Voyager

Author: P Hana

Page 34

   

The cup of whisky pressed against his mouth, but he turned his head aside, and it disappeared without comment to some place where it would find a more cordial reception. Milligan, likely, the Irishman.

One man with the weakness for drink, another with a hatred of it. One man a lover of women, and another…

He sighed and shifted slightly on the hard plank bed. Morrison had covered him with a blanket and gone away. He felt drained and empty, still in fragments, but with his mind quite clear, perched at some far remove from the rest of him.

Morrison had taken away the candle as well; it burned at the far end of the cell, where the men sat hunched companionably together, the light making black shapes of them, one indistinguishable from another, rimmed in gold light like the pictures of faceless saints in old missals.

He wondered where they came from, these gifts that shaped a man’s nature. From God?

Was it like the descent of the Paraclete, and the tongues of fire that came to rest on the apostles? He remembered the picture in the Bible in his mother’s parlor, the apostles all crowned with fire, and looking fair daft with the shock of it, standing about like a crowd of beeswax candles, lit for a party.

He smiled to himself at the memory, and closed his eyes. The candle shadows wavered red on his lids.

Claire, his own Claire—who knew what had sent her to him, had thrust her into a life she had surely not been born to? And yet she had known what to do, what she was meant to be, despite that. Not everyone was so fortunate as to know their gift.

There was a cautious shuffling in the darkness beside him. He opened his eyes and saw no more than a shape, but knew nonetheless who it was.

“How are ye, Angus?” he said softly in Gaelic.

The youngster knelt awkwardly by him, and took his hand.

“I am…all right. But you—sir, I mean…I—I’m sorry…”

Was it experience or instinct that made him tighten his own hand in reassurance?

“I am all right, too,” he said. “Lay ye down, wee Angus, and take your rest.”

The shape bent its head in an oddly formal gesture, and pressed a kiss on the back of his hand.

“I—may I stay by ye, sir?”

His hand weighed a ton, but he lifted it nonetheless and laid it on the young man’s head. Then it slipped away, but he felt Angus’s tension relax, as the comfort flowed from his touch.

He had been born a leader, then bent and shaped further to fit such a destiny. But what of a man who had not been born to the role he was required to fill? John Grey, for one. Charles Stuart for another.

For the first time in ten years, from this strange distance, he could find it in himself to forgive that feeble man who had once been his friend. Having so often paid the price exacted by his own gift, he could at last see the more terrible doom of having been born a king, without the gift of kingship.

Angus MacKenzie sat slumped against the wall next to him, head bowed upon his knees, his blanket over his shoulders. A small, gurgling snore came from the huddled form. He could feel sleep coming for him, fitting back the shattered, scattered parts of himself as it came, and knew he would wake whole—if very sore—in the morning.

He felt relieved at once of many things. Of the weight of immediate responsibility, of the necessity for decision. Temptation was gone, along with the possibility of it. More important, the burden of anger had lifted; perhaps it was gone for good.

So, he thought, through the gathering fog, John Grey had given him back his destiny.

Almost, he could be grateful.

13

MIDGAME

Inverness

June 2, 1968

It was Roger who found her in the morning, curled up on the study sofa under the hearthrug, papers scattered carelessly over the floor where they had spilled from one of the folders.

The light from the floor-length windows streamed in, flooding the study, but the high back of the sofa had shaded Claire’s face and prevented the dawn from waking her. The light was just now pouring over the curve of dusty velvet to flicker among the strands of her hair.

A glass face in more ways than one, Roger thought, looking at her. Her skin was so fair that the blue veins showed through at temple and throat, and the sharp, clear bones were so close beneath that she might have been carved of ivory.

The rug had slipped half off, exposing her shoulders. One arm lay relaxed across her chest, trapping a single, crumpled sheet of paper against her body. Roger lifted her arm carefully, to pull the paper loose without waking her. She was limp with sleep, her flesh surprisingly warm and smooth in his grasp.

His eyes found the name at once; he had known she must have found it.

“James MacKenzie Fraser,” he murmured. He looked up from the paper to the sleeping woman on the sofa. The light had just touched the curve of her ear; she stirred briefly and turned her head, then her face lapsed back into somnolence.

“I don’t know who you were, mate,” he whispered to the unseen Scot, “but you must have been something, to deserve her.”

Very gently, he replaced the rug over Claire’s shoulders, and lowered the blind of the window behind her. Then he squatted and gathered up the scattered papers from the Ardsmuir folder. Ardsmuir. That was all he needed for now; even if Jamie Fraser’s eventual fate was not recorded in the pages in his hands, it would be somewhere in the history of Ardsmuir prison. It might take another foray into the Highland archives, or even a trip to London, but the next step in the link had been forged; the path was clear.

Brianna was coming down the stairs as he pulled the door of the study closed, moving with exaggerated caution. She arched a brow in question and he lifted the folder, smiling.

