Claire closed her eyes and tilted her face up toward the warming sun hovering in the pale blue sky above them. The morning fog had dissipated hours before leaving nothing but a gentle blowing breeze to combat the ever-growing humidity. One of the things Claire had missed most about Scotland- and this particular time- was the open environment and clear air. London was crowded and filled with the haze that settled following the industrial revolution; while Boston was cleaner, it was just as crowded. However, since they’d begun their journey north– toward Jamie– they hadn’t seen a single other traveler. It was a beautiful day in Scotland and Claire could only wish for a thousand more.
They stopped periodically to let the horses feed and drink, allowing time for Ian to stretch his body and Fergus to grow more and more distant from Claire. He hadn’t spoken a word to her all day, referring to Ian for all his questions, concerns, and general comments, ignoring every word Claire spoke to him almost as if she wasn’t there.
She barely was, Claire had to admit.
Her mind wandered from Jamie to Brianna, trying to picture both in their respective positions and what they might be doing. Brianna was probably bonding with her cousins and the bundle of children was likely getting on Jenny’s last nerve if not Mary’s at the least. Claire would be surprised if, by the time they returned, Brianna hadn’t been disciplined at least once. She really was well behaved for her age but given the recent change in their lives, Claire wasn’t sure how Brianna would react to the freedom her new environment offered.
Jamie was, no doubt, absolutely miserable. Claire felt comforted by the repeated assurance from Ian that they no longer hanged Jacobite soldiers, but his life inside the prison couldn’t be easy. He was probably starving, getting little to no food, and crowded by the sheer amount of prisoners. Ardsmuir was a working person, Ian said, their days consisted of long hours of hauling stones and cutting peat. The thought of Jamie suffering terribly either from work, the conditions, or guard treatment plagued her as she drank water freely or ate however much she chose. She hoped his temper and defiance had lessened in the almost decade they were apart, she could only imagine how worse off he’d be if he couldn’t control himself.
They made camp a few hours later, the horses tired and Ian’s bones too heavy to continue. Fergus gathered wood as Ian tended to the animals and Claire prepared a small meal with the potatoes and bread Jenny had packed them. Fergus and Ian talked idly as they ate, Claire listened to their conversation but made no moves to join it herself. She was tired and missed Brianna horribly; the closer she got to her husband and the further from her daughter, the more her heart ached. Jamie needed her more at the moment, he was helpless in his current position, but that didn’t stop the guilt she felt for abandoning Brianna.
Claire knew she hadn’t actually abandoned their daughter, but she was leaving the child alone with a family she’d only just met in a place she still thought of as strange. Brianna still believed they would go home to Boston, to Frank, it would be a long while before she thought of Lallybroch, Jamie, and Fergus as home.
They went to bed soon after supper, Ian was asleep almost immediately with Fergus following quickly after. Claire hoped that as the night grew darker and the air colder, Fergus would move closer to her but to no avail. He stayed on the other side of the small fire, his back was the only part of him she could see. She slept lightly, dreaming of Jamie.
The trio awoke at first light. Claire, having woken before the boys, had everything packed and ready to go by the time they rose from their makeshift beds. They chose to forgo breakfast, electing to snack on the remaining provisions and the promising hearty meal they’d receive once they made it to Coigach– the small town residing a few miles from the prison.
It was only a few hours since they’d set out that morning that the cart came to a sudden halt, jerking Claire out of her thoughts and startling Fergus who had once again dozed off in the back. Ian took off his hat and ran his sleeve across his forehead to wipe away the sweat and as he reeled his arm back he pointed to a spot in the distance. The stone building of Ardsmuir was barely noticeable in the distance, even with the open-air separating them.
“Look over there,” Ian said, holding his index finger toward their destination. “We’ll be there by nightfall I reckon.”
“That’s it?” Claire questioned in disbelief, squinting her eyes to try and get a narrower view. “It looks… big.”
Ian nodded, “Aye,” he placed his hat back on his head. “it’ll only grow as we get closer.” he assured, grabbing the reins of the horse and flicking them gently to move the creatures forward.
“Do we know how guarded, Uncle?” Fergus asked, sitting up and moving closer to the front of the cart.
“Dinna ken,” Ian answered with a shrug, “we’ll find out when we get there. Well guarded I’d have to imagine.” Fergus nodded in agreement and settled his elbows on the wood upon which Claire and Ian’s back rested.
“Wentworth was big to me once too,” Claire began, wringing her hands together. “We rescued him then and we will now, we have no choice.”
“I still canna believe you promised Jenny,” Ian said, shaking his head.
“Why do you think I’m so determined? I’m not leaving without him, Ian, I can’t. I won’t.”
“Me neither, Claire, me neither.” Ian gave her a small smile before they fell into silence once more.
The journey seemed to slow the bigger Ardsmuir grew before them and the road more populated. Soon, Ian had to carefully guide the cart on the edge of the main road, people walked, ran, and galloped in both directions next to them. The hustle and bustle felt familiar to Claire and uneasiness spread through her as they finally entered the town that reminded her much of Cranesmuir.
