The sound of a galloping horse echoed along the shore, the scrunch of hoofbeats on gravel echoing from the cliffside well in advance of its appearance.
“There he is, the wee fool,” Jamie said, his relief evident in voice and body. He turned to Captain Raines, one brow raised in question. “There’s enough of the tide left? Aye, then, let’s go.”
“Cast off!” the Captain bellowed, and the waiting hands sprang into action. The last of the lines tethering us to the piling was slipped free and neatly coiled, and all around us, lines tightened and sails snapped overhead, as the bosun ran up and down the deck, bawling orders in a voice like rusty iron.
“She moves! She stirs! ‘She seems to feel / the thrill of life along her keel’!” I declaimed, delighted to feel the deck quiver beneath my feet as the ship came alive, the energy of all the crew poured into its inanimate hulk, transmuted by the power of the wind-catching sails.
“Oh, God,” said Jamie hollowly, feeling the same thing. He grasped the rail, closed his eyes and swallowed.
“Mr. Willoughby says he has a cure for seasickness,” I said, watching him sympathetically.
“Ha,” he said, opening his eyes. “I ken what he means, and if he thinks I’ll let him—what the bloody hell!”
I whirled to look, and saw what had caused him to break off. Fergus was on deck, reaching up to help down a girl perched awkwardly above him on the railing, her long blond hair whipping in the wind. Laoghaire’s daughter—Marsali MacKimmie.
Before I could speak, Jamie was past me and striding toward the pair.
“What in the name of holy God d’ye mean by this, ye wee coofs?” he was demanding, by the time I made my way into earshot through the obstacle course of lines and seamen. He loomed menacingly over the pair, a foot taller than either of them.
“We are married,” Fergus said, bravely moving in front of Marsali. He looked both scared and excited, his face pale beneath the shock of black hair.
“Married!” Jamie’s hands clenched at his sides, and Fergus took an involuntary step backward, nearly treading on Marsali’s toes. “What d’ye mean, ‘married’?”
I assumed this was a rhetorical question, but it wasn’t; Jamie’s appreciation of the situation had, as usual, outstripped mine by yards and seized at once upon the salient point.
“Have ye bedded her?” he demanded bluntly. Standing behind him, I couldn’t see his face, but I knew what it must look like, if only because I could see the effect of his expression on Fergus. The Frenchman turned a couple of shades paler and licked his lips.
“Er…no, milord,” he said, just as Marsali, eyes blazing, thrust her chin up and said defiantly, “Yes, he has!”
Jamie glanced briefly back and forth between the two of them, snorted loudly, and turned away.
“Mr. Warren!” he called down the deck to the ship’s sailing master. “Put back to the shore, if ye please!”
Mr. Warren stopped, openmouthed, in the middle of an order addressed to the rigging, and stared, first at Jamie, then—quite elaborately—at the receding shoreline. In the few moments since the appearance of the putative newlyweds, the Artemis had moved more than a thousand yards from the shore, and the rocks of the cliffs were slipping by with increasing speed.
“I don’t believe he can,” I said. “I think we’re already in the tide-race.”
No sailor himself, Jamie had spent sufficient time in the company of seamen at least to understand the notion that time and tide wait for no one. He breathed through his teeth for a moment, then jerked his head toward the ladder that led belowdecks.
“Come down, then, the both of ye.”
Fergus and Marsali sat together in the tiny cabin, huddled on one berth, hands clutched tight. Jamie waved me to a seat on the other berth, then turned to the pair, hands on his hips.
“Now, then,” he said. “What’s this nonsense of bein’ married?”
“It is true, milord,” Fergus said. He was quite pale, but his dark eyes were bright with excitement. His one hand tightened on Marsali’s, his hook resting across his thigh.
“Aye?” Jamie said, with the maximum of skepticism. “And who married ye?”
The two glanced at each other, and Fergus licked his lips briefly before replying.
“We—we are handfast.”
“Before witnesses,” Marsali put in. In contrast to Fergus’s paleness, a high color burned in her cheeks. She had her mother’s roseleaf skin, but the stubborn set of her jaw had likely come from somewhere else. She put a hand to her bosom, where something crackled under the fabric. “I ha’ the contract, and the signatures, here.”
Jamie made a low growling noise in his throat. By the laws of Scotland, two people could in fact be legally married by clasping hands before witnesses—handfasting—and declaring themselves to be man and wife.
“Aye, well,” he said. “But ye’re no bedded, yet, and a contract’s not enough, in the eyes o’ the Church.” He glanced out of the stern casement, where the cliffs were just visible through the ragged mist, then nodded with decision.
“We’ll stop at Lewes for the last provisions. Marsali will go ashore there; I’ll send two seamen to see her home to her mother.”
“Ye’ll do no such thing!” Marsali cried. She sat up straight, glaring at her stepfather. “I’m going wi’ Fergus!”
