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Outlander 03 - Voyager

Outlander 03 - Voyager


    High Praise for
    DIANA GABALDON and her novels
    “VOYAGER IS, FRANKLY, AN AMAZING READ. An unusual mix of romance, suspense and history.…If you can put this huge tome down before dawn, you’re made of sterner stuff than I am.”
    —Arizona Tribune
    “ROUSING…AUDACIOUS…EXCITING…Gabaldon masterfully weaves…flashbacks…crossing time periods with abandon but never losing track of the story.”
    —Locus
    “INTRICATELY DETAILED…RICH IMAGINATION…THIS COULD BE THE START OF A SERIES TO RIVAL JAMES CLAVELL’S ORIENTAL SAGAS.”
    —The Oak Ridger (Tennessee)
    “SUPERIOR QUALITY…A TALENT THAT GOES BEYOND SUPERB, BEYOND INTELLIGENT STORYTELLING.”
    —The Grand Prairie News (Texas)
    “UNCONVENTIONAL…MEMORABLE STORYTELLING”
    —The Seattle Times
    “ELABORATE AND COMPELLING…GABALDON [IS] A NATURAL STORYTELLER. VOYAGER IS…A LAVISH AND ENTERTAINING MIX OF HISTORY AND FANTASY.”
    —Blade-Citizen (San Diego, California)
    “They are middle-aged lovers now, but their passion is just as strong (and Gabaldon had Voyager in her sights long before there was Robert James Waller). The language is right, the feeling is right, and if [Gabaldon] wants to write about Jamie and Claire when they’re 50-something, I’d be happy to spend another 870 pages with them.”
    —Detroit Free Press
    “GABALDON MAKES…HER STORY SING FOR ANYONE! [VOYAGER] is an involved tale that smoothly blends several popular genres. After reading the final chapter, you’ll wish there were more.”
    —The Cleveland Plain Dealer





    Books by Diana Gabaldon
    Outlander
    Dragonfly in Amber
    Voyager
    Drums of Autumn
    The Outlandish Companion
   
    Copyright © 1994 by Diana Gabaldon

    Anchor Canada paperback edition 2002
    All rights reserved. The use of any part of this publication, reproduced, transmitted in any form or by any means electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, or stored in a retrieval system without the prior written consent of the publisher—or, in the case of photocopying or other reprographic copying, a license from the Canadian Copyright Licensing Agency—is an infringement of the copyright law.
    Anchor Canada and colophon are trademarks.
    National Library of Canada Cataloguing in Publication Data
    Gabaldon, Diana

    Voyager

    eISBN: 978-0-385-67468-3

    I. Title.

    PS3557.A22V69 2002    813′.54    C2002-900139-0
    Published in Canada by

    Anchor Canada, a division of

    Random House of Canada Limited
    Visit Random House of Canada Limited’s website: www.randomhouse.ca
    v3.1



    Contents
    Cover
    Title page
    Copyright Page
    Dedication
    Praise for Voyager
    Ackowledgments
    Prologue
    Part One
    Chapter 1
    Chapter 2
    Chapter 3
    Part Two
    Chapter 4
    Chapter 5
    Chapter 6
    Part Three
    Chapter 7
    Chapter 8
    Chapter 9
    Chapter 10
    Chapter 11
    Chapter 12
    Chapter 13
    Part Four
    Chapter 14
    Chapter 15
    Chapter 16
    Chapter 17
    Part Five
    Chapter 18
    Chapter 19
    Chapter 20
    Chapter 21
    Chapter 22
    Chapter 23
    Part Six
    Chapter 24
    Chapter 25
    Chapter 26
    Chapter 27
    Chapter 28
    Chapter 29
    Chapter 30
    Chapter 31
    Part Seven
    Chapter 32
    Chapter 33
    Chapter 34
    Chapter 35
    Chapter 36
    Chapter 37
    Chapter 38
    Chapter 39
    Part Eight
    Chapter 40
    Chapter 41
    Chapter 42
    Chapter 43
    Chapter 44
    Chapter 45
    Chapter 46
    Chapter 47
    Chapter 48
    Chapter 49
    Chapter 50
    Chapter 51
    Chapter 52
    Part Nine
    Chapter 53
    Chapter 54
    Chapter 55
    Chapter 56
    Chapter 57
    Chapter 58
    Chapter 59
    Chapter 60
    Chapter 61
    Chapter 62
    Chapter 63
    Books by Diana Gabaldon
    Excerpt from Drums of Autumn



    To my children,

    Laura Juliet,

    Samuel Gordon,

    and Jennifer Rose,

    Who gave me the heart, the blood, and the bones of this book.



    Acknowledgments

    The author’s deepest thanks to:

    Jackie Cantor, as always, for being the rare and marvelous sort of editor who thinks it’s all right if a book is long as long as it’s good; my husband, Doug Watkins, for his literary eye, his marginal notes (e.g., “nipples again?”), and the jokes he insists I steal from him to give to Jamie Fraser; my elder daughter, Laura, who says, “If you come talk to my class about writing again, just talk about books and don’t tell them about whale penises, okay?”; my son, Samuel, who walks up to total strangers in the park and says, “Have you read my mother’s book?”; my younger daughter, Jenny, who says, “Why don’t you wear makeup like on your book covers all the time, Mommy?”; Margaret J. Campbell, scholar; Barry Fodgen, english poet; and Pindens Cinola Oleroso Loventon Greenpeace Ludovic, dog; for generously allowing me to use their personae as the basis for the excesses of imagination (Mr. Fodgen wishes to note for the record that his dog Ludo has never actually tried to copulate with anyone’s leg, wooden or not, but does understand the concept of artistic license); Perry Knowlton, who as well as being an excellent literary agent is also a fount of knowledge about bowlines, mainsails, and matters nautical, as well as the niceties of French grammar and the proper way to gut a deer; Robert Riffle, noted authority on what plants grow where, and what they look like while doing so; Kathryn (whose last name was either Boyle or Frye; all I remember is that it had to do with cooking), for the useful information on tropical diseases, particularly the picturesque habits of loa loa worms; Michael Lee West, for detailed descriptions of Jamaica, including regional dialect and folklore anecdotes; Dr. Mahlon West, for advice on typhoid fever; William Cross, Paul Block (and Paul’s father), and Chrystine Wu (and Chrystine’s parents), for invaluable assistance with Chinese vocabulary, history, and cultural attitudes; my father-in-law, Max Watkins, who, as always, provided useful comments on the appearance and habits of horses, including which way they face when the wind is blowing; Peggy Lynch, for wanting to know what Jamie would say if he saw a picture of his daughter in a bikini; Lizy Buchan, for telling me the story about her husband’s ancestor who escaped Culloden; Dr. Gary Hoff, for medical detail; Fay Zachary, for lunch and critical comment; Sue Smiley, for critical reading and suggesting the blood vow; David Pijawka, for the materials on Jamaica and his most poetic description of what the air feels like after a Caribbean rainstorm; Iain MacKinnon Taylor, and his brother Hamish Taylor, for their most helpful suggestions and corrections of Gaelic spelling and usages; and as always, the various members of the CompuServe Literary Forum, including Janet McConnaughey, Marte Brengle, Akua Lezli Hope, John L. Myers, John E. Simpson, Jr., Sheryl Smith, Alit, Norman Shimmel, Walter Hawn, Karen Pershing, Margaret Ball, Paul Solyn, Diane Engel, David Chaifetz, and many others, for being interested, providing useful discussion, and laughing in the right places.



    PROLOGUE

    When I was small, I never wanted to step in puddles. Not because of any fear of drowned worms or wet stockings; I was by and large a grubby child, with a blissful disregard for filth of any kind.
    It was because I couldn’t bring myself to believe that that perfect smooth expanse was no more than a thin film of water over solid earth. I believed it was an opening into some fathomless space. Sometimes, seeing the tiny ripples caused by my approach, I thought the puddle impossibly deep, a bottomless sea in which the lazy coil of tentacle and gleam of scale lay hidden, with the threat of huge bodies and sharp teeth adrift and silent in the far-down depths.
    And then, looking down into reflection, I would see my own round face and frizzled hair against a featureless blue sweep, and think instead that the puddle was the entrance to another sky. If I stepped in there, I would drop at once, and keep on falling, on and on, into blue space.
    The only time I would dare to walk through a puddle was at twilight, when the evening stars came out. If I looked in the water and saw one lighted pinprick there, I could splash through unafraid—for if I should fall into the puddle and on into space, I could grab hold of the star as I passed, and be safe.
    Even now, when I see a puddle in my path, my mind half-halts—though my feet do not—then hurries on, with only the echo of the thought left behind.
    What if, this time, you fall?



    PART ONE
   
    Battle, and the Loves of Men
    1
    THE CORBIES’ FEAST
    Many a Highland chieftain fought,
    Many a gallant man did fall.
    Death itself were dearly bought,
    All for Scotland’s King and law.
    —“Will Ye No Come Back Again”
    April 16, 1746
    He was dead. However, his nose throbbed painfully, which he thought odd in the circumstances. While he placed considerable trust in the understanding and mercy of his Creator, he harbored that residue of elemental guilt that made all men fear the chance of hell. Still, all he had ever heard of hell made him think it unlikely that the torments reserved for its luckless inhabitants could be restricted to a sore nose.
    On the other hand, this couldn’t be heaven, on several counts. For one, he didn’t deserve it. For another, it didn’t look it. And for a third, he doubted that the rewards of the blessed included a broken nose, any more than those of the damned.
    While he had always thought of Purgatory as a gray sort of place, the faint reddish light that hid everything around him seemed suitable. His mind was clearing a bit, and his power to reason was coming back, if slowly. Someone, he thought rather crossly, ought to see him and tell him just what the sentence was, until he should have suffered enough to be purified, and at last to enter the Kingdom of God. Whether he was expecting a demon or an angel was uncertain. He had no idea of the staffing requirements of Purgatory; it wasn’t a matter the dominie had addressed in his schooldays.
    While waiting, he began to take stock of whatever other torments he might be required to endure. There were numerous cuts, gashes, and bruises here and there, and he was fairly sure he’d broken the fourth finger of his right hand again—difficult to protect it, the way it stuck out so stiff, with the joint frozen. None of that was too bad, though. What else?
    Claire. The name knifed across his heart with a pain that was more racking than anything his body had ever been called on to withstand.
    If he had had an actual body anymore, he was sure it would have doubled up in agony. He had known it would be like this, when he sent her back to the stone circle. Spiritual anguish could be taken as a standard condition in Purgatory, and he had expected all along that the pain of separation would be his chief punishment—sufficient, he thought, to atone for anything he’d ever done: murder and betrayal included.
    He did not know whether persons in Purgatory were allowed to pray or not, but tried anyway. Lord, he prayed, that she may be safe. She and the child. He was sure she would have made it to the circle itself; only two months gone with child, she was still light and fleet of foot—and the most stubbornly determined woman he had ever met. But whether she had managed the dangerous transition back to the place from which she had come—sliding precariously through whatever mysterious layers lay between then and now, powerless in the grip of the rock—that he could never know, and the thought of it was enough to make him forget even the throbbing in his nose.
    He resumed his interrupted inventory of bodily ills, and became inordinately distressed at the discovery that his left leg appeared to be missing. Sensation stopped at the hip, with a sort of pins-and-needles tingling at the joint. Presumably he would get it back in due time, either when he finally arrived in Heaven, or at the least, at Judgment Day. And after all, his brother-in-law Ian managed very well on the wooden peg he wore to replace his missing leg.
    Still, his vanity was troubled. Ah, that must be it; a punishment meant to cure him of the sin of vanity. He mentally set his teeth, determined to accept whatever came to him with fortitude, and such humility as he could manage. Still, he couldn’t help reaching an exploratory hand (or whatever he was using for a hand) tentatively downward, to see just where the limb now ended.
    The hand struck something hard, and the fingers tangled in wet, snarled hair. He sat up abruptly, and with some effort, cracked the layer of dried blood that had sealed his eyelids shut. Memory flooded back, and he groaned aloud. He had been mistaken. This was hell. But James Fraser was unfortunately not dead, after all.

    The body of a man lay across his own. Its dead weight crushed his left leg, explaining the absence of feeling. The head, heavy as a spent cannonball, pressed facedown into his abdomen, the damp-matted hair a dark spill on the wet linen of his shirt. He jerked upward in sudden panic; the head rolled sideways into his lap and a half-open eye stared sightlessly up behind the sheltering strands of hair.
    It was Jack Randall, his fine red captain’s coat so dark with the wet it looked almost black. Jamie made a fumbling effort to push the body away, but found himself amazingly weak; his hand splayed feebly against Randall’s shoulder, and the elbow of his other arm buckled suddenly as he tried to support himself. He found himself lying once more flat on his back, the sleeting sky pale gray and whirling dizzily overhead. Jack Randall’s head moved obscenely up and down on his stomach with each gasping breath.
    He pressed his hands flat against the boggy ground—the water rose up cold through his fingers and soaked the back of his shirt—and wriggled sideways. Some warmth was trapped between them; as the limp dead weight slid slowly free, the freezing rain struck his newly exposed flesh with a shock like a blow, and he shivered violently with sudden chill.
    As he squirmed on the ground, struggling with the crumpled, mudstained folds of his plaid, he could hear sounds above the keening of the April wind; far-off shouts and a moaning and wailing, like the calling of ghosts in the wind. And overall, the raucous calling of crows. Dozens of crows, from the sound.
    That was strange, he thought dimly. Birds shouldn’t fly in a storm like this. A final heave freed the plaid from under him, and he fumbled it over his body. As he reached to cover his legs, he saw that his kilt and left leg were soaked with blood. The sight didn’t distress him; it seemed only vaguely interesting, the dark red smears a contrast to the grayish green of the moor plants around him. The echoes of battle faded from his ears, and he left Culloden Field to the calling of the crows.

    He was wakened much later by the calling of his name.
    “Fraser! Jamie Fraser! Are ye here?”
    No, he thought groggily. I’m not. Wherever he had been while unconscious, it was a better place than this. He lay in a small declivity, half-filled with water. The sleeting rain had stopped, but the wind hadn’t; it whined over the moor, piercing and chilling. The sky had darkened nearly to black; it must be near evening, then.
    “I saw him go down here, I tell ye. Right near a big clump of gorse.” The voice was at a distance, fading as it argued with someone.
    There was a rustle near his ear, and he turned his head to see the crow. It stood on the grass a foot away, a blotch of wind-ruffled black feathers, regarding him with a bead-bright eye. Deciding that he posed no threat, it swiveled its neck with casual ease and jabbed its thick sharp bill into Jack Randall’s eye.
    Jamie jerked up with a cry of revulsion and a flurry of movement that sent the crow flapping off, squawking with alarm.
    “Ay! Over there!”
    There was a squelching through boggy ground, and a face before him, and the welcome feel of a hand on his shoulder.
    “He’s alive! Come on, MacDonald! D’ye lend a hand here; he’ll no be walkin’ on his own.” There were four of them, and with a good deal of effort, they got him up, arms draped helpless about the shoulders of Ewan Cameron and Iain MacKinnon.
    He wanted to tell them to leave him; his purpose had returned to him with the waking, and he remembered that he had meant to die. But the sweetness of their company was too much to resist. The rest had restored the feeling in his dead leg, and he knew the seriousness of the wound. He would die soon in any case; thank God that it need not be alone, in the dark.

    “Water?” The edge of the cup pressed against his lip, and he roused himself long enough to drink, careful not to spill it. A hand pressed briefly against his forehead and dropped away without comment.
    He was burning; he could feel the flames behind his eyes when he closed them. His lips were cracked and sore from the heat, but it was better than the chills that came at intervals. At least when he was fevered, he could lie still; the shaking of the chills woke the sleeping demons in his leg.
    Murtagh. He had a terrible feeling about his godfather, but no memory to give it shape. Murtagh was dead; he knew that must be it, but didn’t know why or how he knew. A good half of the Highland army was dead, slaughtered on the moor—so much he had gathered from the talk of the men in the farmhouse, but he had no memory of the battle himself.
    He had fought with armies before, and knew such loss of memory was not uncommon in soldiers; he had seen it, though never before suffered it himself. He knew the memories would come back, and hoped he would be dead before they did. He shifted at the thought, and the movement sent a jolt of white-hot pain through his leg that made him groan.
    “All right, Jamie?” Ewan rose on one elbow next to him, worried face wan in the dawning light. A bloodstained bandage circled his head, and there were rusty stains on his collar, from the scalp wound left by a bullet’s graze.
    “Aye, I’ll do.” He reached up a hand and touched Ewan’s shoulder in gratitude. Ewan patted it, and lay back down.
    The crows were back. Black as night themselves, they had gone to roost with the darkness, but with the dawn they were back—birds of war, the corbies had come to feast on the flesh of the fallen. It could as well be his own eyes the cruel beaks picked out, he thought. He could feel the shape of his eyeballs beneath his lids, round and hot, tasty bits of jelly rolling restless to and fro, looking vainly for oblivion, while the rising sun turned his lids a dark and bloody red.
    Four of the men were gathered near the single window of the farmhouse, talking quietly together.
    “Make a run for it?” one said, with a nod outside. “Christ, man, the best of us can barely stagger—and there’s six at least canna walk at all.”
    “If ye can go, be going,” said a man from the floor. He grimaced toward his own leg, wrapped in the remains of a tattered quilt. “Dinna linger on our account.”
    Duncan MacDonald turned from the window with a grim smile, shaking his head. The window’s light shone off the rough planes of his face, deepening the lines of fatigue.
    “Nay, we’ll bide,” he said. “For one thing, the English are thick as lice on the ground; ye can see them swarm from the window. There’s no man would get away whole from Drumossie now.”
    “Even those that fled the field yesterday will no get far,” MacKinnon put in softly. “Did ye no hear the English troops passing in the night at the quick-march? D’ye think it will be hard for them to hunt down our ragtag lot?”
    There was no response to this; all of them knew the answer too well. Many of the Highlanders had been barely able to stand on the field before the battle, weakened as they were by cold, fatigue, and hunger.
    Jamie turned his face to the wall, praying that his men had started early enough. Lallybroch was remote; if they could get far enough from Culloden, it was unlikely they would be caught. And yet Claire had told him that Cumberland’s troops would ravage the Highlands, ranging far afield in their thirst for revenge.
    The thought of her this time caused only a wave of terrible longing. God, to have her here, to lay her hands on him, to tend his wounds and cradle his head in her lap. But she was gone—gone away two hundred years from him—and thank the Lord that she was! Tears trickled slowly from under his closed lids, and he rolled painfully onto his side, to hide them from the others.
    Lord, that she might be safe, he prayed. She and the child.

    Toward midafternoon, the smell of burning came suddenly on the air, wafting through the glassless window. It was thicker than the smell of blackpowder smoke, pungent, with an underlying odor that was faintly horrible in its reminiscent smell of roasting meat.
    “They are burning the dead,” said MacDonald. He had scarcely moved from his seat by the window in all the time they had been in the cottage. He looked like a death’s-head himself, hair coal-black and matted with dirt, scraped back from a face in which every bone showed.
    Here and there, a small, flat crack sounded on the moor. Gunshots. The coups de grace, administered by those English officers with a sense of compassion, before a tartan-clad wretch should be stacked on the pyre with his luckier fellows. When Jamie looked up, Duncan MacDonald still sat by the window, but his eyes were closed.
    Next to him, Ewan Cameron crossed himself. “May we find as much mercy,” he whispered.

    They did. It was just past noon on the second day when booted feet at last approached the farmhouse, and the door swung open on silent leather hinges.
    “Christ.” It was a muttered exclamation at the sight within the farmhouse. The draft from the door stirred the fetid air over grimed, bedraggled, bloodstained bodies that lay or sat huddled on the packed-dirt floor.
    There had been no discussion of the possibility of armed resistance; they had no heart and there was no point. The Jacobites simply sat, waiting the pleasure of their visitor.
    He was a major, all fresh and new in an uncreased uniform, with polished boots. After a moment’s hesitation to survey the inhabitants, he stepped inside, his lieutenant close behind.
    “I am Lord Melton,” he said, glancing around as though seeking the leader of these men, to whom his remarks might most properly be addressed.
    Duncan MacDonald, after a glance of his own, stood slowly, and inclined his head. “Duncan MacDonald, of Glen Richie,” he said. “And others”—he waved a hand—“late of the forces of His Majesty, King James.”
    “So I surmised,” the Englishman said dryly. He was young, in his early thirties, but he carried himself with a seasoned soldier’s confidence. He looked deliberately from man to man, then reached into his coat and produced a folded sheet of paper.
    “I have here an order from His Grace, the Duke of Cumberland,” he said. “Authorizing the immediate execution of any man found to have engaged in the treasonous rebellion just past.” He glanced around the confines of the cottage once more. “Is there any man here who claims innocence of treason?”
    There was the faintest breath of laughter from the Scots. Innocence, with the smoke of battle still black on their faces, here on the edge of the slaughter-field?
    “No, my lord,” said MacDonald, the faintest of smiles on his lips. “Traitors all. Shall we be hanged, then?”
    Melton’s face twitched in a small grimace of distaste, then settled back into impassivity. He was a slight man, with small, fine bones, but carried his authority well, nonetheless.
    “You will be shot,” he said. “You have an hour, in which to prepare yourselves.” He hesitated, shooting a glance at his lieutenant, as though afraid to sound overgenerous before his subordinate, but continued. “If any of you wish writing materials—to compose a letter, perhaps—the clerk of my company will attend you.” He nodded briefly to MacDonald, turned on his heel, and left.
    It was a grim hour. A few men availed themselves of the offer of pen and ink, and scribbled doggedly, paper held against the slanted wooden chimney for lack of another firm writing surface. Others prayed quietly, or simply sat, waiting.
    MacDonald had begged mercy for Giles McMartin and Frederick Murray, arguing that they were barely seventeen, and should not be held to the same account as their elders. This request was denied, and the boys sat together, white-faced against the wall, holding each other’s hands.
    For them, Jamie felt a piercing sorrow—and for the others here, loyal friends and gallant soldiers. For himself, he felt only relief. No more to worry, nothing more to do. He had done all he could for his men, his wife, his unborn child. Now let this bodily misery be ended, and he would go grateful for the peace of it.
    More for form’s sake than because he felt the need of it, he closed his eyes and began the Act of Contrition, in French, as he always said it. Mon Dieu, je regrette…And yet he didn’t; it was much too late for any sort of regret.
    Would he find Claire at once when he died, he wondered? Or perhaps, as he expected, be condemned to separation for a time? In any case, he would see her again; he clung to the conviction much more firmly than he embraced the tenets of the Church. God had given her to him; He would restore her.
    Forgetting to pray, he instead began to conjure her face behind his eyelids, the curve of cheek and temple, a broad fair brow that always moved him to kiss it, just there, in that small smooth spot between her eyebrows, just at the top of her nose, between clear amber eyes. He fixed his attention on the shape of her mouth, carefully imagining the full, sweet curve of it, and the taste and the feel and the joy of it. The sounds of praying, the pen-scratching and the small, choked sobs of Giles McMartin faded from his ears.
    It was midafternoon when Melton returned, this time with six soldiers in attendance, as well as the Lieutenant and the clerk. Again, he paused in the doorway, but MacDonald rose before he could speak.
    “I’ll go first,” he said, and walked steadily across the cottage. As he bent his head to go through the door, though, Lord Melton laid a hand on his sleeve.
    “Will you give your full name, sir? My clerk will make note of it.”
    MacDonald glanced at the clerk, a small bitter smile tugging at the corner of his mouth.
    “A trophy list, is it? Aye, well.” He shrugged and drew himself upright. “Duncan William MacLeod MacDonald, of Glen Richie.” He bowed politely to Lord Melton. “At your service—sir.” He passed through the door, and shortly there came the sound of a single pistol-shot from near at hand.
    The boys were allowed to go together, hands still clutched tightly as they passed through the door. The rest were taken one by one, each asked for his name, that the clerk might make a record of it. The clerk sat on a stool by the door, head bent to the papers in his lap, not looking up as the men passed by.
    When it came Ewan’s turn, Jamie struggled to prop himself on his elbows, and grasped his friend’s hand, as hard as he could.
    “I shall see ye soon again,” he whispered.
    Ewan’s hand shook in his, but the Cameron only smiled. Then he leaned across simply and kissed Jamie’s mouth, and rose to go.
    They left the six who could not walk to the last.
    “James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser,” he said, speaking slowly to allow the clerk time to get it down right. “Laird of Broch Tuarach.” Patiently, he spelled it, then glanced up at Melton.
    “I must ask your courtesy, my lord, to give me help to stand.”
    Melton didn’t answer him, but stared down at him, his expression of remote distaste altering to one of mingled astonishment and something like dawning horror.
    “Fraser?” he said. “Of Broch Tuarach?”
    “I am,” Jamie said patiently. Would the man not hurry a bit? Being resigned to being shot was one thing, but listening to your friends being killed in your hearing was another, and not just calculated to settle the nerves. His arms were trembling with the strain of propping him, and his bowels, not sharing the resignation of his higher faculties, were twitching with a gurgling dread.
    “Bloody hell,” the Englishman muttered. He bent and peered at Jamie where he lay in the shadow of the wall, then turned and beckoned to his lieutenant.
    “Help me get him into the light,” he ordered. They weren’t gentle about it, and Jamie grunted as the movement sent a bolt of pain from his leg right up through the top of his head. It made him dizzy for a moment, and he missed what Melton was saying to him.
    “Are you the Jacobite they call ‘Red Jamie’?” he asked again, impatiently.
    A streak of fear went through Jamie at that; let them know he was the notorious Red Jamie, and they wouldn’t shoot him. They’d take him in chains to London to be tried—a prize of war. And after that, it would be the hangman’s rope, and lying half strangled on the gallows platform while they slit his belly and ripped out his bowels. His bowels gave another long, rumbling gurgle; they didn’t think much of the notion either.
    “No,” he said, with as much firmness as he could manage. “Just get on wi’ it, eh?”
    Ignoring this, Melton dropped to his knees, and ripped open the throat of Jamie’s shirt. He gripped Jamie’s hair and jerked back his head.
    “Damn!” Melton said. Melton’s finger prodded him in the throat, just above the collarbone. There was a small triangular scar there, and this appeared to be what was causing his interrogator’s concern.
    “James Fraser of Broch Tuarach; red hair and a three-cornered scar on his throat.” Melton let go of the hair and sat back on his heels, rubbing his chin in a distracted sort of way. Then he pulled himself together and turned to the lieutenant, gesturing at the five men remaining in the farm cottage.
    “Take the rest,” he ordered. His fair brows were knitted together in a deep frown. He stood over Jamie, scowling, while the other Scottish prisoners were removed.
    “I have to think,” he muttered. “Damme, I must think!”
    “Do that,” said Jamie, “if you’re able. I must lie down, myself.” They had propped him sitting against the far wall, his leg stretched out in front of him, but sitting upright after two days of lying flat was more than he could manage; the room was tilting drunkenly, and small flashing lights kept coming before his eyes. He leaned to one side, and eased himself down, hugging the dirt floor, eyes closed as he waited for the dizziness to pass.
    Melton was muttering under his breath, but Jamie couldn’t make out the words; didn’t care greatly in any case. Sitting up in the sunlight, he had seen his leg clearly for the first time, and he was fairly sure that he wouldn’t live long enough to be hanged.
    The deep angry red of inflammation spread from midthigh upward, much brighter than the remaining smears of dried blood. The wound itself was purulent; with the stench of the other men lessening, he could smell the faint sweet-foul odor of the discharge. Still, a quick bullet through the head seemed much preferable to the pain and delirium of death by infection. Did you hear the bang? he wondered, and drifted off, the cool pounded dirt smooth and comforting as a mother’s breast under his hot cheek.
    He wasn’t really asleep, only drifting in a feverish doze, but Melton’s voice in his ear jerked him to alertness.
    “Grey,” the voice was saying, “John William Grey! Do you know that name?”
    “No,” he said, mazy with sleep and fever. “Look, man, either shoot me or go away, aye? I’m ill.”
    “Near Carryarrick.” Melton’s voice was prodding, impatient. “A boy, a fair-haired boy, about sixteen. You met him in the wood.”
    Jamie squinted up at his tormentor. The fever distorted his vision, but there seemed something vaguely familiar about the fine-boned face above him, with those large, almost girlish eyes.
    “Oh,” he said, catching a single face from the flood of images that swirled erratically through his brain. “The wee laddie that tried to kill me. Aye, I mind him.” He closed his eyes again. In the odd way of fever, one sensation seemed to blend into another. He had broken John William Grey’s arm; the memory of the boy’s fine bone beneath his hand became the bone of Claire’s forearm as he tore her from the grip of the stones. The cool misty breeze stroked his face with Claire’s fingers.
    “Wake up, damn you!” His head snapped on his neck as Melton shook him impatiently. “Listen to me!”
    Jamie opened his eyes wearily. “Aye?”
    “John William Grey is my brother,” Melton said. “He told me of his meeting with you. You spared his life, and he made you a promise—is that true?”
    With great effort, he cast his mind back. He had met the boy two days before the first battle of the rebellion; the Scottish victory at Prestonpans. The six months between then and now seemed a vast chasm; so much had happened in between.
    “Aye, I recall. He promised to kill me. I dinna mind if you do it for him, though.” His eyelids were drooping again. Did he have to be awake in order to be shot?
    “He said he owed you a debt of honor, and he does.” Melton stood up, dusting the knees of his breeches, and turned to his lieutenant, who had been watching the questioning with considerable bewilderment.
    “It’s the deuce of a situation, Wallace. This…this Jacobite scut is famous. You’ve heard of Red Jamie? The one on the broadsheets?” The Lieutenant nodded, looking curiously down at the bedraggled form in the dirt at his feet. Melton smiled bitterly.
    “No, he doesn’t look so dangerous now, does he? But he’s still Red Jamie Fraser, and His Grace would be more than pleased to hear of such an illustrious prisoner. They haven’t yet found Charles Stuart, but a few well-known Jacobites would please the crowds at Tower Hill nearly as much.”
    “Shall I send a message to His Grace?” The Lieutenant reached for his message box.
    “No!” Melton wheeled to glare down at his prisoner. “That’s the difficulty! Besides being prime gallows bait, this filthy wretch is also the man who captured my youngest brother near Preston, and rather than shooting the brat, which is what he deserved, spared his life and returned him to his companions. Thus,” he said through his teeth, “incurring a bloody great debt of honor upon my family!”
    “Dear me,” said the Lieutenant. “So you can’t give him to His Grace, after all.”
    “No, blast it! I can’t even shoot the bastard, without dishonoring my brother’s sworn word!”
    The prisoner opened one eye. “I willna tell anyone if you don’t,” he suggested, and promptly closed it again.
    “Shut up!” Losing his temper entirely, Melton kicked the prisoner, who grunted at the impact, but said nothing more.
    “Perhaps we could shoot him under an assumed name,” the Lieutenant suggested helpfully.
    Lord Melton gave his aide a look of withering scorn, then looked out the window to judge the time.
    “It will be dark in three hours. I’ll oversee the burial of the other executed prisoners. Find a small wagon, and have it filled with hay. Find a driver—pick someone discreet, Wallace, that means bribable, Wallace—and have them here as soon as it’s dark.”
    “Yes, sir. Er, sir? What about the prisoner?” The Lieutenant gestured diffidently toward the body on the floor.
    “What about him?” Melton said brusquely. “He’s too weak to crawl, let alone walk. He isn’t going anywhere—at least not until the wagon gets here.”
    “Wagon?” The prisoner was showing signs of life. In fact, under the stimulus of agitation, he had managed to raise himself onto one arm. Bloodshot blue eyes gleamed wide with alarm, under the spikes of matted red hair. “Where are ye sending me?” Turning from the door, Melton cast him a glance of intense dislike.
    “You’re the laird of Broch Tuarach, aren’t you? Well, that’s where I’m sending you.”
    “I dinna want to go home! I want to be shot!”
    The Englishmen exchanged a look.
    “Raving,” the Lieutenant said significantly, and Melton nodded.
    “I doubt he’ll live through the journey—but his death won’t be on my head, at least.”
    The door shut firmly behind the Englishmen, leaving Jamie Fraser quite alone—and still alive.
    2
    THE HUNT BEGINS
    Inverness

    May 2, 1968
    “Of course he’s dead!” Claire’s voice was sharp with agitation; it rang loudly in the half-empty study, echoing among the rifled bookshelves. She stood against the cork-lined wall like a prisoner awaiting a firing squad, staring from her daughter to Roger Wakefield and back again.
    “I don’t think so.” Roger felt terribly tired. He rubbed a hand over his face, then picked up the folder from the desk; the one containing all the research he’d done since Claire and her daughter had first come to him, three weeks before, and asked his help.
    He opened the folder and thumbed slowly through the contents. The Jacobites of Culloden. The Rising of the ’45. The gallant Scots who had rallied to the banner of Bonnie Prince Charlie, and cut through Scotland like a blazing sword—only to come to ruin and defeat against the Duke of Cumberland on the gray moor at Culloden.
    “Here,” he said, plucking out several sheets clipped together. The archaic writing looked odd, rendered in the black crispness of a photocopy. “This is the muster roll of the Master of Lovat’s regiment.”
    He thrust the thin sheaf of papers at Claire, but it was her daughter, Brianna, who took the sheets from him and began to turn the pages, a slight frown between her reddish brows.
    “Read the top sheet,” Roger said. “Where it says ‘Officers.’”
    “All right.‘Officers,’” she read aloud, “‘Simon, Master of Lovat’…”
    “The Young Fox,” Roger interrupted. “Lovat’s son. And five more names, right?”
    Brianna cocked one brow at him, but went on reading.
    “‘William Chisholm Fraser, Lieutenant; George D’Amerd Fraser Shaw, Captain; Duncan Joseph Fraser, Lieutenant; Bayard Murray Fraser, Major,” she paused, swallowing, before reading the last name, “‘…James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser. Captain.’” She lowered the papers, looking a little pale. “My father.”
    Claire moved quickly to her daughter’s side, squeezing the girl’s arm. She was pale, too.
    “Yes,” she said to Roger. “I know he went to Culloden. When he left me…there at the stone circle…he meant to go back to Culloden Field, to rescue his men who were with Charles Stuart. And we know he did”—she nodded at the folder on the desk, its manila surface blank and innocent in the lamplight—“you found their names. But…but…Jamie…” Speaking the name aloud seemed to rattle her, and she clamped her lips tight.
    Now it was Brianna’s turn to support her mother.
    “He meant to go back, you said.” Her eyes, dark blue and encouraging, were intent on her mother’s face. “He meant to take his men away from the field, and then go back to the battle.”
    Claire nodded, recovering herself slightly.
    “He knew he hadn’t much chance of getting away; if the English caught him…he said he’d rather die in battle. That’s what he meant to do.” She turned to Roger, her gaze an unsettling amber. Her eyes always reminded him of hawk’s eyes, as though she could see a good deal farther than most people. “I can’t believe he didn’t die there—so many men did, and he meant to!”
    Almost half the Highland army had died at Culloden, cut down in a blast of cannonfire and searing musketry. But not Jamie Fraser.
    “No,” Roger said doggedly. “That bit I read you from Linklater’s book—” He reached to pick it up, a white volume, entitled The Prince in the Heather.
    “Following the battle,” he read, “eighteen wounded Jacobite officers took refuge in the farmhouse near the moor. Here they lay in pain, their wounds untended, for two days. At the end of that time, they were taken out and shot. One man, a Fraser of the Master of Lovat’s regiment, escaped the slaughter. The rest are buried at the edge of the domestic park.
    “See?” he said, laying the book down and looking earnestly at the two women over its pages. “An officer, of the Master of Lovat’s regiment.” He grabbed up the sheets of the muster roll.
    “And here they are! Just six of them. Now, we know the man in the farmhouse can’t have been Young Simon; he’s a well-known historical figure, and we know very well what happened to him. He retreated from the field—unwounded, mind you—with a group of his men, and fought his way north, eventually making it back to Beaufort Castle, near here.” He waved vaguely at the full-length window, through which the nighttime lights of Inverness twinkled faintly.
    “Nor was the man who escaped Leanach farmhouse any of the other four officers—William, George, Duncan, or Bayard,” Roger said. “Why?” He snatched another paper out of the folder and brandished it, almost triumphantly. “Because they all did die at Culloden! All four of them were killed on the field—I found their names listed on a plaque in the church at Beauly.”
    Claire let out a long breath, then eased herself down into the old leather swivel chair behind the desk.
    “Jesus H. Christ,” she said. She closed her eyes and leaned forward, elbows on the desk, and her head against her hands, the thick, curly brown hair spilling forward to hide her face. Brianna laid a hand on Claire’s back, face troubled as she bent over her mother. She was a tall girl, with large, fine bones, and her long red hair glowed in the warm light of the desk lamp.
    “If he didn’t die…” she began tentatively.
    Claire’s head snapped up. “But he is dead!” she said. Her face was strained, and small lines were visible around her eyes. “For God’s sake, it’s two hundred years; whether he died at Culloden or not, he’s dead now!”
    Brianna stepped back from her mother’s vehemence, and lowered her head, so the red hair—her father’s red hair—swung down beside her cheek.
    “I guess so,” she whispered. Roger could see she was fighting back tears. And no wonder, he thought. To find out in short order that first, the man you had loved and called “Father” all your life really wasn’t your father, secondly, that your real father was a Highland Scot who had lived two hundred years ago, and thirdly, to realize that he had likely perished in some horrid fashion, unthinkably far from the wife and child he had sacrificed himself to save…enough to rattle one, Roger thought.
    He crossed to Brianna and touched her arm. She gave him a brief, distracted glance, and tried to smile. He put his arms around her, even in his pity for her distress thinking how marvelous she felt, all warm and soft and springy at once.
    Claire still sat at the desk, motionless. The yellow hawk’s eyes had gone a softer color now, remote with memory. They rested sightlessly on the east wall of the study, still covered from floor to ceiling with the notes and memorabilia left by the Reverend Wakefield, Roger’s late adoptive father.
    Looking at the wall himself, Roger saw the annual meeting notice sent by the Society of the White Rose—those enthusiastic, eccentric souls who still championed the cause of Scottish independence, meeting in nostalgic tribute to Charles Stuart, and the Highland heroes who had followed him.
    Roger cleared his throat slightly.
    “Er…if Jamie Fraser didn’t die at Culloden…” he said.
    “Then he likely died soon afterward.” Claire’s eyes met Roger’s, straight on, the cool look back in the yellow-brown depths. “You have no idea how it was,” she said. “There was a famine in the Highlands—none of the men had eaten for days before the battle. He was wounded—we know that. Even if he escaped, there would have been…no one to care for him.” Her voice caught slightly at that; she was a doctor now, had been a healer even then, twenty years before, when she had stepped through a circle of standing stones, and met destiny with James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser.
    Roger was conscious of them both; the tall, shaking girl he held in his arms, and the woman at the desk, so still, so poised. She had traveled through the stones, through time; been suspected as a spy, arrested as a witch, snatched by an unimaginable quirk of circumstance from the arms of her first husband, Frank Randall. And three years later, her second husband, James Fraser, had sent her back through the stones, pregnant, in a desperate effort to save her and the unborn child from the onrushing disaster that would soon engulf him.
    Surely, he thought to himself, she’s been through enough? But Roger was a historian. He had a scholar’s insatiable, amoral curiosity, too powerful to be constrained by simple compassion. More than that, he was oddly conscious of the third figure in the family tragedy in which he found himself involved—Jamie Fraser.
    “If he didn’t die at Culloden,” he began again, more firmly, “then perhaps I can find out what did happen to him. Do you want me to try?” He waited, breathless, feeling Brianna’s warm breath through his shirt.
    Jamie Fraser had had a life, and a death. Roger felt obscurely that it was his duty to find out all the truth; that Jamie Fraser’s women deserved to know all they could of him. For Brianna, such knowledge was all she would ever have of the father she had never known. And for Claire—behind the question he had asked was the thought that had plainly not yet struck her, stunned with shock as she was: she had crossed the barrier of time twice before. She could, just possibly, do it again. And if Jamie Fraser had not died at Culloden…
    He saw awareness flicker in the clouded amber of her eyes, as the thought came to her. She was normally pale; now her face blanched white as the ivory handle of the letter opener before her on the desk. Her fingers closed around it, clenching so the knuckles stood out in knobs of bone.
    She didn’t speak for a long time. Her gaze fixed on Brianna and lingered there for a moment, then returned to Roger’s face.
    “Yes,” she said, in a whisper so soft he could barely hear her. “Yes. Find out for me. Please. Find out.”
    3
    FRANK AND FULL DISCLOSURE
    Inverness

    May 9, 1968
    The foot traffic was heavy on the bridge over the River Ness, with folk streaming home to their teas. Roger moved in front of me, his wide shoulders protecting me from the buffets of the crowd around us.
    I could feel my heart beating heavily against the stiff cover of the book I was clutching to my chest. It did that whenever I paused to think what we were truly doing. I wasn’t sure which of the two possible alternatives was worse; to find that Jamie had died at Culloden, or to find that he hadn’t.
    The boards of the bridge echoed hollowly underfoot, as we trudged back toward the manse. My arms ached from the weight of the books I carried, and I shifted the load from one side to the other.
    “Watch your bloody wheel, man!” Roger shouted, nudging me adroitly to the side, as a workingman on a bicycle plowed head-downward through the bridge traffic, nearly running me against the railing.
    “Sorry!” came back the apologetic shout, and the rider gave a wave of the hand over his shoulder, as the bike wove its way between two groups of schoolchildren, coming home for their teas. I glanced back across the bridge, in case Brianna should be visible behind us, but there was no sign of her.
    Roger and I had spent the afternoon at the Society for the Preservation of Antiquities. Brianna had gone down to the Highland Clans office, there to collect photocopies of a list of documents Roger had compiled.
    “It’s very kind of you to take all this trouble, Roger,” I said, raising my voice to be heard above the echoing bridge and the river’s rush.
    “It’s all right,” he said, a little awkwardly, pausing for me to catch him up. “I’m curious,” he added, smiling a little. “You know historians—can’t leave a puzzle alone.” He shook his head, trying to brush the windblown dark hair out of his eyes without using his hands.
    I did know historians. I’d lived with one for twenty years. Frank hadn’t wanted to leave this particular puzzle alone, either. But neither had he been willing to solve it. Frank had been dead for two years, though, and now it was my turn—mine and Brianna’s.
    “Have you heard yet from Dr. Linklater?” I asked, as we came down the arch of the bridge. Late in the afternoon as it was, the sun was still high, so far north as we were. Caught among the leaves of the lime trees on the riverbank, it glowed pink on the granite cenotaph that stood below the bridge.
    Roger shook his head, squinting against the wind. “No, but it’s been only a week since I wrote. If I don’t hear by the Monday, I’ll try telephoning. Don’t worry”—he smiled sideways at me—“I was very circumspect. I just told him that for purposes of a study I was making, I needed a list—if one existed—of the Jacobite officers who were in Leanach farmhouse after Culloden, and if any information exists as to the survivor of that execution, could he refer me to the original sources?”
    “Do you know Linklater?” I asked, easing my left arm by tilting the books sideways against my hip.
    “No, but I wrote my request on the Balliol College letterhead, and made tactful reference to Mr. Cheesewright, my old tutor, who does know Link-later.” Roger winked reassuringly, and I laughed.
    His eyes were a brilliant, lucent green, bright against his olive skin. Curiosity might be his stated reason for helping us to find out Jamie’s history, but I was well aware that his interest went a good bit deeper—in the direction of Brianna. I also knew that the interest was returned. What I didn’t know was whether Roger realized that as well.
    Back in the late Reverend Wakefield’s study, I dropped my armload of books on the table in relief, and collapsed into the wing chair by the hearth, while Roger went to fetch a glass of lemonade from the manse’s kitchen.
    My breathing slowed as I sipped the tart sweetness, but my pulse stayed erratic, as I looked over the imposing stack of books we had brought back. Was Jamie in there somewhere? And if he was…my hands grew wet on the cold glass, and I choked the thought off. Don’t look too far ahead, I cautioned myself. Much better to wait, and see what we might find.
    Roger was scanning the shelves in the study, in search of other possibilities. The Reverend Wakefield, Roger’s late adoptive father, had been both a good amateur historian, and a terrible pack rat; letters, journals, pamphlets and broadsheets, antique and contemporary volumes—all were crammed cheek by jowl together on the shelves.
    Roger hesitated, then his hand fell on a stack of books sitting on the nearby table. They were Frank’s books—an impressive achievement, so far as I could tell by reading the encomiums printed on the dust jackets.
    “Have you ever read this?” he asked, picking up the volume entitled The Jacobites.
    “No,” I said. I took a restorative gulp of lemonade, and coughed. “No,” I said again. “I couldn’t.” After my return, I had resolutely refused to look at any material dealing with Scotland’s past, even though the eighteenth century had been one of Frank’s areas of specialty. Knowing Jamie dead, and faced with the necessity of living without him, I avoided anything that might bring him to mind. A useless avoidance—there was no way of keeping him out of my mind, with Brianna’s existence a daily reminder of him—but still, I could not read books about the Bonnie Prince—that terrible, futile young man—or his followers.
    “I see. I just thought you might know whether there might be something useful in here.” Roger paused, the flush deepening over his cheekbones. “Did—er, did your husband—Frank, I mean,” he added hastily. “Did you tell him…um…about…” His voice trailed off, choked with embarrassment.
    “Well, of course I did!” I said, a little sharply. “What did you think—I’d just stroll back into his office after being gone for three years and say, ‘Oh, hullo there, darling, and what would you like for supper tonight?’”
    “No, of course not,” Roger muttered. He turned away, eyes fixed on the bookshelves. The back of his neck was deep red with embarrassment.
    “I’m sorry,” I said, taking a deep breath. “It’s a fair question to ask. It’s only that it’s—a bit raw, yet.” A good deal more than a bit. I was both surprised and appalled to find just how raw the wound still was. I set the glass down on the table at my elbow. If we were going on with this, I was going to need something stronger than lemonade.
    “Yes,” I said. “I told him. All about the stones—about Jamie. Everything.”
    Roger didn’t reply for a moment. Then he turned, halfway, so that only the strong, sharp lines of his profile were visible. He didn’t look at me, but down at the stack of Frank’s books, at the back-cover photo of Frank, leanly dark and handsome, smiling for posterity.
    “Did he believe you?” Roger asked quietly.
    My lips felt sticky from the lemonade, and I licked them before answering.
    “No,” I said. “Not at first. He thought I was mad; even had me vetted by a psychiatrist.” I laughed, shortly, but the memory made me clench my fists with remembered fury.
    “Later, then?” Roger turned to face me. The flush had faded from his skin, leaving only an echo of curiosity in his eyes. “What did he think?”
    I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. “I don’t know.”
    The tiny hospital in Inverness smelled unfamiliar, like carbolic disinfectant and starch.
    I couldn’t think, and tried not to feel. The return was much more terrifying than my venture into the past had been, for there, I had been shrouded by a protective layer of doubt and disbelief about where I was and what was happening, and had lived in constant hope of escape. Now I knew only too well where I was, and I knew that there was no escape. Jamie was dead.
    The doctors and nurses tried to speak kindly to me, to feed me and bring me things to drink, but there was no room in me for anything but grief and terror. I had told them my name when they asked, but wouldn’t speak further.
    I lay in the clean white bed, fingers clamped tight together over my vulnerable belly, and kept my eyes shut. I visualized over and over the last things I had seen before I stepped through the stones—the rainy moor and Jamie’s face—knowing that if I looked too long at my new surroundings, these sights would fade, replaced by mundane things like the nurses and the vase of flowers by my bed. I pressed one thumb secretly against the base of the other, taking an obscure comfort in the tiny wound there, a small cut in the shape of a J. Jamie had made it, at my demand—the last of his touch on my flesh.
    I must have stayed that way for some time; I slept sometimes, dreaming of the last few days of the Jacobite Rising—I saw again the dead man in the wood, asleep beneath a coverlet of bright blue fungus, and Dougal MacKenzie dying on the floor of an attic in Culloden House; the ragged men of the Highland army, asleep in the muddy ditches; their last sleep before the slaughter.
    I would wake screaming or moaning, to the scent of disinfectant and the sound of soothing words, incomprehensible against the echoes of Gaelic shouting in my dreams, and fall asleep again, my hurt clutched tight in the palm of my hand.
    And then I opened my eyes and Frank was there. He stood in the door, smoothing back his dark hair with one hand, looking uncertain—and no wonder, poor man.
    I lay back on the pillows, just watching him, not speaking. He had the look of his ancestors, Jack and Alex Randall; fine, clear, aristocratic features and a well-shaped head, under a spill of straight dark hair. His face had some indefinable difference from theirs, though, beyond the small differences of feature. There was no mark of fear or ruthlessness on him; neither the spirituality of Alex nor the icy arrogance of Jack. His lean face looked intelligent, kind, and slightly tired, unshaven and with smudges beneath his eyes. I knew without being told that he had driven all night to get here.
    “Claire?” He came over to the bed, and spoke tentatively, as though not sure that I really was Claire.
    I wasn’t sure either, but I nodded and said, “Hullo, Frank.” My voice was scratchy and rough, unaccustomed to speech.
    He took one of my hands, and I let him have it.
    “Are you…all right?” he said, after a minute. He was frowning slightly as he looked at me.
    “I’m pregnant.” That seemed the important point, to my disordered mind. I had not thought of what I would say to Frank, if I ever saw him again, but the moment I saw him standing in the door, it seemed to come clear in my mind. I would tell him I was pregnant, he would leave, and I would be alone with my last sight of Jamie’s face, and the burning touch of him on my hand.
    His face tightened a bit, but he didn’t let go of my other hand. “I know. They told me.” He took a deep breath and let it out. “Claire—can you tell me what happened to you?”
    I felt quite blank for a moment, but then shrugged.
    “I suppose so,” I said. I mustered my thoughts wearily; I didn’t want to be talking about it, but I had some feeling of obligation to this man. Not guilt, not yet; but obligation nonetheless. I had been married to him.
    “Well,” I said, “I fell in love with someone else, and I married him. I’m sorry,” I added, in response to the look of shock that crossed his face, “I couldn’t help it.”
    He hadn’t been expecting that. His mouth opened and closed for a bit and he gripped my hand, hard enough to make me wince and jerk it out of his grasp.
    “What do you mean?” he said, his voice sharp. “Where have you been, Claire?” He stood up suddenly, looming over the bed.
    “Do you remember that when I last saw you, I was going up to the stone circle on Craigh na Dun?”
    “Yes?” He was staring down at me with an expression somewhere between anger and suspicion.
    “Well”—I licked my lips, which had gone quite dry—“the fact is, I walked through a cleft stone in that circle, and ended up in 1743.”
    “Don’t be facetious, Claire!”
    “You think I’m being funny?” The thought was so absurd that I actually began to laugh, though I felt a good long way from real humor.
    “Stop that!”
    I quit laughing. Two nurses appeared at the door as though by magic; they must have been lurking in the hall nearby. Frank leaned over and grabbed my arm.
    “Listen to me,” he said through his teeth. “You are going to tell me where you’ve been and what you’ve been doing!”
    “I am telling you! Let go!” I sat up in bed and yanked at my arm, pulling it out of his grasp. “I told you; I walked through a stone and ended up two hundred years ago. And I met your bloody ancestor, Jack Randall, there!”
    Frank blinked, entirely taken aback. “Who?”
    “Black Jack Randall, and a bloody, filthy, nasty pervert he was, too!”
    Frank’s mouth hung open, and so did the nurses’. I could hear feet coming down the corridor behind them, and hurried voices.
    “I had to marry Jamie Fraser to get away from Jack Randall, but then—Jamie—I couldn’t help it, Frank, I loved him and I would have stayed with him if I could, but he sent me back because of Culloden, and the baby, and—” I broke off, as a man in a doctor’s uniform pushed past the nurses by the door.
    “Frank,” I said tiredly, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it to happen, and I tried all I could to come back—really, I did—but I couldn’t. And now it’s too late.”
    Despite myself, tears began to well up in my eyes and roll down my cheeks. Mostly for Jamie, and myself, and the child I carried, but a few for Frank as well. I sniffed hard and swallowed, trying to stop, and pushed myself upright in the bed.
    “Look,” I said, “I know you won’t want to have anything more to do with me, and I don’t blame you at all. Just—just go away, will you?”
    His face had changed. He didn’t look angry anymore, but distressed, and slightly puzzled. He sat down by the bed, ignoring the doctor who had come in and was groping for my pulse.
    “I’m not going anywhere,” he said, quite gently. He took my hand again, though I tried to pull it away. “This—Jamie. Who was he?”
    I took a deep, ragged breath. The doctor had hold of my other hand, still trying to take my pulse, and I felt absurdly panicked, as though I were being held captive between them. I fought down the feeling, though, and tried to speak steadily.
    “James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser,” I said, spacing the words, formally, the way Jamie had spoken them to me when he first told me his full name—on the day of our wedding. The thought made another tear overflow, and I blotted it against my shoulder, my hands being restrained.
    “He was a Highlander. He was k-killed at Culloden.” It was no use, I was weeping again, the tears no anodyne to the grief that ripped through me, but the only response I had to unendurable pain. I bent forward slightly, trying to encapsulate it, wrapping myself around the tiny, imperceptible life in my belly, the only remnant left to me of Jamie Fraser.
    Frank and the doctor exchanged a glance of which I was only half-conscious. Of course, to them, Culloden was part of the distant past. To me, it had happened only two days before.
    “Perhaps we should let Mrs. Randall rest for a bit,” the doctor suggested. “She seems a wee bit upset just now.”
    Frank looked uncertainly from the doctor to me. “Well, she certainly does seem upset. But I really want to find out…what’s this, Claire?” Stroking my hand, he had encountered the silver ring on my fourth finger, and now bent to examine it. It was the ring Jamie had given me for our marriage; a wide silver band in the Highland interlace pattern, the links engraved with tiny, stylized thistle blooms.
    “No!” I exclaimed, panicked, as Frank tried to twist it off my finger. I jerked my hand away and cradled it, fisted, beneath my bosom, cupped in my left hand, which still wore Frank’s gold wedding band. “No, you can’t take it, I won’t let you! That’s my wedding ring!”
    “Now, see here, Claire—” Frank’s words were interrupted by the doctor, who had crossed to Frank’s side of the bed, and was now bending down to murmur in his ear. I caught a few words—“not trouble your wife just now. The shock”—and then Frank was on his feet once more, being firmly urged away by the doctor, who gave a nod to one of the nurses in passing.
    I barely felt the sting of the hypodermic needle, too engulfed in the fresh wave of grief to take notice of anything. I dimly heard Frank’s parting words, “All right—but Claire, I will know!” And then the blessed darkness came down, and I slept without dreaming, for a long, long time.
    Roger tilted the decanter, bringing the level of the spirit in the glass up to the halfway point. He handed it to Claire with a half-smile.
    “Fiona’s grannie always said whisky is good for what ails ye.”
    “I’ve seen worse remedies.” Claire took the glass and gave him back the half-smile in change.
    Roger poured out a drink for himself, then sat down beside her, sipping quietly.
    “I tried to send him away, you know,” she said suddenly, lowering her glass. “Frank. I told him I knew he couldn’t feel the same for me, no matter what he believed had happened. I said I would give him a divorce; he must go away and forget about me—take up the life he’d begun building without me.”
    “He wouldn’t do it, though.” Roger said. It was growing chilly in the study as the sun went down, and he bent and switched on the ancient electric fire. “Because you were pregnant?” he guessed.
    She shot him a sudden sharp look, then smiled, a little wryly.
    “Yes, that was it. He said no one but a cad would dream of abandoning a pregnant woman with virtually no resources. Particularly one whose grip on reality seemed a trifle tenuous,” she added ironically. “I wasn’t quite without resources—I had a bit of money from my uncle Lamb—but Frank wasn’t a cad, either.” Her glance shifted to the bookshelves. Her husband’s historical works stood there, side by side, spines gleaming in the light of the desklamp.
    “He was a very decent man,” she said softly. She took another sip of her drink, closing her eyes as the alcoholic fumes rose up.
    “And then—he knew, or suspected, that he couldn’t have children himself. Rather a blow, for a man so involved in history and genealogies. All those dynastic considerations, you see.”
    “Yes, I can see that,” Roger said slowly. “But wouldn’t he feel—I mean, another man’s child?”
    “He might have.” The amber eyes were looking at him again, their clearness slightly softened by whisky and reminiscence. “But as it was, since he didn’t—couldn’t—believe anything I said about Jamie, the baby’s father was essentially unknown. If he didn’t know who the man was—and convinced himself that I didn’t really know either, but had just made up these delusions out of traumatic shock—well, then, there was no one ever to say that the child wasn’t his. Certainly not me,” she added, with just a tinge of bitterness.
    She took a large swallow of whisky that made her eyes water slightly, and took a moment to wipe them.
    “But to make sure, he took me clean away. To Boston,” she went on. “He’d been offered a good position at Harvard, and no one knew us there. That’s where Brianna was born.”
    The fretful crying jarred me awake yet again. I had gone back to bed at 6:30, after getting up five times during the night with the baby. A bleary-eyed look at the clock showed the time now as 7:00. A cheerful singing came from the bathroom, Frank’s voice raised in “Rule, Britannia,” over the noise of rushing water.
    I lay in bed, heavy-limbed with exhaustion, wondering whether I had the strength to endure the crying until Frank got out of the shower and could bring Brianna to me. As though the baby knew what I was thinking, the crying rose two or three tones and escalated to a sort of periodic shriek, punctuated by frightening gulps for air. I flung back the covers and was on my feet, propelled by the same sort of panic with which I had greeted air raids during the War.
    I lumbered down the chilly hall and into the nursery, to find Brianna, aged three months, lying on her back, yelling her small red head off. I was so groggy from lack of sleep that it took a moment for me to realize that I had left her on her stomach.
    “Darling! You turned over! All by yourself!” Terrorized by her audacious act, Brianna waved her little pink fists and squalled louder, eyes squeezed shut.
    I snatched her up, patting her back and murmuring to the top of her red-fuzzed head.
    “Oh, you precious darling! What a clever girl you are!”
    “What’s that? What’s happened?” Frank emerged from the bathroom, toweling his head, a second towel wrapped about his loins. “Is something the matter with Brianna?”
    He came toward us, looking worried. As the birth grew closer, we had both been edgy; Frank irritable and myself terrified, having no idea what might happen between us, with the appearance of Jamie Fraser’s child. But when the nurse had taken Brianna from her bassinet and handed her to Frank, with the words “Here’s Daddy’s little girl,” his face had grown blank, and then—looking down at the tiny face, perfect as a rosebud—gone soft with wonder. Within a week, he had been hers, body and soul.
    I turned to him, smiling. “She turned over! All by herself!”
    “Really?” His scrubbed face beamed with delight. “Isn’t it early for her to do that?”
    “Yes, it is. Dr. Spock says she oughtn’t to be able to do it for another month, at least!”
    “Well, what does Dr. Spock know? Come here, little beauty; give Daddy a kiss for being so precocious.” He lifted the soft little body, encased in its snug pink sleep-suit, and kissed her button of a nose. Brianna sneezed, and we both laughed.
    I stopped then, suddenly aware that it was the first time I had laughed in nearly a year. Still more, that it was the first time I had laughed with Frank.
    He realized it too; his eyes met mine over the top of Brianna’s head. They were a soft hazel, and at the moment, filled with tenderness. I smiled at him, a little tremulous, and suddenly very much aware that he was all but naked, with water droplets sliding down his lean shoulders and shining on the smooth brown skin of his chest.
    The smell of burning reached us simultaneously, jarring us from this scene of domestic bliss.
    “The coffee!” Thrusting Bree unceremoniously into my arms, Frank bolted for the kitchen, leaving both towels in a heap at my feet. Smiling at the sight of his bare buttocks, gleaming an incongruous white as he sprinted into the kitchen, I followed him more slowly, holding Bree against my shoulder.
    He was standing at the sink, naked, amid a cloud of malodorous steam rising from the scorched coffeepot.
    “Tea, maybe?” I asked, adroitly anchoring Brianna on my hip with one arm while I rummaged in the cupboard. “None of the orange pekoe leaf left, I’m afraid; just Lipton’s teabags.”
    Frank made a face; an Englishman to the bone, he would rather lap water out of the toilet than drink tea made from teabags. The Lipton’s had been left by Mrs. Grossman, the weekly cleaning woman, who thought tea made from loose leaves messy and disgusting.
    “No, I’ll get a cup of coffee on my way to the university. Oh, speaking of which, you recall that we’re having the Dean and his wife to dinner tonight? Mrs. Hinchcliffe is bringing a present for Brianna.”
    “Oh, right,” I said, without enthusiasm. I had met the Hinchcliffes before, and wasn’t all that keen to repeat the experience. Still, the effort had to be made. With a mental sigh, I shifted the baby to the other side and groped in the drawer for a pencil to make a grocery list.
    Brianna burrowed into the front of my red chenille dressing gown, making small voracious grunting noises.
    “You can’t be hungry again,” I said to the top of her head. “I fed you not two hours ago.” My breasts were beginning to leak in response to her rooting, though, and I was already sitting down and loosening the front of my gown.
    “Mrs. Hinchcliffe said that a baby shouldn’t be fed every time it cries,” Frank observed. “They get spoilt if they aren’t kept to a schedule.”
    It wasn’t the first time I had heard Mrs. Hinchcliffe’s opinions on child-rearing.
    “Then she’ll be spoilt, won’t she?” I said coldly, not looking at him. The small pink mouth clamped down fiercely, and Brianna began to suck with mindless appetite. I was aware that Mrs. Hinchcliffe also thought breast-feeding both vulgar and insanitary. I, who had seen any number of eighteenth-century babies nursing contentedly at their mothers’ breasts, didn’t.
    Frank sighed, but didn’t say anything further. After a moment, he put down the pot holder and sidled toward the door.
    “Well,” he said awkwardly. “I’ll see you around six then, shall I? Ought I to bring home anything—save you going out?”
    I gave him a brief smile, and said, “No, I’ll manage.”
    “Oh, good.” He hesitated a moment, as I settled Bree more comfortably on my lap, head resting on the crook of my arm, the round of her head echoing the curve of my breast. I looked up from the baby, and found him watching me intently, eyes fixed on the swell of my half-exposed bosom.
    My own eyes flicked downward over his body. I saw the beginnings of his arousal, and bent my head over the baby, to hide my flushing face.
    “Goodbye,” I muttered, to the top of her head.
    He stood still a moment, then leaned forward and kissed me briefly on the cheek, the warmth of his bare body unsettlingly near.
    “Goodbye, Claire,” he said softly. “I’ll see you tonight.”
    He didn’t come into the kitchen again before leaving, so I had a chance to finish feeding Brianna and bring my own feelings into some semblance of normality.
    I hadn’t seen Frank naked since my return; he had always dressed in bathroom or closet. Neither had he tried to kiss me before this morning’s cautious peck. The pregnancy had been what the obstetrician called “high-risk,” and there had been no question of Frank’s sharing my bed, even had I been so disposed—which I wasn’t.
    I should have seen this coming, but I hadn’t. Absorbed first in sheer misery, and then in the physical torpor of oncoming motherhood, I had pushed away all considerations beyond my bulging belly. After Brianna’s birth, I had lived from feeding to feeding, seeking small moments of mindless peace, when I could hold her oblivious body close and find relief from thought and memory in the pure sensual pleasure of touching and holding her.
    Frank, too, cuddled the baby and played with her, falling asleep in his big chair with her stretched out atop his lanky form, rosy cheek pressed flat against his chest, as they snored together in peaceful companionship. He and I did not touch each other, though, nor did we truly talk about anything beyond our basic domestic arrangements—except Brianna.
    The baby was our shared focus; a point through which we could at once reach each other, and keep each other at arm’s length. It looked as though arm’s length was no longer close enough for Frank.
    I could do it—physically, at least. I had seen the doctor for a checkup the week before, and he had—with an avuncular wink and a pat on the bottom—assured me that I could resume “relations” with my husband at any time.
    I knew Frank hadn’t been celibate since my disappearance. In his late forties, he was still lean and muscular, dark and sleek, a very handsome man. Women clustered about him at cocktail parties like bees round a honeypot, emitting small hums of sexual excitement.
    There had been one girl with brown hair whom I had noticed particularly at the departmental party; she stood in the corner and stared at Frank mournfully over her drink. Later she became tearfully and incoherently drunk, and was escorted home by two female friends, who took turns casting evil looks at Frank and at me, standing by his side, silently bulging in my flowered maternity dress.
    He’d been discreet, though. He was always home at night, and took pains not to have lipstick on his collar. So, now he meant to come home all the way. I supposed he had some right to expect it; was that not a wifely duty, and I once more his wife?
    There was only one small problem. It wasn’t Frank I reached for, deep in the night, waking out of sleep. It wasn’t his smooth, lithe body that walked my dreams and roused me, so that I came awake moist and gasping, my heart pounding from the half-remembered touch. But I would never touch that man again.
    “Jamie,” I whispered, “Oh, Jamie.” My tears sparkled in the morning light, adorning Brianna’s soft red fuzz like scattered pearls and diamonds.
    It wasn’t a good day. Brianna had a bad diaper rash, which made her cross and irritable, needing to be picked up every few minutes. She nursed and fussed alternately, pausing to spit up at intervals, making clammy wet patches on whatever I wore. I changed my blouse three times before eleven o’clock.
    The heavy nursing bra I wore chafed under the arms, and my nipples felt cold and chapped. Midway through my laborious tidying-up of the house, there was a whooshing clank from under the floorboards, and the hot-air registers died with a feeble sigh.
    “No, next week won’t do,” I said over the telephone to the furnace-repair shop. I looked at the window, where the cold February fog was threatening to seep under the sill and engulf us. “It’s forty-two degrees in here, and I have a three-month-old baby!” The baby in question was sitting in her baby seat, swaddled in all her blankets, squalling like a scalded cat. Ignoring the quacking of the person on the other end, I held the receiver next to Brianna’s wide open mouth for several seconds.
    “See?” I demanded, lifting the phone to my ear again.
    “Awright, lady,” said a resigned voice on the other end of the line. “I’ll come out this afternoon, sometime between noon and six.”
    “Noon and six? Can’t you narrow it down a little more than that? I have to get out to the market,” I protested.
    “You ain’t the only dead furnace in town, lady,” the voice said with finality, and hung up. I glanced at the clock; eleven-thirty. I’d never be able to get the marketing done and get back in half an hour. Marketing with a small baby was more like a ninety-minute expedition into Darkest Borneo, requiring massive amounts of equipment and tremendous expenditures of energy.
    Gritting my teeth, I called the expensive market that delivered, ordered the necessities for dinner, and picked up the baby, who was by now the shade of an eggplant, and markedly smelly.
    “That looks ouchy, darling. You’ll feel much better if we get it off, won’t you?” I said, trying to talk soothingly as I wiped the brownish slime off Brianna’s bright-red bottom. She arched her back, trying to escape the clammy washcloth, and shrieked some more. A layer of Vaseline and the tenth clean diaper of the day; the diaper service truck wasn’t due ’til tomorrow, and the house reeked of ammonia.
    “All right, sweetheart, there, there.” I hoisted her up on my shoulder, patting her, but the screeching went on and on. Not that I could blame her; her poor bottom was nearly raw. Ideally, she should be let to lie about on a towel with nothing on, but with no heat in the house, that wasn’t feasible. She and I were both wearing sweaters and heavy winter coats, which made the frequent feedings even more of a nuisance than usual; excavating a breast could take several minutes, while the baby screamed.
    Brianna couldn’t sleep for more than ten minutes at a time. Consequently, neither could I. When we did drift off together at four o’clock, we were roused within a quarter of an hour by the crashing arrival of the furnace man, who pounded on the door, not bothering to set down the large wrench he was holding.
    Jiggling the baby against my shoulder with one hand, I began cooking the dinner with the other, to the accompaniment of screeches in my ear and the sounds of violence from the cellar below.
    “I ain’t promising nothin’, lady, but you got heat for now.” The furnace man appeared abruptly, wiping a smear of grease from his creased forehead. He leaned forward to inspect Brianna, who was lying more or less peacefully across my shoulder, loudly sucking her thumb.
    “How’s that thumb taste, sweetie?” he inquired. “They say you shouldn’t oughta let ’em suck their thumbs, you know,” he informed me, straightening up. “Gives ’em crooked teeth and they’ll need braces.”
    “Is that so?” I said through my own teeth. “How much do I owe you?”
    Half an hour later, the chicken lay in its pan, stuffed and basted, surrounded by crushed garlic, sprigs of rosemary, and curls of lemon peel. A quick squeeze of lemon juice over the buttery skin, and I could stick it in the oven and go get myself and Brianna dressed. The kitchen looked like the result of an incompetent burglary, with cupboards hanging open and cooking paraphernalia strewn on every horizontal surface. I banged shut a couple of cupboard doors, and then the kitchen door itself, trusting that that would keep Mrs. Hinchcliffe out, even if good manners wouldn’t.
    Frank had brought a new pink dress for Brianna to wear. It was a beautiful thing, but I eyed the layers of lace around the neck dubiously. They looked not only scratchy, but delicate.
    “Well, we’ll give it a try,” I told her. “Daddy will like you to look pretty. Let’s try not to spit up in it, hm?”
    Brianna responded by shutting her eyes, stiffening, and grunting as she extruded more slime.
    “Oh, well done!” I said, sincerely. It meant changing the crib sheet, but at least it wouldn’t make the diaper rash worse. The mess attended to and a fresh diaper in place, I shook out the pink dress, and paused to carefully wipe the snot and drool from her face before popping the garment over her head. She blinked at me and gurgled enticingly, windmilling her fists.
    I obligingly lowered my head and went “Pfffft!” into her navel, which made her squirm and gurgle with joy. We did it a few more times, then began the painstaking job of getting into the pink dress.
    Brianna didn’t like it; she started to complain as I put it over her head, and as I crammed her chubby little arms into the puffed sleeves, put back her head and let out a piercing cry.
    “What is it?” I demanded, startled. I knew all her cries by now and mostly, what she meant by them, but this was a new one, full of fright and pain. “What’s the matter, darling?”
    She was screaming furiously now, tears rolling down her face. I turned her frantically over and patted her back, thinking she might have had a sudden attack of colic, but she wasn’t doubled up. She was struggling violently, though, and as I turned her back over to pick her up, I saw the long red line running up the tender inside of her waving arm. A pin had been left in the dress, and had scored her flesh as I forced the sleeve up her arm.
    “Oh, baby! Oh, I’m so sorry! Mummy’s so sorry!” Tears were running down my own face as I eased the stabbing pin free and removed it. I clutched her to my shoulder, patting and soothing, trying to calm my own feelings of panicked guilt. Of course I hadn’t meant to hurt her, but she wouldn’t know that.
    “Oh, darling,” I murmured. “It’s all right now. Yes, Mummy loves you, it’s all right.” Why hadn’t I thought to check for pins? For that matter, what sort of maniac would package a baby’s clothes using straight pins? Torn between fury and distress, I eased Brianna into the dress, wiped her chin, and carried her into the bedroom, where I laid her on my twin bed while I hastily changed to a decent skirt and a fresh blouse.
    The doorbell rang as I was pulling on my stockings. There was a hole in one heel, but no time to do anything about it now. I stuck my feet into the pinching alligator pumps, snatched up Brianna, and went to answer the door.
    It was Frank, too laden with packages to use his key. One-handed, I took most of them from him and parked them on the hall table.
    “Dinner all ready, dear? I’ve brought a new tablecloth and napkins—thought ours were a bit shabby. And the wine, of course.” He lifted the bottle in his hand, smiling, then leaned forward to peer at me, and stopped smiling. He looked disapprovingly from my disheveled hair to my blouse, freshly stained with spit-up milk.
    “Christ, Claire,” he said. “Couldn’t you fix yourself up a bit? I mean, it’s not as though you have anything else to do, at home all day—couldn’t you take a few minutes for a—”
    “No,” I said, quite loudly. I pushed Brianna, who was wailing again with fretful exhaustion, into his arms.
    “No,” I said again, and took the wine bottle from his unresisting hand.
    “NO!” I shrieked, stamping my foot. I swung the bottle widely, and he dodged, but it was the doorjamb I struck, and purplish splatters of Beaujolais flew across the stoop, leaving glass shards glittering in the light from the entryway.
    I flung the shattered bottle into the azaleas and ran coatless down the walk and into the freezing fog. At the foot of the walk, I passed the startled Hinchcliffes, who were arriving half an hour early, presumably in hopes of catching me in some domestic deficiency. I hoped they’d enjoy their dinner.
    I drove aimlessly through the fog, the car’s heater blasting on my feet, until I began to get low on gas. I wasn’t going home; not yet. An all-night cafe? Then I realized that it was Friday night, and getting on for twelve o’clock. I had a place to go, after all. I turned back toward the suburb where we lived, and the Church of St. Finbar.
    At this hour, the chapel was locked to prevent vandalism and burglary. For the late adorers, there was a push-button lock set just below the door handle. Five buttons, numbered one to five. By pushing three of them, in the proper combination, the latch could be sprung to allow lawful entry.
    I moved quietly along the back of the chapel, to the logbook that sat at the feet of St. Finbar, to record my arrival.
    “St. Finbar?” Frank had said incredulously. “There isn’t such a saint. There can’t possibly be.”
    “There is,” I said, with a trace of smugness. “An Irish bishop, from the twelfth century.”
    “Oh, Irish,” said Frank dismissively. “That explains it. But what I can’t understand,” he said, careful to be tactful, “is, er, well…why?”
    “Why what?”
    “Why go in for this Perpetual Adoration business? You’ve never been the least devout, no more than I have. And you don’t go to Mass or anything; Father Beggs asks me every week where you are.”
    I shook my head. “I can’t really say, Frank. It’s just something…I need to do.” I looked at him, helpless to explain adequately. “It’s…peaceful there,” I said, finally.
    He opened his mouth as though to speak further, then turned away, shaking his head.
    It was peaceful. The car park at the church was deserted, save for the single car of the adorer on duty at this hour, gleaming an anonymous black under the arc lights. Inside, I signed my name to the log and walked forward, coughing tactfully to alert the eleven o’clock adorer to my presence without the rudeness of direct speech. I knelt behind him, a heavyset man in a yellow windcheater. After a moment, he rose, genuflected before the altar, turned and walked to the door, nodding briefly as he passed me.
    The door hissed shut and I was alone, save for the Sacrament displayed on the altar, in the great golden sunburst of the monstrance. There were two candles on the altar, big ones. Smooth and white, they burned steadily in the still air, without a flicker. I closed my eyes for a moment, just listening to the silence.
    Everything that had happened during the day whirled through my mind in a disjointed welter of thoughts and feelings. Coatless, I was shaking with cold from the short walk through the parking lot, but slowly I grew warm again, and my clenched hands relaxed in my lap.
    At last, as usually happened here, I ceased to think. Whether it was the stoppage of time in the presence of eternity, or only the overtaking of a bone-deep fatigue, I didn’t know. But the guilt over Frank eased, the wrenching grief for Jamie lessened, and even the constant tug of motherhood upon my emotions receded to the level of background noise, no louder than the slow beating of my own heart, regular and comforting in the dark peace of the chapel.
    “O Lord,” I whispered, “I commend to your mercy the soul of your servant James.” And mine, I added silently. And mine.
    I sat there without moving, watching the flickering glow of the candle flames in the gold surface of the monstrance, until the soft footsteps of the next adorer came down the aisle behind me, ending in the heavy creak of genuflection. They came once each hour, day and night. The Blessed Sacrament was never left alone.
    I stayed for a few minutes more, then slid out of the pew, with my own nod toward the altar. As I walked toward the back of the chapel, I saw a figure in the back row, under the shadow of the statue of St. Anthony. It stirred as I approached, then the man rose to his feet and made his way to the aisle to meet me.
    “What are you doing here?” I hissed.
    Frank nodded toward the form of the new adorer, already kneeling in contemplation, and took my elbow to guide me out.
    I waited until the chapel door had closed behind us before pulling away and whirling to confront him.
    “What is this?” I said angrily. “Why did you come after me?”
    “I was worried about you.” He gestured toward the empty car park, where his large Buick nestled protectively next to my small Ford. “It’s dangerous, a lone woman walking about in the very late night in this part of town. I came to see you home. That’s all.”
    He didn’t mention the Hinchcliffes, or the dinner party. My annoyance ebbed a bit.
    “Oh,” I said. “What did you do with Brianna?”
    “Asked old Mrs. Munsing from next door to keep an ear out in case she cried. But she seemed dead asleep; I didn’t think there was much chance. Come along now, it’s cold out.”
    It was; the freezing air off the bay was coiling in white tendrils around the posts of the arc lights, and I shivered in my thin blouse.
    “I’ll meet you at home, then,” I said.
    The warmth of the nursery reached out to embrace me as I went in to check Brianna. She was still asleep, but restless, turning her russet head from side to side, the groping little mouth opening and closing like the breathing of a fish.
    “She’s getting hungry,” I whispered to Frank, who had come in behind me and was hovering over my shoulder, peering fondly at the baby. “I’d better feed her before I come to bed; then she’ll sleep later in the morning.”
    “I’ll get you a hot drink,” and he vanished through the door to the kitchen as I picked up the sleepy, warm bundle.
    She had only drained one side, but she was full. The slack mouth pulled slowly away from the nipple, rimmed with milk, and the fuzzy head fell heavily back on my arm. No amount of gentle shaking or calling would rouse her to nurse on the other side, so at last I gave up and tucked her back in her crib, patting her back softly until a faint, contented belch wafted up from the pillow, succeeded by the heavy breathing of absolute satiation.
    “Down for the night, is she?” Frank drew the baby blanket, decorated with yellow bunnies, up over her.
    “Yes.” I sat back in my rocking chair, mentally and physically too exhausted to get up again. Frank came to stand behind me; his hand rested lightly on my shoulder.
    “He’s dead, then?” he asked gently.
    I told you so, I started to say. Then I stopped, closed my mouth and only nodded, rocking slowly, staring at the dark crib and its tiny occupant.
    My right breast was still painfully swollen with milk. No matter how tired I was, I couldn’t sleep until I took care of it. With a sigh of resignation, I reached for the breast pump, an ungainly and ridiculous-looking rubber contraption. Using it was undignified and uncomfortable, but better than waking up in an hour in bursting pain, sopping wet from overflowing milk.
    I waved a hand at Frank, dismissing him.
    “Go ahead. It will only take a few minutes, but I have to…”
    Instead of leaving or answering, he took the pump from my hand and laid it down on the table. As though it moved of its own will, without direction from him, his hand rose slowly through the warm, dark air of the nursery and cupped itself gently around the swollen curve of my breast.
    His head bowed and his lips fastened softly on my nipple. I groaned, feeling the half-painful prickle of the milk rushing through the tiny ducts. I put a hand behind his head, and pressed him slightly closer.
    “Harder,” I whispered. His mouth was soft, gentle in its pressure, nothing like the relentless grasp of a baby’s hard, toothless gums, that fasten on like grim death, demanding and draining, releasing the bounteous fountain at once in response to their greed.
    Frank knelt before me, his mouth a supplicant. Was this how God felt, I wondered, seeing the adorers before Him—was He, too, filled with tenderness and pity? The haze of fatigue made me feel as though everything happened in slow motion, as though we were under water. Frank’s hands moved slowly as sea fronds, swaying in the current, moving over my flesh with a touch as gentle as the brush of kelp leaves, lifting me with the strength of a wave, and laying me down on the shore of the nursery rug. I closed my eyes, and let the tide carry me away.
    The front door of the old manse opened with a screech of rusty hinges, announcing the return of Brianna Randall. Roger was on his feet and into the hall at once, drawn by the sound of girls’ voices.
    “A pound of best butter—that’s what you told me to ask for, and I did, but I kept wondering whether there was such a thing as second-best butter, or worst butter—” Brianna was handing over wrapped packages to Fiona, laughing and talking at once.
    “Well, and if ye got it from that auld rascal Wicklow, worst is what it’s likely to be, no matter what he says,” Fiona interrupted. “Oh, and ye’ve got the cinnamon, that’s grand! I’ll make cinnamon scones, then; d’ye want to come and watch me do it?”
    “Yes, but first I want supper. I’m starved!” Brianna stood on tiptoe, sniffing hopefully in the direction of the kitchen. “What are we having—haggis?”
    “Haggis! Gracious, ye silly Sassenach—ye dinna have haggis in the spring! Ye have it in the autumn when the sheep are killed.”
    “Am I a Sassenach?” Brianna seemed delighted at the name.
    “Of course ye are, gowk. But I like ye fine, anyway.”
    Fiona laughed up at Brianna, who towered over the small Scottish girl by nearly a foot. Fiona was nineteen, prettily charming and slightly plump; next to her, Brianna looked like a medieval carving, strong-boned and severe. With her long, straight nose and the long hair glowing red-gold beneath the glass bowl of the ceiling fixture, she might have walked out of an illuminated manuscript, vivid enough to endure a thousand years unchanged.
    Roger was suddenly conscious of Claire Randall, standing near his elbow. She was looking at her daughter, with an expression in which love, pride, and something else were mingled—memory, perhaps? He realized, with a slight shock, that Jamie Fraser too must have had not only the striking height and Viking red hair he had bequeathed to his daughter, but likely the same sheer physical presence.
    It was quite remarkable, he thought. She didn’t do or say anything so out of the ordinary, and yet Brianna undeniably drew people. There was some attraction about her, almost magnetic, that drew everyone near into the glow of her orbit.
    It drew him; Brianna turned and smiled at him, and without consciousness of having moved, he found himself near enough to see the faint freckles high on her cheekbones, and smell the whiff of pipe tobacco that lingered in her hair from her expeditions to the shops.
    “Hullo,” he said, smiling. “Any luck with the Clans office, or have you been too busy playing dogsbody for Fiona?”
    “Dogsbody?” Brianna’s eyes slanted into blue triangles of amusement. “Dogsbody? First I’m a Sassenach, and now I’m a dogsbody. What do you Scots call people when you’re trying to be nice?”
    “Darrrrlin’,” he said, rolling his r’s exaggeratedly, and making both girls laugh.
    “You sound like an Aberdeen terrier in a bad mood,” Claire observed. “Did you find anything at the Highland Clans library, Bree?”
    “Lots of stuff,” Brianna replied, rummaging through the stack of photocopies she had set down on the hall table. “I managed to read most of it while they were making the copies—this one was the most interesting.” She pulled a sheet from the stack and handed it to Roger.
    It was an extract from a book of Highland legends; an entry headed “Leap O’ the Cask.”
    “Legends?” said Claire, peering over his shoulder. “Is that what we want?”
    “Could be.” Roger was perusing the sheet, and spoke absently, his attention divided. “So far as the Scottish Highlands go, most of the history is oral, up to the mid-nineteenth century or so. That means there wasn’t a great distinction made between stories about real people, stories of historical figures, and the stories about mythical things like water horses and ghosts and the doings of the Auld Folk. Scholars who wrote the stories down often didn’t know for sure which they were dealing with, either—sometimes it was a combination of fact and myth, and sometimes you could tell that it was a real historical occurrence being described.
    “This one, for instance”—he passed the paper to Claire-“sounds like a real one. It’s describing the story behind the name of a particular rock formation in the Highlands.”
    Claire brushed the hair behind her ear and bent her head to read, squinting in the dim light of the ceiling fixture. Fiona, too accustomed to musty papers and boring bits of history to be interested, disappeared back into her kitchen to see to the dinner.
    “‘Leap O’ the Cask,’” Claire read. “‘This unusual formation, located some distance above a burn, is named after the story of a Jacobite laird and his servant. The laird, one of the few fortunates to escape the disaster of Culloden, made his way with difficulty to his home, but was compelled to lie hidden in a cave on his lands for nearly seven years, while the English hunted the Highlands for the fugitive supporters of Charles Stuart. The laird’s tenants loyally kept his presence a secret, and brought food and supplies to the laird in his hiding place. They were careful always to refer to the hidden man only as the “Dunbonnet,” in order to avoid any chance of giving him away to the English patrols who frequently crossed the district.
    “‘One day, a boy bringing a cask of ale up the trail to the laird’s cave met a group of English dragoons. Bravely refusing either to answer the soldiers’ questions, or to give up his burden, the boy was attacked by one of the dragoons, and dropped the cask, which bounded down the steep hill, and into the burn below.’”
    She looked up from the paper, raising her eyebrows at her daughter.
    “Why this one? We know—or we think we know,” she corrected, with a wry nod toward Roger, “that Jamie escaped from Culloden, but so did a lot of other people. What makes you think this laird might have been Jamie?”
    “Because of the Dunbonnet bit, of course,” Brianna answered, as though surprised that she should ask.
    “What?” Roger looked at her, puzzled. “What about the Dunbonnet?”
    In answer, Brianna picked up a hank of her thick red hair and waggled it under his nose.
    “Dunbonnet!” she said impatiently. “A dull brown bonnet, right? He wore a hat all the time, because he had hair that could be recognized! Didn’t you say the English called him ‘Red Jamie’? They knew he had red hair—he had to hide it!”
    Roger stared at her, speechless. The hair floated loose on her shoulders, alive with fiery light.
    “You could be right,” Claire said. Excitement made her eyes bright as she looked at her daughter. “It was like yours—Jamie’s hair was just like yours, Bree.” She reached up and softly stroked Brianna’s hair. The girl’s face softened as she looked down at her mother.
    “I know,” she said. “I was thinking about that while I was reading—trying to see him, you know?” She stopped and cleared her throat, as though something might be caught in it. “I could see him, out in the heather, hiding, and the sun shining off his hair. You said he’d been an outlaw; I just—I just thought he must have known pretty well…how to hide. If people were trying to kill him,” she finished softly.
    “Right.” Roger spoke briskly, to dispel the shadow in Brianna’s eyes. “That’s a marvelous job of guesswork, but maybe we can tell for sure, with a little more work. If we can find Leap O’ the Cask on a map—”
    “What kind of dummy do you think I am?” Brianna said scornfully. “I thought of that.” The shadow disappeared, replaced by an expression of smugness. “That’s why I was so late; I made the clerk drag out every map of the Highlands they had.” She withdrew another photocopied sheet from the stack and poked a finger triumphantly near the upper edge.
    “See? It’s so tiny, it doesn’t show up on most maps, but this one had it. Right there; there’s the village of Broch Mordha, which Mama says is near the Lallybroch estate, and there”—her finger moved a quarter-inch, pointing to a line of microscopic print. “See?” she repeated. “He went back to his estate—Lallybroch—and that’s where he hid.”
    “Not having a magnifying glass to hand, I’ll take your word for it that that says ‘Leap O’ the Cask,’” Roger said, straightening up. He grinned at Brianna. “Congratulations, then,” he said. “I think you’ve found him—that far, at least.”
    Brianna smiled, her eyes suspiciously bright. “Yeah,” she said softly. She touched the two sheets of paper with a gentle finger. “My father.”
    Claire squeezed her daughter’s hand. “If you have your father’s hair, it’s nice to see you have your mother’s brains,” she said, smiling. “Let’s go and celebrate your discovery with Fiona’s dinner.”
    “Good job,” Roger said to Brianna, as they followed Claire toward the dining room. His hand rested lightly on her waist. “You should be proud of yourself.”
    “Thanks,” she said, with a brief smile, but the pensive expression returned almost at once to the curve of her mouth.
    “What is it?” Roger asked softly, stopping in the hall. “Is something the matter?”
    “No, not really.” She turned to face him, a small line visible between the ruddy brows. “It’s only—I was just thinking, trying to imagine—what do you think it was like for him? Living in a cave for seven years? And what happened to him then?”
    Moved by an impulse, Roger leaned forward and kissed her lightly between the brows.
    “I don’t know, darlin’,” he said. “But maybe we’ll find out.”



