to the flame, barely defrosted.
"Umm," I began but hesitated, taking a moment to consider what I did require. I hadn't taken an inventory of what I still had left in my first aid kit, but I knew I had roughly a half of a bottle of alcohol and several gauze-pads. I had not touched the sutures, and I hardly utilised the antibacterial cream. My teeth pulled my lower lip beneath them as I thought about the miniature pharmacy, as Frank called it, in my purse. I assumed it would probably be not the best idea to administer anything to him in the presence of judging eyes. Nodding slightly, I concluded that the best course of action was to utilise my understanding of plants, think Beauchamp , I ordered myself. I knew the herbs I could use an alternative to the modern medicine and tools I had. However, I was not entirely sure they would possess them here, within these castle walls.
"Witch hazel and garlic," I stated before immediately adding, "if you have them, also clean cloth and a kettle for boiling water, please."
"Aye, I think we can manage that." Mistress FitzGibbons grinned and exited the room while I glimpsed over at my patient.
He was swaying somewhat with his eyes shut; I'm sure that he was exhausted with his silence and absence of protest. I attempted to avoid the racket from my heels as I crept across the floor, trying not to disturb him. I slipped the strap from my purse up over my shoulder, removing it from my body as I set it down on the small table. A faint vibration rattled my bag, causing it to become louder as it moved away from the contents of my purse and against the wooden surface. Jamie's eyes then snapped open while he lifted his neck to stare at me. My heart raced as I slid my fingers into my purse and grasped my fingers around my mobile, pressing the side button to silence it. I tried to play it off as nothing while I used my small frame to obstruct his view as I pulled my iPhone out and turned the alarm off. It was half-past seven; I sighed; it was my birth control alert.
I took a mental note to take my pill at a later time, once I was alone. I told myself as I turned my mobile off as I attached it to the USB cord connected to the portable charging block. Not that I had any use for it now, without service. I exhaled gently and pushed the whisps of bangs away from my eyes as Mrs FitzGibbons enter the room, babbling to no one in particular.
Mrs FitzGibbons had been able to procure everything I had requested and then some. I smiled as I watched her place the black iron kettle onto a hook in the hearth before she began to peel the cloves of garlic while I inspected the herb parcels she had brought. There was witch hazel, which I had requested. However, she also contributed a few other herbs, boneset and comfrey, for a tea I assumed and lastly, cherry bark. A painkiller , I smiled.
"Thank you," I said, as I threw several cloves of the garlic into the boiling kettle along with some witch hazel, "I think I can handle it from now on if you have responsibilities to attend too. I wouldn't want to be a bother."
"There aye be things for me to do!" She said as she shuffled towards the door, but stopped as she reached her exit, "Do call out if ye need anything else."
I didn't bother responding as she vanished from view and I turned to concentrate on my patient, who was now alert. I offered him a smile while my hands trembled and pushed the quilt aside. Carefully, I peeled the dressing from the front of his shoulder. The pads of gauze clung to his flesh, coming away with a crackling of blood that had cauterised and dried. New droplets oozed around the wounds' edges as I completely removed the gauze, and apologised for any pain I was causing him. Not that he had moved or offered a sound of discomfort, I felt terrible for inducing torture.
"No worry, lass. I've been hurt much worse and by people less appealing." He stated as the corners of his lips curved.
He dropped the quilt entirely from his shoulders as I rounded behind him to remove the other bandage. When I saw what he was referring to, his statement was evident whether he meant to compliment me or not. He had been hurt far worse than anything I could inflict on him. His upper back was covered with a criss-cross of faded silvery marks. I gently placed my hand to the lines and traced my fingers across one. Scar-tissue had developed in some places, where the welts had intersected in irregular patches. I imagined several blows must have struck the same area, repetitively, flaying the skin and gouging the muscle beneath.
There was something brutal about these scars, and I felt my breath hitch as I moved my fingers from the lines and proceeded, removing the second bandage. I had seen things when I had did a semester abroad in Africa. Some villagers had serve injures, some scars but nothing of this nature. Nothing could have prepared me for this level of torture. No amount of sensitivity nor trauma training would have covered this in the twenty-first century.
"Lobster-backs," He shrugged his good shoulder, turning his head as he caught me staring, "Flogged me twice in the span of a week. They'd ha' done it twice the same day, were they not afraid of killing me. No joy in flogging a dead man."
"I shouldn't think anyone would find joy in flogging another human." I tried to keep my voice steady while I brought a dampened cloth to his exposed wound.
I shook my head, "Who would do such a thing?"
"A dragoon's captain by the name of Randall." He answered.
"Aye, you're familiar with the man?" His voice was suddenly suspicious of my outburst.
"No, no! I used to know someone by that name, a long time ago but I doubt they are in the same family. However the man in the woods, the one Murtagh found me with, that man was a Randall, I believe," I tensely stammered as I dropped the sponge cloth, "Fuck," I scooped it off the floor and turned to the fireplace, trying to hide my nerves with busyness.
This Captain Randall was possibly Frank's ancestor, the soldier with a sterling career and valiant on the field of battle. I couldn't even begin to fathom a plausible connection between the pair. How could someone capable of inflicting these horrifying marks on this man's back be related to my sweet baby angel of a husband? How were they share a family tree, share DNA?
"Why were you, flogged?" I asked, somewhat abruptly.
It was hardly discreet, but I genuinely wanted to know, and I was too exhausted to think about how to rephrase my question. Jamie gasped as I placed a new, clean damp sponge to his injuries. I stopped, setting the sponge back inside the kettle before I spun around to my purse. Extracting one of the smaller pouches from my purse that contained medication. I grasped the bottle of acetaminophen and rammed down the lid to twist it off and then shook two tablets into my palm. Jamie's hand was warm against mine as I set the capsules into the centre. He gave me a doubtful expression but didn't ask questions, as he followed my directions. Jamie swallowed the pills, not chewing them and reached out for the cherry bark tea I poured into a cup for him.
"The first time was escape and the second was for theft," He replied, as he swallowed the last of his tea, "At least that's what the charge-sheet read."
"What were you trying to escape from?" I asked, allowing my voice to soften.
"The English," Jamie stated, as he raised an eyebrow, "Fort William if ye mean where."
"I assumed it was from the English," I said, "Why were you there to begin with?"
"I think it was obstruction."
A dry snort escaped from my lips, "Obstruction, escape, and theft. Why, Jamie, you are quite a dangerous character."
"Oh, I am," he responded as a corner of his lips curled and his dark blue eyes glinted back at me, "a wonder you think yourself safe wi' me, after all, ye are an English lassie."
"You look harmless enough at the moment." Which was utterly untrue, shirtless and scarred, he was smeared with blood. His face bore a stubble down his jaw, and his eyes were reddened and puffed from a hard night of riding, he looked positively dangerous. He laughed, a deep calming noise that caused me to jump slightly in shock.
"Harmless," he conceded, "I'm too starved to be a threat to ye. Now if you were a bowl of porridge, Ouch!"
"Sorry," I mumbled, "The cut is deep and dirty. I need to get it clean before I stitch it."
"It's all right." He forced another small smile, but he had gone ghostly beneath the copper stubble.
"So, what is obstruction?" I asked, attempting to lead him back into a conversation. I found it was better to distract a patient than to allow them to dwell on the happenings of their injures. Although my current highlander patient did not appear to be one that would dwell, I didn't want to take my chances of him turning on me as if I were a bowl of porridge. "It doesn't sound like a major crime."
Jamie took in a deep breath and held it in his lungs for a moment before he fixed his eyes to the bed as I swabbed dried soil from his stab wound.
"It's whatever the English say it is, I reckon. In my cause, I was defending my family and property and getting myself half killed in the process." He answered, pressing his lips together as if he was deciding whether or not to proceed and tell me more.
"It was nearly four years ago, and there was a levy put on the estates near Fort William," he started to explain, describing the small parties of soldiers that would go around with an officer and a wagon. The soldiers would collect food, livestock and other items from the surrounding area; he said, "It was one day in October when Captain Randall came along to L..." He caught himself, stopping abruptly, and glanced back at me, "To our place."
I nodded, encouraging him to continue as I listened. However, I kept my eyes concentrated to his shoulder, now cleaned and freed from dirt. I pulled out my first aid kit, removed the alcohol bottle, and pressed a linen cloth piece to the bottle, moistening it.
"My father was away— at the next farm over attending a funeral. I was up in the fields wi' most of the men, it was close to harvest time," he said softly, shutting his eyes as I brought out my suture kit, and listened to him continue his story.
His sister had been alone at the house, except for a few women servants. They had rushed upstairs when the British had arrived. At least that's what Jamie had assumed, hiding in fear of the British, they believed the devil himself sent the soldiers. In this era, it seemed they had been. He had come down towards the house when he heard shouting, followed by his sister, screaming.
Attempting to keep my hands steady, I continued with my sutures. After he heard his sister scream, Jamie proceeded to burst into the parlour of their home, where he discovered two redcoats with his sister, Jenny. Her gown was split down the front, exposing her and one of them had a scratched face. I watched as he opened his eyes and smiled, a smile that didn't exactly meet his eyes.
"I didna stop to ask questions, when Randall came in." He said.
Captain Randall had stopped the fighting with a simple act of holding a pistol to Jenny's head. Forcing Jamie to instantly surrender as the two other soldiers seized him. My patient then trembled, involuntarily, as he described Randall's charming smile towards him and said, "How about you offer me a bit of better entertainment?" Randall had a hold on Jenny's arm, pinning it behind her back, but then he had let go, bringing his hand around and slid it into the tear of her dress, gripping her breast.
"Jenny stomped her wee foot onto his and drove her elbow into his gut, causing him to bend over as she whirled around and gave him a good blow to the stones, wi' her knee." He snorted with amusement before the tone had left his voice.
I had finished my sutures. However, I allowed him to continue. This story seemed like something he wanted to share with me, something he needed to share. I set my needles in a small bowl of alcohol as I put antibacterial cream lightly on the sutures. As Jamie resumed with his tale, Randall had released his pistol, which Jenny had gone for. Yet one of the other dragoons had seized to first. They then dragged the siblings outside, stripped Jamie's shirt from his frame and tied him to the wagon and Randall proceeded to beat Jamie across his back with his sabre.
When Randall had finished, he turned to Jenny—one of the other dragoons now held her and asked if she wanted to see more or if she would alternatively go into the house with him, sequentially accepting the proposal to provide him with better entertainment.
"What happened?" I urged, softly, as I completed bandaging his shoulder with the remainder of the clean fabric.
"I couldna move much, but I shouted to her tellin' her I wasna hurt. I told her not to go with him, not if they cut my throat before her eyes." He grunted, "I couldna see her, but from the sound of it, she must've spat in his face because next I knew, he grabbed a handful of my hair, and pulled my head back, his knife to my throat."
He pleaded with his sister not to go with Captain Randall, declaring he'd prefer to die than have her dishonour herself with such filth.
"Did she go with him?" I asked as I set myself opposite him.
"Aye," He swayed as if he was trying to keep himself awake. I watched as he rubbed a large hand over his weary face and to the back of his neck, "Jenny thought he'd kill me, and perhaps she was right. After, I dinna knew what happened. One of the other men hit me with the stock of his musket in the head. And when I woke, we were jolting down the road towards Fort William."
"I'm sorry," I said softly, as I tucked my arms around my body.
