Voyager

Author: P Hana

Page 109

   

Jamie’s face was flushed from the climb, but at my words, the blood drained from his cheeks. His hands tightened on the bundle.

“Oh, aye,” he said, very softly, with great bitterness. “Aye, I shall go home and tell my sister that I have lost her youngest son? She didna want him to come wi’ me, but I insisted. I’ll take care of him, I said. And now he is hurt and maybe dead—but here are his clothes, to remember him by?” His jaw clenched, and he swallowed convulsively.

“I’d rather be dead myself,” he said.

He knelt on the ground then, shaking out the articles of clothing, folding them carefully, and laying them together in a pile. He folded the coat carefully around the other things, stood up, and stuffed the bundle into his saddlebag.

“Ian will be needing them, I expect, when we find him,” I said, trying to sound convinced.

Jamie looked at me, but after a moment, he nodded.

“Aye,” he said softly. “I expect he will.”

It was too late in the day to begin the ride to Inverness. The sun was setting, announcing the fact with a dull reddish glow that barely penetrated the gathering mist. Without speaking, we began to make camp. There was cold food in the saddlebags, but neither of us had the heart to eat. Instead, we rolled ourselves up in cloaks and blankets and lay down to sleep, cradled in small hollows that Jamie had scooped in the earth.

I couldn’t sleep. The ground was hard and stony beneath my hips and shoulders, and the thunder of the surf below would have been sufficient to keep me awake, even had my mind not been filled with thoughts of Ian.

Was he badly hurt? The limpness of his body had bespoken some damage, but I had seen no blood. Presumably, he had merely been hit on the head. If so, what would he feel when he woke, to find himself abducted, and being carried farther from home and family with each passing minute?

And how were we ever to find him? When Jamie had first mentioned Jared, I had felt hopeful, but the more I thought of it, the slimmer seemed the prospects of actually finding a single ship, which might now be sailing in any direction at all, to anyplace in the world. And would his captors bother to keep Ian, or would they, on second thoughts, conclude that he was a dangerous nuisance, and pitch him overboard?

I didn’t think I slept, but I must have dozed, my dreams full of trouble. I woke shivering with cold, and edged out a hand, reaching for Jamie. He wasn’t there. When I sat up, I found that he had spread his blanket over me while I dozed, but it was a poor substitute for the heat of his body.

He was sitting some distance away, with his back to me. The offshore wind had risen with the setting of the sun, and blown some of the mist away; a half-moon shed enough light through the clouds to show me his hunched figure clearly.

I got up and walked over to him, folding my cloak tight about me against the chill. My steps made a light crunching sound on the crumbled granite, but the sound was drowned in the sighing rumble of the sea below. Still, he must have heard me; he didn’t turn around, but gave no sign of surprise when I sank down beside him.

He sat with his chin in his hands, his elbows on his knees, eyes wide and sightless as he gazed out into the dark water of the cove. If the seals were awake, they were quiet tonight.

“Are you all right?” I said quietly. “It’s beastly cold.” He was wearing nothing but his coat, and in the small, chilled hours of the night, in the wet, cold air above the sea, that was far from enough. I could feel the tiny, constant shiver that ran through him when I set my hand on his arm.

“Aye, I’m fine,” he said, with a marked lack of conviction.

I merely snorted at this piece of prevarication, and sat down next to him on another chunk of granite.

“It wasn’t your fault,” I said, after we had sat in silence for some time, listening to the sea.

“Ye should go and sleep, Sassenach.” His voice was even, but with an undertone of hopelessness that made me move closer to him, trying to embrace him. He was clearly reluctant to touch me, but I was shivering very obviously myself by this time.

“I’m not going anywhere.”

He sighed deeply and pulled me closer, settling me upon his knee, so that his arms came inside my cloak, holding tight. Little by little, the shivering eased.

“What are you doing out here?” I asked at last.

“Praying,” he said softly. “Or trying to.”

“I shouldn’t have interrupted you.” I made as though to move away, but his hold on me tightened.

“No, stay,” he said. We stayed clasped close; I could feel the warmth of his breathing in my ear. He drew in his breath as though about to speak, but then let it out without saying anything. I turned and touched his face.

“What is it, Jamie?”

“Is it wrong for me to have ye?” he whispered. His face was bone-white, his eyes no more than dark pits in the dim light. “I keep thinking—is it my fault? Have I sinned so greatly, wanting you so much, needing ye more than life itself?”

“Do you?” I took his face between my hands, feeling the wide bones cold under my palms. “And if you do—how can that be wrong? I’m your wife.” In spite of everything, the simple word “wife” made my heart lighten.

He turned his face slightly, so his lips lay against my palm, and his hand came up, groping for mine. His fingers were cold, too, and hard as driftwood soaked in seawater.

“I tell myself so. God has given ye to me; how can I not love you? And yet—I keep thinking, and canna stop.”