    PART TWO
   
    Lallybroch
    4
    THE DUNBONNET
    Lallybroch

    November 1752
    He came down to the house once a month to shave, when one of the boys brought him word it was safe. Always at night, moving soft-footed as a fox through the dark. It seemed necessary, somehow, a small gesture toward the concept of civilization.
    He would slip like a shadow through the kitchen door, to be met with Ian’s smile or his sister’s kiss, and would feel the transformation begin. The basin of hot water, the freshly stropped razor would be laid ready for him on the table, with whatever there was for shaving soap. Now and then it was real soap, if Cousin Jared had sent some from France; more often just half-rendered tallow, eye-stinging with lye.
    He could feel the change begin with the first scent of the kitchen—so strong and rich, after the wind-thin smells of loch and moor and wood—but it wasn’t until he had finished the ritual of shaving that he felt himself altogether human once more.
    They had learned not to expect him to talk until he had shaved; words came hard after a month’s solitude. Not that he could think of nothing to say; it was more that the words inside formed a logjam in his throat, battling each other to get out in the short time he had. He needed those few minutes of careful grooming to pick and choose, what he would say first and to whom.
    There was news to hear and to ask about—of English patrols in the district, of politics, of arrests and trials in London and Edinburgh. That he could wait for. Better to talk to Ian about the estate, to Jenny about the children. If it seemed safe, the children would be brought down to say hello to their uncle, to give him sleepy hugs and damp kisses before stumbling back to their beds.
    “He’ll be getting a man soon” had been his first choice of conversation when he came in September, with a nod toward Jenny’s eldest child, his namesake. The ten-year-old sat at the table with a certain constraint, immensely conscious of the dignity of his temporary position as man of the house.
    “Aye, all I need’s another of the creatures to worry over,” his sister replied tartly, but she touched her son’s shoulder in passing, with a pride that belied her words.
    “Have ye word from Ian, then?” His brother-in-law had been arrested—for the fourth time—three weeks before, and taken to Inverness under suspicion of being a Jacobite sympathizer.
    Jenny shook her head, bringing a covered dish to set before him. The thick warm smell of partridge pie drifted up from the pricked crust, and made his mouth water so heavily, he had to swallow before he could speak.
    “It’s naught to fret for,” Jenny said, spooning out the pie onto his plate. Her voice was calm, but the small vertical line between her brows deepened. “I’ve sent Fergus to show them the deed of sasine, and Ian’s discharge from his regiment. They’ll send him home again, so soon as they realize he isna the laird of Lallybroch, and there’s naught to be gained by deviling him.” With a glance at her son, she reached for the ale jug. “Precious chance they have of provin’ a wee bairn to be a traitor.”
    Her voice was grim, but held a note of satisfaction at the thought of the English court’s confusion. The rain-spattered deed of sasine that proved transfer of the title of Lallybroch from the elder James to the younger had made its appearance in court before, each time foiling the Crown’s attempt to seize the estate as the property of a Jacobite traitor.
    He would feel it begin to slip away when he left—that thin veneer of humanity—more of it gone with each step away from the farmhouse. Sometimes he would keep the illusion of warmth and family all the way to the cave where he hid; other times it would disappear almost at once, torn away by a chill wind, rank and acrid with the scent of burning.
    The English had burned three crofts, beyond the high field. Pulled Hugh Kirby and Geoff Murray from their firesides and shot them by their own doorsteps, with no question or word of formal accusation. Young Joe Fraser had escaped, warned by his wife, who had seen the English coming, and had lived three weeks with Jamie in the cave, until the soldiers were well away from the district—and Ian with them.

    In October, it had been the older lads he spoke to; Fergus, the French boy he had taken from a Paris brothel, and Rabbie MacNab, the kitchenmaid’s son, Fergus’s best friend.
    He had drawn the razor slowly down one cheek and round the angle of his jaw, then wiped the lathered blade against the edge of the basin. From the corner of one eye, he caught a faint glimpse of fascinated envy on the face of Rabbie MacNab. Turning slightly, he saw that the three boys—Rabbie, Fergus, and Young Jamie—were all watching him intently, mouths slightly open.
    “Have ye no seen a man shave before?” he asked, cocking one brow.
    Rabbie and Fergus glanced at each other, but left it to Young Jamie, as titular owner of the estate, to answer.
    “Oh, well…aye, Uncle,” he said, blushing. “But…I m-mean”—he stammered slightly and blushed even harder—“with my Da gone, and even when he’s home, we dinna see him shave himself always, and well, you’ve just such a lot of hair on your face, Uncle, after a whole month, and it’s only we’re so glad to see you again, and…”
    It dawned on Jamie quite suddenly that to the boys he must seem a most romantic figure. Living alone in a cave, emerging at dark to hunt, coming down out of the mist in the night, filthy and wild-haired, beard all in a fierce red sprout—yes, at their age, it likely seemed a glamorous adventure to be an outlaw and live hidden in the heather, in a dank, cramped cave. At fifteen and sixteen and ten, they had no notion of guilt or bitter loneliness, of the weight of a responsibility that could not be relieved by action.
    They might understand fear, of a sort. Fear of capture, fear of death. Not the fear of solitude, of his own nature, fear of madness. Not the constant, chronic fear of what his presence might do to them—if they thought about that risk at all, they dismissed it, with the casual assumption of immortality that was the right of boys.
    “Aye, well,” he had said, turning casually back to the looking glass as Young Jamie stuttered to a halt. “Man is born to sorrow and whiskers. One of the plagues of Adam.”
    “Of Adam?” Fergus looked openly puzzled, while the others tried to pretend they had the slightest idea what Jamie was talking about. Fergus, as a Frenchie, was not expected to know everything.
    “Oh, aye.” Jamie pulled his upper lip down over his teeth and scraped delicately beneath his nose. “In the beginning, when God made man, Adam’s chin was as hairless as Eve’s. And their bodies both smooth as a newborn child’s,” he added, seeing Young Jamie’s eyes dart toward Rabbie’s crotch. Beardless Rabbie still was, but the faint dark down on his upper lip bespoke new sproutings elsewhere.
    “But when the angel wi’ the flaming sword drove them out of Eden, no sooner had they passed the gate of the garden, when the hair began to sprout and itch on Adam’s chin, and ever since, man has been cursed with shaving.” He finished his own chin with a final flourish, and bowed theatrically to his audience.
    “But what about the other hair?” Rabbie demanded. “Ye dinna shave there!” Young Jamie giggled at the thought, going red again.
    “And a damn good thing, too,” his elder namesake observed. “Ye’d need the devil of a steady hand. No need of a looking glass, though,” he added, to a chorus of giggles.
    “What about the ladies?” Fergus said. His voice broke on the word “ladies,” in a bullfrog croak that made the other two laugh harder. “Certainly les filles have hair there, too, but they do not shave it—usually not, anyway,” he added, clearly thinking of some of the sights of his early life in the brothel.
    Jamie heard his sister’s footsteps coming down the hall.
    “Oh, well, that’s no a curse,” he told his rapt audience, picking up the basin and tossing the contents neatly through the open window. “God gave that as a consolation to man. If ye’ve ever the privilege of seeing a woman in her skin, gentlemen,” he said, looking over his shoulder toward the door and lowering his voice confidentially, “ye’ll observe that the hair there grows in the shape of an arrow—pointing the way, ye ken, so as a poor ignorant man can find his way safe home.”
    He turned grandly away from the guffawing and sniggers behind him, to be struck suddenly with shame as he saw his sister, coming down the hall with the slow, waddling stride of advanced pregnancy. She was holding the tray with his supper on top of her swelling stomach. How could he have demeaned her so, for a crude jest and the sake of a moment’s camaraderie with the boys?
    “Be still!” he had snapped at the boys, who stopped giggling abruptly and stared at him in puzzlement. He hastened forward to take the tray from Jenny and set it on the table.
    It was a savoury made of goat’s meat and bacon, and he saw Fergus’s prominent Adam’s apple bob in the slender throat at the smell of it. He knew they saved the best of the food for him; it didn’t take much looking at the pinched faces across the table. When he came, he brought what meat he could, snared rabbits or grouse, sometimes a nest of plover’s eggs—but it was never enough, for a house where hospitality must stretch to cover the needs of not only family and servants, but the families of the murdered Kirby and Murray. At least until spring, the widows and children of his tenants must bide here, and he must do his best to feed them.
    “Sit down by me,” he said to Jenny, taking her arm and gently guiding her to a seat on the bench beside him. She looked surprised—it was her habit to wait on him when he came—but sat down gladly enough. It was late, and she was tired; he could see the dark smudges beneath her eyes.
    With great firmness, he cut a large slab of the savoury and set the plate before her.
    “But that’s all for you!” Jenny protested. “I’ve eaten.”
    “Not enough,” he said. “Ye need more—for the babe,” he added, with inspiration. If she would not eat for herself, she would for the child. She hesitated a moment longer, but then smiled at him, picked up her spoon, and began to eat.
    Now it was November, and the chill struck through the thin shirt and breeches he wore. He hardly noticed, intent on his tracking. It was cloudy, but with a thin-layered mackerel sky, through which the full moon shed plenty of light.
    Thank God it wasn’t raining; impossible to hear through the pattering of raindrops, and the pungent scent of wet plants masked the smell of animals. His nose had grown almost painfully acute through the long months of living outdoors; the smells of the house sometimes nearly knocked him down when he stepped inside.
    He wasn’t quite close enough to smell the musky scent of the stag, but he heard the telltale rustle of its brief start when it scented him. Now it would be frozen, one of the shadows that rippled across the hillside around him, under the racing clouds.
    He turned as slowly as he possibly could toward the spot where his ears had told him the stag stood. His bow was in his hand, an arrow ready to the string. He would have one shot—maybe—when the stag bolted.
    Yes, there! His heart sprang into his throat as he saw the antlers, pricking sharp and black above the surrounding gorse. He steadied himself, took a deep breath, and then the one step forward.
    The crash of a deer’s flight was always startlingly loud, to frighten back a stalker. This stalker was prepared, though. He neither startled nor pursued, but stood his ground, sighting along the shaft of the arrow, following with his eye the track of the springing deer, judging the moment, holding fire, and then the bowstring slapped his wrist with stinging force.
    It was a clean shot, just behind the shoulder, and a good thing, too; he doubted he had the strength to run down a full-grown stag. It had fallen in a clear spot behind a clump of gorse, legs stuck out, stiff as sticks, in the oddly helpless way of dying ungulates. The hunter’s moon lit its glazing eye, so the soft dark stare was hidden, the mystery of its dying shielded by blank silver.
    He pulled the dirk from his belt and knelt by the deer, hastily saying the words of the gralloch prayer. Old John Murray, Ian’s father, had taught him. His own father’s mouth had twisted slightly, hearing it, from which he gathered that this prayer was perhaps not addressed to the same God they spoke to in church on Sunday. But his father had said nothing, and he had mumbled the words himself, scarcely noticing what he said, in the nervous excitement of feeling old John’s hand, steady on his own, for the first time pressing down the knife blade into hairy hide and steaming flesh.
    Now, with the sureness of practice, he thrust up the sticky muzzle in one hand, and with the other, slit the deer’s throat.
    The blood spurted hot over knife and hand, pumping two or three times, the jet dying away to a steady stream as the carcass drained, the great vessels of the throat cut through. Had he paused to think, he might not have done it, but hunger and dizziness and the cold fresh intoxication of the night had taken him far past the point of thinking. He cupped his hands beneath the running stream and brought them steaming to his mouth.
    The moon shone black on his cupped, spilling hands, and it was as though he absorbed the deer’s substance, rather than drank it. The taste of the blood was salt and silver, and the heat of it was his own. There was no startlement of hot or cold as he swallowed, only the taste of it, rich in his mouth, and the head-swimming, hot-metal smell, and the sudden clench and rumble of his belly at the nearness of food.
    He closed his eyes and breathed, and the cold damp air came back, between the hot reek of the carcass and his senses. He swallowed once, then wiped the back of his hand across his face, cleaned his hands on the grass, and set about the business at hand.
    There was the sudden effort of moving the limp, heavy carcass, and then the gralloch, the long stroke of mingled strength and delicacy that slit the hide between the legs, but did not penetrate the sac that held the entrails. He forced his hands into the carcass, a hot wet intimacy, and again there was an effortful tug that brought out the sac, slick and moon-shining in his hands. A slash above and another below, and the mass slid free, the transformation of black magic that changed a deer to meat.
    It was a small stag, although it had points to its antlers. With luck, he could carry it alone, rather than leave it to the mercy of foxes and badgers until he could bring help to move it. He ducked a shoulder under one leg, and slowly rose, grunting with effort as he shifted the burden to a solid resting place across his back.
    The moon cast his shadow on a rock, humped and fantastic, as he made his slow, ungainly way down the hill. The deer’s antlers bobbed above his shoulder, giving him in shadowed profile the semblance of a horned man. He shivered slightly at the thought, remembering tales of witches’ sabbats, where the Horned One came, to drink the sacrifice of goat’s or rooster’s blood.
    He felt a little queasy, and more than a little light-headed. More and more, he felt the disorientation, the fragmenting of himself between day and night. By day, he was a creature of the mind alone, as he escaped his damp immobility by a stubborn, disciplined retreat into the avenues of thought and meditation, seeking refuge in the pages of books. But with the rising of the moon, all sense fled, succumbing at once to sensation, as he emerged into the fresh air like a beast from its lair, to run the dark hills beneath the stars, and hunt, driven by hunger, drunk with blood and moonlight.
    He stared at the ground as he walked, night-sight keen enough to keep his footing, despite the heavy burden. The deer was limp and cooling, its stiff, soft hair scratching against the back of his neck, and his own sweat cooling in the breeze, as though he shared his prey’s fate.
    It was only as the lights of Lallybroch manor came into view that he felt at last the mantle of humanity fall upon him, and mind and body joined as one again as he prepared himself to greet his family.
    5
    TO US A CHILD IS GIVEN
    Three weeks later, there was still no word of Ian’s return. No word of any kind, in fact. Fergus had not come to the cave in several days, leaving Jamie in a fret of worry over how things might be at the house. If nothing else, the deer he had shot would have gone long since, with all the extra mouths to feed, and there would be precious little from the kailyard at this time of year.
    He was sufficiently worried to risk an early visit, checking his snares and coming down from the hills just before sunset. Just in case, he was careful to pull on the woolen bonnet, knitted of rough dun yarn, that would hide his hair from any telltale fingering of late sunbeams. His size alone might provoke suspicion, but not certainty, and he had full confidence in the strength of his legs to carry him out of harm’s way should he have the ill luck to meet with an English patrol. Hares in the heather were little match for Jamie Fraser, given warning.
    The house was strangely quiet as he approached. There was none of the usual racket made by children: Jenny’s five, and the six bairns belonging to the tenants, to say nothing of Fergus and Rabbie MacNab, who were a long way from being too old to chase each other round the stables, screeching like fiends.
    The house felt strangely empty round him, as he paused just inside the kitchen door. He was standing in the back hall, the pantry to one side, the scullery to the other, and the main kitchen just beyond. He stood stock-still, reaching out with all his senses, listening as he inhaled the overpowering smells of the house. No, there was someone here; the faint sound of a scrape, followed by a soft, regular clinking came from behind the cloth-padded door that kept the heat of the kitchen from seeping out into the chilly back pantry.
    It was a reassuringly domestic sound, so he pushed open the door cautiously, but without undue fear. His sister, Jenny, alone and vastly pregnant, was standing at the table, stirring something in a yellow bowl.
    “What are you doing in here? Where’s Mrs. Coker?”
    His sister dropped the spoon with a startled shriek.
    “Jamie!” Pale-faced, she pressed a hand to her breast and closed her eyes. “Christ! Ye scairt the bowels out of me.” She opened her eyes, dark blue like his own, and fixed him with a penetrating stare. “And what in the name of the Holy Mother are ye doing here now? I wasna expecting ye for a week at least.”
    “Fergus hasna come up the hill lately; I got worried,” he said simply.
    “Ye’re a sweet man, Jamie.” The color was coming back into her face. She smiled at her brother and came close to hug him. It was an awkward business, with the impending baby in the way, but pleasant, nonetheless. He rested his cheek for a moment on the sleek darkness of her head, breathing in her complex aroma of candle wax and cinnamon, tallow-soap and wool. There was an unusual element to her scent this evening; he thought she was beginning to smell of milk.
    “Where is everyone?” he asked, releasing her reluctantly.
    “Well, Mrs. Coker’s dead,” she answered, the faint crease between her brows deepening.
    “Aye?” he said softly, and crossed himself. “I’m sorry for it.” Mrs. Coker had been first housemaid and then housekeeper for the family, since the marriage of his own parents, forty-odd years before. “When?”
    “Yesterday forenoon. ’Twasn’t unexpected, poor soul, and it was peaceful. She died in her own bed, like she wanted, and Father McMurtry prayin’ over her.”
    Jamie glanced reflexively toward the door that led to the servants’ rooms, off the kitchen. “Is she still here?”
    His sister shook her head. “No. I told her son they should have the wake here at the house, but the Cokers thought, everything being like it is”—her small moue encompassed Ian’s absence, lurking Redcoats, refugee tenants, the dearth of food, and his own inconvenient presence in the cave—“they thought better to have it at Broch Mordha, at her sister’s place. So that’s where everyone’s gone. I told them I didna feel well enough to go,” she added, then smiled, raising an impish brow. “But it was really that I wanted a few hours’ peace and quiet, wi’ the lot of them gone.”
    “And here I’ve come, breakin’ in on your peace,” Jamie said ruefully. “Shall I go?”
    “No, clot-heid,” his sister said affably. “Sit ye down, and I’ll get on wi’ the supper.”
    “What’s to eat, then?” he asked, sniffing hopefully.
    “Depends on what ye’ve brought,” his sister replied. She moved heavily about the kitchen, taking things from cupboard and hutch, pausing to stir the large kettle hung over the fire, from which a thin steam was rising.
    “If ye’ve brought meat, we’ll have it. If not, it’s brose and hough.”
    He made a face at this; the thought of boiled barley and shin-beef, the last remnants of the salted beef carcass they’d bought two months before, was unappealing.
    “Just as well I had luck, then,” he said. He upended his game bag and let the three rabbits fall onto the table in a limp tumble of gray fur and crumpled ears. “And blackthorn berries,” he added, tipping out the contents of the dun bonnet, now stained inside with the rich red juice.
    Jenny’s eyes brightened at the sight. “Hare pie,” she declared. “There’s no currants, but the berries will do even better, and there’s enough butter, thank God.” Catching a tiny blink of movement among the gray fur, she slapped her hand down on the table, neatly obliterating the minuscule intruder.
    “Take them out and skin ’em, Jamie, or the kitchen will be hopping wi’ fleas.”
    Returning with the skinned carcasses, he found the piecrust well advanced, and Jenny with smears of flour on her dress.
    “Cut them into collops and break the bones for me, will ye, Jamie?” she said, frowning at Mrs. McClintock’s Receipts for Cookery and Pastry-Work, laid open on the table beside the pie pan.
    “Surely ye can make hare pie without looking in the wee book?” he said, obligingly taking the big bone-crushing wooden mallet from the top of the hutch where it was kept. He grimaced as he took it into his hand, feeling the weight of it. It was very like the one that had broken his right hand several years before, in an English prison, and he had a sudden vivid memory of the shattered bones in a hare pie, splintered and cracked, leaking salty blood and marrow-sweetness into the meat.
    “Aye, I can,” his sister answered abstractedly, thumbing through the pages. “It’s only that when ye havena got half the things ye need to make a dish, sometimes there’s something else you’ll come across in here, that ye can use instead.” She frowned at the page before her. “Ordinarily, I’d use claret in the sauce, but we’ve none in the house, save one of Jared’s casks in the priest hole, and I dinna want to broach that yet—we might need it.”
    He didn’t need telling what she might use it for. A cask of claret might grease the skids for Ian’s release—or at least pay for news of his welfare. He stole a sidewise glance at the great round of Jenny’s belly. It wasn’t for a man to say, but to his not inexperienced eyes, she looked damn near her time. Absently, he reached over the kettle and swished the blade of his dirk to and fro in the scalding liquid, then pulled it out and wiped it clean.
    “Whyever did ye do that, Jamie?” He turned to find Jenny staring at him. The black curls were coming undone from their ribbon, and it gave him a pang to see the glimmer of a single white hair among the ebony.
    “Oh,” he said, too obviously offhand as he picked up one carcass, “Claire—she told me ye ought to wash off a blade in boiling water before ye touched food with it.”
    He felt rather than saw Jenny’s eyebrows rise. She had asked him about Claire only once, when he had come home from Culloden, half-conscious and mostly dead with fever.
    “She is gone,” he had said, and turned his face away. “Dinna speak her name to me again.” Loyal as always, Jenny had not, and neither had he. He could not have said what made him say it today; unless perhaps it was the dreams.
    He had them often, in varying forms, and it always unsettled him the day after, as though for a moment Claire had really been near enough to touch, and then had drawn away again. He could swear that sometimes he woke with the smell of her on him, musky and rich, pricked with the sharp, fresh scents of leaves and green herbs. He had spilled his seed in his sleep more than once while dreaming, an occurrence that left him faintly shamed and uneasy in mind. To distract both of them, he nodded at Jenny’s stomach.
    “How close is it?” he asked, frowning at her swollen midsection. “Ye look like a puffball mushroom—one touch, and poof!” He flicked his fingers wide in illustration.
    “Oh, aye? Well, and I could wish it was as easy as poof.” She arched her back, rubbing at the small of it, and making her belly protrude in an alarming fashion. He pressed back against the wall, to give it room. “As for when, anytime, I expect. No telling for sure.” She picked up the cup and measured out the flour; precious little left in the bag, he noted with some grimness.
    “Send up to the cave when it starts,” he said suddenly. “I’ll come down, Redcoats or no.”
    Jenny stopped stirring and stared at him.
    “You? Why?”
    “Well, Ian’s not here,” he pointed out, picking up one skinned carcass. With the expertise of long practice, he neatly disjointed a thigh and cut it free from the backbone. Three quick smacks with the boning mallet and the pale flesh lay flattened and ready for the pie.
    “And a great lot of help he’d be if he was,” Jenny said. “He took care of his part o’ the business nine months ago.” She wrinkled her nose at her brother and reached for the plate of butter.
    “Mmphm.” He sat down to continue his work, which brought her belly close to his eye-level. The contents, awake and active, was shifting to and fro in a restless manner, making her apron twitch and bulge as she stirred. He couldn’t resist reaching out to put a light hand against the monstrous curve, to feel the surprising strong thrusts and kicks of the inhabitant, impatient of its cramped confinement.
    “Send Fergus for me when it’s time,” he said again.
    She looked down at him in exasperation and batted his hand away with the spoon. “Have I no just been telling ye, I dinna need ye? For God’s sake, man, have I not enough to worry me, wi’ the house full of people, and scarce enough to feed them, Ian in gaol in Inverness, and Redcoats crawling in at the windows every time I look round? Should I have to worry that ye’ll be taken up, as well?”
    “Ye needna be worrit for me; I’ll take care.” He didn’t look at her, but focused his attention on the forejoint he was slicing through.
    “Well, then, have a care and stay put on the hill.” She looked down her long, straight nose, peering at him over the rim of the bowl. “I’ve had six bairns already, aye? Ye dinna think I can manage by now?”
    “No arguing wi’ you, is there?” he demanded.
    “No,” she said promptly. “So you’ll stay.”
    “I’ll come.”
    Jenny narrowed her eyes and gave him a long, level look.
    “Ye’re maybe the most stubborn gomerel between here and Aberdeen, no?”
    A smile spread across her brother’s face as he looked up at her.
    “Maybe so,” he said. He reached across and patted her heaving belly. “And maybe no. But I’m coming. Send Fergus when it’s time.”

    It was near dawn three days later that Fergus came panting up the slope to the cave, missing the trail in the dark, and making such a crashing through the gorse bushes that Jamie heard him coming long before he reached the opening.
    “Milord…” he began breathlessly as he emerged by the head of the trail, but Jamie was already past the boy, pulling his cloak around his shoulders as he hurried down toward the house.
    “But, milord…” Fergus’s voice came behind him, panting and frightened. “Milord, the soldiers…”
    “Soldiers?” He stopped suddenly and turned, waiting impatiently for the French lad to make his way down the slope. “What soldiers?” he demanded, as Fergus slithered the last few feet.
    “English dragoons, milord. Milady sent me to tell you—on no account are you to leave the cave. One of the men saw the soldiers yesterday, camped near Dunmaglas.”
    “Damn.”
    “Yes, milord.” Fergus sat down on a rock and fanned himself, narrow chest heaving as he caught his breath.
    Jamie hesitated, irresolute. Every instinct fought against going back into the cave. His blood was heated by the surge of excitement caused by Fergus’s appearance, and he rebelled at the thought of meekly crawling back into hiding, like a grub seeking refuge beneath its rock.
    “Mmphm,” he said. He glanced down at Fergus. The changing light was beginning to outline the boy’s slender form against the blackness of the gorse, but his face was still a pale smudge, marked with a pair of darker smudges that were his eyes. A certain suspicion was stirring in Jamie. Why had his sister sent Fergus at this odd hour?
    If it had been necessary urgently to warn him about the dragoons, it would have been safer to send the boy up during the night. If the need was not urgent, why not wait until the next night? The answer to that was obvious—because Jenny thought she might not be able to send him word the next night.
    “How is it with my sister?” he asked Fergus.
    “Oh, well, milord, quite well!” The hearty tone of this assurance confirmed all Jamie’s suspicions.
    “She’s having the child, no?” he demanded.
    “No, milord! Certainly not!”
    Jamie reached down and clamped a hand on Fergus’s shoulder. The bones felt small and fragile beneath his fingers, reminding him uncomfortably of the rabbits he had broken for Jenny. Nonetheless, he forced his grip to tighten. Fergus squirmed, trying to ease away.
    “Tell me the truth, man,” Jamie said.
    “No, milord! Truly!”
    The grip tightened inexorably. “Did she tell you not to tell me?”
    Jenny’s prohibition must have been a literal one, for Fergus answered this question with evident relief.
    “Yes, milord!”
    “Ah.” He relaxed his grip and Fergus sprang to his feet, now talking volubly as he rubbed his scrawny shoulder.
    “She said I must not tell you anything except about the soldiers, milord, for if I did, she would cut off my cods and boil them like turnips and sausage!”
    Jamie could not repress a smile at this threat.
    “Short of food we may be,” he assured his protégé, “but not that short.” He glanced at the horizon, where a thin line of pink showed pure and vivid behind the black pines’ silhouette. “Come along, then; it’ll be full light in half an hour.”
    There was no hint of silent emptiness about the house this dawn. Anyone with half an eye could see that things were not as usual at Lallybroch; the wash kettle sat on its plinth in the yard, with the fire gone out under it, full of cold water and sodden clothes. Moaning cries from the barn—like someone being strangled—indicated that the sole remaining cow urgently required milking. An irritable blatting from the goat shed let him know that the female inhabitants would like some similar attention as well.
    As he came into the yard, three chickens ran past in a feathery squawk, with Jehu the rat terrier in close pursuit. With a quick dart, he leaped forward and booted the dog, catching it just under the ribs. It flew into the air with a look of intense surprise on its face, then, landing with a yip, picked itself up and made off.
    He found the children, the older boys, Mary MacNab, and the other housemaid, Sukie, all crammed into the parlor, under the watchful eye of Mrs. Kirby, a stern and rock-ribbed widow, who was reading to them from the Bible.
    “‘And Adam was not deceived, but the woman being deceived was in the transgression,’” read Mrs. Kirby. There was a loud, rolling scream from upstairs, that seemed to go on and on. Mrs. Kirby paused for a moment, to allow everyone to appreciate it, before resuming the reading. Her eyes, pale gray and wet as raw oysters, flickered toward the ceiling, then rested with satisfaction on the row of strained faces before her.
    “‘Notwithstanding, she shall be saved in childbearing, if she continue in faith and charity and holiness with sobriety,’” she read. Kitty burst into hysterical sobbing and buried her head in her sister’s shoulder. Maggie Ellen was growing bright red beneath her freckles, while her elder brother had gone dead-white at the scream.
    “Mrs. Kirby,” said Jamie. “Be still, if ye please.”
    The words were civil enough, but the look in his eyes must have been the one that Jehu saw just before his boot-assisted flight, for Mrs. Kirby gasped and dropped the Bible, which landed on the floor with a papery thump.
    Jamie bent and picked it up, then showed Mrs. Kirby his teeth. The expression evidently was not successful as a smile, but had some effect nonetheless. Mrs. Kirby went quite pale, and put a hand to her ample bosom.
    “Perhaps ye’d go to the kitchen and make yourself useful,” he said, with a jerk of his head that sent Sukie the kitchenmaid scuttling out like a windblown leaf. With considerably more dignity, but no hesitation, Mrs. Kirby rose and followed her.
    Heartened by this small victory, Jamie disposed of the parlor’s other occupants in short order, sending the widow Murray and her daughters out to deal with the wash kettle, the smaller children out to catch chickens under the supervision of Mary MacNab. The older lads departed, with obvious relief, to tend the stock.
    The room empty at last, he stood for a moment, hesitating as to what to do next. He felt obscurely that he should stay in the house, on guard, though he was acutely aware that he could—as Jenny had said—do nothing to help, whatever happened. There was an unfamiliar mule hobbled in the dooryard; presumably the midwife was upstairs with Jenny.
    Unable to sit, he prowled restlessly around the parlor, the Bible in his hand, touching things. Jenny’s bookshelf, battered and scarred from the last incursion of Redcoats, three months ago. The big silver epergne. That was slightly dented, but had been too heavy to fit in a soldier’s knapsack, and so had escaped the pilfering of smaller objects. Not that the English had got so much; the few truly valuable items, along with the tiny store of gold they had left, were safely tucked away in the priest hole with Jared’s wine.
    Hearing a prolonged moan from above, he glanced down involuntarily at the Bible in his hand. Not really wanting to, still he let the book fall open, showing the page at the front where the marriages, births, and deaths of the family were recorded.
    The entries began with his parents’ marriage. Brian Fraser and Ellen MacKenzie. The names and the date were written in his mother’s fine round hand, with underneath, a brief notation in his father’s firmer, blacker scrawl. Marrit for love, it said—a pointed observation, in view of the next entry, which showed Willie’s birth, which had occurred scarcely two months past the date of the marriage.
    Jamie smiled, as always, at sight of the words, and glanced up at the painting of himself, aged two, standing with Willie and Bran, the huge deerhound. All that was left of Willie, who had died of the smallpox at eleven. The painting had a slash through the canvas—the work of a bayonet, he supposed, taking out its owner’s frustration.
    “And if ye hadna died,” he said softly to the picture, “then what?”
    Then what, indeed. Closing the book, his eye caught the last entry—Caitlin Maisri Murray, born December 3, 1749, died December 3, 1749. Aye, if. If the Redcoats had not come on December 2, would Jenny have borne the child too early? If they had had enough food, so that she, like the rest of them, was no more than skin and bones and the bulge of her belly, would that have helped?
    “No telling, is there?” he said to the painting. Willie’s painted hand rested on his shoulder; he had always felt safe, with Willie standing behind him.
    Another scream came from upstairs, and a spasm of fear clenched his hands on the book.
    “Pray for us, Brother,” he whispered, and crossing himself, laid down the Bible and went out to the barn to help with the stock.

    There was little to do here; Rabbie and Fergus between them were more than able to take care of the few animals that remained, and Young Jamie, at ten, was big enough to be a substantial help. Looking about for something to do, Jamie gathered up an armful of scattered hay and took it down the slope to the midwife’s mule. When the hay was gone, the cow would have to be slaughtered; unlike the goats, it couldn’t get enough forage on the winter hills to sustain it, even with the picked grass and weeds the small children brought in. With luck, the salted carcass would last them through ’til spring.
    As he came back into the barn, Fergus looked up from his manure fork.
    “This is a proper midwife, of good repute?” Fergus demanded. He thrust out a long chin aggressively. “Madame should not be entrusted to the care of a peasant, surely!”
    “How should I know?” Jamie said testily. “D’ye think I had anything to do wi’ engaging midwives?” Mrs. Martin, the old midwife who had delivered all previous Murray children, had died—like so many others—during the famine in the year following Culloden. Mrs. Innes, the new midwife, was much younger; he hoped she had sufficient experience to know what she was doing.
    Rabbie seemed inclined to join the argument as well. He scowled blackly at Fergus. “Aye, and what d’ye mean ‘peasant’? Ye’re a peasant, too, or have ye not noticed?”
    Fergus stared down his nose at Rabbie with some dignity, despite the fact that he was forced to tilt his head backward in order to do so, he being several inches shorter than his friend.
    “Whether I am a peasant or not is of no consequence,” he said loftily. “I am not a midwife, am I?”
    “No, ye’re a fiddle-ma-fyke!” Rabbie gave his friend a rough push, and with a sudden whoop of surprise, Fergus fell backward, to land heavily on the stable floor. In a flash, he was up. He lunged at Rabbie, who sat laughing on the edge of the manger, but Jamie’s hand snatched him by the collar and pulled him back.
    “None of that,” said his employer. “I willna have ye spoilin’ what little hay’s left.” He set Fergus back on his feet, and to distract him, asked, “And what d’ye ken of midwives anyway?”
    “A great deal, milord.” Fergus dusted himself off with elegant gestures. “Many of the ladies at Madame Elise’s were brought to bed while I was there—”
    “I daresay they were,” Jamie interjected dryly. “Or is it childbed ye mean?”
    “Childbed, certainly. Why, I was born there myself!” The French boy puffed his narrow chest importantly.
    “Indeed.” Jamie’s mouth quirked slightly. “Well, and I trust ye made careful observations at the time, so as to say how such matters should be arranged?”
    Fergus ignored this piece of sarcasm.
    “Well, of course,” he said, matter-of-factly, “the midwife will naturally have put a knife beneath the bed, to cut the pain.”
    “I’m none so sure she did that,” Rabbie muttered. “At least it doesna sound much like it.” Most of the screaming was inaudible from the barn, but not all of it.
    “And an egg should be blessed with holy water and put at the foot of the bed, so that the woman shall bring forth the child easily,” Fergus continued, oblivious. He frowned.
    “I gave the woman an egg myself, but she did not appear to know what to do with it. And I had been keeping it especially for the last month, too,” he added plaintively, “since the hens scarcely lay anymore. I wanted to be sure of having one when it was needed.
    “Now, following the birth,” he went on, losing his doubts in the enthusiasm of his lecture, “the midwife must brew a tea of the placenta, and give it to the woman to drink, so that her milk will flow strongly.”
    Rabbie made a faint retching sound. “Of the afterbirth, ye mean?” he said disbelievingly. “God!”
    Jamie felt a bit queasy at this exhibition of modern medical knowledge himself.
    “Aye, well,” he said to Rabbie, striving for casualness, “they eat frogs, ye know. And snails. I suppose maybe afterbirth isna so strange, considering.” Privately, he wondered whether it might not be long before they were all eating frogs and snails, but thought that a speculation better kept to himself.
    Rabbie made mock puking noises. “Christ, who’d be a Frenchie!”
    Fergus, standing close to Rabbie, whirled and shot out a lightning fist. Fergus was small and slender for his age, but strong for all that, and with a deadly aim for a man’s weak points, knowledge acquired as a juvenile pickpocket on the streets of Paris. The blow caught Rabbie squarely in the wind, and he doubled over with a sound like a stepped-on pig’s bladder.
    “Speak with respect of your betters, if you please,” Fergus said haughtily. Rabbie’s face turned several shades of red and his mouth opened and closed like a fish’s, as he struggled to get his breath back. His eyes bulged with a look of intense surprise, and he looked so ridiculous that it was a struggle for Jamie not to laugh, despite his worry over jenny and his irritation at the boys’ squabbling.
    “Will ye wee doiters no keep your paws off—” he began, when he was interrupted by a cry from Young Jamie, who had until now been silent, fascinated by the conversation.
    “What?” Jamie whirled, hand going automatically to the pistol he carried whenever he left the cave, but there was not, as he had half-expected, an English patrol in the stableyard.
    “What the hell is it?” he demanded. Then, following Young Jamie’s pointing finger, he saw them. Three small black specks, drifting across the brown crumple of dead vines in the potato field.
    “Ravens,” he said softly, and felt the hair rise on the back of his neck. For those birds of war and slaughter to come to a house during a birth was the worst sort of ill luck. One of the filthy beasts was actually settling on the rooftree, as he watched.
    With no conscious thought, he took the pistol from his belt and braced the muzzle across his forearm, sighting carefully. It was a long shot, from the door of the stable to the rooftree, and sighted upward, too. Still…
    The pistol jerked in his hand and the raven exploded in a cloud of black feathers. Its two companions shot into the air as though blown there by the explosion, and flapped madly away, their hoarse cries fading quickly on the winter air.
    “Mon Dieu!” Fergus exclaimed. “C’est bien, ça!”
    “Aye, bonny shooting, sir.” Rabbie, still red-faced and a little breathless, had recovered himself in time to see the shot. Now he nodded toward the house, pointing with his chin. “Look, sir, is that the midwife?”
    It was. Mrs. Innes poked her head out of the second-story window, fair hair flying loose as she leaned out to peer into the yard below. Perhaps she had been drawn by the sound of the shot, fearing some trouble. Jamie stepped into the stableyard and waved at the window to reassure her.
    “It’s all right,” he shouted. “Only an accident.” He didn’t mean to mention the ravens, lest the midwife tell Jenny.
    “Come up!” she shouted, ignoring this. “The bairn’s born, and your sister wants ye!”

    Jenny opened one eye, blue and slightly slanted like his own.
    “So ye came, aye?”
    “I thought someone should be here—if only to pray for ye,” he said gruffly.
    She closed the eye and a small smile curved her lips. She looked, he thought, very like a painting he had seen in France—an old one by some Italian fellow, but a good picture, nonetheless.
    “Ye’re a silly fool—and I’m glad of it,” she said softly. She opened her eyes and glanced down at the swaddled bundle she held in the crook of her arm.
    “D’ye want to see him?”
    “Oh, a him, is it?” With hands experienced by years of unclehood, he lifted the tiny package and cuddled it against himself, pushing back the flap of blanket that shaded its face.
    Its eyes were closed tight shut, the lashes not visible in the deep crease of the eyelids. The eyelids themselves lay at a sharp angle above the flushed smooth rounds of the cheeks, giving promise that it might—in this one recognizable feature, at least—resemble its mother.
    The head was oddly lumpy, with a lopsided appearance that made Jamie think uncomfortably of a kicked-in melon, but the small fat mouth was relaxed and peaceful, the moist pink underlip quivering faintly with the snore attendant on the exhaustion of being born.
    “Hard work, was it?” he said, speaking to the child, but it was the mother who answered him.
    “Aye, it was,” Jenny said. “There’s whisky in the armoire—will ye fetch me a glass?” Her voice was hoarse and she had to clear her throat before finishing the request.
    “Whisky? Should ye not be having ale wi’ eggs beaten up in it?” he asked, repressing with some difficulty a mental vision of Fergus’s suggestion of appropriate sustenance for newly delivered mothers.
    “Whisky,” his sister said definitely. “When ye were lyin’ downstairs crippled and your leg killin’ ye, did I give ye ale wi’ eggs beaten up in it?”
    “Ye fed me stuff a damn sight worse than that,” her brother said, with a grin, “but ye’re right, ye gave me whisky, too.” He laid the sleeping child carefully on the coverlet, and turned to get the whisky.
    “Has he a name, yet?” he asked, nodding toward the baby as he poured out a generous cup of the amber liquid.
    “I’ll call him Ian, for his Da.” Jenny’s hand rested gently for a moment on the rounded skull, lightly furred with a gold-brown fuzz. A pulse beat visibly in the soft spot on top; it seemed hideously fragile to Jamie, but the midwife had assured him the babe was a fine, lusty lad, and he supposed he must take her word for it. Moved by an obscure impulse to protect that nakedly exposed soft spot, he picked up the baby once more, pulling the blanket up over its head.
    “Mary MacNab told me about you and Mrs. Kirby,” Jenny remarked, sipping. “Pity I didna see it—she said the wretched auld besom nearly swallowed her tongue when ye spoke to her.”
    Jamie smiled in return, gently patting the baby’s back as it lay against his shoulder. Dead asleep, the little body lay inert as a boneless ham, a soft comforting weight.
    “Too bad she didn’t. How can ye stand the woman, living in the same house wi’ ye? I’d strangle her, were I here every day.”
    His sister snorted and closed her eyes, tilting her head back to let the whisky slide down her throat.
    “Ah, folk fash ye as much as ye let them; I dinna let her, much. Still,” she added, opening her eyes, “I canna say as I’ll be sorry to be rid of her. I have it in my mind to palm her off on auld Kettrick, down at Broch Mordha. His wife and his daughter both died last year, and he’ll be wanting someone to do for him.”
    “Aye, but if I were Samuel Kettrick, I’d take the widow Murray,” Jamie observed, “not the widow Kirby.”
    “Peggy Murray’s already provided for,” his sister assured him. “She’ll wed Duncan Gibbons in the spring.”
    “That’s fast work for Duncan,” he said, a little surprised. Then a thought occurred to him, and he grinned at her. “Do either o’ them know it yet?”
    “No,” she said, grinning back. Then the smile faded into a speculative look.
    “Unless you were thinking of Peggy yourself, that is?”
    “Me?” Jamie was as startled as if she had suddenly suggested he might wish to jump out of the second-story window.
    “She’s only five and twenty,” Jenny pursued. “Young enough for more bairns, and a good mother.”
    “How much of that whisky have ye had?” Her brother bent forward and pretended to examine the level of the decanter, cupping the baby’s head in one palm to prevent it wobbling. He straightened up and gave his sister a look of mild exasperation.
    “I’m living like an animal in a cave, and ye wish me to take a wife?” He felt suddenly hollow inside. To prevent her seeing that the suggestion had upset him, he rose and walked up and down the room, making unnecessary small humming noises to the bundle in his arms.
    “How long is it since ye’ve lain wi’ a woman, Jamie?” his sister asked conversationally behind him. Shocked, he turned on his heel to stare at her.
    “What the hell sort of question is that to ask a man?”
    “You’ve not gone wi’ any of the unwed lasses between Lallybroch and Broch Mordha,” she went on, paying no attention. “Or I’d have heard of it. None of the widows, either, I dinna think?” She paused delicately.
    “Ye know damn well I haven’t,” he said shortly. He could feel his cheeks flushing with annoyance.
    “Why not?” his sister asked bluntly.
    “Why not?” He stared at her, his mouth slightly open. “Have ye lost your senses? What d’ye think, I’m the sort of man would slink about from house to house, bedding any woman who didna drive me out wi’ a girdle in her hand?”
    “As if they would. No, you’re a good man, Jamie.” Jenny smiled, half sadly. “Ye wouldna take advantage of any woman. Ye’d marry first, no?”
    “No!” he said violently. The baby twitched and made a sleepy sound, and he transferred it automatically to his other shoulder, patting, as he glared at his sister. “I dinna mean to marry again, so ye just abandon all thought of matchmaking, Jenny Murray! I willna have it, d’ye hear?”
    “Oh, I hear,” she said, unperturbed, She pushed herself higher on the pillow, so as to look him in the eye.
    “Ye mean to live a monk to the end of your days?” she asked. “Go to your grave wi’ no son to bury you or bless your name?”
    “Mind your own business, damn ye!” Heart pounding, he turned his back on her and strode to the window, where he stood staring sightlessly out over the stableyard.
    “I ken ye mourn Claire.” His sister’s voice came softly from behind him. “D’ye think I could forget Ian, if he doesna come back? But it’s time ye went on, Jamie. Ye dinna think Claire would mean ye to live alone all your life, with no one to comfort ye or bear your children?”
    He didn’t answer for a long time, just stood, feeling the soft heat of the small fuzzy head pressed against the side of his neck. He could see himself dimly in the misted glass, a tall dirty gangle of a man, the round white bundle incongruous beneath his own grim face.
    “She was with child,” he said softly at last, speaking to the reflection. “When she—when I lost her.” How else could he put it? There was no way to tell his sister, where Claire was—where he hoped she was. That he could not think of another woman, hoping that Claire still lived, even knowing her truly lost to him for good.
    There was a long silence from the bed. Then Jenny said quietly, “Is that why ye came today?”
    He sighed and turned sideways toward her, leaning his head against the cool glass. His sister was lying back, her dark hair loose on the pillow, eyes gone soft as she looked at him.
    “Aye, maybe,” he said. “I couldna help my wife; I suppose I thought I might help you. Not that I could,” he added, with some bitterness. “I am as useless to you as I was to her.”
    Jenny stretched out a hand to him, face filled with distress. “Jamie, mo chridhe,” she said, but then stopped, eyes widening in sudden alarm as a splintering crash and the sound of screams came from the house below.
    “Holy Mary!” she said, growing even whiter. “It’s the English!”
    “Christ.” It was as much a prayer as an exclamation of surprise. He glanced quickly from the bed to the window, judging the possibilities of hiding versus those of escape. The sounds of booted feet were already on the stair.
    “The cupboard, Jamie!” Jenny whispered urgently, pointing. Without hesitation, he stepped into the armoire, and pulled the door to behind him.
    The door of the chamber sprang open with a crash a moment later, to be filled with a red-coated figure in a cocked hat, holding a drawn sword before him. The Captain of dragoons paused, and darted his eyes all round the chamber, finally settling on the small figure in the bed.
    “Mrs. Murray?” he said.
    Jenny struggled to pull herself upright.
    “I am. And what in flaming hell are ye doing in my house?” she demanded. Her face was pale and shiny with sweat, and her arms trembled, but she held her chin up and glared at the man. “Get out!”
    Disregarding her, the man moved into the room and over to the window; Jamie could see his indistinct form disappear past the edge of the wardrobe, then reappear, back turned as he spoke to Jenny.
    “One of my scouts reported hearing a shot from the vicinity of this house, not long since. Where are your men?”
    “I have none.” Her trembling arms would not support her longer, and Jamie saw his sister ease herself back, collapsing on the pillows. “You’ve taken my husband already—my eldest son is no more than ten.” She did not mention Rabbie or Fergus; boys of their age were old enough to be treated—or mistreated—as men, should the Captain take the notion. With luck, they would have taken to their heels at the first sight of the English.
    The Captain was a hard-bitten man of middle age, and not overly given to credulity.
    “The keeping of weapons in the Highlands is a serious offense,” he said, and turned to the soldier who had come into the room behind him. “Search the house, Jenkins.”
    He had to raise his voice in the giving of the order, for there was a rising commotion in the stairwell. As Jenkins turned to leave the room, Mrs. Innes, the midwife, burst past the soldier who tried to bar her way.
    “Leave the poor lady alone!” she cried, facing the Captain with fists clenched at her sides. The midwife’s voice shook and her hair was coming down from its snood, but she stood her ground. “Get out, ye wretches! Leave her be!”
    “I am not mistreating your mistress,” the Captain said, with some irritation, evidently mistaking Mrs. Innes for one of the maids. “I am merely—”
    “And her not delivered but an hour since! It isna decent even for ye to lay eyes on her, so much as—”
    “Delivered?” The Captain’s voice sharpened, and he glanced from the midwife to the bed in sudden interest. “You have borne a child, Mrs. Murray? Where is the infant?”
    The infant in question stirred inside its wrappings, disturbed by the tightened grip of its horror-stricken uncle.
    From the depths of the wardrobe, he could see his sister’s face, white to the lips and set like stone.
    “The child is dead,” she said.
    The midwife’s mouth dropped open in shock, but luckily the Captain’s attention was riveted on Jenny.
    “Oh?” he said slowly. “Was it—”
    “Mama!” The cry of anguish came from the doorway as Young Jamie broke free of a soldier’s grip and hurled himself at his mother. “Mama, the baby’s dead? No, no!” Sobbing, he flung himself on his knees and buried his head in the bedclothes.
    As though to refute his brother’s statement, baby Ian gave evidence of his living state by kicking his legs with considerable vigor against his uncle’s ribs and emitting a series of small snuffling grunts, which fortunately went unheard in the commotion outside.
    Jenny was trying to comfort Young Jamie, Mrs. Innes was futilely attempting to raise the boy, who kept a death grip on his mother’s sleeve, the Captain was vainly trying to make himself heard above Young Jamie’s grief-stricken wails, and over all, the muted sound of boots and shouting vibrated through the house.
    Jamie rather thought the Captain was inquiring as to the location of the infant’s body. He clutched the body in question closer, joggling it in an attempt to prevent any disposition on its part to cry. His other hand went to the hilt of his dirk, but it was a vain gesture; it was doubtful that even cutting his own throat would be of help, if the wardrobe were opened.
    Baby Ian made an irascible noise, suggesting that he disliked being joggled. With visions of the house in flames and the inhabitants slaughtered, the noise sounded as loud to Jamie as his elder nephew’s anguished howls.
    “You did it!” Young Jamie had gotten to his feet, face wet and swollen with tears and rage, and was advancing on the Captain, curly black head lowered like a small ram’s. “You killed my brother, ye English prick!”
    The Captain was somewhat taken aback by this sudden attack, and actually took a step back, blinking at the boy. “No, boy, you’re quite mistaken. Why, I only—”
    “Prick! Cod! A mhic an diabhoil!” Entirely beside himself, Young Jamie was stalking the Captain, yelling every obscenity he had ever heard used, in Gaelic or English.
    “Enh,” said baby Ian in the elder Jamie’s ear. “Enh, enh!” This sounded very much like the preliminary to a full-fledged screech, and in a panic, Jamie let go of his dirk and thrust his thumb into the soft, moist opening from which the sounds were issuing. The baby’s toothless gums clamped onto his thumb with a ferocity that nearly made him exclaim aloud.
    “Get out! Get out! Get out or I’ll kill ye!” Young Jamie was screaming at the Captain, face contorted with rage. The Redcoat looked helplessly at the bed, as though to ask Jenny to call off this implacable small foe, but she lay as though dead with her eyes closed.
    “I shall wait for my men downstairs,” the Captain said, with what dignity he could, and withdrew, shutting the door hastily behind him. Deprived of his enemy, Young Jamie fell to the floor and collapsed into helpless weeping.
    Through the crack in the door, Jamie saw Mrs. Innes look at Jenny, mouth opening to ask a question. Jenny shot up from the bedclothes like Lazarus, scowling ferociously, finger pressed to her lips to enjoin silence. Baby Ian champed viciously at the thumb, growling at its failure to yield any sustenance.
    Jenny swung herself to the side of the bed and sat there, waiting. The sounds of the soldiers below throbbed and eddied through the house. Jenny was shaking with weakness, but she reached out a hand toward the armoire where her men lay hidden.
    Jamie drew a deep breath and braced himself. It would have to be risked; his hand and wrist were wet with saliva, and the baby’s growls of frustration were growing louder.
    He stumbled from the wardrobe, drenched with sweat, and thrust the infant at Jenny. Baring her breast with a single wrench, she pressed the small head to her nipple, and bent over the tiny bundle, as though to protect it. The beginnings of a squawk disappeared into the muffled sounds of vigorous sucking, and Jamie sat down on the floor quite suddenly, feeling as though someone had run a sword behind his knees.
    Young Jamie had sat up at the sudden opening of the wardrobe, and now sat spraddled against the door, his face blank with bewildered shock as he looked from his mother to his uncle and back again. Mrs. Innes knelt beside him, whispering urgently in his ear, but no sign of comprehension showed on the small, tear-streaked face.
    By the time shouts and the creaking of harness outside betokened the soldiers’ departure, Young Ian lay replete and snoring in his mother’s arms. Jamie stood by the window, just out of sight, watching them go.
    The room was silent, save for the liquid noise of Mrs. Innes, drinking whisky. Young Jamie sat close against his mother, cheek pressed to her shoulder. She had not looked up once since taking the baby, and still sat, head lowered over the child in her lap, her black hair hiding her face.
    Jamie stepped forward and touched her shoulder. The warmth of her seemed shocking, as though cold dread were his natural state and the touch of another person somehow foreign and unnatural.
    “I’ll go to the priest hole,” he said softly, “and to the cave when it’s dark.”
    Jenny nodded, but without looking up at him. There were several white hairs among the black, he saw, glinting silver by the parting down the center of her head.
    “I think…I should not come down again,” he said at last. “For a time.”
    Jenny said nothing, but nodded once more.
    6
    BEING NOW JUSTIFIED BY HIS BLOOD
    As it was, he did come down to the house once more. For two months, he stayed close hidden in the cave, scarcely daring to come out at night to hunt, for the English soldiers were still in the district, quartered at Comar. The troops went out by day in small patrols of eight or ten, combing the countryside, looting what little there was to steal, destroying what they could not use. And all with the blessing of the English Crown.
    A path led close by the base of the hill where his cavern was concealed. No more than a rude track, it had begun as a deer path, and still largely served that use, though it was a foolish stag that would venture within smelling distance of the cave. Still, sometimes when the wind was right, he would see a small group of the red deer on the path, or find fresh spoor in the exposed mud of the track next day.
    It was helpful as well for such people as had business on the mountainside—few enough as those were. The wind had been blowing downwind from the cave, and he had no expectation of seeing deer. He had been lying on the ground just within the cave entrance, where enough light filtered through the overhanging screen of gorse and rowan for him to read on fine days. There were not a great many books, but Jared managed still to smuggle a few with his gifts from France.
    This violent rain forced me to a new work, viz., to cut a hole through my new fortification, like a sink, to let the water go out, which would else have drowned my cave. After I had been in my cave some time, and found still no more shocks of the earthquake follow, I began to be more composed; and now, to support my spirits, which indeed wanted it very much, I went to my little store and took a small sup of rum, which however, I did then and always very sparingly, knowing I could have no more when that was gone.
    It continued raining all that night, and great part of the next day, so that I could not stir abroad; but my mind being more composed, I began to think…
    The shadows across the page moved as the bushes above him stirred. Instincts attuned, he caught the shift of the wind at once—and on it, the sound of voices.
    He sprang to his feet, hand on the dirk that never left his side. Barely pausing to put the book carefully on its ledge, he grasped the knob of granite that he used as a handhold and pulled himself up into the steep narrow crevice that formed the cave’s entrance.
    The bright flash of red and metal on the path below hit him with a blow of shock and annoyance. Damn. He had little fear that any of the soldiers would leave the path—they were poorly equipped for making their way even through the normal stretches of open, spongy peat and heather, let alone an overgrown, brambly slope like this—but having them so close meant he could not risk leaving the cave before dark, even to get water or relieve himself. He cast a quick glance at his water jug, knowing as he did so that it was nearly empty.
    A shout pulled his attention back to the track below, and he nearly lost his grip on the rock. The soldiers had bunched themselves around a small figure, humped under the weight of a small cask it bore on its shoulder. Fergus, on his way up with a cask of fresh-brewed ale. Damn, and damn again. He could have done with that ale; it had been months since he’d had any.
    The wind had changed again, so he caught only small snatches of words, but the small figure seemed to be arguing with the soldier in front of him, gesticulating violently with its free hand.
    “Idiot!” said Jamie, under his breath. “Give it to them and begone, ye wee clot!”
    One soldier made a two-handed grab at the cask, and missed as the small dark-haired figure jumped nimbly back. Jamie smacked himself on the forehead with exasperation. Fergus could never resist insolence when confronted with authority—especially English authority.
    The small figure now was skipping backward, shouting something at his pursuers.
    “Fool!” Jamie said violently. “Drop it and run!”
    Instead of either dropping the cask or running, Fergus, apparently sure, of his own speed, turned his back on the soldiers and waggled his rump insultingly at them. Sufficiently incensed to risk their footing in the soggy vegetation, several of the Redcoats jumped the path to follow.
    Jamie saw their leader raise an arm and shout in warning. It had evidently dawned on him that Fergus might be a decoy, trying to lead them into ambush. But Fergus too was shouting, and evidently the soldiers knew enough gutter French to interpret what he was saying, for while several of the men halted at their leader’s shout, four of the soldiers hurled themselves at the dancing boy.
    There was a scuffle and more shouting as Fergus dodged, twisting like an eel between the soldiers. In all the commotion and above the whining wind, Jamie could not have heard the rush of the saber being drawn from its scabbard, but ever after felt as though he had, as though the faint swish and ring of drawn metal had been the first inkling of disaster. It seemed to ring in his ears whenever he remembered the scene—and he remembered it for a very long time.
    Perhaps it was something in the attitudes of the soldiers, an irritableness of mood that communicated itself to him in the cave. Perhaps only the sense of doom that had clung to him since Culloden, as though everything in his vicinity were tainted; at risk by virtue only of being near him. Whether he had heard the sound of the saber or not, his body had tensed itself to spring before he saw the silver arc of the blade swing through the air.
    It moved almost lazily, slowly enough for his brain to have tracked its arc, deduced its target, and shouted, wordless, no! Surely it moved slowly enough that he could have darted down into the midst of the swarming men, seized the wrist that wielded the sword and twisted the deadly length of metal free, to tumble harmless to the ground.
    The conscious part of his brain told him this was nonsense, even as it froze his hands around the granite knob, anchoring him against the overwhelming impulse to heave himself out of the earth and run forward.
    You can’t, it said to him, a thready whisper under the fury and the horror that filled him. He has done this for you; you cannot make it senseless. You can’t, it said, cold as death beneath the searing rush of futility that drowned him. You can do nothing.
    And he did nothing, nothing but watch, as the blade completed its lazy swing, crashed home with a small, almost inconsequential thunk! and the disputed cask tumbled end over end over end down the slope of the burn, its final splash lost in the merry gurgle of brown water far below.
    The shouting ceased abruptly in shocked silence. He scarcely heard when it resumed; it sounded so much like the roaring in his ears. His knees gave way, and he realized dimly that he was about to faint. His vision darkened into reddish black, shot with stars and streaks of light—but not even the encroaching dark would blot out the final sight of Fergus’s hand, that small and deft and clever pickpocket’s hand, lying still in the mud of the track, palm turned upward in supplication.