“Got him,” he whispered.

She didn’t speak, but an answering smile spread across her face, bright as the rising sun outside.

PART FOUR

The Lake District

14

GENEVA

Helwater

September 1756

“I think,” Grey said carefully, “that you might consider changing your name.”

He didn’t expect an answer; in four days of travel, Fraser had not spoken a single word to him, managing even the awkward business of sharing an inn room without direct communication. Grey had shrugged and taken the bed, while Fraser, without gesture or glance, had wrapped himself in his threadbare cloak and lain down before the hearth. Scratching an assortment of bites from fleas and bedbugs, Grey thought that Fraser might well have had the better end of the sleeping arrangements.

“Your new host is not well disposed toward Charles Stuart and his adherents, having lost his only son at Prestonpans,” he went on, addressing the iron-set profile visible next to him. Gordon Dunsany had been only a few years older than himself, a young captain in Bolton’s regiment. They might easily have died together on that field—if not for that meeting in the wood near Carryarrick.

“You can scarcely hope to conceal the fact that you are a Scot, and a Highlander at that. If you will condescend to consider a piece of well-meant advice, it might be judicious not to use a name which would be as easily recognized as your own.”

Fraser’s stony expression didn’t alter in the slightest particular. He nudged his horse with a heel and guided it ahead of Grey’s bay, seeking the remains of the track, washed out by a recent flood.

It was late afternoon when they crossed the arch of Ashness Bridge and started down the slope toward Watendlath Tarn. The Lake District of England was nothing like Scotland, Grey reflected, but at least there were mountains here. Round-flanked, fat and dreamy mountains, not sternly forbidding like the Highland crags, but mountains nonetheless.

Watendlath Tarn was dark and ruffled in the early autumn wind, its edges thick with sedge and marsh grass. The summer rains had been more generous even than usual in this damp place, and the tips of drowned shrubs poked limp and tattered above water that had run over its banks.

At the crest of the next hill, the track split, going off in two directions. Fraser, some distance ahead, pulled his horse to a stop and waited for direction, the wind ruffling his hair. He had not plaited it that morning, and it blew free, the flaming strands lifting wild about his head.

Squelching his way up the slope, John William Grey looked up at the man above him, still as a bronze statue on his mount, save for that rippling mane. The breath dried in his throat, and he licked his lips.

“O Lucifer, thou son of the morning,” he murmured to himself, but forbore to add the rest of the quotation.

For Jamie, the four-day ride to Helwater had been torture. The sudden illusion of freedom, combined with the certainty of its immediate loss, gave him a dreadful anticipation of his unknown destination.

This, with the anger and sorrow of his parting from his men fresh in memory—the wrenching loss of leaving the Highlands, with the knowledge that the parting might well be permanent—and his waking moments suffused with the physical pain of long-unused saddle muscles, were together enough to have kept him in torment for the whole of the journey. Only the fact that he had given his parole kept him from pulling Major John William Grey off his horse and throttling him in some peaceful lane.

Grey’s words echoed in his ears, half-obliterated by the thrumming beat of his angry blood.

“As the renovation of the fortress has largely been completed—with the able assistance of yourself and your men”—Grey had allowed a tinge of irony to show in his voice—“the prisoners are to be removed to other accommodation, and the fortress of Ardsmuir garrisoned by troops of His Majesty’s Twelfth Dragoons.

“The Scottish prisoners of war are to be transported to the American Colonies,” he continued. “They will be sold under bond of indenture, for a term of seven years.”

Jamie had kept himself carefully expressionless, but at that news, had felt his face and hands go numb with shock.

“Indenture? That is no better than slavery,” he said, but did not pay much attention to his own words. America! A land of wilderness and savages—and one to be reached across three thousand miles of empty, roiling sea! Indenture in America was a sentence tantamount to permanent exile from Scotland.

“A term of indenture is not slavery,” Grey had assured him, but the Major knew as well as he that the difference was merely a legality, and true only insofar as indentured servants would—if they survived—regain their freedom upon some predetermined date. An indentured servant was to most other intents and purposes the slave of his or her master—to be misused, whipped or branded at will, forbidden by law to leave the master’s premises without permission.

As James Fraser was now to be forbidden.

“You are not to be sent with the others.” Grey had not looked at him while speaking. “You are not merely a prisoner of war, you are a convicted traitor. As such, you are imprisoned at the pleasure of His Majesty; your sentence cannot be commuted to transportation without royal approval. And His Majesty has not seen fit to give that approval.”

Jamie was conscious of a remarkable array of emotions; beneath his immediate rage was fear and sorrow for the fate of his men, mingled with a small flicker of ignominious relief that, whatever his own fate was to be, it would not involve entrusting himself to the sea. Shamed by the realization, he turned a cold eye on Grey.

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