Written in My Own Heart's Blood

Author: P Hana

Page 42

   

“I’m going to visit Jock MacLeod in hospital. He’s the night watchman who found Jem at the dam. He might know the man who hit him and tried to take Jem. And he does know Rob Cameron. He can maybe tell me who Cameron’s mates are outside of work or in lodge.”

She rubbed a hand down over her face, thinking.

“After that . . . I’ll talk to Rob’s sister and his nephew. If she’s not involved in whatever he’s up to, she’ll be worried. And if she is involved—then I need to know that.”

“D’ye think ye’ll be able to tell?” Fiona’s frown had eased a bit, but she still looked worried.

“Oh, yes,” Brianna said, with grim determination. “I’ll be able to tell. For one thing, if someone I talk to is involved, they’re probably likely to try to stop me asking questions.”

Fiona made a small noise that could best be spelled as “eeengh,” indicating deep concern.

Brianna drank the last of her tea and set down the cup with an explosive sigh.

“And then,” she said, “I’m going back to Lallybroch to meet a locksmith and have him change all the locks and install burglar alarms on the lower windows.” She looked questioningly at Fiona. “I don’t know how long it might take. . . .”

“Aye, that’s why ye brought the kids’ nighties. Nay problem, hen.” She chewed her lower lip, eyeing Brianna.

Bree knew what she was thinking, debating whether to ask or not, and saved her the trouble.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do about Roger,” she said steadily.

“He’ll come back, surely,” Fiona began, but Bree shook her head. Horrifying Realization Number 3 couldn’t be denied any longer.

“I don’t think so,” she said, though she bit her lip as if to keep the words from escaping. “He—he can’t know that Jem isn’t there. And he’d never ab-abandon him.”

Fiona was clasping Brianna’s hand in both of her own.

“No, no, of course he wouldna do that. But if he and the other fellow go on searching and find no trace . . . eventually, surely he’d think . . .” Her voice died away as she tried to imagine what Roger might think under those circumstances.

“Oh, he’ll be thinking, all right,” Bree said, and managed a small, shaky laugh. The thought of Roger’s determination, the growing sense of fear and desperation that must inevitably eat away at it, his fight to keep going—because he would; he’d never give up and come back to tell her Jem was lost for good. For if he didn’t find any trace of Jem, what could he think? That Cameron had maybe killed Jem, hidden his body, and gone to America in search of the gold? Or that they had both been lost in that horrifying space between one time and another, never to be found?

“Well, and he’ll be praying, too,” Fiona said with a brisk squeeze of Bree’s hand. “I can help wi’ that.”

That made tears well, and she blinked hard, scrubbing at her eyes with a paper napkin.

“I can’t cry now,” she said, in a choked voice. “I can’t. I haven’t got time.” She stood up suddenly, pulling her hand free. She sniffed, blew her nose hard on the napkin, and sniffed again.

“Fiona . . . I—I know you haven’t told anybody about . . . us,” she began, and even she could hear the doubt in her own voice.

Fiona snorted.

“I have not,” she said. “I’d be taken off to the booby hatch, and what would Ernie do wi’ the girls and all? Why?” she added, giving Brianna a hard look. “What are ye thinking?”

“Well . . . the women who—who dance at Craigh na Dun. Do you think any of them know what it is?”

Fiona sucked in one cheek, thinking.

“One or two o’ the older ones might have an idea,” she said slowly. “We’ve been callin’ down the sun on Beltane there for as far back as anyone knows. And some things do get passed down, ken. Be strange if nobody ever wondered. But even if someone kent for sure what happens there, they’d not speak—no more than I would.”

“Right. I just wondered—could you maybe find out, quietly, if any of the women have ties to Rob Cameron? Or maybe . . . to the Orkneys?”

“To what?” Fiona’s eyes went round. “Why the Orkneys?”

“Because Rob Cameron went on archaeological digs there. And I think that’s what made him interested in stone circles to start with. I know one man named Callahan, a friend of Roger’s—who worked up there with him, and I’ll talk to him, too—maybe tomorrow; I don’t think I’ll have time today. But if there’s anyone else who might be connected with things like that . . .” It was more than a long shot, but at the moment she was inclined to look under any stone she could lift.