    He waited for forty-eight long, dragging hours before Rabbie MacNab came to whistle on the path below the cave.
    “How is he?” he said without preliminary.
    “Mrs. Jenny says he’ll be all right,” Rabbie answered. His young face was pale and drawn; plainly he had not yet recovered from the shock of his friend’s accident. “She says he’s not fevered, and there’s no trace of rot yet in the”—he swallowed audibly—“in the…stump.”
    “The soldiers took him down to the house, then?” Not waiting for an answer, he was already making his way down the hillside.
    “Aye, they were all amoil wi’ it—I think”—Rabbie paused to distentangle his shirt from a clinging brier, and had to hurry to catch up with his employer—“I think they were sorry about it. The Captain said so, at least. And he gave Mrs. Jenny a gold sovereign—for Fergus.”
    “Oh, aye?” Jamie said. “Verra generous.” And did not speak again, until they reached the house.
    Fergus was lying in state in the nursery, ensconced in a bed by the window. His eyes were closed when Jamie entered the room, long lashes lying softly against thin cheeks. Seen without its customary animation, his usual array of grimaces and poses, his face looked quite different. The slightly beaked nose above the long, mobile mouth gave him a faintly aristocratic air, and the bones hardening beneath the skin gave some promise that his face might one day pass from boyish charm to outright handsomeness.
    Jamie moved toward the bed, and the dark lashes lifted at once.
    “Milord,” Fergus said, and a weak smile restored his face at once to its familiar contours. “You are safe here?”
    “God, laddie, I’m sorry.” Jamie sank to his knees by the bed. He could scarcely bear to look at the slender forearm that lay across the quilt, its frail bandaged wrist ending in nothing, but forced himself to grip Fergus’s shoulder in greeting, and rub a palm gently over the shock of dark hair.
    “Does it hurt much?” he asked.
    “No, milord,” Fergus said. Then a sudden belying twinge of pain crossed his features, and he grinned shamefacedly. “Well, not so much. And Madame has been most generous with the whisky.”
    There was a tumbler full of it on the sidetable, but no more than a thimbleful had been drunk. Fergus, weaned on French wine, did not really like the taste of whisky.
    “I’m sorry,” Jamie said again. There was nothing else to say. Nothing he could say, for the tightening in his throat. He looked hastily down, knowing that it would upset Fergus to see him weep.
    “Ah, milord, do not trouble yourself.” There was a note of the old mischief in Fergus’s voice. “Me, I have been fortunate.”
    Jamie swallowed hard before replying.
    “Aye, you’re alive—and thank God for it!”
    “Oh, beyond that, milord!” He glanced up to see Fergus smiling, though still very pale. “Do you not recall our agreement, milord?”
    “Agreement?”
    “Yes, when you took me into your service in Paris. You told me then that should I be arrested and executed, you would have Masses said for my soul for the space of a year.” The remaining hand fluttered toward the battered greenish medal that hung about his neck—St. Dismas, patron saint of thieves. “But if I should lose an ear or a hand while doing your service—”
    “I would support you for the rest of your life.” Jamie was unsure whether to laugh or cry, and contented himself with patting the hand that now lay quiet on the quilt. “Aye, I remember. You may trust me to keep the bargain.”
    “Oh, I have always trusted you, milord,” Fergus assured him. Clearly he was growing tired; the pale cheeks were even whiter than they had been, and the shock of black hair fell back against the pillow. “So I am fortunate,” he murmured, still smiling. “For in one stroke, I am become a gentleman of leisure, non?”

    Jenny was waiting for him when he left Fergus’s room.
    “Come down to the priest hole wi’ me,” he said, taking her by the elbow. “I need to talk wi’ ye a bit, and I shouldna stay in the open longer.”
    She followed him without comment, down to the stone-floored back hall that separated kitchen and pantry. Set into the flags of the floor was a large wooden panel, perforated with drilled holes, apparently mortared into the floorstones. Theoretically, this gave air to the root cellar below, and in fact—should any suspicious person choose to investigate, the root cellar, reached by a sunken door outside the house, did have just such a panel set into its ceiling.
    What was not apparent was that the panel also gave light and air to a small priest hole that had been built just behind the root cellar, which could be reached by pulling up the panel, mortared frame and all, to reveal a short ladder leading down into the tiny room.
    It was no more than five feet square, equipped with nothing in the way of furniture beyond a rude bench, a blanket, and a chamber pot. A large jug of water and a small box of hard biscuit completed the chamber’s accoutrements. It had in fact been added to the house only within the last few years, and therefore was not really a priest hole, as no priest had occupied it or was likely to. A hole it definitely was, though.
    Two people could occupy the hole only by sitting side by side on the bench, and Jamie sat down beside his sister as soon as he had replaced the panel overhead and descended the ladder. He sat still for a moment, then took a breath and started.
    “I canna bear it anymore,” he said. He spoke so softly that Jenny was forced to bend her head close to hear him, like a priest receiving some penitent’s confession. “I can’t. I must go.”
    They sat so close together that he could feel the rise and fall of her breast as she breathed. Then she reached out and took hold of his hand, her small firm fingers tight on his.
    “Will ye try France again, then?” He had tried to escape to France twice before, thwarted each time by the tight watch the English placed on all ports. No disguise was sufficient for a man of his remarkable height and coloring.
    He shook his head. “No. I shall let myself be captured.”
    “Jamie!” In her agitation, Jenny allowed her voice to rise momentarily, then lowered it again in response to the warning squeeze of his hand.
    “Jamie, ye canna do that!” she said, lower. “Christ, man, ye’ll be hangit!”
    He kept his head bent as though in thought, but shook it, not hesitating.
    “I think not.” He glanced at his sister, then quickly away. “Claire—she had the Sight.” As good an explanation as any, he thought, if not quite the real truth. “She saw what would happen at Culloden—she knew. And she told me what would come after.”
    “Ah,” said Jenny softly. “I wondered. So that was why she bade me plant potatoes—and build this place.”
    “Aye.” He gave his sister’s hand a small squeeze, then let go and turned slightly on the narrow seat to face her. “She told me that the Crown would go on hunting Jacobite traitors for some time—and they have,” he added wryly. “But that after the first few years, they would no longer execute the men that were captured—only imprison them.”
    “Only!” his sister echoed. “If ye mun go, Jamie, take to the heather then, but to give yourself up to an English prison, whether they’ll hang ye or no—”
    “Wait.” His hand on her arm stopped her. “I havena told it all to ye yet. I dinna mean just to walk up to the English and surrender. There’s a goodly price on my head, no? Be a shame to let that go to waste, d’ye not think?” He tried to force a smile in his voice; she heard it and glanced sharply up at him.
    “Holy Mother,” she whispered. “So ye mean to have someone betray ye?”
    “Seemingly, aye.” He had decided upon the plan, alone in the cave, but it had not seemed quite real until now. “I thought perhaps Joe Fraser would be best for it.”
    Jenny rubbed her fist hard against her lips. She was quick; he knew she had grasped the plan at once—and all its implications.
    “But Jamie,” she whispered. “Even if they dinna hang ye outright—and that’s the hell of a risk to take—Jamie, ye could be killed when they take ye!”
    His shoulders slumped suddenly, under the weight of misery and exhaustion.
    “God, Jenny,” he said, “d’ye think I care?”
    There was a long silence before she answered.
    “No, I don’t,” she said. “And I canna say as I blame ye, either.” She paused a moment, to steady her voice. “But I still care.” Her fingers gently touched the back of his head, stroking his hair. “So ye’ll mind yourself, won’t ye, clot-heid?”
    The ventilation panel overhead darkened momentarily, and there was the tapping sound of light footsteps. One of the kitchenmaids, on her way to the pantry, perhaps. Then the dim light came back, and he could see Jenny’s face once more.
    “Aye,” he whispered at last. “I’ll mind.”

    It took more than two months to complete the arrangements. When at last word came, it was full spring.
    He sat on his favorite rock, near the cave’s entrance, watching the evening stars come out. Even in the worst of the year after Culloden, he had always been able to find a moment of peace at this time of the day. As the daylight faded, it was as though objects became faintly lit from within, so they stood outlined against sky or ground, perfect and sharp in every detail. He could see the shape of a moth, invisible in the light, now limned in the dusk with a triangle of deeper shadow that made it stand out from the trunk it hid upon. In a moment, it would take wing.
    He looked out across the valley, trying to stretch his eyes as far as the black pines that edged the distant cliffside. Then up, among the stars. Orion there, striding stately over the horizon. And the Pleiades, barely visible in the darkening sky. It might be his last sight of the sky for some time, and he meant to enjoy it. He thought of prison, of bars and locks and solid walls, and remembered Fort William. Wentworth Prison. The Bastille. Walls of stone, four feet thick, that blocked all air and light. Filth, stench, hunger, entombment…
    He shrugged such thoughts away. He had chosen his way, and was satisfied with it. Still, he searched the sky, looking for Taurus. Not the prettiest of constellations, but his own. Born under the sign of the bull, stubborn and strong. Strong enough, he hoped, to do what he intended.
    Among the growing night sounds, there was a sharp, high whistle. It might have been the homing song of a curlew on the loch, but he recognized the signal. Someone was coming up the path—a friend.
    It was Mary MacNab, who had become kitchenmaid at Lallybroch, after the death of her husband. Usually it was her son Rabbie, or Fergus, who brought him food and news, but she had come a few times before.
    She had brought a basket, unusually well-supplied, with a cold roast partridge, fresh bread, several young green onions, a bunch of early cherries, and a flask of ale. Jamie examined the bounty, then looked up with a wry smile.
    “My farewell feast, eh?”
    She nodded, silent. She was a small woman, dark hair heavily streaked with gray, and her face lined by the difficulties of life. Still, her eyes were soft and brown, and her lips still full and gently curved.
    He realized that he was staring at her mouth, and hastily turned again to the basket.
    “Lord, I’ll be so full I’ll not be able to move. Even a cake, now! However did ye ladies manage that?”
    She shrugged—she wasn’t a great chatterer, Mary MacNab—and taking the basket from him, proceeded to lay the meal on the wooden tabletop, balanced on stones. She laid places for both of them. This was nothing out of the ordinary; she had supped with him before, to give him the gossip of the district while they ate. Still, if this was his last meal before leaving Lallybroch, he was surprised that neither his sister nor the boys had come to share it. Perhaps the farmhouse had visitors that would make it difficult for them to leave undetected.
    He gestured politely for her to sit first, before taking his own place, crosslegged on the hard dirt floor.
    “Ye’ve spoken wi’ Joe Fraser? Where is it to be, then?” he asked, taking a bite of cold partridge.
    She told him the details of the plan; a horse would be brought before dawn, and he would ride out of the narrow valley by way of the pass. Then turn, cross the rocky foothills and come down, back into the valley by Feesyhant’s Burn, as though he were coming home. The English would meet him somewhere between Struy and Eskadale, most likely at Midmains; it was a good place for an ambush, for the glen rose steeply there on both sides, but with a wooded patch by the stream where several men could conceal themselves.
    After the meal, she packed the basket tidily, leaving out enough food for a small breakfast before his dawn leaving. He expected her to go then, but she did not. She rummaged in the crevice where he kept his bedding, spread it neatly upon the floor, turned back the blankets and knelt beside the pallet, hands folded on her lap.
    He leaned back against the wall of the cave, arms folded. He looked down at the crown of her bowed head in exasperation.
    “Oh, like that, is it?” he demanded. “And whose idea was this? Yours, or my sister’s?”
    “Does it matter?” She was composed, her hands perfectly still on her lap, her dark hair smooth in its snood.
    He shook his head and bent down to pull her to her feet.
    “No, it doesna matter, because it’s no going to happen. I appreciate your meaning, but—”
    His speech was interrupted by her kiss. Her lips were as soft as they looked. He grasped her firmly by both wrists and pushed her away from him.
    “No!” he said. “It isna necessary, and I dinna want to do it.” He was uncomfortably aware that his body did not agree at all with his assessments of necessity, and still more uncomfortable at the knowledge that his breeches, too small and worn thin, made the magnitude of the disagreement obvious to anyone who cared to look. The slight smile curving those full, sweet lips suggested that she was looking.
    He turned her toward the entrance and gave her a light push, to which she responded by stepping aside and reaching behind her for the fastenings to her skirt.
    “Don’t do that!” he exclaimed.
    “How dye mean to stop me?” she asked, stepping out of the garment and folding it tidily over the single stool. Her slender fingers went to the laces of her bodice.
    “If ye won’t leave, then I’ll have to,” he replied with decision. He whirled on his heel and headed for the cave entrance, when he heard her voice behind him.
    “My lord!” she said.
    He stopped, but did not turn around. “It isna suitable to call me that,” he said.
    “Lallybroch is yours,” she said. “And will be so long as ye live. If ye’re its laird, I’ll call ye so.”
    “It isna mine. The estate belongs to Young Jamie.”
    “It isna Young Jamie that’s doing what you are,” she answered with decision. “And it isna your sister that’s asked me to do what I’m doin’. Turn round.”
    He turned, reluctantly. She stood barefoot in her shift, her hair loose over her shoulders. She was thin, as they all were these days, but her breasts were larger than he had thought, and the nipples showed prominently through the thin fabric. The shift was as worn as her other garments, frayed at the hem and shoulders, almost transparent in spots. He closed his eyes.
    He felt a light touch on his arm, and willed himself to stand still.
    “I ken weel enough what ye’re thinkin’,” she said. “For I saw your lady, and I know how it was between the two of ye. I never had that,” she added, in a softer voice, “not wi’ either of the two men I wed. But I know the look of a true love, and it’s not in my mind to make ye feel ye’ve betrayed it.”
    The touch, feather-light, moved to his cheek, and a work-worn thumb traced the groove that ran from nose to mouth.
    “What I want,” she said quietly, “is to give ye something different. Something less, mayhap, but something ye can use; something to keep ye whole. Your sister and the bairns canna give ye that—but I can.” He heard her draw breath, and the touch on his face lifted away.
    “Ye’ve given me my home, my life, and my son. Will ye no let me gi’e ye this small thing in return?”
    He felt tears sting his eyelids. The weightless touch moved across his face, wiping the moisture from his eyes, smoothing the roughness of his hair. He lifted his arms, slowly, and reached out. She stepped inside his embrace, as neatly and simply as she had laid the table and the bed.
    “I…havena done this in a long time,” he said, suddenly shy.
    “Neither have I,” she said, with a tiny smile. “But we’ll remember how ’tis.”



    PART THREE
   
    When I Am Thy Captive
    7
    A FAITH IN DOCUMENTS
    Inverness

    May 25, 1968
    The envelope from Linklater arrived in the morning post.
    “Look how fat it is!” Brianna exclaimed. “He’s sent something!” The tip of her nose was pink with excitement.
    “Looks like it,” said Roger. He was outwardly calm, but I could see the pulse beating in the hollow of his throat. He picked up the thick manila envelope and held it for a moment, weighing it. Then he ripped the flap recklessly with his thumb, and yanked out a sheaf of photocopied pages.
    The cover letter, on heavy university stationery, fluttered out. I snatched it from the floor and read it aloud, my voice shaking a little.
    “‘Dear Dr. Wakefield,’” I read. “‘This is in reply to your inquiry regarding the execution of Jacobite officers by the Duke of Cumberland’s troops following the Battle of Culloden. The main source of the quote in my book to which you refer, was the private journal of one Lord Melton, in command of an infantry regiment under Cumberland at the time of Culloden. I have enclosed photocopies of the relevant pages of the journal; as you will see, the story of the survivor, one James Fraser, is an odd and touching one. Fraser is not an important historical character, and not in line with the thrust of my own work, but I have often thought of investigating further, in hopes of determining his eventual fate. Should you find that he did survive the journey to his own estate, I should be happy if you would inform me. I have always rather hoped that he did, though his situation as described by Melton makes the possibility seem unlikely. Sincerely yours, Eric Linklater.’”
    The paper rattled in my hand, and I set it down, very carefully, on the desk.
    “Unlikely, huh?” Brianna said, standing on tiptoe to see over Roger’s shoulder. “Ha! He did make it back, we know he did!”
    “We think he did,” Roger corrected, but it was only scholarly caution; his grin was as broad as Brianna’s.
    “Will ye be havin’ tea or cocoa to your elevenses?” Fiona’s curly dark head poked through the study doorway, interrupting the excitement. “There’s fresh ginger-nut biscuits, just baked.” The scent of warm ginger came into the study with her, wafting enticingly from her apron.
    “Tea, please,” said Roger, just as Brianna said, “Oh, cocoa sounds great!” Fiona, wearing a smug expression, pushed in the tea cart, sporting both tea cozy and pot of cocoa, as well as a plate of fresh ginger-nut biscuits.
    I accepted a cup of tea myself, and sat down in the wing chair with the pages of Melton’s journal. The flowing eighteenth-century handwriting was surprisingly clear, in spite of the archaic spelling, and within minutes, I was in the confines of Leanach farmhouse, imagining the sound of buzzing flies, the stir of close-packed bodies, and the harsh smell of blood soaking into the packed-dirt floor.
    “…in satisfaction of my brother’s debt of honor, I could not do otherwise than to spare Fraser’s life. I therefore omitted his name from the list of traitors executed at the farmhouse, and have made arrangement for his transport to his own estate. I cannot feel myself either altogether merciful toward Fraser in the taking of this action, nor yet altogether culpable with respect to my service toward the Duke, as Fraser’s situation, with a great wound in his leg festering and pustulent, makes it unlikely that he will survive the journey to his home. Still, honor prevents my acting otherwise, and I will confess that my spirit was lightened to see the man removed, still living, from the field, as I turned my own attentions to the melancholy task of disposing of the bodies of his comrades. So much killing as I have seen these last two days oppresses me,” the entry ended simply.
    I laid the pages down on my knee, swallowing heavily. “A great wound…festering and pustulent…” I knew, as Roger and Brianna could not, just how serious such a wound would have been, with no antibiotics, nothing in the way of proper medical treatment; not even the crude herbal poultices available to a Highland charmer at the time. How long would it have taken, jolting from Culloden to Broch Tuarach in a wagon? Two days? Three? How could he have lived, in such a state, and neglected for so long?
    “He did, though.” Brianna’s voice broke in upon my thoughts, answering what seemed to be a similar thought expressed by Roger. She spoke with simple assurance, as though she had seen all the events described in Melton’s journal, and were sure of their outcome. “He did get back. He was the Dunbonnet, I know it.”
    “The Dunbonnet?” Fiona, tut-tutting over my cold cup of undrunk tea, looked over her shoulder in surprise. “Heard of the Dunbonnet, have ye?”
    “Have you?” Roger looked at the young housekeeper in astonishment.
    She nodded, casually dumping my tea into the aspidistra that stood by the hearth and refilling my cup with fresh steaming brew.
    “Oh, aye. My grannie tellt me that tale, often and often.”
    “Tell us!” Brianna leaned forward, intent, her cocoa cupped between her palms. “Please, Fiona! What’s the story?”
    Fiona seemed mildly surprised to find herself suddenly the center of so much attention, but shrugged good-naturedly.
    “Och, it’s just the story of one o’ the followers o’ the Bonnie Prince. When there was the great defeat at Culloden, and sae many were killed, a few escaped. Why, one man fled the field and swam the river to get away, but the Redcoats were after him, nonetheless. He came to a kirk along his way, and a service going on inside, and he dashing in, prayed mercy from the minister. The minister and the people took pity on him, and he put on the minister’s robe, so when the Redcoats burst in moments later, there he was, standing at the pulpit, preachin’ the sermon, and the water from his beard and clothes puddled up about his feet. The Redcoats thought they were mistaken, and went on down the road, and so he escaped—and everyone in the kirk said ’twas the best sermon they ever heard!” Fiona laughed heartily, while Brianna frowned, and Roger looked puzzled.
    “That was the Dunbonnet?” he said. “But I thought—”
    “Och, no!” she assured him. “That was no the Dunbonnet—only the Dunbonnet was another o’ the men who got away from Culloden. He came back to his own estate, but because the Sassenachs were hunting men all across the Highlands, he lay hidden there in a cave for seven years.”
    Hearing this, Brianna slumped back in her chair with a sigh of relief. “And his tenants called him the Dunbonnet so as not to speak his name and betray him,” she murmured.
    “Ye ken the story?” Fiona asked, astonished. “Aye, that’s right.”
    “And did your grannie say what happened to him after that?” Roger prompted.
    “Oh, aye!” Fiona’s eyes were round as butterscotch drops. “That’s the best part o’ the story. See, there was a great famine after Culloden; folk were starvin’ in the glens, turned out of their houses in winter, the men shot and the cots set afire. The Dunbonnet’s tenants managed better than most, but even so, there came a day when the food ran out, and their bellies garbeled from dawn ’til dark—no game in the forest, nay grain in the field, and the weans dyin’ in their mothers’ arms for lack o’ milk to feed them.”
    A cold chill swept over me at her words. I saw the faces of the Lallybroch inhabitants—the people I had known and loved—pinched with cold and starvation. Not only horror filled me; there was guilt, too. I had been safe, warm, and well-fed, instead of sharing their fate—because I had done as Jamie wanted, and left them. I looked at Brianna, smooth red head bent in absorption, and the tight feeling in my chest eased a bit. She too had been safe for these past years, warm, well-fed, and loved—because I had done as Jamie wanted.
    “So he made a bold plan, the Dunbonnet did,” Fiona was continuing. Her round face was alight with the drama of her tale. “He arranged that one of his tenants should go to the English, and offer to betray him. There was a good price on his head, for he’d been a great warrior for the Prince. The tenant would take the gold o’ the reward—to use for the folk on the estate, o’ course—and tell the English where the Dunbonnet might be taken.”
    My hand clenched so convulsively at this that the delicate handle of my teacup snapped clean off.
    “Taken?” I croaked, my voice hoarse with shock. “Did they hang him?”
    Fiona blinked at me in surprise. “Why, no,” she said. “They wanted to, my grannie said, and took him to trial for treason, but in the end, they shut him up in a prison instead—but the gold went to his tenants, and so they lived through the famine,” she ended cheerfully, obviously regarding this as the happy ending.
    “Jesus Christ,” Roger breathed. He set his cup down carefully, and sat staring into space, transfixed. “Prison.”
    “You sound like that’s good,” Brianna protested. The corners of her mouth were tight with distress, and her eyes slightly shiny.
    “It is,” Roger said, not noticing her distress. “There weren’t that many prisons where the English imprisoned Jacobite traitors, and they all kept official records. Don’t you see?” he demanded, looking from Fiona’s bewilderment to Brianna’s scowl, then settling on me in hope of finding understanding. “If he went to prison, I can find him.” He turned then, to look up at the towering shelves of books that lined three walls of the study, holding the late Reverend Wakefield’s collection of Jacobite arcana.
    “He’s in there,” Roger said softly. “On a prison roll. In a document—real evidence! Don’t you see?” he demanded again, turning back to me. “Going to prison made him a part of written history again! And somewhere in there, we’ll find him!”
    “And what happened to him then,” Brianna breathed. “When he was released.”
    Roger’s lips pressed tight together, to cut off the alternative that sprang to his mind, as it had to mine—“or died.”
    “Yes, that’s right,” he said, taking Brianna’s hand. His eyes met mine, deep green and unfathomable. “When he was released.”

    A week later, Roger’s faith in documents remained unshaken. The same could not be said for the eighteenth-century table in the late Reverend Wakefield’s study, whose spindly legs wobbled and creaked alarmingly beneath their unaccustomed burden.
    This table normally was asked to accommodate no more than a small lamp, and a collection of the Reverend’s smaller artifacts; it was pressed into service now only because every other horizontal surface in the study already overflowed with papers, journals, books, and bulging manila envelopes from antiquarian societies, universities, and research libraries across England, Scotland, and Ireland.
    “If you set one more page on that thing, it’s going to collapse,” Claire observed, as Roger carelessly reached out, meaning to drop the folder he was carrying on the little inlaid table.
    “Ah? Oh, right.” He switched direction in midair, looked vainly for another place to put the folder, and finally settled for placing it on the floor at his feet.
    “I’ve just about finished with Wentworth,” Claire said. She indicated a precarious stack on the floor with her toe. “Have we got in the records for Berwick yet?”
    “Yes, just this morning. Where did I put them, though?” Roger stared vaguely about the room, which strongly resembled the sacking of the library at Alexandria, just before the first torch was lit. He rubbed his forehead, trying to concentrate. After a week of spending ten-hour days thumbing the handwritten registers of British prisons, and the letters, journals, and diaries of their governors, searching for any official trace of Jamie Fraser, Roger was beginning to feel as though his eyes had been sandpapered.
    “It was blue,” he said at last. “I distinctly remember it was blue. I got those from McAllister, the History Lecturer at Trinity at Cambridge, and Trinity College uses those big envelopes in pale blue, with the college’s coat of arms on the front. Maybe Fiona’s seen it. Fiona!”
    He stepped to the study door and called down the hall toward the kitchen. Despite the lateness of the hour, the light was still on, and the heartening scent of cocoa and freshly baked almond cake lingered in the air. Fiona would never abandon her post while there was the faintest possibility that someone in her vicinity might require nourishment.
    “Och, aye?” Fiona’s curly brown head poked out of the kitchen. “There’ll be cocoa ready directly,” she assured him. “I’m only waiting for the cake to be out of the oven.”
    Roger smiled at her with deep affection. Fiona had not the slightest use herself for history—never read anything beyond My Weekly magazine—but she never questioned his activities, tranquilly dusting the heaps of books and papers daily, without bothering about their contents.
    “Thanks, Fiona,” he said. “I was only wondering, though; have you seen a big blue envelope—a fat one, about so?” He measured with his hands. “It came in the morning post, but I’ve misplaced it.”
    “Ye left it in the upstairs bath,” she said promptly. “There’s that great thick book wi’ the gold writing and the picture of the Bonnie Prince on the front up there, and three letters ye’d just opened, and there’s the gas bill, too, which ye dinna want to be forgetting, it’s due on the fourteenth o’ the month. I’ve put it all on the top of the geyser, so as to be out of the way.” A tiny, sharp ding from the oven timer made her withdraw her head abruptly with a smothered exclamation.
    Roger turned and went up the stairs two at a time, smiling. Given other inclinations, Fiona’s memory might have made her a scholar. As it was, she was no mean research assistant. So long as a particular document or book could be described on the basis of its appearance, rather than its title or contents, Fiona was bound to know exactly where it was.
    “Och, it’s nothing,” she had assured Roger airily, when he had tried to apologize earlier for the mess he was making of the house. “Ye’d think the Reverend was still alive, wi’ such a moil of papers strewn everywhere. It’s just like old times, no?”
    Coming down more slowly, with the blue envelope in his hands, he wondered what his late adoptive father might have thought of this present quest.
    “In it up to the eyebrows, I shouldn’t wonder,” he murmured to himself. He had a vivid memory of the Reverend, bald head gleaming under the old-fashioned bowl lamps that hung from the hall ceiling, as he pottered from his study to the kitchen, where old Mrs. Graham, Fiona’s grandmother, would have been manning the stove, supplying the old man’s bodily needs during bouts of late-night scholarship, just as Fiona was now doing for him.
    It made one wonder, he thought, as he went into the study. In the old days, when a man’s son usually followed his father’s profession, was that only a matter of convenience—wanting to keep the business in the family—or was there some sort of family predisposition for some kinds of work? Were some people actually born to be smiths, or merchants, or cooks—born to an inclination and an aptitude, as well as to the opportunity?
    Clearly it didn’t apply to everyone; there were always the people who left their homes, went a-wandering, tried things hitherto unknown in their family circles. If that weren’t so, probably there would be no inventors, no explorers; still, there seemed to be a certain affinity for some careers in some families, even in these restless modern times of widespread education and easy travel.
    What he was really wondering about, he thought to himself, was Brianna. He watched Claire, her curly gold-shot head bent over the desk, and found himself wondering how much Brianna would be like her, and how much like the shadowy Scot—warrior, farmer, courtier, laird—who had been her father?
    His thoughts were still running on such lines a quarter-hour later, when Claire closed the last folder on her stack and sat back, sighing.
    “Penny for your thoughts?” she asked, reaching for her drink.
    “Not worth that much,” Roger replied with a smile, coming out of his reverie. “I was only wondering how people come to be what they are. How did you come to be a doctor, for instance?”
    “How did I come to be a doctor?” Claire inhaled the steam from her cup of cocoa, decided it was too hot to drink, and set it back on the desk, among the litter of books and journals and pencil-scribbled sheets of paper. She gave Roger a half-smile and rubbed her hands together, dispersing the warmth of the cup.
    “How did you come to be a historian?”
    “More or less honestly,” he answered, leaning back in the Reverend’s chair and waving at the accumulation of papers and trivia all around them. He patted a small gilt traveling clock that sat on the desk, an elegant bit of eighteenth-century workmanship, with miniature chimes that struck the hour, the quarter, and the half.
    “I grew up in the midst of it all; I was ferreting round the Highlands in search of artifacts with my father from the time I could read. I suppose it just seemed natural to keep doing it. But you?”
    She nodded and stretched, easing her shoulders from the long hours of stooping over the desk. Brianna, unable to stay awake, had given up and gone to bed an hour before, but Claire and Roger had gone on with their search through the administrative records of British prisons.
    “Well, it was something like that for me,” she said. “It wasn’t so much that I suddenly decided I must become a doctor—it was just that I suddenly realized one day that I’d been one for a long time—and then I wasn’t, and I missed it.”
    She spread her hands out on the desk and flexed her fingers, long and supple, the nails buffed into neat, shiny ovals.
    “There used to be an old song from the First World War,” she said reflectively. “I used to hear it sometimes when some of Uncle Lamb’s old army friends would come round and stay up late and get drunk. It went, ‘How You Gonna Keep ’em Down on the Farm, After They’ve Seen Paree?’” She sang the first line, then broke off with a wry smile.
    “I’d seen Paree,” she said softly. She looked up from her hands, alert and present, but with the traces of memory in her eyes, fixed on Roger with the clarity of a second sight. “And a lot of other things besides. Caen and Amiens, Preston, and Falkirk, the Hôpital des Anges and the so-called surgery at Leoch. I’d been a doctor, in every way there is—I’d delivered babies, set bones, stitched wounds, treated fevers…” She trailed off, and shrugged. “There was a terrible lot I didn’t know, of course. I knew how much I could learn—and that’s why I went to medical school. But it didn’t really make a difference, you know.” She dipped a finger into the whipped cream floating on her cocoa, and licked it off. “I have a diploma with an M.D. on it—but I was a doctor long before I set foot in medical school.”
    “It can’t possibly have been as easy as you make it sound.” Roger blew on his own cocoa, studying Claire with open interest. “There weren’t many women in medicine then—there aren’t that many women doctors now, come to that—and you had a family, besides.”
    “No, I can’t say it was easy at all.” Claire looked at him quizzically. “I waited until Brianna was in school, of course, and we had enough money to afford someone to come in to cook and clean—but…” She shrugged and smiled ironically. “I stopped sleeping for several years, there. That helped a bit. And oddly enough, Frank helped, too.”
    Roger tested his own cup and found it almost cool enough to drink. He held it between his hands, enjoying the heat of the thick white porcelain seeping into his palms. Early June it might be, but the nights were cool enough to make the electric fire still a necessity.
    “Really?” he said curiously. “Only from the things you’ve said about him, I shouldn’t have thought he’d have liked your wanting to go to medical school or be a doctor.”
    “He didn’t.” Her lips pressed tight together; the motion told Roger more than words might, recalling arguments, conversations half-finished and abandoned, an opposition of stubbornness and devious obstruction rather than of open disapproval.
    What a remarkably expressive face she had, he thought, watching her. He wondered quite suddenly whether his own were as easily readable. The thought was so unsettling that he dipped his face into his mug, gulping the cocoa, although it was still a bit too hot.
    He emerged from the cup to find Claire watching him, slightly sardonic.
    “Why?” he asked quickly, to distract her. “What made him change his mind?”
    “Bree,” she said, and her face softened as it always did at the mention of her daughter. “Bree was the only thing really important to Frank.”
    I had, as I’d said, waited until Brianna began school before beginning medical school myself. But even so, there was a large gap between her hours and my own, which we filled haphazardly with a series of more or less competent housekeepers and baby-sitters; some more, most of them less.
    My mind went back to the frightful day when I had gotten a call at the hospital, telling me that Brianna was hurt. I had dashed out of the place, not pausing to change out of the green linen scrub-suit I was wearing, and raced for home, ignoring all speed limits, to find a police car and an ambulance lighting the night with blood-red pulses, and a knot of interested neighbors clustered on the street outside.
    As we pieced the story together later, what had happened was that the latest temporary sitter, annoyed at my being late yet again, had simply put on her coat at quitting time and left, abandoning seven-year-old Brianna with instructions to “wait for Mommy.” This she had obediently done, for an hour or so. But as it began to get dark, she had become frightened in the house alone, and determined to go out and find me. Making her way across one of the busy streets near our house, she had been struck by a car turning into the street.
    She wasn’t—thank God!—hurt badly; the car had been moving slowly, and she had only been shaken and bruised by the experience. Not nearly as shaken as I was, for that matter. Nor as bruised, when I came into the living room to find her lying on the sofa, and she looked at me, tears welling afresh on her stained cheeks and said, “Mommy! Where were you? I couldn’t find you!”
    It had taken just about all my reserves of professional composure to comfort her, to check her over, re-tend her cuts and scrapes, thank her rescuers—who, to my fevered mind, all glared accusingly at me—and put her to bed with her teddy bear clutched securely in her arms. Then I sat down at the kitchen table and cried myself.
    Frank patted me awkwardly, murmuring, but then gave it up, and with more practicality, went to make tea.
    “I’ve decided,” I said, when he set the steaming cup in front of me. I spoke dully, my head feeling thick and clogged. “I’ll resign. I’ll do it tomorrow.”
    “Resign?” Frank’s voice was sharp with astonishment. “From the school? What for?”
    “I can’t stand it anymore.” I never took cream or sugar in my tea. Now I added both, stirring and watching the milky tendrils swirl through the cup. “I can’t stand leaving Bree, and not knowing if she’s well cared for—and knowing she isn’t happy. You know she doesn’t really like any of the sitters we’ve tried.”
    “I know that, yes.” He sat opposite me, stirring his own tea. After a long moment, he said, “But I don’t think you should resign.”
    It was the last thing I had expected; I had thought he would greet my decision with relieved applause. I stared at him in astonishment, then blew my nose yet again on the wadded tissue from my pocket.
    “You don’t?”
    “Ah, Claire.” He spoke impatiently, but with a tinge of affection nonetheless. “You’ve known forever who you are. Do you realize at all how unusual it is to know that?”
    “No.” I wiped my nose with the shredding tissue, dabbing carefully to keep it in one piece.
    Frank leaned back in his chair, shaking his head as he looked at me.
    “No, I suppose not,” he said. He was quiet for a minute, looking down at his folded hands. They were long-fingered, narrow; smooth and hairless as a girl’s. Elegant hands, made for casual gestures and the emphasis of speech.
    He stretched them out on the table and looked at them as though he’d never seen them before.
    “I haven’t got that,” he said quietly at last. “I’m good, all right. At what I do—the teaching, the writing. Bloody splendid sometimes, in fact. And I like it a good bit, enjoy what I do. But the thing is—” He hesitated, then looked at me straight on, hazel-eyed and earnest. “I could do something else, and be as good. Care as much, or as little. I haven’t got that absolute conviction that there’s something in life I’m meant to do—and you have.”
    “Is that good?” The edges of my nostrils were sore, and my eyes puffed from crying.
    He laughed shortly. “It’s damned inconvenient, Claire. To you and me and Bree, all three. But my God, I do envy you sometimes.”
    He reached out for my hand, and after a moment’s hesitation, I let him have it.
    “To have that passion for anything”—a small twitch tugged the corner of his mouth—“or anyone. That’s quite splendid, Claire, and quite terribly rare.” He squeezed my hand gently and let it go, turning to reach behind him for one of the books on the shelf beside the table.
    It was one of his references, Woodhill’s Patriots, a series of profiles of the American Founding Fathers.
    He laid his hand on the cover of the book, gently, as though reluctant to disturb the rest of the sleeping lives interred there.
    “These were people like that. The ones who cared so terribly much—enough to risk everything, enough to change and do things. Most people aren’t like that, you know. It isn’t that they don’t care, but that they don’t care so greatly.” He took my hand again, this time turning it over. One finger traced the lines that webbed my palm, tickling as it went.
    “Is it there, I wonder?” he said, smiling a little. “Are some people destined for a great fate, or to do great things? Or is it only that they’re born somehow with that great passion—and if they find themselves in the right circumstances, then things happen? It’s the sort of thing you wonder, studying history…but there’s no way of telling, really. All we know is what they accomplished.
    “But Claire—” His eyes held a definite note of warning, as he tapped the cover of his book. “They paid for it,” he said.
    “I know.” I felt very remote now, as though I were watching us from a distance; I could see it quite clearly in my mind’s eye; Frank, handsome, lean, and a little tired, going beautifully gray at the temples. Me, grubby in my surgical scrubs, my hair coming down, the front of my shirt crumpled and stained with Brianna’s tears.
    We sat in silence for some time, my hand still resting in Frank’s. I could see the mysterious lines and valleys, clear as a road map—but a road to what unknown destination?
    I had had my palm read once years before, by an old Scottish lady named Graham—Fiona’s grandmother, in fact. “The lines in your hand change as you change,” she had said. “It’s no so much what you’re born with, as what ye make of yourself.”
    And what had I made of myself, what was I making? A mess, that was what. Neither a good mother, nor a good wife, nor a good doctor. A mess. Once I had thought I was whole—had seemed to be able to love a man, to bear a child, to heal the sick—and know that all these things were natural parts of me, not the difficult, troubled fragments into which my life had now disintegrated. But that had been in the past, the man I had loved was Jamie, and for a time, I had been part of something greater than myself.
    “I’ll take Bree.”
    I was so deep in miserable thought that for a moment, Frank’s words didn’t register, and I stared at him stupidly.
    “What did you say?”
    “I said,” he repeated patiently, “that I’ll take Bree. She can come from her school to the university, and play at my office until I’m ready to come home.”
    I rubbed my nose. “I thought you didn’t think it appropriate for staff to bring their children to work.” He had been quite critical of Mrs. Clancy, one of the secretaries, who had brought her grandson to work for a month when his mother was sick.
    He shrugged, looking uncomfortable.
    “Well, circumstances alter cases. And Brianna’s not likely to be running up and down the halls shrieking and spilling ink like Bart Clancy.”
    “I wouldn’t bet my life on it,” I said wryly. “But you’d do that?” A small feeling was growing in the pit of my clenched stomach; a cautious, unbelieving feeling of relief. I might not trust Frank to be faithful to me—I knew quite well he wasn’t—but I did trust him unequivocally to care for Bree.
    Suddenly the worry was removed. I needn’t hurry home from the hospital, filled with dread because I was late, hating the thought of finding Brianna crouched in her room sulking because she didn’t like the current sitter. She loved Frank; I knew she would be ecstatic at the thought of going to his office every day.
    “Why?” I asked bluntly. “It isn’t that you’re dead keen on my being a doctor; I know that.”
    “No,” he said thoughtfully. “It isn’t that. But I do think there isn’t any way to stop you—perhaps the best I can do is to help, so that there will be less damage to Brianna.” His features hardened slightly then, and he turned away.
    “So far as he ever felt he had a destiny—something he was really meant to do—he felt that Brianna was it,” Claire said. She stirred her cocoa meditatively.
    “Why do you care, Roger?” she asked him suddenly. “Why are you asking me?”
    He took a moment to answer, slowly sipping his cocoa. It was rich and dark, made with new cream and a sprinkle of brown sugar. Fiona, always a realist, had taken one look at Brianna and given up her attempts to lure Roger into matrimony via his stomach, but Fiona was a cook the same way Claire was a doctor; born to skill, and unable not to use it.
    “Because I’m a historian, I suppose,” he answered finally. He watched her over the rim of his cup. “I need to know. What people really did, and why they did it.”
    “And you think I can tell you that?” She glanced sharply at him. “Or that I know?”
    He nodded, sipping. “You know, better than most people. Most of a historian’s sources haven’t your”—he paused and gave her a grin—“your unique perspective, shall we say?”
    There was a sudden lessening of tension. She laughed and picked up her own cup. “We shall say that,” she agreed.
    “The other thing,” he went on, watching her closely, “is that you’re honest. I don’t think you could lie, even if you wanted to.”
    She glanced at him sharply, and gave a short, dry laugh.
    “Everyone can lie, young Roger, given cause enough. Even me. It’s only that it’s harder for those of us who live in glass faces; we have to think up our lies ahead of time.”
    She bent her head and shuffled through the papers before her, turning the pages over slowly, one by one. They were lists of names, these sheets, lists of prisoners, copied from the ledger books of British prisons. The task was complicated by the fact that not all prisons had been well-run.
    Some governors kept no official lists of their inmates, or listed them haphazardly in their journals, in among the notations of daily expenditure and maintenance, making no great distinction between the death of a prisoner and the slaughter of two bullocks, salted for meat.
    Roger thought Claire had abandoned the conversation, but a moment later she looked up again.
    “You’re quite right, though,” she said. “I’m honest—from default, more than anything. It isn’t easy for me not to say what I’m thinking. I imagine you see it because you’re the same way.”
    “Am I?” Roger felt absurdly pleased, as though someone had given him an unexpected present.
    Claire nodded, a small smile on her lips as she watched him.
    “Oh, yes. It’s unmistakable, you know. There aren’t many people like that—who will tell you the truth about themselves and anything else right out. I’ve only met three people like that, I think—four now,” she said, her smile widening to warm him.
    “There was Jamie, of course.” Her long fingers rested lightly on the stack of papers, almost caressing in their touch. “Master Raymond, the apothecary I knew in Paris. And a friend I met in medical school—Joe Abernathy. Now you. I think.”
    She tilted her cup and swallowed the last of the rich brown liquid. She set it down and looked directly at Roger.
    “Frank was right, in a way, though. It isn’t necessarily easier if you know what it is you’re meant to do—but at least you don’t waste time in questioning or doubting. If you’re honest—well, that isn’t necessarily easier, either. Though I suppose if you’re honest with yourself and know what you are, at least you’re less likely to feel that you’ve wasted your life, doing the wrong thing.”
    She set aside the stack of papers and drew up another—a set of folders with the characteristic logo of the British Museum on the covers.
    “Jamie had that,” she said softly, as though to herself. “He wasn’t a man to turn away from anything he thought his job. Dangerous or not. And I think he won’t have felt himself wasted—no matter what happened to him.”
    She lapsed into silence, then, absorbed in the spidery tracings of some long-dead writer, looking for the entry that might tell her what Jamie Fraser had done and been, and whether his life had been wasted in a prison cell, or ended in a lonely dungeon.
    The clock on the desk struck midnight, its chimes surprisingly deep and melodious for such a small instrument. The quarter-hour struck, and then the half, punctuating the monotonous rustle of pages. Roger put down the sheaf of flimsy papers he had been thumbing through, and yawned deeply, not troubling to cover his mouth.
    “I’m so tired I’m seeing double,” he said. “Shall we go on with it in the morning?”
    Claire didn’t answer for a moment; she was looking into the glowing bars of the electric fire, a look of unutterable distance on her face. Roger repeated his question, and slowly she came back from wherever she was.
    “No,” she said. She reached for another folder, and smiled at Roger, the look of distance lingering in her eyes. “You go on, Roger,” she said. “I’ll—just look a little longer.”

    When I finally found it, I nearly flipped right past it. I had not been reading the names carefully, but only skimming the pages for the letter “J.” “John, Joseph, Jacques, James.” There were James Edward, James Alan, James Walter, ad infinitum. Then it was there, the writing small and precise across the page: “Jms. MacKenzie Fraser, of Brock Turac.”
    I put the page down carefully on the table, shut my eyes for a moment to clear them, then looked again. It was still there.
    “Jamie,” I said aloud. My heart was beating heavily in my chest. “Jamie,” I said again, more quietly.
    It was nearly three o’clock in the morning. Everyone was asleep, but the house, in the manner of old houses, was still awake around me, creaking and sighing, keeping me company. Strangely enough, I had no desire to leap up and wake Brianna or Roger, to tell them the news. I wanted to keep it to myself for a bit, as though I were alone here in the lamp-lit room with Jamie himself.
    My finger traced the line of ink. The person who had written that line had seen Jamie—perhaps had written this with Jamie standing in front of him. The date at the top of the page was May 16, 1753. It had been close to this time of year, then. I could imagine how the air had been, chilly and fresh, with the rare spring sun across his shoulders, lighting sparks in his hair.
    How had he worn his hair then—short, or long? He had preferred to wear it long, plaited or tailed behind. I remembered the casual gesture with which he would lift the weight of it off his neck to cool himself in the heat of exercise.
    He would not have worn his kilt—the wearing of all tartans had been outlawed after Culloden. Breeks, then, likely, and a linen shirt. I had made such sarks for him; I could feel the softness of the fabric in memory, the billowing length of the three full yards it took to make one, the long tails and full sleeves that let the Highland men drop their plaids and sleep or fight with a sark their only garment. I could imagine his shoulders broad beneath the rough-woven cloth, his skin warm through it, hands touched with the chill of the Scottish spring.
    He had been imprisoned before. How would he have looked, facing an English prison clerk, knowing all too well what waited for him? Grim as hell, I thought, staring down that long, straight nose with his eyes a cold, dark blue—dark and forbidding as the waters of Loch Ness.
    I opened my own eyes, realizing only then that I was sitting on the edge of my chair, the folder of photocopied pages clasped tight to my chest, so caught up in my conjuration that I had not even paid attention to which prison these registers had come from.
    There were several large prisons that the English had used regularly in the eighteenth century, and a number of minor ones. I turned the folder over, slowly. Would it be Berwick, near the border? The notorious Tolbooth of Edinburgh? Or one of the southern prisons, Leeds Castle or even the Tower of London?
    “Ardsmuir,” said the notecard neatly stapled to the front of the folder.
    “Ardsmuir?” I said blankly. “Where the hell is that?”
    8
    HONOR’S PRISONER
    Ardsmuir, Scotland

    February 15, 1755
    “Ardsmuir is the carbuncle on God’s bum,” Colonel Harry Quarry said. He raised his glass sardonically to the young man by the window. “I’ve been here a twelvemonth, and that’s eleven months and twenty-nine days too long. Give you joy of your new posting, my Lord.”
    Major John William Grey turned from the window over the courtyard, where he had been surveying his new domain.
    “It does appear a trifle incommodious,” he agreed dryly, picking up his own glass. “Does it rain all the time?”
    “Of course. It’s Scotland—and the backside of bloody Scotland, at that.” Quarry took a deep pull at his whisky, coughed, and exhaled noisily as he set down the empty glass.
    “The drink is the only compensation,” he said, a trifle hoarsely. “Call on the local booze-merchants in your best uniform, and they’ll make you a decent price. It’s astounding cheap, without the tariff. I’ve left you a note of the best stills.” He nodded toward the massive oaken desk at the side of the room, planted four-square on its island of carpet like a small fortress confronting the barren room. The illusion of fortifications was enhanced by the banners of regiment and nation that hung from the stone wall behind it.
    “The guards’ roster is here,” Quarry said, rising and groping in the top desk drawer. He slapped a battered leather folder on the desktop, and added another on top of that. “And the prisoners’ roll. You have one hundred and ninety-six at the moment; two hundred is the usual count, give or take a few deaths from sickness or the odd poacher taken up in the countryside.”
    “Two hundred,” Grey said. “And how many in the guards’ barracks?”
    “Eighty-two, by number. In use, about half that.” Quarry reached into the drawer again and withdrew a brown glass bottle with a cork. He shook it, heard it slosh, and smiled sardonically. “The commander isn’t the only one to find consolation in drink. Half the sots are usually incapable at roll call. I’ll leave this for you, shall I? You’ll need it.” He put the bottle back and pulled out the lower drawer.
    “Requisitions and copies here; the paperwork’s the worst of the post. Not a great deal to do, really, if you’ve a decent clerk. You haven’t, at the moment; I had a corporal who wrote a fairish hand, but he died two weeks ago. Train up another, and you’ll have nothing to do save to hunt for grouse and the Frenchman’s Gold.” He laughed at his own joke; rumors of the gold that Louis of France had supposedly sent to his cousin Charles Stuart were rife in this end of Scotland.
    “The prisoners are not difficult?” Grey asked. “I had understood them to be mostly Jacobite Highlanders.”
    “They are. But they’re docile enough.” Quarry paused, looking out of the window. A small line of ragged men was issuing from a door in the forbidding stone wall opposite. “No heart in them after Culloden,” he said matter-of-factly. “Butcher Billy saw to that. And we work them hard enough that they’ve no vigor left for troublemaking.”
    Grey nodded. Ardsmuir fortress was undergoing renovation, rather ironically using the labor of the Scots incarcerated therein. He rose and came to join Quarry at the window.
    “There’s a work crew going out now, for peat-cutting.” Quarry nodded at the group below. A dozen bearded men, ragged as scarecrows, formed an awkward line before a red-coated soldier, who walked up and down, inspecting them. Evidently satisfied, he shouted an order and jerked a hand toward the outer gate.
    The prisoners’ crew was accompanied by six armed soldiers, who fell in before and behind, muskets held in marching order, their smart appearance a marked contrast to the ragged Highlanders. The prisoners walked slowly, oblivious to the rain that soaked their rags. A mule-drawn wagon creaked behind, a bundle of peat knives gleaming dully in its bed.
    Quarry frowned, counting them. “Some must be ill; a work crew is eighteen men—three prisoners to a guard, because of the knives. Though surprisingly few of them try to run,” he added, turning away from the window. “Nowhere to go, I suppose.” He left the desk, kicking aside a large woven basket that sat on the hearth, filled with crude chunks of a rough dark-brown substance.
    “Leave the window open, even when it’s raining,” he advised. “The peat smoke will choke you, otherwise.” He took a deep breath in illustration and let it out explosively. “God, I’ll be glad to get back to London!”
    “Not much in the way of local society, I collect?” Grey asked dryly. Quarry laughed, his broad red face creasing in amusement at the notion.
    “Society? My dear fellow! Bar one or two passable blowzabellas down in the village, ‘society’ will consist solely of conversation with your officers—there are four of them, one of whom is capable of speaking without the use of profanity—your orderly, and one prisoner.”
    “A prisoner?” Grey looked up from the ledgers he had been perusing, one fair brow lifted in inquiry.
    “Oh, yes.” Quarry was prowling the office restlessly, eager to be off. His carriage was waiting; he had stayed only to brief his replacement and make the formal handover of command. Now he paused, glancing at Grey. One corner of his mouth curled up, enjoying a secret joke.
    “You’ve heard of Red Jamie Fraser, I expect?”
    Grey stiffened slightly, but kept his face as unmoved as possible.
    “I should imagine most people have,” he said coldly. “The man was notorious during the Rising.” Quarry had heard the story, damn him! All of it, or only the first part?
    Quarry’s mouth twitched slightly, but he merely nodded.
    “Quite. Well, we have him. He’s the only senior Jacobite officer here; the Highlander prisoners treat him as their chief. Consequently, if any matters arise involving the prisoners—and they will, I assure you—he acts as their spokesman.” Quarry was in his stockinged feet; now he sat and tugged on long cavalry boots, in preparation for the mud outside.
    “Seumas, mac an fhear dhuibh, they call him, or just Mac Dubh. Speak Gaelic, do you? Neither do I—Grissom does, though; he says it means ‘James, son of the Black One.’ Half the guards are afraid of him—those that fought with Cope at Prestonpans. Say he’s the Devil himself. Poor devil, now!” Quarry gave a brief snort, forcing his foot into the boot. He stamped once, to settle it, and stood up.
    “The prisoners obey him without question; but give orders without his putting his seal to them, and you might as well be talking to the stones in the courtyard. Ever had much to do with Scots? Oh, of course; you fought at Culloden with your brother’s regiment, didn’t you?” Quarry struck his brow at his pretended forgetfulness. Damn the man! He had heard it all.
    “You’ll have an idea, then. Stubborn does not begin to describe it.” He flapped a hand in the air as though to dismiss an entire contingent of recalcitrant Scots.
    “Which means,” Quarry paused, enjoying it, “you’ll need Fraser’s good-will—or at least his cooperation. I had him take supper with me once a week, to talk things over, and found it answered very well. You might try the same arrangement.”
    “I suppose I might.” Grey’s tone was cool, but his hands were clenched tight at his sides. When icicles grew in hell, he might take supper with James Fraser!
    “He’s an educated man,” Quarry continued, eyes bright with malice, fixed on Grey’s face. “A great deal more interesting to talk to than the officers. Plays chess. You have a game now and then, do you not?”
    “Now and then.” The muscles of his abdomen were clenched so tightly that he had trouble drawing breath. Would this bullet-headed fool not stop talking and leave?
    “Ah, well, I’ll leave you to it.” As though divining Grey’s wish, Quarry settled his wig more firmly, then took his cloak from the hook by the door and swirled it rakishly about his shoulders. He turned toward the door, hat in hand, then turned back.
    “Oh, one thing. If you do dine with Fraser alone—don’t turn your back on him.” The offensive jocularity had left Quarry’s face; Grey scowled at him, but could see no evidence that the warning was meant as a joke.
    “I mean it,” Quarry said, suddenly serious. “He’s in irons, but it’s easy to choke a man with the chain. And he’s a very large fellow, Fraser.”
    “I know.” To his fury, Grey could feel the blood rising in his cheeks. To hide it, he swung about, letting the cold air from the half-open window play on his countenance. “Surely,” he said, to the rain-slick gray stones below, “if he is the intelligent man you say, he would not be so foolish as to attack me in my own quarters, in the midst of the prison? What would be the purpose in it?”
    Quarry didn’t answer. After a moment, Grey turned around, to find the other staring at him thoughtfully, all trace of humor gone from the broad, ruddy face.
    “There’s intelligence,” Quarry said slowly. “And then there are other things. But perhaps you’re too young to have seen hate and despair at close range. There’s been a deal of it in Scotland, these last ten years.” He tilted his head, surveying the new commander of Ardsmuir from his vantage point of fifteen years’ seniority.
    Major Grey was young, no more than twenty-six, and with a fair-complexioned face and girlish lashes that made him look still younger than his years. To compound the problem, he was an inch or two shorter than the average, and fine-boned, as well. He drew himself up straight.
    “I am aware of such things, Colonel,” he said evenly. Quarry was a younger son of good family, like himself, but still his superior in rank; he must keep his temper.
    Quarry’s bright hazel gaze rested on him in speculation.
    “I daresay.”
    With a sudden motion, he clapped his hat on his head. He touched his cheek, where the darker line of a scar sliced across the ruddy skin; a memento of the scandalous duel that had sent him into exile at Ardsmuir.
    “God knows what you did to be sent here, Grey,” he said, shaking his head. “But for your own sake, I hope you deserved it! Luck to you!” And with a swirl of blue cloak, he was gone.

    “Better the Devil ye ken, than the Devil ye don’t,” Murdo Lindsay said, shaking his head lugubriously. “Handsome Harry was nain sae bad.”
    “No, he wasna, then,” agreed Kenny Lesley. “But ye’ll ha’ been here when he came, no? He was a deal better than that shite-face Bogle, aye?”
    “Aye,” said Murdo, looking blank. “What’s your meaning, man?”
    “So if Handsome was better than Bogle,” Lesley explained patiently, “then Handsome was the Devil we didna ken, and Bogle the one that we did—but Handsome was better, in spite of that, so you’re wrong, man.”
    “I am?” Murdo, hopelessly confused by this bit of reasoning, glowered at Lesley. “No, I’m not!”
    “Ye are, then,” Lesley said, losing patience. “Ye’re always wrong, Murdo! Why d’ye argue, when ye’re never in the right of it?”
    “I’m no arguin’!” Murdo protested indignantly. “Ye’re takin’ exception to me, not t’other way aboot.”
    “Only because you’re wrong, man!” Lesley said. “If ye were right, I’d have said not a word.”
    “I’m not wrong! At least I dinna think so,” Murdo muttered, unable to recall precisely what he had said. He turned, appealing to the large figure seated in the corner. “Mac Dubh, was I wrong?”
    The tall man stretched himself, the chain of his irons chiming faintly as he moved, and laughed.
    “No, Murdo, ye’re no wrong. But we canna say if ye’re right yet awhile. Not ’til we see what the new Devil’s like, aye?” Seeing Lesley’s brows draw down in preparation for further dispute, he raised his voice, speaking to the room at large. “Has anyone seen the new Governor yet? Johnson? MacTavish?”
    “I have,” Hayes said, pushing gladly forward to warm his hands at the fire. There was only one hearth in the large cell, and room for no more than six men before it at a time. The other forty were left in bitter chill, huddling together in small groups for warmth.
    Consequently, the agreement was that whoever had a tale to tell or a song to sing might have a place by the hearth, for as long as he spoke. Mac Dubh had said this was a bard-right, that when the bards came to the auld castles, they would be given a warm place and plenty to eat and drink, to the honor of the laird’s hospitality. There was never food or drink to spare here, but the warm place was certain.
    Hayes relaxed, eyes closed and a beatific smile on his face as he spread his hands to the warmth. Warned by restive movement to either side, though, he hastily opened his eyes and began to speak.
    “I saw him when he came in from his carriage, and then again, when I brought up a platter o’ sweeties from the kitchens, whilst he and Handsome Harry were nattering to ain another.” Hayes frowned in concentration.
    “He’s fair-haired, wi’ long yellow locks tied up wi’ blue ribbon. And big eyes and long lashes, too, like a lassie’s.” Hayes leered at his listeners, batting his own stubby lashes in mock flirtation.
    Encouraged by the laughter, he went on to describe the new Governor’s clothes—“fine as a laird’s”—his equipage and servant—“one of they Sassenachs as talks like he’s burnt his tongue”—and as much as had been overheard of the new man’s speech.
    “He talks sharp and quick, like he’ll know what’s what,” Hayes said, shaking his head dubiously. “But he’s verra young, forbye—he looks scarce more than a wean, though I’d reckon he’s older than his looks.”
    “Aye, he’s a bittie fellow, smaller than wee Angus,” Baird chimed in, with a jerk of the head at Angus MacKenzie, who looked down at himself in startlement. Angus had been twelve when he fought beside his father at Culloden. He had spent nearly half his life in Ardsmuir, and in consequence of the poor fare of prison, had never grown much bigger.
    “Aye,” Hayes agreed, “but he carries himself well; shoulders square and a ramrod up his arse.”
    This gave rise to a burst of laughter and ribald comment, and Hayes gave way to Ogilvie, who knew a long and scurrilous story about the laird of Donibristle and the hogman’s daughter. Hayes left the hearth without resentment, and went—as was the custom—to sit beside Mac Dubh.
    Mac Dubh never took his place on the hearth, even when he told them the long stories from the books that he’d read—The Adventures of Roderick Random, The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, or everyone’s favorite, Robinson Crusoe. Claiming that he needed the room to accommodate his long legs, Mac Dubh sat always in his same spot in the corner, where everyone might hear him. But the men who left the fire would come, one by one, and sit down on the bench beside him, to give him the warmth that lingered in their clothes.
    “Shall ye speak to the new Governor tomorrow, d’ye think, Mac Dubh?” Hayes asked as he sat. “I met Billy Malcolm, coming in from the peat-cutting, and he shouted to me as the rats were grown uncommon bold in their cell just now. Six men bitten this sennight as they slept, and two of them festering.”
    Mac Dubh shook his head, and scratched at his chin. He had been allowed a razor before his weekly audiences with Harry Quarry, but it had been five days since the last of these, and his chin was thick with red stubble.
    “I canna say, Gavin,” he said. “Quarry did say as he’d tell the new fellow of our arrangement, but the new man might have his own ways, aye? If I’m called to see him, though, I shall be sure to say about the rats. Did Malcolm ask for Morrison to come and see to the festering, though?” The prison had no doctor; Morrison, who had a touch for healing, was permitted by the guards to go from cell to cell to tend the sick or injured, at Mac Dubh’s request.
    Hayes shook his head. “He hadna time to say more—they were marching past, aye?”
    “Best I send Morrison,” Mac Dubh decided. “He can ask Billy is there aught else amiss there.” There were four main cells where the prisoners were kept in large groups; word passed among them by means of Morrison’s visits and the mingling of men on the work crews that went out daily to haul stone or cut peats on the nearby moor.
    Morrison came at once when summoned, pocketing four of the carved rats’ skulls with which the prisoners improvised games of draughts. Mac Dubh groped under the bench where he sat, drawing out the cloth bag he carried when he went to the moor.
    “Och, not more o’ the damn thistles,” Morrison protested, seeing Mac Dubh’s grimace as he groped in the bag. “I canna make them eat those things; they all say, do I think them kine, or maybe pigs?”
    Mac Dubh gingerly set down a fistful of wilted stalks, and sucked his pricked fingers.
    “They’re stubborn as pigs, to be sure,” he remarked. “It’s only milk thistle. How often must I tell ye, Morrison? Take the thistle heads off, and mash the leaves and stems fine, and if they’re too prickly to eat spread on a bannock, then make a tea of them and have them drink it. I’ve yet to see pigs drink tea, tell them.”
    Morrison’s lined face cracked in a grin. An elderly man, he knew well enough how to handle recalcitrant patients; he only liked to complain for the fun of it.
    “Aye, well, I’ll say have they ever seen a toothless cow?” he said, resigned, as he tucked the limp greens carefully into his own sack. “But you’ll be sure to bare your teeth at Joel McCulloch, next time ye see him. He’s the worst o’ them, for not believin’ as the greens do help wi’ the scurvy.”
    “Say as I’ll bite him in the arse,” Mac Dubh promised, with a flash of his excellent teeth, “if I hear he hasna eaten his thistles.”
    Morrison made the small amused noise that passed for a belly laugh with him, and went to gather up the bits of ointment and the few herbs he had for medicines.
    Mac Dubh relaxed for the moment, glancing about the room to be sure no trouble brewed. There were feuds at the moment; he’d settled Bobby Sinclair and Edwin Murray’s trouble a week back, and while they were not friends, they were keeping their distance from one another.
    He closed his eyes. He was tired; he had been hauling stone all day. Supper would be along in a few minutes—a tub of parritch and some bread to be shared out, a bit of brose too if they were lucky—and likely most of the men would go to sleep soon after, leaving him a few minutes of peace and semiprivacy, when he need not listen to anyone or feel he must do anything.
    He had had no time as yet even to wonder about the new Governor, important as the man would be to all their lives. Young, Hayes had said. That might be good, or might be bad.
    Older men who had fought in the Rising were often prejudiced against Highlanders—Bogle, who had put him in irons, had fought with Cope. A scared young soldier, though, trying to keep abreast of an unfamiliar job, could be more rigid and tyrannical than the crustiest of old colonels. Aye well, and nothing to be done but wait to see.
    He sighed and shifted his posture, incommoded—for the ten-thousandth time—by the manacles he wore. He shifted irritably, banging one wrist against the edge of the bench. He was large enough that the weight of the irons didn’t trouble him overmuch, but they chafed badly with the work. Worse was the inability to spread his arms more than eighteen inches apart; this gave him cramp and a clawing feeling, deep in the muscle of chest and back, that left him only when he slept.
    “Mac Dubh,” said a soft voice beside him. “A word in your ear, if I might?” He opened his eyes to see Ronnie Sutherland perched alongside, pointed face intent and foxlike in the faint glow from the fire.
    “Aye, Ronnie, of course.” He pushed himself upright, and put both his irons and the thought of the new Governor firmly from his mind.