There was an odd sensation of intimacy between us, as Jamie concluded with his recount of how he ended up at Fort William. It was partly due; I thought to him sharing his horrible memories with me. And another part of it was our long ride together through the dark with me pressed between his thighs. I unwrapped my arms from across my chest. And casually picked up the ratty table cloth I had used early as a sling and refolded it, to its previous shape. Carefully, I placed his arm within the fabric and felt his muscle relax under my hands.
Before Frank, I had not slept with many men. Although, I had noticed that when you sleep with someone, genuinely sleep with the person, it was a more intimate act than sex itself. Its as though they are trusting you to see them at their most vulnerable, letting their guard down. A mutual trust that only sleeping together could bring instead of joining bodies. That's how I felt in the moment with him. We had a connection that frightened me, and yet I wanted more.
The sling finished, I assisted him with his rough linen shirt, easing it back over his bad shoulder. Jamie stood, tucking the fabric, one-handedly into his kilt and grinned down at me.
"I thank ye, Claire. You've got a good touch." He said as he reached out his hand and cupped my cheek.
Leaning into his hand, I peered through my lashes, while he ran his thumb tenderly upon my skin before he seemed to think better of it and suddenly jerked his hand away. It appeared I wasn't the only one that felt this odd sensation of intimacy as I looked away. My gaze wandered around the room, focusing on the smoke-blacked hearth, narrow windows and beautiful oak furnishings—anything but the young man before me.
My subconscious returned to Frank, trying to avoid Jamie's gaze. I thought about the man he had described, a man that was utterly foreign to me. Captain Randall was nothing like my husband. My kind, loving, tender Frank. My poor Frank, I wondered what he thought happened to me. What had happened when I failed to make it to dinner? Did he think I had run away? Deciding that after our several years living separately, I preferred to remain without him.
Thinking of Frank and comparing him to Randall was my breaking point. Since the moment I had passed through the stones at Craigh na Dun, my life as I knew it had ceased to exist. I was no longer Doctor Claire Beauchamp-Randall, I was a damsel. I had been violated, threatened, abducted, and jostled. I had not had a proper meal nor sleep in more than twenty-four hours; I was mentally and physically done.
I attempted to control myself as I twisted away from Jamie, my lip quivered, and my eyes swelled with warm liquid. Trying to hide my face, it was too late. Jamie caught hold of my hand and in a soft tone, asked what was wrong. Shaking my head, I dragged my still quivering lip beneath my teeth, to prevent further hysterics. His fingers danced over my knuckles of my left hand and settled against my ring finger.
"I'm alright," I vocalised softly.
"Is yer husband dead, lass?" His voice was laced with sympathetic concern as I lost all my composure entirely.
"No…yes… I mean, I guess…" stuttering, I was overwhelmed with emotions and exhaustion as I crumpled into his chest and sobbed.
I had half expected for Jamie to call for Mrs FitzGibbons or to retreat over my hysterics. Nevertheless, he sat back down. Gathering me against his frame and drew me into his lap with his healthy arm. Murmuring in Gaelic into my ear, he rocked us gently while moving his hand down my spine. I had completely surrendered to my anxieties, heartbreak, uncertainty as I wept. Everything I had been avoiding came rushing to the forefront of my brain.
Jamie continued to stroke my hair, offering me the comfort within his warm broad chest as my sobs lessened. Soothing myself, I coughed and felt hiccups arise in my throat and leaned into the crook of his shoulder.
"I'm sorry," I whispered.
I felt his hand under my chin, and he delicately tilted my head up to face him. Still leaning against his shoulder, he delivered an unsteady breath and softly said, "hush, Mo Chridhe."
The thoughts of my uncertain situation escaped my consciousness as he released my chin and drew me closer into his frame. I was much too exhausted to object as I nestled into his heat and felt my eyes slide closed. I would add worrying about returning to Frank to my list of to-dos, I told myself, right after I remember to take my pill. With those as my last thoughts, I slipped into an unconscious dreamless state.
There was a loud knock upon the door of the bed-chamber that woke me into a state of confusion. Something felt off, but I couldn't remember what. My only concern was burrowing back into my cocoon of quilts, as the banging on the door was succeeded by a nagging voice. Rolling over, I embedded my face into a pillow, and with my eyes still closed stretched out for Frank. I wanted him to deal with whatever commotion that was happening as I slept, but I wasn't greeted with the warmth of Franks' body. Instead, the side of the bed he usually slept was cold.
"Come on, lass, ye must get up!" The nagging yet cheerful voice bothered me, as I popped one eye open.
"No, thank you," I grumbled before shutting my right eye and moaned into the pillow.
The sight of Mistress FitzGibbons returned me to full consciousness, as the realisation of what was amiss hit me. A huge part of me had hoped the last twenty-four hours had been a dream, a terrible dreams. However, it appeared it had not. The only thing I wanted to do was cry with frustration as I felt the quilts being peeled away from my bones, and I hastily sat up and grabbed one to pull it back over me.
"Come on, up wi' ye!" Mistress FitzGibbons continued while she drew the drapes away from the bed, allowing the sun to grace my face, "Ye've slept the whole day."
"If I slept the whole day, why not just let me sleep through the night?" I inquired, earning a scowl from the woman.
I forced myself into a sitting position and frowned back at Mistress FitzGibbons. I wasn't the most pleasant person to wake from a peaceful slumber, and I was worse if I was in a new place. I had no recollection of climbing into bed after helping Jamie; in fact, I could barely recall falling asleep. I remembered crying, and Jamie clutching me tightly into his warm chest comforting me. " Jesus H Roosevelt Christ ," I muttered, pushing my tangled hair from my face. Jamie must have put me to bed after I had fallen asleep.
Wrapping my remaining quilt around my shoulders, I staggered out of bed and went for the fire. The only other warm place in this room, where Mistress FitzGibbons had a mug of what smelt like broth, and I assumed it was her lure for me. Handing it over, I slowly sipped it, relishing the hot liquid as it warmed my insides while she laid out a pile of garments on the bed. There was a knee-length whitish linen chemise, a cotton petticoat, two overskirts in variations of brown, and a moss green bodice—rust-coloured stockings made of wool and a pair of tan slippers to complete the outfit. I took the slippers as a hint that she didn't wish me to wear my boots while I was visiting the castle.
"Stand up, lass." The maternal figure said, as she took my unfinished broth out of my hands and abruptly removed the blanket from my shoulders.
There was no strength within me to argue with Mistress FitzGibbons. I figured she was a woman no one ever questioned or went against her wishes. I had gathered, she ran this castle, at least the people that made this place operate smoothly for the laird and his family. So I held my tongue as she began to unknot the strings that tied my tattered dress together. Once relieved from my garment, I immediately brought my arms around my breast to shield them from her eyes while she examined my undergarments.
"Um," I hesitated, "It's lingerie from France."
The stout woman proceeded to stare before she planted her chubby fingers on the waistband of my black laced high-waisted underwear, removing them for me. To say I was uncomfortable being disrobed by a stranger was the understatement of the year. Nonetheless, I continued to remain silent as she supervised my dressing from the skin out. Once she was finished, she stood back, examining her handiwork with what resembled a look of achievement. I could tell I now met her standards of how a woman should be outfitted.
"The green suits ye. Goes well wi' that brown hair. Stay, though; ye'll need a bit o' ribbon." She presented a handful of ribbons and ushered me over to a chair to sit.
I was dumbfounded and could hardly breathe, mostly due to the corset. I allowed her to do my hair. Binding back my unkempt side-locks with a green ribbon, she clucked over the unfeminine unbecomingness of my shoulder-length fringe haircut. I mutely listened as she blathered on, patting me here and there, tucking in a lock or attempting to force my bangs to stay behind one of her pins. Eventually, I was officially arrayed to her satisfaction.
"There," She smiled and drew me back to my feet and guided me towards a standing mirror, "Now ye're ready to be taken to Himself."
"Himself?" I asked I didn't particularly care for the sounds of this. I felt like Belle in 'Beauty and the Beast' when Mrs Potts prepares her to have dinner with the Beast. Although I very much doubted this castle had singing teapots. And whoever Himself was, he was likely to ask questions about how I came into the hands of Dougal.
"Why, the MacKenzie. Whoever else?"
Yeah Beauchamp, whoever else? I asked myself. Castle Leoch, if I could recall correctly from Frank, was in the centre of the clan Mackenzie lands. Which clearly established the clan chieftain was the Mackenzie, as Mistress FitzGibbons had put it. I now began to understand why my companions had ridden through the night to reach the castle. No English officer with a half a brain would lead his men so deeply into clan lands. To do so would cause death by ambush at the first cluster of trees. Only a good-sized infantry would reach as far as the castle gates; I told myself as I began to wonder which exact part of the eighteenth century I had stumbled into. I knew from history books and films the inevitable fate of the clan lands, and I had seen first hand what has become of the castle.
A heavy knock on the doorframe tore me away from my thoughts, as I glanced up to see Murtagh standing there. He seemed well-rested, unlike me. I gazed back at my reflection and ran my fingers beneath my eyes. Attempting to sweep away the remains of my mascara, I determined that they were merely dark circles and not reminisce of my make-up.
" Well, this is as good as it's going to get ," I muttered to myself, with a shrug and trailed behind Murtagh out of my bed-chamber.
The laird Mackenzie received me in a room at the top of a flight stone stairs; I believe it was known as the keep. It was in a room in a tower, round, and embellished with paintings and tapestries draped against the walls. In contrast, the rest of the castle appeared comfortable enough, modest even, compared to this room. Crammed with furniture, swarming ornaments, and a warmed by a fire and candles. While the castle's outer walls had only high slit windows, this room had been equipped with long casement windows that allowed in what daylight there was.
As I entered the room, I knew that if I were going to survive this century. I needed to begin with acclimatising myself as quickly as possible. I knew roughly where I was, but when? I knew it had to be within the eighteenth century, based solely on clothes and weapons. My attention was briefly drawn to a large metal cage, cleverly engineered to fit the wall's curve, filled with dozens of tiny birds before I focused on the desk in front of the cage.
" 1743 ," I read from a letter sitting casually onto a stack of papers as I turned back to look at the birds.
Darting among the leaves within their inclosure, they cheerfully conversed with each other as if they couldn't be bothered with my presence. 1743 , I repeated once more inside my head. Decades before the American Revolution, I knew England and France to be at war, again, and one of the George's was on the throne. But which one, I deliberated, wholeheartedly missing being able to Google.
"Busy wee things, aren't they?" A deep, pleasant voice spoke from behind, and I turned with a forced smile on my face.
The man now before me shared the same broad planes and high forehead as Dougal, though the same vital force that gave Dougal his air of intimidation was mellowed into something more welcoming. Dougal did say he was going to find his brother; perhaps, his brother was laird. It made sense to me, the men and the villagers respected the leader of our band of horsemen. He did provide the same impression of intensity, standing slightly closer to you than was comfortable. I fought every urge within me to step back, but not because of my discomfort of him standing too close. No, at that moment, it arose from the fact the slightly attractive man ended in shockingly bowed, twisted, and stumpy legs. For a man that should have topped just under two meters like his brother, he barely came to my shoulder.