“I’ll call round,” Fiona said thoughtfully. “And speak of calling—telephone me if ye’re not coming back tonight, aye? Just so as I know ye’re safe.”

Bree nodded, her throat tight, and hugged Fiona, taking one more moment’s strength from her friend.

Fiona saw her down the hall to the front door, pausing at the foot of the stair, and glanced toward the chatter coming from above. Did Bree want to say goodbye to Jem and Mandy? Wordless, Brianna shook her head. Her feelings were too raw; she couldn’t hide them sufficiently and didn’t want to scare the kids. Instead, she pressed her fingers to her lips and blew a kiss up the stairs, then turned to the door.

“That shotgun—” Fiona began behind her, and stopped. Brianna turned and raised an eyebrow.

“They canna get ballistics off buckshot, can they?”

AN GEARASDAN

THEY REACHED Fort William in early afternoon of the second day’s travel.

“How large is the garrison?” Roger asked, eyeing the stone walls of the fort. It was modest, as forts went, with only a few buildings and a drill yard within the surrounding walls.

“Maybe forty men, I’d say,” Brian replied, turning sideways to allow a pair of red-coated guards carrying muskets to pass him in the narrow entry passage. “Fort Augustus is the only garrison north of it, and that’s got maybe a hundred.”

That was surprising—or maybe not. If Roger was right about the date, it would be another three years before there was much talk of Jacobites in the Highlands—let alone enough of it to alarm the English crown into sending troops en masse to keep a lid on the situation.

The fort was open, and any number of civilians appeared to have business with the army, judging from the small crowd near one building. Fraser steered him toward another, smaller one with a tilt of his head, though.

“We’ll see the commander, I think.”

“You know him?” A worm of curiosity tickled his spine. Surely it was too early for—

“I’ve met him the once. Buncombe, he’s called. Seems a decent fellow, for a Sassenach.” Fraser gave his name to a clerk in the outer room, and within a moment they were ushered into the commander’s office.

“Oh . . .” A small, middle-aged man in uniform with tired eyes behind a pair of half spectacles half-rose, half-bowed, and dropped back into his seat as though the effort of recognition had exhausted him. “Broch Tuarach. Your servant, sir.”

Perhaps it had, Roger thought. The man’s face was gaunt and lined, and his breath whistled audibly in his lungs. Claire might have known specifically what was up with Captain Buncombe, but it didn’t take a doctor to know that something was physically amiss.

Still, Buncombe listened civilly to his story, called in the clerk to make a careful note of Cameron’s description and Jem’s, and promised that these would be circulated to the garrison and that any patrols or messengers would be advised to ask after the fugitives.

Brian had thoughtfully brought along a couple of bottles in his saddlebags and now produced one, which he set on the desk with a gurgling thump of enticement.

“We thank ye, sir, for your help. If ye’d allow us to present a small token of appreciation for your kindness . . .”

A small but genuine smile appeared on Captain Buncombe’s worn face.

“I would, sir. But only if you gentlemen will join me . . . ? Ah, yes.” Two worn pewter cups and—after a brief search—a crystal goblet with a chip out of the rim were produced, and the blessed silence of the dram fell upon the tiny office.

After a few moments’ reverence, Buncombe opened his eyes and sighed.

“Amazing, sir. Your own manufacture, is it?”

Brian inclined his head with a modest shake.

“Nay but a few bottles at Hogmanay, just for the family.”

Roger had himself seen the root cellar from which Brian had chosen the bottle, lined from floor to ceiling with small casks and with an atmosphere to it that would have knocked a moose flat had he stayed to breathe it long. But an instant’s thought told him that it was probably wiser not to let a garrison full of soldiers know that you kept any sort of liquor in large quantities on your premises, no matter what terms you were on with their commander. He caught Brian’s eye, and Fraser looked aside with a small “mmphm” and a tranquil smile.