    Dearest mother, John Grey wrote, later that night.
    I am arrived safely at my new post, and find it comfortable. Colonel Quarry, my predecessor—he is the Duke of Clarence’s nephew, you recall?—made me welcome and acquainted with my charge. I am provided with a most excellent servant, and while I am bound to find many things about Scotland strange at first, I am sure I will find the experience interesting. I was served an object for my supper which the steward told me was called a “haggis.” Upon inquiry, this proved to be the interior organ of a sheep, filled with a mixture of ground oats and a quantity of unidentifiable cooked flesh. Though I am assured the inhabitants of Scotland esteem this dish a particular delicacy, I sent it to the kitchens and requested a plain boiled saddle of mutton in its place. Having thus made my first—humble!—meal here, and being somewhat fatigued by the long journey—of whose details I shall inform you in a subsequent missive—I believe I shall now retire, leaving further descriptions of my surroundings—with which I am imperfectly acquainted at present, as it is dark—for a future communication.
    He paused, tapping the quill on the blotter. The point left small dots of ink, and he abstractedly drew lines connecting these, making the outlines of a jagged object.
    Dared he ask about George? Not a direct inquiry, that wouldn’t do, but a reference to the family, asking whether his mother had happened to encounter Lady Everett lately, and might he ask to be remembered to her son?
    He sighed and drew another point on his object. No. His widowed mother was ignorant of the situation, but Lady Everett’s husband moved in military circles. His brother’s influence would keep the gossip to a minimum, but Lord Everett might catch a whiff of it, nonetheless, and be quick enough to put two and two together. Let him drop an injudicious word to his wife about George, and the word pass on from Lady Everett to his mother…the Dowager Countess Melton was not a fool.
    She knew quite well that he was in disgrace; promising young officers in the good graces of their superiors were not sent to the arse-end of Scotland to oversee the renovation of small and unimportant prison-fortresses. But his brother Harold had told her that the trouble was an unfortunate affair of the heart, implying sufficient indelicacy to stop her questioning him about it. She likely thought he had been caught with his colonel’s wife, or keeping a whore in his quarters.
    An unfortunate affair of the heart! He smiled grimly, dipping his pen. Perhaps Hal had a greater sensitivity than he’d thought, in so describing it. But then, all his affairs had been unfortunate, since Hector’s death at Culloden.
    With the thought of Culloden, the thought of Fraser came back to him; something he had been avoiding all day. He looked from the blotter to the folder which held the prisoners’ roll, biting his lip. He was tempted to open it, and look to see the name, but what point was there in that? There might be scores of men in the Highlands named James Fraser, but only one known also as Red Jamie.
    He felt himself flush as waves of heat rolled over him, but it was not nearness to the fire. In spite of that, he rose and went to the window, drawing in great lungfuls of air as though the cold draft could cleanse him of memory.
    “Pardon, sir, but will ye be wantin’ your bed warmed now?” The Scottish speech behind him startled him, and he whirled round to find the tousled head of the prisoner assigned to tend his quarters poking through the door that led to his private rooms.
    “Oh! Er, yes. Thank you…MacDonell?” he said doubtfully.
    “MacKay, my lord,” the man corrected, without apparent resentment, and the head vanished.
    Grey sighed. There was nothing that could be done tonight. He came back to the desk and gathered up the folders, to put them away. The jagged object he had drawn on the blotter looked like one of those spiked maces, with which ancient knights had crushed the heads of their foes. He felt as though he had swallowed one, though perhaps this was no more than indigestion occasioned by half-cooked mutton.
    He shook his head, pulled the letter to him and signed it hastily.
    With all affection, your obt. son, John Wm. Grey. He shook sand over the signature, sealed the missive with his ring and set it aside to be posted in the morning.
    He rose and stood hesitating, surveying the shadowy reaches of the office. It was a great, cold, barren room, with little in it bar the huge desk and a couple of chairs. He shivered; the sullen glow of the peat bricks on the hearth did little to warm its vast spaces, particularly with the freezing wet air coming in at the window.
    He glanced once more at the prisoners’ roll. Then he bent, opened the lower drawer of the desk, and drew out the brown glass bottle. He pinched out the candle, and made his way toward his bed by the dull glow of the hearth.

    The mingled effects of exhaustion and whisky should have sent him to sleep at once, but sleep kept its distance, hovering over his bed like a bat, but never lighting. Every time he felt himself sinking into dreams, a vision of the wood at Carryarrick came before his eyes, and he found himself lying once more wide-awake and sweating, his heart thundering in his ears.
    He had been sixteen then, excited beyond bearing by his first campaign. He had not got his commission then, but his brother Hal had taken him along with the regiment, so that he might get a taste of soldiering.
    Camped at night near a dark Scottish wood, on their way to join General Cope at Prestonpans, John had found himself too nervous to sleep. What would the battle be like? Cope was a great general, all Hal’s friends said so, but the men around the fires told frightful stories of the fierce Highlanders and their bloody broadswords. Would he have the courage to face the dreadful Highland charge?
    He couldn’t bring himself to mention his fears even to Hector. Hector loved him, but Hector was twenty, tall and muscular and fearless, with a lieutenant’s commission and dashing stories of battles fought in France.
    He didn’t know, even now, whether it had been an urge to emulate Hector, or merely to impress him, that had led him to do it. In either case, when he saw the Highlander in the wood, and recognized him from the broadsheets as the notorious Red Jamie Fraser, he had determined to kill or capture him.
    The notion of returning to camp for help had occurred to him, but the man was alone—at least John had thought he was alone—and evidently unawares, seated quietly upon a log, eating a bit of bread.
    And so he had drawn his knife from his belt and crept quietly through the wood toward that shining red head, the haft slippery in his grasp, his mind filled with visions of glory and Hector’s praise.
    Instead, there had been a glancing blow as his knife flashed down, his arm locked tight round the Scot’s neck to choke him, and then—
    Lord John Grey flung himself over in his bed, hot with remembrance. They had fallen back, rolling together in the crackling oak-leaf dark, grappling for the knife, thrashing and fighting—for his life, he had thought.
    First the Scot had been under him, then twisting, somehow over. He had touched a great snake once, a python that a friend of his uncle’s had brought from the Indies, and that was what it had been like, Fraser’s touch, lithe and smooth and horribly powerful, moving like the muscular coils, never where you expected it to be.
    He had been flung ignominiously on his face in the leaves, his wrist twisted painfully behind his back. In a frenzy of terror, convinced he was about to be slain, he had wrenched with all his strength at his trapped arm, and the bone had snapped, with a red-black burst of pain that rendered him momentarily senseless.
    He had come to himself moments later, slumped against a tree, facing a circle of ferocious-looking Highlanders, all in their plaids. In the midst of them stood Red Jamie Fraser—and the woman.
    Grey clenched his teeth. Curse that woman! If it hadn’t been for her—well, God knew what might have happened. What had happened was that she had spoken. She was English, a lady by her speech, and he—idiot that he was!—had leapt at once to the conclusion that she was a hostage of the vicious Highlanders, no doubt kidnapped for the purpose of ravishment. Everyone said that Highlanders indulged in rapine at every opportunity, and took delight in dishonoring Englishwomen; how should he have known otherwise!
    And Lord John William Grey, aged sixteen and filled to the brim with regimental notions of gallantry and noble purpose, bruised, shaken, and fighting the pain of his broken arm, had tried to bargain, to save her from her fate. Fraser, tall and mocking, had played him like a salmon, stripping the woman half-naked before him to force from him information about the position and strength of his brother’s regiment. And then, when he had told all he could, Fraser had laughingly revealed that the woman was his wife. They’d all laughed; he could hear the ribald Scottish voices now, hilarious in memory.
    Grey rolled over, shifting his weight irritably on the unaccustomed mattress. And to make it all worse, Fraser had not even had the decency to kill him, but instead had tied him to a tree, where he would be found by his friends in the morning. By which time Fraser’s men had visited the camp and—with the information he had given them!—had immobilized the cannon they were bringing to Cope.
    Everyone had found out, of course, and while excuses were made because of his age and his noncommissioned status, he had been a pariah and an object of scorn. No one would speak to him, save his brother—and Hector. Loyal Hector.
    He sighed, rubbing his cheek against the pillow. He could see Hector still, in his mind’s eye. Dark-haired and blue-eyed, tender-mouthed, always smiling. It had been ten years since Hector had died at Culloden, hacked to pieces by a Highland broadsword, and still John woke in the dawn sometimes, body arched in clutching spasm, feeling Hector’s touch.
    And now this. He had dreaded this posting, being surrounded by Scots, by their grating voices, overwhelmed with the memory of what they had done to Hector. But never, in the most dismal moments of anticipation, had he thought he would ever meet James Fraser again.
    The peat fire on the hearth died gradually to hot ash, then cold, and the window paled from deep black to the sullen gray of a rainy Scottish dawn. And still John Grey lay sleepless, burning eyes fixed on the smoke-blackened beams above him.

    Grey rose in the morning unrested, but with his mind made up. He was here. Fraser was here. And neither could leave, for the foreseeable future. So. He must see the man now and again—he would be speaking to the assembled prisoners in an hour, and must inspect them regularly thereafter—but he would not see him privately. If he kept the man himself at a distance, perhaps he could also keep at bay the memories he stirred. And the feelings.
    For while it was the memory of his past rage and humiliation that had kept him awake to begin with, it was the other side of the present situation that had left him still wakeful at dawn. The slowly dawning realization that Fraser was now his prisoner; no longer his tormentor, but a prisoner, like the others, entirely at his mercy.
    He rang the bell for his servant and padded to the window to see how the weather kept, wincing at the chill of the stone under his bare feet.
    It was, not surprisingly, raining. In the courtyard below, the prisoners were already being formed up in work crews, wet to the skin. Shivering in his shirt, Grey pulled in his head and shut the window halfway; a nice compromise between death from suffocation and death from the ague.
    It had been visions of revenge that kept him tossing in his bed as the window lightened and the rain pattered on the sill; thoughts of Fraser confined to a tiny cell of freezing stone, kept naked through the winter nights, fed on slops, stripped and flogged in the courtyard of the prison. All that arrogant power humbled, reduced to groveling misery, dependent solely on his word for a moment’s relief.
    Yes, he thought all those things, imagined them in vivid detail, reveled in them. He heard Fraser beg for mercy, imagined himself disdaining, haughty. He thought these things, and the spiked object turned over in his guts, piercing him with self-disgust.
    Whatever he might once have been to Grey, Fraser now was a beaten foe; a prisoner of war, and the charge of the Crown. He was Grey’s charge, in fact; a responsibility, and his welfare the duty of honor.
    His servant had brought hot water for shaving. He splashed his cheeks, feeling the warmth soothe him, laying to rest the tormented fancies of the night. That was all they were, he realized—fancies, and the realization brought him a certain relief.
    He might have met Fraser in battle and taken a real and savage pleasure in killing or maiming him. But the inescapable fact was that so long as Fraser was his prisoner, he could not in honor harm the man. By the time he had shaved and his servant had dressed him, he was recovered enough to find a certain grim humor in the situation.
    His foolish behavior at Carryarrick had saved Fraser’s life at Culloden. Now, that debt discharged, and Fraser in his power, Fraser’s sheer helplessness as a prisoner made him completely safe. For whether foolish or wise, naive or experienced, all the Greys were men of honor.
    Feeling somewhat better, he met his gaze in the looking glass, set his wig to rights, and went to eat breakfast before giving his first address to the prisoners.

    “Will you have your supper served in the sitting room, sir, or in here?” MacKay’s head, uncombed as ever, poked into the office.
    “Um?” Grey murmured, absorbed in the papers spread out on the desk. “Oh,” he said, looking up. “In here, if you please.” He waved vaguely at the corner of the huge desk and returned to his work, scarcely looking up when the tray with his food arrived sometime later.
    Quarry had not been joking about the paperwork. The sheer quantity of food alone required endless orders and requisitions—all orders to be submitted in duplicate to London, if he pleased!—let alone the hundreds of other necessities required by the prisoners, the guards, and the men and women from the village who came in by the day to clean the barracks and work in the kitchens. He had done nothing all day but write and sign requisitions. He must find a clerk soon, or die of sheer ennui.
    Two hundred lb. wheat flowr, he wrote, for prisoners’ use. Six hogsheads ale, for use of barracks. His normally elegant handwriting had quickly degenerated into a utilitarian scrawl, his stylish signature become a curt J. Grey.
    He laid down his pen with a sigh and closed his eyes, massaging the ache between his brows. The sun had not bothered to show its face once since his arrival, and working all day in a smoky room by candlelight left his eyes burning like lumps of coal. His books had arrived the day before, but he had not even unpacked them, too exhausted by nightfall to do more than bathe his aching eyes in cold water and go to sleep.
    He heard a small, stealthy sound, and sat up abruptly, his eyes popping open. A large brown rat sat on the corner of his desk, a morsel of plum cake held in its front paws. It didn’t move, but merely looked at him speculatively, whiskers twitching.
    “Well, God damn my eyes!” Grey exclaimed in amazement. “Here, you bugger! That’s my supper!”
    The rat nibbled pensively at the plum cake, bright beady eyes fixed on the Major.
    “Get out of it!” Enraged, Grey snatched up the nearest object and let fly at the rat. The ink bottle exploded on the stone floor in a spray of black, and the startled rat leapt off the desk and fled precipitously, galloping between the legs of the even more startled MacKay, who appeared at the door to see what the noise was.
    “Has the prison got a cat?” Grey demanded, dumping the contents of his supper tray into the waste can by his desk.
    “Aye, sir, there’s cats in the storerooms,” MacKay offered, crawling backward on hands and knees to wipe up the small black footprints the rat had left in its precipitous flight through the ink puddle.
    “Well, fetch one up here, if you please, MacKay,” Grey ordered. “At once.” He grunted at the memory of that obscenely naked tail draped nonchalantly over his plate. He had encountered rats often enough in the field, of course, but there was something about having his own personal supper molested before his eyes that seemed particularly infuriating.
    He strode to the window and stood there, trying to clear his head with fresh air, as MacKay finished his mopping-up. Dusk was drawing down, filling the courtyard with purple shadows. The stones of the cell wing opposite looked even colder and more dreary than usual.
    The turnkeys were coming through the rain from the kitchen wing; a procession of small carts laden with the prisoners’ food; huge pots of steaming oatmeal and baskets of bread, covered with cloths against the rain. At least the poor devils had hot food after their wet day’s work in the stone quarry.
    A thought struck him as he turned from the window.
    “Are there many rats in the cells?” he asked MacKay.
    “Aye, sir, a great many,” the prisoner replied, with a final swipe to the threshold. “I’ll tell the cook to make ye up a fresh tray, shall I, sir?”
    “If you please,” Grey said. “And then if you will, Mr. MacKay, please see that each cell is provided with its own cat.”
    MacKay looked slightly dubious at this. Grey paused in the act of retrieving his scattered papers.
    “Is there something wrong, MacKay?”
    “No, sir,” MacKay replied slowly. “Only the wee brown beasties do keep down the cockchafers. And with respect, sir, I dinna think the men would care to have a cat takin’ all their rats.”
    Grey stared at the man, feeling mildly queasy.
    “The prisoners eat the rats?” he asked, with a vivid memory of sharp yellow teeth nibbling at his plum cake.
    “Only when they’re lucky enough to catch one, sir,” MacKay said. “Perhaps the cats would be a help wi’ that, after all. Will that be all for tonight, sir?”
    9
    THE WANDERER
    Grey’s resolve concerning James Fraser lasted for two weeks. Then the messenger arrived from the village of Ardsmuir, with news that changed everything.
    “Does he still live?” he asked the man sharply. The messenger, one of the inhabitants of Ardsmuir village who worked for the prison, nodded.
    “I saw him mysel’, sir, when they brought him in. He’s at the Lime Tree now, being cared for—but I didna think he looked as though care would be enough, sir, if ye take my meaning.” He raised one brow significantly.
    “I take it,” Grey answered shortly. “Thank you, Mr.—”
    “Allison, sir, Rufus Allison. Your servant, sir.” The man accepted the shilling offered him, bowed with his hat under his arm, and took his leave.
    Grey sat at his desk, staring out at the leaden sky. The sun had scarcely shone for a day since his arrival. He tapped the end of the quill with which he had been writing on the desk, oblivious to the damage he was inflicting on the sharpened tip.
    The mention of gold was enough to prick up any man’s ears, but especially his.
    A man had been found this morning, wandering in the mist on the moor near the village. His clothes were soaked not only with the damp, but with seawater, and he was out of his mind with fever.
    He had talked unceasingly since he was found, babbling for the most part, but his rescuers were unable to make much sense of his ravings. The man appeared to be Scottish, and yet he spoke in an incoherent mixture of French and Gaelic, with here and there the odd word of English thrown in. And one of those words had been “gold.”
    The combination of Scots, gold, and the French tongue, mentioned in this area of the country, could bring only one thought to the mind of anyone who had fought through the last days of the Jacobite rising. The Frenchman’s Gold. The fortune in gold bullion that Louis of France had—according to rumor—sent secretly to the aid of his cousin, Charles Stuart. But sent far too late.
    Some stories said that the French gold had been hidden by the Highland army during the last headlong retreat to the North, before the final disaster at Culloden. Others held that the gold had never reached Charles Stuart, but had been left for safekeeping in a cave near the place where it had come ashore on the northwestern coast.
    Some said that the secret of the hiding place had been lost, its guardian killed at Culloden. Others said that the hiding place was still known, but a close-kept secret, held among the members of a single Highland family. Whatever the truth, the gold had never been found. Not yet.
    French and Gaelic. Grey spoke passable French, the result of several years fighting abroad, but neither he nor any of his officers spoke the barbarous Gaelic, save a few words Sergeant Grissom had learned as a child from a Scottish nursemaid.
    He could not trust a man from the village; not if there was anything to this tale. The Frenchman’s Gold! Beyond its value as treasure—which would belong to the Crown in any case—the gold had a considerable and personal value to John William Grey. The finding of that half-mythical hoard would be his passport out of Ardsmuir—back to London and civilization. The blackest disgrace would be instantly obscured by the dazzle of gold.
    He bit the end of the blunted quill, feeling the cylinder crack between his teeth.
    Damn. No, it couldn’t be a villager, nor one of his officers. A prisoner, then. Yes, he could use a prisoner without risk, for a prisoner would be unable to make use of the information for his own ends.
    Damn again. All of the prisoners spoke Gaelic, many had some English as well—but only one spoke French besides. He is an educated man, Quarry’s voice echoed in his memory.
    “Damn, damn, damn!” Grey muttered. It couldn’t be helped. Allison had said the wanderer was very ill; there was no time to look for alternatives. He spat out a shred of quill.
    “Brame!” he shouted. The startled corporal poked his head in.
    “Yes, sir?”
    “Bring me a prisoner named James Fraser. At once.”

    The Governor stood behind his desk, leaning on it as though the huge slab of oak were in fact the bulwark it looked. His hands were damp on the smooth wood, and the white stock of his uniform felt tight around his neck.
    His heart leapt violently as the door opened. The Scot came in, his irons chinking slightly, and stood before the desk. The candles were all lit, and the office nearly as bright as day, though it was nearly full dark outside.
    He had seen Fraser several times, of course, standing in the courtyard with the other prisoners, red head and shoulders above most of the other men, but never close enough to see his face clearly.
    He looked different. That was both shock and relief; for so long, he had seen a clean-shaven face in memory, dark with threat or alight with mocking laughter. This man was short-bearded, his face calm and wary, and while the deep blue eyes were the same, they gave no sign of recognition. The man stood quietly before the desk, waiting.
    Grey cleared his throat. His heart was still beating too fast, but at least he could speak calmly.
    “Mr. Fraser,” he said. “I thank you for coming.”
    The Scot bent his head courteously, but did not answer that he had had no choice in the matter; his eyes said that.
    “Doubtless you wonder why I have sent for you,” Grey said. He sounded insufferably pompous to his own ears, but was unable to remedy it. “I find that a situation has arisen in which I require your assistance.”
    “What is that, Major?” The voice was the same—deep and precise, marked with a soft Highland burr.
    He took a deep breath, bracing himself on the desk. He would rather have done anything but ask help of this particular man, but there was no bloody choice. Fraser was the only possibility.
    “A man has been found wandering the moor near the coast,” he said carefully. “He appears to be seriously ill, and his speech is deranged. However, certain…matters to which he refers appear to be of…substantial interest to the Crown. I require to talk with him, and discover as much as I can of his identity, and the matters of which he speaks.”
    He paused, but Fraser merely stood there, waiting.
    “Unfortunately,” Grey said, taking another breath, “the man in question has been heard to speak in a mixture of Gaelic and French, with no more than a word or two of English.”
    One of the Scot’s ruddy eyebrows stirred. His face didn’t change in any appreciable way, but it was evident that he had grasped the implications of the situation.
    “I see, Major.” The Scot’s soft voice was full of irony. “And you would like my assistance to interpret for ye what this man might have to say.”
    Grey couldn’t trust himself to speak, but merely jerked his head in a short nod.
    “I fear I must decline, Major.” Fraser spoke respectfully, but with a glint in his eye that was anything but respectful. Grey’s hand curled tight around the brass letter-opener on his blotter.
    “You decline?” he said. He tightened his grasp on the letter-opener in order to keep his voice steady. “Might I inquire why, Mr. Fraser?”
    “I am a prisoner, Major,” the Scot said politely. “Not an interpreter.”
    “Your assistance would be—appreciated,” Grey said, trying to infuse the word with significance without offering outright bribery. “Conversely,” his tone hardened, “a failure to render legitimate assistance—”
    “It is not legitimate for ye either to extort my services or to threaten me, Major.” Fraser’s voice was a good deal harder than Grey’s.
    “I did not threaten you!” The edge of the letter-opener was cutting into his hand; he was forced to loosen his grip.
    “Did ye no? Well, and I’m pleased to hear it.” Fraser turned toward the door. “In that case, Major, I shall bid ye good night.”
    Grey would have given a great deal simply to have let him go. Unfortunately, duty called.
    “Mr. Fraser!” The Scot stopped, a few feet from the door, but didn’t turn.
    Grey took a deep breath, steeling himself to it.
    “If you do what I ask, I will have your irons struck off,” he said.
    Fraser stood quite still. Young and inexperienced Grey might be, but he was not unobservant. Neither was he a poor judge of men. Grey watched the rise of his prisoner’s head, the increased tension of his shoulders, and felt a small relaxation of the anxiety that had gripped him since the news of the wanderer had come.
    “Mr. Fraser?” he said.
    Very slowly, the Scot turned around. His face was quite expressionless.
    “You have a bargain, Major,” he said softly.

    It was well past midnight when they arrived in the village of Ardsmuir. No lights showed in the cottages they passed, and Grey found himself wondering what the inhabitants thought, as the sound of hooves and the jingle of arms passed by their windows late at night, a faint echo of the English troops who had swept through the Highlands ten years before.
    The wanderer had been taken to the Lime Tree, an inn so called because for many years, it had boasted a huge lime tree in the yard; the only tree of any size for thirty miles. There was nothing left now but a broad stump—the tree, like so many other things, had perished in the aftermath of Culloden, burned for firewood by Cumberland’s troops—but the name remained.
    At the door, Grey paused and turned to Fraser.
    “You will recall the terms of our agreement?”
    “I will,” Fraser answered shortly, and brushed past him.
    In return for having the irons removed, Grey had required three things: firstly, that Fraser would not attempt to escape during the journey to or from the village. Secondly, Fraser would undertake to give a full and true account of all that the vagrant should say. And thirdly, Fraser would give his word as a gentleman to speak to no one but Grey of what he learned.
    There was a murmur of Gaelic voices inside; a sound of surprise as the innkeeper saw Fraser, and deference at the sight of the red coat behind him. The goodwife stood on the stair, an oil-dip in her hand making the shadows dance around her.
    Grey laid a hand on the innkeeper’s arm, startled.
    “Who is that?” There was another figure on the stairs, an apparition, clothed all in black.
    “That is the priest,” Fraser said quietly, beside him. “The man will be dying, then.”
    Grey took a deep breath, trying to steady himself for what might come.
    “Then there is little time to waste,” he said firmly, setting a booted foot on the stair. “Let us proceed.”

    The man died just before dawn, Fraser holding one of his hands, the priest the other. As the priest leaned over the bed, mumbling in Gaelic and Latin, making Popish signs over the body, Fraser sat back on his stool, eyes closed, still holding the small, frail hand in his own.
    The big Scot had sat by the man’s side all night, listening, encouraging, comforting. Grey had stood by the door, not wishing to frighten the man by the sight of his uniform, both surprised and oddly touched at Fraser’s gentleness.
    Now Fraser laid the thin weathered hand gently across the still chest, and made the same sign as the priest had, touching forehead, heart, and both shoulders in turn, in the sign of a cross. He opened his eyes, and rose to his feet, his head nearly brushing the low rafters. He nodded briefly to Grey, and preceded him down the narrow stair.
    “In here.” Grey motioned to the door of the taproom, empty at this hour. A sleepy-eyed barmaid laid the fire for them and brought bread and ale, then went out, leaving them alone.
    He waited for Fraser to refresh himself before asking.
    “Well, Mr. Fraser?”
    The Scot set down his pewter mug and wiped a hand across his mouth. Already bearded, with his long hair neatly plaited, he didn’t look disheveled by the long night watch, but there were dark smudges of tiredness under his eyes.
    “All right,” he said. “It doesna make a great deal of sense, Major,” he added warningly, “but this is all he said.” And he spoke carefully, pausing now and then to recall a word, stopping again to explain some Gaelic reference. Grey sat listening in deepening disappointment; Fraser had been correct—it didn’t make much sense.
    “The white witch?” Grey interrupted. “He spoke of a white witch? And seals?” It scarcely seemed more farfetched than the rest of it, but still he spoke disbelievingly.
    “Aye, he did.”
    “Say it to me again,” Grey commanded. “As best you remember. If you please,” he added.
    He felt oddly comfortable with the man, he realized, with a feeling of surprise. Part of it was sheer fatigue, of course; all his usual reactions and feelings were numbed by the long night and the strain of watching a man die by inches.
    The entire night had seemed unreal to Grey; not least was this odd conclusion, wherein he found himself sitting in the dim dawn light of a country tavern, sharing a pitcher of ale with Red Jamie Fraser.
    Fraser obeyed, speaking slowly, stopping now and then to recall. With the difference of a word here or there, it was identical to the first account—and those parts of it that Grey himself had been able to understand were faithfully translated.
    He shook his head, discouraged. Gibberish. The man’s ravings had been precisely that—ravings. If the man had ever seen any gold—and it did sound as though he had, at one time—there was no telling where or when from this hodgepodge of delusion and feverish delirium.
    “You are quite positive that is all he said?” Grey grasped at the slim hope that Fraser might have omitted some small phrase, some statement that would yield a clue to the lost gold.
    Fraser’s sleeve fell back as he lifted his cup; Grey could see the deep band of raw flesh about his wrist, dark in the gray early light of the taproom. Fraser saw him looking at it, and set down the cup, the frail illusion of companionship shattered.
    “I keep my bargains, Major,” Fraser said, with cold formality. He rose to his feet. “Shall we be going back now?”
    They rode in silence for some time. Fraser was lost in his own thoughts, Grey sunk in fatigue and disappointment. They stopped at a small spring to refresh themselves, just as the sun topped the small hills to the north.
    Grey drank cold water, then splashed it on his face, feeling the shock of it revive him momentarily. He had been awake for more than twenty-four hours, and was feeling slow and stupid.
    Fraser had been awake for the same twenty-four hours, but gave no apparent sign of being troubled by the fact. He was crawling busily around the spring on his hands and knees, evidently plucking some sort of weed from the water.
    “What are you doing, Mr. Fraser?” Grey asked, in some bewilderment.
    Fraser looked up, mildly surprised, but not embarrassed in the slightest.
    “I am picking watercress, Major.”
    “I see that,” Grey said testily. “What for?”
    “To eat, Major,” Fraser replied evenly. He took the stained cloth bag from his belt and dropped the dripping green mass into it.
    “Indeed? Are you not fed sufficiently?” Grey asked blankly. “I have never heard of people eating watercress.”
    “It’s green, Major.”
    In his fatigued state, the Major had suspicions that he was being practiced upon.
    “What in damnation other color ought a weed to be?” he demanded.
    Fraser’s mouth twitched slightly, and he seemed to be debating something with himself. At last he shrugged slightly, wiping his wet hands on the sides of his breeks.
    “I only meant, Major, that eating green plants will stop ye getting scurvy and loose teeth. My men eat such greens as I take them, and cress is better-tasting than most things I can pick on the moor.”
    Grey felt his brows shoot up.
    “Green plants stop scurvy?” he blurted. “Wherever did you get that notion?”
    “From my wife!” Fraser snapped. He turned away abruptly, and stood, tying the neck of his sack with hard, quick movements.
    Grey could not prevent himself asking.
    “Your wife, sir—where is she?”
    The answer was a sudden blaze of dark blue that seared him to the backbone, so shocking was its intensity.
    Perhaps you are too young to know the power of hate and despair. Quarry’s voice spoke in Grey’s memory. He was not; he recognized them at once in the depths of Fraser’s eyes.
    Only for a moment, though; then the man’s normal veil of cool politeness was back in place.
    “My wife is gone,” Fraser said, and turned away again, so abruptly that the movement verged on rudeness.
    Grey felt himself shaken by an unexpected feeling. In part it was relief. The woman who had been both cause of and party to his humiliation was dead. In part, it was regret.
    Neither of them spoke again on the journey back to Ardsmuir.

    Three days later, Jamie Fraser escaped. It had never been a difficult matter for prisoners to escape from Ardsmuir; no one ever did, simply because there was no place for a man to go. Three miles from the prison, the coast of Scotland dropped into the ocean in a spill of crumbled granite. On the other three sides, nothing but empty moorland stretched for miles.
    Once, a man might take to the heather, depending on clan and kinsmen for support and protection. But the clans were crushed, the kin dead, the Scottish prisoners removed far away from their own clan lands. Starving on the bleak moor was little improvement on a prison cell. Escape was not worth it—to anyone but Jamie Fraser, who evidently had a reason.

    The dragoons’ horses kept to the road; while the surrounding moor looked smooth as a velvet counterpane, the purpling heather was a thin layer, deceptively spread over a foot or more of wet, spongy peat moss. Even the red deer didn’t walk at random in that boggy mass—Grey could see four of the animals now, stick figures a mile away, the line of their track through the heather seeming no wider than a thread.
    Fraser, of course, was not mounted. That meant that the escaped prisoner might be anywhere on the moor, free to follow the red deer’s paths.
    It was John Grey’s duty to pursue his prisoner and attempt his recapture. It was something more than duty that had made him strip the garrison for his search party, and urge them on with only the briefest of stops for rest and food. Duty, yes, and an urgent desire to find the French gold and win approval from his masters—and reprieve from this desolate Scottish exile. But there was anger, too, and an odd sense of personal betrayal.
    Grey wasn’t sure whether he was more angry at Fraser for breaking his word, or at himself, for having been fool enough to believe that a Highlander—gentleman or not—held a sense of honor equal to his own. But angry he was, and determined to search every deer path on this moor if necessary, in order to lay James Fraser by the heels.
    They reached the coast the next night, well after dark, after a laborious day of combing the moor. The fog had thinned away over the rocks, swept out by the offshore wind, and the sea spread out before them, cradled by cliffs and strewn with tiny barren islets.
    John Grey stood beside his horse on the clifftops, looking down at the wild black sea. It was a clear night on the coast, thank God, and the moon was at the half; its gleam painted the spray-wet rocks, making them stand out hard and shining as silver ingots against black velvet shadows.
    It was the most desolate place he had ever seen, though it had a sort of terrible beauty about it that made the blood run cold in his veins. There was no sign of James Fraser. No sign of life at all.
    One of the men with him gave a sudden exclamation of surprise, and drew his pistol.
    “There!” he said. “On the rocks!”
    “Hold your fire, fool,” said another of the soldiers, grabbing his companion’s arm. He made no effort to disguise his contempt. “Have you ne’er seen seals?”
    “Ah…no,” said the first man, rather sheepishly. He lowered his pistol, staring out at the small dark forms on the rocks below.
    Grey had never seen seals, either, and he watched them with fascination. They looked like black slugs from this distance, the moonlight gleaming wetly on their coats as they raised restless heads, seeming to roll and weave unsteadily as they made their awkward way on land.
    His mother had had a cloak made of sealskin, when he was a boy. He had been allowed to touch it once, marveling at the feel of it, dark and warm as a moonless summer night. Amazing that such thick, soft fur came from these slick, wet creatures.
    “The Scots call them silkies,” said the soldier who had recognized them. He nodded at the seals with the proprietary air of special knowledge.
    “Silkies?” Grey’s attention was caught; he stared at the man with interest. “What else do you know about them, Sykes?”
    The soldier shrugged, enjoying his momentary importance. “Not a great deal, sir. The folk hereabout have stories about them, though; they say sometimes one of them will come ashore and leave off its skin, and inside is a beautiful woman. If a man should find the skin, and hide it, so she can’t go back, why then—she’ll be forced to stay and be his wife. They make good wives, sir, or so I’m told.”
    “At least they’d always be wet,” murmured the first soldier, and the men erupted in guffaws that echoed among the cliffs, raucous as seabirds.
    “That’s enough!” Grey had to raise his voice, to be heard above the rash of laughter and crude suggestions.
    “Spread out!” Grey ordered. “I want the cliffs searched in both directions—and keep an eye out for boats below; God knows there’s room enough to hide a sloop behind some of those islands.”
    Abashed, the men went without comment. They returned an hour later, wet from spray and disheveled with climbing, but with no sign of Jamie Fraser—or the Frenchman’s Gold.
    At dawn, as the light stained the slippery rocks red and gold, small parties of dragoons were sent off to search the cliffs in both directions, making their way carefully down the rocky clefts and tumbled piles of stone.
    Nothing was found. Grey stood by a fire on the clifftop, keeping an eye on the search. He was swathed in his greatcoat against the biting wind, and fortified periodically by hot coffee, supplied by his servant.
    The man at the Lime Tree had come from the sea, his clothes soaked in saltwater. Whether Fraser had learned something from the man’s words that he had not told, or had decided only to take the chance of looking for himself, surely he also would have gone to the sea. And yet there was no sign of James Fraser, anywhere along this stretch of coast. Worse yet, there was no sign of the gold.
    “If he went in anywhere along this stretch, Major, you’ll have seen the last of him, I’m thinking.” It was Sergeant Grissom, standing beside him, gazing down at the crash and whirl of water through the jagged rocks below. He nodded at the furious water.
    “They call this spot the Devil’s Cauldron, because of the way it boils all the time. Fishermen drowned off this coast are seldom found; there are wicked currents to blame for it, of course, but folk say the Devil seizes them and pulls them below.”
    “Do they?” Grey said bleakly. He stared down into the smash and spume forty feet below. “I wouldn’t doubt it, Sergeant.”
    He turned back toward the campfire.
    “Give orders to search until nightfall, Sergeant. If nothing is found, we’ll start back in the morning.”

    Grey lifted his gaze from his horse’s neck, squinting through the dim early light. His eyes felt swollen from peat smoke and lack of sleep, and his bones ached from several nights spent lying on damp ground.
    The ride back to Ardsmuir would take no more than a day. The thought of a soft bed and a hot supper was delightful—but then he would have to write the official dispatch to London, confessing Fraser’s escape—the reason for it—and his own shameful failure to recapture the man.
    The feeling of bleakness at this prospect was reinforced by a deep griping in the major’s lower abdomen. He raised a hand, signaling a halt, and slid wearily to the ground.
    “Wait here,” he said to his men. There was a small hillock a few hundred feet away; it would afford him sufficient privacy for the relief he sorely needed; his bowels, unaccustomed to Scottish parritch and oatcake, had rebelled altogether at the exigencies of a field diet.
    The birds were singing in the heather. Away from the noise of hooves and harness, he could hear all the tiny sounds of the waking moor. The wind had changed with the dawn, and the scent of the sea came inland now, whispering through the grass. Some small animal made a rustling noise on the other side of a gorse bush. It was all very peaceful.
    Straightening up from what too late struck him as a most undignified posture, Grey raised his head and looked straight into the face of James Fraser.
    He was no more than six feet away. He stood still as one of the red deer, the moor wind brushing over him, with the rising sun tangled in his hair.
    They stood frozen, staring at each other. The smell of the sea came faintly on the wind. There was no sound but the sea wind and the singing of meadowlarks for a moment. Then Grey drew himself up, swallowing to bring his heart down from his throat.
    “I fear you take me at a disadvantage, Mr. Fraser,” he said coolly, fastening his breeches with as much self-possession as he could muster.
    The Scot’s eyes were the only part of him to move, down over Grey and slowly back up. Looked over his shoulder, to where six armed soldiers stood, pointing their muskets. Dark blue eyes met his, straight on. At last, the edge of Fraser’s mouth twitched, and he said, “I think ye take me at the same, Major.”
    10
    WHITE WITCH’S CURSE
    Jamie Fraser sat shivering on the stone floor of the empty storeroom, clutching his knees and trying to get warm. He thought he likely would never be warm again. The chill of the sea had seeped into his bones, and he could still feel the churn of the crashing breakers, deep in his belly.
    He wished for the presence of the other prisoners—Morrison, Hayes, Sinclair, Sutherland. Not only for company, but for the heat of their bodies. On bitter nights, the men would huddle close together for warmth, breathing each other’s stale breath, tolerating the bump and knock of close quarters for the sake of warmth.
    He was alone, though. Likely they would not return him to the large cell with the other men until after they had done whatever they meant to do to him as punishment for escaping. He leaned back against the wall with a sigh, morbidly aware of the bones of his spine pressing against the stone, and the fragility of the flesh covering them.
    He was very much afraid of being flogged, and yet he hoped that would be his punishment. It would be horrible, but it would be soon over—and infinitely more bearable than being put back in irons. He could feel in his flesh the crash of the smith’s hammer, echoing through the bones of his arm as the smith pounded the fetters firmly into place, holding his wrist steady on the anvil.
    His fingers sought the rosary around his neck. His sister had given it to him when he left Lallybroch; the English had let him keep it, as the string of beechwood beads had no value.
    “Hail Mary, full of grace,” he muttered, “blessed art thou amongst women.”
    He hadn’t much hope. That wee yellow-haired fiend of a major had seen, damn his soul—he knew just how terrible the fetters had been.
    “Blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus. Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners…”
    The wee Major had made him a bargain, and he had kept it. The major would not be thinking so, though.
    He had kept his oath, had done as he promised. Had relayed the words spoken to him, one by one, just as he had heard them from the wandering man. It was no part of his bargain to tell the Englishman that he knew the man—or what conclusions he had drawn from the muttered words.
    He had recognized Duncan Kerr at once, changed though he was by time and mortal illness. Before Culloden, he had been a tacksman of Colum MacKenzie, Jamie’s uncle. After, he had escaped to France, to eke out what living might be made there.
    “Be still, a charaid; bi sàmhach,” he had said softly in Gaelic, dropping to his knees by the bed where the sick man lay. Duncan was an elderly man, his worn face wasted by illness and fatigue, and his eyes were bright with fever. At first he had thought Duncan too far gone to know him, but the wasted hand had gripped his with surprising strength, and the man had repeated through his rasping breath, “mo charaid.” My kinsman.
    The innkeeper was watching, from his place near the door, peering over Major Grey’s shoulder. Jamie had bent his head and whispered in Duncan’s ear, “All you say will be told to the English. Speak wary.” The landlord’s eyes narrowed, but the distance between them was too far; Jamie was sure he hadn’t heard. Then the Major had turned and ordered the innkeeper out, and he was safe.
    He couldn’t tell whether it was the effect of his warning, or only the derangement of fever, but Duncan’s speech wandered with his mind, often incoherent, images of the past overlapping with those of the present. Sometimes he had called Jamie “Dougal,” the name of Colum’s brother, Jamie’s other uncle. Sometimes he dropped into poetry, sometimes he simply raved. And within the ravings and the scattered words, sometimes there was a grain of sense—or more than sense.
    “It is cursed,” Duncan whispered. “The gold is cursed. Do ye be warned, lad. It was given by the white witch, given for the King’s son. But the Cause is lost, and the King’s son fled, and she will not let the gold be given to a coward.”
    “Who is she?” Jamie asked. His heart had sprung up and choked him at Duncan’s words, and it beat madly as he asked. “The white witch—who is she?”
    “She seeks a brave man. A MacKenzie, it is for Himself. MacKenzie. It is theirs, she says it, for the sake of him who is dead.”
    “Who is the witch?” Jamie asked again. The word Duncan used was ban-druidh—a witch, a wisewoman, a white lady. They had called his wife that, once. Claire—his own white lady. He squeezed Duncan’s hand tight in his own, willing him to keep his senses.
    “Who?” he said again. “Who is the witch?”
    “The witch,” Duncan muttered, his eyes closing. “The witch. She is a soul-eater. She is death. He is dead, the MacKenzie, he is dead.”
    “Who is dead? Colum MacKenzie?”
    “All of them, all of them. All dead. All dead!” cried the sick man, clutching tight to his hand. “Colum, and Dougal, and Ellen, too.”
    Suddenly his eyes opened, and fixed on Jamie’s. The fever had dilated his pupils, so his gaze seemed a pool of drowning black.
    “Folk do say,” he said, with surprising clarity, “as how Ellen MacKenzie did leave her brothers and her home, and go to wed with a silkie from the sea. She heard them, aye?” Duncan smiled dreamily, the black stare swimming with distant vision. “She heard the silkies singing, there upon the rocks, one, and two, and three of them, and she saw from her tower, one and two, and three of them, and so she came down, and went to the sea, and so under it, to live wi’ the silkies. Aye? Did she no?”
    “So folk say,” Jamie had answered, mouth gone dry. Ellen had been his mother’s name. And that was what folk had said, when she had left her home, to elope with Brian Dubh Fraser, a man with the shining black hair of a silkie. The man for whose sake he was himself now called Mac Dubh—Black Brian’s son.
    Major Grey stood close, on the other side of the bed, brow furrowed as he watched Duncan’s face. The Englishman had no Gaelic, but Jamie would have been willing to wager that he knew the word for gold. He caught the Major’s eye, and nodded, bending again to speak to the sick man.
    “The gold, man,” he said, in French, loud enough for Grey to hear. “Where is the gold?” He squeezed Duncan’s hand as hard as he could, hoping to convey some warning.
    Duncan’s eyes closed, and he rolled his head restlessly, to and fro upon the pillow. He muttered something, but the words were too faint to catch.
    “What did he say?” the Major demanded sharply. “What?”
    “I don’t know.” Jamie patted Duncan’s hand to rouse him. “Speak to me, man, tell me again.”
    There was no response save more muttering. Duncan’s eyes had rolled back in his head, so that only a thin line of gleaming white showed beneath the wrinkled lids. Impatient, the Major leaned forward and shook him by one shoulder.
    “Wake up!” he said. “Speak to us!”
    At once Duncan Kerr’s eyes flew open. He stared up, up, past the two faces bending over him, seeing something far beyond them.
    “She will tell you,” he said, in Gaelic. “She will come for you.” For a split second, his attention seemed to return to the inn room where he lay, and his eyes focused on the men with him. “For both of you,” he said distinctly.
    Then he closed his eyes, and spoke no more, but clung ever tighter to Jamie’s hand. Then after a time, his grip relaxed, his hand slid free, and it was over. The guardianship of the gold had passed.
    And so, Jamie Fraser had kept his word to the Englishman—and his obligation to his countrymen. He had told the Major all that Duncan had said, and the devil of a help to him that had been! And when the opportunity of escape offered, he had taken it—gone to the heather and sought the sea, and done what he could with Duncan Kerr’s legacy. And now he must pay the price of his actions, whatever that turned out to be.
    There were footsteps coming down the corridor outside. He clutched his knees harder, trying to quell the shivering. At least it would be decided now, either way.
    “…pray for us sinners now, and at the hour of our death, amen.”
    The door swung open, letting in a shaft of light that made him blink. It was dark in the corridor, but the guard standing over him held a torch.
    “On your feet.” The man reached down and pulled him up against the stiffness of his joints. He was pushed toward the door, stumbling. “You’re wanted upstairs.”
    “Upstairs? Where?” He was startled at that—the smith’s forge was downstairs from where he was, off the courtyard. And they wouldn’t flog him so late in the evening.
    The man’s face twisted, fierce and ruddy in the torchlight. “To the Major’s quarters,” the guard said, grinning. “And may God have mercy on your soul, Mac Dubh.”

    “No, sir, I will not say where I have been.” He repeated it firmly, trying not to let his teeth chatter. He had been brought not to the office, but to Grey’s private sitting room. There was a fire on the hearth, but Grey was standing in front of it, blocking most of the warmth.
    “Nor why you chose to escape?” Grey’s voice was cool and formal.
    Jamie’s face tightened. He had been placed near the bookshelf, where the light of a triple-branched candlestick fell on his face; Grey himself was no more than a silhouette, black against the fire’s glow.
    “That is my private affair,” he said.
    “Private affair?” Grey echoed incredulously. “Did you say your private affair?”
    “I did.”
    The Governor inhaled strongly through his nose.
    “That is possibly the most outrageous thing I have heard in my life!”
    “Your life has been rather brief, then, Major,” Fraser said. “If you will pardon my saying so.” There was no point in dragging it out or trying to placate the man. Better to provoke a decision at once and get it over with. He had certainly provoked something; Grey’s fists clenched tight at his sides, and he took a step toward him, away from the fire.
    “Have you any notion what I could do to you for this?” Grey inquired, his voice low and very much controlled.
    “Aye, I have. Major.” More than a notion. He knew from experience what they might do to him, and he wasn’t looking forward to it. It wasn’t as though he’d a choice about it, though.
    Grey breathed heavily for a moment, then jerked his head.
    “Come here, Mr. Fraser,” he ordered. Jamie stared at him, puzzled.
    “Here!” he said peremptorily, pointing to a spot directly before him on the hearthrug. “Stand here, sir!”
    “I am not a dog, Major!” Jamie snapped. “Ye’ll do as ye like wi’ me, but I’ll no come when ye call me to heel!”
    Taken by surprise, Grey uttered a short, involuntary laugh.
    “My apologies, Mr. Fraser,” he said dryly. “I meant no offense by the address. I merely wish you to approach nearer. If you will?” He stepped aside and bowed elaborately, gesturing to the hearth.
    Jamie hesitated, but then stepped warily onto the patterned rug. Grey stepped close to him, nostrils flared. So close, the fine bones and fair skin of his face made him look almost girlish. The Major put a hand on his sleeve, and the long-lashed eyes sprang wide in shock.
    “You’re wet!”
    “Yes, I am wet,” Jamie said, with elaborate patience. He was also freezing. A fine, continuous shiver ran through him, even this close to the fire.
    “Why?”
    “Why?” Jamie echoed, astonished. “Did you not order the guards to douse me wi’ water before leaving me in a freezing cell?”
    “I did not, no.” It was clear enough that the Major was telling the truth; his face was pale under the ruddy flush of the firelight, and he looked angry. His lips thinned to a fine line.
    “I apologize for this, Mr. Fraser.”
    “Accepted, Major.” Small wisps of steam were beginning to rise from his clothes, but the warmth was seeping through the damp cloth. His muscles ached from the shivering, and he wished he could lie down on the hearthrug, dog or not.
    “Did your escape have anything to do with the matter of which you learned at the Lime Tree Inn?”
    Jamie stood silent. The ends of his hair were drying, and small wisps floated across his face.
    “Will you swear to me that your escape had nothing to do with that matter?”
    Jamie stood silent. There seemed no point in saying anything, now.
    The little Major was pacing up and down the hearth before him, hands locked behind his back. Now and then, the Major glanced up at him, and then resumed his pacing.
    Finally he stopped in front of Jamie.
    “Mr. Fraser,” he said formally. “I will ask you once more—why did you escape from the prison?”
    Jamie sighed. He wouldn’t get to stand by the fire much longer.
    “I cannot tell you, Major.”
    “Cannot or will not?” Grey asked sharply.
    “It doesna seem a useful distinction, Major, as ye willna hear anything, either way.” He closed his eyes and waited, trying to soak up as much heat as possible before they took him away.
    Grey found himself at a loss, both for words and action. Stubborn does not begin to describe it, Quarry had said. It didn’t.
    He took a deep breath, wondering what to do. He found himself embarrassed by the petty cruelty of the guards’ revenge; the more so because it was just such an action he had first contemplated upon hearing that Fraser was his prisoner.
    He would be perfectly within his rights now to order the man flogged, or put back in irons. Condemned to solitary confinement, put on short rations—he could in justice inflict any of a dozen different punishments. And if he did, the odds of his ever finding the Frenchman’s Gold became vanishingly small.
    The gold did exist. Or at least there was a good probability that it did. Only a belief in that gold would have stirred Fraser to act as he had.
    He eyed the man. Fraser’s eyes were closed, his lips set firmly. He had a wide, strong mouth, whose grim expression was somewhat belied by the sensitive lips, set soft and exposed in their curly nest of red beard.
    Grey paused, trying to think of some way to break past the man’s wall of bland defiance. To use force would be worse than useless—and after the guards’ actions, he would be ashamed to order it, even had he the stomach for brutality.
    The clock on the mantelpiece struck ten. It was late; there was no sound in the fortress, save the occasional footsteps of the soldier on sentry in the courtyard outside the window.
    Clearly neither force nor threat would work in gaining the truth. Reluctantly, he realized that there was only one course open to him, if he still wished to pursue the gold. He must put aside his feelings about the man and take Quarry’s suggestion. He must pursue an acquaintance, in the course of which he might worm out of the man some clue that would lead him to the hidden treasure.
    If it existed, he reminded himself, turning to his prisoner. He took a deep breath.
    “Mr. Fraser,” he said formally, “will you do me the honor to take supper tomorrow in my quarters?”
    He had the momentary satisfaction of having startled the Scottish bastard, at least. The blue eyes opened wide, and then Fraser regained the mastery of his face. He paused for a moment, and then bowed with a flourish, as though he wore a kilt and swinging plaid, and not damp prison rags.
    “It will be my pleasure to attend ye, Major,” he said.
    March 7, 1755
    Fraser was delivered by the guard and left to wait in the sitting room, where a table was laid. When Grey came through the door from his bedroom a few moments later, he found his guest standing by the bookshelf, apparently absorbed in a copy of Nouvelle Héloïse.
    “You are interested in French novels?” he blurted, not realizing until too late how incredulous the question sounded.
    Fraser glanced up, startled, and snapped the book shut. Very deliberately, he returned it to its shelf.
    “I can read, Major,” he said. He had shaved; a slight flush burned high on his cheekbones.
    “I—yes, of course I did not mean—I merely—” Grey’s own cheeks were more flushed than Fraser’s. The fact was that he had subconsciously assumed that the other did not read, his evident education notwithstanding, merely because of his Highland accent and shabby dress.
    While his coat might be shabby, Fraser’s manners were not. He ignored Grey’s flustered apology, and turned to the bookshelf.
    “I have been telling the men the story, but it has been some time since I read it; I thought I would refresh my memory as to the sequence of the ending.”
    “I see.” Just in time, Grey stopped himself from saying “They understand it?”
    Fraser evidently read the unspoken question in his face, for he said dryly, “All Scottish children are taught their letters, Major. Still, we have a great tradition of storytelling in the Highlands.”
    “Ah. Yes. I see.”
    The entry of his servant with dinner saved him from further awkwardness, and the supper passed uneventfully, though there was little conversation, and that little, limited to the affairs of the prison.

    The next time, he had had the chess table set up before the fire, and invited Fraser to join him in a game before the supper was served. There had been a brief flash of surprise from the slanted blue eyes, and then a nod of acquiescence.
    That had been a small stroke of genius, Grey thought in retrospect. Relieved of the need for conversation or social courtesies, they had slowly become accustomed to each other as they sat over the inlaid board of ivory and ebony-wood, gauging each other silently by the movements of the chessmen.
    When they had at length sat down to dine, they were no longer quite strangers, and the conversation, while still wary and formal, was at least true conversation, and not the awkward affair of starts and stops it had been before. They discussed matters of the prison, had a little conversation of books, and parted formally, but on good terms. Grey did not mention gold.

    And so the weekly custom was established. Grey sought to put his guest at ease, in the hopes that Fraser might let drop some clue to the fate of the Frenchman’s Gold. It had not come so far, despite careful probing. Any hint of inquiry as to what had transpired during the three days of Fraser’s absence from Ardsmuir met with silence.
    Over the mutton and boiled potatoes, he did his best to draw his odd guest into a discussion of France and its politics, by way of discovering whether there might exist any links between Fraser and a possible source of gold from the French Court.
    Much to his surprise, he was informed that Fraser had in fact spent two years living in France, employed in the wine business, prior to the Stuart rebellion.
    A certain cool humor in Fraser’s eyes indicated that the man was well aware of the motives behind this questioning. At the same time, he acquiesced gracefully enough in the conversation, though taking some care always to lead questions away from his personal life, and instead toward more general matters of art and society.
    Grey had spent some time in Paris, and despite his attempts at probing Fraser’s French connections, found himself becoming interested in the conversation for its own sake.
    “Tell me, Mr. Fraser, during your time in Paris, did you chance to encounter the dramatic works of Monsieur Voltaire?”
    Fraser smiled. “Oh, aye, Major. In fact, I was privileged to entertain Monsieur Arouet—Voltaire being his nom de plume, aye?—at my table, on more than one occasion.”
    “Really?” Grey cocked a brow in interest. “And is he as great a wit in person as with the pen?”
    “I couldna really say,” Fraser replied, tidily forking up a slice of mutton. “He seldom said anything at all, let alone much sparkling with wit. He only sat hunched over in his chair, watching everyone, wi’ his eyes rolling about from one to another. I shouldna be at all surprised to hear that things said at my dinner table later appeared on the stage, though fortunately I never encountered a parody of myself in his work.” He closed his eyes in momentary concentration, chewing his mutton.
    “Is the meat to your taste, Mr. Fraser?” Grey inquired politely. It was gristled, tough, and seemed barely edible to him. But then, he might well think differently, had he been eating oatmeal, weeds, and the occasional rat.
    “Aye, it is, Major, I thank ye.” Fraser dabbed up a bit of wine sauce and brought the last bite to his lips, making no demur when Grey signaled MacKay to bring back the platter.
    “Monsieur Arouet wouldna appreciate such an excellent meal, I’m afraid,” Fraser said, shaking his head as he helped himself to more mutton.
    “I should expect a man so feted in French society to have somewhat more exacting tastes,” Grey answered dryly. Half his own meal remained on his plate, destined for the supper of the cat Augustus.
    Fraser laughed. “Scarcely that, Major,” he assured Grey. “I have never seen Monsieur Arouet consume anything beyond a glass of water and a dry biscuit, no matter how lavish the occasion. He’s a weazened wee scrap of a man, ye ken, and a martyr to the indigestion.”
    “Indeed?” Grey was fascinated. “Perhaps that explains the cynicism of some of the sentiments I have seen expressed in his plays. Or do you not think that the character of an author shows in the construction of his work?”
    “Given some of the characters that I have seen appear in plays and novels, Major, I should think the author a bit depraved who drew them entirely from himself, no?”
    “I suppose that is so,” Grey answered, smiling at the thought of some of the more extreme fictional characters with whom he was acquainted. “Though if an author constructs these colorful personages from life, rather than from the depths of imagination, surely he must boast a most varied acquaintance!”
    Fraser nodded, brushing crumbs from his lap with the linen napkin.
    “It was not Monsieur Arouet, but a colleague of his—a lady novelist—who remarked to me once that writing novels was a cannibal’s art, in which one often mixed small portions of one’s friends and one’s enemies together, seasoned them with imagination, and allowed the whole to stew together into a savory concoction.”
    Grey laughed at the description, and beckoned to MacKay to take away the plates and bring in the decanters of port and sherry.
    “A delightful description, indeed! Speaking of cannibals, though, have you chanced to be acquainted with Mr. Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe? It has been a favorite of mine since boyhood.”
    The conversation turned then to romances, and the excitement of the tropics. It was very late indeed when Fraser returned to his cell, leaving Major Grey entertained, but no wiser concerning either the source or the disposition of the wanderer’s gold.
    April 2, 1755
    John Grey opened the packet of quills his mother had sent from London. Swan’s quills, both finer and stronger than common goose-quills. He smiled faintly at the sight of them; an unsubtle reminder that his correspondence was in arrears.
    His mother would have to wait until tomorrow, though. He took out the small, monogrammed penknife he always carried, and slowly trimmed a quill to his liking, composing in his mind what he meant to say. By the time he dipped his quill into the ink, the words were clear in his mind, and he wrote quickly, seldom pausing.
    2 April, 1755
    To Harold, Lord Melton, Earl of Moray
    My dear Hal, he wrote, I write to inform you of a recent occurrence which has much engaged my attention. It may amount in the end to nothing, but if there be any substance in the matter, it is of great import. The details of the wandering man’s appearance, and the report of his ravings followed swiftly, but Grey found himself slowing as he told of Fraser’s escape and recapture.
    The fact that Fraser vanished from the precincts of the prison so soon following these events suggests strongly to me that there was in truth some substance in the vagrant’s words.
    If this were the case, however, I find myself at a loss to account for Fraser’s subsequent actions. He was recaptured within three days of his escape, at a point no more than a mile from the coast. The country-side beyond the prison is deserted for a great many miles beyond the village of Ardsmuir, and there is little likelihood of his meeting with a confederate to whom he might pass word of the treasure. Every house in the village has been searched, as was Fraser himself, with no trace discovered of any gold. It is a remote district, and I am reasonably sure that he communicated with no one outside the prison prior to his escape—I am positive that he has not done so since, for he is closely watched.
    Grey stopped, seeing once more the windswept figure of James Fraser, wild as the red stags and as much at home on the moor as one of them.
    He had not the slightest doubt that Fraser could have eluded the dragoons easily, had he so chosen, but he had not. He had deliberately allowed himself to be recaptured. Why? He resumed writing, more slowly.
    It may be, of course, that Fraser failed to find the treasure, or that such a treasure does not exist. I find myself somewhat inclined to this belief, for if he were in possession of a great sum, surely he would have departed from the district at once? He is a strong man, well-accustomed to rough living, and entirely capable, I believe, of making his way overland to some point on the coast from which he might make an escape by sea.
    Grey bit the end of the quill gently, tasting ink. He made a face at the bitterness, rose, and spat out the window. He stood there for a minute, looking out into the cold spring night, absently wiping his mouth.
    It had finally occurred to him to ask; not the question he had been asking all along, but the more important one. He had done it at the conclusion of a game of chess, which Fraser had won. The guard was standing at the door, ready to escort Fraser back to his cell; as the prisoner had risen from his seat, Grey had stood up, too.
    “I shall not ask you again why you left the prison,” he had said, calmly conversational. “But I will ask you—why did you come back?”
    Fraser had frozen briefly, startled. He turned back and met Grey’s eyes directly. For a moment he said nothing. Then his mouth curled up in a smile.
    “I suppose I must value the company, Major; I can tell ye, it’s not the food.”

    Grey snorted slightly, remembering. Unable to think of a suitable response, he had allowed Fraser to leave. It was only later that night that he had laboriously arrived at an answer, at last having had the wit to ask questions of himself, rather than of Fraser. What would he, Grey, have done, had Fraser not returned?
    The answer was that his next step would have been an inquiry into Fraser’s family connections, in case the man had sought refuge or help from them.
    And that, he was fairly sure, was the answer. Grey had not taken part in the subjugation of the Highlands—he had been posted to Italy and France—but he had heard more than enough of that particular campaign. He had seen the blackened stones of too many charred cottages, rising like cairns amid the ruined fields, as he traveled north to Ardsmuir.
    The fierce loyalties of the Scottish Highlanders were legendary. A Highlander who had seen those cots in flames might well choose to suffer prison, irons, or even flogging, to save his family a visitation from English soldiers.
    Grey sat and took up his quill, dipping it afresh.
    You will know, I think, the mettle of the Scots, he wrote. That one in particular, he thought wryly.
    It is unlikely that any force or threat I can exert will induce Fraser to reveal the whereabouts of the gold—should it exist, and if it does not, I can still less expect any threat to be effective! I have instead chosen to begin a formal acquaintance with Fraser, in his capacity as chief of the Scottish prisoners, in hopes of surprising some clue from his conversation. So far, I have gained nothing from this process. One further avenue of approach suggests itself, however.
    For obvious reasons, he went on, writing slowly as he formed the thought, I do not wish to make this matter known officially. To call attention to a hoard that might well prove to be chimerical was dangerous; the chance of disappointment was too great. Time enough, if the gold were found, to inform his superiors and collect his deserved reward—escape from Ardsmuir; a posting back to civilization.
    Therefore I approach you, dear brother, and ask for your help in discovering what particulars may obtain regarding the family of James Fraser. I pray you, do not let anyone be alarmed by your inquiries; if such family connections exist, I would have them ignorant of my interest for the present. My deepest thanks for any efforts you may be able to exert on my behalf, and believe me always,
    He dipped the pen once more and signed with a small flourish,
    Your humble servant and most affectionate brother,
    John William Grey.