His gaze lingered on his cage of birds, tactfully allowing me a much-needed moment to gain control of my features. He had to be used to this. Of people's reactions to meeting him for the first time, though as I glanced over the room once more, I wondered how often he met new people. This was his sanctuary, his self-constructed world, where he could determine whom from the outer world, was welcomed. I had made the cut.
"Welcome ye, mistress," He said, with a slight bow to his neck, "My name is Colum Ban Campbell MacKenzie, laird of this castle. I understand my brother encountered you some distanced from here."
"I'm pretty sure he abducted me," I said.
I had intended to keep the conversation cordial, but I wanted nothing more than to get away from this castle and back to the hill with the circle of standing stones. Whatever was to happen to me, the answer was here, if anywhere. Colum MacKenzie would be my ticket home.
"Well, perhaps," the laird agreed. "Dougal is sometimes a bit, impetuous."
"It happens," I shrugged, indication a dismissal of the matter. "I believe we had some sort of misunderstanding, but I would greatly appreciate being returned to the place I was taken from."
"Mmphm," his brows rose as he gestured towards a chair. I sat, reluctantly, as he nodded while he took his seat behind his large wooden desk. "I understand that ye were found in some distress." He seemed to be suppressing a smirk, and I wondered just how my state of being had been described to him.
Frank once had seen a documentary about World War II and the training they gave the officers on withstanding interrogations. He had said the basic principle was to stick to the truth as much as humanly possible, only altering those details that must be kept a secret. Less chance of slipping up, if the individual accepts of your cover story, he had explained. Well, Frank, let us see how effective those 1940's military tactics work.
"I had been attacked and nearly sexually assaulted."
He nodded, his face traced with interest, "Aye? By whom?"
Tell the truth; I reminded myself. "By English soldiers. In particular, a man named Randall."
Colum's face changed suddenly at the name, although he continued to look interested. There was an increased intensity in the lines of his mouth; he was familiar with him. Colum sat back a bit in his chair, and steepled his fingers, regarding me carefully over.
"Aye?" He said, "Go on."
So with the Gods above as my witness, I went on. I told him in great detail the story of the confrontation between his men and Randall's men since he would check my account against Douglas. I told him the basic facts of Randall's interactions since I didn't know exactly how much Murtagh had overheard. He nodded, giving me his complete attention.
"How exactly did a lady, such as yourself, come to be wandering the woods in nothing but her dressing gown." I nodded and took a deep breath in.
We had now entered into the domain of where I could get imaginative with my story. I suddenly wished I had paid closer attention to what Frank had said on the topic of bandits in the eighteenth century, but I would have to do my best. I was a widowed lady of Oxfordshire, I began, which technically now I was, but that was the extent of my truth. I was travelling with a manservant. I continued to visit distant relatives in France. I had briefly thought about saying the Colonies, as I had just spent the last few years of my life living there, but I assumed it would make more logical sense to say France. After all, I was in Inverness. We just set up camp for the evening, when we were set upon highwaymen. My servant had either been killed or ran off. While I had succeeded in escaping from the men, I had been forced to abandon my horse and property. And that was when I stumbled unto Captain Randall and his men.
I relaxed into my chair as I concluded, pleased with my tale. It was simple and accurate in all the checkable details. Frank would have been proud, I told myself. Colum's face displayed no more than polite attention as he continued to nod.
"This man, Captain Randall, is an officer and a gentleman," Colum stated, "And you're saying a man bearing the king's commission decided to rape a stray traveller he came upon in the woods for no good reason?"
"Is there ever a good reason for rape, Laird MacKenzie?" I challenged, furrowing my eyebrows together.
"I beg your forgiveness, madam. An unfortunate turn of phrase on my part." He countered I could see the scepticism of my tale etched on his face.
"It was, now I believe we were discussing my transport back to Inverness."
"Aye, well you're a welcome guest at Leoch until we can arrange something." He stated, firmly, as he raised a hand to dismiss any further conversation.
"I don't think you understand," I said, remaining in my chair as Murtagh who was near the door came forwards, to escort me back to my room. "Do you think I would lie? I want to be returned to my people."
"Mistress, I did not say I didn't believe ye," He replied, "But I've not held leadership of a large clan for over twenty years without learning not to believe every tale I'm told."
"Who the fuck do you think I am? Sir, I have no literally reason to be anything but truthful." I said, trying to keep my voice even.
Colum blinked, twice, looking taken back by my language. Then his features firmed, waving his hand once more, "It remains to be seen, but as I said, you're a guest here."
"Fine, thank you," I mumbled, as I tried to blink back the tears forming in my eyes as I stood from my chair.
It was my sign to leave; understanding the conversation would not be going anywhere else. I would be allowed to remain a guest of the clan MacKenzie until further notice. I supposed I should be appreciative of that, at least I wasn't a prisoner, but honestly, I saw no difference between the two. I was here, against my will and unable to escape, as I glanced back at Murtagh, who was following closely behind me as we descended the stairs. I was beginning to lose faith that I would ever make it back to the standing stones on top of Craigh na Dun. I feared I would never see Frank again. In a trance, I brushed my fingers to my lips, that fleeting kiss he gave me before leaving would be the last kiss that would pass between us.
My breathing began to labour as my chest tightened, and I felt the heat of tears threaten to spill from my eyes once more. I felt as if I were a fish out of water or lost on an alien planet and what was worse was that I kept being reminded of my lose of Frank. It had never crossed my mind that it was the last moment I would see him, and it was gutting me.
"Take that door, lass," Murtagh grunted.
The door led to a parapet over one of the castle walls, it was narrow, barely wide enough for Murtagh and I to stand side-by-side, but it was nice to be surrounded by the fresh, crisp, spring air. Murtagh turned away from me as I stopped walking and leaned over the edge of the stone wall to look down below into the courtyard. My lips curved as I observed the children practice their swordplay and Dougal rushed up to join, laughing with a broad smile on his face. I did have some knowledge of this era, the people, dress, customs and politics and even some of their colloquialism were familiar. However, most of it was secondhand from my education, museums, films, and books.
I focused back to Dougal, as he seized hold of the boy after the wooden sword had stabbed him and tossed him up into the air and caught him. And then I began to wonder. Perhaps, life here wasn't so different after all. And if I was going to be contained here for the foreseeable future, I could make an effort. Learn from the Mackenzie's, exist with them. And that's what I intended on doing, at least until I seized my opportune moment to escape.
"Murtagh," I said with a smile, "Can you point me in the direction of Mistress FitzGibbons? I've very much like some hot water for a bath."
I didn't take the time to do a third edit, so please, go easy on me.
I tend to miss things the longer I stare my writing. So I'm hoping for the best by posting it.
Also, if you have anything you'd like to see modern Claire do in the 18th century or ideas, I'm all ears.
As always, thank you for reading. (:
The following morning, it was once again Mrs Fitzgibbons, who woke me with a loud knock on the door of my bed-chamber, announcing her presence. The woman waited for no response, as I opened my eyes to see her already busying herself around the space, and I shifted myself up into a sitting position. At the same time, I stretched and folded my hands into my lap. I was waiting for instructions from her. In her arms, she came bearing a collection of toiletries, items I assumed were available for well-born women of the era. Mrs FitzGibbons carefully placed the items down upon the table near the hearth and turned to me, smiling before she darted out of the room.
I remained in the warmth of my nest of bedding for another moment, anticipating for her to return before I pulled one of the smaller woollen blankets from the edge of the bed, encasing it around my shoulders as I laid my bare toes on the wooden floor. A shiver of a chill, erupted over my frame as I tugged my blanket tighter and swiftly crept across the small space, towards the table. I reached out and brushed my fingers against the items, as I bent my leg at the knee, resting it against the chair and felt my lips tug upwards. I recognised these from museums. There was a lead comb, darkened at the teeth; I believed it was used for the eyelashes, like mascara. There was also vessels of various powders and a petite lidded porcelain cup of rouge—the items made up what was available in the eighteenth century as make-up. Substances, I desired nowhere near my face. Nonetheless, being raised by an archaeologist, I was beyond thrilled to see them in this fantastic condition, as if they were new.
"Oh good, ye are oot of bed." I heard a cheerful voice state, prompting me to pop my head up to see Mistress FitzGibbons filling the doorway of the room.
I immediately withdrew my fingers from touching the lead comb on the table and yanked my blanket tighter around me.
"I am," I responded and motioned towards the table, "is something happening today?"
"Aye, ye are required in Hall."
"Hall?" I inquired, lifting my knee from the chair and settling both feet back on the floor.
Mrs Fitzgibbons merely nodded in response, extending no other explanation as she laid out a fresh outfit for me. A deep indigo overskirt and bodice of silk, with rust-coloured stockings, as a change from the wool and homespun I had been outfitted to wear the day prior. I immediately concluded, whatever 'Hall' might be, it appeared to be an occasion of some consequence and importance.
"Do ye need help wi' dressin'?" Mrs Fitzgibbons asked as she held out a new chemise for me to change into.
"I think I can manage," I assured her, "May I have water to wash, though, please?"
"Ye bathed last night."
I caught her gaze of confusion over to the large washtub that was still in the centre of the room. The chambermaid hadn't the opportunity to remove it the night before, as after I had humiliated myself at dinner, by sticking my foot in my mouth over Colum's sons' paternity, I had barred myself away in my quarters, refusing admittance to anyone who knocked.
"I know, I just wished to wash my face."
The woman seemed to be contemplating my bathing practices before she bent her head lightly, "Aye, Mistress Claire, I'll fetch ye that."
I uttered vague terms of appreciation in her direction as she exited the room, while I laid my hands on my hips as I eyed the corset I was required to wear. I couldn't figure out how women of this era wore those things all day long, without a trace of discomfort. While I had only worn one for all of six hours the day prior, and I now firmly believed I hated it more than my distaste for the modern-day bra. Elevating my left hand off my hip and into my hair, I sighed as I glanced downward at my breasts. In my time, I rarely wore a bra, frequently only wearing a bralette or sports bra, it wasn't required for support.
" You have to wear it, Beauchamp ." I informed myself, " Even if you can't breathe, you need to fit in ."
I dropped both of my hands and drew the chemise I had slept in over my head and hastily replaced it with the new one. Trembling once more as my exposed skin was graced with the crisp mid-morning May air, I then meticulously mirrored the steps of how to dress I observed yesterday while Mrs FitzGibbons dressed me. Chemise, the dreaded corset, bum roll, petticoats, pocket, overskirt and then lastly to complete the multi-step process of dressing, the bodice. I stood applauding my work, feeling pleased within myself as Mrs FitzGibbons returned with a kettle of boiling water.
"Here ye are, lass." She said as she filled the smaller washbasin, that was situated on the dress with the steaming water and placed a linen-cloth next to it, "Hall will begin soon, best be quick."
"Thank you, Mrs Fitz," I replied, advancing toward her, filling the gap between us and drew her into a hug.
Her frame stiffened for a moment from the surprise of my embrace before she relaxed into my arms and encircled her own around my slender frame, stroking my back. Mistress FitzGibbons leaned away first and fastened her hands on my arms, holding me away from her body and stared at me momentarily before she cupped my face and grinned. I envisioned these were moments that transpired between a parent and child, not having one. I frequently found myself being attracted to motherly personalities. She then withdrew her hand, bowed and left me alone once more in my chamber, to finish preparing myself for ' Hall '.