Fergus hopped off the back of the cart and carefully led them through the crowd toward the inn. Once they arrived, he disappeared inside before Claire could ask him what he was doing. Ian waved off her concerns of his sudden disappearance, reminding Claire that he was no longer a little boy and, despite his hand, could take care of himself. Claire wasn’t as sure but had no choice but to trust Ian’s judgment, after all, he’d been with Fergus longer than she had. Ian secured the horses and cart as Claire packed their more important belongings– money, clothes, and tools. Claire handed Ian the packed bag just as Fergus emerged from the inn, walking slowly over to them with a paper in hand.
“I’ve booked us one room,” Fergus explained, showing Ian the bill, “it’s a rowdy bunch in there, didn’t think it safe for… any one of us to be alone.” Fergus glanced at Claire before returning his attention to Ian. “ It’s only for a few days, I figured once we had milord we wouldn’t be sticking around.”
“Aye…” Ian said, taking the paper from Fergus. “But we dinna ken how long until we get him.” Ian shoved the paper into his pocket, “Any ideas, Claire?”
“Me?” Claire looked back at him with wide eyes. “Why would I have an idea? We’ve only just arrived.”
“Ye’ve done this before,” Ian reminded her, “I ken verra little on the matter.”
Claire opened her mouth to speak but was interrupted by Fergus.
“We should wait until we’re inside and can talk privately, should we not?” Fergus pointed out.
“He’s right,” Claire agreed formally ending their discussion. “Let’s get this in the room and eat some lunch, I’m absolutely famished.”
Claire did her best to think of a plan as her belly slowly filled with ale and a stew made of meat and vegetables but her mind was simply blank. If she was telling the truth, Murtagh had done most of the planning for Jamie’s Wentworth escape. The cows had been an entirely positive coincidence, Claire had no idea what they hadn’t done without the missing herd and Claire doubted they would receive a similar miracle. They should scope out the prison first, Claire reasoned, see if there was any possibility of getting inside to see Jamie to give him some sense of his imminent rescue.
Claire wanted to head straight to the prison after lunch, an idea Ian fought as soon as it escaped her mouth. He thought it was too dangerous to go without some idea of what it was like or how it was run. They could be walking straight into a trap or unintentionally make things harder on themselves. Ian believed the first step was to ask around town, see what the inhabitants knew and gather a sense of the area around them. Fergus sided with Ian of course, not even bothering to spare an apologetic glance for Claire before voicing his opinion.
Claire conceded, clearly outnumbered, and they split into different directions to see what they could find. Claire was soon reminded of her lower status as a woman as most of the men she tried speaking to outright ignored her, the only ones who acknowledged her were the merchants trying to sell their wares. It took Claire an hour to find someone willing or who could talk with her about Ardsmuir.
She ended up purchasing a few brand new cloth linen shirts which she planned on turning into bandages, listening to the seamstress as her purchase was packed. The woman told her Ardsmuir was well guarded as half of the building was surrounded by water and the other housed a large number of troops. The bubbly woman had been to the prison a few times, she explained, she was lucky enough to have been chosen to mend the uniforms of the prison’s officials. Claire thanked her for her items and information and began to walk back to the inn, hoping Ian and Fergus had gathered more knowledge than she.
Ian was sitting on one of the chairs just outside the inn, his body ramrod straight and his head shaking as Claire approached, causing her to sigh loudly and collapse into the chair.
“Nothing?” Claire asked him.
“Nothin’ we didna already ken wi’out bein’ suspicious, ye?”
Claire sighed once more, “It’s well guarded by both sea and men. Obviously, the sea is out, there’s no way we can scale a cliff especially since we don’t know what condition he’s in, and walking through the front is impossible. I spoke to a woman who stitched their uniforms and she was barely let through the gates.”
“Ye found out more than I and we kent it would no’ be easy, Claire, we’ll think of somethin’,” Ian said, scratching the short hairs covering his chin.
“I hope so,” Claire said.
Ian changed the subject from Jamie’s rescue and instead began asking questions about the future. What was it like? What’s changed the most? What exactly was this ‘car’ thing Bree had mentioned? The standard questions, Claire assumed, Jamie had asked the exact same things except he had been fascinated by airplanes. Claire had just finished drawing a rudimentary picture of a car as Fergus arrived with a huff completely out of breath.
“What is it, lad?” Ian asked.
“I...I…” Fergus began, taking large gasps of air.
“Calm down,” Claire said, putting her hand on his back and rubbing circles gently. “Take deep breaths.”
Fergus shrugged her off and moved out of her reach, after a few moments, he started, “No one gets in through the gates except soldiers and people of profession.”
“Seamstress,” Claire supplied.
“Yes, but they’re very selective of who actually gets to interact with the prisoners– almost no one at all but the guards.”
“That’s no verra helpful,” Ian told him.
“I didn’t finish,” Fergus said, giving Ian a grin. “Coigach is close to the prison, the guards tend to stray no further, and the best place to get a drink? Right through those doors.” he pointed behind Ian towards the doorway leading into the tavern.
“Guards get drunk–” Claire started.
“And they spill secrets.” Ian finished with a nod. “That could work.”
“A drunken source of information,” Fergus said.
“A source of hope, for the first time in days,” Claire smiled at him. “Well, lads, it seems we’ve got ourselves a plan.”