    May 15, 1755
    “The men sick of la grippe,” Grey inquired, “how do they fare?” Dinner was over, and with it their conversation of books. Now it was time for business.
    Fraser frowned over the single glass of sherry that was all he would accept in the way of drink. He still had not tasted it, though dinner had been over for some time.
    “None so well. I have more than sixty men ill, fifteen of them verra badly off.” He hesitated. “Might I ask…”
    “I can promise nothing, Mr. Fraser, but you may ask,” Grey answered formally. He had barely sipped his own sherry, nor more than tasted his dinner; his stomach had been knotted with anticipation all day.
    Jamie paused a moment longer, calculating his chances. He wouldn’t get everything; he must try for what was most important, but leave Grey room to reject some requests.
    “We have need of more blankets, Major, more fires, and more food. And medicines.”
    Grey swirled the sherry in his cup, watching the light from the fire play in the vortex. Ordinary business first, he reminded himself. Time enough for the other, later.
    “We have no more than twenty spare blankets in store,” he answered, “but you may have those for the use of the very sick. I fear I cannot augment the ration of food; the rat-spoilage has been considerable, and we lost a great quantity of meal in the collapse of the storeroom two months ago. We have limited resources, and—”
    “It is not so much a question of more,” Fraser put in quickly. “But rather of the type of food. Those who are most ill cannot readily digest the bread and parritch. Perhaps a substitution of some sort might be arranged?” Each man was given, by law, a quart of oatmeal parritch and a small wheaten loaf each day. Thin barley brose supplemented this twice each week, with a quart of meat stew added on Sunday, to sustain the needs of men working at manual labor for twelve to sixteen hours per day.
    Grey raised one eyebrow. “What are you suggesting, Mr. Fraser?”
    “I assume that the prison does have some allowance for the purchase of salt beef, turnips and onions, for the Sunday stew?”
    “Yes, but that allowance must provide for the next quarter’s supplies.”
    “Then what I suggest, Major, is that you might use that money now to provide broth and stew for those who are sick. Those of us who are hale will willingly forgo our share of meat for the quarter.”
    Grey frowned. “But will the prisoners not be weakened, with no meat at all? Will they not be unable to work?”
    “Those who die of the grippe will assuredly not work,” Fraser pointed out acerbically.
    Grey snorted briefly. “True. But those of you who remain healthy will not be healthy long, if you give up your rations for so long a time.” He shook his head. “No, Mr. Fraser, I think not. It is better to let the sick take their chances than to risk many more falling ill.”
    Fraser was a stubborn man. He lowered his head for a moment, then looked up to try again.
    “Then I would ask your leave to hunt for ourselves, Major, if the Crown cannot supply us with adequate food.”
    “Hunt?” Grey’s fair brows rose in astonishment. “Give you weapons and allow you to wander the moors? God’s teeth, Mr. Fraser!”
    “I think God doesna suffer much from the scurvy, Major,” Jamie said dryly. “His teeth are in no danger.” He saw the twitch of Grey’s mouth and relaxed slightly. Grey always tried to suppress his sense of humor, no doubt feeling that put him at a disadvantage. In his dealings with Jamie Fraser, it did.
    Emboldened by that telltale twitch, Jamie pressed on.
    “Not weapons, Major. And not wandering. Will ye give us leave to set snares upon the moor when we cut peats, though? And to keep such meat as we take?” A prisoner would now and then contrive a snare as it was, but as often as not, the catch would be taken from him by the guards.
    Grey drew a deep breath and blew it out slowly, considering.
    “Snares? Would you not require materials for the construction of these snares, Mr. Fraser?”
    “Only a bit of string, Major,” Jamie assured him. “A dozen balls, no more, of any sort of twine or string, and ye may leave the rest to us.”
    Grey rubbed slowly at his cheek in contemplation, then nodded.
    “Very well.” The Major turned to the small secretary, plucked the quill out of its inkwell and made a note. “I shall give orders to that effect tomorrow. Now, as to the rest of your requests…”
    A quarter-hour later, it was settled. Jamie sat back at last, sighing, and finally took a sip of his sherry. He considered that he had earned it.
    He had permission not only for the snares, but for the peat-cutters to work an extra half-hour per day, the extra peats to provide for an additional small fire in each cell. No medicines were to be had, but he had leave for Sutherland to send a message to a cousin in Ullapool, whose husband was an apothecary. If the cousin’s husband were willing to send medicines, the prisoners could have them.
    A decent evening’s work, Jamie thought. He took another sip of sherry and closed his eyes, enjoying the warmth of the fire against his cheek.
    Grey watched his guest beneath lowered lids, seeing the broad shoulders slump a little, tension eased now that their business was finished. Or so Fraser thought. Very good, Grey thought to himself. Yes, drink your sherry and relax. I want you thoroughly off guard.
    He leaned forward to pick up the decanter, and felt the crackle of Hal’s letter in his breast pocket. His heart began to beat faster.
    “Will you not take a drop more, Mr. Fraser? And tell me—how does your sister fare these days?”
    He saw Fraser’s eyes spring open, and his face whiten with shock.
    “How are matters there at—Lallybroch, they call it, do they not?” Grey pushed aside the decanter, keeping his eyes fixed on his guest.
    “I could not say, Major.” Fraser’s voice was even, but his eyes were narrowed to slits.
    “No? But I daresay they do very well these days, what with the gold you have provided them.”
    The broad shoulders tightened suddenly, bunched under the shabby coat. Grey carelessly picked up one of the chessmen from the nearby board, tossing it casually from one hand to the other.
    “I suppose Ian—your brother-in-law is named Ian, I think?—will know how to make good use of it.”
    Fraser had himself under control again. The dark blue eyes met Grey’s directly.
    “Since you are so well informed as to my connections, Major,” he said evenly, “I must suppose that you also are aware that my home lies well over a hundred miles from Ardsmuir. Perhaps you will explain how I might have traveled that distance twice within the space of three days?”
    Grey’s eyes stayed on the chess piece, rolling idly from hand to hand. It was a pawn, a cone-headed little warrior with a fierce face, carved from a cylinder of walrus ivory.
    “You might have met someone upon the moor who would have borne word of the gold—or borne the gold itself—to your family.”
    Fraser snorted briefly.
    “On Ardsmuir? How likely is it, Major, that I should by happenstance encounter a person known to me on that moor? Much less that it should be a person whom I would trust to convey a message such as you suggest?” He set down his glass with finality. “I met no one on the moor, Major.”
    “And should I trust your word to that effect, Mr. Fraser?” Grey allowed considerable skepticism to show in his voice. He glanced up, brows raised. Fraser’s high cheekbones flushed slightly.
    “No one has ever had cause to doubt my word, Major,” he said stiffly.
    “Have they not, indeed?” Grey was not altogether feigning his anger. “I believe you gave me your word, upon the occasion of my ordering your irons stricken off!”
    “And I kept it!”
    “Did you?” The two men sat upright, glaring at each other over the table.
    “You asked three things of me, Major, and I have kept that bargain in every particular!”
    Grey gave a contemptuous snort.
    “Indeed, Mr. Fraser? And if that is so, pray what was it caused you suddenly to despise the company of your fellows and seek congress with the coneys on the moor? Since you assure me that you met no one else—you give me your word that it is so.” This last was spoken with an audible sneer that brought the color surging into Fraser’s face.
    One of the big hands curled slowly into a fist.
    “Aye, Major,” he said softly. “I give ye my word that that is so.” He seemed to realize at this point that his fist was clenched; very slowly, he unfolded it, laying his hand flat on the table.
    “And as to your escape?”
    “And as to my escape, Major, I have told you that I will say nothing.” Fraser exhaled slowly and sat back in his chair, eyes fixed on Grey under thick, ruddy brows.
    Grey paused for a moment, then sat back himself, setting the chess piece on the table.
    “Let me speak plainly, Mr. Fraser. I do you the honor of assuming you to be a sensible man.”
    “I am deeply sensible of the honor, Major, I do assure you.”
    Grey heard the irony, but did not respond; he held the upper hand now.
    “The fact is, Mr. Fraser, that it is of no consequence whether you did in fact communicate with your family regarding the matter of the gold. You might have done so. That possibility alone is sufficient to warrant my sending a party of dragoons to search the premises of Lallybroch—thoroughly—and to arrest and interrogate the members of your family.”
    He reached into his breast pocket and withdrew a piece of paper. Unfolding it, he read the list of names.
    “Ian Murray—your brother-in-law, I collect? His wife, Janet. That would be your sister, of course. Their children, James—named for his uncle, perhaps?”—he glanced up briefly, long enough to catch a glimpse of Fraser’s face, than returned to his list—“Margaret, Katherine, Janet, Michael, and Ian. Quite a brood,” he said, in a tone of dismissal that equated the six younger Murrays with a litter of piglets. He laid the list on the table beside the chess piece.
    “The three eldest children are old enough to be arrested and interrogated with their parents, you know. Such interrogations are frequently ungentle, Mr. Fraser.”
    In this, he spoke no less than the truth, and Fraser knew it. All color had faded from the prisoner’s face, leaving the strong bones stark under the skin. He closed his eyes briefly, then opened them.
    Grey had a brief memory of Quarry’s voice, saying “If you dine alone with the man, don’t turn your back on him.” The hair rose briefly on the back of his neck, but he controlled himself, returning Fraser’s blue stare.
    “What do you want of me?” The voice was low, and hoarse with fury, but the Scot sat motionless, a figure carved in cinnabar, gilded by the flame.
    Grey took a deep breath.
    “I want the truth,” he said softly.
    There was no sound in the chamber save the pop and hiss of the peats in the grate. There was a flicker of movement from Fraser, no more than the twitch of his fingers against his leg, and then nothing. The Scot sat, head turned, staring into the fire as though he sought an answer there.
    Grey sat quietly, waiting. He could afford to wait. At last, Fraser turned back to face him.
    “The truth, then.” He took a deep breath; Grey could see the breast of his linen shirt swell with it—he had no waistcoat.
    “I kept my word, Major. I told ye faithfully all that the man said to me that night. What I didna tell ye was that some of what he said had meaning to me.”
    “Indeed.” Grey held himself still, scarcely daring to move. “And what meaning was that?”
    Fraser’s wide mouth compressed to a thin line.
    “I—spoke to you of my wife,” he said, forcing the words out as though they hurt him.
    “Yes, you said that she was dead.”
    “I said that she was gone, Major,” Fraser corrected softly. His eyes were fixed on the pawn. “It is likely she is dead, but—” He stopped and swallowed, then went on more firmly.
    “My wife was a healer. What they call in the Highlands a charmer, but more than that. She was a white lady—a wisewoman.” He glanced up briefly. “The word in Gaelic is ban-druidh; it also means witch.”
    “The white witch.” Grey also spoke softly, but excitement was thrumming through his blood. “So the man’s words referred to your wife?”
    “I thought they might. And if so—” The wide shoulders stirred in a slight shrug. “I had to go,” he said simply. “To see.”
    “How did you know where to go? Was that also something you gleaned from the vagrant’s words?” Grey leaned forward slightly, curious. Fraser nodded, eyes still fixed on the ivory chess piece.
    “There is a spot I knew of, not too far distant from this place, where there is a shrine to St. Bride. St. Bride was also called ‘the white lady,’” he explained, looking up. “Though the shrine has been there a verra long time—since long before St. Bride came to Scotland.”
    “I see. And so you assumed that the man’s words referred to this spot, as well as to your wife?”
    Again the shrug.
    “I did not know,” Fraser repeated. “I couldna say whether he meant anything to do with my wife, or whether ‘the white witch’ only meant St. Bride—was only meant to direct me to the place—or perhaps neither. But I felt I must go.”
    He described the place in question, and at Grey’s prodding, gave directions for reaching it.
    “The shrine itself is a small stone in the shape of an ancient cross, so weathered that the markings scarce show on it. It stands above a small pool, half-buried in the heather. Ye can find small white stones in the pool, tangled among the roots of the heather that grows on the bank. The stones are thought to have great powers, Major,” he explained, seeing the other’s blank look. “But only when used by a white lady.”
    “I see. And your wife…?” Grey paused delicately.
    Fraser shook his head briefly.
    “There was nothing there to do with her,” he said softly. “She is truly gone.” His voice was low and controlled, but Grey could hear the undertone of desolation.
    Fraser’s face was normally calm and unreadable; he did not change expression now, but the marks of grief were clear, etched in the lines beside mouth and eyes, thrown into darkness by the flickering fire. It seemed an intrusion to break in upon such a depth of feeling, unstated though it was, but Grey had his duty.
    “And the gold, Mr. Fraser?” he asked quietly. “What of that?”
    Fraser heaved a deep sigh.
    “It was there,” he said flatly.
    “What!” Grey sat bolt upright in his chair, staring at the Scot. “You found it?”
    Fraser glanced up at him then, and his mouth twisted wryly.
    “I found it.”
    “Was it indeed the French gold that Louis sent for Charles Stuart?” Excitement was racing through Grey’s bloodstream, with visions of himself delivering great chests of gold louis d’or to his superiors in London.
    “Louis never sent gold to the Stuarts,” Fraser said, with certainty. “No, Major, what I found at the saint’s pool was gold, but not French coin.”
    What he had found was a small box, containing a few gold and silver coins, and a small leather pouch, filled with jewels.
    “Jewels?” Grey blurted. “Where the devil did they come from?”
    Fraser cast him a glance of mild exasperation.
    “I havena the slightest notion, Major,” he said. “How should I know?”
    “No, of course not,” Grey said, coughing to cover his flusterment. “Certainly. But this treasure—where is it now?”
    “I threw it into the sea.”
    Grey stared blankly at him.
    “You—what?”
    “I threw it into the sea,” Fraser repeated patiently. The slanted blue eyes met Grey’s steadily. “Ye’ll maybe have heard of a place called the Devil’s Cauldron, Major? It’s no more than half a mile from the saint’s pool.”
    “Why? Why would you have done such a thing?” Grey demanded. “It isn’t sense, man!”
    “I wasna much concerned with sense at the time, Major,” Fraser said softly. “I had gone there hoping—and with that hope gone, the treasure seemed no more to me than a wee box of stones and bits of tarnished metal. I had no use for it.” He looked up, one brow slightly raised in irony. “But I didna see the ‘sense’ in giving it to King Geordie, either. So I flung it into the sea.”
    Grey sat back in his chair and mechanically poured out another cup of sherry, hardly noticing what he was doing. His thoughts were in turmoil.
    Fraser sat, head turned away and chin propped on his fist, gazing into the fire, his face gone back to its usual impassivity. The light glowed behind him, lighting the long, straight line of his nose and the soft curve of his lip, shadowing jaw and brow with sternness.
    Grey took a good-sized swallow of his drink and steadied himself.
    “It is a moving story, Mr. Fraser,” he said levelly. “Most dramatic. And yet there is no evidence that it is the truth.”
    Fraser stirred, turning his head to look at Grey. Jamie’s slanted eyes narrowed, in what might have been amusement.
    “Aye, there is, Major,” he said. He reached under the waistband of his ragged breeches, fumbled for a moment, and held out his hand above the tabletop, waiting.
    Grey extended his own hand in reflex, and a small object dropped into his open palm.
    It was a sapphire, dark blue as Fraser’s own eyes, and a good size, too.
    Grey opened his mouth, but said nothing, choked with astonishment.
    “There is your evidence that the treasure existed, Major.” Fraser nodded toward the stone in Grey’s hand. His eyes met Grey’s across the tabletop. “And as for the rest—I am sorry to say, Major, that ye must take my word for it.”
    “But—but—you said—”
    “I did.” Fraser was as calm as though they had been discussing the rain outside. “I kept that one wee stone, thinking that it might be some use, if I were ever to be freed, or that I might find some chance of sending it to my family. For ye’ll appreciate, Major”—a light glinted derisively in Jamie’s blue eyes—“that my family couldna make use of a treasure of that sort, without attracting a deal of unwelcome attention. One stone, perhaps, but not a great many of them.”
    Grey could scarcely think. What Fraser said was true; a Highland farmer like his brother-in-law would have no way of turning such a treasure into money without causing talk that would bring down the King’s men on Lallybroch in short order. And Fraser himself might well be imprisoned for the rest of his life. But still, to toss away a fortune so lightly! And yet, looking at the Scot, he could well believe it. If ever there was a man whose judgment would not be distorted by greed, James Fraser was it. Still—
    “How did you keep this by you?” Grey demanded abruptly. “You were searched to the skin when you were brought back.”
    The wide mouth curved slightly in the first genuine smile Grey had seen.
    “I swallowed it,” Fraser said.
    Grey’s hand closed convulsively on the sapphire. He opened his hand and rather gingerly set the gleaming blue thing on the table by the chess piece.
    “I see,” he said.
    “I’m sure ye do, Major,” said Fraser, with a gravity that merely made the glint of amusement in his eyes more pronounced. “A diet of rough parritch has its advantages, now and again.”
    Grey quelled the sudden urge to laugh, rubbing a finger hard over his lip.
    “I’m sure it does, Mr. Fraser.” He sat for a moment, contemplating the blue stone. Then he looked up abruptly.
    “You are a Papist, Mr. Fraser?” He knew the answer already; there were few adherents of the Catholic Stuarts who were not. Without waiting for a reply, he rose and went to the bookshelf in the corner. It took a moment to find; a gift from his mother, it was not part of his usual reading.
    He laid the calf-bound Bible on the table, next to the stone.
    “I am myself inclined to accept your word as a gentleman, Mr. Fraser,” he said. “But you will understand that I have my duty to consider.”
    Fraser gazed at the book for a long moment, then looked up at Grey, his expression unreadable.
    “Aye, I ken that fine, Major,” he said quietly. Without hesitation, he laid a broad hand on the Bible.
    “I swear in the name of Almighty God and by His Holy Word,” he said firmly. “The treasure is as I told you.” His eyes glowed in the firelight, dark and unfathomable. “And I swear on my hope of heaven,” he added softly, “that it rests now in the sea.”
    11
    THE TORREMOLINOS GAMBIT
    With the question of the French gold thus settled, they returned to what had become their routine; a brief period of formal negotiation over the affairs of the prisoners, followed by informal conversation and sometimes a game of chess. This evening, they had come from the dinner table, still discussing Samuel Richardson’s immense novel Pamela.
    “Do you think that the size of the book is justified by the complexity of the story?” Grey asked, leaning forward to light a cheroot from the candle on the sideboard. “It must after all be a great expense to the publisher, as well as requiring a substantial effort from the reader, a book of that length.”
    Fraser smiled. He did not smoke himself, but had chosen to drink port this evening, claiming that to be the only drink whose taste would be unaffected by the stink of tobacco.
    “What is it—twelve hundred pages? Aye, I think so. After all, it is difficult to sum up the complications of a life in a short space with any hope of constructing an accurate account.”
    “True. I have heard the point made, though, that the novelist’s skill lies in the artful selection of detail. Do you not suppose that a volume of such length may indicate a lack of discipline in such selection, and hence a lack of skill?”
    Fraser considered, sipping the ruby liquid slowly.
    “I have seen books where that is the case, to be sure,” he said. “An author seeks by sheer inundation of detail to overwhelm the reader into belief. In this case, however, I think it isna so. Each character is most carefully considered, and all the incidents chosen seem necessary to the story. No, I think it is true that some stories simply require a greater space in which to be told.” He took another sip and laughed.
    “Of course, I admit to some prejudice in that regard, Major. Given the circumstances under which I read Pamela, I should have been delighted had the book been twice as long as it was.”
    “And what circumstances were those?” Grey pursed his lips and blew a careful smoke ring that floated toward the ceiling.
    “I lived in a cave in the Highlands for several years, Major,” Fraser said wryly. “I seldom had more than three books with me, and those must last me for months at a time. Aye, I’m partial to lengthy tomes, but I must admit that it is not a universal preference.”
    “That’s certainly true,” Grey agreed. He squinted, following the track of the first smoke ring, and blew another. Just off target, it drifted to the side.
    “I remember,” he continued, sucking fiercely on his cheroot, encouraging it to draw, “a friend of my mother’s—saw the book—in Mother’s drawing room—” He drew deeply, and blew once more, giving a small grunt of satisfaction as the new ring struck the old, dispersing it into a tiny cloud.
    “Lady Hensley, it was. She picked up the book, looked at it in that helpless way so many females affect and said, ‘Oh, Countess! You are so courageous to attack a novel of such stupendous size. I fear I should never dare to start so lengthy a book myself.’” Grey cleared his throat and lowered his voice from the falsetto he had affected for Lady Hensley.
    “To which Mother replied,” he went on in his normal voice, “‘Don’t worry about it for a moment, my dear; you wouldn’t understand it anyway.’”
    Fraser laughed, then coughed, waving away the remnants of another smoke ring.
    Grey quickly snuffed out the cheroot, and rose from his seat.
    “Come along then; we’ve just time for a quick game.”
    They were not evenly matched; Fraser was much the better player, but Grey could now and then contrive to rescue a match through sheer bravado of play.
    Tonight, he tried the Torremolinos Gambit. It was a risky opening, a queen’s knight opening. Successfully launched, it paved the way for an unusual combination of rook and bishop, depending for its success upon a piece of misdirection by the king’s knight and king bishop’s pawn. Grey used it seldom, for it was a trick that would not work on a mediocre player, one not sharp enough to detect the knight’s threat, or its possibilities. It was a gambit for use against a shrewd and subtle mind, and after nearly three months of weekly games, Grey knew quite well what sort of mind he was facing across the tinted ivory squares.
    He forced himself not to hold his breath as he made the next-to-final move of the combination. He felt Fraser’s eyes rest on him briefly, but didn’t meet them, for fear of betraying his excitement. Instead, he reached to the sideboard for the decanter, and refilled both glasses with the sweet dark port, keeping his eyes carefully on the rising liquid.
    Would it be the pawn, or the knight? Fraser’s head was bent over the board in contemplation, small reddish lights winking in his hair as he moved slightly. The knight, and all was well; it would be too late. The pawn, and all was likely lost.
    Grey could feel his heart beating heavily behind his breastbone as he waited. Fraser’s hand hovered over the board, then suddenly decided, swooped down and touched the piece. The knight.
    He must have let his breath out too noisily, for Fraser glanced sharply up at him, but it was too late. Careful to keep any overt expression of triumph off his face, Grey castled.
    Fraser frowned at the board for a long moment, eyes flicking among the pieces, assessing. Then he jerked slightly, seeing it, and looked up, eyes wide.
    “Why ye cunning wee bastard!” he said, in a tone of surprised respect. “Where in the bloody hell did ye learn that trick?”
    “My elder brother taught it to me,” Grey answered, losing his customary wariness in a rush of delight at his success. He normally beat Fraser no more than three times in ten, and victory was sweet.
    Fraser uttered a short laugh, and reaching out a long index finger, delicately tipped his king over.
    “I should have expected something like that from a man like my Lord Melton,” he observed casually.
    Grey stiffened in his seat. Fraser saw the movement, and arched one brow quizzically.
    “It is Lord Melton ye mean, is it not?” he said. “Or perhaps you have another brother?”
    “No,” Grey said. His lips felt slightly numb, though that might only be the cheroot. “No, I have only one brother.” His heart had begun to pound again, but this time with a heavy, dull beat. Had the Scottish bastard remembered all the time who he was?
    “Our meeting was necessarily rather brief,” the Scot said dryly. “But memorable.” He picked up his glass and took a drink, watching Grey across the crystal rim. “Perhaps ye didna know that I had met Lord Melton, on Culloden Field?”
    “I knew. I fought at Culloden.” All Grey’s pleasure in his victory had evaporated. He felt slightly nauseated from the smoke. “I didn’t know that you would recall Hal, though—or know of the relationship between us.”
    “As I have that meeting to thank for my life, I am not likely to forget it,” Fraser said dryly.
    Grey looked up. “I understand that you were not so thankful when Hal met you at Culloden.”
    The line of Fraser’s mouth tightened, then relaxed.
    “No,” he said softly. He smiled without humor. “Your brother verra stubbornly refused to shoot me. I wasna inclined to be grateful for the favor at the time.”
    “You wished to be shot?” Grey’s eyebrows rose.
    The Scot’s eyes were remote, fixed on the chessboard, but clearly seeing something else.
    “I thought I had reason,” he said softly. “At the time.”
    “What reason?” Grey asked. He caught a gimlet glance and added hastily, “I mean no impertinence in asking. It is only—at that time, I—I felt similarly. From what you have said of the Stuarts, I cannot think that the loss of their cause would have led you to such despair.”
    There was a faint flicker near Fraser’s mouth, much too faint to be called a smile. He inclined his head briefly, in acknowledgment.
    “There were those who fought for love of Charles Stuart—or from loyalty to his father’s right of kingship. But you are right; I wasna one of those.”
    He didn’t explain further. Grey took a deep breath, keeping his eyes fixed on the board.
    “I said that I felt much as you did, at the time. I—lost a particular friend at Culloden,” he said. With half his mind he wondered why he should speak of Hector to this man, of all men; a Scottish warrior who had slashed his way across that deadly field, whose sword might well have been the one…At the same time, he could not help but speak; there was no one to whom he could speak of Hector, save this man, this prisoner who could speak to no one else, whose words could do him no damage.
    “He made me go and look at the body—Hal did, my brother,” Grey blurted. He looked down at his hand, where the deep blue of Hector’s sapphire burned against his skin, a smaller version of the one Fraser had reluctantly given him.
    “He said that I must; that unless I saw him dead, I should never really believe it. That unless I knew Hector—my friend—was really gone, I would grieve forever. If I saw, and knew, I would grieve, but then I should heal—and forget.” He looked up, with a painful attempt at a smile. “Hal is generally right, but not always.”
    Perhaps he had healed, but he would never forget. Certainly he would not forget his last sight of Hector, lying wax-faced and still in the early morning light, long dark lashes resting delicately on his cheeks as they did when he slept. And the gaping wound that had half-severed his head from his body, leaving the windpipe and large vessels of the neck exposed in butchery.
    They sat silent for a moment. Fraser said nothing, but picked up his glass and drained it. Without asking, Grey refilled both glasses for the third time.
    He leaned back in his chair, looking curiously at his guest.
    “Do you find your life greatly burdensome, Mr. Fraser?”
    The Scot looked up then, and met his eyes with a long, level gaze. Evidently, Fraser found nothing in his own face save curiosity, for the broad shoulders across the board relaxed their tension somewhat, and the wide mouth softened its grim line. The Scot leaned back, and flexed his right hand slowly, opening and closing it to stretch the muscles. Grey saw that the hand had been damaged at one time; small scars were visible in the firelight, and two of the fingers were set stiffly.
    “Perhaps not greatly so,” the Scot replied slowly. He met Grey’s eyes with dispassion. “I think perhaps the greatest burden lies in caring for those we cannot help.”
    “Not in having no one for whom to care?”
    Fraser paused before answering; he might have been weighing the position of the pieces on the table.
    “That is emptiness,” he said at last, softly. “But no great burden.”
    It was late; there was no sound from the fortress around them save the occasional step of the soldier on sentry in the courtyard below.
    “Your wife—she was a healer, you said?”
    “She was. She…her name was Claire.” Fraser swallowed, then lifted his cup and drank, as though trying to dislodge something stuck in his throat.
    “You cared very much for her, I think?” Grey said softly.
    He recognized in the Scot the same compulsion he had had a few moments earlier—the need to speak a name kept hidden, to bring back for a moment the ghost of a love.
    “I had meant to thank you sometime, Major,” the Scot said softly.
    Grey was startled.
    “Thank me? For what?”
    The Scot looked up, eyes dark over the finished game.
    “For that night at Carryarrick where we first met.” His eyes were steady on Grey’s. “For what ye did for my wife.”
    “You remembered,” Grey said hoarsely.
    “I hadna forgotten,” Fraser said simply. Grey steeled himself to look across the table, but when he did so, he found no hint of laughter in the slanted blue eyes.
    Fraser nodded at him, gravely formal. “Ye were a worthy foe, Major; I wouldna forget you.”
    John Grey laughed bitterly. Oddly enough, he felt less upset than he had thought he would, at having the shameful memory so explicitly recalled.
    “If you found a sixteen-year-old shitting himself with fear a worthy foe, Mr. Fraser, then it is little wonder that the Highland army was defeated!”
    Fraser smiled faintly.
    “A man that doesna shit himself with a pistol held to his head, Major, has either no bowels, or no brains.”
    Despite himself, Grey laughed. One edge of Fraser’s mouth turned slightly up.
    “Ye wouldna speak to save your own life, but ye would do it to save a lady’s honor. The honor of my own lady,” Fraser said softly. “That doesna seem like cowardice to me.”
    The ring of truth was too evident in the Scot’s voice to mistake or ignore.
    “I did nothing for your wife,” Grey said, rather bitterly. “She was in no danger, after all!”
    “Ye didna ken that, aye?” Fraser pointed out. “Ye thought to save her life and virtue, at the risk of your own. Ye did her honor by the notion—and I have thought of it now and again, since I—since I lost her.” The hesitation in Fraser’s voice was slight; only the tightening of the muscles in his throat betrayed his emotion.
    “I see.” Grey breathed deep, and let it out slowly. “I am sorry for your loss,” he added formally.
    They were both quiet for a moment, alone with their ghosts. Then Fraser looked up and drew in his breath.
    “Your brother was right, Major,” he said. “I thank ye, and I’ll bid ye good e’en.” He rose, set down his cup and left the room.

    It reminded him in some ways of his years in the cave, with his visits to the house, those oases of life and warmth in the desert of solitude. Here, it was the reverse, going from the crowded, cold squalor of the cells up to the Major’s glowing suite, able for a few hours to stretch both mind and body, to relax in warmth and conversation and the abundance of food.
    It gave him the same odd sense of dislocation, though; that sense of losing some valuable part of himself that could not survive the passage back to daily life. Each time, the passage became more difficult.
    He stood in the drafty passageway, waiting for the turnkey to unlock the cell door. The sounds of sleeping men buzzed in his ears and the smell of them wafted out as the door opened, pungent as a fart.
    He filled his lungs with a quick deep breath, and ducked his head to enter.
    There was a stir among the bodies on the floor as he stepped into the room, his shadow falling black across the prone and bundled shapes. The door swung closed behind him, leaving the cell in darkness, but there was a ripple of awareness through the room, as men stirred awake to his coming.
    “You’re back late, Mac Dubh,” said Murdo Lindsay, voice rusty with sleep. “Ye’ll be sair tuckered tomorrow.”
    “I’ll manage, Murdo,” he whispered, stepping over bodies. He pulled off his coat and laid it carefully over the bench, then took up the rough blanket and sought his space on the floor, his long shadow flickering across the moon-barred window.
    Ronnie Sinclair turned over as Mac Dubh lay down beside him. He blinked sleepily, sandy lashes nearly invisible in the moonlight.
    “Did Wee Goldie feed ye decent, Mac Dubh?”
    “He did, Ronnie, thank ye.” He shifted on the stones, seeking a comfortable position.
    “Ye’ll tell us about it tomorrow?” The prisoners took an odd pleasure in hearing what he had been served for dinner, taking it as an honor that their chief should be well fed.
    “Aye, I will, Ronnie,” Mac Dubh promised. “But I must sleep now, aye?”
    “Sleep well, Mac Dubh,” came a whisper from the corner where Hayes was rolled up, curled like a set of teaspoons with MacLeod, Innes, and Keith, who all liked to sleep warm.
    “Sweet dreams, Gavin,” Mac Dubh whispered back, and little by little, the cell settled back into silence.

    He dreamed of Claire that night. She lay in his arms, heavy-limbed and fragrant. She was with child; her belly round and smooth as a muskmelon, her breasts rich and full, the nipples dark as wine, urging him to taste them.
    Her hand cupped itself between his legs, and he reached to return the favor, the small, fat softness of her filling his hand, pressing against him as she moved. She rose over him, smiling, her hair falling down around her face, and threw her leg across him.
    “Give me your mouth,” he whispered, not knowing whether he meant to kiss her or to have her take him between her lips, only knowing he must have her somehow.
    “Give me yours,” she said. She laughed and leaned down to him, hands on his shoulders, her hair brushing his face with the scent of moss and sunlight, and he felt the prickle of dry leaves against his back and knew they lay in the glen near Lallybroch, and her the color of the copper beeches all around; beech leaves and beechwood, gold eyes and a smooth white skin, skimmed with shadows.
    Then her breast pressed against his mouth, and he took it eagerly, drawing her body tight against him as he suckled her. Her milk was hot and sweet, with a faint taste of silver, like a deer’s blood.
    “Harder,” she whispered to him, and put her hand behind his head, gripping the back of his neck, pressing him to her. “Harder.”
    She lay at her length upon him, his hands holding for dear life to the sweet flesh of her buttocks, feeling the small solid weight of the child upon his own belly, as though they shared it now, protecting the small round thing between their bodies.
    He flung his arms about her, tight, and she held him tight as he jerked and shuddered, her hair in his face, her hands in his hair and the child between them, not knowing where any of the three of them began or ended.
    He came awake suddenly, panting and sweating, half-curled on his side beneath one of the benches in the cell. It was not yet quite light, but he could see the shapes of the men who lay near him, and hoped he had not cried out. He closed his eyes at once, but the dream was gone. He lay quite still, his heart slowing, and waited for the dawn.

    June 18, 1755
    John Grey had dressed carefully this evening, with fresh linen and silk stockings. He wore his own hair, simply plaited, rinsed with a tonic of lemon-verbena. He had hesitated for a moment over Hector’s ring, but at last had put it on, too. The dinner had been good; a pheasant he had shot himself, and a salad of greens, in deference to Fraser’s odd tastes for such things. Now they sat over the chessboard, lighter topics of conversation set aside in the concentration of the midgame.
    “Will you have sherry?” He set down his bishop, and leaned back, stretching.
    Fraser nodded, absorbed in the new position.
    “I thank ye.”
    Grey rose and crossed the room, leaving Fraser by the fire. He reached into the cupboard for the bottle, and felt a thin trickle of sweat run down his ribs as he did so. Not from the fire, simmering across the room; from sheer nervousness.
    He brought the bottle back to the table, holding the goblets in his other hand; the Waterford crystal his mother had sent. The liquid purled into the glasses, shimmering amber and rose in the firelight. Fraser’s eyes were fixed on the cup, watching the rising sherry, but with an abstraction that showed he was deep in his thoughts. The dark blue eyes were hooded. Grey wondered what he was thinking; not about the game—the outcome of that was certain.
    Grey reached out and moved his queen’s bishop. It was no more than a delaying move, he knew; still, it put Fraser’s queen in danger, and might force the exchange of a rook.
    Grey got up to put a brick of peat on the fire. Rising, he stretched himself, and strolled behind his opponent to view the situation from this angle.
    The firelight shimmered as the big Scot leaned forward to study the board, picking up the deep red tones of James Fraser’s hair, echoing the glow of the light in the crystalline sherry.
    Fraser had bound his hair back with a thin black cord, tied in a bow. It would take no more than a slight tug to loosen it. John Grey could imagine running his hand up under that thick, glossy mass, to touch the smooth, warm nape beneath. To touch…
    His palm closed abruptly, imagining sensation.
    “It is your move, Major.” The soft Scots voice brought him to himself again, and he took his seat, viewing the chessboard through sightless eyes.
    Without really looking, he was intensely aware of the other’s movements, his presence. There was a disturbance of the air around Fraser; it was impossible not to look at him. To cover his glance, he picked up his sherry glass and sipped, barely noticing the liquid gold taste of it.
    Fraser sat still as a statue of cinnabar, only the deep blue eyes alive in his face as he studied the board. The fire had burned down, and the lines of his body were limned with shadow. His hand, all gold and black with the light of the fire on it, rested on the table, still and exquisite as the captured pawn beside it.
    The blue stone in John Grey’s ring glinted as he reached for his queen’s bishop. Is it wrong, Hector? he thought. That I should love a man who might have killed you? Or was it a way at last to put things right; to heal the wounds of Culloden for them both?
    The bishop made a soft thump as he set the felted base down with precision. Without stopping, his hand rose, as though it moved without his volition. The hand traveled the short distance through the air, looking as though it knew precisely what it wanted, and set itself on Fraser’s, palm tingling, curved fingers gently imploring.
    The hand under his was warm—so warm—but hard, and motionless as marble. Nothing moved on the table but the shimmer of the flame in the heart of the sherry. He lifted his eyes then, to meet Fraser’s.
    “Take your hand off me,” Fraser said, very, very softly. “Or I will kill you.”
    The hand under Grey’s did not move, nor did the face above, but he could feel the shiver of revulsion, a spasm of hatred and disgust that rose from the man’s core, radiating through his flesh.
    Quite suddenly, he heard once more the memory of Quarry’s warning, as clearly as though the man spoke in his ear this moment.
    If you dine with him alone—don’t turn your back on him.
    There was no chance of that; he could not turn away. Could not even look away or blink, to break the dark blue gaze that held him frozen. Moving as slowly as though he stood atop an unexploded mine, he drew back his hand.
    There was a moment’s silence, broken only by the rain’s patter and the hissing of the peat fire, when neither of them seemed to breathe. Then Fraser rose without a sound, and left the room.
    12
    SACRIFICE
    The rain of late November pattered down on the stones of the courtyard, and on the sullen rows of men, standing huddled under the downpour. The Redcoats who stood on guard over them didn’t look much happier than the sodden prisoners.
    Major Grey stood under the overhang of the roof, waiting. It wasn’t the best weather for conducting a search and cleaning of the prisoners’ cells, but at this time of year, it was futile to wait for good weather. And with more than two hundred prisoners in Ardsmuir, it was necessary to swab the cells at least monthly in order to prevent major outbreaks of illness.
    The doors to the main cell block swung back, and a small file of prisoners emerged; the trustys who did the actual cleaning, closely watched by the guards. At the end of the line, Corporal Dunstable came out, his hands full of the small bits of contraband a search of this sort usually turned up.
    “The usual rubbish, sir,” he reported, dumping the collection of pitiful relics and anonymous junk onto the top of a cask that stood near the Major’s elbow. “Just this, you might take notice of.”
    “This” was a small strip of cloth, perhaps six inches by four, in a green tartan check. Dunstable glanced quickly at the lines of standing prisoners, as if intending to catch someone in a telltale action.
    Grey sighed, then straightened his shoulders. “Yes, I suppose so.” The possession of any Scottish tartan was strictly forbidden by the Diskilting Act that had likewise disarmed the Highlanders and prevented the wearing of their native dress. He stepped in front of the rows of men, as Corporal Dunstable gave a sharp shout to attract their attention.
    “Whose is this?” The corporal raised the scrap high, and raised his voice as well. Grey glanced from the scrap of bright cloth to the row of prisoners, mentally ticking off the names, trying to match them to his imperfect knowledge of tartans. Even within a single clan, the patterns varied so wildly that a given pattern couldn’t be assigned with any certainty, but there were general patterns of color and design.
    MacAlester, Hayes, Innes, Graham, MacMurtry, MacKenzie, MacDonald…stop. MacKenzie. That one. It was more an officer’s knowledge of men than any identification of the plaid with a particular clan that made him sure. MacKenzie was a young prisoner, and his face was a shade too controlled, too expressionless.
    “It’s yours, MacKenzie. Isn’t it?” Grey demanded. He snatched the scrap of cloth from the corporal and thrust it under the young man’s nose. The prisoner was white-faced under the blotches of dirt. His jaw was clamped hard, and he was breathing hard through his nose with a faint whistling sound.
    Grey fixed the young man with a hard, triumphant stare. The young Scot had that core of implacable hate that they all had, but he hadn’t managed to build the wall of stoic indifference that held it in. Grey could feel the fear building in the lad; another second and he would break.
    “It’s mine.” The voice was calm, almost bored, and spoke with such flat indifference that neither MacKenzie nor Grey registered it at once. They stood locked in each other’s eyes, until a large hand reached over Angus MacKenzie’s shoulder and gently plucked the scrap of cloth from the officer’s hand.
    John Grey stepped back, feeling the words like a blow in the pit of his stomach. MacKenzie forgotten, he lifted his eyes the several inches necessary to look Jamie Fraser in the face.
    “It isn’t a Fraser tartan,” he said, feeling the words force their way past wooden lips. His whole face felt numb, a fact for which he was dimly grateful; at least his expression couldn’t betray him before the ranks of the watching prisoners.
    Fraser’s mouth widened slightly. Grey kept his gaze fastened on it, afraid to meet the dark blue eyes above.
    “No, it isn’t,” Fraser agreed. “It’s MacKenzie. My mother’s clan.”
    In some far-off corner of his mind, Grey stored away another tiny scrap of information with the small hoard of facts kept in the jeweled coffer labeled “Jamie”—his mother was a MacKenzie. He knew that was true, just as he knew that the tartan didn’t belong to Fraser.
    He heard his voice, cool and steady, saying “Possession of clan tartans is illegal. You know the penalty, of course?”
    The wide mouth curled in a one-sided smile.
    “I do.”
    There was a shifting and a muttering among the ranks of the prisoners; there was little actual movement, but Grey could feel the alignment changing, as though they were in fact drawing toward Fraser, circling him, embracing him. The circle had broken and re-formed, and he was alone outside it. Jamie Fraser had gone back to his own.
    With an effort of will, Grey forced his gaze away from the soft, smooth lips, slightly chapped from exposure to sun and wind. The look in the eyes above them was what he had been afraid of; neither fear nor anger—but indifference.
    He motioned to a guard.
    “Take him.”

    Major John William Grey bent his head over the work on his desk, signing requisitions without reading them. He seldom worked so late at night, but there had not been time during the day, and the paperwork was piling up. The requisitions must be sent to London this week.
    “Two hundred pound wheat flowr,” he wrote, trying to concentrate on the neatness of the black squiggles under his quill. The trouble with such routine paperwork was that it occupied his attention but not his mind, allowing memories of the day to creep in unawares.
    “Six hogsheds ale, for use of barracks.” He set down the quill and rubbed his hands briskly together. He could still feel the chill that had settled in his bones in the courtyard that morning. There was a hot fire, but it didn’t seem to be helping. He didn’t go nearer; he had tried that once, and stood mesmerized, seeing the images of the afternoon in the flames, roused only when the cloth of his breeches began to scorch.
    He picked up the quill and tried again to banish the sights of the courtyard from his mind.
    It was better not to delay execution of sentences of this kind; the prisoners became restless and nervy in anticipation and there was considerable difficulty in controlling them. Executed at once, though, such discipline often had a salutary effect, showing the prisoners that retribution would be swift and dire, enhancing their respect for those who held their guardianship. Somehow John Grey suspected that this particular occasion had not much enhanced his prisoners’ respect—for him, at least.
    Feeling little more than the trickle of ice water through his veins, he had given his orders, swift and composed, and they had been obeyed with equal competence.
    The prisoners had been drawn up in ranks around the four sides of the courtyard square, with shorter lines of guards arranged facing them, bayonets fixed to the ready, to prevent any unseemly outbreak.
    But there had been no outbreak, seemly or otherwise. The prisoners had waited in a chill silence in the light rain that misted the stones of the courtyard, with little sound other than the normal coughs and throat-clearings of any assemblage of men. It was the beginning of winter, and catarrh was almost as common a scourge in the barracks as it was in the damp cells.
    He had stood watching impassively, hands folded behind his back, as the prisoner was led to the platform. Watched, feeling the rain seep into the shoulders of his coat and run in tiny rivulets down the neck of his shirt, as Jamie Fraser stood on the platform a yard away and stripped to the waist, moving without haste or hesitation, as though this were something he had done before, an accustomed task, of no importance in itself.
    He had nodded to the two privates, who seized the prisoner’s unresisting hands and raised them, binding them to the arms of the whipping post. They gagged him, and Fraser stood upright, the rain running down his raised arms, and down the deep seam of his backbone, to soak the thin cloth of his breeches.
    Another nod, to the sergeant who held the charge sheet, and a small surge of annoyance as the gesture caused a cascade of collected rain from one side of his hat. He straightened his hat and sodden wig, and resumed his stance of authority in time to hear the charge and sentence read.
    “…in contravention of the Diskilting Act, passed by His Majesty’s Parliament, for which crime the sentence of sixty lashes shall be inflicted.”
    Grey glanced with professional detachment at the sergeant-farrier designated to give the punishment; this was not the first time for any of them. He didn’t nod this time; the rain was still falling. A half-closing of the eyes instead, as he spoke the usual words:
    “Mr. Fraser, you will take your punishment.”
    And he stood, eyes front and steady, watching, and hearing the thud of the landing flails and the grunt of the prisoner’s breath, forced past the gag by the blow.
    The man’s muscles tightened in resistance to the pain. Again and again, until each separate muscle stood hard under the skin. His own muscles ached with tension, and he shifted inconspicuously from one leg to another, as the brutal tedium continued. Thin streams of red ran down the prisoner’s spine, blood mixed with water, staining the cloth of his breeches.
    Grey could feel the men behind him, soldiers and prisoners both, all eyes fixed on the platform and its central figure. Even the coughing was silenced.
    And over it all like a sticky coat of varnish sealing off Grey’s feelings was a thin layer of self-disgust, as he realized that his eyes were fixed on the scene not out of duty, but from sheer inability to look away from the sheen of mingled rain and blood that gleamed on muscle, tightened in anguish to a curve of wrenching beauty.
    The sergeant-farrier paused only briefly between blows. He was hurrying it slightly; everyone wanted to get it over and get out of the rain. Grissom counted each stroke in a loud voice, noting it on his sheet as he did so. The farrier checked the lash, running the strands with their hard-waxed knots between his fingers to free them of blood and bits of flesh, then raised the cat once more, swung it slowly twice round his head, and struck again. “Thirty!” said the sergeant.
    Major Grey pulled out the lowest drawer of his desk, and was neatly sick, all over a stack of requisitions.

    His fingers were dug hard into his palms, but the shaking wouldn’t stop. It was deep in his bones, like the winter cold.
    “Put a blanket over him; I’ll tend him in a moment.”
    The English surgeon’s voice seemed to come from a long way off; he felt no connection between the voice and the hands that gripped him firmly by both arms. He cried out as they shifted him, the torsion splitting the barely clotted wounds on his back. The trickle of warm blood across his ribs made the shaking worse, despite the rough blanket they laid over his shoulders.
    He gripped the edges of the bench on which he lay, cheek pressed against the wood, eyes closed, struggling against the shaking. There was a stir and a shuffle somewhere in the room, but he couldn’t take notice, couldn’t take his attention from the clenching of his teeth and the tightness of his joints.
    The door closed, and the room grew quiet. Had they left him alone?
    No, there were footsteps near his head, and the blanket over him lifted, folded back to his waist.
    “Mm. Made a mess of you, didn’t he, boy?”
    He didn’t answer; no answer seemed expected, in any case. The surgeon turned away for a moment; then he felt a hand beneath his cheek, lifting his head. A towel slid beneath his face, cushioning it from the rough wood.
    “I’m going to cleanse the wounds now,” the voice said. It was impersonal, but not unfriendly.
    He drew in his breath through his teeth as a hand touched his back. There was an odd whimpering noise. He realized he had made it, and was ashamed.
    “How old are you, boy?”
    “Nineteen.” He barely got the word out, before biting down hard on a moan.
    The doctor touched his back gently here and there, then stood up. He heard the sound of the bolt being shot to, then the doctor’s steps returning.
    “No one will come in now,” the voice said kindly. “Go ahead and cry.”
    “Hey!” the voice was saying. “Wake up, man!”
    He came slowly to consciousness; the roughness of wood beneath his cheek brought dream and waking together for a moment, and he couldn’t remember where he was. A hand came out of the darkness, touching him tentatively on the cheek.
    “Ye were greetin’ in your sleep, man,” the voice whispered. “Does it pain ye much?”
    “A bit.” He realized the other link between dreaming and waking as he tried to raise himself and the pain crackled over his back like sheet lightning. He let out his breath in an involuntary grunt and dropped back on the bench.
    He had been lucky; he had drawn Dawes, a stout, middle-aged soldier who didn’t really like flogging prisoners, and did it only because it was part of his job. Still, sixty lashes did damage, even if applied without enthusiasm.
    “Nah, then, that’s too hot by half. Want to scald him, do ye?” It was Morrison’s voice, scolding. It would be Morrison, of course.
    Odd, he thought dimly. How whenever you had a group of men, they seemed to find their proper jobs, no matter whether it was a thing they’d done before. Morrison had been a cottar, like most of them. Likely a good hand with his beasts, but not thinking much about it. Now he was the natural healer for the men, the one they turned to with a griping belly or a broken thumb. Morrison knew little more than the rest, but the men turned to him when they were hurt, as they turned to Seumus Mac Dubh for reassurance and direction. And for justice.
    The steaming cloth was laid across his back and he grunted with the sting of it, pressing his lips tight to keep from crying out. He could feel the shape of Morrison’s small hand, lightly laid in the center of his back.
    “Bide ye, man,’til the heat passes.”
    As the nightmare faded, he blinked for a moment, adjusting himself to the nearby voices and the perception of company. He was in the large cell, in the shadowy nook by the chimney breast. Steam rose from the fire; there must be a cauldron boiling. He saw Walter MacLeod lower a fresh armful of rags into its depths, the fire touching MacLeod’s dark beard and brows with red. Then, as the heated rags on his back cooled to a soothing warmth, he closed his eyes and sank back into a half-doze, lulled by the soft conversation of the men nearby.
    It was familiar, this state of dreamy detachment. He had felt much the same ever since the moment when he had reached over young Angus’s shoulder and closed his fist on the scrap of tartan cloth. As though with that choice, some curtain had come down between him and the men around him; as though he were alone, in some quiet place of infinite remoteness.
    He had followed the guard who took him, stripped himself when told, but all without feeling as though he had truly waked. Taken his place on the platform and heard the words of crime and sentence pronounced, without really listening. Not even the rough bite of the rope on his wrists or the cold rain on his naked back had roused him. These seemed all things that had happened before; nothing he said or did could change a thing; it was all fated.
    As for the flogging, he had borne it. There was no room then for thought or regret, or for anything beyond the stubborn, desperate struggle such bodily insult required.
    “Still, now, still.” Morrison’s hand rested on his neck, to prevent his moving as the sodden rags were taken off and a fresh, hot poultice applied, momentarily rousing all the dormant nerves to fresh startlement.
    One consequence of his odd state of mind was that all sensations seemed of equal intensity. He could, if he tried, feel each separate stripe across his back, see each one in his mind’s eye as a vivid streak of color across the dark of imagination. But the pain of the gash that ran from ribs to shoulder was of no more weight or consequence than the almost pleasant feeling of heaviness in his legs, the soreness in his arms, or the soft tickling brush of his hair across his cheek.
    His pulse beat slow and regular in his ears; the sigh of his breath was a thing apart from the heave of his chest as he breathed. He existed only as a collection of fragments, each small piece with its own sensations, and none of them of any particular concern to the central intelligence.
    “Here, Mac Dubh,” said Morrison’s voice, next to his ear. “Lift your head, and drink this.”
    The sharp scent of whisky struck him, and he tried to turn his head away.
    “I don’t need it,” he said.
    “That ye do,” Morrison said, with that firm matter-of-factness that all healers seemed to have, as though they always knew better than you did what you felt like or what you required. Lacking strength or will to argue, he opened his mouth and sipped the whisky, feeling his neck muscles quiver under the strain of holding his head up.
    The whisky added its own bit to the chorus of sensations that filled him. A burn in throat and belly, sharp tingle up the back of the nose, and a sort of whirling in his head that told him he had drunk too much, too fast.
    “A bit more, now, aye, that’s it,” Morrison said, coaxing. “Good lad. Aye, that’ll be better, won’t it?” Morrison’s thick body moved, so his vision of the darkened room was obscured. A draft blew from the high window, but there seemed more stir about him than was accounted for by the wind.
    “Now, how’s the back? Ye’ll be stiff as a cornstook by the morrow, but I think it’s maybe no so bad as it might be. Here, man, ye’ll have a sup more.” The rim of the horn cup pressed insistently against his mouth.
    Morrison was still talking, rather loudly, of nothing in particular. There was something wrong about that. Morrison was not a talkative man. Something was happening, but he couldn’t see. He lifted his head, searching for what was wrong, but Morrison pressed it down again.
    “Dinna trouble yourself, Mac Dubh,” he said softly. “Ye canna stop it, anyway.”
    Surreptitious sounds were coming from the far corner of the cell, the sounds Morrison had tried to keep him from hearing. Scraping noises, brief mutters, a thud. Then the muffled sound of blows, slow and regular, and a heavy gasping of fright and pain, punctuated with a small whimpering sound of indrawn breath.
    They were beating young Angus MacKenzie. He braced his hands beneath his chest, but the effort made his back blaze and his head swim. Morrison’s hand was back, forcing him down.
    “Be still, Mac Dubh,” he said. His tone was a mixture of authority and resignation.
    A wave of dizziness washed through him, and his hands slipped off the bench. Morrison was right in any case, he realized. He couldn’t stop them.
    He lay still then under Morrison’s hand, eyes closed, and waited for the sounds to stop. Despite himself, he wondered who it was, that administrator of blind justice in the dark. Sinclair. His mind supplied the answer without hesitation. And Hayes and Lindsay helping, no doubt.
    They could no more help themselves than he could, or Morrison. Men did as they were born to. One man a healer, another a bully.
    The sounds had stopped, except for a muffled, sobbing gasp. His shoulders relaxed, and he didn’t move as Morrison took away the last wet poultice and gently blotted him dry, the draft from the window making him shiver in sudden chill. He pressed his lips tight, to make no noise. They had gagged him this afternoon, and he was glad of it; the first time he had been flogged, years ago, he had bitten his lower lip nearly in two.
    The cup of whisky pressed against his mouth, but he turned his head aside, and it disappeared without comment to some place where it would find a more cordial reception. Milligan, likely, the Irishman.
    One man with the weakness for drink, another with a hatred of it. One man a lover of women, and another…
    He sighed and shifted slightly on the hard plank bed. Morrison had covered him with a blanket and gone away. He felt drained and empty, still in fragments, but with his mind quite clear, perched at some far remove from the rest of him.
    Morrison had taken away the candle as well; it burned at the far end of the cell, where the men sat hunched companionably together, the light making black shapes of them, one indistinguishable from another, rimmed in gold light like the pictures of faceless saints in old missals.
    He wondered where they came from, these gifts that shaped a man’s nature. From God?
    Was it like the descent of the Paraclete, and the tongues of fire that came to rest on the apostles? He remembered the picture in the Bible in his mother’s parlor, the apostles all crowned with fire, and looking fair daft with the shock of it, standing about like a crowd of beeswax candles, lit for a party.
    He smiled to himself at the memory, and closed his eyes. The candle shadows wavered red on his lids.
    Claire, his own Claire—who knew what had sent her to him, had thrust her into a life she had surely not been born to? And yet she had known what to do, what she was meant to be, despite that. Not everyone was so fortunate as to know their gift.
    There was a cautious shuffling in the darkness beside him. He opened his eyes and saw no more than a shape, but knew nonetheless who it was.
    “How are ye, Angus?” he said softly in Gaelic.
    The youngster knelt awkwardly by him, and took his hand.
    “I am…all right. But you—sir, I mean…I—I’m sorry…”
    Was it experience or instinct that made him tighten his own hand in reassurance?
    “I am all right, too,” he said. “Lay ye down, wee Angus, and take your rest.”
    The shape bent its head in an oddly formal gesture, and pressed a kiss on the back of his hand.
    “I—may I stay by ye, sir?”
    His hand weighed a ton, but he lifted it nonetheless and laid it on the young man’s head. Then it slipped away, but he felt Angus’s tension relax, as the comfort flowed from his touch.
    He had been born a leader, then bent and shaped further to fit such a destiny. But what of a man who had not been born to the role he was required to fill? John Grey, for one. Charles Stuart for another.
    For the first time in ten years, from this strange distance, he could find it in himself to forgive that feeble man who had once been his friend. Having so often paid the price exacted by his own gift, he could at last see the more terrible doom of having been born a king, without the gift of kingship.
    Angus MacKenzie sat slumped against the wall next to him, head bowed upon his knees, his blanket over his shoulders. A small, gurgling snore came from the huddled form. He could feel sleep coming for him, fitting back the shattered, scattered parts of himself as it came, and knew he would wake whole—if very sore—in the morning.
    He felt relieved at once of many things. Of the weight of immediate responsibility, of the necessity for decision. Temptation was gone, along with the possibility of it. More important, the burden of anger had lifted; perhaps it was gone for good.
    So, he thought, through the gathering fog, John Grey had given him back his destiny.
    Almost, he could be grateful.
    13
    MIDGAME
    Inverness

    June 2, 1968
    It was Roger who found her in the morning, curled up on the study sofa under the hearthrug, papers scattered carelessly over the floor where they had spilled from one of the folders.
    The light from the floor-length windows streamed in, flooding the study, but the high back of the sofa had shaded Claire’s face and prevented the dawn from waking her. The light was just now pouring over the curve of dusty velvet to flicker among the strands of her hair.
    A glass face in more ways than one, Roger thought, looking at her. Her skin was so fair that the blue veins showed through at temple and throat, and the sharp, clear bones were so close beneath that she might have been carved of ivory.
    The rug had slipped half off, exposing her shoulders. One arm lay relaxed across her chest, trapping a single, crumpled sheet of paper against her body. Roger lifted her arm carefully, to pull the paper loose without waking her. She was limp with sleep, her flesh surprisingly warm and smooth in his grasp.
    His eyes found the name at once; he had known she must have found it.
    “James MacKenzie Fraser,” he murmured. He looked up from the paper to the sleeping woman on the sofa. The light had just touched the curve of her ear; she stirred briefly and turned her head, then her face lapsed back into somnolence.
    “I don’t know who you were, mate,” he whispered to the unseen Scot, “but you must have been something, to deserve her.”
    Very gently, he replaced the rug over Claire’s shoulders, and lowered the blind of the window behind her. Then he squatted and gathered up the scattered papers from the Ardsmuir folder. Ardsmuir. That was all he needed for now; even if Jamie Fraser’s eventual fate was not recorded in the pages in his hands, it would be somewhere in the history of Ardsmuir prison. It might take another foray into the Highland archives, or even a trip to London, but the next step in the link had been forged; the path was clear.

    Brianna was coming down the stairs as he pulled the door of the study closed, moving with exaggerated caution. She arched a brow in question and he lifted the folder, smiling.
    “Got him,” he whispered.
    She didn’t speak, but an answering smile spread across her face, bright as the rising sun outside.



    PART FOUR
   
    The Lake District
    14
    GENEVA
    Helwater

    September 1756
    “I think,” Grey said carefully, “that you might consider changing your name.”
    He didn’t expect an answer; in four days of travel, Fraser had not spoken a single word to him, managing even the awkward business of sharing an inn room without direct communication. Grey had shrugged and taken the bed, while Fraser, without gesture or glance, had wrapped himself in his threadbare cloak and lain down before the hearth. Scratching an assortment of bites from fleas and bedbugs, Grey thought that Fraser might well have had the better end of the sleeping arrangements.
    “Your new host is not well disposed toward Charles Stuart and his adherents, having lost his only son at Prestonpans,” he went on, addressing the iron-set profile visible next to him. Gordon Dunsany had been only a few years older than himself, a young captain in Bolton’s regiment. They might easily have died together on that field—if not for that meeting in the wood near Carryarrick.
    “You can scarcely hope to conceal the fact that you are a Scot, and a Highlander at that. If you will condescend to consider a piece of well-meant advice, it might be judicious not to use a name which would be as easily recognized as your own.”
    Fraser’s stony expression didn’t alter in the slightest particular. He nudged his horse with a heel and guided it ahead of Grey’s bay, seeking the remains of the track, washed out by a recent flood.
    It was late afternoon when they crossed the arch of Ashness Bridge and started down the slope toward Watendlath Tarn. The Lake District of England was nothing like Scotland, Grey reflected, but at least there were mountains here. Round-flanked, fat and dreamy mountains, not sternly forbidding like the Highland crags, but mountains nonetheless.
    Watendlath Tarn was dark and ruffled in the early autumn wind, its edges thick with sedge and marsh grass. The summer rains had been more generous even than usual in this damp place, and the tips of drowned shrubs poked limp and tattered above water that had run over its banks.
    At the crest of the next hill, the track split, going off in two directions. Fraser, some distance ahead, pulled his horse to a stop and waited for direction, the wind ruffling his hair. He had not plaited it that morning, and it blew free, the flaming strands lifting wild about his head.
    Squelching his way up the slope, John William Grey looked up at the man above him, still as a bronze statue on his mount, save for that rippling mane. The breath dried in his throat, and he licked his lips.
    “O Lucifer, thou son of the morning,” he murmured to himself, but forbore to add the rest of the quotation.

    For Jamie, the four-day ride to Helwater had been torture. The sudden illusion of freedom, combined with the certainty of its immediate loss, gave him a dreadful anticipation of his unknown destination.
    This, with the anger and sorrow of his parting from his men fresh in memory—the wrenching loss of leaving the Highlands, with the knowledge that the parting might well be permanent—and his waking moments suffused with the physical pain of long-unused saddle muscles, were together enough to have kept him in torment for the whole of the journey. Only the fact that he had given his parole kept him from pulling Major John William Grey off his horse and throttling him in some peaceful lane.
    Grey’s words echoed in his ears, half-obliterated by the thrumming beat of his angry blood.
    “As the renovation of the fortress has largely been completed—with the able assistance of yourself and your men”—Grey had allowed a tinge of irony to show in his voice—“the prisoners are to be removed to other accommodation, and the fortress of Ardsmuir garrisoned by troops of His Majesty’s Twelfth Dragoons.
    “The Scottish prisoners of war are to be transported to the American Colonies,” he continued. “They will be sold under bond of indenture, for a term of seven years.”
    Jamie had kept himself carefully expressionless, but at that news, had felt his face and hands go numb with shock.
    “Indenture? That is no better than slavery,” he said, but did not pay much attention to his own words. America! A land of wilderness and savages—and one to be reached across three thousand miles of empty, roiling sea! Indenture in America was a sentence tantamount to permanent exile from Scotland.
    “A term of indenture is not slavery,” Grey had assured him, but the Major knew as well as he that the difference was merely a legality, and true only insofar as indentured servants would—if they survived—regain their freedom upon some predetermined date. An indentured servant was to most other intents and purposes the slave of his or her master—to be misused, whipped or branded at will, forbidden by law to leave the master’s premises without permission.
    As James Fraser was now to be forbidden.
    “You are not to be sent with the others.” Grey had not looked at him while speaking. “You are not merely a prisoner of war, you are a convicted traitor. As such, you are imprisoned at the pleasure of His Majesty; your sentence cannot be commuted to transportation without royal approval. And His Majesty has not seen fit to give that approval.”
    Jamie was conscious of a remarkable array of emotions; beneath his immediate rage was fear and sorrow for the fate of his men, mingled with a small flicker of ignominious relief that, whatever his own fate was to be, it would not involve entrusting himself to the sea. Shamed by the realization, he turned a cold eye on Grey.
    “The gold,” he said flatly. “That’s it, aye?” So long as there remained the slightest chance of his revealing what he knew about that half-mythical hoard, the English Crown would take no chance of having him lost to the sea demons or the savages of the Colonies.
    The Major still would not look at him, but gave a small shrug, as good as assent.
    “Where am I to go, then?” His own voice had sounded rusty to his ears, slightly hoarse as he began to recover from the shock of the news.
    Grey had busied himself putting away his records. It was early September, and a warm breeze blew through the half-open window, fluttering the papers.
    “It’s called Helwater. In the Lake District of England. You will be quartered with Lord Dunsany, to serve in whatever menial capacity he may require.” Grey did look up then, the expression in his light blue eyes unreadable. “I shall visit you there once each quarter—to ensure your welfare.”

    He eyed the Major’s red-coated back now, as they rode single-file through the narrow lanes, seeking refuge from his miseries in a satisfying vision of those wide blue eyes, bloodshot and popping in amazement as Jamie’s hands tightened on that slender throat, thumbs digging into the sun-reddened flesh until the Major’s small, muscular body should go limp as a killed rabbit in his grasp.
    His Majesty’s pleasure, was it? He was not deceived. This had been Grey’s doing; the gold only an excuse. He was to be sold as a servant, and kept in a place where Grey could see it, and gloat. This was the Major’s revenge.
    He had lain before the inn hearth each night, aching in every limb, acutely aware of every twitch and rustle and breath of the man in the bed behind him, and deeply resentful of that awareness. By the pale gray of dawn, he was keyed to fury once more, longing for the man to rise from his bed and make some disgraceful gesture toward him, so that he might release his fury in the passion of murder. But Grey had only snored.
    Over Helvellyn Bridge and past another of the strange grassy tarns, the red and yellow leaves of maple and larch whirling down in showers past the lightly sweated quarters of his horse, striking his face and sliding past him with a papery, whispering caress.
    Grey had stopped just ahead, and turned in the saddle, waiting. They had arrived, then. The land sloped steeply down into a valley, where the manor house lay half-concealed in a welter of autumn-bright trees.
    Helwater lay before him, and with it, the prospect of a life of shameful servitude. He stiffened his back and kicked his horse, harder than he intended.

    Grey was received in the main drawing room, Lord Dunsany being cordially dismissive of his disheveled clothes and filthy boots, and Lady Dunsany, a small round woman with faded fair hair, fulsomely hospitable.
    “A drink, Johnny, you must have a drink! And Louisa, my dear, perhaps you should fetch the girls down to greet our guest.”
    As Lady Dunsany turned to give orders to a footman, his Lordship leaned close over the glass to murmur to him. “The Scottish prisoner—you’ve brought him with you?”
    “Yes,” Grey said. Lady Dunsany, now in animated conversation with the butler about the altered dispositions for dinner, was unlikely to overhear, but he thought it best to keep his own voice low. “I left him in the front hall—I wasn’t sure quite what you meant to do with him.”
    “You said the fellow’s good with horses, eh? Best make him a groom then, as you suggested.” Lord Dunsany glanced at his wife, and carefully turned so that his lean back was to her, further guarding their conversation. “I haven’t told Louisa who he is,” the baronet muttered. “All that scare about the Highlanders during the Rising—country was quite paralyzed with fear, you know? And she’s never got over Gordon’s death.”
    “I quite see.” Grey patted the old man’s arm reassuringly. He didn’t think Dunsany himself had got over the death of his son, though he had rallied himself gamely for the sake of his wife and daughters.
    “I’ll just tell her the man’s a servant you’ve recommended to me. Er…he’s safe, of course? I mean…well, the girls…” Lord Dunsany cast an uneasy eye toward his wife.
    “Quite safe,” Grey assured his host. “He’s an honorable man, and he’s given his parole. He’ll neither enter the house, nor leave the boundaries of your property, save with your express permission.” Helwater covered more than six hundred acres, he knew. It was a long way from freedom, and from Scotland as well, but perhaps something better either than the narrow stones of Ardsmuir or the distant hardships of the Colonies.
    A sound from the doorway swung Dunsany around, restored to beaming joviality by the appearance of his two daughters.
    “You’ll remember Geneva, Johnny?” he asked, urging his guest forward. “Isobel was still in the nursery last time you came—how time does fly, does it not?” And he shook his head in mild dismay.
    Isobel was fourteen, small and round and bubbly and blond, like her mother. Grey didn’t, in fact, remember Geneva—or rather he did, but the scrawny schoolgirl of years past bore little resemblance to the graceful seventeen-year-old who now offered him her hand. If Isobel resembled their mother, Geneva rather took after her father, at least in the matter of height and leanness. Lord Dunsany’s grizzled hair might once have been that shining chestnut, and the girl had Dunsany’s clear gray eyes.
    The girls greeted the visitor with politeness, but were clearly more interested in something else.
    “Daddy,” said Isobel, tugging on her father’s sleeve. “There’s a huge man in the hall! He watched us all the time we were coming down the stairs! He’s scary-looking!”
    “Who is he, Daddy?” Geneva asked. She was more reserved than her sister, but clearly also interested.
    “Er…why, that must be the new groom John’s brought us,” Lord Dunsany said, obviously flustered. “I’ll have one of the footmen take him—” The baronet was interrupted by the sudden appearance of a footman in the doorway.
    “Sir,” he said, looking shocked at the news he bore, “there is a Scotchman in the hall!” Lest this outrageous statement not be believed, he turned and gestured widely at the tall, silent figure standing cloaked behind him.
    At this cue, the stranger took a step forward, and spotting Lord Dunsany, politely inclined his head.
    “My name is Alex MacKenzie,” he said, in a soft Highland accent. He bowed toward Lord Dunsany, with no hint of mockery in his manner. “Your servant, my lord.”

    For one accustomed to the strenuous life of a Highland farm or a labor prison, the work of a groom on a Lake District stud farm was no great strain. For a man who had been mewed up in a cell for two months—since the others had left for the Colonies—it was the hell of a sweat. For the first week, while his muscles reaccustomed themselves to the sudden demands of constant movement, Jamie Fraser fell into his hayloft pallet each evening too tired even to dream.
    He had arrived at Helwater in such a state of exhaustion and mental turmoil that he had at first seen it only as another prison—and one among strangers, far away from the Highlands. Now that he was ensconced here, imprisoned as securely by his word as by bars, he found both body and mind growing easier, as the days passed by. His body toughened, his feelings calmed in the quiet company of horses, and gradually he found it possible to think rationally again.
    If he had no true freedom, he did at least have air, and light, space to stretch his limbs, and the sight of mountains and the lovely horses that Dunsany bred. The other grooms and servants were understandably suspicious of him, but inclined to leave him alone, out of respect for his size and forbidding countenance. It was a lonely life—but he had long since accepted the fact that for him, life was unlikely ever to be otherwise.
    The soft snows came down upon Helwater, and even Major Grey’s official visit at Christmas—a tense, awkward occasion—passed without disturbing his growing feelings of content.
    Very quietly, he made such arrangements as could be managed, to communicate with Jenny and Ian in the Highlands. Aside from the infrequent letters that reached him by indirect means, which he read and then destroyed for safety’s sake, his only reminder of home was the beechwood rosary he wore about his neck, concealed beneath his shirt.
    A dozen times a day he touched the small cross that lay over his heart, conjuring each time the face of a loved one, with a brief word of prayer—for his sister, Jenny; for Ian and the children—his namesake, Young Jamie, Maggie, and Katherine Mary, for the twins Michael and Janet, and for Baby Ian. For the tenants of Lallybroch, the men of Ardsmuir. And always, the first prayer at morning, the last at night—and many between—for Claire. Lord, that she may be safe. She and the child.
    As the snow passed and the year brightened into spring, Jamie Fraser was aware of only one fly in the ointment of his daily existence—the presence of the Lady Geneva Dunsany.
    Pretty, spoilt, and autocratic, the Lady Geneva was accustomed to get what she wanted when she wanted it, and damn the convenience of anyone standing in her way. She was a good horsewoman—Jamie would give her that—but so sharp-tongued and whim-ridden that the grooms were given to drawing straws to determine who would have the misfortune of accompanying her on her daily ride.
    Of late, though, the Lady Geneva had been making her own choice of companion—Alex MacKenzie.
    “Nonsense,” she said, when he pleaded first discretion, and then temporary indisposition, to avoid accompanying her into the secluded mist of the foothills above Helwater; a place she was forbidden to ride, because of the treacherous footing and dangerous fogs. “Don’t be silly. Nobody’s going to see us. Come on!” And kicking her mare brutally in the ribs, was off before he could stop her, laughing back over her shoulder at him.
    Her infatuation with him was sufficiently obvious as to make the other grooms grin sidelong and make low-voiced remarks to each other when she entered the stable. He had a strong urge, when in her company, to boot her swiftly where it would do most good, but so far had settled for maintaining a strict silence when in her company, replying to all overtures with a mumpish grunt.
    He trusted that she would get tired of this taciturn treatment sooner or later, and transfer her annoying attentions to another of the grooms. Or—pray God—she would soon be married, and well away from both Helwater and him.

    It was a rare sunny day for the Lake Country, where the difference between the clouds and the ground is often imperceptible, in terms of damp. Still, on this May afternoon it was warm, warm enough for Jamie to have found it comfortable to remove his shirt. It was safe enough up here in the high field, with no likelihood of company beyond Bess and Blossom, the two stolid drayhorses pulling the roller.
    It was a big field, and the horses old and well-trained to the task, which they liked; all he need do was twitch the reins occasionally, to keep their noses heading straight. The roller was made of wood, rather than the older kind of stone or metal, and constructed with a narrow slit between each board, so that the interior could be filled with well-rotted manure, which dribbled out in a steady stream as the roller turned, lightening the heavy contrivance as it drained.
    Jamie thoroughly approved this innovation. He must tell Ian about it; draw a diagram. The gypsies would be coming soon; the kitchenmaids and grooms were all talking of it. He would maybe have time to add another installment to the ongoing letter he kept, sending the current crop of pages whenever a band of roving tinkers or gypsies came onto the farm. Delivery might be delayed for a month, or three, or six, but eventually the packet would make its way into the Highlands, passed from hand to hand, and on to his sister at Lallybroch, who would pay a generous fee for its reception.
    Replies from Lallybroch came by the same anonymous route—for as a prisoner of the Crown, anything he sent or received by the mails must be inspected by Lord Dunsany. He felt a moment’s excitement at the thought of a letter, but tried to damp it down; there might be nothing.
    “Gee!” he shouted, more as a matter of form than anything. Bess and Blossom could see the approaching stone fence as well as he could, and were perfectly well aware that this was the spot to begin the ponderous turnabout. Bess waggled one ear and snorted, and he grinned.
    “Aye, I know,” he said to her, with a light twitch of the rein. “But they pay me to say it.”
    Then they were settled in the new track, and there was nothing more to do until they reached the wagon standing at the foot of the field, piled high with manure for refilling the roller. The sun was on his face now, and he closed his eyes, reveling in the feel of warmth on his bare chest and shoulders.
    The sound of a horse’s high whinny stirred him from somnolence a quarter-hour later. Opening his eyes, he could see the rider coming up the lane from the lower paddock, neatly framed between Blossom’s ears. Hastily, he sat up and pulled the shirt back over his head.
    “You needn’t be modest on my account, MacKenzie.” Geneva Dunsany’s voice was high and slightly breathless as she pulled her mare to a walk beside the moving roller.
    “Mmphm.” She was dressed in her best habit, he saw, with a cairngorm brooch at her throat, and her color was higher than the temperature of the day warranted.
    “What are you doing?” she asked, after they had rolled and paced in silence for some moments.
    “I am spreading shit, my lady,” he answered precisely, not looking at her.
    “Oh.” She rode on for the space of half a track, before venturing further into conversation.
    “Did you know I am to be married?”
    He did; all the servants had known it for a month, Richards the butler having been in the library, serving, when the solicitor came from Derwentwater to draw up the wedding contract. The Lady Geneva had been informed two days ago. According to her maid, Betty, the news had not been well received.
    He contented himself with a noncommittal grunt.
    “To Ellesmere,” she said. The color rose higher in her cheeks, and her lips pressed together.
    “I wish ye every happiness, my lady.” Jamie pulled briefly on the reins as they came to the end of the field. He was out of the seat before Bess had set her hooves; he had no wish at all to linger in conversation with the Lady Geneva, whose mood seemed thoroughly dangerous.
    “Happiness!” she cried. Her big gray eyes flashed and she slapped the thigh of her habit. “Happiness! Married to a man old enough to be my own grandsire?”
    Jamie refrained from saying that he suspected the Earl of Ellesmere’s prospects for happiness were somewhat more limited than her own. Instead, he murmured, “Your pardon, my lady,” and went behind to unfasten the roller.
    She dismounted and followed him. “It’s a filthy bargain between my father and Ellesmere! He’s selling me, that’s what it is. My father cares not the slightest trifle for me, or he’d never have made such a match! Do you not think I am badly used?”
    On the contrary, Jamie thought that Lord Dunsany, a most devoted father, had probably made the best match possible for his spoilt elder daughter. The Earl of Ellesmere was an old man. There was every prospect that within a few years, Geneva would be left as an extremely wealthy young widow, and a countess, to boot. On the other hand, such considerations might well not weigh heavily with a headstrong miss—a stubborn, spoilt bitch, he corrected, seeing the petulant set of her mouth and eyes—of seventeen.
    “I am sure your father acts always in your best interests, my lady,” he answered woodenly. Would the little fiend not go away?
    She wouldn’t. Assuming a more winsome expression, she came and stood close to his side, interfering with his opening the loading hatch of the roller.
    “But a match with such a dried-up old man?” she said. “Surely it is heartless of Father to give me to such a creature.” She stood on tiptoe, peering at Jamie. “How old are you, MacKenzie?”
    His heart stopped beating for an instant.
    “A verra great deal older than you, my lady,” he said firmly. “Your pardon, my lady.” He slid past her as well as he might without touching her, and leaped up onto the manure wagon, whence he was reasonably sure she wouldn’t follow him.
    “But not ready for the boneyard yet, are you, MacKenzie?” Now she was in front of him, shading her eyes with her hand as she peered upward. A breeze had come up, and wisps of her chestnut hair floated about her face. “Have you ever been married, MacKenzie?”
    He gritted his teeth, overcome with the urge to drop a shovelful of manure over her chestnut head, but mastered it and dug the shovel into the pile, merely saying “I have,” in a tone that brooked no further inquiries.
    The Lady Geneva was not interested in other people’s sensitivities. “Good,” she said, satisfied. “You’ll know what to do, then.”
    “To do?” He stopped short in the act of digging, one foot braced on the shovel.
    “In bed,” she said calmly. “I want you to come to bed with me.”
    In the shock of the moment, all he could think of was the ludicrous vision of the elegant Lady Geneva, skirts thrown up over her face, asprawl in the rich crumble of the manure wagon.
    He dropped the shovel. “Here?” he croaked.
    “No, silly,” she said impatiently. “In bed, in a proper bed. In my bedroom.”
    “You have lost your mind,” Jamie said coldly, the shock receding slightly. “Or I should think you had, if ye had one to lose.”
    Her face flamed and her eyes narrowed. “How dare you speak that way to me!”
    “How dare ye speak so to me?” Jamie replied hotly. “A wee lassie of breeding to be makin’ indecent proposals to a man twice her age? And a groom in her father’s house?” he added, recollecting who he was. He choked back further remarks, recollecting also that this dreadful girl was the Lady Geneva, and he was her father’s groom.
    “I beg your pardon, my lady,” he said, mastering his choler with some effort. “The sun is verra hot today, and no doubt it has addled your wits a bit. I expect ye should go back to the house at once and ask your maid to put cold cloths on your head.”
    The Lady Geneva stamped her morocco-booted foot. “My wits are not addled in the slightest!”
    She glared up at him, chin set. Her chin was little and pointed, so were her teeth, and with that particular expression of determination on her face, he thought she looked a great deal like the bloody-minded vixen she was.
    “Listen to me,” she said. “I cannot prevent this abominable marriage. But I am”—she hesitated, then continued firmly—“I am damned if I will suffer my maidenhood to be given to a disgusting, depraved old monster like Ellesmere!”
    Jamie rubbed a hand across his mouth. Despite himself, he felt some sympathy for her. But he would be damned if he allowed this skirted maniac to involve him in her troubles.
    “I am fully sensible of the honor, my lady,” he said at last, with a heavy irony, “but I really cannot—”
    “Yes, you can.” Her eyes rested frankly on the front of his filthy breeches. “Betty says so.”
    He struggled for speech, emerging at first with little more than incoherent sputterings. Finally he drew a deep breath and said, with all the firmness he could muster, “Betty has not the slightest basis for drawing conclusions as to my capacity. I havena laid a hand on the lass!”
    Geneva laughed delightedly. “So you didn’t take her to bed? She said you wouldn’t, but I thought perhaps she was only trying to avoid a beating. That’s good; I couldn’t possibly share a man with my maid.”
    He breathed heavily. Smashing her on the head with the shovel or throttling her were unfortunately out of the question. His inflamed temper slowly calmed. Outrageous she might be, but essentially powerless. She could scarcely force him to go to her bed.
    “Good day to ye, my lady,” he said, as politely as possible. He turned his back on her and began to shovel manure into the hollow roller.
    “If you don’t,” she said sweetly, “I’ll tell my father you made improper advances to me. He’ll have the skin flayed off your back.”
    His shoulders hunched involuntarily. She couldn’t possibly know. He had been careful never to take his shirt off in front of anyone since he came here.
    He turned carefully and stared down at her. The light of triumph was in her eye.
    “Your father may not be so well acquent’ with me,” he said, “but he’s kent you since ye were born. Tell him, and be damned to ye!”
    She puffed up like a game cock, her face growing bright red with temper. “Is that so?” she cried. “Well, look at this, then, and be damned to you!” She reached into the bosom of her habit and pulled out a thick letter, which she waved under his nose. His sister’s firm black hand was so familiar that a glimpse was enough.
    “Give me that!” He was down off the wagon and after her in a flash, but she was too fast. She was up in the saddle before he could grab her, backing with the reins in one hand, waving the letter mockingly in the other.
    “Want it, do you?”
    “Yes, I want it! Give it to me!” He was so furious, he could easily have done her violence, could he get his hands on her. Unfortunately, her bay mare sensed his mood, and backed away, snorting and pawing uneasily.
    “I don’t think so.” She eyed him coquettishly, the red of ill temper fading from her face. “After all, it’s really my duty to give this to my father, isn’t it? He ought really to know that his servants are carrying on clandestine correspondences, shouldn’t he? Is Jenny your sweetheart?”
    “You’ve read my letter? Ye filthy wee bitch!”
    “Such language,” she said, wagging the letter reprovingly. “It’s my duty to help my parents, by letting them know what sorts of dreadful things the servants are up to, isn’t it? And I am a dutiful daughter, am I not, submitting to this marriage without a squeak?” She leaned forward on her pommel, smiling mockingly, and with a fresh spurt of rage, he realized that she was enjoying this very much indeed.
    “I expect Papa will find it very interesting reading,” she said. “Especially the bit about the gold to be sent to Lochiel in France. Isn’t it still considered treason to be giving comfort to the King’s enemies? Tsk,” she said, clicking her tongue roguishly. “How wicked.”
    He thought he might be sick on the spot, from sheer terror. Did she have the faintest idea how many lives lay in that manicured white hand? His sister, Ian, their six children, all the tenants and families of Lallybroch—perhaps even the lives of the agents who carried messages and money between Scotland and France, maintaining the precarious existence of the Jacobite exiles there.
    He swallowed, once, and then again, before he spoke.
    “All right,” he said. A more natural smile broke out on her face, and he realized how very young she was. Aye, well, and a wee adder’s bite was as venomous as an auld one’s.
    “I won’t tell,” she assured him, looking earnest. “I’ll give you your letter back afterward, and I won’t ever say what was in it. I promise.”
    “Thank you.” He tried to gather his wits enough to make a sensible plan. Sensible? Going into his master’s house to ravish his daughter’s maidenhood—at her request? He had never heard of a less sensible prospect.
    “All right,” he said again. “We must be careful.” With a feeling of dull horror, he felt himself being drawn into the role of conspirator with her.
    “Yes. Don’t worry, I can arrange for my maid to be sent away, and the footman drinks; he’s always asleep before ten o’clock.”
    “Arrange it, then,” he said, his stomach curdling. “Mind ye choose a safe day, though.”
    “A safe day?” She looked blank.
    “Sometime in the week after ye’ve finished your courses,” he said bluntly. “You’re less likely to get wi’ child then.”
    “Oh.” She blushed rosily at that, but looked at him with a new interest.
    They looked at each other in silence for a long moment, suddenly linked by the prospect of the future.
    “I’ll send you word,” she said at last, and wheeling her horse about, galloped away across the field, the mare’s hooves kicking up spurts of the freshly spread manure.