As it turned out Hall, was just that, the dining hall. The one where we had eaten our dinner the previous night. Only now, it had been transformed into a space for some sort of ceremony. The tables, benches and stools had been pushed back against the walls, and the head table had been removed, completely. In its place was now a large chair, carved from dark wood and covered with what could only be assumed to be a MacKenzie tartan. I lingered in the doorway, peering into the space furnished with people. And began to wonder if this was like their version of court, where inhabitants of MacKenzie land would come and give their respects to their laird or tell him their grievances. I had frequently seen it portrayed in modern television shows, though, now existing in it; I questioned how much it would be like what I had seen.
A bag-piper abruptly began to play, as I scanned the room once more, provoking me to jump with its preliminary belch as it startled me. An ear-splitting shriek followed the sound into my right ear before it settled into something that sounded much like a tune. I took this as my warning to find my place in the hall as felt a hand clutch securely onto my hand, tearing me away from the doorway, driving me to stumble and trip over my somewhat large slippers in the process. I was too concentrated on the ground, keeping my eyes on my feet, hoping to prevent myself from toppling over. That I neglected to look up and see who had saved me from the probability of embarrassment until we had stopped moving, and the hand shifted me to stand in front of him. I felt my lips curve as I peered up at him through my blackened eyelashes as my cheeks heated from the sight of him.
"Mr McTavish," I smiled, "I'm surprised to see you."
Jamie opened his mouth to reply when Murtagh hit his side lightly and tilted his head towards the entryway I was just previously occupying. Colum MacKenzie had now entered the room, with his brother Dougal dawdling a few paces behind him. The MacKenzie progressed leisurely down the open space created but the people as a pathway to his chair, nodding and smiling to the forms as he passed them. I launched myself onto my tip-toes to gaze over the heads of the people watching him in front of me, perceiving that it was almost as he was flaunting his twisted legs when it clicked.
I remembered learning about Pycnodysostosis, commonly known as Toulouse-Lautrec syndrome while I was in my undergrad program, in my genetics lectures. It was a rare genetic condition, one that affected his bones and connective tissues. Glimpsing back at his legs, I reminded myself it had not yet been identified and wouldn't be for another century or so. Nevertheless, even in my own time, I had never seen a case, nor did I know anyone that had. We only had research and medical journals to help our knowledge of his condition. And from what I could understand, Colum MacKenzie was, in fact, living on borrowed time, appearing in his late forties. Even with modern medicine, sufferers barely made it to live past adolescents. I could only imagine he survived this long due to his status as Laird of Leoch.
"I can hear ye thinkin' from over here, Sassenach." Jamie murmured, drawing my concentration from the MacKenzie.
"Colum's legs, I know what's wrong," I answered, not thinking about where I was or who I was talking to.
He didn't have time to respond to me, as Colum had finally approached his chair. He sat and paused for a moment before raising on hand, ceasing the pipes' and 'Hall' began. It appeared I had been correct in my general understanding of what was going to happen, the laird of Castle Leoch was there to dispense justice to his tenants, hearing over their dilemmas and resolving their disputes. A secretary in the corner of the room would scribble viciously along with what was being said and how matters were settled, along with summoning the various parties' names when it was their turn to come forward. Most quandaries were petty; it was he said-he said situation. Nothing I would consider too serious about being taken before a laird, but then again I wasn't from this time. I had been raised to solve my problems and take matters into my own hands, to fend for myself, unless it was impossible. And only then, I would involve someone of authority.
"Mistress Beauchamp?" The secretary called out, "Will ye stand forth?"
Unaware, I would be summoned during this event, I glanced over at Jamie and observed him nod as he laid his broad palm on the small of my back, giving me a nudge forward. Mrs Fitz had declared I was required in 'Hall'; however, I assumed it was a laird guest. Not because I was going to be dealt with in front of his people. I felt Jamie's hand once again urge me forward, providing me with a small boost of confidence; I took a deep breath in and stepped out into the empty space before Colum and curtsied. As I rose, I looked back up at where the MacKenzie should be and was faced with Dougal's chest. As my captor, it was evident that it was up to him to make a formal application for my reception or as I preferred to think of it, my captivity.
"Sir," Dougal began, bowing at his brother, "we pray you to show mercy wi' regard of a lady in need of safe refuge. Mistress Claire Beauchamp, an English lady of Oxford, found herself set upon by highwaymen, jer servant killed when she fled into the forests of your land. It was there she was discovered and rescued by myself. We beg that Castle Leoch will offer her hospitality until her English connections may be apprised of her whereabouts and due provisions made for her safe transport."
It took everything within my marrow not to roll my eyes when he emphasised ' English ' or introject to speak up for myself. Dougal was speaking as if I were a damsel that had needed to be rescued. When my perception of the events in the woods, that I, myself had lived, I had handled myself extremely well. Although, I had welcomed the aid from Murtagh until he knocked me out.
"As discussed yesterday, Mistress Beauchamp, I offer you the hospitality of my hearth and home," Colum declared and bowed his head.
"Thank you," I replied with another curtsy and twisted back towards the bodies.
I was going to be tolerated but not welcomed. It was apparent by the expressions on all the faces on the people I passed, making my way back to Jamie and Murtagh. I would be held under suspicion due to my accent and country of birth, not because of who I was. Exhaling, I now speculated any future possibility of escape would prove to be even more difficult. The castle knew of me; they had seen me, the English widow from Oxford, seeking asylum at Leoch. And if Colum or Dougal were as intelligent as they appeared, I would never be alone during my time here.
The overall tone through the hall suddenly changed as the focus shifted away from me and to a burly man stepping into the clearing, before Colum, as he hauled a young girl by her hand behind him. She looked like she couldn't be older than sixteen, with long pale blonde hair, a pretty face and youthful rosy cheeks. She stumbled into the open area, much like I had, except she had been flung forwards by the man and now stood alone. The man spoke in Gaelic, much like the other tenants, while he gestured his arms angrily and occasionally pointed at her, either in illustration or accusation, I wasn't sure.
"What's happening?" I whispered, leaning towards the men alongside me.
The smaller Scotsman turned slightly, parting his lips to speak, tearing his eyes from the action, "Her father accuses her of loose behaviour."
"Loose behaviour, what does that involve?" I inquired, glancing back to the young girl.
"Consortin' improperly, against his orders." He uttered to me and sank back against the wall, "Her father wishes tae have her punished for her disobedience."
"Punished? Jesus H. Roosevelt Christ, she is a teenager." I hissed as unobtrusively as I could.
Jamie's hand slide into mine, squeezing it briefly before dropping it away as I returned my concentration to Colum, who was shifting his eyes between the girl and her father. Frowning, slightly, he tapped his knuckles to the arm of his large chair and then nodded his head. I had seen these actions from him with the other disputes he had been presented with; it was his tell. He had decided on his course of action.
The punishment was given in Gaelic, but I didn't need to understand the language to know it wasn't a favourable outcome. The girl began to cry, shaking her head as Rupert strode towards her, reaching for the buckle of his belt while two other men seized her arms to hold her still. There was some disturbance next to me, as I peeped back to the men I was standing with, Jamie seemed as if he was attempting to move towards the girl, conversing in a hushed tone. Murtagh clung firmly to the front of his waistcoat, answering him in the same manner, as I caught the younger man's eyes when he tore away from the other man with a small smirk developing upon his perfect lips.
The crowd parted, permitting him to travel through as he made his way into the open area before the MacKenzie brothers. Out of what seemed like respect, he inclined his head and then spoke to them, seeming to cause more controversy.
"What is happening now?" I asked Murtagh.
"The fool's offerin' tae take the lass's punishment." He said absently, peeking around the spectators that had filled the space in front of us after letting Jamie through.
"What? He's injured!" I said, receiving a scowl from a lady to the right of me, "Surely they won't let him."
"Nae, lass. They're arguin' it now."
"What did he say?" I demanded of Murtagh after a few minutes of silence between us.
"He prefers fists rather than the strap."
The statement was casual like I would automatically know what he meant by fists. I was about to ask if that meant they had allowed Jamie to take the girls' punishment. When Rupert brought his arm back and thrust it into Jamie's abdomen, causing him to topple over onto his knees. A shallow gasp left my lips as my eyes opened wider in complete shock, as I observed Jamie propel himself back to his feet, and nodded to Rupert. He had indicated he was ready for more and I wondered how long this utterly barbaric notion of punishment would continue for. I couldn't even begin to wrap my mind around a time where a girl could be punished for dating someone against her father's wishes. I could understand being grounded, that seemed reasonable, but physical discipline, such as a beating. Fuck no.
Jamie endured the abuse from Rupert for another five minutes before it had gone on long enough for the liking of Dougal MacKenzie, who dipped his head somewhat at his man. For good measure, the stout Scot connected his fist for the final time into Jamie's flesh. Much like the first blow, he staggered and fell to his knees, collapsing, prompting me to lurch forwards as Murtagh grunt, leaving my side for his. Slowly, I watched him stroll over to the younger man, yanking him to his feet as he rose his head, I could detect the blood swelling down the side of his face, and I sighed. It appeared as if I were becoming his personal physician, as he bowed his head towards Dougal and then Colum, then thanking the brothers.
The Hall was hushed as Murtagh assisted Jamie with leaving, only low murmurs could be heard as they moved through the massive wooden doors of the entryway before the proceedings recommenced. I remained where I was forgotten for a few moments. Still in shock of what had happened, but also with questions of why he took her punishment raced through my brain. Was he the man she was dating against her father's wishes? He hadn't mentioned a girlfriend when I had been riding with my arse pressed firmly against his half-hard cock. Nor had he mentioned her when I was mending his wounds, any of the times.
I ran my hand through my loose natural curls, brushing out a knot with my fingers as I looked to the door. Making up my mind to follow them, I sighed and pressed myself against the wall. Sliding along it, until reaching the entryway and slipped out.
"Wait for me," I exclaimed, seeing the two men at the end of the corridor, about to exit into the courtyard.
For being beaten moments before, they were quick. My slippers offered me zero traction as I skated about the flat stone as I raced to the end of the passage to them. Jamie sagged against the wall as they waited, allowing his head to fall back, while Murtagh turned to me, holding out his hands to my shoulders as I filled the area between us. He was steadying me to keep me from falling myself.
"Are you always this reckless, McTavish?" I questioned, touching his face and brushed the small stream of blood away from the corner of his mouth. Not even pausing to consider any blood diseases, he was my foremost concern, "I need my medical kit."
Murtagh nodded, looking around as if it were going to materialise magically.
"It's in my room."
I parted my lips to speak more when I noticed the girl Jamie had just allowed himself to be pounded for lurking near us, taking small steps closer. I forced a smile of pitty in her direction and tilted my head towards her. Murtagh picked up on my hint and merely swayed his head and gripped a large grimy hand on the younger man's shoulder.
"I'll leave ye in the hands of Mistress Claire, lad, and look in on ye later."
"Aye." Was all Jamie said, as he linked his arm to my elbow as if he was trying to steady himself from slipping down the wall he was leaning against.
"Jamie," I said softly after Murtagh had vanished from sight and glanced to the young girl. Who was now occupying the space Murtagh had left, "I'll meet you in my chamber to mend your injuries, but I think someone wants to thank you."