“Oh, no, you’re not, my lassie!” Jamie snapped. “D’ye have no feeling for your mother? To run off, wi’ no word, and leave her to be worrit—”
“I left word.” Marsali’s square chin was high. “I sent a letter from Inverness, saying I’d married Fergus and was off to sail wi’ you.”
“Sweet bleeding Jesus! She’ll think I kent all about it!” Jamie looked horror-stricken.
“We—I—did ask the lady Laoghaire for the honor of her daughter’s hand, milord,” Fergus put in. “Last month, when I came to Lallybroch.”
“Aye. Well, ye needna tell me what she said,” Jamie said dryly, seeing the sudden flush on Fergus’s cheeks. “Since I gather the general answer was no.”
“She said he was a bastard!” Marsali burst out indignantly. “And a criminal, and—and—”
“He is a bastard and a criminal,” Jamie pointed out. “And a cripple wi’ no property, either, as I’m sure your mother noticed.”
“I dinna care!” Marsali gripped Fergus’s hand and looked at him with fierce affection. “I want him.”
Taken aback, Jamie rubbed a finger across his lips. Then he took a deep breath and returned to the attack.
“Be that as it may,” he said, “ye’re too young to be married.”
“I’m fifteen; that’s plenty old enough!”
“Aye, and he’s thirty!” Jamie snapped. He shook his head, “Nay, lassie, I’m sorry about it, but I canna let ye do it. If it were nothing else, the voyage is too dangerous—”
“You’re taking her!” Marsali’s chin jerked contemptuously in my direction.
“You’ll leave Claire out of this,” Jamie said evenly. “She’s none of your concern, and—”
“Oh, she’s not? You leave my mother for this English whore, and make her a laughingstock for the whole countryside, and it’s no my concern, is it?” Marsali leapt up and stamped her foot on the deck. “And you ha’ the hellish nerve to tell me what I shall do?”
“I have,” Jamie said, keeping hold of his temper with some difficulty. “My private affairs are not your concern—”
“And mine aren’t any of yours!”
Fergus, looking alarmed, was on his feet, trying to calm the girl.
“Marsali, ma chère, you must not speak to milord in such a way. He is only—”
“I’ll speak to him any way I want!”
“No, you will not!” Surprised at the sudden harshness in Fergus’s tone, Marsali blinked. Only an inch or two taller than his new wife, the Frenchman had a certain wiry authority that made him seem much bigger than he was.
“No,” he said more softly. “Sit down, ma p’tite.” He pressed her back down on the berth, and stood before her.
“Milord has been to me more than a father,” he said gently to the girl. “I owe him my life a thousand times. He is also your stepfather. However your mother may regard him, he has without doubt supported and sheltered her and you and your sister. You owe him respect, at the least.”
Marsali bit her lip, her eyes bright. Finally she ducked her head awkwardly at Jamie.
“I’m sorry,” she murmured, and the air of tension in the cabin lessened slightly.
“It’s all right, lassie,” Jamie said gruffly. He looked at her and sighed. “But still, Marsali, we must send ye back to your mother.”
“I won’t go.” The girl was calmer now, but the set of her pointed chin was the same. She glanced at Fergus, then at Jamie. “He says we havena bedded together, but we have. Or at any rate, I shall say we have. If ye send me home, I’ll tell everyone that he’s had me; so ye see—I shall either be married or ruined.” Her tone was reasonable and determined. Jamie closed his eyes.
“May the Lord deliver me from women,” he said between his teeth. He opened his eyes and glared at her.
“All right!” he said. “You’re married. But you’ll do it right, before a priest. We’ll find one in the Indies, when we land. And until ye’ve been blessed, Fergus doesna touch you. Aye?” He turned a ferocious gaze on both of them.
“Yes, milord,” said Fergus, his features suffused with joy. “Merci beaucoup!” Marsali narrowed her eyes at Jamie, but seeing that he wasn’t to be moved, she bowed her head demurely, with a sidelong glance at me.
“Yes, Daddy,” she said.
The question of Fergus’s elopement had at least distracted Jamie’s mind temporarily from the motion of the ship, but the palliative effect didn’t last. He held on grimly nevertheless, turning greener by the moment, but refusing to leave the deck and go below, so long as the shore of Scotland was in sight.
“I may never see it again,” he said gloomily, when I tried to persuade him to go below and lie down. He leaned heavily on the rail he had just been vomiting over, eyes resting longingly on the unprepossessingly bleak coast behind us.
“No, you’ll see it,” I said, with an unthinking surety. “You’re coming back. I don’t know when, but I know you’ll come back.”
He turned his head to look up at me, puzzled. Then the ghost of a smile crossed his face.
“You’ve seen my grave,” he said softly. “Haven’t ye?”
I hesitated, but he didn’t seem upset, and I nodded.
“It’s all right,” he said. He closed his eyes, breathing heavily. “Don’t…don’t tell me when, though, if ye dinna mind.”