    Cursing fluently and silently, he crept beneath the row of larches. There wasn’t much moon, which was a blessing. Six yards of open lawn to cross in a dash, and he was knee-deep in the columbine and germander of the flowerbed.
    He looked up the side of the house, its bulk looming dark and forbidding above him. Yes, there was the candle in the window, as she’d said. Still, he counted the windows carefully, to verify it. Heaven help him if he chose the wrong room. Heaven help him if it was the right one, too, he thought grimly, and took a firm hold on the trunk of the huge gray creeper that covered this side of the house.
    The leaves rustled like a hurricane and the stems, stout as they were, creaked and bent alarmingly under his weight. There was nothing for it but to climb as swiftly as possible, and be ready to hurl himself off into the night if any of the windows should suddenly be raised.
    He arrived at the small balcony panting, heart racing, and drenched in sweat, despite the chilliness of the night. He paused a moment, alone beneath the faint spring stars, to draw breath. He used it to damn Geneva Dunsany once more, and then pushed open her door.
    She had been waiting, and had plainly heard his approach up the ivy. She rose from the chaise where she had been sitting and came toward him, chin up, chestnut hair loose over her shoulders.
    She was wearing a white nightgown of some sheer material, tied at the throat with a silk bow. The garment didn’t look like the nightwear of a modest young lady, and he realized with a shock that she was wearing her bridal-night apparel.
    “So you came.” He heard the note of triumph in her voice, but also the faint quaver. So she hadn’t been sure of him?
    “I hadn’t much choice,” he said shortly, and turned to close the French doors behind him.
    “Will you have some wine?” Striving for graciousness, she moved to the table, where a decanter stood with two glasses. How had she managed that? he wondered. Still, a glass of something wouldn’t come amiss in the present circumstances. He nodded, and took the full glass from her hand.
    He looked at her covertly as he sipped it. The nightdress did little to conceal her body, and as his heart gradually slowed from the panic of his ascent, he found his first fear—that he wouldn’t be able to keep his half of the bargain—allayed without conscious effort. She was built narrowly, slim-hipped and small-breasted, but most definitely a woman.
    Finished, he set down the glass. No point in delay, he thought.
    “The letter?” he said abruptly.
    “Afterward,” she said, tightening her mouth.
    “Now, or I leave.” And he turned toward the window, as though about to execute the threat.
    “Wait!” He turned back, but eyed her with ill-disguised impatience.
    “Don’t you trust me?” she said, trying to sound winsome and charming.
    “No,” he said bluntly.
    She looked angry at that, and thrust out a petulant lower lip, but he merely looked stonily over his shoulder at her, still facing the window.
    “Oh, all right then,” she said at last, with a shrug. Digging under the layers of embroidery in a sewing box, she unearthed the letter and tossed it onto the washing stand beside him.
    He snatched it up and unfolded the sheets, to be sure of it. He felt a surge of mingled fury and relief at the sight of the violated seal, and Jenny’s familiar hand within, neat and strong.
    “Well?” Geneva’s voice broke in upon his reading, impatient. “Put that down and come here, Jamie. I’m ready.” She sat on the bed, arms curled around her knees.
    He stiffened, and turned a very cold blue look on her, over the pages in his hands.
    “You’ll not use that name to me,” he said. She lifted the pointed chin a trifle more and raised her plucked brows.
    “Why not? It’s yours. Your sister calls you so.”
    He hesitated for a moment, then deliberately laid the letter aside, and bent his head to the laces of his breeches.
    “I’ll serve ye properly,” he said, looking down at his working fingers, “for the sake of my own honor as a man, and yours as a woman. But”—he raised his head and the narrowed blue eyes bored into hers—“having brought me to your bed by means of threats against my family, I’ll not have ye call me by the name they give me.” He stood motionless, eyes fixed on hers. At last she gave a very small nod, and her eyes dropped to the quilt.
    She traced the pattern with a finger.
    “What must I call you, then?” she asked at last, in a small voice. “I can’t call you MacKenzie!”
    The corners of his mouth lifted slightly as he looked at her. She looked quite small, huddled into herself with her arms locked around her knees and her head bowed. He sighed.
    “Call me Alex, then. It’s my own name, as well.”
    She nodded without speaking. Her hair fell forward in wings about her face, but he could see the brief shine of her eyes as she peeped out from behind its cover.
    “It’s all right,” he said gruffly. “You can watch me.” He pushed the loose breeches down, rolling the stockings off with them. He shook them out and folded them neatly over a chair before beginning to unfasten his shirt, conscious of her gaze, still shy, but now direct. Out of some idea of thoughtfulness, he turned to face her before removing the shirt, to spare her for a moment the sight of his back.
    “Oh!” The exclamation was soft, but enough to stop him.
    “Is something wrong?” he asked.
    “Oh, no…I mean, it’s only that I didn’t expect…” The hair swung forward again, but not before he had seen the telltale reddening of her cheeks.
    “You’ve not seen a man naked before?” he guessed. The shiny brown head swayed back and forth.
    “Noo,” she said doubtfully, “I have, only…it wasn’t…”
    “Well, it usually isn’t,” he said matter-of-factly, sitting down on the bed beside her. “But if one is going to make love, it has to be, ye see.”
    “I see,” she said, but still sounded doubtful. He tried to smile, to reassure her.
    “Don’t worry. It doesna get any bigger. And it wilna do anything strange, if ye want to touch it.” At least he hoped it wouldn’t. Being naked, in such close proximity to a half-clad girl, was doing terrible things to his powers of self-control. His traitorous, deprived anatomy didn’t care a whit that she was a selfish, blackmailing little bitch. Perhaps fortunately, she declined his offer, shrinking back a little toward the wall, though her eyes stayed on him. He rubbed his chin dubiously.
    “How much do you…I mean, have ye any idea how it’s done?”
    Her gaze was clear and guileless, though her cheeks flamed.
    “Well, like the horses, I suppose?” He nodded, but felt a pang, recalling his wedding night, when he too had expected it to be like horses.
    “Something like that,” he said, clearing his throat. “Slower, though. More gentle,” he added, seeing her apprehensive look.
    “Oh. That’s good. Nurse and the maids used to tell stories, about…men, and, er, getting married, and all…it sounded rather frightening.” She swallowed hard. “W-will it hurt much?” She raised her head suddenly and looked him in the eye.
    “I don’t mind if it does,” she said bravely, “it’s only that I’d like to know what to expect.” He felt an unexpected small liking for her. She might be spoiled, selfish, and reckless, but there was some character to her, at least. Courage, to him, was no small virtue.
    “I think not,” he said. “If I take my time to ready you” (if he could take his time, amended his brain), “I think it will be not much worse than a pinch.” He reached out and nipped a fold of skin on her upper arm. She jumped and rubbed the spot, but smiled.
    “I can stand that.”
    “It’s only the first time it’s like that,” he assured her. “The next time it will be better.”
    She nodded, then after a moment’s hesitation, edged toward him, reaching out a tentative finger.
    “May I touch you?” This time he really did laugh, though he choked the sound off quickly.
    “I think you’ll have to, my lady, if I’m to do what you asked of me.”
    She ran her hand slowly down his arm, so softly that the touch tickled, and his skin shivered in response. Gaining confidence, she let her hand circle his forearm, feeling the girth of it.
    “You’re quite…big.” He smiled, but stayed motionless, letting her explore his body, at as much length as she might wish. He felt the muscles of his belly tighten as she stroked the length of one thigh, and ventured tentatively around the curve of one buttock. Her fingers approached the twisting, knotted line of the scar that ran the length of his left thigh, but stopped short.
    “It’s all right,” he assured her. “It doesna hurt me anymore.” She didn’t reply, but drew two fingers slowly along the length of the scar, exerting no pressure.
    The questing hands, growing bolder, slid up over the rounded curves of his broad shoulders, slid down his back—and stopped dead. He closed his eyes and waited, following her movements by the shifting of weight on the mattress. She moved behind him, and was silent. Then there was a quivering sigh, and the hands touched him again, soft on his ruined back.
    “And you weren’t afraid, when I said I’d have you flogged?” Her voice was queerly hoarse, but he kept still, eyes closed.
    “No,” he said. “I am not much afraid of things, anymore.” In fact, he was beginning to be afraid that he wouldn’t be able to keep his hands off her, or to handle her with the necessary gentleness, when the time came. His balls ached with need, and he could feel his heartbeat, pounding in his temples.
    She got off the bed, and stood in front of him. He rose suddenly, startling her so that she stepped back a pace, but he reached out and rested his hands on her shoulders.
    “May I touch you, my lady?” The words were teasing, but the touch was not. She nodded, too breathless to speak, and his arms came around her.
    He held her against his chest, not moving until her breathing slowed. He was conscious of an extraordinary mixture of feelings. He had never in his life taken a woman in his arms without some feeling of love, but there was nothing of love in this encounter, nor could there be, for her own sake. There was some tenderness for her youth, and pity at her situation. Rage at her manipulation of him, and fear at the magnitude of the crime he was about to commit. But overall there was a terrible lust, a need that clawed at his vitals and made him ashamed of his own manhood, even as he acknowledged its power. Hating himself, he lowered his head and cupped her face between his hands.
    He kissed her softly, briefly, then a bit longer. She was trembling against him as his hands undid the tie of her gown and slid it back off her shoulders. He lifted her and laid her on the bed.
    He lay beside her, cradling her in one arm as the other hand caressed her breasts, one and then the other, cupping each so she felt the weight and the warmth of them, even as he did.
    “A man should pay tribute to your body,” he said softly, raising each nipple with small, circling touches. “For you are beautiful, and that is your right.”
    She let out her breath in a small gasp, then relaxed under his touch. He took his time, moving as slowly as he could make himself do it, stroking and kissing, touching her lightly all over. He didn’t like the girl, didn’t want to be here, didn’t want to be doing this, but—it had been more than three years since he’d touched a woman’s body.
    He tried to gauge when she might be readiest, but how in hell could he tell? She was flushed and panting, but she simply lay there, like a piece of porcelain on display. Curse the girl, could she not even give him a clue?
    He rubbed a trembling hand through his hair, trying to quell the surge of confused emotion that pulsed through him with each heartbeat. He was angry, scared, and most mightily roused, most of which feelings were of no great use to him now. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply, striving for calm, seeking for gentleness.
    No, of course she couldn’t show him. She’d never touched a man before. Having forced him here, she was, with a damnable, unwanted, unwarrantable trust, leaving the conduct of the whole affair up to him!
    He touched the girl, gently, stroking her between the thighs. She didn’t part them for him, but didn’t resist. She was faintly moist there. Perhaps it would be all right now?
    “All right,” he murmured to her. “Be still, mo chridhe.” Murmuring what he hoped sounded like reassurances, he eased himself on top of her, and used his knee to spread her legs. He felt her slight start at the heat of his body covering her, at the touch of his cock, and he wrapped his hands in her hair to steady her, still muttering things in soft Gaelic.
    He thought dimly that it was a good thing he was speaking Gaelic, as he was no longer paying any attention at all to what he was saying. Her small, hard breasts poked against his chest.
    “Mo nighean,” he murmured.
    “Wait a minute,” said Geneva. “I think perhaps…”
    The effort of control made him dizzy, but he did it slowly, only easing himself the barest inch within.
    “Ooh!” said Geneva. Her eyes flew wide.
    “Uh,” he said, and pushed a bit farther.
    “Stop it! It’s too big! Take it out!” Panicked, Geneva thrashed beneath him. Pressed beneath his chest, her breasts wobbled and rubbed, so that his own nipples leapt erect in pinpoints of abrupt sensation.
    Her struggles were accomplishing by force what he had tried to do with gentleness. Half-dazed, he fought to keep her under him, while groping madly for something to say to calm her.
    “But—” he said.
    “Stop it!”
    “I—”
    “Take it out!” she screamed.
    He clapped one hand over her mouth and said the only coherent thing he could think of.
    “No,” he said definitely, and shoved.
    What might have been a scream emerged through his fingers as a strangled “Eep!” Geneva’s eyes were huge and round, but dry.
    In for a penny, in for a pound. The saying drifted absurdly through his head, leaving nothing in its wake but a jumble of incoherent alarms and a marked feeling of terrible urgency down beween them. There was precisely one thing he was capable of doing at this point, and he did it, his body ruthlessly usurping control as it moved into the rhythm of its inexorable pagan joy.
    It took no more than a few thrusts before the wave came down upon him, churning down the length of his spine and erupting like a breaker striking rocks, sweeping away the last shreds of conscious thought that clung, barnacle-like, to the remnants of his mind.
    He came to himself a moment later, lying on his side with the sound of his own heartbeat loud and slow in his ears. He cracked one eyelid, and saw the shimmer of pink skin in lamplight. He must see if he’d hurt her much, but God, not just this minute. He shut his eye again and merely breathed.
    “What…what are you thinking?” The voice sounded hesitant, and a little shaken, but not hysterical.
    Too shaken himself to notice the absurdity of the question, he answered it with the truth.
    “I was wondering why in God’s name men want to bed virgins.”
    There was a long moment of silence, and then a tremulous intake of breath.
    “I’m sorry,” she said in a small voice. “I didn’t know it would hurt you too.”
    His eyes popped open in astonishment, and he raised himself on one elbow to find her looking at him like a startled fawn. Her face was pale, and she licked dry lips.
    “Hurt me?” he said, in blank astonishment. “It didna hurt me.”
    “But”—she frowned as her eyes traveled slowly down the length of his body—“I thought it must. You made the most terrible face, as though it hurt awfully, and you…you groaned like a—”
    “Aye, well,” he interrupted hastily, before she could reveal any more unflattering observations of his behavior. “I didna mean…I mean…that’s just how men act, when they…do that,” he ended lamely.
    Her shock was fading into curiosity. “Do all men act like that when they’re…doing that?”
    “How should I—?” he began irritably, then stopped himself with a shudder, realizing that he did in fact know the answer to that.
    “Aye, they do,” he said shortly. He pushed himself up to a sitting position, and brushed the hair back from his forehead. “Men are disgusting horrible beasts, just as your nurse told you. Have I hurt ye badly?”
    “I don’t think so,” she said doubtfully. She moved her legs experimentally. “It did hurt, just for a moment, like you said it would, but it isn’t so bad now.”
    He breathed a sigh of relief as he saw that while she had bled, the stain on the towel was slight, and she seemed not to be in pain. She reached tentatively between her thighs and made a face of disgust.
    “Ooh!” she said. “It’s all nasty and sticky!”
    The blood rose to his face in mingled outrage and embarrassment.
    “Here,” he muttered, and reached for a washcloth from the stand. She didn’t take it, but opened her legs and arched her back slightly, obviously expecting him to attend to the mess. He had a strong urge to stuff the rag down her throat instead, but a glance at the stand where his letter lay stopped him. It was a bargain, after all, and she’d kept her part.
    Grimly, he wet the cloth and began to sponge her, but he found the trust with which she presented herself to him oddly moving. He carried out his ministrations quite gently, and found himself, at the end, planting a light kiss on the smooth slope of her belly.
    “There.”
    “Thank you,” she said. She moved her hips tentatively, and reached out a hand to touch him. He didn’t move, letting her fingers trail down his chest and toy with the deep indentation of his navel. The light touch hesitantly descended.
    “You said…it would be better next time,” she whispered.
    He closed his eyes and took a deep breath. It was a long time until the dawn.
    “I expect it will,” he said, and stretched himself once more beside her.

    “Ja—er, Alex?”
    He felt as though he had been drugged, and it was an effort to answer her. “My lady?”
    Her arms came around his neck and she nestled her head in the curve of his shoulder, breath warm against his chest.
    “I love you, Alex.”
    With difficulty, he roused himself enough to put her away from him, holding her by the shoulders and looking down into the gray eyes, soft as a doe’s.
    “No,” he said, but gently, shaking his head. “That’s the third rule. You may have no more than the one night. You may not call me by my first name. And you may not love me.”
    The gray eyes moistened a bit. “But if I can’t help it?”
    “It isna love you feel now.” He hoped he was right, for his sake as well as her own. “It’s only the feeling I’ve roused in your body. It’s strong, and it’s good, but it isna the same thing as love.”
    “What’s the difference?”
    He rubbed his hands hard over his face. She would be a philosopher, he thought wryly. He took a deep breath and blew it out before answering her.
    “Well, love’s for only one person. This, what you feel from me—ye can have that with any man, it’s not particular.”
    Only one person. He pushed the thought of Claire firmly away, and wearily bent again to his work.

    He landed heavily in the earth of the flowerbed, not caring that he crushed several small and tender plants. He shivered. This hour before dawn was not only the darkest, but the coldest, as well, and his body strongly protested being required to rise from a warm, soft nest and venture into the chilly blackness, shielded from the icy air by no more than a thin shirt and breeks.
    He remembered the heated, rosy curve of the cheek he had bent to kiss before leaving. The shapes of her lingered, warm in his hands, curving his fingers in memory, even as he groped in the dark for the darker line of the stableyard’s stone wall. Drained as he was, it was a dreadful effort to haul himself up and climb over, but he couldn’t risk the creak of the gate awakening Hughes, the head groom.
    He felt his way across the inner yard, crowded with wagons and packed bales, ready for the journey of the Lady Geneva to the home of her new lord, following the wedding on Thursday next. At last he pushed open the stable door and found his way up the ladder to his loft. He lay down in the icy straw and pulled the single blanket over him, feeling empty of everything.
    15
    BY MISADVENTURE
    Helwater

    January 1758
    Appropriately enough, the weather was dark and stormy when the news reached Helwater. The afternoon exercise had been canceled, owing to the heavy downpour, and the horses were snug in their stalls below. The homely, peaceful sounds of munching and blowing rose up to the loft above, where Jamie Fraser reclined in a comfortable, haylined nest, an open book propped on his chest.
    It was one of several he had borrowed from the estate’s factor, Mr. Grieves, and he was finding it absorbing, despite the difficulty of reading by the poor light from the owl-slits beneath the eaves.
    My lips, which I threw in his way, so as that he could not escape kissing them, fix’d, fir’d and embolden’d him: and now, glancing my eyes towards that part of his dress which cover’d the essential object of enjoyment, I plainly discover’d the swell and commotion there; and as I was now too far advanc’d to stop in so fair a way, and was indeed no longer able to contain myself, or wait the slower progress of his maiden bashfulness, I stole my hand upon his thighs, down one of which I could both see and feel a stiff hard body, confin’d by his breeches, that my fingers could discover no end to.
    “Oh, aye?” Jamie muttered skeptically. He raised his eyebrows and shifted himself on the hay. He had been aware that books like this existed, of course, but—with Jenny ordering the reading matter at Lallybroch—had not encountered one personally before. The type of mental engagement demanded was somewhat different from that required for the works of Messieurs Defoe and Fielding, but he was not averse to variety.
    Its prodigious size made me shrink again; yet I could not, without pleasure, behold, and even ventur’d to feel, such a length, such a breadth of animated ivory! perfectly well turn’d and fashion’d, the proud stiffness of which distended its skin, whose smooth polish and velvet softness might vie with that of the most delicate of our sex, and whose exquisite whiteness was not a little set off by a sprout of black curling hair round the root; then the broad and blueish casted incarnate of the head, and blue serpentines of its veins, altogether compos’d the most striking assemblage of figures and colors in nature. In short, it stood an object of terror and delight!
    Jamie glanced at his own crotch and snorted briefly at this, but flipped the page, the crash of thunder outside meriting no more than a twinge of his attention. He was so absorbed that at first he failed to hear the noises down below, the sound of voices drowned in the heavy rush and beat of the rain on the planks a few feet above his head.
    “MacKenzie!” The repeated stentorian bellow finally penetrated his awareness, and he rolled hastily to his feet, quickly straightening his clothes as he went toward the ladder.
    “Aye?” He thrust his head over the edge of the loft to see Hughes, just opening his mouth for another bellow.
    “Oh, there ’ee are.” Hughes shut his mouth, and beckoned with one gnarled hand, wincing as he did so. Hughes suffered mightily from rheumatics in damp weather; he had been riding out the storm snug in the small chamber beside the tack room, where he kept a bed and a jug of crudely distilled spirits. The aroma was perceptible from the loft, and grew substantially stronger as Jamie descended the ladder.
    “You’re to help ready the coach to drive Lord Dunsany and Lady Isobel to Ellesmere,” Hughes told him, the moment his foot touched the flags of the stable floor. The old man swayed alarmingly, hiccuping softly to himself.
    “Now? Are ye daft, man? Or just drunk?” He glanced at the open half-door behind Hughes, which seemed a solid sheet of streaming water. Even as he looked, the sky beyond lit up with a sudden flare of lightning that threw the mountain beyond into sudden sharp relief. Just as suddenly, it disappeared, leaving its afterimage printed on his retina. He shook his head to clear the image, and saw Jeffries, the coachman, making his way across the yard, head bowed against the force of wind and water, cloak clutched tight about him. So it wasn’t only a drunken fancy of Hughes’s.
    “Jeffries needs help wi’ the horses!” Hughes was forced to lean close and shout to be heard over the noise of the storm. The smell of rough alcohol was staggering at close distance.
    “Aye, but why? Why must Lord Dunsany—ah, feckit!” The head groom’s eyes were red-rimmed and bleary; clearly there was no sense to be got out of him. Disgusted, Jamie pushed past the man and mounted the ladder two rungs at a time.
    A moment to wrap his own worn cloak about him, a moment more to thrust the book he had been reading under the hay—stable lads were no respecters of property—and he was slithering down the ladder again, and out into the roar of the storm.

    It was a hellish journey. The wind screamed through the pass, striking the bulky coach and threatening to overturn it at any moment. Perched aloft beside Jeffries, a cloak was little protection against the driving rain; still less was it a help when he was forced to dismount—as he did every few minutes, it seemed—and put his shoulder to the wheel to free the miserable contrivance from the clinging grip of a mudhole.
    Still, he scarcely noticed the physical inconvenience of the journey, preoccupied as he was with the possible reasons for it. There couldn’t be many matters of such urgency as to force an old man like Lord Dunsany outside on a day like this, let alone over the rutted road to Ellesmere. Some word had come from Ellesmere, and it could only concern the Lady Geneva or her child.
    Hearing through the servants’ gossip that Lady Geneva was due to be delivered in January, he had counted quickly backward, cursed Geneva Dunsany once more, and then said a hasty prayer for her safe delivery. Since then, he had done his best not to think about it. He had been with her only three days before her wedding; he couldn’t be sure.
    A week before, Lady Dunsany had gone to Ellesmere to be with her daughter. Since then, she had sent daily messengers home, to fetch the dozen things she had forgotten to take and must have at once, and each of them, upon arrival at Helwater, had reported “No news yet.” Now there was news, and it was plainly bad.
    Passing back toward the front of the coach, after the latest battle with the mud, he saw the Lady Isobel’s face peering out from beneath the isinglass sheet that covered the window.
    “Oh, MacKenzie!” she said, her face contorted in fear and distress. “Please, is it much farther?”
    He leaned close to shout in her ear, over the gurgle and rush of the gullies running down both sides of the road.
    “Jeffries says it’s four mile yet, milady! Two hours, maybe.” If the damned and hell-bent coach didn’t tip itself and its hapless passengers off the Ashness Bridge into Watendlath Tarn, he added silently to himself.
    Isobel nodded her thanks, and lowered the window, but not before he had seen that the wetness upon her cheeks was due as much to tears as to the rain. The snake of anxiety wrapped round his heart slithered lower, to twist in his guts.
    It was closer to three hours by the time the coach rolled at last into the courtyard at Ellesmere. Without hesitation, Lord Dunsany leapt down and, scarcely pausing to give his younger daughter an arm, hurried into the house.
    It took nearly another hour to unharness the team, rub down the horses, wash the caked-on mud from the coach’s wheels, and put everything away in Ellesmere’s stables. Numb with cold, fatigue, and hunger, he and Jeffries sought refuge and sustenance in Ellesmere’s kitchens.
    “Poor fellows, you’re gone right blue wi’ the cold,” the cook observed. “Sit ye down ’ere, and I’ll soon ’ave yer a hot bite.” A sharp-faced, spare-framed woman, her figure belied her skill, for within minutes, a huge, savoury omelet was laid before them, garnished with liberal amounts of bread and butter, and a small pot of jam.
    “Fair, quite fair,” Jeffries pronounced, casting an appreciative eye on the spread. He winked at the cook. “Not as it wouldn’ go down easier wi’ a drop o’ something to pave the way, eh? You look the sort would have mercy on a pair o’ poor half-frozen chaps, wouldn’t ye, darlin’?”
    Whether it was this piece of Irish persuasion or the sight of their dripping, steaming clothes, the argument had its effect, and a bottle of cooking brandy made its appearance next to the peppermill. Jeffries poured a large tot and drank it off without hesitation, smacking his lips.
    “Ah, that’s more like! Here, boyo.” He passed the bottle to Jamie, then settled himself comfortably to a hot meal and gossip with the female servants. “Well, then, what’s to do here? Is the babe born yet?”
    “Oh, yes, last night!” the kitchen maid said eagerly. “We were up all night, with the doctor comin’, and fresh sheets and towels called for, and the house all topsle-turvy. But the babe’s the least of it!”
    “Now, then,” the cook broke in, frowning censoriously. “There’s too much work to be standin’ about gossiping. Get yer on, Mary Ann-up to the study, and see if his Lordship’ll be wantin’ anything else served now.”
    Jamie, wiping his plate with a slice of bread, observed that the maid, far from being abashed at this rebuke, departed with alacrity, causing him to deduce that something of considerable interest was likely transpiring in the study.
    The undivided attention of her audience thus obtained, the cook allowed herself to be persuaded into imparting the gossip with no more than a token demur.
    “Well, it started some months ago, when the Lady Geneva started to show, poor thing. His Lordship’d been nicer than pie to ’er, ever since they was married couldn’t do enough for ’er, anything she wanted ordered from Lunnon, always askin’ was she warm enough,’ad she what she wanted to eat—fair dotin’, ’is Lordship was. But then, when ’e found she was with child!” The cook paused, to screw up her face portentously.
    Jamie wanted desperately to know about the child; what was it, and how did it fare? There seemed no way to hurry the woman, though, so he composed his face to look as interested as possible, leaning forward encouragingly.
    “Why, the shouting, and the carryings-on!” the cook said, throwing up her hands in dismayed illustration, “’im shoutin’, and ’er cryin’, and the both of ’em stampin’ up and down and slammin’ doors, and ’im callin’ ’er names as isn’t fit to be used in a stableyard—and so I told Mary Ann, when she told me.…”
    “Was his lordship not pleased about the child, then?” Jamie interrupted. The omelet was settling into a hard lump somewhere under his breastbone. He took another gulp of brandy, in hopes of dislodging it.
    The cook turned a bright, birdlike eye on him, eyebrow cocked in appreciation at his intelligence. “Well, you’d think as ’e would be, wouldn’t yer? But no indeed! Far from it,” she added with emphasis.
    “Why not?” said Jeffries, only mildly interested.
    “’E said,” the cook said, dropping her voice in awe at the scandalousness of the information, “as the child wasn’t ’is!”
    Jeffries, well along with his second glass, snorted in contemptuous amusement. “Old goat with a young gel? I should think it like enough, but how on earth would his Lordship know for sure whose the spawn was? Could be his as much as anyone’s, couldn’t it, with only her ladyship’s word to go by, eh?”
    The cook’s thin mouth stretched in a bright, malicious smile. “Oh, I don’t say as ’e’d know whose it was, now—but there’s one sure way ’e’d know it wasn’t ’is, now isn’t there?”
    Jeffries stared at the cook, tilting back on his chair. “What?” he said. “You mean to tell me his Lordship’s incapable?” A broad grin at this juicy thought split his weatherbeaten face. Jamie felt the omelet rising, and hastily gulped more brandy.
    “Well, I couldn’t say, I’m sure.” The cook’s mouth assumed a prim line, then split asunder to add, “though the chambermaid did say as the sheets she took off the weddin’ bed was as white as when they’d gone on, to be sure.”
    It was too much. Interrupting Jeffries’s delighted cackle, Jamie set down his glass with a thump, and bluntly said, “Did the child live?”
    The cook and Jeffries both stared in astonishment, but the cook, after a moment’s startlement, nodded in answer.
    “Oh, yes, to be sure. Fine ’ealthy little lad,’e is, too, or so I ’ear. I thought you knew a’ready. It’s ’is mother that’s dead.”
    That blunt statement struck the kitchen with silence. Even Jeffries was still for a moment, sobered by death. Then he crossed himself quickly, muttered, “God rest her soul,” and swallowed the rest of his brandy.
    Jamie could feel his own throat burning, whether with brandy or tears, he could not say. Shock and grief choked him like a ball of yarn wedged in his gullet; he could barely manage to croak, “When?”
    “This morning,” the cook said, wagging her head mournfully. “Just afore noon, poor girl. They thought for a time as she’d be all right, after the babe was born; Mary Ann said she was sittin’ up, holdin’ the wee thing and laughin’.” She sighed heavily at the thought. “But then near dawn, she started to bleed again bad. They called back the doctor, and he came fast as could be, but—”
    The door slamming open interrupted her. It was Mary Ann, eyes wide under her cap, gasping with excitement and exertion.
    “Your master wants you!” she blurted out, eyes flicking between Jamie and the coachman. “The both of ye, at once, and oh, sir”—she gulped, nodding at Jeffries—“he says for God’s sake, to bring your pistols!”
    The coachman exchanged a glance of consternation with Jamie, then leapt to his feet and dashed out, in the direction of the stables. Like most coachmen, he carried a pair of loaded pistols beneath his seat, against the possibility of highwaymen.
    It would take Jeffries a few minutes to find the arms, and longer if he waited to check that the priming had not been harmed by the wet weather. Jamie rose to his feet and gripped the dithering maidservant by the arm.
    “Show me to the study,” he said. “Now!”
    The sound of raised voices would have led him there, once he had reached the head of the stair. Pushing past Mary Ann without ceremony, he paused for a moment outside the door, uncertain whether he should enter at once, or wait for Jeffries.
    “That you can have the sheer heartless effrontery to make such accusations!” Dunsany was saying, his old man’s voice shaking with rage and distress. “And my poor lamb not cold in her bed! You blackguard, you poltroon! I will not suffer the child to stay a single night under your roof!”
    “The little bastard stays here!” Ellesmere’s voice rasped hoarsely. It would have been apparent to a far less experienced observer that his Lordship was well the worse for drink. “Bastard that he is, he’s my heir, and he stays with me! He’s bought and paid for, and if his dam was a whore, at least she gave me a boy.”
    “Damn you!” Dunsany’s voice had reached such a pitch of shrillness that it was scarcely more than a squeak, but the outrage in it was clear nonetheless. “Bought? You—you—you dare to suggest…”
    “I don’t suggest.” Ellesmere’s voice was still hoarse, but under better control. “You sold me your daughter—and under false pretenses, I might add,” the hoarse voice said sarcastically. “I paid thirty thousand pound for a virgin of good name. The first condition wasn’t met, and I take leave to doubt the second.” The sound of liquid being poured came through the door, followed by the scrape of a glass across a wooden tabletop.
    “I would suggest that your burden of spirits is already excessive, sir,” Dunsany said. His voice shook with an obvious attempt at mastery of his emotions. “I can only attribute the disgusting slurs you have cast upon my daughter’s purity to your apparent intoxication. That being so, I shall take my grandson, and go.”
    “Oh, your grandson, is it?” Ellesmere’s voice was slurred and sneering. “You seem damned sure of your daughter’s ‘purity.’ Sure the brat isn’t yours? She said—”
    He broke off with a cry of astonishment, accompanied by a crash. Not daring to wait longer, Jamie plunged through the door, to find Ellesmere and Lord Dunsany entangled on the hearthrug, rolling to and fro in a welter of coats and limbs, both heedless of the fire behind them.
    He took a moment to appraise the situation, then, seizing a fortuitous opening, reached into the fray and snatched his employer upright.
    “Be still, my lord,” he muttered in Dunsany’s ear, dragging him back from Ellesmere’s gasping form. Then, “Give over, ye auld fool!” he hissed, as Dunsany went on mindlessly struggling to reach his opponent. Ellesmere was almost as old as Dunsany, but more strongly built and clearly in better health, despite his drunkenness.
    The Earl staggered to his feet, balding hair disheveled and bloodshot eyes glaring fixedly at Dunsany. He wiped his spittle-flecked mouth with the back of his hand, fat shoulders heaving.
    “Filth,” he said, almost conversationally. “Lay hands…on me, would you?” Still gasping for breath, he lurched toward the bell rope.
    It was by no means certain that Lord Dunsany would stay on his feet, but there was no time to worry about that. Jamie let go of his employer, and lunged for Ellesmere’s groping hand.
    “No, my lord,” he said, as respectfully as possible. Holding Ellesmere in a crude bear-leading embrace, he forced the heavyset Earl back across the room. “I think it would be…unwise…to involve your…servants.” Grunting, he pushed Ellesmere into a chair.
    “Best stay there, my lord.” Jeffries, a drawn pistol in each hand, advanced warily into the room, his darting glance divided between Ellesmere, struggling to rise from the depths of the armchair, and Lord Dunsany, who clung precariously to a table edge, his aged face white as paper.
    Jeffries glanced at Dunsany for instructions, and seeing none forthcoming, instinctively looked to Jamie. Jamie was conscious of a monstrous irritation; why should he be expected to deal with this imbroglio? Still, it was important that the Helwater party remove themselves from the premises with all haste. He stepped forward and took Dunsany by the arm.
    “Let us go now, my lord,” he said. Detaching the wilting Dunsany from the table, he tried to edge the tall old nobleman toward the door. Just at this moment of escape, though, the door was blocked.
    “William?” Lady Dunsany’s round face, splotched with the marks of recent grief, showed a sort of dull bewilderment at the scene in the study. In her arms was what looked like a large, untidy bundle of washing. She lifted this in a movement of vague inquiry. “The maid said you wanted me to bring the baby. What—” A roar from Ellesmere interrupted her. Heedless of the pointing pistols, the Earl sprang from his chair and shoved the gawking Jeffries out of the way.
    “He’s mine!” Knocking Lady Dunsany roughly against the paneling, Ellesmere snatched the bundle from her arms. Clutching it to his bosom, the Earl retreated toward the window. He glared at Dunsany, panting like a cornered beast.
    “Mine, d’ye hear?”
    The bundle emitted a loud shriek, as if in protest at this asseveration, and Dunsany, roused from his shock by the sight of his grandson in Ellesmere’s arms, started forward, his features contorted in fury.
    “Give him to me!”
    “Go to hell, you codless scut!” With an unforeseen agility, Ellesmere dodged away from Dunsany. He flung back the draperies and cranked the window open with one hand, clutching the wailing child with the other.
    “Get—out—of—my—house!” he panted, gasping with each revolution that edged the casement wider. “Go! Now, or I’ll drop the little bastard, I swear I will!” To mark his threat, he thrust the yelling bundle toward the sill, and the empty dark where the wet stones of the courtyard waited, thirty feet below.
    Past all conscious thought or any fear of consequence, Jamie Fraser acted on the instinct that had seen him through a dozen battles. He snatched one pistol from the transfixed Jeffries, turned on his heel, and fired in the same motion.
    The roar of the shot struck everyone silent. Even the child ceased to scream. Ellesmere’s face went quite blank, thick eyebrows raised in question. Then he staggered, and Jamie leapt forward, noting with a sort of detached clarity the small round hole in the baby’s trailing drapery, where the pistol ball had passed through it.
    He stood then rooted on the hearthrug, heedless of the fire scorching the backs of his legs, of the still-heaving body of Ellesmere at his feet, of the regular, hysterical shrieks of Lady Dunsany, piercing as a peacock’s. He stood, eyes tight closed, shaking like a leaf, unable either to move or to think, arms wrapped tight about the shapeless, squirming, squawking bundle that contained his son.

    “I wish to speak to MacKenzie. Alone.”
    Lady Dunsany looked distinctly out of place in the stable. Small, plump, and impeccable in black linen, she looked like a china ornament, removed from its spot of cherished safety on the mantelpiece, and in imminent and constant peril of breakage, here in this world of rough animals and unshaven men.
    Hughes, with a glance of complete astonishment at his mistress, bowed and tugged at his forelock before retreating to his den behind the tack room, leaving MacKenzie face-to-face with her.
    Close to, the impression of fragility was heightened by the paleness of her face, touched faintly with pink at the corners of nose and eyes. She looked like a very small and dignified rabbit, dressed in mourning. Jamie felt that he should ask her to sit down, but there was no place for her to sit, save on a pile of hay or an upturned barrow.
    “The coroner’s court met this morning, MacKenzie,” she said.
    “Aye, milady.” He had known that—they all had, and the other grooms had kept their distance from him all morning. Not out of respect; out of the dread for one who suffers from a deadly disease. Jeffries knew what had happened in the drawing room at Ellesmere, and that meant all the servants knew. But no one spoke of it.
    “The verdict of the court was that the Earl of Ellesmere met his death by misadventure. The coroner’s theory is that his lordship was—distraught”—she made a faint moue of distaste—“over my daughter’s death.” Her voice quivered faintly, but did not break. The fragile Lady Dunsany had borne up much better beneath the tragedy than had her husband; the servants’ rumor had it that his lordship had not risen from his bed since his return from Ellesmere.
    “Aye, milady?” Jeffries had been called to give evidence. MacKenzie had not. So far as the coroner’s court was concerned, the groom MacKenzie had never set foot on Ellesmere.
    Lady Dunsany’s eyes met his, straight on. They were a pale bluish-green, like her daughter Isobel’s, but the blond hair that glowed on Isobel was faded on her mother, touched with white strands that shone silver in the sun from the open door of the stable.
    “We are grateful to you, MacKenzie,” she said quietly.
    “Thank ye, milady.”
    “Very grateful,” she repeated, still gazing at him intently. “MacKenzie isn’t your real name, is it?” she said suddenly.
    “No, milady.” A sliver of ice ran down his spine, despite the warmth of the afternoon sun on his shoulders. How much had the Lady Geneva told her mother before her death?
    She seemed to feel his stiffening, for the edge of her mouth lifted in what he thought was meant as a smile of reassurance.
    “I think I need not ask what it is, just yet,” she said. “But I do have a question for you. MacKenzie—do you want to go home?”
    “Home?” He repeated the word blankly.
    “To Scotland.” She was watching him intently. “I know who you are,” she said. “Not your name, but that you’re one of John’s Jacobite prisoners. My husband told me.”
    Jamie watched her warily, but she didn’t seem upset; no more so than would be natural in a woman who has just lost a daughter and gained a grandson, at least.
    “I hope you will forgive the deception, milady,” he said. “His Lordship—”
    “Wished to save me distress,” Lady Dunsany finished for him. “Yes, I know. William worries too much.” Still, the deep line between her brows relaxed a bit at the thought of her husband’s concern. The sight, with its underlying echo of marital devotion, gave him a faint and unexpected pang.
    “We are not rich—you will have gathered that from Ellesmere’s remarks,” Lady Dunsany went on. “Helwater is rather heavily in debt. My grandson, however, is now the possessor of one of the largest fortunes in the county.”
    There seemed nothing to say to this but “Aye, milady?” though it made him feel rather like the parrot who lived in the main salon. He had seen it as he crept stealthily through the flowerbeds at sunset the day before, taking the chance of approaching the house while the family were dressing for dinner, in an attempt to catch a glimpse through a window of the new Earl of Ellesmere.
    “We are very retired here,” she went on. “We seldom visit London, and my husband has little influence in high circles. But—”
    “Aye, milady?” He had some inkling by now of where her ladyship was heading with this roundabout conversation, and a feeling of sudden excitement hollowed the space beneath his ribs.
    “John—Lord John Grey, that is—comes from a family with considerable influence. His stepfather is—well, that’s of no consequence.” She shrugged, the small black-linen shoulders dismissing the details.
    “The point is that it might be possible to exert sufficient influence on your behalf to have you released from the conditions of your parole, so that you might return to Scotland. So I have come to ask you—do you want to go home, MacKenzie?”
    He felt quite breathless, as though someone had punched him very hard in the stomach.
    Scotland. To go away from this damp, spongy atmosphere, set foot on that forbidden road and walk it with a free, long stride, up into the crags and along the deer trails, to feel the air clearing and sharpening with the scent of gorse and heather. To go home!
    To be a stranger no longer. To go away from hostility and loneliness, come down into Lallybroch, and see his sister’s face light with joy at the sight of him, feel her arms around his waist, Ian’s hug about his shoulders and the pummeling, grasping clutch of the children’s hands, tugging at his clothes.
    To go away, and never to see or hear of his own child again. He stared at Lady Dunsany, his face quite blank, so that she should not guess at the turmoil her offer had caused within him.
    He had, at last, found the baby yesterday, lying asleep in a basket near the nursery window on the second floor. Perched precariously on the branch of a huge Norway spruce, he had strained his eyes to see through the screen of needles that hid him.
    The child’s face had been visible only in profile, one fat cheek resting on its ruffled shoulder. Its cap had slipped awry, so he could see the smooth, arching curve of the tiny skull, lightly dusted with a pale gold fuzz.
    “Thank God it isn’t red,” had been his first thought, and he had crossed himself in reflexive thanksgiving.
    “God, he’s so small!” had been his second, coupled with an overwhelming urge to step through the window and pick the boy up. The smooth, beautifully shaped head would just fit, resting in the palm of his hand, and he could feel in memory the small squirming body that he had held so briefly to his heart.
    “You’re a strong laddie,” he had whispered. “Strong and braw and bonny. But my God, you are so small!”
    Lady Dunsany was waiting patiently. He bowed his head respectfully to her, not knowing whether he was making a terrible mistake, but unable to do otherwise.
    “I thank ye, milady, but—I think I shall not go…just yet.”
    One pale eyebrow quivered slightly, but she inclined her head to him with equal grace.
    “As you wish, MacKenzie. You have only to ask.”
    She turned like a tiny clockwork figure and left, going back to the world of Helwater, a thousand times more his prison now than it had ever been.
    16
    WILLIE
    To his extreme surprise, the next few years were in many ways among the happiest of Jamie Fraser’s life, aside from the years of his marriage.
    Relieved of responsibility for tenants, followers, or anyone at all beyond himself and the horses in his charge, life was relatively simple. While the coroner’s court had taken no notice of him, Jeffries had let slip enough about the death of Ellesmere that the other servants treated him with distant respect, but did not presume on his company.
    He had enough to eat, sufficient clothes to keep warm and decent, and the occasional discreet letter from the Highlands reassured him that similar conditions obtained there.
    One unexpected benefit of the quiet life at Helwater was that he had somehow resumed his odd half-friendship with Lord John Grey. The Major had, as promised, appeared once each quarter, staying each time for a few days to visit with the Dunsanys. He had made no attempt to gloat, though, or even to speak with Jamie, beyond the barest formal inquiry.
    Very slowly, Jamie had realized all that Lady Dunsany had implied, in her offer to have him released. “John—Lord John Grey, that is—comes from a family with considerable influence. His stepfather is—well, that’s of no consequence,” she had said. It was of consequence, though. It had not been His Majesty’s pleasure that had brought him here, rather than condemning him to the perilous ocean crossing and near-slavery in America; it had been John Grey’s influence.
    And he had not done it for revenge or from indecent motives, for he never gloated, made no advances; never said anything beyond the most commonplace civilities. No, he had brought Jamie here because it was the best he could do; unable simply to release him at the time, Grey had done his best to ease the conditions of captivity—by giving him air, and light, and horses.
    It took some effort, but he did it. When Grey next appeared in the stableyard on his quarterly visit, Jamie had waited until the Major was alone, admiring the conformation of a big sorrel gelding. He had come to stand beside Grey, leaning on the fence. They watched the horse in silence for several minutes.
    “King’s pawn to king four,” Jamie said quietly at last, not looking at the man beside him.
    He felt the other’s start of surprise, and felt Grey’s eyes on him, but didn’t turn his head. Then he felt the creak of the wood beneath his forearm as Grey turned back, leaning on the fence again.
    “Queen’s knight to queen bishop three,” Grey replied, his voice a little huskier than usual.
    Since then, Grey had come to the stables during each visit, to spend an evening perched on Jamie’s crude stool, talking. They had no chessboard and seldom played verbally, but the late-night conversations continued—Jamie’s only connection with the world beyond Helwater, and a small pleasure to which both of them looked forward once each quarter.
    Above everything else, he had Willie. Helwater was dedicated to horses; even before the boy could stand solidly on his feet, his grandfather had him propped on a pony to be led round the paddock. By the time Willie was three, he was riding by himself—under the watchful eye of MacKenzie, the groom.
    Willie was a strong, courageous, bonny little lad. He had a blinding smile, and could charm birds from the trees if he liked. He was also remarkably spoilt. As the ninth Earl of Ellesmere and the only heir to both Ellesmere and Helwater, with neither mother nor father to keep him under control, he ran roughshod over his doting grandparents, his young aunt, and every servant in the place—except MacKenzie.
    And that was a near thing. So far, threats of not allowing the boy to help him with the horses had sufficed to quash Willie’s worst excesses in the stables, but sooner or later, threats alone were not going to be sufficient, and MacKenzie the groom found himself wondering just what was going to happen when he finally lost his own control and clouted the wee fiend.
    As a lad, he would himself have been beaten senseless by the nearest male relative within earshot, had he ever dared to address a woman the way he had heard Willie speak to his aunt and the maidservants, and the impulse to haul Willie into a deserted box stall and attempt to correct his manners was increasingly frequent.
    Still, for the most part, he had nothing but joy in Willie. The boy adored MacKenzie, and as he grew older would spend hours in his company, riding on the huge draft horses as they pulled the heavy roller through the high fields, and perched precariously on the hay wagons as they came down from the upper pastures in summer.
    There was a threat to this peaceful existence, though, which grew greater with each passing month. Ironically, the threat came from Willie himself, and was one he could not help.
    “What a handsome little lad he is, to be sure! And such a lovely little rider!” It was Lady Grozier who spoke, standing on the veranda with Lady Dunsany to admire Willie’s peregrinations on his pony around the edge of the lawn.
    Willie’s grandmother laughed, eyeing the boy fondly. “Oh, yes. He loves his pony. We have a terrible time getting him even to come indoors for meals. And he’s even more fond of his groom. We joke sometimes that he spends so much time with MacKenzie that he’s even starting to look like MacKenzie!”
    Lady Grozier, who had of course paid no attention to a groom, now glanced in MacKenzie’s direction.
    “Why, you’re right!” she exclaimed, much amused. “Just look; Willie’s got just that same cock to his head, and the same set to his shoulders! How funny!”
    Jamie bowed respectfully to the ladies, but felt cold sweat pop out on his face.
    He had seen this coming, but hadn’t wanted to believe the resemblance was sufficiently pronounced as to be visible to anyone but himself. Willie as a baby had been fat and pudding-faced, and resembled no one at all. As he had grown, though, the pudginess had vanished from cheeks and chin, and while his nose was still the soft snub of childhood, the hint of high, broad cheekbones was apparent, and the slaty-blue eyes of babyhood had grown dark blue and clear, thickly fringed with sooty lashes, and slightly slanted in appearance.
    Once the ladies had gone into the house, and he could be sure no one was watching, Jamie passed a hand furtively over his own features. Was the resemblance truly that great? Willie’s hair was a soft middle brown, with just a tinge of his mother’s chestnut gleam. And those large, translucent ears—surely his own didn’t stick out like that?
    The trouble was that Jamie Fraser had not actually seen himself clearly for several years. Grooms did not have looking glasses, and he had sedulously avoided the company of the maids, who might have provided him with one.
    Moving to the watering trough, he bent over it, casually, as though inspecting one of the water striders that skated over its surface. Beneath the wavering surface, flecked with floating bits of hay and crisscrossed by the dimpling striders, his own face stared up at him.
    He swallowed, and saw the reflection’s throat move. It was by no means a complete resemblance, but it was definitely there. More in the set and shape of the head and shoulders, as Lady Grozier had observed—but most definitely the eyes as well. Fraser eyes; his father, Brian, had had them, and his sister, Jenny, as well. Let the boy’s bones go on pressing through his skin; let the child-snub nose grow long and straight, and the cheekbones still broader—and anyone would be able to see it.
    The reflection in the trough vanished as he straightened up, and stood, staring blindly at the stable that had been home for the last several years. It was July and the sun was hot, but it made no impression on the chill that numbed his fingers and sent a shiver up his back.
    It was time to speak to Lady Dunsany.

    By the middle of September, everything had been arranged. The pardon had been procured; John Grey had brought it the day before. Jamie had a small amount of money saved, enough for traveling expenses, and Lady Dunsany had given him a decent horse. The only thing that remained was to bid farewell to his acquaintances at Helwater—and Willie.
    “I shall be leaving tomorrow.” Jamie spoke matter-of-factly, not taking his eyes off the bay mare’s fetlock. The horny growth he was filing flaked away, leaving a dust of coarse black shavings on the stable floor.
    “Where are you going? To Derwentwater? Can I come with you?” William, Viscount Dunsany, ninth Earl of Ellesmere, hopped down from the edge of the box stall, landing with a thump that made the bay mare start and snort.
    “Don’t do that,” Jamie said automatically. “Have I not told ye to move quiet near Milly? She’s skittish.”
    “Why?”
    “You’d be skittish, too, if I squeezed your knee.” One big hand darted out and pinched the muscle just above the boy’s knee. Willie squeaked and jerked back, giggling.
    “Can I ride Millyflower when you’re done, Mac?”
    “No,” Jamie answered patiently, for the dozenth time that day. “I’ve told ye a thousand times, she’s too big for ye yet.”
    “But I want to ride her!”
    Jamie sighed but didn’t answer, instead moving around to the other side of Milles Fleurs and picking up the left hoof.
    “I said I want to ride Milly!”
    “I heard ye.”
    “Then saddle her for me! Right now!”
    The ninth Earl of Ellesmere had his chin thrust out as far as it would go, but the defiant look in his eye was tempered with a certain doubt as he intercepted Jamie’s cold blue gaze. Jamie set the horse’s hoof down slowly, just as slowly stood up, and drawing himself to his full height of six feet four, put his hands on his hips, looked down at the Earl, three feet six, and said, very softly, “No.”
    “Yes!” Willie stamped his foot on the hay-strewn floor. “You have to do what I tell you!”
    “No, I don’t.”
    “Yes, you do!”
    “No, I…” Shaking his head hard enough to make the red hair fly about his ears, Jamie pressed his lips tight together, then squatted down in front of the boy.
    “See here,” he said, “I havena got to do what ye say, for I’m no longer going to be groom here. I told ye, I shall be leaving tomorrow.”
    Willie’s face went quite blank with shock, and the freckles on his nose stood out dark against the fair skin.
    “You can’t!” he said. “You can’t leave.”
    “I have to.”
    “No!” The small Earl clenched his jaw, which gave him a truly startling resemblance to his paternal great-grandfather. Jamie thanked his stars that no one at Helwater had likely ever seen Simon Fraser, Lord Lovat. “I won’t let you go!”
    “For once, my lord, ye have nothing to say about it,” Jamie replied firmly, his distress at leaving tempered somewhat by finally being allowed to speak his mind to the boy.
    “If you leave…” Willie looked around helplessly for a threat, and spotted one easily to hand. “If you leave,” he repeated more confidently, “I’ll scream and shout and scare all the horses, so there!”
    “Make a peep, ye little fiend, and I’ll smack ye a good one!” Freed from his usual reserve, and alarmed at the thought of this spoiled brat upsetting the highly-strung and valuable horses, Jamie glared at the boy.
    The Earl’s eyes bulged with rage, and his face went red. He took a deep breath, then whirled and ran down the length of the stable, shrieking and waving his arms.
    Milles Fleurs, already on edge from having her hoofs fiddled with, reared and plunged, neighing loudly. Her distress was echoed by kicks and high-pitched whinnying from the box stalls nearby, where Willie was roaring out all the bad words he knew—no small store—and kicking frenziedly at the doors of the stalls.
    Jamie succeeded in catching Milles Fleurs’s lead-rope and with considerable effort, managed to get the mare outside without damage to himself or the horse. He tied her to the paddock fence, and then strode back into the stable to deal with Willie.
    “Damn, damn, damn!” the Earl was shrieking. “Sluire! Quim! Shit! Swive!”
    Without a word, Jamie grabbed the boy by the collar, lifted him off his feet and carried him, kicking and squirming, to the farrier’s stool he had been using. Here he sat down, flipped the Earl over his knee, and smacked his buttocks five or six times, hard. Then he jerked the boy up and set him on his feet.
    “I hate you!” The Viscount’s tear-smudged face was bright red and his fists trembled with rage.
    “Well, I’m no verra fond of you either, ye little bastard!” Jamie snapped.
    Willie drew himself up, fists clenched, purple in the face.
    “I’m not a bastard!” he shrieked. “I’m not, I’m not! Take it back! Nobody can say that to me! Take it back, I said!”
    Jamie stared at the boy in shock. There had been talk, then, and Willie had heard it. He had delayed his going too long.
    He drew a deep breath, and then another, and hoped that his voice would not tremble.
    “I take it back,” he said softly. “I shouldna have used the word, my lord.”
    He wanted to kneel and embrace the boy, or pick him up and comfort him against his shoulder—but that was not a gesture a groom might make to an earl, even a young one. The palm of his left hand stung, and he curled his fingers tight over the only fatherly caress he was ever likely to give his son.
    Willie knew how an earl should behave; he was making a masterful effort to subdue his tears, sniffing ferociously and swiping at his face with a sleeve.
    “Allow me, my lord.” Jamie did kneel then, and wiped the little boy’s face gently with his own coarse handkerchief. Willie’s eyes looked at him over the cotton folds, red-rimmed and woeful.
    “Have you really got to go, Mac?” he asked, in a very small voice.
    “Aye, I have.” He looked into the dark blue eyes, so heartbreakingly like his own, and suddenly didn’t give a damn what was right or who saw. He pulled the boy roughly to him, hugging him tight against his heart, holding the boy’s face close to his shoulder, that Willie might not see the quick tears that fell into his thick, soft hair.
    Willie’s arms went around his neck and clung tight. He could feel the small, sturdy body shake against him with the force of suppressed sobbing. He patted the flat little back, and smoothed Willie’s hair, and murmured things in Gaelic that he hoped the boy would not understand.
    At length, he took the boy’s arms from his neck and put him gently away.
    “Come wi’ me to my room, Willie; I shall give ye something to keep.”
    He had long since moved from the hayloft, taking over Hughes’s snuggery beside the tack room when the elderly head groom retired. It was a small room, and very plainly furnished, but it had the twin virtues of warmth and privacy.
    Besides the bed, the stool, and a chamber pot, there was a small table, on which stood the few books that he owned, a large candle in a pottery candlestick, and a smaller candle, thick and squat, that stood to one side before a small statue of the Virgin. It was a cheap wooden carving that Jenny had sent him, but it had been made in France, and was not without artistry.
    “What’s that little candle for?” Willie asked. “Grannie says only stinking Papists burn candles in front of heathen images.”
    “Well, I am a stinking Papist,” Jamie said, with a wry twist of his mouth. “It’s no a heathen image, though; it’s a statue of the Blessed Mother.”
    “You are?” Clearly this revelation only added to the boy’s fascination. “Why do Papists burn candles before statues, then?”
    Jamie rubbed a hand through his hair. “Aye, well. It’s…maybe a way of praying—and remembering. Ye light the candle, and say a prayer and think of people ye care for. And while it burns, the flame remembers them for ye.”
    “Who do you remember?” Willie glanced up at him. His hair was standing on end, rumpled by his earlier distress, but his blue eyes were clear with interest.
    “Oh, a good many people. My family in the Highlands—my sister and her family. Friends. My wife.” And sometimes the candle burned in memory of a young and reckless girl named Geneva, but he did not say that.
    Willie frowned. “You haven’t got a wife.”
    “No. Not anymore. But I remember her always.”
    Willie put out a stubby forefinger and cautiously touched the little statue. The woman’s hands were spread in welcome, a tender maternity engraved on the lovely face.
    “I want to be a stinking Papist, too,” Willie said firmly.
    “Ye canna do that!” Jamie exclaimed, half-amused, half-touched at the notion. “Your grandmama and your auntie would go mad.”
    “Would they froth at the mouth, like that mad fox you killed?” Willie brightened.
    “I shouldna wonder,” Jamie said dryly.
    “I want to do it!” The small, clear features were set in determination. “I won’t tell Grannie or Auntie Isobel; I won’t tell anybody. Please, Mac! Please let me! I want to be like you!”
    Jamie hesitated, both touched by the boy’s earnestness, and suddenly wanting to leave his son with something more than the carved wooden horse he had made to leave as a farewell present. He tried to remember what Father McMurtry had taught them in the schoolroom about baptism. It was all right for a lay person to do it, he thought, provided that the situation was an emergency, and no priest was to hand.
    It might be stretching a point to call the present situation an emergency, but…a sudden impulse made him reach down the jug of water that he kept on the sill.
    The eyes that were like his watched, wide and solemn, as he carefully brushed the soft brown hair back from the high brow. He dipped three fingers into the water and carefully traced a cross on the lad’s forehead.
    “I baptize thee William James,” he said softly, “in the name o’ the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. Amen.”
    Willie blinked, crossing his eyes as a drop of water rolled down his nose. He stuck out his tongue to catch it, and Jamie laughed, despite himself.
    “Why did you call me William James?” Willie asked curiously. “My other names are Clarence Henry George.” He made a face; Clarence wasn’t his idea of a good name.
    Jamie hid a smile. “Ye get a new name when you’re baptized; James is your special Papist name. It’s mine, too.”
    “It is?” Willie was delighted. “I’m a stinking Papist now, like you?”
    “Aye, as much as I can manage, at least.” He smiled down at Willie, then, struck by another impulse, reached into the neck of his shirt.
    “Here. Keep this, too, to remember me by.” He laid the beechwood rosary gently over Willie’s head. “Ye canna let anyone see that, though,” he warned. “And for God’s sake, dinna tell anyone you’re a Papist.”
    “I won’t,” Willie promised. “Not a soul.” He tucked the rosary into his shirt, patting carefully to be sure that it was hidden.
    “Good.” Jamie reached out and ruffled Willie’s hair in dismissal. “It’s almost time for your tea; ye’d best go on up to the house now.”
    Willie started for the door, but stopped halfway, suddenly distressed again, with a hand pressed flat to his chest.
    “You said to keep this to remember you. But I haven’t got anything for you to remember me by!”
    Jamie smiled slightly. His heart was squeezed so tight, he thought he could not draw breath to speak, but he forced the words out.
    “Dinna fret yourself,” he said. “I’ll remember ye.”
    17
    MONSTERS RISING
    Loch Ness

    August 1968
    Brianna blinked, brushing back a bright web of hair caught by the wind. “I’d almost forgotten what the sun looks like,” she said, squinting at the object in question, shining with unaccustomed ferocity on the dark waters of Loch Ness.
    Her mother stretched luxuriously, enjoying the light wind. “To say nothing of what fresh air is like. I feel like a toadstool that’s been growing in the dark for weeks—all pale and squashy.”
    “Fine scholars the two of you would make,” Roger said, but grinned. All three of them were in high spirits. After the arduous slog through the prison records to narrow the search to Ardsmuir, they had had a run of luck. The records for Ardsmuir were complete, in one spot, and—in comparison to most others—remarkably clear. Ardsmuir had been a prison for only fifteen years; following its renovation by Jacobite prison-labor, it had been converted into a small permanent garrison, and the prison population dispersed—mostly transported to the American Colonies.
    “I still can’t imagine why Fraser wasn’t sent along to America with the rest,” Roger said. He had had a moment’s panic there, going over and over the list of transported convicts from Ardsmuir, searching the names one by one, nearly letter by letter, and still finding no Frasers. He had been certain that Jamie Fraser had died in prison, and had been in a cold sweat of fear over the thought of telling the Randall women—until the flip of a page had showed him Fraser’s parole to a place named Helwater.
    “I don’t know,” Claire said, “but it’s a bloody good thing he wasn’t. He’s—he was—” she caught herself quickly, but not quickly enough to stop Roger noticing the slip—“terribly, terribly seasick.” She gestured at the surface of the loch before them, dancing with tiny waves. “Even going out on something like that would turn him green in minutes.”
    Roger glanced at Brianna with interest. “Are you seasick?”
    She shook her head, bright hair lifting in the wind. “Nah.” She patted her bare midriff smugly. “Cast-iron.”
    Roger laughed. “Want to go out, then? It’s your holiday, after all.”
    “Really? Could we? Can you fish in there?” Brianna shaded her eyes, looking eagerly out over the dark water.
    “Certainly. I’ve caught salmon and eels many a time in Loch Ness,” Roger assured her. “Come along; we’ll rent a wee boat at the dock in Drumnadrochit.”

    The drive to Drumnadrochit was a delight. The day was one of those clear, bright summer days that cause tourists from the South to stampede into Scotland in droves during August and September. With one of Fiona’s larger breakfasts inside him, one of her lunches stowed in a basket in the boot, and Brianna Randall, long hair blowing in the wind, seated beside him, Roger was strongly disposed to consider that all was right with the world.
    He allowed himself to dwell with satisfaction on the results of their researches. It had meant taking additional leave from his college for the summer term, but it had been worth it.
    After finding the record of James Fraser’s parole, it had taken another two weeks of slog and inquiry—even a quick weekend trip by Roger and Bree to the Lake District, another by all three of them to London—and then the sight that had made Brianna whoop out loud in the middle of the British Museum’s sacrosanct Reading Room, causing their hasty departure amid waves of icy disapproval. The sight of the Royal Warrant of Pardon, stamped with the seal of George III, Rex Angleterre, dated 1764, bearing the name of “James Alexdrl M’Kensie Frazier.”
    “We’re getting close,” Roger had said, gloating over the photocopy of the Warrant of Pardon. “Bloody close!”
    “Close?” Brianna had said, but then had been distracted by the sight of their bus approaching, and had not pursued the matter. Roger had caught Claire’s eye on him, though; she knew very well what he meant.
    She would, of course, have been thinking of it; he wondered whether Brianna had. Claire had disappeared into the past in 1945, vanishing through the circle of standing stones on Craigh na Dun and reappearing in 1743. She had lived with Jamie Fraser for nearly three years, then returned through the stones. And she had come back nearly three years past the time of her original disappearance, in April of 1948.
    All of which meant—just possibly—that if she were disposed to try the trip back through the stones once more, she would likely arrive twenty years past the time she had left—in 1766. And 1766 was only two years past the latest known date at which Jamie Fraser had been located, alive and well. If he had survived another two years, and if Roger could find him…
    “There it is!” Brianna said suddenly. “‘Boats for Rent.’” She pointed at the sign in the window of the dockside pub, and Roger nosed the car into a parking slot outside, with no further thought of Jamie Fraser.

    “I wonder why short men are so often enamored of very tall women?” Claire’s voice behind him echoed Roger’s thoughts with an uncanny accuracy—and not for the first time.
    “Moth and flame syndrome, perhaps?” Roger suggested, frowning at the diminutive barman’s evident fascination with Brianna. He and Claire were standing before the counter for rentals, waiting for the clerk to write up the receipt while Brianna bought bottles of Coca-Cola and brown ale to augment their lunch.
    The young barman, who came up approximately to Brianna’s armpit, was hopping to and fro, offering pickled eggs and slices of smoked tongue, eyes worshipfully upturned to the yellow-haltered goddess before him. From her laughter, Brianna appeared to think the man “cute.”
    “I always told Bree not to get involved with short men,” Claire observed, watching this.
    “Did you?” Roger said dryly. “Somehow I didn’t envision you being all that much in the motherly advice line.”
    She laughed, disregarding his momentary sourness. “Well, I’m not, all that much. When you notice an important principle like that, though, it seems one’s motherly duty to pass it along.”
    “Something wrong with short men, is there?” Roger inquired.
    “They tend to turn mean if they don’t get their way,” Claire answered. “Like small yapping dogs. Cute and fluffy, but cross them and you’re likely to get a nasty nip in the ankle.”
    Roger laughed. “This observation is the result of years of experience, I take it?”
    “Oh, yes.” She nodded, glancing up at him. “I’ve never met an orchestra conductor over five feet tall. Vicious specimens, practically all of them. But tall men”—her lips curved slightly as she surveyed his six-feet-three-inch frame—“tall men are almost always very sweet and gentle.”
    “Sweet, eh?” said Roger, with a cynical glance at the barman, who was cutting up a jellied eel for Brianna. Her face expressed a wary distaste, but she leaned forward, wrinkling her nose as she took the bite offered on a fork.
    “With women,” Claire amplified. “I’ve always thought it’s because they realize that they don’t have anything to prove; when it’s perfectly obvious that they can do anything they like whether you want them to or not, they don’t need to try to prove it.”
    “While a short man—” Roger prompted.
    “While a short one knows he can’t do anything unless you let him, and the knowledge drives him mad, so he’s always trying something on, just to prove he can.”
    “Mmphm.” Roger made a Scottish noise in the back of his throat, meant to convey both appreciation of Claire’s acuity, and general suspicion of what the barman might be wanting to prove to Brianna.
    “Thanks,” he said to the clerk, who shoved the receipt across the counter to him. “Ready, Bree?” he asked.

    The loch was calm and the fishing slow, but it was pleasant on the water, with the August sun warm on their backs and the scent of raspberry canes and sun-warmed pine trees wafting from the nearby shore. Full of lunch, they all grew drowsy, and before long, Brianna was curled up in the bow, asleep with her head pillowed on Roger’s jacket. Claire sat in the stern, blinking, but still awake.
    “What about short and tall women?” Roger asked, resuming their earlier conversation as he sculled slowly across the loch. He glanced over his shoulder at the amazing length of Brianna’s legs, awkwardly curled under her. “Same thing? The little ones nasty?”
    Claire shook her head meditatively, the curls beginning to work their way loose from her hairclip. “No, I don’t think so. It doesn’t seem to have anything to do with size. I think it’s more a matter of whether they see men as The Enemy, or just see them as men, and on the whole, rather like them for it.”
    “Oh, to do with women’s liberation, is it?”
    “No, not at all,” Claire said. “I saw just the same kinds of behavior between men and women in 1743 that you see now. Some differences, of course, in how they each behave, but not so much in how they behave to each other.”
    She looked out over the dark waters of the loch, shading her eyes with her hand. She might have been keeping an eye out for otters and floating logs, but Roger thought that far-seeing gaze was looking a bit farther than the cliffs of the opposite shore.
    “You like men, don’t you?” he said quietly. “Tall men.”
    She smiled briefly, not looking at him.
    “One,” she said softly.
    “Will you go, then—if I can find him?” he rested his oars momentarily, watching her.
    She drew a deep breath before answering. The wind flushed her cheeks with pink and molded the fabric of the white shirt to her figure, showing off a high bosom and a slender waist. Too young to be a widow, he thought, too lovely to be wasted.
    “I don’t know,” she said, a little shakily. “The thought of it—or rather, the thoughts of it! On the one hand, to find Jamie—and then, on the other, to…go through again.” A shudder went through her, closing her eyes.
    “It’s indescribable, you know,” she said, eyes still closed as though she saw inside them the ring of stones on Craigh na Dun. “Horrible, but horrible in a way that isn’t like other horrible things, so you can’t say.” She opened her eyes and smiled wryly at him.
    “A bit like trying to tell a man what having a baby is like; he can more or less grasp the idea that it’s painful, but he isn’t equipped actually to understand what it feels like.”
    Roger grunted with amusement. “Oh, aye? Well, there’s some difference, you know. I’ve actually heard those bloody stones.” He shivered himself, involuntarily. The memory of the night, three months ago, when Gillian Edgars had gone through the stones, was not one he willingly called to mind; it had come back to him in nightmares several times, though. He heaved strongly on the oars, trying to erase it.
    “Like being torn apart, isn’t it?” he said, his eyes intent on hers. “There’s something pulling at you, ripping, dragging, and not just outside—inside you as well, so you feel your skull will fly to pieces any moment. And the filthy noise.” He shuddered again. Claire’s face had gone slightly pale.
    “I didn’t know you could hear them,” she said. “You didn’t tell me.”
    “It didn’t seem important.” He studied her a moment, as he pulled, then added quietly, “Bree heard them as well.”
    “I see.” She turned to look back over the loch, where the wake of the tiny boat spread its V-shaped wings. Far behind, the waves from the passage of a larger boat reflected back from the cliffs and joined again in the center of the loch, making a long, humped form of glistening water—a standing wave, a phenomenon of the loch that had often been mistaken for a sighting of the monster.
    “It’s there, you know,” she said suddenly, nodding down into the black, peat-laden water.
    He opened his mouth to ask what she meant, but then realized that he did know. He had lived near Loch Ness for most of his life, fished for eels and salmon in its waters, and heard—and laughed at—every story of the “fearsome beastie” that had ever been told in the pubs of Drumnadrochit and Fort Augustus.
    Perhaps it was the unlikeliness of the situation—sitting here, calmly discussing whether the woman with him should or should not take the unimaginable risk of catapulting herself into an unknown past. Whatever the cause of his certainty, it seemed suddenly not only possible, but sure, that the dark water of the loch hid unknown but fleshly mystery.
    “What do you think it is?” he asked, as much to give his disturbed feelings time to settle, as out of curiosity.
    Claire leaned over the side, watching intently as a log drifted into view.
    “The one I saw was probably a plesiosaur,” she said at last. She didn’t look at Roger, but kept her gaze astern. “Though I didn’t take notes at the time.” Her mouth twisted in something not quite a smile.
    “How many stone circles are there?” she asked abruptly. “In Britain, in Europe. Do you know?”
    “Not exactly. Several hundred, though,” he answered cautiously. “Do you think they’re all—”
    “How should I know?” she interrupted impatiently. “The point is, they may be. They were set up to mark something, which means there may be the hell of a lot of places where that something has happened.” She tilted her head to one side, wiping the windblown hair out of her face, and gave him a lopsided smile.
    “That would explain it, you know.”
    “Explain what?” Roger felt fogged by the rapid shifts of her conversation.
    “The monster.” She gestured out over the water. “What if there’s another of those—places—under the loch?”
    “A time corridor—passage—whatever?” Roger looked out over the purling wake, staggered by the idea.
    “It would explain a lot.” There was a smile hiding at the corner of her mouth, behind the veil of blowing hair. He couldn’t tell whether she was serious or not. “The best candidates for monster are all things that have been extinct for hundreds of thousands of years. If there’s a time passage under the loch, that would take care of that little problem.”
    “It would also explain why the reports are sometimes different,” Roger said, becoming intrigued by the idea. “If it’s different creatures who come through.”
    “And it would explain why the creature—or creatures—haven’t been caught, and aren’t seen all that often. Maybe they go back the other way, too, so they aren’t in the loch all the time.”
    “What a marvelous idea!” Roger said. He and Claire grinned at each other.
    “You know what?” she said. “I’ll bet that isn’t going to make it on the list of popular theories.”
    Roger laughed, catching a crab, and droplets of water sprayed over Brianna. She snorted, sat up abruptly, blinking, then sank back down, face flushed with sleep, and was breathing heavily within seconds.
    “She was up late last night, helping me box up the last set of records to go back to the University of Leeds,” Roger said, defensive on her behalf.
    Claire nodded abstractedly, watching her daughter.
    “Jamie could do that,” she said softly. “Lie down and sleep anywhere.”
    She fell silent. Roger rowed steadily on, toward the point of the loch where the grim bulk of the ruins of Castle Urquhart stood amid its pines.
    “The thing is,” Claire said at last, “it gets harder. Going through the first time was the most terrible thing I’d ever had happen to me. Coming back was a thousand times worse.” Her eyes were fixed on the looming castle.
    “I don’t know whether it was because I didn’t come back on the right day—it was Beltane when I went, and two weeks before, when I came back.”
    “Geilie—Gillian, I mean—she went on Beltane, too.” In spite of the heat of the day, Roger felt slightly cold, seeing again the figure of the woman who had been both his ancestor and his contemporary, standing in the light of a blazing bonfire, fixed for a moment in the light, before disappearing forever into the cleft of the standing stones.
    “That’s what her notebook said—that the door is open on the Sun Feasts and the Fire Feasts. Perhaps it’s only partly open as you near those times. Or perhaps she was wrong altogether; after all, she thought you had to have a human sacrifice to make it work.”
    Claire swallowed heavily. The petrol-soaked remains of Greg Edgars, Gillian’s husband, had been recovered from the stone circle by the police, on May Day. The record concluded of his wife only, “Fled, whereabouts unknown.”
    Claire leaned over the side, trailing a hand in the water. A small cloud drifted over the sun, turning the loch a sudden gray, with dozens of small waves rising on the surface as the light wind increased. Directly below, in the wake of the boat, the water was darkly impenetrable. Seven hundred feet deep is Loch Ness, and bitter cold. What can live in a place like that?
    “Would you go down there, Roger?” she asked softly. “Jump overboard, dive in, go on down through that dark until your lungs were bursting, not knowing whether there are things with teeth and great heavy bodies waiting?”
    Roger felt the hair on his arms rise, and not only because the sudden wind was chilly.
    “But that’s not all the question,” she continued, still staring into the blank, mysterious water. “Would you go, if Brianna were down there?” She straightened up and turned to face him.
    “Would you go?” The amber eyes were intent on his, unblinking as a hawk’s.
    He licked his lips, chapped and dried by the wind, and cast a quick look over his shoulder at Brianna, sleeping. He turned back to face Claire.
    “Yes. I think I would.”
    She looked at him for a long moment, and then nodded, unsmiling.
    “So would I.”



    PART FIVE
   
    You Can’t Go Home Again
    18
    ROOTS
    September 1968
    The woman next to me probably weighed three hundred pounds. She wheezed in her sleep, lungs laboring to lift the burden of her massive bosom for the two-hundred-thousandth time. Her hip and thigh and pudgy arm pressed against mine, unpleasantly warm and damp.
    There was no escape; I was pinned on the other side by the steel curve of the plane’s fuselage. I eased one arm upward and flicked on the overhead light in order to see my watch. Ten-thirty, by London time; at least another six hours before the landing in New York promised escape.
    The plane was filled with the collective sighs and snorts of passengers dozing as best they might. Sleep for me was out of the question. With a sigh of resignation, I dug into the pocket in front of me for the half-finished romance novel I had stashed there. The tale was by one of my favorite authors, but I found my attention slipping from the book—either back to Roger and Brianna, whom I had left in Edinburgh, there to continue the hunt, or forward, to what awaited me in Boston.
    I wasn’t sure just what did await me, which was part of the problem. I had been obliged to come back, if only temporarily; I had long since exhausted my vacation, plus several extensions. There were matters to be dealt with at the hospital, bills to be collected and paid at home, the maintenance of the house and yard to be attended to—I shuddered to think what heights the lawn in the backyard must have attained by now—friends to be called on…
    One friend in particular. Joseph Abernathy had been my closest friend, from medical school on. Before I made any final—and likely irrevocable—decisions, I wanted to talk to him. I closed the book in my lap and sat tracing the extravagant loops of the title with one finger, smiling a little. Among other things, I owed a taste for romance novels to Joe.

    I had known Joe since the beginning of my medical training. He stood out among the other interns at Boston General, just as I did. I was the only woman among the budding doctors; Joe was the only black intern.
    Our shared singularity gave us each a special awareness for the other; both of us sensed it clearly, though neither mentioned it. We worked together very well, but both of us were wary—for good reason—of exposing ourselves, and the tenuous bond between us, much too nebulous to be called friendship, remained unacknowledged until near the end of our internship.
    I had done my first unassisted surgery that day—an uncomplicated appendectomy, done on a teenaged boy in good health. It had gone well, and there was no reason to think there would be postoperative complications. Still, I felt an odd kind of possessiveness about the boy, and didn’t want to go home until he was awake and out of Recovery, even though my shift had ended. I changed clothes and went to the doctors’ lounge on the third floor to wait.
    The lounge wasn’t empty. Joseph Abernathy sat in one of the rump-sprung stuffed chairs, apparently absorbed in a copy of U.S. News & World Report. He looked up as I entered, and nodded briefly to me before returning to his reading.
    The lounge was equipped with stacks of magazines—salvaged from the waiting rooms—and a number of tattered paperbacks, abandoned by departing patients. Seeking distraction, I thumbed past a six-month-old copy of Studies in Gastroenterology, a ragged copy of Time magazine, and a neat stack of Watchtower tracts. Finally picking up one of the books, I sat down with it.
    It had no cover, but the title page read The Impetuous Pirate. “A sensuous, compelling love story, boundless as the Spanish Main!” said the line beneath the title. The Spanish Main, eh? If escape was what I wanted, I couldn’t do much better, I thought, and opened the book at random. It fell open automatically to page 42.
    Tipping up her nose scornfully, Tessa tossed her lush blond tresses back, oblivious to the fact that this caused her voluptuous breasts to become even more prominent in the low-necked dress. Valdez’s eyes widened at the sight, but he gave no outward sign of the effect such wanton beauty had on him.
    “I thought that we might become better acquainted, Señorita,” he suggested, in a low, sultry voice that made little shivers of anticipation run up and down Tessa’s back.
    “I have no interest in becoming acquainted with a…a…filthy, despicable, underhanded pirate!” she said.
    Valdez’s teeth gleamed as he smiled at her, his hand stroking the handle of the dagger at his belt. He was impressed at her fearlessness; so bold, so impetuous…and so beautiful.
    I raised an eyebrow, but went on reading, fascinated.
    With an air of imperious possession, Valdez swooped an arm about Tessa’s waist.
    “You forget, Señorita,” he murmured, the words tickling her sensitive earlobe, “you are a prize of war; and the Captain of a pirate ship has first choice of the booty!”
    Tessa struggled in his powerful arms as he bore her to the berth and tossed her lightly onto the jeweled coverlet. She struggled to catch her breath, watching in terror as he undressed, laying aside his azure-blue velvet coat and then the fine ruffled white linen shirt. His chest was magnificent, a smooth expanse of gleaming bronze. Her fingertips ached to touch it, even though her heart pounded deafeningly in her ears as he reached for the waistband of his breeches.
    “But no,” he said, pausing. “It is unfair of me to neglect you, Señorita. Allow me.” With an irresistible smile, he bent and gently cupped Tessa’s breasts in the heated palms of his calloused hands, enjoying the voluptuous weight of them through the thin silken fabric. With a small scream, Tessa shrank away from his probing touch, pressing back against the lace-embroidered feather pillow.
    “You resist? What a pity to spoil such fine clothing, Señorita…” He took a firm grasp on her jade-silk bodice and yanked, causing Tessa’s fine white breasts to leap out of their concealment like a pair of plump partridges taking wing.
    I made a sound, causing Dr. Abernathy to look sharply over the top of his U.S. News & World Report. Hastily rearranging my face into a semblance of dignified absorption, I turned the page.
    Valdez’s thick black curls swept her chest as he fastened his hot lips on Tessa’s rose-pink nipples, making waves of anguished desire wash through her being. Weakened by the unaccustomed feelings that his ardor aroused in her, she was unable to move as his hand stealthily sought the hem of her gown and his blazing touch traced tendrils of sensation up the length of her slender thigh.
    “Ah, mi amor,” he groaned. “So lovely, so pure. You drive me mad with desire, mi amor. I have wanted you since I first saw you, so proud and cold on the deck of your father’s ship. But not so cold now, my dear, eh?”
    In fact, Valdez’s kisses were wreaking havoc on Tessa’s feelings. How, how could she be feeling such things for this man, who had cold-bloodedly sunk her father’s ship, and murdered a hundred men with his own hands? She should be recoiling in horror, but instead she found herself gasping for breath, opening her mouth to receive his burning kisses, arching her body in involuntary abandon beneath the demanding pressure of his burgeoning manhood.
    “Ah, mi amor,” he gasped. “I cannot wait. But…I do not wish to hurt you. Gently, mi amor, gently.”
    Tessa gasped as she felt the increasing pressure of his desire making its presence known between her legs.
    “Oh!” she said. “Oh, please! You can’t! I don’t want you to!”
    [Fine time to start making protests, I thought.]
    “Don’t worry, mi amor. Trust me.”
    Gradually, little by little, she relaxed under the touch of his hypnotic caresses, feeling the warmth in her stomach grow and spread. His lips brushed her breast, and his hot breath, murmuring reassurances, took away all her resistance. As she relaxed, her thighs opened without her willing it. Moving with infinite slowness, his engorged shaft teased aside the membrane of her innocence…
    I let out a whoop and lost my grasp on the book, which slid off my lap and fell on the floor with a plop near Dr. Abernathy’s feet.
    “Excuse me,” I murmured, and bent to retrieve it, my face flaming. As I came up with The Impetuous Pirate in my sweaty grasp, though, I saw that far from preserving his usual austere mien, Dr. Abernathy was grinning widely.
    “Let me guess,” he said. “Valdez just teased aside the membrane of her innocence?”
    “Yes,” I said, breaking out into helpless giggling again. “How did you know?”
    “Well, you weren’t too far into it,” he said, taking the book from my hand. His short, blunt fingers flicked the pages expertly. “It had to be that one, or maybe the one on page 73, where he laves her pink mounds with his hungry tongue.”
    “He what?”
    “See for yourself.” He thrust the book back into my hands, pointing to a spot halfway down the page.
    Sure enough, “…lifting aside the coverlet, he bent his coal-black head and laved her pink mounds with his hungry tongue. Tessa moaned and…” I gave an unhinged shriek.
    “You’ve actually read this?” I demanded, tearing my eyes away from Tessa and Valdez.
    “Oh, yeah,” he said, the grin widening. He had a gold tooth, far back on the right side. “Two or three times. It’s not the best one, but it isn’t bad.”
    “The best one? There are more like this?”
    “Sure. Let’s see…” He rose and began digging through the pile of tattered paperbacks on the table. “You want to look for the ones with no covers,” he explained. “Those are the best.”
    “And here I thought you never read anything but Lancet and the Journal of the AMA,”I said.
    “What, I spend thirty-six hours up to my elbows in people’s guts, and I want to come up here and read ‘Advances in Gallbladder Resection?’ Hell, no—I’d rather sail the Spanish Main with Valdez.” He eyed me with some interest, the grin still not quite gone. “I didn’t think you read anything but The New England Journal of Medicine, either, Lady Jane,” he said. “Appearances are deceiving, huh?”
    “Must be,” I said dryly. “What’s this ‘Lady Jane’?”
    “Oh, Hoechstein started that one,” he said, leaning back with his fingers linked around one knee. “It’s the voice, that accent that sounds like you just drank tea with the Queen. That’s what you’ve got, keeps the guys from bein’ worse than they are. See, you sound like Winston Churchill—if Winston Churchill was a lady, that is—and that scares them a little. You’ve got somethin’ else, though”—he viewed me thoughtfully, rocking back in his chair. “You have a way of talking like you expect to get your way, and if you don’t, you’ll know the reason why. Where’d you learn that?”
    “In the war,” I said, smiling at his description.
    His eyebrows went up. “Korea?”
    “No, I was a combat nurse during the Second World War; in France. I saw a lot of Head Matrons who could turn interns and orderlies to jelly with a glance.” And later, I had had a good deal of practice, where that air of inviolate authority—assumed though it might be—had stood me in good stead against people with a great deal more power than the nursing staff and interns of Boston General Hospital.
    He nodded, absorbed in my explanation. “Yeah, that makes sense. I used Walter Cronkite, myself.”
    “Walter Cronkite?” I goggled at him.
    He grinned again, showing his gold tooth. “You can think of somebody better? Besides, I got to hear him for free on the radio or the TV every night. I used to entertain my mama—she wanted me to be a preacher.” He smiled, half ruefully. “If I talked like Walter Cronkite where we lived in those days, I wouldn’t have lived to go to med school.”
    I was liking Joe Abernathy more by the second. “I hope your mother wasn’t disappointed that you became a doctor intstead of a preacher.”
    “Tell you the truth, I’m not sure,” he said, still grinning. “When I told her, she stared at me for a minute, then heaved a big sigh and said, ‘Well, at least you can get my rheumatism medicine for me cheap.’”
    I laughed wryly. “I didn’t get that much enthusiasm when I told my husband I was going to be a doctor. He stared at me, and finally said if I was bored, why didn’t I volunteer to write letters for the inmates of the nursing home.”
    Joe’s eyes were a soft golden brown, like toffee drops. There was a glint of humor in them as they fixed on me.
    “Yeah, folks still think it’s fine to say to your face that you can’t be doing what you’re doing. ‘Why are you here, little lady, and not home minding your man and child?’” he mimicked.
    He grinned wryly, and patted my hand. “Don’t worry, they’ll give it up sooner or later. They mostly don’t ask me to my face anymore why I ain’t cleanin’ the toilets, like God made me to.”
    Then the nurse had come with word that my appendix was awake, and I had left, but the friendship begun on page 42 had flourished, and Joe Abernathy had become one of my best friends; possibly the only person close to me who truly understood what I did, and why.
    I smiled a little, feeling the slickness of the embossing on the cover. Then I leaned forward and put the book back into the seat pocket. Perhaps I didn’t want to escape just now.
    Outside, a floor of moonlit cloud cut us off from the earth below. Up here, everything was silent, beautiful and serene, in marked contrast to the turmoil of life below.
    I had the odd feeling of being suspended, motionless, cocooned in solitude, even the heavy breathing of the woman next to me only a part of the white noise that makes up silence, one with the tepid rush of the air-conditioning and the shuffle of the stewardesses’ shoes along the carpet. At the same time, I knew we were rushing on inexorably through the air, propelled at hundreds of miles per hour to some end—as for it being a safe one, we could only hope.
    I closed my eyes, in suspended animation. Back in Scotland, Roger and Bree were hunting Jamie. Ahead, in Boston, my job—and Joe—were waiting. And Jamie himself? I tried to push the thought away, determined not to think of him until the decision was made.
    I felt a slight ruffling of my hair, and one lock brushed against my cheek, light as a lover’s touch. But surely it was no more than the rush of air from the vent overhead, and my imagination that the stale smells of perfume and cigarettes were suddenly underlaid by the scents of wool and heather.
    19
    TO LAY A GHOST
    Home at last, to the house on Furey Street, where I had lived with Frank and Brianna for nearly twenty years. The azaleas by the door were not quite dead, but their leaves hung in limp, shabby clusters, a thick layer of fallen leaves curling on the dry-baked bed underneath. It was a hot summer—there wasn’t any other kind in Boston—and the August rains hadn’t come, even though it was mid-September by now.
    I set my bags by the front door and went to turn on the hose. It had been lying in the sun; the green rubber snake was hot enough to burn my hand, and I shifted it uneasily from palm to palm until the rumble of water brought it suddenly alive and cooled it with a burst of spray.
    I didn’t like azaleas all that much to start with. I would have pulled them out long since, but I had been reluctant to alter any detail of the house after Frank’s death, for Brianna’s sake. Enough of a shock, I thought, to begin university and have your father die in one year, without more changes. I had been ignoring the house for a long time; I could go on doing so.
    “All right!” I said crossly to the azaleas, as I turned off the hose. “I hope you’re happy, because that’s all you get. I want to go have a drink myself. And a bath,” I added, seeing their mud-spattered leaves.

    I sat on the edge of the big sunken tub in my dressing gown, watching the water thunder in, churning the bubble bath into clouds of perfumed sea-foam. Steam rose from the boiling surface; the water would be almost too hot.
    I turned it off—one quick, neat twist of the tap—and sat for a moment, the house around me still save for the crackle of popping bath bubbles, faint as the sounds of a far-off battle. I realized perfectly well what I was doing. I had been doing it ever since I stepped aboard the Flying Scotsman in Inverness, and felt the thrum of the track come alive beneath my feet. I was testing myself.
    I had been taking careful note of the machines—all the contrivances of modern daily life—and more important, of my own response to them. The train to Edinburgh, the plane to Boston, the taxicab from the airport, and all the dozens of tiny mechanical flourishes attending—vending machines, street lights, the plane’s mile-high lavatory, with its swirl of nasty blue-green disinfectant, whisking waste and germs away with the push of a button. Restaurants, with their tidy certificates from the Department of Health, guaranteeing at least a better than even chance of escaping food poisoning when eating therein. Inside my own house, the omnipresent buttons that supplied light and heat and water and cooked food.
    The question was—did I care? I dipped a hand into the steaming bathwater and swirled it to and fro, watching the shadows of the vortex dancing in the marble depths. Could I live without all the “conveniences,” large and small, to which I was accustomed?
    I had been asking myself that with each touch of a button, each rumble of a motor, and was quite sure that the answer was “yes.” Time didn’t make all the difference, after all; I could walk across the city and find people who lived without many of these conveniences—farther abroad and there were entire countries where people lived in reasonable content and complete ignorance of electricity.
    For myself, I had never cared a lot. I had lived with my uncle Lamb, an eminent archaeologist, since my own parents’ death when I was five. Consequently, I had grown up in conditions that could conservatively be called “primitive,” as I accompanied him on all his field expeditions. Yes, hot baths and light bulbs were nice, but I had lived without them during several periods of my life—during the war, for instance—and never found the lack of them acute.
    The water had cooled enough to be tolerable. I dropped the dressing gown on the floor and stepped in, feeling a pleasant shiver as the heat at my feet made my shoulders prickle in cool contrast.
    I subsided into the tub and relaxed, stretching my legs. Eighteenth-century hip baths were barely more than large barrels; one normally bathed in segments, immersing the center of the body first, with the legs hanging outside, then stood up and rinsed the upper torso while soaking the feet. More frequently, one bathed from a pitcher and basin, with the aid of a cloth.
    No, conveniences and comforts were merely that. Nothing essential, nothing I couldn’t do without.
    Not that conveniences were the only issue, by a long chalk. The past was a dangerous country. But even the advances of so-called civilization were no guarantee of safety. I had lived through two major “modern” wars—actually served on the battlefields of one of them—and could see another taking shape on the telly every evening.
    “Civilized” warfare was, if anything, more horrifying than its older versions. Daily life might be safer, but only if one chose one’s walk in it with care. Parts of Roxbury now were as dangerous as any alley I had walked in the Paris of two hundred years past.
    I sighed and pulled up the plug with my toes. No use speculating about impersonal things like bathtubs, bombs, and rapists. Indoor plumbing was no more than a minor distraction. The real issue was the people involved, and always had been. Me, and Brianna, and Jamie.
    The last of the water gurgled away. I stood up, feeling slightly light-headed, and wiped away the last of the bubbles. The big mirror was misted with steam, but clear enough to show me myself from the knees upward, pink as a boiled shrimp.
    Dropping the towel, I looked myself over. Flexed my arms, raised them overhead, checking for bagginess. None; biceps and triceps all nicely defined, deltoids neatly rounded and sloping into the high curve of the pectoralis major. I turned slightly to one side, tensing and relaxing my abdominals—obliques in decent tone, the rectus abdominis flattening almost to concavity.
    “Good thing the family doesn’t run to fat,” I murmured. Uncle Lamb had remained trim and taut to the day of his death at seventy-five. I supposed my father—Uncle Lamb’s brother—had been constructed similarly, and wondered suddenly what my mother’s backside had looked like. Women, after all, had a certain amount of excess adipose tissue to contend with.
    I turned all the way round and peered back over my shoulder at the mirror. The long columnar muscles of my back gleamed wetly as I twisted; I still had a waist, and a good narrow one, too.
    As for my own backside—“Well, no dimples, anyway,” I said aloud. I turned around and stared at my reflection.
    “It could be a lot worse,” I said to it.

    Feeling somewhat heartened, I put on my nightgown and went about the business of putting the house to bed. No cats to put out, no dogs to feed—Bozo, the last of our dogs, had died of old age the year before, and I had not wanted to get another, with Brianna off at school and my own hours at the hospital long and irregular.
    Adjust the thermostat, check the locks of windows and doors, see that the burners of the stove were off. That was all there was to it. For eighteen years, the nightly route had included a stop in Brianna’s room, but not since she had left for university.
    Moved by a mixture of habit and compulsion, I pushed open the door to her room and clicked on the light. Some people have the knack of objects, and others haven’t. Bree had it; scarcely an inch of wall space showed between the posters, photographs, dried flowers, scraps of tie-dyed fabric, framed certificates and other impedimenta on the walls.
    Some people have a way of arranging everything about them, so the objects take on not only their own meaning, and a relation to the other things displayed with them, but something more besides—an indefinable aura that belongs as much to their invisible owner as to the objects themselves. I am here because Brianna placed me here, the things in the room seemed to say. I am here because she is who she is.
    It was odd that she should have that, really, I thought. Frank had had it; when I had gone to empty his university office after his death, I had thought it like the fossilized cast of some extinct animal; books and papers and bits of rubbish holding exactly the shape and texture and vanished weight of the mind that had inhabited the space.
    For some of Brianna’s objects, the relation to her was obvious—pictures of me, of Frank, of Bozo, of friends. The scraps of fabric were ones she had made, her chosen patterns, the colors she liked—a brilliant turquoise, deep indigo, magenta, and clear yellow. But other things—why should the scatter of dried freshwater snail shells on the bureau say to me “Brianna”? Why that one lump of rounded pumice, taken from the beach at Truro, indistinguishable from a hundred thousand others—except for the fact that she had taken it?
    I didn’t have a way with objects. I had no impulse either to acquire or to decorate—Frank had often complained of the Spartan furnishings at home, until Brianna grew old enough to take a hand. Whether it was the fault of my nomadic upbringing, or only the way I was, I lived mostly inside my skin, with no impulse to alter my surroundings to reflect me.
    Jamie was the same. He had had the few small objects, always carried in his sporran for utility or as talismans, and beyond that, had neither owned nor cared for things. Even during the short period when we had lived luxuriously in Paris, and the longer time of tranquillity at Lallybroch, he had never shown any disposition to acquire objects.
    For him as well, it might have been the circumstances of his early manhood, when he had lived like a hunted animal, never owning anything beyond the weapons he depended on for survival. But perhaps it was natural to him also, this isolation from the world of things, this sense of self-sufficiency—one of the things that had made us seek completion in each other.
    Odd all the same, that Brianna should have so much resembled both her fathers, in their very different ways. I said a silent good night to the ghost of my absent daughter, and put out the light.
    The thought of Frank went with me into the bedroom. The sight of the big double bed, smooth and untroubled under its dark blue satin spread, brought him suddenly and vividly to mind, in a way I had not thought of him in many months.
    I supposed it was the possibility of impending departure that made me think of him now. This room—this bed, in fact—was where I had said goodbye to him for the last time.

    “Can’t you come to bed, Claire? It’s past midnight.” Frank looked up at me over the edge of his book. He was already in bed himself, reading with the book propped upon his knees. The soft pool of light from the lamp made him look as though he were floating in a warm bubble, serenely isolated from the dark chilliness of the rest of the room. It was early January, and despite the furnace’s best efforts, the only truly warm place at night was bed, under heavy blankets.
    I smiled at him, and rose from my chair, dropping the heavy wool dressing gown from my shoulders.
    “Am I keeping you up? Sorry. Just reliving this morning’s surgery.”
    “Yes, I know,” he said dryly. “I can tell by looking at you. Your eyes glaze over and your mouth hangs open.”
    “Sorry,” I said again, matching his tone. “I can’t be responsible for what my face is doing when I’m thinking.”
    “But what good does thinking do?” he asked, sticking a bookmark in his book. “You’ve done whatever you could—worrying about it now won’t change…ah, well.” He shrugged irritably and closed the book. “I’ve said it all before.”
    “You have,” I said shortly.
    I got into bed, shivering slightly, and tucked my gown down round my legs. Frank scooted automatically in my direction, and I slid down under the sheets beside him, huddling together to pool our warmth against the cold.
    “Oh, wait; I’ve got to move the phone.” I flung back the covers and scrambled out again, to move the phone from Frank’s side of the bed to mine. He liked to sit in bed in the early evening, chatting with students and colleagues while I read or made surgical notes beside him, but he resented being wakened by the late calls that came from the hospital for me. Resented it enough that I had arranged for the hospital to call only for absolute emergencies, or when I left instructions to keep me informed of a specific patient’s progress. Tonight I had left instructions; it was a tricky bowel resection. If things went wrong, I might have to go back in in a hurry.
    Frank grunted as I turned out the light and slipped into bed again, but after a moment, he rolled toward me, throwing an arm across my middle. I rolled onto my side and curled against him, gradually relaxing as my chilled toes thawed.
    I mentally replayed the details of the operation, feeling again the chill at my feet from the refrigeration in the operating room and the initial, unsettling feeling of the warmth in the patient’s belly as my gloved fingers slid inside. The diseased bowel itself, coiled like a viper, patterned with the purple splotches of ecchymosis and the slow leakage of bright blood from tiny ruptures.
    “I’d been thinking.” Frank’s voice came out of the darkness behind me, excessively casual.
    “Mm?” I was still absorbed in the vision of the surgery, but struggled to pull myself back to the present. “About what?”
    “My sabbatical.” His leave from the university was due to start in a month. He had planned to make a series of short trips through the northeastern United States, gathering material, then go to England for six months, returning to Boston to spend the last three months of the sabbatical writing.
    “I’d thought of going to England straight off,” he said carefully.
    “Well, why not? The weather will be dreadful, but if you’re going to spend most of the time in libraries…”
    “I want to take Brianna with me.”
    I stopped dead, the cold in the room suddenly coalescing into a small lump of suspicion in the pit of my stomach.
    “She can’t go now; she’s only a semester from graduation. Surely you can wait until we can join you in the summer? I’ve put in for a long vacation then, and perhaps…”
    “I’m going now. For good. Without you.”
    I pulled away and sat up, turning on the light. Frank lay blinking up at me, dark hair disheveled. It had gone gray at the temples, giving him a distinguished air that seemed to have alarming effects on the more susceptible of his female students. I felt quite astonishingly composed.
    “Why now, all of a sudden? The latest one putting pressure on you, is she?”
    The look of alarm that flashed into his eyes was so pronounced as to be comical. I laughed, with a noticeable lack of humor.
    “You actually thought I didn’t know? God, Frank! You are the most…oblivious man!”
    He sat up in bed, jaw tight.
    “I thought I had been most discreet.”
    “You may have been at that,” I said sardonically. “I counted six over the last ten years—if there were really a dozen or so, then you were quite the model of discretion.”
    His face seldom showed great emotion, but a whitening beside his mouth told me that he was very angry indeed.
    “This one must be something special,” I said, folding my arms and leaning back against the headboard in assumed casualness. “But still—why the rush to go to England now, and why take Bree?”
    “She can go to boarding school for her last term,” he said shortly. “Be a new experience for her.”
    “Not one I expect she wants,” I said. “She won’t want to leave her friends, especially not just before graduation. And certainly not to go to an English boarding school!” I shuddered at the thought. I had come within inches of being immured in just such a school as a child; the scent of the hospital cafeteria sometimes evoked memories of it, complete with the waves of terrified helplessness I had felt when Uncle Lamb had taken me to visit the place.
    “A little discipline never hurt anyone,” Frank said. He had recovered his temper, but the lines of his face were still tight. “Might have done you some good.” He waved a hand, dismissing the topic. “Let that be. Still, I’ve decided to go back to England permanently. I’ve a good position offered at Cambridge, and I mean to take it up. You won’t leave the hospital, of course. But I don’t mean to leave my daughter behind.”
    “Your daughter?” I felt momentarily incapable of speech. So he had a new job all set, and a new mistress to go along. He’d been planning this for some time, then. A whole new life—but not with Brianna.
    “My daughter,” he said calmly. “You can come to visit whenever you like, of course…”
    “You…bloody…bastard!” I said.
    “Do be reasonable, Claire.” He looked down his nose, giving me Treatment A, long-suffering patience, reserved for students appealing failing grades. “You’re scarcely ever home. If I’m gone, there will be no one to look after Bree properly.”
    “You talk as though she’s eight, not almost eighteen! For heaven’s sake, she’s nearly grown.”
    “All the more reason she needs care and supervision,” he snapped. “If you’d seen what I’d seen at the university—the drinking, the drugging, the…”
    “I do see it,” I said through my teeth. “At fairly close range in the emergency room. Bree is not likely to—”
    “She damn well is! Girls have no sense at that age—she’ll be off with the first fellow who—”
    “Don’t be idiotic! Bree’s very sensible. Besides, all young people experiment, that’s how they learn. You can’t keep her swaddled in cotton wool all her life.”
    “Better swaddled than fucking a black man!” he shot back. A mottled red showed faintly over his cheekbones. “Like mother, like daughter, eh? But that’s not how it’s going to be, damn it, not if I’ve anything to say about it!”
    I heaved out of bed and stood up, glaring down at him.
    “You,” I said, “have not got one bloody, filthy, stinking thing to say, about Bree or anything else!” I was trembling with rage, and had to press my fists into the sides of my legs to keep from striking him. “You have the absolute, unmitigated gall to tell me that you are leaving me to live with the latest of a succession of mistresses, and then imply that I have been having an affair with Joe Abernathy? That is what you mean, isn’t it?”
    He had the grace to lower his eyes slightly.
    “Everyone thinks you have,” he muttered. “You spend all your time with the man. It’s the same thing, so far as Bree is concerned. Dragging her into…situations, where she’s exposed to danger, and…and to those sorts of people…”
    “Black people, I suppose you mean?”
    “I damn well do,” he said, looking up at me with eyes flashing. “It’s bad enough to have the Abernathys to parties all the time, though at least he’s educated. But that obese person I met at their house with the tribal tattoos and the mud in his hair? That repulsive lounge lizard with the oily voice? And young Abernathy’s taken to hanging round Bree day and night, taking her to marches and rallies and orgies in low dives…”
    “I shouldn’t think there are any high dives,” I said, repressing an inappropriate urge to laugh at Frank’s unkind but accurate assessment of two of Leonard Abernathy’s more outré friends. “Did you know Lenny’s taken to calling himself Muhammad Ishmael Shabazz now?”
    “Yes, he told me,” he said shortly, “and I am taking no risk of having my daughter become Mrs. Shabazz.”
    “I don’t think Bree feels that way about Lenny,” I assured him, struggling to suppress my irritation.
    “She isn’t going to, either. She’s going to England with me.”
    “Not if she doesn’t want to,” I said, with great finality.
    No doubt feeling that his position put him at a disadvantage, Frank climbed out of bed and began groping for his slippers.
    “I don’t need your permission to take my daughter to England,” he said. “And Bree’s still a minor; she’ll go where I say. I’d appreciate it if you’d find her medical records; the new school will need them.”
    “Your daughter?” I said again. I vaguely noticed the chill in the room, but was so angry that I felt hot all over. “Bree’s my daughter, and you’ll take her bloody nowhere!”
    “You can’t stop me,” he pointed out, with aggravating calmness, picking up his dressing gown from the foot of the bed.
    “The hell I can’t,” I said. “You want to divorce me? Fine. Use any grounds you like—with the exception of adultery, which you can’t prove, because it doesn’t exist. But if you try to take Bree away with you, I’ll have a thing or two to say about adultery. Do you want to know how many of your discarded mistresses have come to see me, to ask me to give you up?”
    His mouth hung open in shock.
    “I told them all that I’d give you up in a minute,” I said, “if you asked.” I folded my arms, tucking my hands into my armpits. I was beginning to feel the chilliness again. “I did wonder why you never asked—but I supposed it was because of Brianna.”
    His face had gone quite bloodless now, and showed white as a skull in the dimness on the other side of the bed.
    “Well,” he said, with a poor attempt at his usual self-possession, “I shouldn’t have thought you minded. It’s not as though you ever made a move to stop me.”
    I stared at him, completely taken aback.
    “Stop you?” I said. “What should I have done? Steamed open your mail and waved the letters under your nose? Made a scene at the faculty Christmas party? Complained to the Dean?”
    His lips pressed tight together for a moment, then relaxed.
    “You might have behaved as though it mattered to you,” he said quietly.
    “It mattered.” My voice sounded strangled.
    He shook his head, still staring at me, his eyes dark in the lamplight.
    “Not enough.” He paused, face floating pale in the air above his dark dressing gown, then came round the bed to stand by me.
    “Sometimes I wondered if I could rightfully blame you,” he said, almost thoughtfully. “He looked like Bree, didn’t he? He was like her?”
    “Yes.”
    He breathed heavily, almost a snort.
    “I could see it in your face—when you’d look at her, I could see you thinking of him. Damn you, Claire Beauchamp,” he said, very softly. “Damn you and your face that can’t hide a thing you think or feel.”
    There was a silence after this, of the sort that makes you hear all the tiny unbearable noises of creaking wood and breathing houses—only in an effort to pretend you haven’t heard what was just said.
    “I did love you,” I said softly, at last. “Once.”
    “Once,” he echoed. “Should I be grateful for that?”
    The feeling was beginning to come back to my numb lips.
    “I did tell you,” I said. “And then, when you wouldn’t go…Frank, I did try.”
    Whatever he heard in my voice stopped him for a moment.
    “I did,” I said, very softly.
    He turned away and moved toward my dressing table, where he touched things restlessly, picking them up and putting them down at random.
    “I couldn’t leave you at the first—pregnant, alone. Only a cad would have done that. And then…Bree.” He stared sightlessly at the lipstick he held in one hand, then set it gently back on the glassy tabletop. “I couldn’t give her up,” he said softly. He turned to look at me, eyes dark holes in a shadowed face.
    “Did you know I couldn’t sire a child? I…had myself tested, a few years ago. I’m sterile. Did you know?”
    I shook my head, not trusting myself to speak.
    “Bree is mine, my daughter,” he said, as though to himself. “The only child I’ll ever have. I couldn’t give her up.” He gave a short laugh. “I couldn’t give her up, but you couldn’t see her without thinking of him, could you? Without that constant memory, I wonder—would you have forgotten him, in time?”
    “No.” The whispered word seemed to go through him like an electric shock. He stood frozen for a moment, then whirled to the closet and began to jerk on his clothes over his pajamas. I stood, arms wrapped around my body, watching as he pulled on his overcoat and stamped out of the room, not looking at me. The collar of his blue silk pajamas stuck up over the astrakhan trim of his coat.
    A moment later, I heard the closing of the front door—he had sufficient presence of mind not to slam it—and then the sound of a cold motor turning reluctantly over. The headlights swept across the bedroom ceiling as the car backed down the drive, and then were gone, leaving me shaking by the rumpled bed.

    Frank didn’t come back. I tried to sleep, but found myself lying rigid in the cold bed, mentally reliving the argument, listening for the crunch of his tires in the drive. At last, I got up and dressed, left a note for Bree, and went out myself.
    The hospital hadn’t called, but I might as well go and have a look at my patient; it was better than tossing and turning all night. And, to be honest, I would not have minded had Frank come home to find me gone.
    The streets were slick as butter, black ice gleaming in the streetlights. The yellow phosphor glow lit whorls of falling snow; within an hour, the ice that lined the streets would be concealed beneath fresh powder, and twice as perilous to travel. The only consolation was that there was no one on the streets at 4:00 A.M. to be imperiled. No one but me, that is.
    Inside the hospital, the usual warm, stuffy institutional smell wrapped itself round me like a blanket of familiarity, shutting out the snow-filled black night outside.
    “He’s okay,” the nurse said to me softly, as though a raised voice might disturb the sleeping man. “All the vitals are stable, and the count’s okay. No bleeding.” I could see that it was true; the patient’s face was pale, but with a faint undertone of pink, like the veining in a white rose petal, and the pulse in the hollow of his throat was strong and regular.
    I let out the deep breath I hadn’t realized I was holding. “That’s good,” I said. “Very good.” The nurse smiled warmly at me, and I had to resist the impulse to lean against him and dissolve. The hospital surroundings suddenly seemed like my only refuge.
    There was no point in going home. I checked briefly on my remaining patients, and went down to the cafeteria. It still smelled like a boarding school, but I sat down with a cup of coffee and sipped it slowly, wondering what I would tell Bree.
    It might have been a half-hour later when one of the ER nurses hurried through the swinging doors and stopped dead at the sight of me. Then she came on, quite slowly.
    I knew at once; I had seen doctors and nurses deliver the news of death too often to mistake the signs. Very calmly, feeling nothing whatever, I set down the almost full cup, realizing as I did so that for the rest of my life, I would remember that there was a chip in the rim, and that the “B” of the gold lettering on the side was almost worn away.
    “…said you were here. Identification in his wallet…police said…snow on black ice, a skid…DOA…” the nurse was talking, babbling, as I strode through the bright white halls, not looking at her, seeing the faces of the nurses at the station turn toward me in slow motion, not knowing, but seeing from a glance at me that something final had happened.
    He was on a gurney in one of the emergency room cubicles; a spare, anonymous space. There was an ambulance parked outside—perhaps the one that had brought him here. The double doors at the end of the corridor were open to the icy dawn. The ambulance’s red light was pulsing like an artery, bathing the corridor in blood.
    I touched him briefly. His flesh had the inert, plastic feel of the recently dead, so at odds with the lifelike appearance. There was no wound visible; any damage was hidden beneath the blanket that covered him. His throat was smooth and brown; no pulse moved in its hollow.
    I stood there, my hand on the motionless curve of his chest, looking at him, as I had not looked for some time. A strong and delicate profile, sensitive lips, and a chiseled nose and jaw. A handsome man, despite the lines that cut deep beside his mouth, lines of disappointment and unspoken anger, lines that even the relaxation of death could not wipe away.
    I stood quite still, listening. I could hear the wail of a new ambulance approaching, voices in the corridor. The squeak of gurney wheels, the crackle of a police radio, and the soft hum of a fluorescent light somewhere. I realized with a start that I was listening for Frank, expecting…what? That his ghost would be hovering still nearby, anxious to complete our unfinished business?
    I closed my eyes, to shut out the disturbing sight of that motionless profile, going red and white and red in turn as the light throbbed through the open doors.
    “Frank,” I said softly, to the unsettled, icy air, “if you’re still close enough to hear me—I did love you. Once. I did.”
    Then Joe was there, pushing through the crowded corridor, face anxious over his green scrub suit. He had come straight from surgery; there was a small spray of blood across the lenses of his glasses, a smear of it on his chest.
    “Claire,” he said, “God, Claire!” and then I started to shake. In ten years, he had never called me anything but “Jane” or “L.J.” If he was using my name, it must be real. My hand showed startlingly white in Joe’s dark grasp, then red in the pulsing light, and then I had turned to him, solid as a tree trunk, rested my head on his shoulder, and—for the first time—wept for Frank.

    I leaned my face against the bedroom window of the house on Furey Street. It was hot and humid on this blue September evening, filled with the sound of crickets and lawn sprinklers. What I saw, though, was the uncompromising black and white of that winter’s night two years before—black ice and the white of hospital linen, and then the blurring of all judgments in the pale gray dawn.
    My eyes blurred now, remembering the anonymous bustle in the corridor and the pulsing red light of the ambulance that had washed the silent cubicle in bloody light, as I wept for Frank.
    Now I wept for him for the last time, knowing even as the tears slid down my cheeks that we had parted, once and for all, twenty-odd years before, on the crest of a green Scottish hill.
    My weeping done, I rose and laid a hand on the smooth blue coverlet, gently rounded over the pillow on the left—Frank’s side.
    “Goodbye, my dear,” I whispered, and went out to sleep downstairs, away from the ghosts.

    It was the doorbell that woke me in the morning, from my makeshift bed on the sofa.
    “Telegram, ma’ma,” the messenger said, trying not to stare at my nightgown.
    Those small yellow envelopes have probably been responsible for more heart attacks than anything besides fatty bacon for breakfast. My own heart squeezed like a fist, then went on beating in a heavy, uncomfortable manner.
    I tipped the messenger and carried the telegram down the hall. It seemed important not to open it until I had reached the relative safety of the bathroom, as though it were an explosive device that must be defused under water.
    My fingers shook and fumbled as I opened it, sitting on the edge of the tub, my back pressed against the tiled wall for reinforcement.
    It was a brief message—of course, a Scot would be thrifty with words, I thought absurdly.
    HAVE FOUND HIM STOP, it read. WILL YOU COME BACK QUERY ROGER.
    I folded the telegram neatly and put it back into its envelope. I sat there and stared at it for quite a long time. Then I stood up and went to dress.
    20
    DIAGNOSIS
    Joe Abernathy was seated at his desk, frowning at a small rectangle of pale cardboard he held in both hands.
    “What’s that?” I said, sitting on the edge of his desk without ceremony.
    “A business card.” He handed the card to me, looking at once amused and irritated.
    It was a pale gray laid-finish card; expensive stock, fastidiously printed in an elegant serif type. Muhammad Ishmael Shabazz III, the center line read, with address and phone number below.
    “Lenny?” I asked, laughing. “Muhammad Ishmael Shabazz the third?”
    “Uh-huh.” Amusement seemed to be getting the upper hand. The gold tooth flashed briefly as he took the card back. “He says he’s not going to take a white man’s name, no slave name. He’s going to reclaim his African heritage,” he said sardonically. “All right, I say; I ask him, you gonna go round with a bone through your nose next thing? It’s not enough he’s got his hair out to here”—he gestured, fluffing his hands on either side of his own close-cropped head—“and he’s going round in a thing down to his knees, looks like his sister made it in Home Ec class. No, Lenny—excuse me, Muhammad—he’s got to be African all the way.”
    Joe waved a hand out the window, at his privileged vista over the park. “I tell him, look around, man, you see any lions? This look like Africa to you?” He leaned back in his padded chair, stretching out his legs. He shook his head in resignation. “There’s no talkin’ to a boy that age.”
    “True,” I said. “But what’s this ‘third’ about?”
    A reluctant gleam of gold answered me. “Well, he was talking all about his ‘lost tradition’ and his ‘missing history’ and all. He says, ‘How am I going to hold my head up, face-to-face with all these guys I meet at Yale named Cadwallader IV and Sewell Lodge, Jr., and I don’t even know my own grandaddy’s name, I don’t know where I come from?’”
    Joe snorted. “I told him, you want to know where you come from, kid, look in the mirror. Wasn’t the Mayflower, huh?”
    He picked up the card again, a reluctant grin on his face.
    “So he says, if he’s taking back his heritage, why not take it back all the way? If his grandaddy wouldn’t give him a name, he’ll give his grandaddy one. And the only trouble with that,” he said, looking up at me under a cocked brow, “is that it kind of leaves me man in the middle. Now I have to be Muhammad Ishmael Shabazz, Junior, so Lenny can be a ‘proud African-American’.” He thrust himself back from the desk, chin on his chest, staring balefully at the pale gray card.
    “You’re lucky, L.J.,” he said. “At least Bree isn’t giving you grief about who her granddaddy was. All you have to worry about is will she be doing dope and getting pregnant by some draft dodger who takes off for Canada.”
    I laughed, with more than a touch of irony. “That’s what you think,” I told him.
    “Yeah?” He cocked an interested eyebrow at me, then took off his gold-rimmed glasses and wiped them on the end of his tie. “So how was Scotland?” he asked, eyeing me. “Bree like it?”
    “She’s still there,” I said. “Looking for her history.”
    Joe was opening his mouth to say something when a tentative knock on the door interrupted him.
    “Dr. Abernathy?” A plump young man in a polo shirt peered doubtfully into the office, leaning over the top of a large cardboard box he held clutched to his substantial abdomen.
    “Call me Ishmael,” Joe said genially.
    “What?” The young man’s mouth hung slightly open, and he glanced at me in bewilderment, mingled with hope. “Are you Dr. Abernathy?”
    “No,” I said, “he is, when he puts his mind to it.” I rose from the desk, brushing down my skirts. “I’ll leave you to your appointment, Joe, but if you have time later—”
    “No, stay a minute, L. J.,” he interrupted, rising. He took the box from the young man, then shook his hand formally. “You’d be Mr. Thompson? John Wicklow called to tell me you’d be coming. Pleased to meet you.”
    “Horace Thompson, yes,” the young man said, blinking slightly. “I brought, er, a specimen…” He waved vaguely at the cardboard box.
    “Yes, that’s right. I’d be happy to look at it for you, but I think Dr. Randall here might be of assistance, too.” He glanced at me, the glint of mischief in his eyes. “I just want to see can you do it to a dead person, L. J.”
    “Do what to a dead—” I began, when he reached into the opened box and carefully lifted out a skull.
    “Oh, pretty,” he said in delight, turning the object gently to and fro.
    “Pretty” was not the first adjective that struck me; the skull was stained and greatly discolored, the bone gone a deep streaky brown. Joe carried it to the window and held it in the light, his thumbs gently stroking the small bony ridges over the eye sockets.
    “Pretty lady,” he said softly, talking as much to the skull as to me or Horace Thompson. “Full-grown, mature. Maybe late forties, middle fifties. Do you have the legs?” he asked, turning abruptly to the plump young man.
    “Yeah, right here,” Horace Thompson assured him, reaching into the box. “We have the whole body, in fact.”
    Horace Thompson was probably someone from the coroner’s office, I thought. Sometimes they brought bodies to Joe that had been found in the countryside, badly deteriorated, for an expert opinion as to the cause of death. This one looked considerably deteriorated.
    “Here, Dr. Randall.” Joe leaned over and carefully placed the skull in my hands. “Tell me whether this lady was in good health, while I check her legs.”
    “Me? I’m not a forensic scientist.” Still, I glanced automatically down. It was either an old specimen, or had been weathered extensively; the bone was smooth, with a gloss that fresh specimens never had, stained and discolored by the leaching of pigments from the earth.
    “Oh, all right.” I turned the skull slowly in my hands, watching the bones, naming them each in my mind as I saw them. The smooth arch of the parietals, fused to the declivity of the temporal, with the small ridge where the jaw muscle originated, the jutting projection that meshed itself with the maxillary into the graceful curve of the squamosal arch. She had had lovely cheekbones, high and broad. The upper jaw had most of its teeth—straight and white.
    Deep eyes. The scooped bone at the back of the orbits was dark with shadow; even by tilting the skull to the side, I couldn’t get light to illuminate the whole cavity. The skull felt light in my hands, the bone fragile. I stroked her brow and my hand ran upward, and down behind the occiput, my fingers seeking the dark hole at the base, the foremen magnum, where all the messages of the nervous system pass to and from the busy brain.
    Then I held it close against my stomach, eyes closed, and felt the shifting sadness, filling the cavity of the skull like running water. And an odd faint sense—of surprise?
    “Someone killed her,” I said. “She didn’t want to die.” I opened my eyes to find Horace Thompson staring at me, his own eyes wide in his round, pale face. I handed him the skull, very gingerly. “Where did you find her?” I asked.
    Mr. Thompson exchanged glances with Joe, then looked back at me, both eyebrows still high.
    “She’s from a cave in the Caribbean,” he said. “There were a lot of artifacts with her. We think she’s maybe between a hundred-fifty and two hundred years old.”
    “She’s what?”
    Joe was grinning broadly, enjoying his joke.
    “Our friend Mr. Thompson here is from the anthropology department at Harvard,” he said. “His friend Wicklow knows me; asked me would I have a look at this skeleton, to tell them what I could about it.”
    “The nerve of you!” I said indignantly. “I thought she was some unidentified body the coroner’s office dragged in.”
    “Well, she’s unidentified,” Joe pointed out. “And certainly liable to stay that way.” He rooted about in the cardboard box like a terrier. The end flap said PICT-SWEET CORN.
    “Now what have we got here?” he said, and very carefully drew out a plastic sack containing a jumble of vertebrae.
    “She was in pieces when we got her,” Horace explained.
    “Oh, de headbone connected to de…neckbone,” Joe sang softly, laying out the vertebrae along the edge of the desk. His stubby fingers darted skillfully among the bones, nudging them into alignment. “De neckbone connected to de…backbone…”
    “Don’t pay any attention to him,” I told Horace. “You’ll just encourage him.”
    “Now hear…de word…of de Lawd!” he finished triumphantly. “Jesus Christ, L. J., you’re somethin’ else! Look here.” Horace Thompson and I bent obediently over the line of spiky vertebral bones. The wide body of the axis had a deep gouge; the posterior zygapophysis had broken clean off, and the fracture plane went completely through the centrum of the bone.
    “A broken neck?” Thompson asked, peering interestedly.
    “Yeah, but more than that, I think.” Joe’s finger moved over the line of the fracture plane. “See here? The bone’s not just cracked, it’s gone right there. Somebody tried to cut this lady’s head clean off. With a dull blade,” he concluded with relish.
    Horace Thompson was looking at me queerly. “How did you know she’d been killed, Dr. Randall?” he asked.
    I could feel the blood rising in my face. “I don’t know,” I said. “I—she—felt like it, that’s all.”
    “Really?” He blinked a few times, but didn’t press me further. “How odd.”
    “She does it all the time,” Joe informed him, squinting at the femur he was measuring with a pair of calipers. “Mostly on live people, though. Best diagnostician I ever saw.” He set down the calipers and picked up a small plastic ruler. “A cave, you said?”
    “We think it was a…er, secret slave burial,” Mr. Thompson explained, blushing, and I suddenly realized why he had seemed so abashed when he realized which of us was the Dr. Abernathy he had been sent to see. Joe shot him a sudden sharp glance, but then bent back to his work. He kept humming “Dem Dry Bones” faintly to himself as he measured the pelvic inlet, then went back to the legs, this time concentrating on the tibia. Finally he straightened up, shaking his head.
    “Not a slave,” he said.
    Horace blinked. “But she must have been,” he said. “The things we found with her…a clear African influence…”
    “No,” Joe said flatly. He tapped the long femur, where it rested on his desk. His fingernail clicked on the dry bone. “She wasn’t black.”
    “You can tell that? From bones?” Horace Thompson was visibly agitated. “But I thought—that paper by Jensen, I mean—theories about racial physical differences—largely exploded—” He blushed scarlet, unable to finish.
    “Oh, they’re there,” said Joe, very dryly indeed. “If you want to think blacks and whites are equal under the skin, be my guest, but it ain’t scientifically so.” He turned and pulled a book from the shelf behind him. Tables of Skeletal Variance, the title read.
    “Take a look at this,” Joe invited. “You can see the differences in a lot of bones, but especially in the leg bones. Blacks have a completely different femur-to-tibia ratio than whites do. And that lady”—he pointed to the skeleton on his desk—“was white. Caucasian. No question about it.”
    “Oh,” Horace Thompson murmured. “Well. I’ll have to think—I mean—it was very kind of you to look at her for me. Er, thank you,” he added, with an awkward little bow. We silently watched him bundle his bones back into the PICT-SWEET box, and then he was gone, pausing at the door to give us both another brief bob of the head.
    Joe gave a short laugh as the door closed behind him. “Want to bet he takes her down to Rutgers for a second opinion?”
    “Academics don’t give up theories easily,” I said, shrugging. “I lived with one long enough to know that.”
    Joe snorted again. “So you did. Well, now that we’ve got Mr. Thompson and his dead white lady sorted out, what can I do for you, L. J.?”
    I took a deep breath and turned to face him.
    “I need an honest opinion, from somebody I can depend on to be objective. No,” I amended, “I take that back. I need an opinion and then—depending on the opinion—maybe a favor.”
    “No problem,” Joe assured me. “Especially the opinion. My specialty, opinions.” He rocked back in his chair, unfolded his gold-rimmed glasses and set them firmly atop his broad nose. Then he folded his hands across his chest, fingers steepled, and nodded at me. “Shoot.”
    “Am I sexually attractive?” I demanded. His eyes always reminded me of coffee drops, with their warm golden-brown color. Now they went completely round, enhancing the resemblance.
    Then they narrowed, but he didn’t answer immediately. He looked me over carefully, head to toe.
    “It’s a trick question, right?” he said. “I give you an answer and one of those women’s libbers jumps out from behind the door, yells ‘Sexist pig!’ And hits me over the head with a sign that says ‘Castrate Male Chauvinists.’ Huh?”
    “No,” I assured him. “A sexist male chauvinist answer is basically what I want.”
    “Oh, okay. As long as we’re straight, then.” He resumed his perusal, squinting closely as I stood up straight.
    “Skinny white broad with too much hair, but a great ass,” he said at last. “Nice tits, too,” he added, with a cordial nod. “That what you want to know?”
    “Yes,” I said, relaxing my rigid posture. “That’s exactly what I wanted to know. It isn’t the sort of question you can ask just anybody.”
    He pursed his lips in a silent whistle, then threw back his head and roared with delight.
    “Lady Jane! You’ve got you a man!”
    I felt the blood rising in my cheeks, but tried to keep my dignity. “I don’t know. Maybe. Just maybe.”
    “Maybe, hell! Jesus Christ on a piece of toast, L. J., it’s about time!”
    “Kindly quit cackling,” I said, lowering myself into his visitor’s chair. “It doesn’t become a man of your years and station.”
    “My years? Oho,” he said, peering shrewdly at me through the glasses. “He’s younger than you? That’s what you’re worried about?”
    “Not a lot,” I said, the blush beginning to recede. “But I haven’t seen him in twenty years. You’re the only person I know who’s known me for a long time; have I changed terribly since we met?” I looked at him straight on, demanding honesty.
    He looked at me, took off his glasses and squinted, then replaced them.
    “No,” he said. “You wouldn’t, though, unless you got fat.”
    “I wouldn’t?”
    “Nah. Ever been to your high school reunion?”
    “I didn’t go to a high school.”
    His sketchy brows flicked upward. “No? Well, I have. And I tell you what, L.J.; you see all these people you haven’t seen for twenty years, and there’s this split second when you meet somebody you used to know, when you think, ‘My God, he’s changed!,’ and then all of a sudden, he hasn’t—it’s just like the twenty years weren’t there. I mean”—he rubbed his head vigorously, struggling for meaning—“you see they’ve got some gray, and some lines, and maybe they aren’t just the same as they were, but two minutes past that shock, and you don’t see it anymore. They’re just the same people they always were, and you have to make yourself stand back a ways to see that they aren’t eighteen anymore.
    “Now, if people get fat,” he said meditatively, “they change some. It’s harder to see who they were, because the faces change. But you”—he squinted at me again—“you’re never going to be fat; you don’t have the genes for it.”
    “I suppose not,” I said. I looked down at my hands, clasped together in my lap. Slender wristbones; at least I wasn’t fat yet. My rings gleamed in the autumn sun from the window.
    “Is it Bree’s daddy?” he asked softly.
    I jerked my head up and stared at him. “How the hell did you know that?” I said.
    He smiled slightly. “I’ve known Bree how long? Ten years, at least.” He shook his head. “She’s got a lot of you in her, L. J., but I’ve never seen anything of Frank. Daddy’s got red hair, huh?” he asked. “And he’s one big son of a bitch, or everything I learned in Genetics 101 was a damn lie.”
    “Yes,” I said, and felt a kind of delirious excitement at that simple admission. Until I had told Bree herself and Roger about Jamie, I had said nothing about him for twenty years. The joy of suddenly being able to talk freely about him was intoxicating.
    “Yes, he’s big and red-haired, and he’s Scottish,” I said, making Joe’s eyes go round once more.
    “And Bree’s in Scotland now?”
    I nodded. “Bree is where the favor comes in.”
    Two hours later, I left the hospital for the last time, leaving behind me a letter of resignation, addressed to the Hospital Board, all the necessary documents for the handling of my property until Brianna should be of age, and another one, to be executed at that time, turning everything over to her. As I drove out of the parking lot, I experienced a feeling of mingled panic, regret, and elation. I was on my way.
    21
    Q.E.D
    Inverness

    October 5, 1968
    “I found the deed of sasine.” Roger’s face was flushed with excitement. He had hardly been able to contain himself, waiting with open impatience at the train station in Inverness while Brianna hugged me and my bags were retrieved. He had barely got us stuffed into his tiny Morris and the car’s ignition started before blurting out his news.
    “What, for Lallybroch?” I leaned over the seat back between him and Brianna, in order to hear him over the noise of the motor.
    “Yes, the one Jamie—your Jamie—wrote, deeding the property to his nephew, the younger Jamie.”
    “It’s at the manse,” Brianna put in, twisting to look at me. “We were afraid to bring it with us; Roger had to sign his name in blood to get it out of the SPA collection.” Her fair skin was pinkened by excitement and the chilly day, raindrops in her ruddy hair. It was always a shock to me to see her again after an absence—mothers always think their children beautiful, but Bree really was.
    I smiled at her, glowing with affection tinged with panic. Could I really be thinking of leaving her? Mistaking the smile for one of pleasure in the news, she went on, gripping the back of the seat in excitement.
    “And you’ll never guess what else we found!”
    “What you found,” Roger corrected, squeezing her knee with one hand as he negotiated the tiny orange car through a roundabout. She gave him a quick glance and a reciprocal touch with an air of intimacy about it that set off my maternal alarm bells on the spot. Like that already, was it?
    I seemed to feel Frank’s shade glaring accusingly over my shoulder. Well, at least Roger wasn’t black. I coughed and said, “Really? What is it?”
    They exchanged a glance and grinned widely at each other.
    “Wait and see, Mama,” said Bree, with irritating smugness.

    “See?” she said, twenty minutes later, as I bent over the desk in the manse’s study. On the battered surface of the late Reverend Wakefield’s desk lay a sheaf of yellowed papers, foxed and browned at the edges. They were carefully enclosed in protective plastic covers now, but obviously had been carelessly used at one time; the edges were tattered, one sheet was torn roughly in half, and all the sheets had notes and annotations scribbled in the margins and inserted in the text. This was obviously someone’s rough draft—of something.
    “It’s the text of an article,” Roger told me, shuffling through a pile of huge folio volumes that lay on the sofa. “It was published in a sort of journal called Forrester’s, put out by a printer called Alexander Malcolm, in Edinburgh, in 1765.”
    I swallowed, my shirtwaist dress feeling suddenly too tight under the arms; 1765 was almost twenty years past the time when I had left Jamie.
    I stared at the scrawling letters, browned with age. They were written by someone of difficult penmanship, here cramped and there sprawling, with exaggerated loops on “g” and “y.” Perhaps the writing of a left-handed man, who wrote most painfully with his right hand.
    “See, here’s the published version.” Roger brought the opened folio to the desk and laid it before me, pointing. “See the date? It’s 1765, and it matches this handwritten manuscript almost exactly; only a few of the marginal notes aren’t included.”
    “Yes,” I said. “And the deed of sasine…”
    “Here it is.” Brianna fumbled hastily in the top drawer and pulled out a much crumpled paper, likewise encased in protective plastic. Protection here was even more after the fact than with the manuscript; the paper was rain-spattered, filthy and torn, many of the words blurred beyond recognition. But the three signatures at the bottom still showed plainly.
    By my hand, read the difficult writing, here executed with such care that only the exaggerated loop of the “y” showed its kinship with the careless manuscript, James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser. And below, the two lines where the witnesses had signed. In a thin, fine script, Murtagh FitzGibbons Fraser, and, below that, in my own large, round hand, Claire Beauchamp Fraser.
    I sat down quite suddenly, putting my hand over the document instinctively, as though to deny its reality.
    “That’s it, isn’t it?” said Roger quietly. His outward composure was belied by his hands, trembling slightly as he lifted the stack of manuscript pages to set them next to the deed. “You signed it. Proof positive—if we needed it,” he added, with a quick glance at Bree.
    She shook her head, letting her hair fall down to hide her face. They didn’t need it, either of them. The vanishing of Geilie Duncan through the stones five months before had been all the evidence anyone could need as to the truth of my story.
    Still, having it all laid out in black and white was rather staggering. I took my hand away and looked again at the deed, and then at the handwritten manuscript.
    “Is it the same, Mama?” Bree bent anxiously over the pages, her hair brushing softly against my hand. “The article wasn’t signed—or it was, but with a pseudonym.” She smiled briefly. “The author signed himself ‘Q.E.D.’ It looked the same to us, but we aren’t either of us handwriting experts and we didn’t want to give these to an expert until you’d seen them.”
    “I think so.” I felt breathless, but quite certain at the same time, with an upwelling of incredulous joy. “Yes, I’m almost sure. Jamie wrote this.” Q.E.D., indeed! I had an absurd urge to tear the manuscript pages out of their plastic shrouds and clutch them in my hands, to feel the ink and paper he had touched; the certain evidence that he had survived.
    “There’s more. Internal evidence.” Roger’s voice betrayed his pride. “See there? It’s an article against the Excise Act of 1764, advocating the repeal of the restrictions on export of liquor from the Scottish Highlands to England. Here it is”—his racing finger stopped suddenly on a phrase—“‘for as has been known for ages past, “Freedom and Whisky gang tegither.” ’ See how he’s put that Scottish dialect phrase in quotes? He got it from somewhere else.”
    “He got it from me,” I said softly. “I told him that—when he was setting out to steal Prince Charles’s port.”
    “I remembered.” Roger nodded, eyes shining with excitement. “But it’s a quote from Burns,” I said, frowning suddenly. “Perhaps the writer got it there—wasn’t Burns alive then?”
    “He was,” said Bree smugly, forestalling Roger. “But Robert Burns was six years old in 1765.”
    “And Jamie would be forty-four.” Suddenly, it all seemed real. He was alive—had been alive, I corrected myself, trying to keep my emotions in check. I laid my fingers flat against the manuscript pages, trembling.
    “And if—” I said, and had to stop to swallow again.
    “And if time goes on in parallel, as we think it does—” Roger stopped, too, looking at me. Then his eyes shifted to Brianna.
    She had gone quite pale, but both lips and eyes were steady, and her fingers were warm when she touched my hand.
    “Then you can go back, Mama,” she said softly. “You can find him.”

    The plastic hangers rattled against the steel tubing of the dress rack as I thumbed my way slowly through the available selection.
    “Can I be helpin’ ye at all, miss?” The salesgirl peered up at me like a helpful Pekingese, blue-ringed eyes barely visible through bangs that brushed the top of her nose.
    “Have you got any more of these old-fashioned sorts of dresses?” I gestured at the rack before me, thick with examples of the current craze—laced-bodiced, long-skirted dresses in gingham cotton and velveteen.
    The salesgirl’s mouth was caked so thickly that I expected the white lipstick to crack when she smiled, but it didn’t.
    “Oh, aye,” she said. “Got a new lot o’ the Jessica Gutenburgs in just today. Aren’t they the grooviest, these old-style gowns?” She ran an admiring finger over a brown velvet sleeve, then whirled on her ballet flats and pointed toward the center of the store. “Just there, aye? Where it says, on the sign.”
    The sign, stuck on the top of a circular rack, said CAPTURE THE CHARM OF THE EIGHTEENTH CENTURY in large white letters across the top. Just below, in curlicue script, was the signature, Jessica Gutenburg.
    Reflecting on the basic improbability of anyone actually being named Jessica Gutenburg, I waded through the contents of the rack, pausing at a truly stunning number in cream velvet, with satin inserts and a good deal of lace.
    “Look lovely on, that would.” The Pekingese was back, pug nose sniffing hopefully for a sale.
    “Maybe so,” I said, “but not very practical. You’d get filthy just walking out of the store.” I pushed the white dress away with some regret, proceeding to the next size ten.
    “Oh, I just love the red ones!” The girl clasped her hands in ecstasy at the brilliant garnet fabric.
    “So do I,” I murmured, “but we don’t want to look too garish. Wouldn’t do to be taken for a prostitute, would it?” The Peke gave me a startled look through the thickets, then decided I was joking, and giggled appreciatively.
    “Now, that one,” she said decisively, reaching past me, “that’s perfect, that is. That’s your color, here.”
    Actually, it was almost perfect. Floor-length, with three-quarter sleeves edged with lace. A deep, tawny gold, with shimmers of brown and amber and sherry in the heavy silk.
    I lifted it carefully off the rack and held it up to examine it. A trifle fancy, but it might do. The construction seemed halfway decent; no loose threads or unraveling seams. The machine-made lace on the bodice was just tacked on, but that would be easy enough to reinforce.
    “Want to try it on? The dressing rooms are just over there.” The Peke was frisking about near my elbow, encouraged by my interest. Taking a quick look at the price tag, I could see why; she must work on commission. I took a deep breath at the figure, which would cover a month’s rent on a London flat, but then shrugged. After all, what did I need money for?
    Still, I hesitated.
    “I don’t know…” I said doubtfully, “it is lovely. But…”
    “Oh, don’t worry a bit about it’s being too young for you,” the Pekingese reassured me earnestly. “You don’t look a day over twenty-five! Well…maybe thirty,” she concluded lamely, after a quick glance at my face.
    “Thanks,” I said dryly. “I wasn’t worried about that, though. I don’t suppose you have any without zippers, do you?”
    “Zippers?” Her small round face went quite blank beneath the makeup. “Erm…no. Don’t think we do.”
    “Well, not to worry,” I said, taking the dress over my arm and turning toward the dressing room. “If I go through with this, zippers will be the least of it.”
    22
    ALL HALLOWS’ EVE
    Two golden guineas, six sovereigns, twenty-three shillings, eighteen florins ninepence, ten halfpence, and…twelve farthings.” Roger dropped the last coin on the tinkling pile, then dug into his shirt pocket, lean face absorbed as he searched. “Oh, here.” He brought out a small plastic bag and carefully poured a handful of tiny copper coins into a pile alongside the other money.
    “Doits,” he explained. “The smallest denomination of Scottish coinage of the time. I got as many as I could, because that’s likely what you’d use most of the time. You wouldn’t use the large coins unless you had to buy a horse or something.”
    “I know.” I picked up a couple of sovereigns and tilted them in my hand, letting them clink together. They were heavy—gold coins, nearly an inch in diameter. It had taken Roger and Bree four days in London, going from one rare-coin dealer to the next, to assemble the small fortune gleaming in the lamplight before me.
    “You know, it’s funny; these coins are worth a lot more now than their face value,” I said, picking up a golden guinea, “but in terms of what they’ll buy, they were worth then just about as much as now. This is six months’ income for a small farmer.”
    “I was forgetting,” Roger said, “that you know all this already; what things were worth and how they were sold.”
    “It’s easy to forget,” I said, eyes still on the money. From the corner of my vision, I saw Bree draw suddenly close to Roger, and his hand go out to her automatically.
    I took a deep breath and looked up from the tiny heaps of gold and silver. “Well, that’s that. Shall we go and have some dinner?”