Jamie didn't respond to me as I jerked my arm from his grasp and smiled faintly at him and then to the girl as I moved passed her. Almost immediately, I felt self-conscious about my appearance. The girl was gorgeous with her soft blue eyes and youthful glow. I couldn't hold a candle to her. As I walked down the corridor, I turned back only once, to see her stretch out her slender fingers to touch his face the way I had only moments prior, I couldn't explain why I was jealous. I had a husband; I had someone who loved me. Someone, I was determined to return to. At least, that's what I kept telling myself as I roamed the passageways back to my room.
My marriage to Frank was far from perfect; I knew that. My Uncle Lamb had been right; I was perhaps far too young when we married. I scarcely had a sense of who I was, who I wanted to be. However, much like the girl in the courtyard, I had looked at Frank like he was God's gift to me. Like he was tailored to be my other half. Now, after only spending four days in the eighteenth-century, I was beginning to realise he was not. I was starting to realise our the defects in our frayed relationship more than I had from our years apart. I had barely felt remorse for being without him in Boston. We had separate lives; we were completely different people. I was a different person at twenty-six than I was at eighteen. Returning to him in Oxford, I was forcing myself to be someone I knew I wasn't. I was limiting myself to be someone Frank wanted.
I leaned my head against the closed door as I entered the room I was currently calling my own and closed my eyes as I ran my hands up the smooth silk of my bodice. I couldn't breathe thinking about the copper-haired man in the arms of another woman. A woman that wasn't me. It felt as if my heart was being stabbed repeatedly with a knife. Was this what love felt like? I opened my eyes as I wondered, fumbling with the laces as I tried to reach my corset to loosen it.
"Get it together, Beauchamp." I nearly sobbed, as my tugged my bodice from my shoulders and dropped it to the bed.
"Sassenach?" I heard from the other side of the door, after a soft knock.
"Yes?" I answered, staring at the closed door.
I had nearly forgotten in the short time since I left Jamie with the girl, that I was supposed to be doctoring his injuries once more. That's all I good for, at least for him. I told myself. Frank loved me for me, not my skills in medicine. Who says he loves you? I challenged myself internally as I rolled my eyes.
"Can I come in?" He inquired as he cracked the door slightly.
"Yes." My reply came out shakily, as he opened the door and closed it behind himself before looking at me.
His eyes swelled wide as he examined my appearance, and I noticed the tops of his ears become a shade of pink as he spun away from me. Thrown on his reaction, I turned to look myself over in the mirror. My make-up wasn't running down my face; my hair wasn't entirely unreasonable. I didn't understand why he acted like I was in my underwear, unless, it was this fucking corset.
"Sit down, Jamie," I told him, gesturing to the chair near the fireplace.
"Aye." He nodded, still dodging eye contact, "Do ye, want tae dress first? I dinna want people tae think less of ye."
I rolled my eyes, so it was my corset. As I near him, I could tell his lips were swollen like he was one to talk. And it wasn't from the thrashing he had received thirty minutes prior from Rupert.
"I'm English. I'm sure they can't think any less of me." I shrugged.
"True." He agreed and smirked before gazing up at me.
His eyes dilated as he scanned over my body, briefly before retreating to my eyes.
"I don't think you broke anything today," I started changing the subject, as I turned to pull my purse out from where I had hidden it underneath the bed, "I'll clean your cuts and check the wounds from our travels, but I think you'll just be sporting some abrasions for the next few days."
I paused for a moment, removing my first-aid kit from my purse before placing the larger bag down on the bed and taking the steps back to my patient.
"Why did you do that? Take her punishment? Do you know her?" I babbled the inquiries that were currently rushing within my head, "Are you the lad she is courting with against her father's wishes?"
"I ken who she is," He said, "Have not really spoken wi' her though. So nae, I'm not courtin' her."
I nodded as I dampened a piece of cloth with some alcohol and turned to face him.
"Ye dinna believe me?"
I swayed my head as I touched the cloth to a cut next to his eyebrow and listened to him hiss with a sparse wince from the burn. I wanted to believe him with every fibre of my heart, but the state of his lips and his actions towards the girl. I had a hard time trusting he was just that considerate of a man, in my time, no one was that charming. Not unless they wanted something out of it.
"I believe you," I murmured, dropping my hand from his face and peering down at my golden wedding ring.
"Ye have a face of glass." He stated, securing his knuckle beneath my chin, pushing my face up.
"Fine, I don't believe you. Why would you take her punishment if you barely know her?"
"It would have shamed the lass, to be beaten in the hall in front of everyone she kens. It would take her a long time to get over it." Jamie answered, "It's easier for me."
"I supposed I understand where you're coming from," I responded, welcoming a small curve to my lips, "She also doesn't have the best doctor at Leoch tending to her every injury."
"Aye, also true," Jamie admitted with a slight amusement that warmed my insides.
Ripples of happiness overcame me as I proceeded to tend to the new and old injuries spreading over his frame. Keeping our conversations casual, I tried my best to disregard the loud thumping within my chest cavity every time he inched closer to me. I had never felt desire towards another person before not until that moment, standing half-dressed by eighteenth-century standards, with a man that wasn't my husband. I wanted him closer to me; I wanted to run my hands through his cinnamon curls. I needed to taste his lips; I wanted to taste him. I simply wanted him.
"Are ye okay?" Jamie inquired, drawing me away from the suggestive images of him that were racing through my brain.
"Mhm, I'm just a bit tired." I replied, "Your shoulder wounds are looking great. I'll take the stitches out in a few days."
Jamie rose to his full stature, stretching his shoulders the best he could with one still secured in its sling before he turned and lifted his waistcoat from the back of the chair he was previously occupying. Turning back to face me, he reached out his hand and placing it on my cheek, much like he had the first time we were alone together in my room before dropping it to my left hand. I watched as he drew my hand to his lips, kissing my knuckles, just above Frank's ring before he mumbled a farewell.
" You're fucked, Beauchamp ." I muttered to myself, " Completely and utterly fucked ."
Thank you so much for reading!
And thank you for the comments. I very much enjoy seeing how you feel about the story so far.
I hope you enjoy this new chapter.
Have a great Sunday!
It was just after midnight when he returned to the home he previously shared with his best friend, the house she had purchased for them, with his eyes heavy, fatigued by sleep deprivation. Slowly, he scuffled up the two uneven steps that lead to the brownstone on Acorn street on Beacon Hill. As he fumbled with the lanyard that held his keys and attempted to find the right one that would unlock the large opaque forest-green wooden door. For a moment, he paused to gaze up at the house. She had bequeathed him her dream house, the only home she had ever known. At least that was she had declared the day the realtor had shown them the residence.
He remembered that day clearly, her whisky colour eyes shining as she toured the eighteenth-century structure. She had said it felt like it belonged to her. Like it was meant to be hers. As she stood in the centre of the then empty house, he listened as she chattered about the different hues she wished to paint the walls, which room would be his and which would be hers. She found herself falling in love with the charm of the old house. Unable to envision her life in Boston without residing there, she signed the documents that same afternoon after the showing. Purchasing the home without a second thought, she was creating a life for herself. She began setting roots in a city she knew she wouldn’t be able to stay in. A city, a life, he knew she desperately wanted to keep.
A small yawn escaped across his lips as he shifted his concentration back to the door and slid his key into the lock and leaned his frame against the door, opening it. It had been a long day; in fact, his entire month had been long. Draining was a more suitable word; he momentarily thought of how to describe it. As the first several weeks of his residency at Massachusetts General Hospital concluded, he couldn’t help but reflect each night as he returned to his home about how different it was from when he had first envisioned it. It wasn’t that the program was inadequate or unmanageable. It was that ever since that first fateful day of his undergraduate program at Harvard University when he sat next to the girl with the wild coffee-coloured waves and whisky eyes, Joe Abernathy had constructed an image of life with his best friend. He knew from that moment what the years following would look like. They always included her.
No matter what had intersected their path, she was a constant in his life. And he was one in hers. There was no future where they would be separated. At least, that was what Joe had assumed. He thought they would be working through the same exhausting weeks. The identical fourteen hours shifts. They were meant to compete and support each other to be the best surgeons they would be. They were supposed to discuss what surgical specialities peeked their interests, together, in the same country. In the same house, while working in the same hospital. Not over texts or weekly FaceTime calls. She was the Meredith Grey to his Christina Yang. She would eternally be his person, and he was hers. She had been the best woman at his wedding. He and his partner had planned on her being the Godmother to their prospective children.
He groaned softly as he stepped through the threshold of his home, abandoning his knapsack to the hardwood floors and flipped on the light in the hall. He closed his eyes, running his hand down his face and counted to four before reopening his brown eyes, adjusting them to the sudden glow. With all the effort he could manage in his bones, Joe slipped his aching feet from his sneakers and wandered towards the stairs that would lead to her room. He left it exactly how she had left it, hoping she would return to Boston. Return to her home. He stood outside her bedroom door for a minute, trapping his breath in his lung before he released it and placed his palm on the doorknob, twisting it and propelling the door open with a soft creak as his phone sounded.
Startled by the noise, Joe neglected to check the ID as he pressed the talk button and held the phone to his ear as he entered her old room. Encompassing himself with her familiarity.
“Is she there with you?” An accented voice slurred. Demanding his attention away from the herb garden in her windowsill, perceiving that his husband must have been minding the still-green plants.
He knew immediately who the caller was, just by his speech. There was no greeting; there never was with her husband. There was never any small talk. He leapt into the underlining reason for his call. Commanding to know her whereabouts as if he was still her keeper. As if he was ever her keeper.
“Is she there?” The voice repeated, impatiently.
“Who, CB?” Joe questioned as he touched his fingers across her record player as he relaxed into the velvet winged chair positioned adjacent to it, in the curve of her room.
“Yes, Joesph, did Claire return to Boston?”
Joe rolled his eyes at being called Joesph. Only his parents and Frank Randall addressed to him with such formality. No matter the various times he had put emphasised on being called Joe. Frank never respected his request. Nevertheless, he had learned to accept it, allowing it to slide for the sake of Claire. He always strived to be cordial with her husband. Not allowing him to be the reason any wedge was driven into their friendship, he had a better reason to have an objection over who her husband was. The man she irrationally worshipped, as Joe had never been convinced she had truly loved the man. A man that would never be her equal, never challenged her to push herself. He was the man she gave up her dream house for, the residency program she worked her ass off to be admitted in too. Joe felt Frank Randall would have been happier with her giving up her dreams, converting into a housewife and tending to his every demand as if she was a gentlewoman of the 1950s. Alternatively, he seemed to be satisfied keeping her back from reaching her full potential.
“Why would CB be back here, Franklin?”
His question was proceeded by a lengthy interlude of uncomfortable silence as a jolt of anxiety rippled through his wearied body. He had been operating on roughly four hours of sleep and leading up to this phone call, Joe had intended on saying goodnight to the memory of his best friend and then climbing into bed with his own husband. Now, he was becoming alert, attaining a secondary wind while on the phone with a man, half in the drink, questioning the whereabouts of one Claire Beauchamp-Randall.
“Frank,” He observed his pitch grow earnest, “Where is CB?”
“She’s gone,” Frank responded, softly, his voice hardly above a murmur.
“What do you mean, she’s gone?”
At that moment, Joe felt every emotion charge through his body as he began to sense panic, establish itself within his brain. He knew his best friend; at times, he knew her better than he knew himself. In complete honesty, he felt he knew her better than her own miserable husband. Having lived with her over the last eight years. Joe shut his eyes at the notion they were separated for a month, and she disappeared. A characteristic that was out of the normalcy for her. She would never go anywhere without at least informing him first, even if she intended on leaving her spouse in the dark. He would have defended her, protected her. Jow would have welcomed her home.
