Voyager

Author: P Hana

Page 20

   

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.”

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