Voyager

Author: P Hana

Page 3

   

“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.”

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