“Frank, answer me.” He said stiffly.
“Claire is gone. Vanished, there is no trace of her. She took nothing with her other than her purse and the contents of it.”
“People don’t just vanish,” Joe concluded, “there has to be a rational explanation. Did she return to Oxford? Your trip was cutting it very close to when her program was starting. I know she was worried about being ill prepare for her first day.”
“I had a neighbour check in on the house, and she wasn’t there.” Frank hiccuped, “The reasonable explanation is that she returned to Boston.”
“She hasn’t,” The younger man sighed, “When did you last see her.”
“Six days ago.”
Joe’s breathing hitched in his throat. His best friend had been missing for nearly a week. Six days. And her husband was just now considered to call him. The one person that could have explanations. Not that he didn’t, but it stung. He promptly pressed the home button of his iPhone and pulled up the texts from her, noticing that he had in fact not heard from Claire in six days. The last text that came through was from her. He had meant to respond but was then occupied by a patient, and it had slipped his cognisance. Reading the text over, she had sent him a snapshot of the unique stones on top of Craigh na Dun, the identical image she had posted on her hardly used Instagram. It was of the massively fractured rock, split down the centre with forget-me-nots at its base. They signified the reason she was there; she found their presence in the Scottish highlands unusual.
“Fuck, have you notified the police?”
“Yes, Joesph, I am not an idiot,” Frank stated, followed by another hiccup.
Joe listened to Frank, in his inebriated stupor retell his accounts of their second honeymoon in Scotland, of the day Claire disappeared and the aftermath that succeeded. Frank wept into the receiver to her best friend, declaring that she was finding her way back to him, back to loving him like she had before she had migrated to America for university. His Claire was returning to him, at least that was what he believed. She was supposed to meet him and the couple they were visiting at an eatery in Inverness after her visit to Craigh na Dun. He knew she intended on gracing them all with her appearance for dinner. He had seen her dress; he had observed as she packed a small overnight back in her oversized purse. She appeared eager for their evening and then she never arrived at the restaurant. All of Frank’s calls persisted to voicemail; his texts remained unanswered. He thought possibly she retired to their Airbnb, although it was abandoned when he entered, looking for her.
“Fairies, Isla said,” her husband breathed, “Reggie’s wife believes fairies took Claire since the last place she was seen on top of Craigh na Dun, it’s known as fairy hill.”
“That seems far fetched,” Joe admitted, nodding to himself.
Frank proceeded to speak, informing him about the matter concerning the police and how they dismissed him when he initially reported her missing. At first, it was still within the window of being too soon to declare his wife as a missing person. The second time, it was because as he gave a history of the relationship, they had spent several years independently of each other. The police of Inverness hinted that she had merely left him for another man. That while she was in Boston, she had taken another admirer and was idling for her moment to leave him. This influenced him to phone Joe, understanding that if she were to have another sweetheart or run anyplace, it would be back to her residence on Acorn street.
“There is no one else,” Joe murmured.
How he wished there was. He had continuously hoped she would come to her senses and part ways with Frank and relocate back to Boston. Joe had wished she would have embraced to the wise words of her Uncle Lamb and realise at the time she was wedded she was far too young to marry a man twelve years her senior or to wed anyone at eighteen. She had outgrown him; it was the simple reality of the matter. Every one of their colleagues in Boston knew that. At times, after one too many whiskies, Claire would admit to her mistake of marrying the first man she loved. However, when sober, she would dismiss declaring such ideas.
The conversation with her husband soon faded after that. Having nothing else to discuss, Frank concluded the call by requesting if he heard from Claire, to please let him know. Joe had agreed, upon his better judgment, he acknowledged Frank cared for her. There was no way to dispute that.
Joe remained in her old bedroom, incapable of communicating to his legs that he was ready to relocate to his own room. He turned to her record player and embraced the pitiful smile that edged upon his lips as he saw her favourite record lying at the ready on the turntable. It was as if it were pleading to be played. His fingers came to life, travelling delicately as he connected to the needle to the black circle and listened to the sounds of Phoebe Bridgers’s ‘ Stranger in the Alps’. It wasn’t long after her favourite song overfilled the small space of the room that he felt his eyes drooped, and a peacefulness flooded over him as he closed his eyes. Sliding into a slumber in velvet winged back chair, his last thought was that he at least hoped Claire was someplace she was happy. Somewhere she could flourish.
So, hi, how are you all doing?
I wrote this chapter after a bottle of wine; it's been a week.
I couldn't decide if I actually liked this chapter or not, but I wanted to give a small glimpse into what Claire had left behind and who she left behind through the eyes of Joe instead of Frank since I wanted to show that Claire had always had an underlining doubt for her love for Frank especially because I feel like I've made her fall for Jamie a little too quickly.
Anyways, I hope you the readers enjoyed. Sorry for any mistake.
Thanks for reading, comments, and the kudos. (:
"Fuck, I miss electric lamps," I sputtered to myself as I was ushered into a room with minimal lighting, "Beauchamp, you dunce the inventor of the light-bulb isn't even born yet."
Save what was coming from the tiny slitted windows positioned high up in the walls, there was hardly any of the pale afternoon sunlight Scotland had to offer seeping through the air of the room. There was barely any separating between the darkness and the light, and it was nearly impossible to tell where the high vaulted ceilings above my head ended. It was merely a dark oblivion, one that kept going with no end. I quivered, remembering being in this room with Frank during my era. I had joked to him that the castle troll lived here. It was clearly dark enough for such a creature. However, as I wandered into the centre of the chamber, I sighed and remained still for a moment as I set my palms to my hips and tore my eyes away from the ceiling and studied my new disagreeable surroundings. It looked to be that I, was the new troll of Castle Leoch.
My eyes proceeded to scan the room as I remained where I stood, there was a tall cabinet in the far edge of the room, next to a massive dark wooden hutch, adorned with dozens of tiny drawers. Each meticulously labelled. There were jars, wooden boxes, and vials of all sizes and shapes neatly stacked on the shelves of the hutch as well as the shelves above a stone counter to the right of it. I presumed that the dwellings' late resident has mixed his medicines or more like homoeopathic potions of some sort. At least that was my assumption by the residue stains' left as evidence and a crusted mortar that laid abandoned.
My feet urged me several steps forwards, purely out of curiosity for the tools before me. I hesitated, to glance back to the figures behind me before I advanced further into the room and the cluttered shelves. My fingers gingerly stretched out towards a crudely bound leather book, left on a small desk coated by a thin layer of dust and brushed it away to read the script.
Sneezing, I uttered a feeble apology to the other occupants of the room as I examined the delicate paper pages. The niece of a scholar overtook my being as the corner of the left side of my lips curled, while I held what appeared to be a logbook. An eighteenth-century version of medical charting. Unlike its modern equivalent now done on computers and tablets, I scanned the names of the various patients that had been recorded, along with the details of their ailments and their treatments.
I turned, wiping my dust-covered fingers onto my apron as I pulled away from the spark of intrigue I felt over the leather-bound book, placing it back down to its original resting place, and focused on, what I liked to refer to as, my Beauchamp-sitters. Rupert and Angus. The pair had been appointed to accompany me throughout Leoch, since the day that followed the Hall. I couldn't figure out which MacKenzie brother they served. Nevertheless, they had become my shadows. Watching my every move as if I would eventually slip up and reveal that I was in fact, a spy for the British. Regrettably for them, that wasn't the secret I was withholding from the Clan MacKenzie and their excitement for the day would end with assisting me with cleaning this dungeon of a new medical practice I was gifted.
"Right," I said with a small smile, capturing the attention of both men, "Angus, fetch me white vinegar, some water for boiling and see if Mrs Fitz has any extra rosemary and thyme."
"Fetch me, she says." He grumbled as he turned to Rupert and tipped his head towards the door. As if was he signalling for them both to take their leave, Lord, I wish.
"I need him to stay," I sighed, with a slight roll to my eyes following his snide remarks as I passed the apothecary's cabinet and began to investigate what diminished stock of herbs I had been bequeathed by the previous healer.
I temporarily reframed from speaking as I took stock of the supplies. Noting what I could use for my cleaning solution to sanitise this room and what needed to be restocked in the upcoming days.
"Perfect," I murmured, mostly to myself, as I plucked a small glass vessel half-filled with dried lavender petals and another of sage from the cabinet.
"Ye ken, Himself can have his lasses clean tis place for ye." Rupert groaned as Angus finally disappeared from our sight.
I nodded while my fingers touched a small but beneficial bottle of camphor oil before I drew them away and turned to confront Rupert. Colum MacKenzie had extended his maids' assistances to clean my new lodgings to help them met my sanitation standards. However, I politely declined his suggestion, making it clear I wished to see the cleaning myself. I had always been very particular when it came to my spaces. It wasn't that I had obsessive-compulsive disorder about cleaning or order; it was merely I needed things done my way. Especially when it came to medical setting and nothing against these ladies, but I knew they would not meet my hospital-level expectation of cleanliness.
"I'd rather do it myself," I said with a small shrug.
Rupert acknowledged me with a typical Scottish grunt while he turned to the heart and pulled a piece of flint from the sporran that was around his waist. I watched, silently, as he fiddled with it for a few moments before he started to produce a few sparks that travelled in the direction of the timber of the fireplace and started a low glow of a new flame.
The silence pleasantly continued amidst us after our brief exchange and much to my astonishment, and it persisted even after Angus returned with his limbs supplied with my requests. I softly appreciated his efforts and once again refocused on my task of cleaning. Most of the items, I determined, that were left behind were honestly trash. A few of the vials contained various insects or various animal wastes; others merely possessed an odour that made me what to throw-up. In a pile, I arranged these jars to be brought up to be washed by the ladies that served Mrs FitzGibbons in the kitchens. The other half of the items I had seen in museums during several trips I had taken over the years as a child with my Uncle Lamb and then with Frank during holidays from university. Even with my curiosity peaked over their fantastic condition, I couldn't fathom utilising them with my understanding of modern medical science. It was one thing to use homoeopathic methods. I could back that.
In modern-day Europe, they still relied profoundly on herbs and natural remedies, instead of jumping straight to antibiotics. Particularly in an era with superbugs growing more resistant to the drugs we, as medical professionals relied on. I embraced the alternative options. However, that is entirely different from using these medical tools that resembled torture deceives rather than medicine instruments.
A blur. That's how the remainder of the day appeared to be. My brain had switched into autopilot, allowing my cognisance to turn off from the task I was performing somewhere between cleaning out the third and fourth cabinet that was packed into the small limited space of my new medical practice. It wasn't until Angus declared it was time for supper when I was drawn back into consciousness and peered down at my mother's wristwatch I was still wearing and nodded. I had no intentions of attending the meal with them, as I allowed them to excused themselves from my presences and my now tidy quarters. A wave of peace overwhelmed me as I sank down into the wing-backed chair that Rupert has moved near the hearth earlier that afternoon and breathed.
It felt for a brief moment that I was back in Boston. That I was back on Acorn street and in my bedroom, nestled in the velvet version I had in the small circle I had in the wall, where the windows overlooked the street. As I closed my eyes, I swore it was almost as if I was transported there—my happy place. I could hear the soft turning of my record player and the small of the floral herbs I had arranged along the large windowsills. I could even overhear Joe and Galen's voices, the warmth of their laugh flooding my memories, making our house and home, as I felt tears pool and slide down my cheeks.