He looked down at me then, brow furrowed with trouble.

“The treasure—it was all right to use it when there was need, to feed the hungry, or to rescue folk from prison. But to try to buy my freedom from guilt—to use it only so that I might live free at Lallybroch with you, and not trouble myself over Laoghaire—I think maybe that was wrong to do.”

I drew his hand down around my waist, and pulled him close. He came, eager for comfort, and laid his head on my shoulder.

“Hush,” I said to him, though he hadn’t spoken again. “Be still. Jamie, have you ever done something for yourself alone—not with any thought of anyone else?”

His hand rested gently on my back, tracing the seam of my bodice, and his breathing held the hint of a smile.

“Oh, many and many a time,” he whispered. “When I saw you. When I took ye, not caring did ye want me or no, did ye have somewhere else to be, someone else to love.”

“Bloody man,” I whispered in his ear, rocking him as best I could. “You’re an awful fool, Jamie Fraser. And what about Brianna? That wasn’t wrong, was it?”

“No.” He swallowed; I could hear the sound of it clearly, and feel the pulse beat in his neck where I held him. “But now I have taken ye back from her, as well. I love you—and I love Ian, like he was my own. And I am thinking maybe I cannot have ye both.”

“Jamie Fraser,” I said again, with as much conviction as I could put into my voice, “you’re a terrible fool.” I smoothed the hair back from his forehead and twisted my fist in the thick tail at his nape, pulling his head back to make him look at me.

I thought my face must look to him as his did to me; the bleached bones of a skull, with the lips and eyes dark as blood.

“You didn’t force me to come to you, or snatch me away from Brianna. I came, because I wanted to—because I wanted you, as much as you did me—and my being here has nothing to do with what’s happened. We’re married, blast you, by any standard you care to name—before God, man, Neptune, or what-have-you.”

“Neptune?” he said, sounding a little stunned.

“Be quiet,” I said. “We’re married, I say, and it isn’t wicked for you to want me, or to have me, and no God worth his salt would take your nephew away from you because you wanted to be happy. So there!

“Besides,” I added, pulling back and looking up at him a moment later, “I’m not bloody going back, so what could you do about it, anyway?”

The small vibration in his chest this time was laughter, not cold.

“Take ye and be damned for it, I expect,” he said. He kissed my forehead gently. “Loving you has put me through hell more than once, Sassenach; I’ll risk it again, if need be.”

“Bah,” I said. “And you think loving you’s been a bed of roses, do you?”

This time he laughed out loud.

“No,” he said, “but you’ll maybe keep doing it?”

“Maybe I will, at that.”

“You’re a verra stubborn woman,” he said, the smile clear in his voice.

“It bloody takes one to know one,” I said, and then we were both quiet for quite some time.

It was very late—perhaps four o’clock in the morning. The half-moon was low in the sky, seen only now and then through the moving clouds. The clouds themselves were moving faster; the wind was shifting and the mist breaking up, in the turning hour between dark and dawn. Somewhere below, one of the seals barked loudly, once.

“Do ye think perhaps ye could stand to go now?” Jamie said suddenly. “Not wait for the daylight? Once off the headland, the going’s none so bad that the horses canna manage in the dark.”

My whole body ached from weariness, and I was starving, but I stood up at once, and brushed the hair out of my face.

“Let’s go,” I said.

PART EIGHT

On the Water

40

I SHALL GO DOWN TO THE SEA

“It will have to be the Artemis.” Jared flipped shut the cover of his portable writing desk and rubbed his brow, frowning. Jamie’s cousin had been in his fifties when I knew him before, and was now well past seventy, but the snub-nosed hatchet face, the spare, narrow frame, and the tireless capacity for work were just the same. Only his hair marked his age, gone from lank darkness to a scanty, pure and gleaming white, jauntily tied with a red silk ribbon.

“She’s no more than a midsized sloop, with a crew of forty or so,” he remarked. “But it’s late in the season, and we’ll not likely do better—all of the Indiamen will have gone a month since. Artemis would have gone with the convoy to Jamaica, was she not laid up for repair.”

“I’d sooner have a ship of yours—and one of your captains,” Jamie assured him. “The size doesna matter.”

Jared cocked a skeptical eyebrow at his cousin. “Oh? Well, and ye may find it matter more than ye think, out at sea. It’s like to be squally, this late in the season, and a sloop will be bobbin’ like a cork. Might I ask how ye weathered the Channel crossing in the packet boat, cousin?”

Jamie’s face, already drawn and grim, grew somewhat grimmer at this question. The completest of landlubbers, he was not just prone to seasickness, but prostrated by it. He had been violently ill all the way from Inverness to Le Havre, though sea and weather had been quite calm. Now, some six hours later, safe ashore in Jared’s warehouse by the quay, there was still a pale tinge to his lips and dark circles beneath his eyes.

“I’ll manage,” he said shortly.

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