“Amazing,” Buncombe repeated, and tipped another inch into his glass, offering the bottle round. Roger followed Brian’s lead and refused, nursing his own drink while the other two men fell into a sort of conversation he recognized very well. Not friendly but courteous, a trade of information that might be of advantage to one or both—and a careful avoidance of anything that might give the other too much advantage.

He’d seen Jamie do it any number of times, in America. It was headman’s talk, and there were rules to it. Of course . . . Jamie must have seen his da do it any number of times himself; it was bred in his bones.

He thought Jem maybe had it. He had something that made people look at him twice—something beyond the hair, he amended, and smiled to himself.

While Buncombe occasionally directed a question to him, Roger was for the most part able to leave them to it, and he gradually relaxed. The rain had passed, and a beam of sun from the window rested on his shoulders, warming him from without as the whisky warmed him within. He felt for the first time that he might be accomplishing something in his search, rather than merely flailing desperately round the Highlands.

“And they could maybe arrest the fellow,” John Murray had remarked, anent the soldiers and Rob Cameron. A comforting thought, that.

The clan angle, though . . . he didn’t think Cameron could have accomplices here, but—he straightened in his chair. He had an accomplice from this time, didn’t he? Buck had the gene, and while it was clearly less frequent to travel forward from one’s original lifeline—well, Roger thought it was less frequent (his own lack of knowledge was an unnerving realization in itself)—Buck had done it. If Cameron was a traveler, he’d got the gene from an ancestor who could also have done it.

Chill was running through his veins like iced wine, killing the whisky’s warmth, and a sinister tangle of cold worms came writhing into his mind. Could it be a conspiracy, maybe, between Buck and Rob Cameron? Or Buck and some ancient Cameron from his own time?

He’d never thought Buck was telling the whole truth about himself or his own journey through the stones. Could all this have been a plot to lure Roger away from Lallybroch—away from Bree?

Now the worms were bloody eating his brain. He picked up his cup and threw back the rest of the whisky at a gulp to kill them. Buncombe and Fraser both glanced at him in surprise but then courteously resumed their conversation.

In the cold light of his present state of mind, something else now cast new shadows. Brian Fraser. While Roger had taken Fraser’s bringing him to the garrison as purely a helpful gesture toward finding Jem, it had another function, didn’t it? It displayed Roger to Captain Buncombe, in a context that made it clear that he had no claim of clan obligation or personal friendship on Fraser, just in case Roger turned out not to be what he said he was. And it allowed Fraser to see whether Buncombe recognized Roger or not. Just in case he wasn’t what he said he was.

He took a deep breath and pressed his hands on the desktop, concentrating on the feel of the wood grain under his fingers. All right. Perfectly reasonable. How many times had he seen Jamie do the same sort of thing? For these men, the welfare of their own people always came first; they’d protect Lallybroch, or Fraser’s Ridge, above all, but that didn’t mean they were unwilling to help when help was in their power to give.

And he did believe that Fraser meant to help him. He clung to the thought and found that it floated.

Fraser glanced at him again, and something in the man’s face eased at whatever it saw in his own. Brian picked up the bottle and poured another inch into Roger’s glass.

“We’ll find him, man,” he said softly, in Gaelic, before turning to serve Captain Buncombe in turn.

He drank and put everything out of his mind, concentrating on the trivia of the conversation. It was all right. Everything was going to be all right.

He was still repeating this mantra to himself when he heard shouts and whistles from outside. He glanced toward the window, but it showed nothing save a view of the fort’s wall. Captain Buncombe looked startled—but Brian Fraser was on his feet, and moving fast.

Roger followed, emerging into the fort’s drill yard to see a fine-looking young woman mounted on a large, fine-looking horse and glaring down at a small cluster of soldiers who had gathered round her stirrup, pushing one another, snatching at the reins, and shouting remarks up at her. The horse plainly didn’t like it, but she was managing to keep it under control. She was also holding a switch in one hand and, from the look on her face, was plainly choosing a target amongst those presenting themselves.

“Jenny!” Brian roared, and she looked up, startled. The soldiers were startled, too; they turned and, seeing Captain Buncombe come out behind the Scot, instantly melted away, heads down as they hurried off about their business.

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