Since arriving in the eighteenth-century, I had been so focused on Frank and how this would affect him. That I hadn't taken the time to actually acknowledge the one person I had relied on over the last eight years of my existence in the twenty-first century. Joe Abernathy was my best friend, my brother, my family. His husband was like the brother-in-law I always wanted, our life together was perfect. That was the family I had to choose for myself when mine had perished from this earth, and I had abandoned it, them, for Frank and then again, when I was claimed by whatever force lived in the stones.
Laying my head against my palm, I bit down on my lower lip to stop them from quivering as I felt tears in my eyes quicken their pace, and I closed them. My head was pounding, and currently, I wasn't sure if it was from the surge of emotion I felt about my loss of Joe. Or it was from all the dust I had agitated from cleaning. Either way, I coiled my arms around my legs and drew them closed into my body and crumpled myself into the centre of my chair.
"Mistress Claire?" I heard, a soft, soothing voice coo into my ear, as the tendrils of my loose curls were pushed away from my face, "Are ye awake, lass?"
"Yes, I'm just resting," I whispered, neglecting to open my eyes.
I felt the sizeable warm hand that had just moved my hair from my face, cup my cheek, sweeping away a stray tear that lingered before he retracted his hand. Taking the warmth and small gesture of comfort with him, I listened as his boots' heavy step grew softer and away from me.
"I brought ye supper." He announced as I caught the plate make a soft thud against the wood of the desk he set it on, "Since ye missed it."
"Thank you, Jamie." I replied, finally opening my eyes and met the gaze of his blue stare, "You're extremely kind and didn't have to go through the trouble of bringing it down to me."
"It's no trouble," Jamie smiled, before his lips dropped into a slight pout, "Are ye alright?"
I nodded my head gently, allowing my hair to fall and conceal my face as I pushed myself up in my chair, releasing one of my legs to drop to the floor, while I hugged the other tighter to my frame. Was I alright? The honest answer, I was not. I was the furthest thing from being alright. Yet, how would I even begin to tell him about my passage through the stones on Craigh na Dun? I peered through the curtain I had created with my hair and glanced over at him, as he started to cross the floor and close the space between us. How would I even go about telling him without seeming like I had totally lost my mind? How would he take me requesting his aid to return to the stones, to return home to another man? I took a slow breath in before releasing it; I ached to tell him everything. He deserved it, especially after all the kindness he had been granting me. Instead, I remained closed off and unmoved, hoping my face didn't betray me.
When I allowed my eyes to move from the spot they had bore into the floor and back up to where Jamie had been moments prior, he was no longer across the room from me. Instead, he was in the process of kneeling in front of me. I jumped somewhat, from being startled and felt the air hitch in my lungs as I noticed our bodies' proximity. He tenderly laid his hand on the thigh of the leg that dangled over the seat cushion, while he leaned his head upon my bent knee, attempting to catch a glimpse of my face. The same knee I currently held my forehead too.
A blush bloomed over my cheeks as I felt the rush of desire across them, while the heat of his breath danced on my lips, tempting me to close the space separating us.
"I ken there are things you wish to not share," Jamie said softly, "but you're safe with me."
"And when I'm not with you?" I asked, rivalling his tone in my own voice.
"Well just remember you're English." He said as a small smile blossomed across his lips, prompting a laugh to strangle its way from my throat.
"I'm sure Angus nor Rupert will let me forget that fact anytime soon," I replied, allowing the thought of my husky shadows to cross my mind.
"Aye." Jamie agreed.
I had expected him to pull away once I lifted my head. Yet, he remained unchanged. Incapable of moving, I sensed my heart quicken in anticipation as I observed his tongue run along his full lower lip, tempting me again, as his eyes dilated. Furrowing my brows slightly, I drew my lip beneath my teeth while his eyes darted between my mouth and eyes. I loosened my hold on my lip, parting them, about to speak, in an effort to reduce the tension that was developing between us when a light rap sounded against the door. As if he exited a trance, Jamie sprung up and away from me and was on his feet as he stood. Practically propelling himself to the other side of the chamber, and occupied himself with straightening his kilt. The knock resounded on the door, while I stood from my chair and fluffed out my petticoats and crossed the small space to the door.
Laoghaire MacKenzie's effortless smile of all her innocent youth was the first thing I noticed as I opened the door and greeted her. Stepping aside, I indicated for her to come in and watched as her pale blue eyes sparkled, and her lips broadened at the sight of Jamie as she whirled back to face me.
"Mistress Claire," She said, "The storyteller is gettin' ready in the hall, I had hoped ye'd join me."
"I…um…" I tripped over my words, as I glanced over her shoulder to Jamie.
My brain scrambled with attempting to find a reason I couldn't join her in the Hall. Not that I didn't want to, I frankly wasn't ready for my time with Jamie to conclude. I wasn't prepared to reenter the world that unquestionably existed around us.
"Mistress Beauchamp was just preparing to assist me in the stables," Jamie responded for me, "Old Alec asked me to fetch her after supper to tend to one of the new fillies."
I watched as her face fell slightly as she understood what he meant. Laoghaire nodded, causing her blonde waves to sway as I caught the small expression of disappointment crosses her features. She had hoped by inviting me to accompany her, that would be in her with Jamie. It was the oldest trick in the book, befriend the lonely mate and swoop in. I had seen it happen in countless films, never in my life had it happened to me, until now. I sighed and offered her a small sympathetic smile, and nodded. Staying quiet as I waited for Laoghaire to take her cue and mutter a feeble farewell and exited the room just as quickly as she had arrived.
"Where ye goin', lass?" Jamie inquired, with a trace of amusement in his speech as he observed me hurry to tugged on my leather ankle-boots.
"To the stables?" I countered with a small shrug of my shoulders, "you don't want to be a liar, do you, Mister McTavish?"
"Aye," He smirked, sparking the warming sensation to reappear in my lower abdomen, "I reckon I should start with McTavish is no' my last name."
I laughed, "I figured, you do have a price on your head."
Jamie's fingertips brushed my own as he guided me away from the castle and into the chilled springtime air. Welcoming the tug of my lips, I took a deep breath in and trapped the fresh air within my lungs for a second before releasing it in a long even exhale. I couldn't remember the last time I had left the confines of the castles' outer walls. It had to have been over a week; I decided as I hastened my pace to keep in stride with Jamie.
"Does the laird know that you're a wanted man?" I asked once we were away from Leoch, cutting through the silence between us.
"Aye, he and Dougal are my uncles." He replied, with a grin while his extremities nudged my own before they slid between the empty space.
This man, I thought as my face reddened for the millionth time that evening.
"So, they know what happened?"
"Dougal was there for the second flogging," Jamie stated as he opened the small gate that led to the pasture encompassing the stables.
"Jamie," I said as I chewed my inner cheek, debating whether I wanted to ask more questions concerning his criminal past or change the subject.
"Sassenach." He returned, with the nickname I was growing accept from him.
"Do you know any of the stories being told in the hall tonight?" I ultimately asked.
"Aye, I do."
"Tell me your favourite?"
Jamie nodded as he rotated to face me and lured me in the barn's direction while he took strides backwards. He was a natural storyteller. Most Scots were, I reminisced, recalling back to my time with Reggie Wakefield and his wife. The first evening Frank brought me to meet them, they narrated stories of the last Jacobite rising and the Bonnie Prince Charlie. However, none of their tales held my attention as Jamie's did.
"There once was a man," He began, "he was out late one night on a fairy hill on the eve of Samhain when he heard a woman singing, sad and plaintively from the hills' rocks."
I stopped abruptly, feeling my eyebrows raise and furrow as he chuckled lightly before he tugged me closer to his broad frame and proceeded to speak. An uncontrolled shiver raced up my backbone as Jamie spoke, and I tuned him out. Remembering just six days before I had spent upon what was known as a fairy hill in my own time. Although I had travelled on what was known as Beltane, it was a fire festival, to honour the beginning of summer. Isla Graham-Wakefield had said it a day the locals throughout the highlands to believed to be a veil between the living and deceased. It was when the unexplainable was plausible.
The unexplainable, accurately is what had happened to me. I allowed my focus to revert back to Jamie as he continued with the folklore and spoke of the woman the man met. She claimed to have fallen victim to the stones. She claimed the stones had called her as she stood upon the hill. The wind swelled, and thunder sounds rolled across the land around her, when she placed her hands upon the tallest stone and was transported to a far and distant land.
"She had lived among strangers," Jamie said, squeezing my knuckles as he drew me into his chest and I rested my chin to his breastbone, feeling the vibrations of his voice as he continued, "They became friends and lovers. And then one day, she saw the moon again, and the wind rose once more."
And so the woman had touched the stones and travelled back to her own land. She resumed life with the man she had left behind. She renewed the life she had left before her adventure, never forgetting the people she met and loved.
"She could go back?" I asked my speech hardly above a whisper.
"Aye, they always do." He replied.
It was folklore, I reiterated to myself over and over. It would have been crazy to believe it, and yet, half the things Jamie had just described had actually happened to me. Sure, my journey occurred on Beltane and not Samhain, but there was still similarities between what had happened to me and this apparent folklore. So in theory, why couldn't the other half be real? It was a very real possibility that I could return home, to Joe, to Frank, to my life.
"Do you believe it?" I questioned, "the story?"
"I'm an educated man, lass," Jamie sighed, "If I may be so bold, maybe not as educated as you but I learned Greek, Latin and such, not of childhood stories of fairies or water horses in lochs."
He paused to laugh lightly while a small smile cracked upon my face.
"I am a highlander, born and bred. So I do, in a sense, believe the stories."
"Thank you," I murmured into his chest as I hugged him tighter to my small frame.
Without realising, he had restored my sense of hope. The hope that had begun to fade away over the last six days of living at Leoch. Jamie was telling me, going home was a possibility. As he proceeded to tell me more folklore from the highlands, I found myself concentrating on an escape plan. I could leave here during the gathering; certainly, everyone would be far too taken with food and liquor to realise I was gone. And by the morning, I would be halfway to the stones, too far for them to catch and haul me back here.
"Sassenach, ye should return to the castle to sleep," Jamie spoke softly in the midst of his story, as another tiny yawn departed my lips.
"I supposed you're probably right," I agreed and began to tear away from his warmth, "Tonight was refreshing."
"Aye." Jamie admitted, "Do ye need me to walk ye back?"
I swayed my head and grinned, "I'll be okay, thank you, though. I'll see you tomorrow? I can probably remove your sutures."
"G'night, mo nighean donn." He whispered as he caressed his lips to my knuckles and released my hand.
There was a list of words he had said to me over the last few days in Gaelic, words I didn't hear the other men say. I had begun to pick up the sayings repeated in the kitchen by Mrs Fitz, along with the terms Angus would speak to Rupert when they intended to exclude me from their conversations. Though with Jamie, it was never complete sentences. It was simply a few words, added to his sentences, regularly addressing me in endearment. I looked back at Jamie as I advanced in the direction of the castle, his eyes still one me, and for the first time since arriving, I felt conflicted.
