The Fiery Cross

Author: P Hana

Page 21

   

“You can’t have been more than twelve!” I said.

“No,” he replied, one eyebrow lifted. “Eleven. My birthday was the next day, though.”

I choked back whatever I might have said in reply. I had thought I had lost my capacity to be shocked by the realities of the past, but evidently not. Someone had shot him—an eleven-year-old boy—at point-blank range. No chance of mistake, no shot gone awry in the heat of battle. The man who had shot him had known it was a child he meant to kill—and had fired, anyway.

My lips pressed tight as I examined my incision. No more than an inch long, and not deep; the fractured ball had lain just below the surface. Good, it wouldn’t need stitching. I pressed a clean pad to the wound and moved in front of him, to fasten the linen strip that bound it in place.

“A miracle you survived,” I said.

“It was that,” he agreed. “I was lyin’ on the ground, and Murchison’s face over me, and I—”

“Murchison!” The exclamation popped out of me, and I saw a flicker of satisfaction cross Hayes’s face. I had a brief premonitory qualm, remembering what Jamie had said about Hayes the night before. He thinks more than he says, does wee Archie—and he talks quite a lot. Be careful of him, Sassenach. Well, a little late for caution—but I doubted it could matter; even if it had been the same Murchison—

“You’ll ken the name, I see,” Hayes observed pleasantly. “I had heard in England that a Sergeant Murchison of the 26th was sent to North Carolina. But the garrison at Cross Creek was gone when we reached the town—a fire, was it?”

“Er, yes,” I said, rather edgy at this reference. I was glad that Bree had left; only two people knew the whole truth of what had happened when the Crown’s warehouse on Cross Creek burned, and she was one of them. As for the other—well, Stephen Bonnet was not likely to cross paths with the Lieutenant anytime soon—if Bonnet himself was still alive.

“And the men of the garrison,” Hayes pursued, “Murchison and the rest—where have they gone, d’ye know?”

“Sergeant Murchison is dead,” said a deep, soft voice behind me. “Alas.”

Hayes looked beyond me and smiled.

“A Sheumais ruaidh,” he said. “I did think ye might come to your wife, sooner or later. I’ve been seekin’ ye the morn.”

I was startled at the name, and so was Jamie; a look of surprise flashed across his features, then disappeared, replaced by wariness. No one had called him “Red Jamie” since the days of the Rising.

“I heard,” he said dryly. He sat down on my extra stool, facing Hayes. “Let’s have it, then. What is it?”

Hayes pulled up the sporran that dangled between his knees, rummaged for a moment, and pulled out a square of folded paper, secured with a red wax seal, marked with a crest I recognized. My heart skipped a beat at the sight; I somehow doubted that Governor Tryon was sending me a belated birthday wish.

Hayes turned it over, checked carefully to see that the name inscribed on the front was Jamie’s, and handed it across. To my surprise, Jamie didn’t open it at once, but sat holding it, eyes fixed on Hayes’s face.

“What brought ye here?” he asked abruptly.

“Ah, duty, to be sure,” Hayes answered, thin brows arched in innocent astonishment. “Does a soldier do aught for any other reason?”

“Duty,” Jamie repeated. He tapped the missive idly against his leg. “Aye, well. Duty might take ye from Charleston to Virginia, but there are quicker ways to get there.”

Hayes started to shrug, but desisted at once, as the movement jarred the shoulder I was bandaging.

“I had the Proclamation to bring, from Governor Tryon.”

“The Governor’s no authority over you or your men.”

“True,” Hayes agreed, “but why should I not do the man a service, and I could?”

“Aye, and did he ask ye to do him the service, or was it your own notion?” Jamie said, a distinct tone of cynicism in his voice.

“Ye’ve grown a bit suspicious in your auld age, a Sheumais ruaidh,” Hayes said, shaking his head reprovingly.

“That’s how I’ve lived to grow as auld as I have,” Jamie replied, smiling slightly. He paused, eyeing Hayes. “Ye say it was a man named Murchison who shot ye on the field at Drumossie?”

I had finished the bandaging; Hayes moved his shoulder experimentally, testing for pain.

“Why, ye kent that, surely, a Sheumais ruaidh. D’ye not recall the day, man?”

Jamie’s face changed subtly, and I felt a small tremor of unease. The fact was that Jamie had almost no memory of the last day of the clans, of the slaughter that had left so many bleeding in the rain—him among them. I knew that small scenes from that day came back to him now and again in his sleep, fragments of nightmare—but whether it was from trauma, injury, or simple force of will, the Battle of Culloden was lost to him—or had been, until now. I didn’t think he wanted it back.

“A great deal happened then,” he said. “I dinna remember everything, no.” He bent his head abruptly, and thrust a thumb beneath the fold of the letter, opening it so roughly that the wax seal shattered into fragments.

“Your husband’s a modest man, Mistress Fraser.” Hayes nodded to me as he summoned his aide with a flip of the hand. “Has he never told ye what he did that day?”

“There was a good bit of gallantry on that field,” Jamie muttered, head bent over the letter. “And quite a bit of the reverse.” I didn’t think he was reading; his eyes were fixed, as though he were seeing something else, beyond the paper that he held.

“Aye, there was,” Hayes agreed. “But it does seem worth remark, when a man’s saved your life, no?”

Jamie’s head jerked up at that, startled. I moved across to stand behind him, a hand laid lightly on his shoulder. Hayes took the shirt from his aide and put it slowly on, smiling in an odd, half-watchful way.

“Ye dinna recall how ye struck Murchison across the head, just as he was set to bayonet me on the ground? And then ye picked me up and carried me from the field, awa to a bittie well nearby? One of the chiefs lay on the grass there, and his men were bathin’ his heid in the water, but I could see he was deid, he lay so still. There was someone there to tend me; they wished ye to stay, too, for ye were wounded and bleeding, but ye would not. Ye wished me well, in the name of St. Michael—and went back then, to the field.”

Hayes settled the chain of his gorget, adjusting the small silver crescent beneath his chin. Without his stock, his throat looked bare, defenseless.

“Ye looked fair wild, man, for there was blood runnin’ doon your face and your hair was loose on the wind. Ye’d sheathed your sword to carry me, but ye pulled it again as ye turned away. I didna think I should see ye again, for if ever I saw a man set to meet his death . . .”

He shook his head, his eyes half-closed, as though he saw not the sober, stalwart man before him, not the Fraser of Fraser’s Ridge—but Red Jamie, the young warrior who had not gone back from gallantry, but because he sought to throw his life away, feeling it a burden—because he had lost me.

“Did I?” Jamie muttered. “I had . . . forgotten.” I could feel the tension in him, singing like a stretched wire under my hand. A pulse beat quick in the artery beneath his ear. There were things he had forgotten, but not that. Neither had I.

Hayes bent his head, as his aide fastened the stock around his neck, then straightened and nodded to me.

“I thank ye, ma’am, ’twas most gracious of ye.”

“Think nothing of it,” I said, dry-mouthed. “My pleasure.” It had come on to rain again; the cold drops struck my hands and face, and moisture glimmered on the strong bones of Jamie’s face, caught trembling in his hair and thick lashes.

Hayes shrugged himself into his coat, and fastened the loop of his plaid with a small gilt brooch—the brooch his father had given him, before Culloden.

“So Murchison is dead,” he said, as though to himself. “I did hear”—his fingers fumbled for a moment with the clasp of the brooch—“as how there were two brothers of that name, alike as peas in the pod.”

“There were,” Jamie said. He looked up then, and met Hayes’s eyes. The Lieutenant’s face showed no more than mild interest.

“Ah. And would ye know, then, which it was? . . .”

“No. But it is no matter; both are dead.”

“Ah,” Hayes said again. He stood a moment, as though thinking, then bowed to Jamie, formally, bonnet held against his chest.

“Buidheachas dhut, a Sheumais mac Brian. And may Blessed Michael defend you.” He lifted the bonnet briefly to me, clapped it on his head, and turned to go, his aide following in silence.

A gust of wind blew through the clearing, with a chilly burst of rain upon it, so like the freezing April rain of Culloden. Jamie shivered suddenly beside me, with a deep, convulsive shudder that crumpled the letter he still held in his hand.

“How much do you remember?” I asked, looking after Hayes, as he picked his way across the blood-soaked ground.

“Almost nothing,” he replied. He stood up and turned to look down at me, his eyes as dark as the clouded skies above. “And that is still too much.”

He handed me the crumpled letter. The rain had blotted and smeared the ink here and there, but it was still quite readable. By contrast to the Proclamation, it contained two sentences—but the additional period didn’t dilute its impact.

New Bern, 20 October

Colonel James Fraser

Whereas the Peace and good Order of this Government has been lately violated and much Injury done to the Persons and Properties of many Inhabitants of this Province by a Body of People who Stile themselves Regulators, I do by the Advice of his Majesty’s Council Order and direct you forthwith to call a General Muster of so many Men as you Judge suitable to serve in a Regiment of Militia, and make Report to me as soon as possible of the Number of Volunteers that are willing to turn out in the Service of their King and Country, when called upon, and also what Number of effective Men belong to your Regiment who can be ordered out in case of an Emergency, and in case any further Violence should be attempted to be committed by the Insurgents. Your Diligent and punctual Obedience to these Orders will be well received by

Your Obed’t. Servant,

William Tryon

I folded the rain-spotted letter neatly up, noticing remotely that my hands were shaking. Jamie took it from me, and held it between thumb and forefinger, as though it were some disagreeable object—as indeed it was. His mouth quirked wryly as he met my eyes.

“I had hoped for a little more time,” he said.

8

THE FACTOR

AFTER BRIANNA LEFT TO RETRIEVE Jemmy from Jocasta’s tent, Roger made his way slowly up the hill toward their own campsite. He exchanged greetings and accepted congratulations from people he passed, but scarcely heard what was said to him.

There’ll be a next time, she’d said. He held the words close, turning them over in his mind like a handful of coins in his pocket. She hadn’t been just saying it. She meant it, and it was a promise that at the moment meant even more to him than the ones she’d made on their first wedding night.

Loading...