    Dinner—at one of the pubs on River Street—was a largely silent affair. Claire and Brianna sat side by side on the banquette, with Roger opposite. They barely looked at each other while they ate, but Roger could see the frequent small touches, the tiny nudges of shoulder and hip, the brushing of fingers that went on.
    How would he manage, he wondered to himself. If it were his choice, or his parent? Separation came to all families, but most often it was death that intervened, to sever the ties between parent and child. It was the element of choice here that made it so difficult—not that it could ever be easy, he thought, forking in a mouthful of hot shepherd’s pie.
    As they rose to leave after supper, he laid a hand on Claire’s arm.
    “Just for the sake of nothing,” he said, “will you try something for me?”
    “I expect so,” she said, smiling. “What is it?”
    He nodded at the door. “Close your eyes and step out of the door. When you’re outside, open them. Then come in and tell me what’s the first thing you saw.”
    Her mouth twitched with amusement. “All right. We’ll hope the first thing I see isn’t a policeman, or you’ll have to come bail me out of jail for being drunk and disorderly.”
    “So long as it isn’t a duck.”
    Claire gave him a queer look, but obediently turned toward the door of the pub and closed her eyes. Brianna watched her mother disappear through the door, hand extended to the paneling of the entry to keep her bearings. She turned to Roger, copper eyebrows raised.
    “What are you up to, Roger? Ducks?”
    “Nothing,” he said, eyes still fixed on the empty entrance. “It’s just an old custom. Samhain—Hallowe’en, you know?—that’s one of the feasts when it was customary to try to divine the future. And one of the ways of divination was to walk to the end of the house, and then step outside with your eyes closed. The first thing you see when you open them is an omen for the near future.”
    “Ducks are bad omens?”
    “Depends what they’re doing,” he said absently, still watching the entry. “If they have their heads under their wings, that’s death. What’s keeping her?”
    “Maybe we’d better go see,” Brianna said nervously. “I don’t expect there are a lot of sleeping ducks in downtown Inverness, but with the river so close…”
    Just as they reached the door, though, its stained-glass window darkened and it swung open to reveal Claire, looking mildly flustered.
    “You’ll never believe what’s the first thing I saw,” she said, laughing as she saw them.
    “Not a duck with its head under its wing?” asked Brianna anxiously.
    “No,” her mother said, giving her a puzzled look. “A policeman. I turned to the right and ran smack into him.”
    “He was coming toward you, then?” Roger felt inexplicably relieved.
    “Well, he was until I ran into him,” she said. “Then we waltzed round the pavement a bit, clutching each other.” She laughed, looking flushed and pretty, with her brown-sherry eyes sparkling in the amber pub lights. “Why?”
    “That’s good luck,” Roger said, smiling. “To see a man coming toward you on Samhain means you’ll find what you seek.”
    “Does it?” Her eyes rested on his, quizzical, then her face lit with a sudden smile. “Wonderful! Let’s go home and celebrate, shall we?”
    The anxious constraint that had lain on them over dinner seemed suddenly to have vanished, to be replaced with a sort of manic excitement, and they laughed and joked on the trip back to the manse, where they drank toasts to past and future—Loch Minneaig Scotch for Claire and Roger, Coca-Cola for Brianna—and talked excitedly about the plans for the next day. Brianna had insisted on carving a pumpkin into a jack-o’-lantern, which sat on the sideboard, grinning benevolently on the proceedings.
    “You’ve got the money, now,” Roger said, for the tenth time.
    “And your cloak,” Brianna chimed in.
    “Yes, yes, yes,” Claire said impatiently. “Everything I need—or everything I can manage, at least,” she amended. She paused, then impulsively reached out and took both Bree and Roger by the hand.
    “Thank you both,” she said, squeezing their hands. Her eyes shone moist, and her voice was suddenly husky. “Thank you. I can’t say what I feel. I can’t. But—oh, my dears, I will miss you!”
    Then she and Bree were in each other’s arms, Claire’s head tucked into her daughter’s neck, the both of them hugged tight, as though simple force could somehow express the depth of feeling between them.
    Then they broke apart, eyes wet, and Claire laid a hand on her daughter’s cheek. “I’d better go up now,” she whispered. “There are things to do, still. I’ll see you in the morning, Baby.” She rose on tiptoe to plant a kiss on her daughter’s nose, then turned and hurried from the room.
    After her mother’s exit, Brianna sat down again with her glass of Coke, and heaved a deep sigh. She didn’t speak, but sat looking into the fire, turning the glass slowly between her hands.
    Roger busied himself, setting the room to rights for the night, closing the windows, tidying the desk, putting away the reference books he had used to help Claire prepare for her journey. He paused by the jack-o’-lantern, but it looked so jolly, with the candlelight streaming from its slanted eyes and jagged mouth, that he couldn’t bring himself to blow it out.
    “I shouldn’t think it’s likely to set anything on fire,” he remarked. “Shall we leave it?”
    There was no answer. When he glanced at Brianna, he found her sitting still as stone, eyes fixed on the hearth. She hadn’t heard him. He sat down beside her and took her hand.
    “She might be able to come back,” he said gently. “We don’t know.”
    Brianna shook her head slowly, not taking her eyes from the leaping flames.
    “I don’t think so,” she said softly. “She told you what it was like. She may not even make it through.” Long fingers drummed restlessly on a denimed thigh.
    Roger glanced at the door, to be sure that Claire was safely upstairs, then sat down on the sofa next to Brianna.
    “She belongs with him, Bree,” he said. “Can ye not see it? When she speaks of him?”
    “I see it. I know she needs him.” The full lower lip trembled slightly. “But…I need her!” Brianna’s hands clenched suddenly tight on her knees, and she bent forward, as though trying to contain some sudden pain.
    Roger stroked her hair, marveling at the softness of the glowing strands that slid through his fingers. He wanted to take her into his arms, as much for the feel of her as to offer comfort, but she was rigid and unresponsive.
    “You’re grown, Bree,” he said softly. “You live on your own now, don’t you? You may love her, but you don’t need her anymore—not the way you did when you were small. Has she no right to her own joy?”
    “Yes. But…Roger, you don’t understand!” she burst out. She pressed her lips tight together and swallowed hard, then turned to him, eyes dark with distress.
    “She’s all that’s left, Roger! The only one who really knows me. She and Daddy—Frank”—she corrected herself—“they were the ones who knew me from the beginning, the ones who saw me learn to walk and were proud of me when I did something good in school, and who—” She broke off, and the tears overflowed, leaving gleaming tracks in the firelight.
    “This sounds really dumb,” she said with sudden violence. “Really, really dumb! But it’s—” she groped, helpless, then sprang to her feet, unable to stay still.
    “It’s like—there are all these things I don’t even know!” she said, pacing with quick, angry steps. “Do you think I remember what I looked like, learning to walk, or what the first word I said was? No, but Mama does! And that’s so stupid, because what difference does it make, it doesn’t make any difference at all, but it’s important, it matters because she thought it was, and…oh, Roger, if she’s gone, there won’t be a soul left in the world who cares what I’m like, or thinks I’m special not because of anything, but just because I’m me! She’s the only person in the world who really, really cares I was born, and if she’s gone…” She stood still on the hearthrug, hands clenched at her sides, and mouth twisted with the effort to control herself, tears wet on her cheeks. Then her shoulders slumped and the tension went out of her tall figure.
    “And that’s just really dumb and selfish,” she said, in a quietly reasonable tone. “And you don’t understand, and you think I’m awful.”
    “No,” Roger said quietly. “I think maybe not.” He stood and came behind her, putting his arms around her waist, urging her to lean back against him. She resisted at first, stiff in his arms, but then yielded to the need for physical comfort and relaxed, his chin propped on her shoulder, head tilted to touch her own.
    “I never realized,” he said. “Not ’til now. D’ye remember all those boxes in the garage?”
    “Which ones?” she said, with a sniffling attempt at a laugh. “There are hundreds.”
    “The ones that say ‘Roger’ on them.” He gave her a slight squeeze and brought his arms up, crisscrossed on her chest, holding her snug against himself.
    “They’re full of my parents’ old clobber,” he said. “Pictures and letters and baby clothes and books and old bits of rubbish. The Reverend packed them up when he took me to live with him. Treated them just like his most precious historical documents—double-boxing, and mothproofing and all that.”
    He rocked slowly back and forth, swaying from side to side, carrying her with him as he watched the fire over her shoulder.
    “I asked him once why he bothered to keep them—I didn’t want any of it, didn’t care. But he said we’d keep it just the same; it was my history, he said—and everyone needs a history.”
    Brianna sighed, and her body seemed to relax still further, joining him in his rhythmic, half-unconscious sway.
    “Did you ever look inside them?”
    He shook his head. “It isn’t important what’s in them,” he said. “Only that they’re there.”
    He let go of her then, and stepped back so that she turned to face him. Her face was blotched and her long, elegant nose a little swollen.
    “You’re wrong, you know,” he said softly, and held out his hand to her. “It isn’t only your mother who cares.”

    Brianna had gone to bed long since, but Roger sat on in the study, watching the flames die down in the hearth. Hallowe’en had always seemed to him a restless night, alive with waking spirits. Tonight was even more so, with the knowledge of what would happen in the morning. The jack-o’-lantern on the desk grinned in anticipation, filling the room with the homely scent of baking pies.
    The sound of a footfall on the stair roused him from his thoughts. He had thought it might be Brianna, unable to sleep, but the visitor was Claire.
    “I thought you might still be awake,” she said. She was in her nightdress, a pale glimmer of white satin against the dark hallway.
    He smiled and stretched out a hand, inviting her in. “No. I never could sleep on All Hallows’. Not after all the stories my father told me; I always thought I could hear ghosts talking outside my window.”
    She smiled, coming into the firelight. “And what did they say?”
    “‘See’st thou this great gray head, with jaws which have no meat?’” Roger quoted. “You know the story? The little tailor who spent the night in a haunted church, and met the hungry ghost?”
    “I do. I think if I’d heard that outside my window, I’d have spent the rest of the night hiding under the bedclothes.”
    “Oh, I usually did,” Roger assured her. “Though once, when I was seven or so, I got up my nerve, stood up on the bed and peed on the windowsill—the Reverend had just told me that pissing on the doorposts is supposed to keep a ghost from coming in the house.”
    Claire laughed delightedly, the firelight dancing in her eyes. “Did it work?”
    “Well, it would have worked better had the window been open,” Roger said, “but the ghosts didn’t come in, no.”
    They laughed together, and then one of the small awkward silences that had punctuated the evening fell between them, the sudden realization of enormity gaping beneath the tightrope of conversation. Claire sat beside him, watching the fire, her hands moving restlessly among the folds of her gown. The light winked from her wedding rings, silver and gold, in sparks of fire.
    “I’ll take care of her, you know,” Roger said quietly, at last. “You do know that, don’t you?”
    Claire nodded, not looking at him.
    “I know,” she said softly. He could see the tears, caught trembling at the edge of her lashes, glowing with firelight. She fumbled in the pocket of her gown, and drew out a long white envelope.
    “You’ll think me a dreadful coward,” she said, “and I am. But I…I honestly don’t think I can do it—say goodbye to Bree, I mean.” She stopped, to bring her voice under control, and then held out the envelope to him.
    “I wrote it all down for her—everything I could. Will you…?”
    Roger took the envelope. It was warm from resting next to her body. From some obscure feeling that it must not be allowed to grow cold before it reached her daughter, he thrust it into his own breast pocket, feeling the crackle of paper as the envelope bent.
    “Yes,” he said, hearing his own voice thicken. “Then you’ll go…”
    “Early,” she said, taking a deep breath. “Before dawn. I’ve arranged for a car to pick me up.” Her hands twisted together in her lap. “If I—” She bit her lip, then looked at Roger pleadingly. “I don’t know, you see,” she said. “I don’t know whether I can do it. I’m very much afraid. Afraid to go. Afraid not to go. Just—afraid.”
    “I would be, too.” He held out his hand and she took it. He held it for a long time, feeling the pulse in her wrist, light and fast against his fingers.
    After a long time, she squeezed his hand gently and let go.
    “Thank you, Roger,” she said. “For everything.” She leaned over and kissed him lightly on the lips. Then she rose and went out, a white ghost in the darkness of the hall, borne on the Hallowe’en wind.
    Roger sat on for some time alone, feeling her touch still warm on his skin. The jack-o’-lantern was nearly burned out. The smell of candle wax rose strongly in the restless air, and the pagan gods looked out for the last time, through eyes of guttering flame.
    23
    CRAIGH NA DUN
    The early morning air was cold and misty, and I was glad of the cloak. It had been twenty years since I’d worn one, but with the sorts of things people wore nowadays, the Inverness tailor who’d made it for me had not found an order for a woolen cloak with a hood at all odd.
    I kept my eyes on the path. The crest of the hill had been invisible, wreathed in mist, when the car had left me on the road below.
    “Here?” the driver had said, peering dubiously out of his window at the deserted countryside. “Sure, mum?”
    “Yes,” I’d said, half-choked with terror. “This is the place.”
    “Aye?” He looked dubious, in spite of the large note I put in his hand. “D’ye want me to wait, mum? Or to come later, to fetch ye back?”
    I was sorely tempted to say yes. After all, what if I lost my nerve? At the moment, my grip on that slippery substance seemed remarkably feeble.
    “No,” I said, swallowing. “No, that won’t be necessary.” If I couldn’t do it, I would just have to walk back to Inverness, that was all. Or perhaps Roger and Brianna would come; I thought that would be worse, to be ignominiously retrieved. Or would it be a relief?
    The granite pebbles rolled beneath my feet and a clod of dirt fell in a small rushing shower, dislodged by my passage. I couldn’t possibly really be doing this, I thought. The weight of the money in my reinforced pocket swung against my thigh, the heavy certainty of gold and silver a reminder of reality. I was doing it.
    I couldn’t. Thoughts of Bree as I had seen her late last night, peacefully asleep in her bed, assaulted me. The tendrils of remembered horror reached out from the hilltop above, as I began to sense the nearness of the stones. Screaming, chaos, the feeling of being torn in pieces. I couldn’t.
    I couldn’t, but I kept on climbing, palms sweating, my feet moving as though no longer under my control.
    It was full dawn by the time I reached the top of the hill. The mist lay below, and the stones stood clear and dark against a crystal sky. The sight of them left me wet-palmed with apprehension, but I walked forward, and passed into the circle.
    They were standing on the grass in front of the cleft stone, facing each other. Brianna heard my footsteps and whirled around to face me.
    I stared at her, speechless with astonishment. She was wearing a Jessica Gutenburg dress, very much like the one I had on, except that hers was a vivid lime green, with plastic jewels stitched across the bosom.
    “That’s a perfectly horrible color for you,” I said.
    “It’s the only one they had in a size sixteen,” she answered calmly.
    “What in the name of goodness are you doing here?” I demanded, recovering some remnant of coherence.
    “We came to see you off,” she said, and a hint of a smile flickered on her lips. I looked at Roger, who shrugged slightly and gave me a lopsided smile of his own.
    “Oh. Yes. Well,” I said. The stone stood behind Brianna, twice the height of a man. I could look through the foot-wide crack, and see the faint morning sun shining on the grass outside the circle.
    “You’re going,” she said firmly, “or I am.”
    “You! Are you out of your mind?”
    “No.” She glanced at the cleft stone and swallowed. It might have been the lime-green dress that made her face look chalk-white. “I can do it—go through, I mean. I know I can. When Geilie Duncan went through the stones, I heard them. Roger did too.” She glanced at him as though for reassurance, then fixed her gaze firmly on me.
    “I don’t know whether I could find Jamie Fraser or not; maybe only you can. But if you won’t try, then I will.”
    My mouth opened, but I couldn’t find anything to say.
    “Don’t you see, Mama? He has to know—has to know he did it, he did what he meant to for us.” Her lips quivered, and she pressed them together for a minute.
    “We owe it to him, Mama,” she said softly. “Somebody has to find him, and tell him.” Her hand touched my face, briefly. “Tell him I was born.”
    “Oh, Bree,” I said, my voice so choked I could barely speak. “Oh, Bree!”
    She was holding my hands tight between her own, squeezing hard.
    “He gave you to me,” she said, so low I could hardly hear her. “Now I have to give you back to him, Mama.”
    The eyes that were so like Jamie’s looked down at me, blurred by tears.
    “If you find him,” she whispered, “when you find my father—give him this.” She bent and kissed me, fiercely, gently, then straightened and turned me toward the stone.
    “Go, Mama,” she said, breathless. “I love you. Go!”
    From the corner of my eye, I saw Roger move toward her. I took one step, and then another. I heard a sound, a faint roaring. I took the last step, and the world disappeared.



    PART SIX
   
    Edinburgh
    24
    A. MALCOLM, PRINTER
    My first coherent thought was, “It’s raining. This must be Scotland.” My second thought was that this observation was no great improvement over the random images jumbling around inside my head, banging into each other and setting off small synaptic explosions of irrelevance.
    I opened one eye, with some difficulty. The lid was stuck shut, and my entire face felt cold and puffy, like a submerged corpse’s. I shuddered faintly at the thought, the slight movement making me aware of the sodden fabric all around me.
    It was certainly raining—a soft, steady drum of rain that raised a faint mist of droplets above the green moor. I sat up, feeling like a hippopotamus emerging from a bog, and promptly fell over backward.
    I blinked and closed my eyes against the downpour. Some small sense of who I was—and where I was—was beginning to come back to me. Bree. Her face emerged suddenly into memory, with a jolt that made me gasp as though I’d been punched in the stomach. Jagged images of loss and the rip of separation pulled at me, a faint echo of the chaos in the stone passage.
    Jamie. There it was; the anchor point to which I had clung, my single hold on sanity. I breathed slow and deep, hands folded over my pounding heart, summoning Jamie’s face. For a moment, I thought I had lost him, and then it came, clear and bold in my mind’s eye.
    Once again, I struggled upright, and this time stayed, propped by my outstretched hands. Yes, certainly it was Scotland. It could hardly by anything else, of course, but it was also the Scotland of the past. At least, I hoped it was the past. It wasn’t the Scotland I’d left, at any rate. The trees and bushes grew in different patterns; there was a patch of maple saplings just below me that hadn’t been there when I’d climbed the hill—when? That morning? Two days ago?
    I had no idea how much time had passed since I had entered the standing stones, or how long I had lain unconscious on the hillside below the circle. Quite a while, judging from the sogginess of my clothing; I was soaked through to the skin, and small chilly rivulets ran down my sides under my gown.
    One numbed cheek was beginning to tingle; putting my hand to it, I could feel a pattern of incised bumps. I looked down and saw a layer of fallen rowan berries, gleaming red and black among the grass. Very appropriate, I thought, vaguely amused. I had fallen down under a rowan—the Highland protection against witchcraft and enchantment.
    I grasped the smooth trunk of the rowan tree, and laboriously hauled myself to my feet. Still holding onto the tree for support, I looked to the northeast. The rain had faded the horizon to a gray invisibility, but I knew that Inverness lay in that direction. No more than an hour’s trip by car, along modern roads.
    The road existed; I could see the outline of a rough track that led along the base of the hill, a dark, silvery line in the gleaming green wetness of the moor plants. However, forty-odd miles on foot was a far cry from the journey by car that had brought me here.
    I was beginning to feel somewhat better, standing up. The weakness in my limbs was fading, along with the feeling of chaos and disruption in my mind. It had been as bad as I’d feared, this passage; perhaps worse. I could feel the terrible presence of the stones above me, and shuddered, my skin prickling with cold.
    I was alive, though. Alive, and with a small feeling of certainty, like a tiny glowing sun beneath my ribs. He was here. I knew it now, though I hadn’t known it when I threw myself between the stones; that had been a leap of faith. But I had cast out my thought of Jamie like a lifeline tossed into a raging torrent—and the line had tightened in my grasp, and pulled me free.
    I was wet, cold, and felt battered, as though I had been washing about in the surf against a rocky shore. But I was here. And somewhere in this strange country of the past was the man I had come to find. The memories of grief and terror were receding, as I realized that my die was cast. I could not go back; a return trip would almost surely be fatal. As I realized that I was likely here to stay, all hesitations and terrors were superseded by a strange calm, almost exultant. I could not go back. There was nothing to do but go forward—to find him.
    Cursing my carelessness in not having thought to tell the tailor to make my cloak with a waterproof layer between fabric and lining, I pulled the water-soaked garment closer. Even wet, the wool held some warmth. If I began to move, I would grow warmer. A quick pat reassured me that my bundle of sandwiches had made the trip with me. That was good; the thought of walking forty miles on an empty stomach was a daunting one.
    With luck, I wouldn’t have to. I might find a village or a house that had a horse I could buy. But if not, I was prepared. My plan was to go to Inverness—by whatever means offered itself—and there take a public coach to Edinburgh.
    There was no telling where Jamie was at the moment. He might be in Edinburgh, where his article had been published, but he might easily be somewhere else. If I could not find him there, I could go to Lallybroch, his home. Surely his family would know where he was—if any of them were left. The sudden thought chilled me, and I shivered.
    I thought of a small bookstore that I passed every morning on my way from the parking lot to the hospital. They had been having a sale on posters; I had seen the display of psychedelic examples when I left Joe’s office for the last time.
    “Today is the first day of the rest of your life,” said one poster, above an illustration of a foolish-looking chick, absurdly poking its head out of an eggshell. In the other window, another poster showed a caterpillar, inching its way up a flower stalk. Above the stalk soared a brilliantly colored butterfly, and below was the motto “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
    The most irritating thing about clichés, I decided, was how frequently they were true. I let go of the rowan tree, and started down the hill toward my future.

    It was a long, jolting ride from Inverness to Edinburgh, crammed cheek by jowl into a large coach with two other ladies, the small and whiny son of one of the ladies, and four gentlemen of varying sizes and dispositions.
    Mr. Graham, a small and vivacious gentleman of advanced years who was seated next to me, was wearing a bag of camphor and asafoetida about his neck, to the eyewatering discomfort of the rest of the coach.
    “Capital for dispelling the evil humors of influenza,” he explained to me, waving the bag gently under my nose like a censer. “I have worn this daily through the autumn and winter months, and haven’t been sick a day in nearly thirty years!”
    “Amazing!” I said politely, trying to hold my breath. I didn’t doubt it; the fumes probably kept everyone at such a distance that germs couldn’t reach him.
    The effects on the little boy didn’t seem nearly so beneficial. After a number of loud and injudicious remarks about the smell in the coach, Master Georgie had been muffled in his mother’s bosom, from which he now peeped, looking rather green. I kept a close eye on him, as well as on the chamber pot beneath the seat opposite, in case quick action involving a conjunction of the two should be called for.
    I gathered that the chamber pot was for use in inclement weather or other emergency, as normally the ladies’ modesty required stops every hour or so, at which point the passengers would scatter into the roadside vegetation like a covey of quail, even those who did not require relief of bladder or bowels seeking some relief from the stench of Mr. Graham’s asafoetida bag.
    After one or two changes, Mr. Graham found his place beside me superseded by Mr. Wallace, a plump young lawyer, returning to Edinburgh after seeing to the disposition of the estate of an elderly relative in Inverness, as he explained to me.
    I didn’t find the details of his legal practice nearly as fascinating as he did, but under the circumstances, his evident attraction to me was mildly reassuring, and I passed several hours in playing with him upon a small chess set that he produced from a pocket and laid upon his knee.
    My attention was distracted both from the discomforts of the journey and the intricacies of chess by anticipation of what I might find in Edinburgh. A. Malcolm. The name kept running through my mind like an anthem of hope. A. Malcolm. It had to be Jamie, it simply had to! James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser.
    “Considering the way the Highland rebels were treated after Culloden, it would be very reasonable for him to use an assumed name in a place like Edinburgh,” Roger Wakefield had explained to me. “Particularly him—he was a convicted traitor, after all. Made rather a habit of it, too, it looks like,” he had added critically, looking over the scrawled manuscript of the antitax diatribe. “For the times, this is bloody near sedition.”
    “Yes, that sounds like Jamie,” I had said dryly, but my heart had leapt at the sight of that distinctively untidy scrawl, with its boldly worded sentiments. My Jamie. I touched the small hard rectangle in my skirt pocket, wondering how long it would be, before we reached Edinburgh.
    The weather kept unseasonably fine, with no more than the occasional drizzle to hinder our passage, and we completed the journey in less than two days, stopping four times to change horses and refresh ourselves at posthouse taverns.
    The coach debouched into a yard at the back of Boyd’s Whitehorse tavern, near the foot of the Royal Mile in Edinburgh. The passengers emerged into the watery sunshine like newly hatched chrysalids, rumpled of wing and jerky in movement, unaccustomed to mobility. After the dimness of the coach, even the cloudy gray light of Edinburgh seemed blinding.
    I had pins and needles in my feet from so long sitting, but hurried nonetheless, hoping to escape from the courtyard while my erstwhile companions were busy with the retrieval of their belongings. No such luck; Mr. Wallace caught up with me near the street.
    “Mrs. Fraser!” he said. “Might I beg the pleasure of accompanying you to your destination? You will surely require some assistance in the removal of your luggage.” He looked over his shoulder toward the coach, where the ostlers were heaving the bags and portmanteaux apparently at random into the crowd, to the accompaniment of incoherent grunts and shouts.
    “Er…” I said. “Thank you, but I…er, I’m leaving my luggage in charge of the landlord. My…my…” I groped frantically. “My husband’s servant will come fetch it later.”
    His plump face fell slightly at the word “husband,” but he rallied gallantly, taking my hand and bowing low over it.
    “I quite see. May I express my profound appreciation for the pleasure of your company on our journey, then, Mrs. Fraser? And perhaps we shall meet again.” He straightened up, surveying the crowd that eddied past us. “Is your husband meeting you? I should be delighted to make his acquaintance.”
    While Mr. Wallace’s interest in me had been rather flattering, it was rapidly becoming a nuisance.
    “No, I shall be joining him later,” I said. “So nice to have met you, Mr. Wallace; I’ll hope to see you again sometime.” I shook Mr. Wallace’s hand enthusiastically, which disconcerted him enough for me to slither off through the throng of passengers, ostlers and food sellers.
    I didn’t dare pause near the coachyard for fear he would come out after me. I turned and darted up the slope of the Royal Mile, moving as quickly as my voluminous skirts would allow, jostling and bumping my way through the crowd. I had had the luck to pick a market day for my arrival, and I was soon lost to sight from the coachyard among the luckenbooths and oyster sellers who lined the street.
    Panting like an escaped pickpocket, I stopped for breath halfway up the hill. There was a public fountain here, and I sat down on the rim to catch my breath.
    I was here. Really here. Edinburgh sloped up behind me, to the glowering heights of Edinburgh Castle, and down before me, to the gracious majesty of Holyrood Palace at the foot of the city.
    The last time I had stood by this fountain, Bonnie Prince Charlie had been addressing the gathered citizenry of Edinburgh, inspiring them with the sight of his royal presence. He had bounded exuberantly from the rim to the carved center finial of the fountain, one foot in the basin, clinging to one of the spouting heads for support, shouting “On to England!” The crowd had roared, pleased at this show of youthful high spirits and athletic prowess. I would myself have been more impressed had I not noticed that the water in the fountain had been turned off in anticipation of the gesture.
    I wondered where Charlie was now. He had gone back to Italy after Culloden, I supposed, there to live whatever life was possible for royalty in permanent exile. What he was doing, I neither knew nor cared. He had passed from the pages of history, and from my life as well, leaving wreck and ruin in his wake. It remained to be seen what might be salvaged now.
    I was very hungry; I had had nothing to eat since a hasty breakfast of rough parritch and boiled mutton, made soon after dawn at a posthouse in Dundaff. I had one last sandwich remaining in my pocket, but had been reluctant to eat it in the coach, under the curious gaze of my fellow travelers.
    I pulled it out and carefully unwrapped it. Peanut butter and jelly on white bread, it was considerably the worse for wear, with the purple stains of the jelly seeping through the limp bread, and the whole thing mashed into a flattened wodge. It was delicious.
    I ate it carefully, savoring the rich, oily taste of the peanut butter. How many mornings had I slathered peanut butter on bread, making sandwiches for Brianna’s school lunches? Firmly suppressing the thought, I examined the passersby for distraction. They did look somewhat different from their modern equivalents; both men and women tended to be shorter, and the signs of poor nutrition were evident. Still, there was an overwhelming familiarity to them—these were people I knew, Scots and English for the most part, and hearing the rich burring babble of voices in the street, after so many years of the flat nasal tones of Boston, I had quite an extraordinary feeling of coming home.
    I swallowed the last rich, sweet bite of my old life, and crumpled the wrapper in my hand. I glanced around, but no one was looking in my direction. I opened my hand, and let the bit of plastic film fall surreptitiously to the ground. Wadded up, it rolled a few inches on the cobbles, crinkling and unfolding itself as though alive. The light wind caught it, and the small transparent sheet took sudden wing, scudding over the gray stones like a leaf.
    The draft of a set of passing wheels sucked it under a drayman’s cart; it winked once with reflected light, and was gone, disappearing without notice from the passersby. I wondered whether my own anachronistic presence would cause as little harm.
    “You are dithering, Beauchamp,” I said to myself. “Time to get on.” I took a deep breath and stood up.
    “Excuse me,” I said, catching the sleeve of a passing baker’s boy. “I’m looking for a printer—a Mr. Malcolm. Alexander Malcolm.” A feeling of mingled dread and excitement gurgled through my middle. What if there was no printshop run by Alexander Malcolm in Edinburgh?
    There was, though; the boy’s face screwed up in thought and then relaxed.
    “Oh, aye, mum—just down the way and to your left. Carfax Close.” And hitching his loaves up under his arm with a nod, he plunged back into the crowded street.
    Carfax Close. I edged my way back into the crowd, pressing close to the buildings, to avoid the occasional shower of slops that splattered into the street from the windows high above. There were several thousand people in Edinburgh, and the sewage from all of them was running down the gutters of the cobbled street, depending on gravity and the frequent rain to keep the city habitable.
    The low, dark opening to Carfax Close yawned just ahead, across the expanse of the Royal Mile. I stopped dead, looking at it, my heart beating hard enough to be heard a yard away, had anyone been listening.
    It wasn’t raining, but was just about to, and the dampness in the air made my hair curl. I pushed it off my forehead, tidying it as best I could without a mirror. Then I caught sight of a large plate-glass window up ahead, and hurried forward.
    The glass was misty with condensation, but provided a dim reflection, in which my face looked flushed and wide-eyed, but otherwise presentable. My hair, however, had seized the opportunity to curl madly in all directions, and was writhing out of its hairpins in excellent imitation of Medusa’s locks. I yanked the pins out impatiently, and began to twist up my curls.
    There was a woman inside the shop, leaning across the counter. There were three small children with her, and I watched with half an eye as she turned from her business to address them impatiently, swatting with her reticule at the middle one, a boy who was fiddling with several stalks of fresh anise that stood in a pail of water on the floor.
    It was an apothecary’s shop; glancing up, I saw the name “Haugh” above the door, and felt a thrill of recognition. I had bought herbs here, during the brief time I had lived in Edinburgh. The decor of the window had been augmented sometime since by the addition of a large jar of colored water, in which floated something vaguely humanoid. A fetal pig, or perhaps an infant baboon; it had leering, flattened features that pressed against the rounded side of the jar in a disconcerting fashion.
    “Well, at least I look better than you!” I muttered, shoving in a recalcitrant pin.
    I looked better than the woman inside, too, I thought. Her business concluded, she was stuffing her purchase into the bag she carried, her thin face frowning as she did so. She had the rather pasty look of a city dweller, and her skin was deeply lined, with sharp creases running from nose to mouth, and a furrowed forehead.
    “De’il tak’ ye, ye wee ratten,” she was saying crossly to the little boy as they all clattered out of the shop together. “Have I no told ye time and again to keep yer paws in yer pockets?”
    “Excuse me.” I stepped forward, interrupting, impelled by a sudden irresistible curiosity.
    “Aye?” Distracted from maternal remonstration, she looked blankly at me. Up close, she looked even more harried. The corners of her mouth were pinched, and her lips folded in—no doubt because of missing teeth.
    “I couldn’t help admiring your children,” I said, with as much pretense of admiration as I could manage on short notice. I beamed kindly at them. “Such pretty babies! Tell me, how old are they?”
    Her jaw dropped, confirming the absence of several teeth. She blinked at me, then said, “Oh! Well, that’s maist kind o’ ye, mum. Ah…Maisri here is ten,” she said, nodding at the eldest girl, who was in the act of wiping her nose on her sleeve, “Joey’s eight—tak’ yer finger out o’ yer nose, ye clattie imp!” she hissed, then turned and proudly patted her youngest on the head. “And wee Polly’s just turned six this May.”
    “Really!” I gazed at the woman affecting astonishment. “You scarcely look old enough to have children of that age. You must have married very young.”
    She preened slightly, smirking.
    “Och, no! Not so young as all that; why, I was all o’ nineteen when Maisri was born.”
    “Amazing,” I said, meaning it. I dug in my pocket and offered the children each a penny, which they took with shy bobs of thanks. “Good day to you—and congratulations on your lovely family,” I said to the woman, and walked away with a smile and a wave.
    Nineteen when the eldest was born, and Maisri was ten now. She was twenty-nine. And I, blessed by good nutrition, hygiene, and dentistry, not worn down by multiple pregnancies and hard physical labor, looked a good deal younger than she. I took a deep breath, pushed back my hair, and marched into the shadows of Carfax Close.

    It was a longish, winding close, and the printshop was at the foot. There were thriving businesses and tenements on either side, but I had no attention to spare for anything beyond the neat white sign that hung by the door.
    A. MALCOLM

    PRINTER AND BOOKSELLER
    it said, and beneath this, Books, calling cards, pamphlets, broadsheets, letters, etc.
    I stretched out my hand and touched the black letters of the name. A. Malcolm. Alexander Malcolm. James Alexander Malcolm MacKenzie Fraser. Perhaps.
    Another minute, and I would lose my nerve. I shoved open the door and walked in.
    There was a broad counter across the front of the room, with an open flap in it, and a rack to one side that held several trays of type. Posters and notices of all sorts were tacked up on the opposite wall; samples, no doubt.
    The door into the back room was open, showing the bulky angular frame of a printing press. Bent over it, his back turned to me, was Jamie.
    “Is that you, Geordie?” he asked, not turning around. He was dressed in shirt and breeches, and had a small tool of some kind in his hand, with which he was doing something to the innards of the press. “Took ye long enough. Did ye get the—”
    “It isn’t Geordie,” I said. My voice was higher than usual. “It’s me,” I said. “Claire.”
    He straightened up very slowly. He wore his hair long; a thick tail of a deep, rich auburn sparked with copper. I had time to see that the neat ribbon that tied it back was green, and then he turned around.
    He stared at me without speaking. A tremor ran down the muscular throat as he swallowed, but still he didn’t say anything.
    It was the same broad, good-humored face, dark blue eyes aslant the high, flat cheekbones of a Viking, long mouth curling at the ends as though always on the verge of smiling. The lines surrounding eyes and mouth were deeper, of course. The nose had changed just a bit. The knife-edge bridge was slightly thickened near the base by the ridge of an old, healed fracture. It made him look fiercer, I thought, but lessened that air of aloof reserve, and lent his appearance a new rough charm.
    I walked through the flap in the counter, seeing nothing but that unblinking stare. I cleared my throat.
    “When did you break your nose?”
    The corners of the wide mouth lifted slightly.
    “About three minutes after I last saw ye—Sassenach.”
    There was a hesitation, almost a question in the name. There was no more than a foot between us. I reached out tentatively and touched the tiny line of the break, where the bone pressed white against the bronze of his skin.
    He flinched backward as though an electric spark had arced between us, and the calm expression shattered.
    “You’re real,” he whispered. I had thought him pale already. Now all vestiges of color drained from his face. His eyes rolled up and he slumped to the floor in a shower of papers and oddments that had been sitting on the press—he fell rather gracefully for such a large man, I thought abstractedly.
    It was only a faint; his eyelids were beginning to flutter by the time I knelt beside him and loosened the stock at his throat. I had no doubts at all by now, but still I looked automatically as I pulled the heavy linen away. It was there, of course, the small triangular scar just above the collarbone, left by the knife of Captain Jonathan Randall, Esquire, of His Majesty’s Eighth Dragoons.
    His normal healthy color was returning. I sat cross-legged on the floor and hoisted his head onto my thigh. His hair felt thick and soft in my hand. His eyes opened.
    “That bad, is it?” I said, smiling down at him with the same words he had used to me on the day of our wedding, holding my head in his lap, twenty-odd years before.
    “That bad, and worse, Sassenach,” he answered, mouth twitching with something almost a smile. He sat up abruptly, staring at me.
    “God in heaven, you are real!”
    “So are you.” I lifted my chin to look up at him. “I th-thought you were dead.” I had meant to speak lightly, but my voice betrayed me. The tears spilled down my cheeks, only to soak into the rough cloth of his shirt as he pulled me hard against him.
    I shook so that it was some time before I realized that he was shaking, too, and for the same reason. I don’t know how long we sat there on the dusty floor, crying in each other’s arms with the longing of twenty years spilling down our faces.
    His fingers twined hard in my hair, pulling it loose so that it tumbled down my neck. The dislodged pins cascaded over my shoulders and pinged on the floor like pellets of hail. My own fingers were clasped around his forearm, digging into the linen as though I were afraid he would disappear unless physically restrained.
    As though gripped by the same fear, he suddenly grasped me by the shoulders and held me away from him, staring desperately into my face. He put his hand to my cheek, and traced the bones over and over again, oblivious to my tears and to my abundantly running nose.
    I sniffed loudly, which seemed to bring him to his senses, for he let go and groped hastily in his sleeve for a handkerchief, which he used clumsily to swab first my face, then his own.
    “Give me that.” I grabbed the erratically waving swatch of cloth and blew my nose firmly. “Now you.” I handed him the cloth and watched as he blew his nose with a noise like a strangled goose. I giggled, undone with emotion.
    He smiled too, knuckling the tears away from his eyes, unable to stop staring at me.
    Suddenly I couldn’t bear not to be touching him. I lunged at him, and he got his arms up just in time to catch me. I squeezed until I could hear his ribs crack, and felt his hands roughly caressing my back as he said my name over and over.
    At last I could let go, and sat back a little. He glanced down at the floor between his legs, frowning.
    “Did you lose something?” I asked, surprised.
    He looked up and smiled, a little shyly.
    “I was afraid I’d lost hold altogether and pissed myself, but it’s all right. I’ve just sat on the alepot.”
    Sure enough, a pool of aromatic brown liquid was spreading slowly beneath him. With a squeak of alarm, I scrambled to my feet and helped him up. After trying vainly to assess the damage behind, he shrugged and unfastened his breeches. He pushed the tight fabric down over his haunches, then stopped and looked at me, blushing slightly.
    “It’s all right,” I said, feeling a rich blush stain my own cheeks. “We’re married.” I cast my eyes down, nonetheless, feeling a little breathless. “At least, I suppose we are.”
    He stared at me for a long moment, then a smile curved his wide, soft mouth.
    “Aye, we are,” he said. Kicking free of the stained breeches, he stepped toward me.
    I stretched out a hand toward him, as much to stop as to welcome him. I wanted more than anything to touch him again, but was unaccountably shy. After so long, how were we to start again?
    He felt the constraint of mingled shyness and intimacy as well. Stopping a few inches from me, he took my hand. He hesitated for a moment, then bent his head over it, his lips barely brushing my knuckles. His fingers touched the silver ring and stopped there, holding the metal lightly between thumb and forefinger.
    “I never took it off,” I blurted. It seemed important he should know that. He squeezed my hand lightly, but didn’t let go.
    “I want—” He stopped and swallowed, still holding my hand. His fingers found and touched the silver ring once more. “I want verra much to kiss you,” he said softly. “May I do that?”
    The tears were barely dammed. Two more welled up and overflowed; I felt them, full and round, roll down my cheeks.
    “Yes,” I whispered.
    He drew me slowly close to him, holding our linked hands just under his breast.
    “I havena done this for a verra long time,” he said. I saw the hope and the fear dark in the blue of his eyes. I took the gift and gave it back to him.
    “Neither have I,” I said softly.
    His hands cupped my face with exquisite gentleness, and he set his mouth on mine.
    I didn’t know quite what I had been expecting. A reprise of the pounding fury that had accompanied our final parting? I had remembered that so often, lived it over in memory, helpless to change the outcome. The half-rough, timeless hours of mutual possession in the darkness of our marriage bed? I had longed for that, wakened often sweating and trembling from the memory of it.
    But we were strangers now, barely touching, each seeking the way toward joining, slowly, tentatively, seeking and giving unspoken permission with our silent lips. My eyes were closed, and I knew without looking that Jamie’s were, as well. We were, quite simply, afraid to look at each other.
    Without raising his head, he began to stroke me lightly, feeling my bones through my clothes, familiarizing himself again with the terrain of my body. At last his hand traveled down my arm and caught my right hand. His fingers traced my hand until they found the ring again, and circled it, feeling the interlaced silver of the Highland pattern, polished with long wear, but still distinct.
    His lips moved from mine, across my cheeks and eyes. I gently stroked his back, feeling through his shirt the marks I couldn’t see, the remnants of old scars, like my ring, worn but still distinct.
    “I’ve seen ye so many times,” he said, his voice whispering warm in my ear. “You’ve come to me so often. When I dreamed sometimes. When I lay in fever. When I was so afraid and so lonely I knew I must die. When I needed you, I would always see ye, smiling, with your hair curling up about your face. But ye never spoke. And ye never touched me.”
    “I can touch you now.” I reached up and drew my hand gently down his temple, his ear, the cheek and jaw that I could see. My hand went to the nape of his neck, under the clubbed bronze hair, and he raised his head at last, and cupped my face between his hands, love glowing strong in the dark blue eyes.
    “Dinna be afraid,” he said softly. “There’s the two of us now.”

    We might have gone on standing there gazing at each other indefinitely, had the shop bell over the door not rung. I let go of Jamie and looked around sharply, to see a small, wiry man with coarse dark hair standing in the door, mouth agape, holding a small parcel in one hand.
    “Oh, there ye are, Geordie! What’s kept ye?” Jamie said.
    Geordie said nothing, but his eyes traveled dubiously over his employer, standing bare-legged in his shirt in the middle of the shop, his breeches, shoes, and stockings discarded on the floor, and me in his arms, with my gown all crumpled and my hair coming down. Geordie’s narrow face creased into a censorious frown.
    “I quit,” he said, in the rich tones of the West Highlands. “The printing’s one thing—I’m wi’ ye there, and ye’ll no think otherwise—but I’m Free Church and my daddy before me and my grandsire before him. Workin’ for a Papist is one thing—the Pope’s coin’s as good as any, aye?—but workin’ for an immoral Papist is another. Do as ye like wi’ your own soul, man, but if it’s come to orgies in the shop, it’s come too far, that’s what I say. I quit!”
    He placed the package precisely in the center of the counter, spun on his heel and stalked toward the door. Outside, the Town Clock on the Tolbooth began to strike. Geordie turned in the doorway to glare accusingly at us.
    “And it not even noon yet!” he said. The shop door slammed behind him.
    Jamie stared after him for a moment, then sank slowly down onto the floor again, laughing so hard, the tears came to his eyes.
    “And it’s not even noon yet!” he repeated, wiping the tears off his cheeks. “Oh, God, Geordie!” He rocked back and forth, grasping his knees with both hands.
    I couldn’t help laughing myself, though I was rather worried.
    “I didn’t mean to cause you trouble,” I said. “Will he come back, do you think?”
    He sniffed and wiped his face carelessly on the tail of his shirt.
    “Oh, aye. He lives just across the way, in Wickham Wynd. I’ll go and see him in a bit, and…and explain,” he said. He looked at me, realization dawning, and added, “God knows how!” It looked for a minute as though he might start laughing again, but he mastered the impulse and stood up.
    “Have you got another pair of breeches?” I asked, picking up the discarded ones and draping them across the counter to dry.
    “Aye, I have—upstairs. Wait a bit, though.” He snaked a long arm into the cupboard beneath the counter, and came out with a neatly lettered notice that said GONE OUT. Attaching this to the outside of the door, and firmly bolting the inside, he turned to me.
    “Will ye step upstairs wi’ me?” he said. He crooked an arm invitingly, eyes sparkling. “If ye dinna think it immoral?”
    “Why not?” I said. The impulse to explode in laughter was just below the surface, sparkling in my blood like champagne. “We’re married, aren’t we?”
    The upstairs was divided into two rooms, one on either side of the landing, and a small privy closet just off the landing itself. The back room was plainly devoted to storage for the printing business; the door was propped open, and I could see wooden crates filled with books, towering bundles of pamphlets neatly tied with twine, barrels of alcohol and powdered ink, and a jumble of odd-looking hardware that I assumed must be spare parts for a printing press.
    The front room was spare as a monk’s cell. There was a chest of drawers with a pottery candlestick on it, a washstand, a stool, and a narrow cot, little more than a camp bed. I let out my breath when I saw it, only then realizing that I had been holding it. He slept alone.
    A quick glance around confirmed that there was no sign of a feminine presence in the room, and my heart began to beat with a normal rhythm again. Plainly no one lived here but Jamie; he had pushed aside the curtain that blocked off a corner of the room, and the row of pegs revealed there supported no more than a couple of shirts, a coat and long waistcoat in sober gray, a gray wool cloak, and the spare pair of breeches he had come to fetch.
    He had his back turned to me as he tucked in his shirt and fastened the new breeches, but I could see the self-consciousness in the tense line of his shoulders. I could feel a similar tension in the back of my own neck. Given a moment to recover from the shock of seeing each other, we were both stricken now with shyness. I saw his shoulders straighten and then he turned around to face me. The hysterical laughter had left us, and the tears, though his face still showed the marks of so much sudden feeling, and I knew mine did, too.
    “It’s verra fine to see ye, Claire,” he said softly. “I thought I never…well.” He shrugged slightly, as though to ease the tightness of the linen shirt across his shoulders. He swallowed, then met my eyes directly.
    “The child?” he said. Everything he felt was evident on his face; urgent hope, desperate fear, and the struggle to contain both.
    I smiled at him, and put out my hand. “Come here.”
    I had thought long and hard about what I might bring with me, should my journey through the stones succeed. Given my previous brush with accusations of witchcraft, I had been very careful. But there was one thing I had had to bring, no matter what the consequences might be if anyone saw them.
    I pulled him down to sit beside me on the cot, and pulled out of my pocket the small rectangular package I had done up with such care in Boston. I undid its waterproof wrapping, and thrust its contents into his hands. “There,” I said.
    He took them from me, gingerly, like one handling an unknown and possibly dangerous substance. His big hands framed the photographs for a moment, holding them confined. Brianna’s round newborn face was oblivious between his fingers, tiny fists curled on her blanket, slanted eyes closed in the new exhaustion of existence, her small mouth slightly open in sleep.
    I looked up at his face; it was absolutely blank with shock. He held the pictures close to his chest, unmoving, wide-eyed and staring as though he had just been transfixed by a crossbow bolt through the heart—as I supposed he had.
    “Your daughter sent you this,” I said. I turned his blank face toward me and gently kissed him on the mouth. That broke the trance; he blinked and his face came to life again.
    “My…she…” His voice was hoarse with shock. “Daughter. My daughter. She…knows?”
    “She does. Look at the rest.” I slid the first picture from his grasp, revealing the snapshot of Brianna, uproariously festooned with the icing of her first birthday cake, a four-toothed smile of fiendish triumph on her face as she waved a new plush rabbit overhead.
    Jamie made a small inarticulate sound, and his fingers loosened. I took the small stack of photographs from him and gave them back, one at a time.
    Brianna at two, stubby in her snowsuit, cheeks round and flushed as apples, feathery hair wisping from under her hood.
    Bree at four, hair a smooth bell-shaped gleam as she sat, one ankle propped on the opposite knee as she smiled for the photographer, proper and poised in a white pinafore.
    At five, in proud possession of her first lunchbox, waiting to board the school bus to kindergarten.
    “She wouldn’t let me go with her; she wanted to go alone. She’s very b-brave, not afraid of anything…” I felt half-choked as I explained, displayed, pointed to the changing images that fell from his hands and slid down to the floor as he began to snatch each new picture.
    “Oh, God!” he said, at the picture of Bree at ten, sitting on the kitchen floor with her arms around Smoky, the big Newfoundland. That one was in color; her hair a brilliant shimmer against the dog’s shiny black coat.
    His hands were shaking so badly that he couldn’t hold the pictures anymore; I had to show him the last few—Bree full-grown, laughing at a string of fish she’d caught; standing at a window in secretive contemplation; red-faced and tousled, leaning on the handle of the ax she had been using to split kindling. These showed her face in all the moods I could capture, always that face, long-nosed and wide-mouthed, with those high, broad, flat Viking cheekbones and slanted eyes—a finer-boned, more delicate version of her father’s, of the man who sat on the cot beside me, mouth working wordlessly, and the tears running soundless down his own cheeks.
    He splayed a hand out over the photographs, trembling fingers not quite touching the shiny surfaces, and then he turned and leaned toward me, slowly, with the improbable grace of a tall tree falling. He buried his face in my shoulder and went very quietly and thoroughly to pieces.
    I held him to my breast, arms tight around the broad, shaking shoulders, and my own tears fell on his hair, making small dark patches in the ruddy waves. I pressed my cheek against the top of his head, and murmured small incoherent things to him as though he were Brianna. I thought to myself that perhaps it was like surgery—even when an operation is done to repair existing damage, the healing still is painful.
    “Her name?” He raised his face at last, wiping his nose on the back of his hand. He picked up the pictures again, gently, as though they might disintegrate at his touch. “What did ye name her?”
    “Brianna,” I said proudly.
    “Brianna?” he said, frowning at the pictures. “What an awful name for a wee lassie!”
    I started back as though struck. “It is not awful!” I snapped. “It’s a beautiful name, and besides you told me to name her that! What do you mean, it’s an awful name?”
    “I told ye to name her that?” He blinked.
    “You most certainly did! When we—when we—the last time I saw you.” I pressed my lips tightly together so I wouldn’t cry again. After a moment, I had mastered my feelings enough to add, “You told me to name the baby for your father. His name was Brian, wasn’t it?”
    “Aye, it was.” A smile seemed to be struggling for dominance of the other emotions on his face. “Aye,” he said. “Aye, you’re right, I did. It’s only—well, I thought it would be a boy, is all.”
    “And you’re sorry she wasn’t?” I glared at him, and began snatching up the scattered photographs. His hands on my arms stopped me.
    “No,” he said. “No, I’m not sorry. Of course not!” His mouth twitched slightly. “But I willna deny she’s the hell of a shock, Sassenach. So are you.”
    I sat still for a moment, looking at him. I had had months to prepare myself for this, and still my knees felt weak and my stomach was clenched in knots. He had been taken completely unawares by my appearance; little wonder if he was reeling a bit under the impact.
    “I expect I am. Are you sorry I came?” I asked. I swallowed. “Do—do you want me to go?”
    His hands clamped my arms so tightly that I let out a small yelp. Realizing that he was hurting me, he loosened his grip, but kept a firm hold nonetheless. His face had gone quite pale at the suggestion. He took a deep breath and let it out.
    “No,” he said, with an approximation of calmness. “I don’t. I—” He broke off abruptly, jaw clamped. “No,” he said again, very definitely.
    His hand slid down to take hold of mine, and with the other he reached down to pick up the photographs. He laid them on his knee, looking at them with head bent, so I couldn’t see his face.
    “Brianna,” he said softly. “Ye say it wrong, Sassenach. Her name is Brianna.” He said it with an odd Highland lilt, so that the first syllable was accented, the second barely pronounced. Breeanah.
    “Breeanah?” I said, amused. He nodded, eyes still fixed on the pictures.
    “Brianna,” he said. “It’s a beautiful name.”
    “Glad you like it,” I said.
    He glanced up then, and met my eyes, with a smile hidden in the corner of his long mouth.
    “Tell me about her.” One forefinger traced the pudgy features of the baby in the snowsuit. “What was she like as a wee lassie? What did she first say, when she learned to speak?”
    His hand drew me closer, and I nestled close to him. He was big, and solid, and smelled of clean linen and ink, with a warm male scent that was as exciting to me as it was familiar.
    “‘Dog,’” I said. “That was her first word. The second one was ‘No!’”
    The smile widened across his face. “Aye, they all learn that one fast. She’ll like dogs, then?” He fanned the pictures out like cards, searching out the one with Smoky. “That’s a lovely dog with her there. What sort is that?”
    “A Newfoundland.” I bent forward to thumb through the pictures. “There’s another one here with a puppy a friend of mine gave her…”
    The dim gray daylight had begun to fade, and the rain had been pattering on the roof for some time, before our talk was interrupted by a fierce subterranean growl emanating from below the lace-trimmed bodice of my Jessica Gutenburg. It had been a long time since the peanut butter sandwich.
    “Hungry, Sassenach?” Jamie asked, rather unnecessarily, I thought.
    “Well, yes, now that you mention it. Do you still keep food in the top drawer?” When we were first married, I had developed the habit of keeping small bits of food on hand, to supply his constant appetite, and the top drawer of any chest of drawers where we lived generally provided a selection of rolls, small cakes, or bits of cheese.
    He laughed and stretched. “Aye, I do. There’s no much there just now, though, but a couple of stale bannocks. Better I take ye down to the tavern, and—” The look of happiness engendered by perusing the photographs of Brianna faded, to be replaced by a look of alarm. He glanced quickly at the window, where a soft purplish color was beginning to replace the pale gray, and the look of alarm deepened.
    “The tavern! Christ! I’ve forgotten Mr. Willoughby!” He was on his feet and groping in the chest for fresh stockings before I could say anything. Coming out with the stockings in one hand and two bannocks in the other, he tossed the latter into my lap and sat down on the stool, hastily yanking on the former.
    “Who’s Mr. Willoughby?” I bit into a bannock, scattering crumbs.
    “Damn,” he said, more to himself than me, “I said I’d come for him at noon, but it went out o’ my head entirely! It must be four o’clock by now!”
    “It is; I heard the clock strike a little while ago.”
    “Damn!” he repeated. Thrusting his feet into a pair of pewter-buckled shoes, he rose, snatched his coat from the peg, and then paused at the door.
    “You’ll come wi’ me?” he asked anxiously.
    I licked my fingers and rose, pulling my cloak around me.
    “Wild horses couldn’t stop me,” I assured him.
    25
    HOUSE OF JOY
    “Who is Mr. Willoughby?” I inquired, as we paused under the arch of Carfax Close to peer out at the cobbled street. “Er…he’s an associate of mine,” Jamie replied, with a wary glance at me. “Best put up your hood, it’s pouring.”
    It was in fact raining quite hard; sheets of water fell from the arch overhead and gurgled down the gutters, cleansing the streets of sewage and rubbish. I took a deep breath of the damp, clean air, feeling exhilarated by the wildness of the evening and the closeness of Jamie, tall and powerful by my side. I had found him. I had found him, and whatever unknowns life now held, they didn’t seem to matter. I felt reckless and indestructible.
    I took his hand and squeezed it; he looked down and smiled at me, squeezing back.
    “Where are we going?”
    “To The World’s End.” The roar of the water made conversation difficult. Without further speech, Jamie took me by the elbow to help me across the cobbles, and we plunged down the steep incline of the Royal Mile.
    Luckily, the tavern called The World’s End was no more than a hundred yards away; hard as the rain was, the shoulders of my cloak were scarcely more than dampened when we ducked beneath the low lintel and into the narrow entry-hall.
    The main room was crowded, warm and smoky, a snug refuge from the storm outside. There were a few women seated on the benches that ran along the walls, but most of the patrons were men. Here and there was a man in the well-kept dress of a merchant, but most men with homes to go to were in them at this hour; the tavern hosted a mix of soldiers, wharf rats, laborers and apprentices, with here and there the odd drunkard for variety.
    Heads looked up at our appearance, and there were shouts of greeting, and a general shuffling and pushing, to make room at one of the long tables. Clearly Jamie was well-known in The World’s End. A few curious glances came my way, but no one said anything. I kept my cloak pulled close around me, and followed Jamie through the crush of the tavern.
    “Nay, mistress, we’ll no be stayin’,” he said to the young barmaid who bustled forward with an eager smile. “I’ve only come for himself.”
    The girl rolled her eyes. “Oh, aye, and no before time, either! Mither’s put him doon the stair.”
    “Aye, I’m late,” Jamie said apologetically. “I had…business that kept me.”
    The girl looked curiously at me, but then shrugged and dimpled at Jamie.
    “Och, it’s no trouble, sir. Harry took him doon a stoup of brandy, and we’ve heard little more of him since.”
    “Brandy, eh?” Jamie sounded resigned. “Still awake, is he?” He reached into the pocket of his coat and brought out a small leather pouch, from which he extracted several coins, which he dropped into the girl’s outstretched hand.
    “I expect so,” she said cheerfully, pocketing the money. “I heard him singin’ a whiles since. Thankee, sir!”
    With a nod, Jamie ducked under the lintel at the back of the room, motioning me to follow. A tiny, barrel-ceilinged kitchen lay behind the main taproom, with a huge kettle of what looked like oyster stew simmering in the hearth. It smelled delicious, and I could feel my mouth starting to water at the rich aroma. I hoped we could do our business with Mr. Willoughby over supper.
    A fat woman in a grimy bodice and skirt knelt by the hearth, stuffing billets of wood into the fire. She glanced up at Jamie and nodded, but made no move to get up.
    He lifted a hand in response, and headed for a small wooden door in the corner. He lifted the bolt and swung the door open to reveal a dark stairway leading down, apparently into the bowels of the earth. A light flickered somewhere far below, as though elves were mining diamonds beneath the tavern.
    Jamie’s shoulders filled the narrow stairwell, obstructing my view of whatever lay below us. When he stepped out into the open space below, I could see heavy oak rafters, and a row of huge casks, standing on a long plank set on hurdles against the stone wall.
    Only a single torch burned at the foot of the stair. The cellar was shadowy, and its cavelike depths seemed quite deserted. I listened, but didn’t hear anything but the muffled racket of the tavern upstairs. Certainly no singing.
    “Are you sure he’s down here?” I bent to peer beneath the row of casks, wondering whether perhaps the bibulous Mr. Willoughby had been overcome with an excess of brandy and sought some secluded spot to sleep it off.
    “Oh, aye.” Jamie sounded grim, but resigned. “The wee bugger’s hiding, I expect. He knows I dinna like it when he drinks in public houses.”
    I raised an eyebrow at this, but he merely strode into the shadows, muttering under his breath. The cellar stretched some way, and I could hear him, shuffling cautiously in the dark, long after I lost sight of him. Left in the circle of torchlight near the stairs, I looked around with interest.
    Besides the row of casks, there were a number of wooden crates stacked near the center of the room, against an odd little chunk of wall that stood by itself, rising some five feet out of the cellar floor, running back into the darkness.
    I had heard of this feature of the tavern when we had stayed in Edinburgh twenty years before with His Highness Prince Charles, but what with one thing and another, I had never actually seen it before. It was the remnant of a wall constructed by the city fathers of Edinburgh, following the disastrous Battle of Flodden Field in 1513. Concluding—with some justice—that no good was likely to come of association with the English to the south, they had built a wall defining both the city limits and the limit of the civilized world of Scotland. Hence “The World’s End,” and the name had stuck through several versions of the tavern that had eventually been built upon the remnants of the old Scots’ wishful thinking.
    “Damned little bugger.” Jamie emerged from the shadows, a cobweb stuck in his hair, and a frown on his face. “He must be back of the wall.”
    Turning, he put his hands to his mouth and shouted something. It sounded like incomprehensible gibberish—not even like Gaelic. I dug a finger dubiously into one ear, wondering whether the trip through the stones had deranged my hearing.
    A sudden movement caught the corner of my eye, causing me to look up, just in time to see a ball of brilliant blue fly off the top of the ancient wall and smack Jamie squarely between the shoulderblades.
    He hit the cellar floor with a frightful thump, and I dashed toward his fallen body.
    “Jamie! Are you all right?”
    The prone figure made a number of coarse remarks in Gaelic and sat up slowly, rubbing his forehead, which had struck the stone floor a glancing blow. The blue ball, meanwhile, had resolved itself into the figure of a very small Chinese, who was giggling in unhinged delight, sallow round face shining with glee and brandy.
    “Mr. Willoughby, I presume?” I said to this apparition, keeping a wary eye out for further tricks.
    He appeared to recognize his name, for he grinned and nodded madly at me, his eyes creased to gleaming slits. He pointed to himself, said something in Chinese, and then sprang into the air and executed several backflips in rapid succession, bobbing up on his feet in beaming triumph at the end.
    “Bloody flea.” Jamie got up, wiping the skinned palms of his hands gingerly on his coat. With a quick snatch, he caught hold of the Chinaman’s collar and jerked him off his feet.
    “Come on,” he said, parking the little man on the stairway and prodding him firmly in the back. “We need to be going, and quick now.” In response, the little blue-clad figure promptly sagged into limpness, looking like a bag of laundry resting on the step.
    “He’s all right when he’s sober,” Jamie explained apologetically to me, as he hoisted the Chinese over one shoulder. “But he really shouldna drink brandy. He’s a terrible sot.”
    “So I see. Where on earth did you get him?” Fascinated, I followed Jamie up the stairs, watching Mr. Willoughby’s pigtail swing back and forth like a metronome across the felted gray wool of Jamie’s cloak.
    “On the docks.” But before he could explain further, the door above opened, and we were back in the tavern’s kitchen. The stout proprietor saw us emerge, and came toward us, her fat cheeks puffed with disapproval.
    “Now, Mr. Malcolm,” she began, frowning, “ye ken verra weel as you’re welcome here, and ye’ll ken as weel that I’m no a fussy woman, such not bein’ a convenient attitude when maintainin’ a public hoose. But I’ve telt ye before, yon wee yellow mannie is no—”
    “Aye, ye’ve mentioned it, Mrs. Patterson,” Jamie interrupted. He dug in his pocket and came up with a coin, which he handed to the stout publican with a bow. “And your forbearance is much appreciated. It willna happen again. I hope,” he added under his breath. He placed his hat on his head, bowed again to Mrs. Patterson, and ducked under the low lintel into the main tavern.
    Our reentry caused another stir, but a negative one this time. People fell silent, or muttered half-heard curses under their breath. I gathered that Mr. Willoughby was perhaps not this local’s most popular patron.
    Jamie edged his way through the crowd, which gave way reluctantly. I followed as best I could, trying not to meet anyone’s eyes, and trying not to breathe. Unused as I was to the unhygienic miasma of the eighteenth century, the stench of so many unwashed bodies in a small space was nearly overwhelming.
    Near the door, though, we met trouble, in the person of a buxom young woman whose dress was a notch above the sober drab of the landlady and her daughter. Her neckline was a notch lower, and I hadn’t much trouble in guessing her principal occupation. Absorbed in flirtatious conversation with a couple of apprentice lads when we emerged from the kitchen, she looked up as we passed, and sprang to her feet with a piercing scream, knocking over a cup of ale in the process.
    “It’s him!” she screeched, pointing a wavering finger at Jamie. “The foul fiend!” Her eyes seemed to have trouble focusing; I gathered that the spilled ale wasn’t her first of the evening, early as it was.
    Her companions stared at Jamie with interest, the more so when the young lady advanced, stabbing her finger in the air like one leading a chorus. “Him! The wee poolie I telt ye of—him that did the disgustin’ thing to me!”
    I joined the rest of the crowd in looking at Jamie with interest, but quickly realized, as did they, that the young woman was not talking to him, but rather to his burden.
    “Ye neffit qurd!” she yelled, addressing her remarks to the seat of Mr. Willoughby’s blue-silk trousers. “Hiddie-pyke! Slug!”
    This spectacle of maidenly distress was rousing her companions; one, a tall, burly lad, stood up, fists clenched, and leaned on the table, eyes gleaming with ale and aggro.
    “S’him, aye? Shall I knivvle him for ye, Maggie?”
    “Dinna try, laddie,” Jamie advised him shortly, shifting his burden for better balance. “Drink your drink, and we’ll be gone.”
    “Oh, aye? And you’re the little ked’s pimpmaster, are ye?” The lad sneered unbecomingly, his flushed face turning in my direction. “At least your other whore’s no yellow—le’s ha’ a look at her.” He flung out a paw and grabbed the edge of my cloak, revealing the low bodice of the Jessica Gutenburg.
    “Looks pink enough to me,” said his friend, with obvious approval. “Is she like it all over?” Before I could move, he snatched at the bodice, catching the edge of the lace. Not designed for the rigors of eighteenth-century life, the flimsy fabric ripped halfway down the side, exposing quite a lot of pink.
    “Leave off, ye whoreson!” Jamie swung about, eyes blazing, free fist doubled in threat.
    “Who ye miscallin’, ye skrae-shankit skoot?” The first youth, unable to get out from behind the table, leapt on top of it, and launched himself at Jamie, who neatly sidestepped the lad, allowing him to crash face-first into the wall.
    Jamie took one giant step toward the table, brought his fist down hard on top of the other apprentice’s head, making the lad’s jaw go slack, then grabbed me by the hand and dragged me out the door.
    “Come on!” he said, grunting as he shifted the Chinaman’s slippery form for a better grip. “They’ll be after us any moment!”
    They were; I could hear the shouting as the more boisterous elements poured out of the tavern into the street behind us. Jamie took the first opening off the Royal Mile, into a narrow, dark wynd, and we splashed through mud and unidentifiable slops, ducked through an archway, and down another twisting alleyway that seemed to lead through the bowels of Edinburgh. Dark walls flashed past, and splintered wooden doors, and then we were round a corner, in a small courtyard, where we paused for breath.
    “What…on earth…did he do?” I gasped. I couldn’t imagine what the little Chinese could have done to a strapping young wench like the recent Maggie. From all appearances, she could have squashed him like a fly.
    “Well, it’s the feet, ye ken,” Jamie explained, with a glance of resigned irritation at Mr. Willoughby.
    “Feet?” I glanced involuntarily at the tiny Chinese man’s feet, neat miniatures shod in felt-soled black satin.
    “Not his,” Jamie said, catching my glance. “The women’s.”
    “What women?” I asked.
    “Well, so far it’s only been whores,” he said, glancing through the archway in search of pursuit, “but ye canna tell what he may try. No judgment,” he explained briefly. “He’s a heathen.”
    “I see,” I said, though so far, I didn’t. “What—”
    “There they are!” A shout at the far end of the alley interrupted my question.
    “Damn, I thought they’d give it up. Come on, this way!”
    We were off once more, down an alley, back onto the Royal Mile, a few steps down the hill, and back into a close. I could hear shouts and cries behind us on the main street, but Jamie grasped my arm and jerked me after him through an open doorway, into a yard full of casks, bundles, and crates. He looked frantically about, then heaved Mr. Willoughby’s limp body into a large barrel filled with rubbish. Pausing only long enough to drop a piece of canvas on the Chinese’s head for concealment, he dragged me behind a wagon loaded with crates, and pulled me down beside him.
    I was gasping from the unaccustomed exertion, and my heart was racing from the adrenaline of fear. Jamie’s face was flushed with cold and exercise, and his hair was sticking up in several directions, but he was scarcely breathing hard.
    “Do you do this sort of thing all the time?” I asked, pressing a hand to my bosom in a vain effort to make my heart slow down.
    “Not exactly,” he said, peering warily over the top of the wagon in search of pursuit.
    The echo of pounding feet came faintly, then disappeared, and everything was quiet, save for the patter of rain on the boxes above us.
    “They’ve gone past. We’d best stay here a bit, to make sure, though.” He lifted down a crate for me to sit on, procured another for himself, and sat down sighing, pushing the loose hair out of his face with one hand.
    He gave me a lopsided smile. “I’m sorry, Sassenach. I didna think it would be quite so…”
    “Eventful?” I finished for him. I smiled back and pulled out a handkerchief to wipe a drop of moisture from the end of my nose. “It’s all right.” I glanced at the large barrel, where stirrings and rustlings indicated that Mr. Willoughby was returning to a more or less conscious state. “Er…how do you know about the feet?”
    “He told me; he’s a taste for the drink, ye ken,” he explained, with a glance at the barrel where his colleague lay concealed. “And when he’s taken a drop too much, he starts talkin’ about women’s feet, and all the horrible things he wants to do wi’ them.”
    “What sort of horrible things can you do with a foot?” I was fascinated. “Surely the possibilities are limited.”
    “No, they aren’t,” Jamie said grimly. “But it isna something I want to be talking about in the public street.”
    A faint singsong came from the depths of the barrel behind us. It was hard to tell, amid the natural inflections of the language, but I thought Mr. Willoughby was asking a question of some sort.
    “Shut up, ye wee poutworm,” Jamie said rudely. “Another word, and I’ll walk on your damn face myself; see how ye like that.” There was a high-pitched giggle, and the barrel fell silent.
    “He wants someone to walk on his face?” I asked.
    “Aye. You,” Jamie said briefly. He shrugged apologetically, and his cheeks flushed a deeper red. “I hadna time to tell him who ye were.”
    “Does he speak English?”
    “Oh, aye, in a way, but not many people understand him when he does. I mostly talk to him in Chinee.”
    I stared at him. “You speak Chinese?”
    He shrugged, tilting his head with a faint smile. “Well, I speak Chinee about as well as Mr. Willoughby speaks English, but then, he hasna got all that much choice in who he talks to, so he puts up wi’ me.”
    My heart showed signs of returning to normal, and I leaned back against the wagon bed, my hood farther forward against the drizzle.
    “Where on earth did he get a name like Willoughby?” I asked. While I was curious about the Chinese, I was even more curious about what a respectable Edinburgh printer was doing with one, but I felt a certain hesitance in prying into Jam