For a fleeting moment, I was beyond the moon with excitement. I had the notion of going home; however, the people of this period were growing on me. In fact, this era started to feel more like home and natural to me than the one I had left behind. I wasn't expected to be anyone or anything. I was simply, Claire Elizabeth Beauchamp, Castle Leoch healer and sassenach. There was no stress from Frank. There was no pressure from any residency program. I was simply able to be me.
The internal battle over whether it not I wanted to say lasted for the remainder of my trek back to my quarters. I knew deep down in my soul, going home, was the right thing to do. And that was what I wanted; I wanted to go home, right? I yearned for the modern conveniences I had matured into a young woman with. And hot showers were still on the top of my list of things I missed. But then again, I could live without them. The hot baths Mrs FitzGibbons had procured for me had been more than enough. And other than lacking proper coffee, eighteenth-century Scotland wasn't so different from how I was raised as a child by my Uncle Lamb. We had frequently lived off the grid near whatever excavation he was helping out on. I didn't need the modern conveniences I missed so dearly, and at that moment, I contemplated staying.
"Mistress Beauchamp, are you alright?" I turned, still frightened by my revelation to see Dougal MacKenzie standing at the top of the stairs near the kitchen doorway.
"I'm fine; thank you." I answered, tucking the tendrils of curls that had leapt free of my top-knot back behind my ears, "can I help you with something, Mister MacKenzie?"
"I thought you'd might like to visit the fiscal's wife, Geilis Duncan, she can help ye restock your shelves before the gathering." He said, shifting his weight between his feet.
"I would like that, yes." I forced a polite smile, "tomorrow?"
"Aye, I'm going into the village in the morning. I'll take ye then to Mistress Duncan's."
I hadn't even bothered to offer gratitude to the Clan MacKenzie's war chieftain, not that he would have heard it. Instead, I watched as Dougal twisted away and started back on the kitchen. Away from me as I idled at the bottom of the stairs, listening to his fading footsteps. Tomorrow, I decided as I pushed open the door to my quarters and started to fumble with the laces of my bodice. Tomorrow I would determine if I would stay here or return home. I had two more days until the gathering, if I chose to return home, that would give me plenty of opportunities to prepare and tie up any loose ends I felt I had here. Although, as I shed my clothing to the wing-chair I had occupied earlier that evening, I glanced over at the plate of untouched food Jamie had brought me.
My kind, sweet, caring friend , I mused as a faltering smile painted my lips while I shook my head and drew back the blankets to my bed. If I left, I think I would miss him the most was my last thought as my head touched my pillow.
The stillroom was at the highest peak of the residence that inhabited Geillis Duncan. The room, furnished with numerous types of drying herbs and small vessels containing various essential oils and tinctures lined the walls that surrounded me. It engulfed my senses as the mixed aromas graced my nose as I stepped deeper into the confined space. Turning my head slightly, I peered over my shoulder to watch the heavy wooden door close with a soft thud. It had been the maid, the one that had shown me up to the room in the attic had finally taken her leave from watching me. It wasn’t until after she politely asked if I required assistance while I waited for her mistress—the same one, who was currently entertaining my escort, Dougal MacKenzie, in her parlour. I had swayed my head in protest and murmured a vague form of assurance attached with a forced smile to indicate to the older woman I was fine before she left me to my own devices.
If I were honest, I couldn’t be bothered by my lack of host as I thumbed through the different jars lining the gabled sloped walls of the attic. I was savouring the absence of another humans’ presence, especially since it had become a rarity for me. The tranquil silence that preoccupied me was everything I could have wanted on this gloomy mid-morning as it was penetrated by a creak in the floorboards beneath the heel of my boots as I took another light step forwards, reading the neat script that labelled each bottle as I moved. Geillis Duncan was organised, I’d give her that, everything seemed to have it’s place, as my lips tugged upwards at the immense herbal splendour. It also appeared she wasn’t lacking for anything and had plenty to spare.
I should have foreseen that, that her shelves of the room were well stocked. Dougal wouldn’t have brought me here, with him, otherwise. At least, that’s what I had told myself. I’m sure I wasn’t the first person who came to mind when he decided to an excursion to Cranesmuir. Directing my thoughts away from Dougal and back to the stillroom. I had been well versed in the rumours that circled around Geillis Duncan. The locals of the village believed her to be a witch since she arrived out of nowhere a mere ten years earlier, at least that was my understanding from Mrs FitzGibbons. Who couldn’t wait to familiarise me everything she knew about the woman after I had informed her my plans for the day over my quick bowl of porridge that morning in the kitchen before I departed with Dougal.
The kitchen matron had advised me to be cautious of my hostess, ‘ she’s as cunnin’ as the Devil ’, were her exact words if I remembered correctly. I nodded, only half-listening as I took tiny sips of my tea. I hardly took heed to her warning. Not that I didn’t trust the judgement of the woman that had taken such good care of me. It was simply what I knew about the eighteenth century from different forms of literature. If a woman had an opinion or was slightly altered from what was considered within the normalcy of the times, she was considered a witch.
Fuck , I inwardly thought to myself while I picked up a jar, memorised by my thoughts. If I didn’t tread lightly, I myself could be faced with a witch trial.
“Those will start bleedin’,” a voice said gently, cutting threw my anxieties over witch trials and urged me to focus on the tiny blue flowers in wonderment. “Did ye know?”
“No,” I said, somewhat startled by her sudden appearance as I returned the jar back to the shelf I had taken it from. “Why would anyone want to start bleeding?”
I turned to face her as I spoke, noticing her expression soften over my ignorance before she pivoted to close the door to the stillroom. “To rid themselves of a child ye dinna want, I mean. It’ll bring on your menses but only if it’s used early.”
“As a method of terminating a pregnancy?” I asked, eying the flowers. I had never heard of such a plant while I had attended my botany and herbal medicine classes. In fact, I had subconsciously singled out that particular flower because I had never seen it before. Much like Scotland’s natural flora, which wasn’t common in England and America, it was foreign to me. “You seem to know a lot about it.”
“Aye, a bit,” Geillis answered with a small shrug to her shoulders. “The girls in the village come to me, every now and again for such things. Some even married, I suppose. They say I’m a witch.”
“I had heard that.” I nodded before a smile crept across my face. “A Sassenach and a witch.”
“What a couple of misfits we make.” She delivered a melodious laugh, as a broad smile swept her own features. “Shall we set ye up with herbs and potions?”
“That would be lovely,” I replied as my smiled turned grateful. “Thank you.”
I stepped to the side, allowing her to breeze passed me, causing my skirts to stir in her wake as she moved around the tight space of the attic. Geillis Duncan was not quite what I had anticipated; I decided as she hummed to herself while she examined the shelves before her. She paused for a moment, appearing to be lost in her own thoughts as she ran her petite right hand over the midsection of her gown, her gorgeous green eyes fixed on the containers above her head. A soft noise escaped her lips, as she snapped from her daze and shifted herself to the tips of her toes, taking hold of whatever herb she had been searching for and turned to hand the jar to me before she proceeded the next article on the list I had presented her with when I first arrived.
My hands went to work, twisting the lid of the container she had handed me, removing it and delicately setting it down to the table next to my leather bag I had abandoned when I first entered the room. I plucked several satchels of loose peppermint leaves, as the overwhelming smell danced around me and settled the pouches into a muslin bag I had obtained from Mrs FitzGibbons. Slowly, I returned the lid to the jar of peppermint, muting its fragrance, laid it back on its spot on the shelf, and then took a small step away and pivoted towards the centre table the room. Running my hands against the rough material of my new linen overskirt, I smiled softly in the direction of my host as I accepted another container from her grasp and muttered inaudible words of appreciation.
Geillis began to strike up a casual conversation with me over the various herbs she had in her stillroom and those that weren’t local to Scotland, but her husband had been able to procure for her. Half-listening, I nodded when I felt it was needed as she continued to sort me out with the items I had requested. She was the opposite of what I had imagined her to be. She was a refreshing break from the women at Leoch. She spoke her mind and wasn’t shy about it. She also knew just about everything that was happening in the village—filling me in on the frivolous gossip that had been floating around. I felt for a brief moment. I was back in my time, casually chatting with a friend than a woman from the eighteenth century.
“Do ye need oils or tinctures?” Geillis asked, as she took the mallow root from the table and replaced it to its proper place on her walls, shifting our conversations away from gossip. “Ye know how to make ’em, I’m sure. But if ye need some, that shelve will interest ye.”
“Oh, thank you.”
I eyed the different sized vials as I crossed the room. She had an overabundance, much like the collection of herbs. I scanned the different names of the oils and tinctures, most of them I knew and could easily copy. The recipe was simple, and if I had questions, I’m sure Geillis would have no objections of assisting me. I carefully reached out to a little brown coloured bottle and removed the little cork topper before I held it to my nose. It was one of two bottles without Geillis’ perfect cursive handwriting; it was blank.
Tea tree , I thought, almost in puzzlement as I shot my eyes back into the direction of my host. I held the bottle to my nose again, inhaling the scent. I had half expected it to be different when I was once more greeted with the harsh smell of the oil. Earlier, Geillis had made it a point to tell me how her husband procured her certain things that weren’t typically custom to the highlands. However, in the eighteenth century, tea tree oil wasn’t exactly custom anywhere other than Australia. At least, from the knowledge I had, perhaps I was wrong. I decided, maybe I was misinformed. It was possible that it was only commercialised in the United States until the nineteen-twenties, possibly it was earlier here. I tried to find a rational explanation to how she came into possession of this without allowing my mind to question whether or not she had passed through the stones as well. She was like me.
“Geillie,” I spoke, capturing her attention from the herbs she was pounding in her mortar. “You have two of these unmarked oils. May I have one?”
“Help ye’re self, Claire.” She said to me simply, without even batting an eye or questioning how I knew what it was. It was as if she already knew who I was. Where I was from, and quite possibly she did. However, I wasn’t about to make myself known. Especially to a woman I just met, a woman with just as many secrets apparently as I had.
“Thank you.” I smiled and recrossed the room. I slipped the brown bottle of tea tree into the muslin bag that held my satchels of herbs, along with a few other oils before placing all my new treasures into my large leather bag. “You’ve been such a help. I was nervous Mistress FitzGibbons would begin to think me a pain for stealing her herbs from the kitchens.”
Geillis soft laugh returned at my comment. “’ Tis no trouble to me. Friends help each other with herbs. Now,” she said, freeing the pestle and reached her hands away from her frame and towards mine. “Let’s have a dram and tell each other all our secrets.”
“Lead the way.” I returned her smile and nodded.
My host released one of my hands from her grasp as she turned towards the door. Allowing me just enough time to swoop the strap of my bag with my unoccupied hand and glide it over my head, so it crossed from my left should and settled on my right hip. I took small steps as I followed her away from the stillroom, feeling her hand tug my own as I glanced back once more at the room. The room held her secrets; it showed me who she might be, where she might be from. Exhaling, I issued an unsteady breath from my lips as I clutched the strap of my bag tighter. The bag that contained all of the things I hoped to keep secret from everyone in the eighteenth century.
Thank you for reading and the comments I received for the last chapter.
I very much appreciate all the feedback. The next few chapters will be rolling out slower than usual for a while, the country I live in is in another lockdown, and it's hitting me hard this time. I have very little motivation for just about everything. I also barely edited this, so sorry for any mistakes. (:
Anyways, as always, thank you so so much for reading. (: